Johnson Writes About Pentecostals Ministering in Bad Prisons

Andrew JohnsonAndrew Johnson. 2017. If I Give My Soul: Faith Behind Bars in Rio de Janeiro. New York: Oxford.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Confession time. I came to Christ through the testimony of a young and violent gang leader, Nicky Cruz, who came to Christ himself in the middle of a gang fight. His conversion took place in response to an Assembly of God (Pentecostal) mission in New York City.[1] Thus, the convergence of Pentecostalism and witness to violent young men played a key role in my own faith journey[2] so when I learned about Andrew Johnson’s book, If I Give My Soul: Faith Behind Bars in Rio de Janeiro,[3] I immediately ordered a copy.

Introduction

Johnson writes:

“Prison Pentecostalism represents a hidden but important part of the Pentecostal movement that has swept through Rio de Janeiro and much of Brazil over the past three decades. This book responds to a simple research question, ‘Why is Pentecostalism so widely practiced inside Rio de Janeiro’s prisons and jails?’” (4)

To find out, Johnson, a sociologist, spent two weeks living inside several jails in Rio de Janeiro and interviewed numerous prisoners and former prisoners. He observes:

“the prison churches not only survive but also thrive in this difficult space … because in many ways they resemble the prison gangs in structure and function. Both gang and prison church claim part of the prison as their own, each implements and enforces a set of rules for their members, and each provides a strong identity to participants and offers them protection and community.” (10-11)

What is perhaps most surprising is the level of respect afforded pastors among the poor generally, prisoners, and even the narco-gangs to the point that:

“gangs generally allow members to leave if they join a Pentecostal church as long as their conversion and subsequent [religious] practice are deemed genuine.” (10; 77).

This option is all the more striking because gang membership generally requires an oath of allegiance until death (“hasta la morgue”; 77), much like the MAFIA in North America. Similar rules and relationships with the Pentecostal churches have also been reported for Central American gangs, like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13; 76-77)[4].

Pentecostals and Gangs

Obviously, the pastors and their church neither condone nor excuse violence or drug use. The support for prisoners in jail under the most inhumane conditions speaks loudly against the attitude that gang members are sub-human, “killable people” (“seres matáves”). Killable people in Rio de Janeiro are generally poor, unemployed, descendants of slaves who live in the “favelas” and who “Brazilians do not cry for” (39-61).

When Pentecostal pastors show up at the prison gates weekly with volunteers to provide food, clothing, medical supplies, and encouragement to prisoners packed so tightly that some must sleep standing up, they get noticed even if they preach against the very things that the gangs stand for—narcotics, sex trafficking, and violence. The respect that they earn is rooted in offering the prisoners something very basic—human dignity (85).

Pentecostals and Political Action

Although Pentecostal pastors are often maligned for not engaging in political action, Johnson writes:

“When the pastors embraced rapists, prayed with murderers, sang worship songs with drug dealers, and treated all the inmates as people endowed with inherent worth, they were participating in an activity that subverted the social order.” (165)

He coined the phrase “politics of presence” to describe how they have changed the dynamics of prison life and raised the awareness of the brutality of prison life when they preached back home in their congregations (143-166).

Assessment

Andrew Johnson’s book, If I Give My Soul: Faith Behind Bars in Rio de Janeiro, is a striking work. Clearly, his research transformed his own attitude about Pentecostals and reading it transformed mine. It is hard to be neutral about brutality, even if it takes place a world away and among people that are hard to love. This is a book likely to be talked widely for a long time. Read it if you dare.

References

Peterson, Eugene H. 2011. The Pastor: A Memoir. New York: HarperOne.

Wilkerson, David. 1962. The Cross and the Switchblade. Pyramid Communications.

Footnotes

[1]As an adult working in Hispanic ministry, I learned that Nicky Cruz was both Puerto Rican and a lifelong evangelist (Wilkerson).

[2]Although I then joined a Presbyterian church, one might describe me as a lifelong Presbycostal, a term that I first heard from Eugene Peterson (217).

[3]https://crcc.usc.edu/people/andrew-johnson.

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS-13.

Johnson Writes About Pentecostals Ministering in Bad Prisons

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Tennant Highlights Five Gifts

Carolyn Tennant, Catch the Wind of the SpiritCarolyn Tennant. 2016. Catch the Wind of the Spirit: How the 5 Ministry Gifts Can Transform Your Church. Springfield: Vital Resources.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Statistical estimates show that Pentecostals (including Charismatics) are one of the fastest growing Christian groups. Their growth through evangelism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America swamps that of North American and Western European Christian groups that appear to be in decline.[1] While such statistics can explain what has happened, theology is required to explain why.

