07/25/14

Was John the Baptist an Apostle?

image of John the Baptist jurand / 123RF Stock Photo

image of John the Baptist
jurand / 123RF Stock Photo

I was intrigued by the research done by the Barna Group for the American Bible Society. Since 2011, The American Bible Society has commissioned the Barna Group to conduct a yearly survey called  “The State of the Bible.” The survey looks at what Americans believe about the Bible and what role it plays in their lives. The data described here was taken from the 2013 survey. You can review infographics of the surveys results or read the full yearly reports by following the above link.

Did you know that 56% of adult Americans believe the Bible has too little influence in U.S. society today? Only 13% thought it had too much influence. A significant majority of Americans (77%) believed that morality is on the decline. And one in three of them (32%) said that a lack of Bible reading is the primary cause.

What’s with the 45% of Americans who thought that the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves? Sorry. That really came from the ancient Greeks.

Four out of five adults (80%) believe the Bible to be a sacred or holy book. The Koran (8%) was the next most recognized sacred book, followed by the Torah (4%) and the book of Mormon (3%). Previous research conducted by the Barna Group in their report “Americans Identify What They Consider ‘Holy’ Books” found that some individuals (less than one-half of one percent) said that even I Ching, Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard and Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler were sacred books.

The vast majority of adults (88%) have a Bible in their home. Even those who align with other faith groups (69%) and atheists and adults with no faith (59%) live in a household with at least one Bible. One hundred percent of evangelicals said that they have a Bible in their home; 93% of Catholics. Mosaics, individuals between the ages of 18 and 28, were the age group least likely to have a Bible (79%). Fifty percent of American households have four or more Bibles.

Given several options on how to describe the Bible, more adults believed it to be the inspired word of God without errors, but with some symbolism (27%) rather than believing the Bible was the actual word of God that should be taken literally, word for word (22%). A smaller percentage (15%) thought that while the Bible was inspired by God, it also contained factual or historical errors. Sixteen percent thought it was just another book of teachings written by men that contain stories and advice.

This last reported finding of the survey, captures an interesting tension I see within the evangelical debate over defining what the inspiration of Scripture means today. Sixty-four percent of Americans affirm some sort of inspiration within the Bible. There is significant percentage of literalists (22%); a larger percentage of inerrantists that allow for some symbolism in Scripture (27%); and a notable group who affirms the inspiration of Scripture, but readily acknowledges that it has factual or historical errors (15%). Given the categories of the survey, I’d see myself as an inerrantist that allows for some symbolism in Scripture.

When given true and false statements beginning with, “According to the Bible”, 14% of Americans thought Sodom and Gomorrah were married; 8% though Noah was married to Joan of Arc. And 40% of Americans thought John the Baptist was an apostle; 12% weren’t sure. Hmm … I think we need to spend a bit more time reading our Bibles.

Do you think the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life?

07/18/14

How God Became Real for Two Modern People

Soon after Bill admitted himself to the Towns Hospital for what would be the last time, he cried out: “If there be a God, let Him show Himself!” His hospital room was filled with a white light. He was seized with an “ecstasy beyond description.” In his mind’s eye, he stood on the summit of a mountain, where a great wind of spirit blew right threw him. “Then came the blazing thought: ‘You are a free man.’” He became aware of a Presence, like a sea of living spirit. “This,” he thought, “must be the Great Reality. The God of the preachers.” Bill Wilson never took another drink. He had started down the path to become one of the cofounders of Alcoholic Anonymous.

Within our modern culture, “sensory override” encounters with the supernatural are met with skepticism or viewed as the ravings of fanatical individuals and groups. But rejecting the reality of the supernatural contradicts what William James described in The Varieties of Religious Experience and what T. M. Luhrmann reported in When God Talks Back.  Bill Wilson read VRE to help him make sense of his encounter with the God of the preachers. And Bill would later refer to James as a “cofounder” of A.A.

Like William James, Luhrmann persuasively validated these experiences of the supernatural in When God Talks Back. She even provided some experimental evidence that “sensory override” experiences were not pathological. See a description here in “How Does God Become Real for Modern People?

