The Story Criteria

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

In a world in which all variables can change at once, no absolute proof of God’s existence can logically be given. This does not mean, however, that we have no evidence of God’s existence or that we should resign ourselves to the “big gulp” theory of faith, in which we simply take everything on faith.

Evidence of God’s Work in the World

The Bible talks extensively about truth. For example, we read:

We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:6-8 ESV)

Here, the Apostle John sees love as the proof of God’s existence and revelation to us. While I find the current pre-occupation with love unhelpful (because of the many false definitions of love), note that John is doing two things in this passage. 

First, John assumes that we can empirically observe the presence of God in people. This implies that, although there is not absolute proof of God’s existence in a logical sense, we still have evidence.

Second, this evidence of God’s existence is relational in nature. Love requires an object; it does not stand alone. In that sense, it is relational.

Wisdom from Modeling

As an economist, I built financial models for highly complex companies. The reason for these models was simple: the companies were too complex and market transactions took place too quickly to manage them by rule of thumb. To manage without a model would spell doom in a fast-paced market. Consequently, the criteria for evaluating any particular model proved simple: did this new model perform better than the previous one?

Criteria for Story Telling

Expanding on John’s relational evidence of God’s existence and our modeling criteria , we can see the importance of story telling in demonstrating the existence of God. In a world where all variables move at the same time, we can tell stories about how this complicated world points to God—or not. The criteria then for faith becomes—is the Christian story about God more credible than alternative stories about how the world works? (Sacks)

This criteria should sound familiar. In the scientific method, we normally test the validity of a primary hypothesis against a secondary hypothesis. Substituting the word, story, for the word, hypothesis, we find that the criteria is already well established in modern period. Hart writes:

 “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.”(Hart 2009, ix)

From statistical theory, we know that observations (or data) do not themselves explain anything. Drawing inferences from observations requires a theory (or story). Observations can either confirm or reject any particular theory.

Applying the Criteria

Is the Gospel story better than alternative views of the world? 

The usual answer is yes. The Christian story about God is not only the most credible story about how the world works, but it is also the most desirable. If we emulate God both individually and communally as a church, then we become a beacon of light in the world around us. Is it any wonder that the abolishment of slavery and the promotion of women’s rights were nineteenth century Christian initiatives? (Dayton) 

Most of the time when people want to argue that the answer is no, they neglect to consider the entire human condition, from birth to death, and focus on individual autonomy. The acceptability of abortion, for example, focuses on the rights of women, usually professional women, while placing a lower weight on family, intergenerational continuity, and economic growth. Lower birth rates in the United States and Western Europe have contributed to stagnating economies because economic growth requires population growth that is frustrated by the frequent use of abortion.

Reference

Dayton, Donald W. 1976. Discovering an Evangelical Heritage. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.

Hart, David Bentley. 2009. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Sacks, Jonah. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

The Story Criteria

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/Hebrew_Heart

Continue Reading

Prayer for Teachers

Math teacher at Lee_HS
Math and Chemistry Teacher

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father:

We praise you for bringing good teachers into our lives.

Teachers that care, are well-trained, and work tirelessly to help us learn—

teachers better than we deserve!

Help us to listen to advice and accept instruction (Prov 19:20) and

teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:12)

because we confess that we often tire of learning and spend too little time on it.

Thank you none-the-less for those that labor to instruct us

that we might mature into people of wisdom and faith, and

not stumble through life in ignorance for lack of guidance.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, enlighten our minds and open our hearts

that we might grow more like you day by day.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Prayer for Teachers

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/2jaUhI7

Continue Reading

Sedler: Wisdom With or Without Words

Sedler_review_03152016Michael D. Sedler. 2003. When to Speak Up & When to Shut Up: Principles for Conversations You Won’t Regret. Minneapolis: Baker Publishing Company (Chosen).

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Years ago I made a promise to myself not to give up on life for lack of courage. Courage involves things like trying something different to keep growing; being available to my family (and to others) even when it hurt; finishing the race one step at a time—even if the race is a marathon. Courage—often it has meant being fully present in my own life when important words are spoken. So when I ran across Michael D. Sedler’s book, When to Speak Up & When to Shut Up, I knew that I needed to order a copy.

What does it mean to be fully present in our own lives?

After recounting a marriage counseling session where he [as the counselor] let himself down for not speaking up and defending his own values, Sedler writes:

“This truly is a book about love . . . loving one another enough to understand when we should remain silent and when we should speak…” (16)[1]

He further observes that:

“Our very lives, both physical and spiritual, depend upon our ability and willingness to speak out at the proper moment. And by the same token, silence can bring pain, destruction, and the inevitable onslaught of sin.” (16)

This onslaught of sin is not a throwaway comment; Sedler asks: “Was the ‘original sin’ Eve’s eating the forbidden fruit or was it Adam’s silence while his wife was deceived?” (21) Phrased in this way, Eve can be seen transgressing (doing bad) the law of God while Adam committed iniquity (failure to do good)—technically, both are sins.