Introduction

In her book, Catch the Wind of the Spirit, Carolyn Tennant points in an interesting direction, writing:

“Catch the Wind of the Spirit grew out of the context of need and emanated from a deep study of Ephesians 4. After pondering the five ministry gifts for years, I’ve come to the conclusion that our emphasis has been all wrong. The vast majority of teaching on this has focused on church leadership. I’m firmly convinced, however, that God is focused upon the ministry currents that each person is supposed to oversee. He means for the whole church to get involved.” (5)

Currents Demonstrate God’s Power

Tennant focuses on “currents” as a concept in the electrical sense, where God himself provides the power that flows through believers to accomplish his will for our lives and the lives of those we come into contact with. The “currents” of evangelist, teacher, pastor, prophet, and apostle (6-7) are in view here and are certainly not titles of church leaders in the manner that she uses them. Clearly, Tennant’s focus on the work of the Holy Spirit, as suggested by her title, marks her as a Pentecostal.

Tennant cites an old Yiddish proverb: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” (16) She then begins her exposition with a curious analogy for being led by the spirit offered by the early Celtic church. Celtic monks would sail in coracles, small boats shaped like a walnut, taking neither a rudder not paddles, but allowing the wind to blow them where it may: “believing that God would take them where they were supposed to go to share the gospel.” (9) The idea of current is also analogous to flow of water as it, much like the wind, carries a coracle along.

Ephesians 4

The key verses in Tennant’s exegesis are:

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service…” (Eph 4:11-12 NAU) [2]

Tennant highlights the verb, gave, making the point that these currents inform the ministry of the entire church; they are not titles given to leaders set apart from the body of the church to undertaken these currents independent of the church (26-27).

Structure of the Book

Tennant structures the chapters of her book around five pairs of discussions. In each discussion, she first introduces a chapter on a current; then she follows that current with a discussion of the leadership role that focuses on that current. In the first pair, she writes about the “Powerful Wooing Current”, then discusses the role of an Evangelist. The second pair starts with the “Radical Forming Current” and is followed by a discussion of the Teacher. These five pairs therefore outline ten chapters with summary material before and after for a total of fourteen chapters.

Example of The Radical Forming Current

Because my own ministry focuses on teaching, Tennant fascinated me with her outline of sixteen different roles where teaching was the primary focus. They are: counselor, mentor, life coach, facilitator, luncheon discussion, training leaders, leading a new converts class, blogging, leading workshops, leading Sunday school, leading retreats, youth ministry, facilitating small groups, Bible quizzes, leading a men’s or women’s group, developing curriculum, and teaching seminary students (78-79). Tennant admits that her listing is incomplete, yet she shows that teaching goes beyond Sunday school. A lot of teaching takes place, for example, in a thoughtful sermon.

Assessment

Carolyn Tennant[3] is an adjunct professor at the Assembly of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri and professor emerita from North Central University in Minneapolis. Her doctorate is in Educational Administration and Supervision, University of Colorado at Boulder. Carolyn Tennant’s Catch the Wind of the Spirit highlights the work of the Holy Spirit. This is through the Christian church from a Pentecostal perspective based on an exegesis of Ephesians 4. Because the Pentecostal church has grown rapidly over the past century, we might be led to believe that it has done a better job of balancing the five gifts of the spirit than other Christian groups.

Footnotes

[1] Status of Global Christianity, 2017, in the Context of 1900–2050. Summary Data Abstracted from: Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo, eds. World Christian Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed October 2016), www.worldchristiandatabase.org.

[2] The underlying Greek manuscripts offer no punctuation, but scholars have offered their best guess and the English translation offers a second guess.

[3] https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolyn-tennant-58209452. @CaTennant

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Pettrey Explores Forgiveness

Dani Pettrey's SubmergedDani Pettrey. 2012. Submerged. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What does it mean to be forgiven? Which is more important, the forgiveness of God, forgiveness of those offended, or forgiveness of yourself? What makes forgiveness real? Sometimes the journeys that we take are not the trips that we plan.

In Dani Pettry’s novel, Submerged, we meet a beautiful and talented young woman, Bailey Craig, with a history. Bailey returns to the small town in Alaska where she grew up to bury her beloved aunt Agnes, who died in plane crash, and settle her aunt’s estate. As the days tick by, Bailey runs into her high school flame, Cole McKenna, who has not forgotten her and is now a deputy sheriff, and they both learn that the plane crash that killed her aunt was no accident. As other murders are uncovered, we learn that solving the murders requires detailed knowledge of Alaska’s Russian history that only Bailey poses. Will Bailey stay to face her past and find her aunt’s murderer or run away, as she did so many years ago? The answer depends on the depth of her experience of forgiveness.

Alaskan History

The backdrop of Pettrey’s romantic suspense is modern Alaska. In 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Steward negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia. The purchase added 586,412 square miles (1,518,800 km2) of new territory to the United States, but was ridiculed in the Congress as Steward’s Folly. Later gold and oil deposits were discovered and the Alaskan purchase proved wise indeed. Alaska became a state in 1959.[2]

Dani Pettrey

Dani Pettrey writes inspirational romantic suspense and has nine published titles.[3] She lives with her husband, two daughters, and son-in-law in Maryland. Submerged was her first published title in 2012.