I have never worshipped in a Vineyard church. But I did spend some time in charismatic evangelical churches after my own personal encounter with God. A friend challenged me to read the book, More Than A Carpenter, by Josh McDowell. He said it had played a role in his own conversion. I remember being surprised by McDowell’s effective use of logical argument. But, I still wasn’t persuaded, as my friend had been.

One Saturday afternoon, I found myself wondering why McDowell said the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ was necessary for the redemption of humanity. Then in my mind (not audibly) I heard a voice say: “There was no other way.” I immediately knew the statement was true. And I immediately knew that voice was God.

I grew up in the Roman Catholic church, but had never been told that God would speak to you like that. Ironically, at that time one of the individuals I counseled actually believed he was Jesus Christ when he was in a psychotic state. I returned the book to Jerry, not saying anything about God speaking to me. My plan was to never speak of that experience to anyone. A few months later, some further, less profound experiences led me to acknowledge Jesus as my savior and Lord. I eventually did contact Jerry and tell him about God talking to me; and I have periodically told others of the experience as well.

God speaking to me is a part of my personal spiritual journey. But it is not an experience that I intentionally sought to cultivate (then or now), like the members of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. This was over thirty years ago, and I have not had a spiritual experience of the divine that has ever come close to this encounter since then. I agree with T. M. Luhrmann that: “the problem of faith is not finding the idea of God plausible but sustaining that belief in the face of disconfirmation.”

You don’t have to have God talk to you in order to believe in Him. But if He does, it can make Him real to you in a profound way. Thanks Tanya for helping me to better understand my personal encounter with God. I look forward to your next project. And I have some suggestions, if you’re interested.

Have you had any sensory override experiences of your own?

07/4/14

How Does God Become Real for Modern People?

lightstock_114278_medium_chuck_sigler

image credit: lightstock

Several years ago I read a fascinating study of psychiatry, Of Two Minds, by T. M. Luhrmann. Her insights brought clarity to how I view modern psychiatry and how it has changed since the 1970s. So I looked forward to reading When God Talks Back, where she sought to explain to nonbelievers how God becomes real for modern people. What I didn’t expect was to find new insight into how God became real to me over thirty years ago. In a future post, “How God Became Real for Two Modern People,” I describe two examples of what Luhrmann calls sensory override encounters with God, one of which happened to me personally.

Luhrmann spent time with members of two separate churches in the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. She intentionally chose a style of evangelical Christianity whose belief system would be difficult for ordinary Americans to accept. Members of Vineyard churches are encouraged to see God as someone who “interacts with them like a friend”; someone who speaks to you—at times with an audible voice. God is someone who you can hang out with; or go on a date with. Someone who wants you ask for specific things, like a particular score on your medical boards: “God just doesn’t want to know that you want to pass the MCAT. . . . God wants a number.”

According to Luhrmann, the relationship with God within a Vineyard church represents a shift towards “a more intimate, personal and supernaturally present” encounter with the divine that has developed in American spirituality over the last forty years. This style of evangelicalism wants Jesus to be as real in their lives as He was in the lives of the disciples. And it “involves an intense desire to experience personally a God who is as present now as when Christ walked among his followers in Galilee.”

God becomes “hyperreal.” He is “so real that you are left suspended between what is real and what is your imagination.” In literature, film and art, this is known as “magical realism.” Here the supernatural is seamlessly and unexpectedly blended into the natural world. Some film examples of this would be: “Stranger Than Fiction” and several Woody Allen movies, including: “Midnight in Paris” and “To Rome With Love.”

Luhrmann’s thinks that understanding or experiencing God in this way helps believers manage the doubts posed to such a belief within Western culture where reality is explained in terms of natural, physical laws. God becomes so real and so present that “the supernatural is presented as the natural.” In other words, individuals report sensory perceptions of the immaterial: of God. These “sensory overrides” are odd moments of hearing a voice when you are alone; seeing something that isn’t there; smelling or tasting something that isn’t present.

She systematically and even experimentally demonstrated how these sensory overrides were not pathological. Unlike hallucinations, these experiences of the immaterial were typically rare, brief, and not distressing. Luhrmann pointed to examples in the Bible and a long Christian tradition of individuals reporting they heard or saw the supernatural. But these sensory overrides are not limited to purely religious experiences. Like William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, Luhrmann successfully described what James said was the instinctive belief of humankind: “God is real since He produces real effects.”

