Arguments about Creation

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Discussions about the rationality of faith in the twentieth century invariably focus on the Genesis account of creation: its biblical interpretation, the Darwin discoveries, and the political context. Let me consider each in turn.

What Does Genesis Say?

The first chapter in Genesis paints a picture of God as divine creator who calls the universe into being with words spoken over a period of seven days. While much is made of God as a sovereign, king of kings, the language is not one of command, but of invitation: “Let there be.” God is a gentle sovereign who ruled by virtue of creative activity, not conquest nor purchase, nor chance, and in his first specific act of creation, created light—a metaphor for virtue (Gen 1:3). 

The first verse offers a summary: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) Who created? God created. When did he create? In the beginning. What did he create? Heaven and earth—everything. 

This one verse radically changed the perception of time and space. In the Ancient Near East, the time that mattered was day and night, and the seasons—spring, summer, fall, and winter—that controlled the cycles of agriculture. The space that mattered was the boundaries on a particular kingdom or empire. Here in this verse, God stands outside of time and space creating both. There are no paths up the mountain to this god, because he transcends both. The god of Genesis must come down the mountain to us.

How do we know? The Genesis account comes to us as the confession of the church. In creating the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing), the god in Genesis is nothing like other gods of the Ancient Near East, which appeared more like today’s celebrities, movie stars, and athletes. God redefined what it meant to be a god. 

Not only was he sovereign; he was completely free of the constraints of this world.  When God told Moses from the burning bush: “I AM WHO I AM”  (Exod 3:14), what he meant was: I am the real deal—a real god, not like the wish-fulfillment gods that Pharaoh created and that we create to serve our own needs.

The Darwin Discoveries

The nineteenth century brought amazing discoveries about our world in agriculture, manufacturing, science, and medicine. While authors like Marx and Freud likened religion to being on drugs and being delusional, Darwin stuck to his knitting in exploring the biological world taking stock of the fossil record and the diversity of species. Theorizing that ancient species of animals evolved into those that we see today, his theory of evolution quickly became viewed as a competing vision of the creation account in Genesis. 

Political Uses of Evolution

From the spontaneous generation of life from inorganic compounds to the development of human species, Darwin gave Marxists and other secular religionists a creation account that erased God from the picture. National Socialists in Germany likewise picked up on Darwin’s survival of the fittest to posit the existence of a master race, the German folk, among humans. The attacks on the creation accounts in Genesis quickly elevated quickly into power politics on a world scale. If as Nietzsche philosophied, God is dead, then anything goes. With our gentle God out of view, the secular religionists quickly built concentration camps and fired up the gas chambers. Millions perished.

Returning to Genesis

Ironically, while Marx and Freud were atheists, Darwin was a practicing Christian. Think about it. God’s invitation in creation does not describe how the instrument of creation beyond the invitation. Borrowing a legal analogy, when Congress passes a law, it usually does not care how the President implements the law beyond offering resources and perhaps a target deadline. God could easily have used evolution to see to it that his invitation in creation takes place. When your father flicks on a light switch and announces—let there be light, you could say that he, like our Heavenly Father, has a sense of humor, even if it is a dad joke.

A Doubting Church

The problem in the nineteenth century arose as doubt in society seeped into the church. Rather than calling out Marx and Freud for slandering God and his church, the criticism sunk in. Some found refuge in philosophic defenses of God’s existence, while others labored to make sure that Christians experienced deep emotional experiences in the pews on Sunday with great music and a good sermon. 

This adoption of Greek anthropology, separating thinking and emotions, weakened the church and mimicked stereotypes of men as thinkers and women as emotional. Without ritual, without deep teaching, without deep commitment and church discipline, the church acted as if the Bible were little more than a source of bedtime stories for the kids. Without moral training that recognizes the tension in practice between different theological principles, like purity of the church and evangelism, churches began to split over affinity to one theological principle over another.

Science in Service of Faith

The fascination with science peaked in World War II. With the invention of numerous instruments of mass destruction—mass bombings, napalm, death camps, nuclear weapons, and political uses of psychology and euthanasia—people woke up to the need for limits on scientific investigation. 

Several aspects of science proved helpful in understanding our faith. One is to notice that the scientific method—felt need, problem definition, data collection, analysis, recommendations, responsibility bearing—starts with assumptions about what is needed. These assumptions about how our world works start with the words we use and our faith. Is it any wonder that numerous modern languages began with a translation of the Bible into the local dialect? The King James version of the Bible played that role in English; Luther’s Bible played that role in German.