An important lesson that Sedler offers comes from the story of David and Goliath found in the first book of Samuel, chapter 17.  In the ancient world where battles were crudely fought and carried a horrible penalty for all involved, it was common to delegate the battle to a champion who fought on behalf of the entire nation. The Philistine champion was a giant named Goliath and he made this proposal:

“He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” (1 Sam 17:8-9 ESV)

No one in the army of Israel dared to fight him, except for a young shepherd boy named David (1 Sam 17:32).

Sedler sees 4 principles for speaking up or remaining silent in David’s response to Goliath that enabled him to gain the confidence of King Saul who allowed him to become Israel’s champion. These principles are:

  1. David was prepared (30). As a shepherd, David had battled with bears and lions in protecting his father’s sheep (1 San 17:34-36)
  2. David had a servant heart (33). Today we would say that he had a great attitude—he wanted to encourage his brothers, serve King Saul, and honor God.
  3. David asked questions (34). In preparing to battle Goliath, he asked others about the situation and checked out the reason for their fears.
  4. David concentrated on the problem (Goliath’s challenge), not on criticizing his brothers who appeared to lack courage (37). David was not trying to show off and worked to encourage his brothers (1 Sam 17:45, 47).

What Sedler sees in this account of David and Goliath is that David was a problem-solver and a team player. He was also courageous—he spoke up and stood his ground.

Standing up to giants is one thing, but silence can also be golden. Sedler suggests asking a few questions in contemplating silence:

  1. Why am I silent?
  2. What is my motivation—is it of God?
  3. Will silence further God’s kingdom, clarify the issue, or allow me or others to grow?
  4. Am I second-guessing myself?
  5. Did I suppress the urge to speak? If so, why? (92)

Here again we see Sedler engaging in problem solving and reflection in his decision process rather than reacting hastily.

Sedler describes himself as an ordained pastor, consultant, and adjunct professor at several universities. His degrees are in political science (BA), social work (MS), and ministry (DMin).  He has also taught public school and has a Jewish background.[2]  He lives and works in Spokane, Washington.  Sedler writes in 10 chapters:

  1. Never Again,
  2. When Silence Isn’t Golden,
  3. A Kingly Voice,
  4. Communication Breakdown,
  5. A Question of Authority,
  6. The Code of Silence,
  7. The Purpose of Silence,
  8. Walking in Peace,
  9. Taking a Stand,
  10. Winning the Race (7).

The appendix recounts the story of Sedler’s conversion to Christianity at age 22.

Michael D. Sedler’s When to Speak Up & When to Shut Up is a short (156 pages with appendix), accessible, and an interesting read. He targets a Christian audience. Small groups might find this book a helpful resource in discussion.

 

[1]Later, he  cites the wisdom of Solomon:  [there is] “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccl 3:7; 17)

[2] http://www.MichaelSedler.com.

Continue Reading

1 Corinthians 3: Infants in Christ

Stephen W. Hiemstra (1955)
Stephen W. Hiemstra (1955)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Jesus answered him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3 ESV).

We really want to be in control.  From a very young age, we do not want to depend on other people, to be told what to do, or to answer to anyone.  We take seriously the Declaration of Independence when it reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (July 4, 1776).

Not only do we want the freedom to deny the control of other people and other nations, we want to deny the restrictions placed on us by God himself.  Rather than a sign of maturity, this control fetish is a sign of childishness—children always imitate their parents wanting to do adult things before they are ready.

For the Corinthians, childishness had two prominent features.  They considered themselves to be very spiritual people (v 1) and they divided themselves into political parties (v 4).  The Apostle Paul responded by offering them a lesson in Christian leadership.

Christian leadership, according to Paul, consists in building on the foundation laid by Jesus Christ (v 11), serving God as we are assigned (v 5), and compensated according to quality of the work done (VV 8,13-14). Paul writes:  I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (V 6). In this agricultural motif, the farmer does not know how the seeds grow; farming consists only in fostering the growth of healthy seeds. Paul’s point is that God is responsible for growth—follow Jesus, not his servants.

Paul’s lesson clearly applies to us today.

Don’t we consider ourselves spiritual?  Paul talks about the wisdom of this age (v 18).  Hays (49-50) notes that spiritual elitism can take the form of spiritual gifts, scholarly knowledge, doctrinal correctness, moral uprightness, or political correctness[1].  When we do not consider ourselves spiritual elites, we can, of course, simply support our favorite pastor, denomination, or author who expresses our elitist preferences. Is it any wonder that schisms in the church appeal over and over through the ages and frequently find root in a selective reading of scripture itself?

Paul sees this tendency towards spiritual elitism in the Corinthians (vv 18-20) and cites the Prophet Job:

He [God] frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success.  He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end (Job 5:12-13 ESV).

Paul ends this section with another admonishment about boasting saying:  For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future– all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (vv 21-23)

As the church, we collectively are God’s temple [2] and under his watchful eye (vv 16-17).

[1]Hays, Richard B.  2011.  Interpretation:  A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—First Corinthians (Orig pub 1997).  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

[2]ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς (1Corinthians 3:17 BNT).  Translated is:  for God’s temple is holy, and you all are [that temple].

Continue Reading