Are people seeking “a more intimate, personal and supernaturally present” experience of God?

06/27/14

God Breathing on Us

Creation Concept

image credit: iStock

In my turning-from-adolescence-to-adulthood rebellion years I resisted my father’s attempts to make me go to church. My mother convinced him to not press the issue. So for the next eight years when I stayed overnight on Christmas and Easter, he would ask me if I wanted to go to church with him and the family. I always declined.

One of the first changes that came over me after I made a commitment to Christ was a strong desire to know the Word of God. So that Christmas, I gave Bibles as Christmas presents to several members of my family.  I remember trying to match each person with the “right” translation. I gave my father a NASB—New American Standard Bible. I didn’t realize at the time that since he was Roman Catholic, the New American Bible translation would have been a better choice.

So from the beginning of my faith walk, the Bible has been important to me. It has been THE holy book to me. Part of the reason I chose to attend Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia was its commitment “to Scripture and to the systematic exposition of biblical truth known as the Reformed faith.”

This last phrase, “known as the Reformed faith,” didn’t have the significance to me then that it does now. I was drawn to Westminster because of reading Cornelius Van Til. I knew he had taught there and I wanted to attend the seminary where he had taught. I also had a suspicion that I would try to opt out of studying the original biblical languages if the going got tough and I could and still complete my degree.

And I was right; I would have if I could have. Westminster didn’t give me that option, for which I continue to be grateful. In frustration I once crumpled up a Hebrew vocabulary quiz and threw it towards the front of the classroom. Doug Green, my professor, quietly picked it up, smoothed it out and returned it to me. I failed that quiz, but eventually passed all the language requirements.

Now, most of the in depth bible study I do is with my computer. The power of Logos Bible Software makes up for what my linguistic skills lack. Some of the same reference works I used in print I now use electronically. Is it wrong to admit that I find exegetical work less tedious now?

I believe the Scriptures to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. This has been a personal and spiritual confession that has grown with time. These days, there is an ongoing dispute among evangelicals over the appropriateness of attaching the words infallible and inerrant to a statement of faith regarding the inspiration of the Bible.

I don’t have the linguistic or exegetical skills to contribute constructively to this debate. But I believe the end result must be compatible with the belief of the Christians who went before us. They used the terms infallible and inerrant to communicate what the inspiration of Scripture meant in their time and culture. I want future generations of believers to experience the wonder I did as I began to understand the significance of 2 Timothy 3:16. I still remember the class where Dr. Gaffin taught how Paul was saying that all Scripture was theopneustos; inspired by God—that it was God breathing on us with His Word.

Peter Enns is one of those individuals who has the linguistic and exegetical skills to contribute constructively to the work of communicating what the inspiration of Scripture means in our time and culture. I don’t agree with everything he said in Inspiration and Incarnation. But I do think he’s right that we trust the Bible because of the gift of faith. “By faith, the church confesses that the Bible is God’s Word.” If our generation ultimately decides that words other than infallible and inerrant are needed to describe the Bible as the Word of God, let it be by the same Spirit that moved previous theologians and inspired the original autographs.

“It is up to Christians of each generation … to work out what that means and what words work best to describe it.” But it must still convey a sense of theopneustos, God breathing on us with His Word.

Do you believe the Bible is inspired in the sense of theopneustos, God breathing on us?

06/25/14

Let the Marriage Bed Be Undefiled

One woman told me that she didn’t think she could even tell her closest female friend some of the things her husband had forced her to do sexually. Another woman spent about two months in counseling accompanied by her best friend before she trusted enough to meet with me alone. A woman went with a friend of hers to a conference on abuse to be supportive of the friend. She left the conference with an awareness of how her husband had sinned against her sexually. All three of these marriages were between professing Christians. All three husbands used pornography at some point in their lives.

I first heard about When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography by Vickie Tiede from a pastor as we talked about individuals and couples who struggle with porn addiction. Then someone I was counseling said reading it had really helped her. Then I heard that Harvest USA endorsed it, and finally read it. I was using another Harvest recommendation, Closing the Window by Tim Chester, when counseling men with sexual addiction problems. Now When Your Husband is Addicted to Pornography and Closing the Window are my one-two punch in reading assignments when I counsel couples struggling with porn addiction.