The Big Bang theory of creation started from measurement of the direction and speed of partials in space that point to a partial time and place where the known universe began with a singularity—a single point. In an instant, the entire universe came into being. No one can say why, but the evidence that it happened is written in the stars. And guess what? The confession of the church in Genesis is completely consistent with this theory from science.

Who has the better story? Which story would you rather live into?

Arguments about Creation

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Hunter: Celtic History Defines Missions

George Hunter: The Celtic Way of Evangelism George G. Hunter III. 2000. How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Anthropology intersects theology in ways that can be unfamiliar and fascinating. Take the concept of the soul, which loosely translates into the modern concept of identity. Your soul consists of body, mind, and spirit, but it also includes those you are in relationship with—including God. Yet, you may find yourself in relationship with people that you have never met, like unfamiliar family members and people that inspire you. For me, Saint Patrick falls into this latter category.

Introduction

George Hunter’s book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, begins with a startling premise:

“Most Western Church leaders would never guess that ancient Celtic Christianity could show the way today [to evangelize postmodern (‘neo-barbarian’) people] for two reasons. First, they assume that no expression of ancient Christianity could be relevant to the challenges we now face. Second, they assume that the only useful stream of insight is, by definition, confined to Roman Christianity and its Reformation offshoots.”(10)

When I first read this statement about Celtic Christianity, I was dismissive—having Irish blood in me, I am not accustomed to hearing much of anything positive about Ireland, its language (Gaelic), or its history. Hunter changed my mind about all of this.

The Story of Saint Patrick

I knew, however, that Saint Patrick (Fifth century AD) was the first successful evangelist in Ireland—before Patrick, the Irish were believed to be unreachable barbarians. His success was not anticipated because Patrick, as a teenager sixteen-year old, was kidnapped by Irish pirates and sold as a slave in Ireland. For the next six years he worked as a slave caring for his master’s cattle in the Irish wilderness. Later, he escaped and traveled abroad to study to become a priest. Much later, he returned to Ireland as the church’s first missionary bishop and evangelized the Irish out of love for them. His love of the Irish was obvious and his evangelism focused on offering hospitality. In the end, Patrick and his companions planted more than seven hundred churches in Ireland (Hunter 2000, 13-23).

Celtic Versus Roman Evangelism

Saint Patrick approached evangelism in Ireland differently than the typical “Roman”approach. Hunter writes:

“Bluntly stated, the Roman model for reaching people (who are ’civilized’ enough) is: (1) Present the Christian message; (2) Invite them to decide in Christ and become Christians; and (3) If they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship. The Roman model seems very logical to us because most American evangelicals are scripted by it!…

[by contrast the] Celtic model for reaching people: [is] (1) You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith. (2) Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship. (3) In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit.”(53)

The first church that I interned in employed the Roman model and the second employed the Celtic model, where ironically Spanish, not Gaelic, was the primary language spoken.

Contextualization

In the second church where I interned, the attitude towards church differed fundamentally from the first church. The first church was a steeple church built in the 1950s who had trouble adapting to the changing culture of the community around it, which was increasingly Hispanic and Korean. As the Angelo congregation grew older, the church experienced a financial crisis with the death of each member, but the form of worship and the ethnic makeup of the congregation did not change and new members primarily entered the church on their own volition. The second church met in a business park, added a Hispanic service, and frequently met off-campus in the community, growing primarily through addition of members who became acquainted with the congregation through its community outreach.

In discussing indigenization or contextualization, Hunter observes that “The Christian faith never exists except as ‘translated’ into a culture.”(77) This translation is often a literal translation into the local dialect, but it also entails understanding the cultural experience of God. In the Irish case, this meant that priests needed to cut their hair differently, to emphasize the immanence of Christ more than God’s transcendence, to build churches out of wood rather than stone, and to grow closer to nature, which recognized the Irish proclivity to experience God’s creation.

In Briton, earlier efforts to offer a Roman version of Christianity quickly went apostate once Roman domination was removed, in part, because it did not resonate with local culture (79). Hunter defines culture “as the learned pattern of beliefs, attitudes, values, customs, and products shared by a people.”(100) Defined as such, it is easy to see why the attitude of millennials towards church differs fundamentally from boomers—they differ culturally from their parents in substantive ways.