Dani and I met in October at a conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Association[4] in Woodbridge, Virginia. Intrigued, I later ordered a copy of Submerged online.

Assessment

In Dani Pettry’s novel, Submerged, proved hard to put down. The storyline is fresh, credible, and cannot be anticipated; her characters are flawed, but live life deeply and struggle in overcoming their afflictions. I cried my way through the last couple chapters. Perhaps you will too.

Footnotes

[1] http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/bethanyhouse

[2} https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Purchase.

[3] Submerged (2012), Shattered (2013), Stranded (2013), Silenced (2014), Sabotaged (2015),  Shadowed (2016), Cold Shot (2016), Still Life (2017), and Sins of the Past (2016).  https://www.DaniPettrey.com.

[4] https://acfwvirginia.com.

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Teague Gives MailChimp a Spin

Paul Teague Email Marketing with MailChimpPaul Teague.[1] MailChimp Unboxed: Set-Up Your Account Correctly, Add New Subscribers, and Use the Best Email Marketing Techniques! Manchester, UK: Clixeo Publishing.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Nearly all marketing books advise independent authors to develop an email mailing list of readers who enjoy your books and raise the likelihood of repeat sales. The implication is that you have a well-defined audience eager to subscribe to your mailing list and that you understand marketing to them well-enough to write catchy newsletters that appeal to them. Unfortunately, audience information is illusive and the tools to reach them are often poorly documented for right-brained, creative types, as would describe most authors.

Why Invest in a Book about MailChimp?

In my case, I have been using MailChimp for about four years, but never really got comfortable that I knew exactly how to use it effectively. The online documentation is thorough and well-written for middle-of-the-day use, but in the wee hours of the night when I typically wrote my monthly newsletter it appeared almost incomprehensible. In this context, I welcomed Paul Teague’s how-to book, MailChimp Unboxed when it appeared earlier this year.

Teague introduces his objectives with these words:

“I have written this book because I want to show you why email marketing is so powerful and I also want to demonstrate how you can get started immediately, using only free tools.” (4)

Teague’s audience is the small business operator and his zero-to-sixty metric starts with no knowledge and ends up with explaining targeted Facebook ad composition. The focus, of course, is on becoming familiar with MailChimp as an email and customer-relationship-management (CRM) platform (3-4), although Teague clearly has experience working with a wide range of alternative email marketing tools.

Basic Concepts

Although I have been managing an email list for over a decade, email had not been invented when I attended my last marketing class in the early 1980s. Teague’s explanation of basic concepts proved helpful for me. The motivation for email marketing arises through “repeat sales, cross-sells, and upsells” (6), which is quite different from keeping in touch with an author through a newsletter focused on what’s been happening lately. Spam is unrequested and unstoppable email, while “proper email marketing is always permission-based.”(7)

In some sense, email marketing is all about the life-cycle of participants in a database list who share common interests. How do you find and motivate people to subscribe, open, and click on your emails rather than unsubscribe from the list or report your emails as spam? (7-9) Emails “bounce” when they cannot be delivered because of incorrect or old addresses, full mailboxes, technical problems, or are blocked (9).

Moving On

Once Teague reviewed the basics of email marketing, he began walking through the MailChimp sign up process and performing basic functions. As with any how-to computer book, I found it helpful to sit in front of the computer and walk along with him to make sure that the easy stuff was really easy for me. I always find this arrangement challenging because every time Teague taught me a new trick I wanted to run and play with it.

An example of this problem occurred last night. Having reviewed how to set up welcome-to-my-list and unsubscribe-from-my-list, I found myself implementing this framework for a men’s group mailing list that I maintain. I used to warn people that “itis easier to get on than to get off my list”, but not anymore! I sent an email to list members inviting them to invite men to subscribe or unsubscribe, as they see fit.

Who is Paul Teague?

Paul Teague is an author and web-designer living in Manchester, UK. He writes online that he has “worked as a waiter, a shopkeeper, a primary school teacher, a disc jockey and a radio journalist and broadcaster for the BBC.” He wrote his first book at the age of nine.

Assessment

Paul Teague’s MailChimp Unboxed is a helpful book on how-to start with and utilize MailChimp for email marketing. He limits his discussion to features available in the free version of MailChimp with the small business operator in mind as his target reader. He generally avoids delving into the integration of MailChimp with other email tools used by professional marketers. Teague writes clearly and uses screen shots to illustrate his points.

Footnotes

[1] https://clixeo.com. http://self-publishing-journeys.com.  @PaulTeagueUK.

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C.S. Lewis’ Faith Journey

C.S. Lewis MemoirC.S. Lewis. 1955. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt Book.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Memoirs often challenge reviewers because they are not easily summarized. An analytical book often argues a single idea by breaking it down into supporting ideas while a synthesis builds up related ideas to form a conclusion. While a good memoir is more the latter, oftentimes the path through life can be serendipitous in its living and can read more like a mystery in its telling. Thus, even a deep read may not reveal the structure in the author’s mind, leaving the reviewer in a pickle as to what pieces to highlight.