From the very beginning, Tiede reaches out to minister to women hurting because of their husband’s pornography addiction. “If you are reading this introduction, it’s most likely because God had unveiled your husband’s secret addiction to lust, masturbation, and pornography. Perhaps I am the first to say this to you: I’m so sorry.” Her gentle, personal tone is evident even in the midst of honestly telling it like it is. She frequently shares from her own experience and those of other women to illustrate her various topics.

As she said in a YouTube video (available on her website, vickitiede.com): “I wrote this book because it’s my story.” Her first husband was addicted to pornography. She clearly tells her readers that the book is not a handbook to fix their husband. “It is for and about you, not your husband.”

The chapters of her book are structured as six “weeks” of themes, with five “days” of reading and contemplation around each theme: hope, surrender, trust, identity, brokenness, and forgiveness. The discussion themes are carefully grounded in Scripture. Vickie’s discussion of forgiveness is one of the best-reasoned and balanced ones I’ve ever read.

Discussion, testimony, bible study and assignments that apply to the material are throughout the book. She also lists several helpful resources, including internet filters, support groups and workshops, Christian ministry websites and professional counseling resources. As Vickie suggests, keep this resource handy to give out when there is an unexpected conversation with a neighbor or friend (or someone you counsel) whose husband struggles with porn addiction.

There is no biblical justification for using pornography. And whether a husband uses porn to feed his own lust or spice up his marital sex life, he abuses his wife and defiles his marriage. Let marriage be honored by all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4). Unfortunately, there is a crucial need for Vickie Tiede’s book. Fortunately she had the courage to write it.

What other resources do you know of for women whose husbands are addicted to porn? 

06/20/14

Groanings Too Deep for Words

My personal spiritual journey includes experiences of God talking to me; words of knowledge or discernment; praying in tongues and prophetic utterance. But I do not see myself as a charismatic or Pentecostal Christian. Nor do I think these experiences are more profound than insight gained from reading and studying the Bible. Well, maybe the time God talked to me should be reserved as a more profound experience; especially since it didn’t occur as a result of ingesting psychedelic drugs.

Recently I discovered an online dialogue about these experiences stemming from T. M. Luhrmann’s book, When God Talks Back. I think she has given us some great insight into the psychic mechanisms by which we encounter God. Here is my attempt to add two cents worth to that discussion: We need to recognize a distinction between discursive and non-discursive thought.

In her classic work Philosophy in a New Key, Susan Langer said that all language has a form that requires us to string out our ideas as if we were hanging them on a clothesline; even though these ideas may actually nest one within the other like layered clothing on a cold, windy day. This property of verbal symbolism is called discursiveness. And only when our thoughts are arranged discursively can they be spoken. “Any idea which does not lend itself to this ‘projection’ is ineffable, incommunicable by means of words.” Langer added that this was why the laws of reasoning are sometimes known as the “laws of discursive thought.”

Non-discursive expressions of our inner mental life are not linguistically structured. They exist in an incommunicable, largely unconscious mental state of emotions, feelings and desires. Some expressions of this inner mental life are seen in tears, laughter, or profanity. Langer said this leads to two basic assumptions: 1) that language is the only means of articulating thought, and 2) everything that is not speakable thought is feeling.

Langer then said that human thought is like a tiny, grammar-bound island in the midst of a sea of feeling. This island has a periphery of “mud”—a mixture of factual and hypothetical concepts broken down by the emotional tides into a “material” mode: a mixture of meaning and nonsense. Most of us live our lives on this mud flat. In artistic moods we will take to the deep, “where we flounder about with symptomatic cries that sound like propositions about life and death, good and evil, substance, beauty and other non-existent topics.” I’d substitute the word “immaterial” for Langer’s term “non-existent.” She then said:

So long as we regard only scientific and “material” (semi-scientific) thought as true cognitions of the world, this peculiar picture of mental life must stand. And if we admit only discursive symbolism as a bearer of ideas, “thought” in this restricted sense must be regarded as our only intellectual activity. It begins and ends with language; without the elements, at least, of scientific grammar, conception must be impossible.

Building on this discussion, I’d agree with Langer that conscious thought, which we use to structure the world around us, is essentially discursive. Our unconscious thought life of feelings, emotions and desires is then mostly non-discursive and largely not available to us, unless it somehow manages to press its way through to the conscious, discursive world.