Outline

Hunter writes in seven chapters preceded by a preface and followed by notes, bibliography, and an index. The chapters are:

  1. “The Gospel to the Irish
  2. A New Kind of Community, A New Kind of Life
  3. To the Picts, the Anglo-Saxons and Other ‘Barbarians’
  4. The Celtic Christian Community in Formation and Mission
  5. How Celtic Christianity Communicated the Gospel
  6. The Missionary Perspective of Celtic Community
  7. The ‘Celtic’ Future of the Christian Movement in the West”(v)

From this listing it is obvious that Hunter covers more ground than can be summarized in a short review.

Assessment

George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism, which I read in seminary and again for this review, touched me deeply when I first read it because of my Irish roots and ignorance of them. As a seminarian, I quickly realized that the institutional church that I was part of mostly followed the Roman style of evangelism and Roman attitude towards those outside the church. While I coveted working in the Roman system, it never quite fit my call to ministry. As such, reading Hunter’s book introduced me to the ministry that I had done ever since. Thus, for me, this was an important, life-changing book.

Hunter: Celtic History Defines Missions

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Monday Monologues: Evidence of God’s Existence, August 13, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I pray against entropy and talk about evidence of God’s existence.

To listen, click on the link below.

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

Monday Monologues: Evidence of God’s Existence, August 13, 2018 (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 at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Prayer Against Entropy

Doldrums, Sand Dune in Ocean City, MarylandBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful Father,

I praise you for your unchanging character,

your immutability in the face of erosion, pain, and death

for your love conquers all foes,

from the sting of war to the impurity of common dust

that brings disease and biting insects and filth.

I confess that I pale in the present of even tiny obstacles

and fear is a constant companion.

Forgive my timidity, my cowardliness as strength fails me.

In the power of your Holy Spirt,

Instill in me your wisdom and strength to face the day

that I might minister to those around me

and grant me courage to live the life that you intended.

In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Prayer Against Entropy

Also see:

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Arguments for God’s Existence

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

A core tenet of the scientific method lies in using reproducible empirical evidence to validate or fail to validate a hypothesis. Because God created the heavens and the earth, he lies outside the created order, where direct evidence might be found. Therefore, scientific testing of the existence of God is impossible. However, we can infer the existence of God from the created order, much like we might observe fingerprints of a potter on the pottery—a kind of indirect evidence.

Introduction

In part three of his recent book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller (2016, 217) summarizes six arguments for the existence of God from: 1. existence, 2. fine tuning, 3. moral realism, 4. consciousness, 5. reason, and 6. beauty. These bear repeating.

From Existence

For existence to even be, it had to have had an uncaused cause (Keller 2016, 218). Think about the evolutionary hypothesis that posits that life spontaneously emerged from non-biological substances and evolved until the creation of human beings. But who created the non-biological substances? The usual response is that the universe just always existed. However, according to the big bang theory, the universe has not always looked like it does today. According to one online dictionary:⁠1

“a theory in astronomy: the universe originated billions of years ago in an explosion from a single point of nearly infinite energy density.”

Given that the universe shows evidence of an uncaused cause, it is reasonable to infer that God created the universe in his own inscrutable way.

From Fine Tuning

Constants in physics appear to be precisely adjusted to allow life to exist. Keller (2016, 219) writes:

“The speed of light, the gravitational constant, the strength of the strong and weak nuclear forces—must all have almost exactly the values that they do have in order for organic life to exist…the chances that all of the dials would be tuned to life-permitting settings all at once are about 10-100.” 

Given the small probability that the laws of physics randomly aligned in this way, many scientists have concluded that the universe was intentionally planned. It is kind of like finding a working clock on the beach. No reasonable person would assume that this close was randomly created—the existence of a clock suggests a clock maker.

From Moral Realism

Most people, even ardent atheists, believe that moral obligations, like human rights, exist that we can insist everyone abide by. Keller (2016, 221) writes:

“…some things are absolutely wrong to do. Moral obligation, then, makes more sense in a universe created by a personal God to whom we intuitively feel responsible than it does in an impersonal universe with no God.” 

Even an argent atheist would not idly stand by and watch another person drown or be killed in a burning house when something could be done to aid them. This kind of moral obligation is something that virtually everyone feels, yet is counter-intuitive from the perspective of personal survival—water rescues and running into burning buildings routinely kill rescuers, even those trained as lifeguards and firefighters. Why do we feel obligated to put ourselves at such risk? Christians answer that God created us with a moral compass.