In his memoir, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis writes: “The book aims at telling the story of my conversion and is not a general autobiography, still less ‘Confessions’ like those of Saint Augustine or Rouseau.” (vvii) This description pegs Lewis’ work as a memoir which differs from an autobiography primarily in having a theme (“my conversion”). The conversion of C.S. Lewis to the Christian faith interests many because Lewis ranks among the most persuasive of Christian apologists of the twentieth century owing to his skill as a fiction writer and vast knowledge of modern and classical languages, and philosophy. While others might resort to penning a memoir out of vanity or desire for reflection, Lewis writes at the urging of his readers (vii).

The Question of Joy

When I purchased Lewis’ book back in 2013 during seminary, I was attracted by the title, Surprise by Joy, and paid no attention at all to the subtitle: The Shape of My Early Life. I hoped for a study of joy, perhaps as a biblical theme, but did not initially identify the book as a memoir. When I began reading in earnest this fall having just completed a memoir of my own, Lewis’ memoir posed an immediate interest. Lewis does not study joy extensively perhaps because his early life displayed so little of it.

Influence of Lewis’ Parents

Lewis begins his journey of faith describing his parents:

“I was born in the winter of 1898 at Belfast, the son of solicitor and of a clergyman’s daughter…The two families from which I spring were as different in temperament as in origin. My father’s people were true Welshmen, sentimental, passionate, and rhetorical, easily moved both to anger and to tenderness; men who laughed and cried a great deal and who had not much of the talent for happiness. The Hamiltons were a cooler race. Their minds were critical and ironic and they had a talent for happiness in a high degree—went straight for it as experienced travelers go for the best seat in a train.” (3)

One might expect a memoir to start with one’s birthday, not a season of birth—winter, especially in the first sentence. For a man of letters such as Lewis, this is unlikely to have been an accidental turn of phrase. If you think that I am reading too much into this one word, Lewis describes the Lewis family as having “not much talent for happiness”, while his mother’s family posed a “talent for happiness.” Again, this is unlikely to have been an accidental turn of phrase. This is true especially because we soon learn that Lewis’ mother died while he was yet quite young and just before he announces this fact to us he takes great pains to define joy (18).

Lewis’ Experience of Joy

Before defining joy, Lewis takes pains to outline his imaginary life as a child and cites a number of books that aided this interior life. He is especially attracted to “dressed animals” and “knights in armor” that live presumably in “Animal-Land” (13). After discussing three such books, he cautions readers not interested will find nothing further of interest in his memoir because books such as these are his joy (17). He then writes:

“I call it [a desire more desirable than any other satisfaction] Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.” (18)

Lewis accordingly finds joy in reading and in his interior life, perhaps, because he experienced such deep grief on the loss of his mother (18-19) and found joy nowhere else in his exterior life. He concludes: “with my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.” (21)

Boarding School

With the death of his mother, Lewis’ father became his chief influence and his father sent both Lewis and his brother off to boarding school, which Lewis describes as a concentration camp. Much of his memoir, with the exception of about fifteen pages devoted to his experience as a young British officer in World War One (WWI), focuses on his experiences in a variety of schools. While fascinating to read, in the context of the story of Lewis’ coming to faith, his education functions as a lengthy prelude to his conversion experience—there I was; here I am.

Returning to Faith

After WWI Lewis returned to school at Oxford and began to reassess his worldview as a college atheist. In conversations with a friend, he notes have been persuaded to give up his:

“chronological snobbery, the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” (207)

In my own experience, this “chronological snobbery” forms a cornerstone of atheism in our own time because it is hard to accept the divine inspiration the Bible when anything written before the Internet (Millennials) or before the 1960s sexual revolution (Boomers) is considered obsolete. Lewis clearly anticipated this larger problem having named and confronted it already in the 1940s.

Hounds of Heaven

Lewis writes using different metaphors about God’s pursuit of his soul. For example, he writes:

“But, of course, what mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism, my lawlessness. No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word Interference. But Christianity placed at the center what then seem to me a transcendental Interferer…’This is my business and mine only.’” (172)

and

“And so the great Angler played His fish and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue.” (211)

But for Lewis the metaphor that he highlights most obviously is that of a divine Chess master in two separate chapter titles: check and checkmate (165, 212). What metaphor would appeal to a scholar and intellectual? Lewis writes of returning to faith in 1929, when he was 31 years old (228).

And what does Lewis make of joy? Once having rediscovered his faith, he lost interest and described it merely as a signpost which, having provided direction, posed little further utility (238)

Assessment

C.S. Lewis’ memoir, Surprised by Joy, is a gem that describes his early childhood, falling away from and return to Christian faith. This is a book of special interest to Lewis fans and those interested in Christian memoir.