A biblical expression of this distinction is found in Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”

There is a human tendency to give greater significance to discursive impressions that appear suddenly, fully formed out of our unconscious thought life. I think this is true religiously as well as psychologically. Oftentimes these insights appear while the person is concentrating on something entirely different; and also when they are dreaming.

Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians see discernment, prophetic utterance and speaking in tongues as miraculous manifestations of God’s presence. But they could simply be unexpected encounters with God that take place as they go swimming in the sea of their immaterial, unconscious thought life.

Psychological theorists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung similarly place a high value on the content of dreams as manifestations of the unconscious thought life of the individual. But they are no more significant that the material gathered by the practice of discursive “talk therapy.”

Have you ever given too much importance to impressions that appear suddenly in your conscious thought life?

06/4/14

Twentieth Century Snake Oil

My wake up call to the deceptive practices of some pharmaceutical companies came when I read The Truth About Drug Companies by Marcia Angell in 2004. Angell speaks credibly to the issue since she is a former editor-in-chief of the prestigious The New England Journal of Medicine. One example that stayed with me over the years because of its sheer, incredible audacity was how Neurontin was made into a multi-billion dollar selling drug.

In 1994 Neurontin was approved by the FDA as a secondary treatment for epilepsy—to be used when patients failed to respond to other anti-seizure drugs. The patent was due to expire in 1998 (it eventually received a two year extension). So the company began to target doctors to prescribe it for unapproved, off-label uses, “mainly common but vague conditions like pain and anxiety, and also as the sole treatment for epilepsy.”

Although doctors are legally permitted to prescribe an FDA approved drug for any use whatsoever, it is illegal for a drug company to market a drug for off-label uses. According to Angell, what Parke-Davis did was to pay academic experts to put their names on flimsy research papers that showed the drug worked for certain off-label conditions. This “research” typically fell below the standard required by the FDA for an approval of the drug for a particular condition.

Angell said the studies were small and poorly designed. “Some of the articles contained no new data at all, just favorable comments about Neurontin.” Parke-Davis hired medical education and communication companies to prepare the articles and paid academic researchers to put their names on the articles as authors. Once the articles were published in academic journals, “medical liaisons” would visit doctor’s offices to answer questions about the research.

Parke-Davis also sponsored educational meetings and conferences. The “authors” of the papers would describe the positive results of the drug’s off-label uses. Not only were the speakers paid, “but often the doctors in the audience were paid” as consultants. This was to get around the anti-kickback laws. “Consultant meetings were sometimes little more than vacations for potential high prescribers of Neurontin.”

The result was Neurontin becoming a blockbuster drug, with over 2 billion in sales for 2003. “About 80 percent of prescriptions that year were for unapproved uses—conditions like bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, disorder, insomnia, restless legs syndrome, hot flashes, migraines, and tension headaches.” In fact, Neurontin became an all-purpose restorative for chronic discomfort. An internal company e-mail described Neurontin as “the ‘snake oil’ of the twentieth century.”

A generic version of Neurontin (gabapentin) went on sale in August of 2004. The website Drugs.com reported that Neurontin sales in 2004 were approximately $2 billion dollars. In 2005, sales dropped to $259.4 million. It dropped from the 10th best selling drug in 2004 to the 123rd best selling drug in 2005. By 2006, Neurontin had dropped out of the top 200 best selling drugs.

In May of 2004 the pharmaceutical manufacturer Warner-Lambert, of which Parke-Davis was then a division, agreed to pay $430 million to resolve criminal charges and civil liabilities in connection with its “illegal and fraudulent promotion of unapproved uses” for Neurontin. See the Department of Justice announcement here. Part of the global agreement was that Pfizer, Inc., the owner of Warner-Lambert since June of 2000, agreed to training and supervision of its marketing and sales staff to ensure that “any future off-label marketing conduct is detected and corrected on a timely basis.”

In December of 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a $142 million award to the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan by Pfizer for marketing Neurontin for unapproved uses. The court also allowed two other lawsuits against Pfizer to proceed. A key factor in the court’s decision apparently was an analysis by Meredith Rosenthal of the Harvard School of Public Health. “Her analysis found that marketing Neurontin for such unapproved uses as bipolar disorder, neuropathic pain and migraines caused physicians to write 43 million off-label prescriptions.” She further calculated that 99.4 percent of the prescriptions for bipolar disorder were caused by illegal marketing.