From Consciousness

Keller (2016, 222), citing Thomas Nagel (2012, 110), writes that “all human experience has a subjective quality to it.” It is pretty hard to argue, as does Francis Crisk (1994, 3), that

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (Keller 2016, 224)

Keller (2016, 224) summarizes: “Consciousness and idea making make far more sense in a universe created by an idea-making, conscious God.” 

From Reason and Beauty

Keller (2016, 225) reports that has been popular in recent years to argue that our reasoning and appreciation of beauty both developed from the process of natural selection because they helped our ancestors to survive. Evolutionary psychologists have gone a step further arguing that even our faith in God is a product of evolution and natural selection.

The problem exists, however, that many animals seem to have survived just fine without developing any capacity to reason at all. Furthermore, if our faith is a product of natural selection, why wouldn’t we trust our reasoning capacity to tell us the truth? The arguments for beauty parallel those for reason.

Keller (2016, 226), citing Luc Ferry (2011), writes: “truth, beauty, justice, and love … whatever the materialists say, remain fundamentally transcendent.”  In other words, they all point to the existence of a loving God.

Limits to the Proofs

Most proofs of God’s existence focus only on making it sensible to believe in God in an abstract or philosophical sense. They really do not give us a detailed picture of God’s character, as revealed in the Bible.

Philosophers remind us that God transcends our universe because he created it—God stands outside time and space. He is also holy—sacred and set apart. God’s transcendence makes it impossible for us to approach God on our own; he must initiate any contact that we have with him. Christians believe that God revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Uniqueness of Christ

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes the case that God not only exists, but that he is God of the Old and New Testaments. Keller (2016, 228) makes the stunning observation that only Christianity is truly a world religion; it has had indigenous believers fairly evenly distributed across all regions and continents of the world, long before it became a religion in Europe and North America. He writes: “today most of the most vital and largest Christian populations are now nonwhite and non-Western.”

The arguments for God’s existence must be compelling (or Christians must have come to faith for other reasons) because Christianity continues to grow in spite of strong influence of secularism in the West and obvious persecution of Christians outside the West. 

References

Ferry, Luc. 2011. “A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living.” Translation by Theo Cuffe. New York: Harper Perennial.

Crisk, Francis. 1994. “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul.” New York: Simon and Schuster.

Timothy Keller.  2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  New York: Viking Press.

Nagel, Thomas. 2012. “What is It Like to Be a Bat?” Mortal Questions, Canto Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Footnotes

1 https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/big%20bang%20theory.

Arguments for God’s Existence

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Schmemann: Life is Sacramental

Review of Alexander Schmemann's For the :Life of the WorldAlexander Schmemann. 1973. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy.Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What makes the majesty of God real to you?

In a mechanistic, materialist culture, such as ours, how do you look past the physical world on Sundays to worship an immanent and transcendent God? Presumably, the causality works in reverse, but our true feelings are frequently revealed by our tepid response to calls for money, time, and effort. For postmodern people, the majesty of God is often illusive.

Introduction

In his book,For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann writes:

“…the very purpose of this essay is to answer, if possible, the question: of what life do we speak, what life do we preach, proclaim, and announce when, as Christians, we confess that Christ died for the life of the world? What life is both motivation, and the beginning and the goal of Christian mission?”(11-12)

Schmemann sees Christians falling into two camps, those that focus on the spiritual life and theose that try to make life better through social justice (12-13). This is, however, is a false dichotomy. Schmenmann remarks—“Man is a hungry being. But he is also hungry for God.” (14)—and he sees his mission as:

“…to remind its readers that in Christ life—life in all its totality—was returned to man, given again as sacrament and communion, made Eucharist.” (20)

In the sacraments, both aspects of our hunger come together and become inseparable.

Outline

Schmemann writes in seven chapters preceded by a preface and followed by two more chapters occupying an appendix. The chapters are:

  1. “The Life of the World
  2. The Eucharist
  3. The Time of Mission
  4. Of Water and the Spirit
  5. The Mystery of Love
  6. Trampling Down Death by Death
  7. And Ye are Witnesses of these Things

Appendix

  1. Worship in a Secular Age
  2. Sacrament and Symbol”(v)

Schmemann was a former dean and professor of liturgical theology at St. Vladmir’s Orthodox University in Crestwood, New York.[1]

Secularism as Tepid Faith

An important motif in his writing is the influence of secularism, which he views as a Christian heresy that has forgotten its roots and refuses to worship God. (7, 118) His emphasis on worship in defining secularism is interesting because the problem is not unbelief, but failing or refusing to recognize God’s majesty, a kind of tepid faith.