C.S. Lewis’ Faith Journey

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Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 2

Kelly James Clark, Return to ReasonKelly James Clark. 1990. Return To Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One reason that many people dismiss apologetics is influence of the romantic period (early nineteenth century) has led many Christians to focus on heart rather than head in their faith. Pastors have been known to say—“people won’t care what you know until they see how much you care.” While there is truth in this expression, head and heart cannot be separated.

After the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, Jonathan Edwards observed that, if revivals were not followed by sound teaching, the formerly fervent new believers soon wandered off, never to be seen again in church. We witnessed this very same pattern in the weeks after 9-11 as the new faces in church after the attack soon disappeared again. Clearly, we need apologetic insights into the faith that we adopt with our hearts in order to remain faithful when our fervent hearts cool.

In part one of this review of Kelly James Clark’s book, Return to Reason, I gave an overview of Clark’s argument about evidentialism

“Evidentialism [according to Clark] maintains that a belief is rational for a person only if that person has sufficient evidence or arguments or reasons for that belief.” (3)

I will examine in part 2 three arguments for the existence of God laid that Clark critiques: the cosmological argument by Richard Taylor, William Paley’s argument from design, and a probabilistic argument outlined by Richard Swinburne. Clark describes attempts to prove God’s existence from facts known about the natural world at natural theology (15).

The Cosmological Argument

This argument begins with a question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” (17) Citing Taylor, Clark appeals to the principle of sufficient reason:

“…for every positive truth there is some sufficient reason which makes it true. There are two ways that statements can be true. Statements can be contingently true, which means their being true depends on something else; and statements may be necessarily true, which means their truth is not dependent on the truth of other statements.” (18)

Taylor sees no reason to doubt that the existence of the world is contingent on something else that we do not know (the chain of causality must lead to something eternal and imperishable). This eternal and imperishable being is God (21-22).

While the conclusion from this argument that God exists is obvious to a theist (someone who already believes in God), a non-theist sees no reason to conclude that the world is contingent on anything (23). The theist stops when God is presented; the non-theist asks whether God is contingent (24). Thus, the pre-supposition that God exists renders the argument moot.

The Argument from Design

Clark summarizes Paley’s argument succinctly:

“The world shows design; design implies a designer; hence, the world requires a designer.” (27)

Paley arguments that the existence of a stone poses no evidence that anyone ever put it there, but if one found a watch lying on the beach, the precision and subtly of a watch begs the question of who made it.

Hume argued, unlike with a watch, we have no experience with how the universe was made and so it appears as a unique item. Our explanations are therefore by analogy, not direct knowledge. Suppose, for example, the universe were created by a committee, not just one person. Thus, we cannot intuit the existence of God from design, except perhaps through anthropomorphism (51). Darwin believed that instead of design, the extinction of species pointed to an absence of design and to evolution as the mechanism for the creation of complex animal features (33-34).

A Probabilistic Argument

Clark summarizes Swinburne’s probabilistic argument as follows: 

  1. “The existence and design of the world—including morality, free moral agents, religious experience—are extremely improbable without the hypothesis of theism.
  2. The hypothesis of theism significantly raises the probability of the existence and design of the world.
  3. The hypothesis of theism explains and unites under a sign hypothesis an otherwise disparate and unlikely set of phenomena—the existence and design of the world, religious experience, miracles, and evil.
  4. The hypothesis of theism has sufficiently intrinsic plausibility.
  5. Therefore, it is like that God exists” (38).

Mackie looks at the same evidence and concludes that a materialistic or naturalistic origin for the universe is more likely, particularly because we have never observed a person without a body (38-39). Consequently, once again we see that the probabilistic argument depends heavily on the fundamental beliefs that you hold, prior to the argument rendering the argument moot (40).

Clark argues that because each of the arguments for God’s existence (or non-existence) do not stand alone, independent of prior beliefs, experience from the natural world cannot be used to substantiate the existence of God. In statistics, we are taught that relationships among observe data cannot determine causality, a restatement of Clark’s conclusion. It is accordingly pointless to pursue the requirements for proof under evidentialism (43). He therefore proceeds to explore alternatives.

In his book, Return To Reason, Kelly James Clark examines the Enlightenment claim that insufficient evidence exists to believe that God exists, an argument that he describes as evidentialism. He reviews three arguments for the existence of God and their weaknesses. He then goes on to reject evidentialism as a standard for determining rationality and to discuss the rationality of belief in God. Clark’s concise presentation should interest anyone who cares about apologetics.

References

Darwin, Charles. 1958. Autobiography (Orig Pub 1887). Edited by Francis Darwin. New York: Dover.

Hume, David. 1980. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Orig Pub 1776). Edited by Richard H. Popkin. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Mackie, J.I. 1982. The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Paley, William. 2002. The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (Orig Pub 1785). Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. Online: http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/paley-the-principles-of-moral-and-political-philosophy. Cited: 18 November 2017.