The two outstanding lawsuits noted above now seem be settled. In April of 2014 Pfizer agreed to pay $190 million to settle a lawsuit that was first filed in 2002.  The lawsuit claimed the pharmaceutical company took several steps to delay the entry of Neurontin into the generic drug market. According to a Reuters news article, along with other delay tactics, Pfizer allegedly filed “sham patent infringement lawsuits.” And just announced on May 30th, 2014 in this report by Bloomberg, Pfizer agreed to pay $325 million to settle a lawsuit brought by health-care providers claiming that Pfizer marketed Neurontin for unapproved uses. In both settlements, Pfizer did not admit to any wrongdoing.

So why does the history of unapproved marketing of Neurontin (gabapentin) rent so much space in my head and this blog? The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled “A Pill to Cure Addiction?” on “new medicines” that are being tested to help people quit drug and alcohol habits. The “new drug,” touted as a possible cure for addiction, is gabapentin.

Do you think that Neurontin sounds like it could be the “snake oil” of the twentieth century?

05/30/14

What Would You Like to Change?

On a retreat once, a woman said she believed God wanted the group to pray for a healing of my right arm. I was born with a birth defect to my right arm. And while I do believe that all things were possible for those who believe, I wasn’t holding out much hope that the prayer would end with me having a restored right arm. But she was sincere and seemed empathetic, so I agreed for the people there to gather around me and pray for my healing.

When the prayers were done, I described the ways I believed God had shaped my through the birth defect. I said that if God offered me the opportunity to have a life where I grew up without the birth defect, but couldn’t guarantee everything else would be the same, I would refuse. Someone commented that it seemed God had already healed me.

Here and there I’ve heard other people give similar testimonies. Once at a conference, I heard a woman say she was grateful she was an alcoholic, because that was how she came to God. Recently I posed the “if God offered you an opportunity” question to someone who is in the midst of some very stressful times. She also said that if God couldn’t guarantee everything else in her life would be same, she would refuse a life change as well.

I don’t see this as Stoic. Rather, I see it as redemptive. God works through the circumstances of our lives for good (Romans 8:28). But are there things in your life that you can change and should change? Anything? And how would you go about it?

Tim Chester has written an incredibly helpful guide to do just that: You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions. Chester said his book alone cannot change someone. But it tries to connect the truth about God with our Monday-morning struggles. “This book points to Jesus and explains how faith in Jesus leads to change.”

He designed the book to be read as you work on a particular concern—your change project. Each chapter has the form of a question that you ask in your change project, with further questions at the end of each chapter to go deeper if you want. So what would you like to change? Why would you like to change? What stops you from changing? Are you ready for a lifetime of daily changing? These are all questions that Chester will ask you as you read his book. There is also additional material on the publisher’s (Inter-Varsity Press) website.

The last chapter cautioned that while sometimes people are dramatically changed, with one area of struggle disappearing almost overnight, that kind of change is rare. Most change is a slow battle. Insight and understanding into the lies and desires behind the sin doesn’t mean the problem is solved. Now you know where the fight is taking place and you know the truth you need to embrace. “But the struggle to believe that truth continues.”

What do you think stops people from making the changes they know they need to make?

 

05/23/14

Thinking God’s Thoughts

I recently discovered that the German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer Johannes Kepler used the phrase “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Referring to his work in astronomy, Kepler said: “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”

This idea can become rather Stoic at times. It has that sense in Twenty-Four Hours a Day, a book of recovery meditations for members of Alcoholics Anonymous. The December 18th meditation said that the nearer astronomers get to the ultimate composition of all things, the nearer the universe approaches a mathematical formula, which is thought. The universe itself may be the thought of the Great Thinker. Therefore, “We must try to think God’s thoughts after Him.” We must try to get guidance from the Divine Mind as to what His intention is for the world “and what part we can have in carrying out that intention.”

van-tilSince my time in seminary, I have been deeply influenced by the writings of Cornelius Van Til and his very different sense of thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Van Til said that as creatures of God, we are analogues of God. “God is the original while man is the derivative. Man’s thoughts must therefore be patterned after God’s thoughts. Man must, as we often express it, think God’s thoughts after Him.” (Essays on Christian Education)