Schmemann’s attitude about faith is strikingly similar to that of James, who writes: Even the demons believe– and shudder!” (Jas 2:19 ESV) Or maybe the Apostle John when he writes about the Church at Laudicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!”(Rev. 3:15) Schmemann’s definition of secularism comes close to the definition of a nominal or cultural Christian. Still, Schmemann sees secularism as a religion having its own faith, eschatology, and ethics—the erosion of a sense of transcendence among Christians suggests that secularism also practices evangelism (99).

The Eucharist

Schmemann sees the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, as a communal journey to join with Christ in heaven (28). He writes:

“When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks.”(37)

Sign and sacrament are inseparable in this journey because he defines a sacrament as a “visible means of the invisible grace.”(135) Schmemann’s discussion of the Eucharist is his longest chapter and it spills over into his appendix.

Baptism

Schmemann reminds us that baptism in the early church followed preparation that could continue for as long as three years, similar to today’s seminary studies. In the Orthodox tradition, the baptism service had three parts: “the exorcisms, the renunciation of Satan, and the confession of faith.”(69) While exorcism is no longer a part of most baptisms, renunciation of evil as an abstract concept and confession of faith is still part of most adult baptism services. (Theology and Worship Ministry Unit 1993, 406-409)

Schmemann continues:

“The exorcisms mean this: to face evil, to acknowledge its reality, to know its power, and to proclaim the power of God to destroy it.”(70-71)

While many postmodern American flitch at the idea of evil as something other than the absence of good, Schmemann was born in 1921 and experienced the horrors of World War II first hand in his native Estonia.

Assessment

I first read Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World as Itook a worship class during seminary and gladly re-read it to prepare this review, in part, because I enjoyed his treatment of liturgy. This is a book written for seminarians, worship leaders, and pastors who may find it challenging to read. Nevertheless, it is worth the time and effort.

Reference

Theology and Worship Ministry Unit. 1993. Book of Common Worship. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Footnote

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Schmemann.

Schmemann: Life is Sacramental

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Monday Monologues: Sermon on Being Fully Present, August 6, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I give a sermon on Being Fully Present. (Originally given in Spanish: Presencia Completa).

To listen, click on the link below.

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

Monday Monologues: Being Fully Present, August 6, 2018 (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 at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Prayer for a Steady Hand

Target practiceBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty father,

All glory and honor are yours, Lord,

for you are my fortress

and your presence the hand on my shoulder.

Why do I fear? Why does my grip falter?

I confess that my faith hangs by a thread

for I know that some day my strength will fail

and my only hope is in you.

Thank you for a new day and the opportunity to serve in your name.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

grant me the strength to be the person that you created me to be

and to be fully present to those around me, each and every day.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for a Steady Hand

 

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Fully Present

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

A sermon presented in Spanish at El Shadai church in Manassas, Virginia, August 2, 2018.

Prelude

Good evening. Thank you for coming.

This evening we begin a study of Christian service. Because we are created in the image of God, we want to do all the things that we see in God. Therefore, just as God is always present in our lives, we need to be fully present in the lives of those around us.

Prayer

Let’s pray.

Merciful God,

We praise you for creating us in your image and loving us as your children. Be especially present with us at this time and in this place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, bless our praise and give us the strength to be fully present in the lives of our families and the other persons around us. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

Scripture

The scripture for today comes from the Book of Mark 10:46-52. Hear the word of the Lord:

And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52 ESV)

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life? (2X)

One answer is to listen actively to the stories of a person, something quite rare in our postmodern, too active, and narcissistic life.

One Saturday, when I was a Chaplain in Providence Hospital in Northeast Washington, there was a lot of noise in the emergency department. There were people in every room and every gurney. The staff was running in every direction and patients were screaming and crying. In the middle of this chaos, there was one man who was especially noisy and bothering the other patients.

As I came to see what was going on, a nurse came and asked him for a urine sample. In the middle of the room, he unzipped his pants and gave her a urine sample on the spot. Immediately afterwards, he returned to his

gurney and began again to cry loudly. He had an athletic build, a hint of a mustache, and was about forty years old. It was obvious that he was drunk.

“Good afternoon,” I said. “I am from pastoral care. Do you have a minute to talk?”