Swinburne, Richard. 1979. The Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon.

Taylor, Richard. 1974. Metaphysics. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 2

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Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 1

Kelly James Clark, Return to ReasonKelly James Clark. 1990. Return To Reason: A Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. (After December 5: Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For those of us that grew up believing in God at an early age, apologetics seems a bit unreal. How do you prove that your parents exist? The answer is that you do not prove their existence; you simply point to them. Still, the arguments give comfort that your own existence makes sense and includes continuity with those that went before, something like a genealogy study proves royal lineage.

Introduction

Kelly James Clark’s book, Return to Reason, focuses on a crucial critique offered during the Enlightenment:

“Evidentialism maintains that a belief is rational for a person only if that person has sufficient evidence or arguments or reasons for that belief.” (3)

This statement is an epistemological presupposition, which is an untested, presumption about how we know something, has intuitive appeal because we all want to believe that we are rational thinkers. However, as Clark argues, almost nothing that we believe actually meets this criterion which, particularly in view of the damage that it has done to the Christian faith community, leaves us wondering if a bias has been exhibited merely by posing this standard for belief.

Responses to Evidentialism

Clark points to three basic responses to evidentialism. The first response (theistic evidentialism) is that some people believe that sufficient evidence for God’s existence can be demonstrated. The second response (fideism) is to admit that sufficient evidence does not exist, but we must simply have faith that God exists. The third response is to reject evidentialism (reformed epistemology) and develop an alternative definition for rationality. Clark writes in support of this third response and argues that evidentialism is doubly flawed (6-8).

Outline of Book

Clark writes his book in four parts:

  1. “Proving God’s Existence: Problems and Prospects
  2. God and Evil
  3. The Irrelevance of Evidentialism: God—Hypothesis or Person?
  4. Return to Reason: The Irrationality of Evidentialism” (vii-viii).

In view of the importance of these arguments, I will write this review in two parts. Part one will focus on Clark’s argument. In part 2, I will examine Clark’s problems with the classical apologetics.

Background on Clark

Kelly James Clark (1956- ) is currently Senior Research Fellow at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute and Professor at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids Michigan. Clark received his Phd from the University of Notre Dame where his dissertation advisor was Alvin Plantinga. He has held professorships at Calvin College, Oxford University, University of St. Andrews, Notre Dame & Gordon College. He also served as Executive Director for the Society of Christian Philosophers from 1994-2009. Clark’s books include Religion and the Sciences of Origins, Abraham’s Children, The Story of Ethics, When Faith Is Not Enough, and 101 Key Philosophical Terms of Their Importance for Theology.[1]

Assessment

In his book, Return To Reason, Kelly James Clark examines the Enlightenment claim that insufficient evidence exists to believe that God exists, an argument that he describes as evidentialism. He reviews three arguments for the existence of God and their weaknesses. He then goes on to reject evidentialism as a standard for determining rationality and to discuss the rationality of belief in God. Clark’s concise presentation should interest anyone who cares about apologetics.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_James_Clark. @KellyJamesClark.

Clark Rejects the Rationality of Evidentialism, Part 1

Also see:

Plantinga Defends Merits of Confessional Faith

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Sandberg and Grant Examine Grief and Resilience

Sandberg and Grant Option BSheryl Sandberg[1] and Adam Grant.[2] 2017. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

About half of the patients I visited with in the emergency room during my time at Providence Hospital suffered physical maladies as a consequence of unresolved grief. Presenting diagnoses, such as backaches, strokes, heart attacks, failed psychiatric medicines, suicides, addictions, obesity, and head aches, often resulted from unresolved grief over the loss of a close family member. In such cases, treating the presenting ailment proved secondary to helping them cope with their loss. American society does not cope with grief adequately so we mask our grief with physical ailments.

Introduction

In their book, Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explore Sandberg’s journey with the loss of her husband Dave Goldberg early in 2014 during a vacation in Mexico. They write:

“This book is my and Adam’s attempt to share what we’ve learned about resilience. We wrote it together, but for simplicity and clarity the story is told by me (Sheryl) while Adam is referred to in the third person.” (11)

You might think, oy vey, another book about grief, but you would be wrong for two reasons. First, Sandberg and Grant really do explore the question of resilience, providing something other than another book outlying the stages of grief. Second, Sandberg is the chief operating officer at Facebook and Grant is a well-known psychologist at the Wharton School. This book is a deep dive into resilience (or self-care) with both personal and professional applications in view. Still, grief is normally the jumping off point for the resilience issues discussed.

Three Ps

An important insight that Sandberg and Grant return to throughout the book draws from the three Ps of Martin Seligman:

  1. “Personalization—the belief that we are at fault;
  2. Pervasiveness—the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and
  3. Permanence—the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.” (16)

The three Ps are important because they amplify the losses that we suffer and we hammer them in our own heads through negative self-talk.

In the death of Sandberg’s husband, the three Ps each played an important role in deepening her experience of grief. She initially blamed herself for his death (personalization), felt that everything was horrible—especially for her kids (pervasive), and believed that the pain of grief would go on forever (permanence; 16-20). Her counselors worked hard to disavow each of these lies/half-truths that she had told herself, helping to ease her discomfort and accelerate her recovery.

Core Beliefs of Resilience

Sandberg and Grant see four core beliefs that aid resilience, especially in children:

  1. They have some control over their lives;
  2. can learn from failure;
  3. matter as human beings;
  4. have real strengths to rely on and share. (111)

What stands out from this list of beliefs is how extremely counter-cultural they appear. If anything, our culture reinforces just the opposite beliefs. In fact, Sandberg and Grant immediately cite a study showing that two-thirds of at-risk kids fail to develop such resilience and suffer serious consequences already in adolescence (111).

Assessment

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s new book, Option B, opens up the question of grief through the eyes of someone who has experienced it deeply. Christians often say that when God closes a door, he opens a window—Option B is that window. Sandberg and Grant walk their readers through that window with flair and grace.

References

Seligman, Martin E. P. 1991. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Pocket Books.

Footnotes

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

[2] http://www.adamgrant.net. @AdamMGrant.

Sandberg and Grant Examine Grief and Resilience

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Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief 

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Fairbairn Simplifies Greek and Latin Grammar

Donald Fairbairn Understanding LanguageDonald Fairbairn.[1] 2011. Understanding Language: A Guide for Beginning Students of Greek and Latin. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I realized my call to ministry, I began studying Greek, the language of the New Testament. This was years before finding a seminary to attend because I feared not being able to keep up with younger students in learning the language. When I eventually entered seminary, I tested out of the first semester of Greek. The complex usage questions that come up in the second semester of Greek proved too hard for me to master on my own. I always wanted also to study Latin, but I never got beyond reading individual verses and using the Vulgate in translating Greek passages for seminary assignments.

Introduction

In his text Understanding Language: A Guide for Beginning Students of Greek and Latin Donald Fairbairn describes his objectives as:

“This book begins not with English grammar, but with the big-picture idea that different languages can express the same concepts in different ways. Then it turns to the functional question of what languages have to accomplish to enable speakers and writers to communicate well. What do nouns have to do? What do verbs have to do? How can words and phrases be combined to express complex ideas?” (xv)

This last question is intriguing because this was exactly the reason that I failed to test out of my second semester of Greek. I got confused with why I needed to understand so many verb, noun, and participle forms because I did not understand their basic functions, which went much further than my prior experience with a declined language—German.

Fairbairn’s Background

Fairbairn’s interest in linguistics reflects his background. While he is currently the academic dean of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, he is also the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity with degrees from Princeton University (AB), Denver Seminary (MDiv), and University of Cambridge (PhD)—church history requires more than a passing knowledge of Greek and Latin. His books include: Eastern Orthodoxy through Western Eyes, Grace and Christology in the Early ChurchLife in the Trinity: An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers (review: Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 1), and Fulgentius of Ruspe and the Scythian Monks: Correspondence on Christology and Grace. 

Outline

Fairbairn writes his book in four parts and ten chapters. The four parts and chapters are:

Part 1: Getting Started

1.Learning a Foreign Language

2. Study a Dead Language: Why Bother?

3. The Building Blocks of Language

Part 2: Nouns and the Words that Go with Them

4. Expressing the Relations between Noun

5.Adjectives, Articles, and Pronouns

Part 3: Verbs: The Heart of Communication

6. What Do Verbs Do?

7. Finite Verb Forms: A Closer Look at Tense and Mood

8. Special (Non-Finite) Verbal Forms: Infinitives and Participles

Part 4: Looking into Sentences as a Whole.

9. Words, Phrases, Clauses: Putting them Together

10. Reading a Greek or Latin Sentence: Some Suggestions.” (vii-viii)

 Anyone who has studied Greek will recognize that getting into the weeds starts when you reach participles. From that point forward (chapter 8) in Fairbairn’s book the advice becomes especially critical.

Highlights

Some of the most interesting things that I learned reading Fairbairn’s book could be described as background information. He gives three reasons to study Greek and Latin: to pick up nuances in the languages lost in previous translations, to understand better the world that birthed Western civilization, and to understand English better (16-23). I did not know, for example, that English has more prepositions than Greek or Latin because it does not decline its nouns—declensions perform a similar function in the language (43). Declension also frees a language to use word order to focus on emphasis rather word function (42).

Some of the most useful details that Fairbairn offers come in discussing the word function of relations among nouns, known as cases. He cites eight: nominative (subject), vocative (command), accusative (direct object), dative (indirect object), instrumental (causive), locative (place), genitive (ownership), and ablative (separation) (58-63). Knowing the function of cases helps a student understand especially the different uses of prepositions and, of course, the uses of the declensions. Not being familiar with the functions leaves one confused when confronted with the many forms that these cases and prepositions can take.