“Sure.”

“How come you are so sad this afternoon?”

“My brother died at the age of forty of alcohol abuse, just like my father.”

“When did your brother die?”

 ¨Five years ago.¨ (2X) ¨So, now you are forty and you think that you also are going to die?¨ I asked speculating.

¨Yes. Today is my birthday.¨

After the revelation of this emotional anniversary, we hugged and began to identify alternatives for dealing with his addiction to alcohol. I remember this visit not only because of all the drama, but because another chaplain before me had could not establish a connection with this patient and failed to have a serious discussion. The connection in this case began when I realized that this patient was experiencing a type of story known as an emotional anniversary.

Today’s scripture

What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life? (2X)

The story of Jesus and the bind man, Bartimaeus, includes at least two surprising elements.

The first surprise is that Jesus stopped and talked to Bartimaeus.What celebrity stops to talk to a random person? Jesus did. (2X) The first step in being fully present in the life of anyone is to stop and talk to them. Do you talk to the invisible people in this life who no one else notices? (2X)

The second surprise is that Jesus asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” Note that Jesus does not assume that he knows the answer to this question. He offers Bartimaeus respect as an adult and does not view him through his disability as a blind man. (2X)

Bartimaeus’ answer is also interesting. His request to receive healing from his blindness indicates that he has faith. By contrast, “a man lamb from birth” in Acts 3 asked the Apostles Peter and John only for alms (Acts 3:2-3). I believe that the Bible records Bartimaeus’ name because his faith surprised Peter and the other disciples. For us, Bartimaeus’ request seems perhaps obvious because Jesus and this story are just too familiar.

What do we learn from these verses? We need to stop and talk to the invisible people around us and listen carefully to what they say. (2X)

More Discussion

What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life? (2X)

In my pastoral training to be fully present meant for the most part to listen to someone actively. Look directly into their eyes and let them tell their story. Only ask questions of clarification occasionally.

If these directions seem easy, they are not. The objective of active listen is to understand the emotional content of the story. (2X)

Author, John Savage, recommends to listen especially for the type of story being told. This story within the story reveals the emotional content that is being communicated.

In the story of the patient in the hospital, the story within the story was an anniversary—in his family the men died at the age of forty due to alcoholism. An anniversary is a story connected to a date on the calendar. Perhaps someone important died or had an serious accident on a particular date. In the story of the patient, the date was a birthday. The most famous date at the time of Jesus was the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt which they celebrated as Passover each year.

Savage (1996, 95) indicates four other types of stories.

1.    A “I know a man who” story. In this case, the person under discussin is normally the person speaking because the subject matter is too sensitive. In the Bible, we read:

“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.”(2 Cor 12:2)2.

2. A transition story has three parts—the past, the present, and the future. A hospital visit is normally a transition story. University studies are also a transition with three parts.

A transition obvious in the Bible is the story of the Exodus when the people of Israel left the land of Egypt, went into the desert for forty years, and afterwards entered the Promised Land (Bridge 2003, 43). It is interesting that the people of Israel learned to depend on God during their time in the desert.

3.    A story from the past with current meaning. This is the typical story from the Bible, but this type of story gets special mention in the context of the Lord’s Supper where we read:

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”(Luke 22:19)

4.    A reinvestment story. This is a story like economist becomes pastor. That was then; this is now. In the Bible we see this type of story in the conversion of Paul from a persecutor of the church into an evangelist for Christ.

Finally, after we hear one of the five types of stories being described, the next step is to ask a question to clarify. In my story from the hospital, I asked:

“Okay, now you turned forty years old and think that you are going to die too?” I asked speculating.

The answer to this question will indicate if you have been listening sufficiently well.

Summary

What does it mean to be fully present in someone’s life?

Every one of us can stop and listen more closely to those around us following the example of Jesus with Bartimaeus

Prayer

Let’s pray.

Holy Father,

Thank you for your forgiveness and presence in our daily lives. In the power of your Holy Spirit, give us strength to listen more closely each day to the people around us. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen

Reference

Bridge, William. 2003.  Managing Transitions:  Making the Most of Change.  Cambridge:  Da Capo Press.