Fairbairn provides a particularly helpful table 4-1 (66) that displays how Greek and Latin handle these basic functions differently. The Greek dative case, for example, handles the dative, ablative, and locative functions found in Latin, making it a kind of kitchen-sink case in Greek. Meanwhile, in Latin the dative case handles only two of the four functions handled by the Greek dative.

Assessment

Donald Fairbairn’s Understanding Language is an interesting and helpful text for beginning students of Greek and Latin. The book reads well and normally substitutes accessible descriptions for the more technical terms that linguists typically employ.

Footnotes

[1] http://www.gordonconwell.edu/academics/view-faculty-member.cfm?faculty_id=57841&grp_id=8947.

 

Fairbairn Simplifies Greek and Latin Grammar

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Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 1 

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Meeks Explains Amazon Ads (2)

Meeks Mastering Amazon AdsBrian D. Meeks.[1] 2017. Mastering Amazon Ads: An Author’s Guide. CreateSpace.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In April I began advertising with Amazon Ads, sometimes called AMS ads. In the summer, I cut my bids about in half and started showing a small profit on the ads at the cost of reducing my sales volume. Over the last six months, I have gone from selling most of my books in person to selling more online and my Kindle sales have exceeded paperback sales. If sales continue at current rates, I will exceed the benchmark of having sold more than one thousand Christian, non-fiction books.[2]

Against this backdrop, when I learned that Joanna Penn was hosting a podcast[1] with Brian Meeks, a former business analyst, on AMS Ads, I was all ears. When I learned that Brian also had a book on the subject, I immediately ordered a copy.

Introduction

Brian Meeks begins his book, Mastering Amazon Ads, with these objectives:

“Later in this book I’m going to cover many aspects of marketing: how to improve your ad’s performance, return on investment (ROI), some of the misconceptions about Amazon ads, and dozens of other pieces to the puzzle.” [SIC].(7)

AMS offers two kinds of ads: sponsored product (SP or keyword) and product display (PD or interest) ads (16). Because SP ads run almost immediately and PD ads take a day or two to kick in, many people write off PD ads as not profitable (8).

Brian advocates PD ads because they are easy to set up and serve a different market—PD run on Kindle, while SP ads do not (8). Because the ads serve different markets, they do not compete with one another which implies that authors should run both kinds of ads to maximize their sales. Consequently, I began testing PD ads even before I finished reading the book.

Metrics

Before writing full-time, Brian worked as a business analyst and he advocates testing the assumptions that go into creating AMS ads. But how do you know that your ads perform as well as they might? Brian says test and measure performance among the alternatives.

Brian advocates measuring ad performance by taking daily snap shots of ad statistics provided by AMS. Key performance indicators are:

Click Through Rate (CTR).

How many impressions (views of the ad) are required to get a click?

Brian likes PD ads because the CTR is lower (fewer impressions are required to get a click) and conversion rate is lower (fewer clicks are required to get a sale) (19). In my own test comparing my first books’ SP performance with its PD performance, I notice today that the CTR for my SP is 1,298 to 1, but for my PD is it 340 to 1. This implies that my PD ad generates about four times as many clicks as my SP ad. (Brian’s own test showed five times as many clicks). Brian sees the CTR as a measure of ad copy efficiency (21).

Conversion Rate (12-13).

How many clicks are required to get a sale?

The conversion rate from clicks to sales combined with the bid give the cost of a sale. If five clicks are required to get a sale on average and the bid is $0.11 per click, then the ad cost of a sale is 5 *$0.11 or $0.55.

Return on Investment (ROI).

Are the ads profitable?

According to Brian (13), the ROI for ads is calculated by subtracting ad costs from ad revenue (price times the royalty rate) and dividing that number by the cost of the ads.

Continuing the above example, if a Kindle sale generates $3.47 ($4.95 * 70%) and costs $0.55, then the ROI on that ad is: 531% ($3.47 – $0.55)/$0.55). If the Kindle sale generates $0.35 ($0.99 * 0.35), then the ROI is: – 36% (($0.35 – $0.55)/$0.55).

Clearly from this example, the bid offer and the book pricing work together to determine whether ads are profitable. If the bid is too high or the book price is too low, then the ads are not profitable. Brian makes both observations repeatedly in his discussion and examples.

Assessment

Brian Meeks’s Mastering Amazon Ads: An Author’s Guide is a helpful book for authors who want to sell books on Amazon.com. Brian’s writing style is accessible and his analytical advice is useful for those not comfortable in working with numbers.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.TheCreativePenn.com/2017/09/04/Mastering-Amazon-Ads-Brian-Meeks.

[1] www.BrianDMeeks.com/non-fiction. @ExtremelyAvg. http://ExtremelyAverage.com.

[2] According to different sources, less than five percent of independent authors sell a thousand books and most sell none at all. For this reason, the thousand book threshold garners attention.

Meeks Explains Amazon Ads

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