Savage, John.  1996.  Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Also see:

Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to connect:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Hart Argues History to Inform the Present

Review of Davide Bentley Hart's Atheist DelusionsDavid Bentley Hart. 2009. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The old saw goes: you cannot argue someone out of a position that they were not argued into. Apologetics is accordingly most useful in convincing oneself of the reasonableness of views that you already loosely hold. For critics who engage primarily in slander, correcting the veracity of arguments propping up such slander does not normally lead to retraction of the slander so much as the advancement of new arguments of similar veracity, particularly when political or financial incentives motivate the slander. Even weakly argued slander can imperil loosely held faith so the apologist is bound to remain fully employed.

Introduction

David Bentley Hart opens his book, Atheist Delusions, with these words:

“What I have written is at most a ‘historical essay,’ at no point free of bias, and intended principally as an apologia for a particular understanding of the effect of Christianity upon the development of Western civilization.”(ix)

Hart’s concern about bias is interesting because quickly proceeds to outline his decision criteria for establishing historical truth:

“It may be impossible to provide perfectly irrefutable evidence for one’s conclusions, but it is certainly possible to amass evidence sufficient to confirm them beyond plausible doubt.”(ix)

Again, this is interesting because Hart begins playing by postmodern rules of argumentation—a modern writer might appeal to objective truth (or rationality) at this point, which would invite derision from postmodern critics.

Central Argument

As an historian, Hart focuses on using the past as a vehicle for understanding the present, writing:

“This book chiefly—or at least centrally—concerns the history of the early church, of roughly the first four or five centuries, and the story of how Christendom was born out of the culture of last antiquity. My chief ambition in writing it is to call attention to the peculiar and radical nature of the new faith in that setting: how enormous a transformation of thought, sensibility, culture, morality, and spiritual imagination Christianity constituted in the age of pagan Rome.; the liberation it offered from fatalism, cosmic despair, and the terror of occult agencies; the immense dignity it conferred up on the human person…”(x-xi)

What struck me in the middle of this lengthy essay was how much paganism of these first centuries of the church resembled the anxiety that we see every day in postmodern culture.

The Mythology of Modernism

Through the lens of historical observation, Hart furthermore chips away at the mythology surrounding the modern period. He writes:

“…what many of us are still in the habit of calling the ‘Age of Reason’ was in many significant ways the beginning of the eclipse of reason’s authority as a cultural value; that the modern age is notable in large measure for the triumph of inflexible dogmatism in every sphere of human endeavor (including the sciences) and for a flight from rationality to any number of soothing fundamentalisms, religious and secular; that the Enlightenment ideology of modernity as such does not even deserve any particular credit for the advance of modern science; that the modern secular state’s capacity for barbarism exceeds any of the evils for which Christendom might justly be indicted, not solely by virtue of the superior technology, but by its very nature…”(xi-xii)

Hart’s comment about barbarism is particularly interesting because today’s culture is quick to forget about the millions killed by the National Socialists and by various Marxian governments in our time yet obsesses about the thousands killed during the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition hundreds of years ago, where the historical veracity of various claims requires close scrutiny that is almost never offered.

Faith in Choice

An important critique that Hart examines at length is the postmodern obsession with personal freedom. He writes:

“…there is no substantive criterion by which to judge our choices that stands higher than the unquestioned good of free choice itself, and that therefore all judgment, divine no less than human, is in some sense an infringement upon our freedom. This is our primal ideology. In the most unadorned terms possible, the ethos of modernity is—to be perfectly precise—nihilism.”(21)

This observation is damning in its implications for the banality of our time. Freedom defined in terms of market choice for goods and ideas leaves no philosophical room for God, the development of personal character, or even the organization of communal activities, present or future. Inherent in this focus is an assumption that individual making choices has the resources required to make them and society is eager to provide them. Focusing on choice accordingly leaves decisions about everything else up to whoever is powerful enough to enforce them. Even the choices offered today may disappear quickly as a lack of interest in the future may lead one to eat one’s own seed-corn or to trade away one’s own freedom in the rush to consume.

Outline

Hart writes his book in 17 chapters divided into four parts:

  1. Faith, Reason, and Freedom: A View from the Present
  2. The Mythology of the Secular Age: Modernity’s Rewriting of the Christian Past
  3. Revolution: The Christian Invention of the Human
  4. Reaction and Retreat: Modernity and the Eclipse of the Human(vii-viii).

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by notes and an index.

Assessment

David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions is an interesting read for the historically sensitive and philosophically astute. Hart offers commentary on current cultural controversies that both enlightens and challenges one to probe deeper, if for no other reason than to understand his voluminous vocabulary.

Hart Argues History to Inform the Present

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

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

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