Christianity presupposes the self-sufficient God of Scripture. God created the universe for and unto himself. “By his providence, God sustains the universe in order to realize his ultimate purpose with it.” There is purpose in the universe because God has made it so. And every purpose in the universe must be referred to God. “Without this reference to God, no purpose within the universe has meaning.” (Christian-Theistic Evidences)

If man is not autonomous, if he is in fact what Scripture says he is—a creature of God and a sinner—then he should “subordinate his reason to the Scriptures” and seek its light to interpret his experience. God’s revelation in nature as well as Scripture is always authoritarian. “The truly scientific method, the method which alone can expect to make true progress in learning, is therefore such a method as seeks simply to think God’s thoughts after him.” (The Defense of the Faith)

If theism is true, only that thought and interpretation on the part of man is true which recognizes God as the source of man and man’s interpretation. Hence we hold that in the nature of the case there is not only one true religion, but only one true interpretation of all science as well. We hold that all science that does not recognize God as the maker of the facts with which it deals and the mind with which it thinks as created by God and as properly thinking God’s thoughts after him, is false science. (Psychology of Religion)

The modern, understanding of science asks us to grant the theoretical relevancy of any hypothesis. It also asks that we test the truth of any hypothesis by experience. Lastly, the modern scientific method assumes the reality of neutral, brute, facts. But if God exists, there are no brute facts. Our study of facts must seek to know them as God wants them to be known by us. “We must then seek to think God’s thoughts after Him. To assume that there are brute facts is therefore to assume that God does not exist.” The autonomous human mind thinks of itself as acting completely independent of God. (Unpublished Manuscripts of Cornelius Van Til, Electronic edition)

So in this blog and in the other material on this website, I seek to “Think God’s Thoughts” in the sense meant by Van Til.

Do you agree that for both science and Scripture our thoughts must be patterned after God’s thoughts?

05/17/14

Faith That Seeks Understanding

Coming to faith in Christ presented me with an intellectual crisis. I thought this faith required me to believe without engaging my mind. Happily, this was not the case. Faith in Christ has been more like the wind of the Spirit opening a door into all that I came to understand. With God as my starting point, it has been a process of thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

My faith walk and professional counseling career ran parallel to each other for about ten years. Eventually they became entwined and I found myself in seminary for theological training. I then went on to write a dissertation on the spiritual, religious distinction of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Along the way I ran across the writings of Anselm of Canterbury and was struck with how his thinking was relevant to the spiritual, but not religious thinking of modern culture and Alcoholics Anonymous.

When I launched a biblical counseling and teaching ministry in 2004, Anselm Ministries seemed to be a natural name for the ministry I envisioned doing. But I soon discovered that not everyone knew about Anselm of Canterbury. Sometimes people weren’t even sure how to spell his name.

In 2013, I decided to develop and add a blog to the ongoing teaching and counseling I did through Anselm Ministries. But there was the name recognition problem of Anselm. I decided to call the new website and blog, Faith Seeking Understanding, a phrase that captures the thrust of Anselm’s thought. It also happens to be the title he initially gave to one of his most important works.

Anselm sought to find a single, philosophical proof that would demonstrate what Christians believe about God. This single proof would have to show that God truly existed as a supreme good that required nothing else; and that all other things required this supreme good for their existence and well-being. He eventually thought he was searching for something that could not be found, and attempted to put the problem out of his mind. But it was not easily dismissed.

The more he tried to dismiss it from his thoughts, the more it forced itself upon him. Then one day, “the proof of which I had despaired offered itself.” Anselm composed the proof in the form of a treatise written by someone trying to “lift his mind to the contemplation of God;” someone who “seeks to understand what he believes.” He titled it, “Faith Seeking Understanding.” At first, Anselm was reluctant to name himself as the author, but was finally convinced to do so by others. He then renamed it Proslogium, how it is known today.

What I hope to encourage in this blog is a dialogue that begins with faith and seeks to understand how that faith informs issues in the areas of addiction and recovery, counseling, and the Christian life—thinking God’s thoughts. Personally I see addiction recovery as best when it is abstinence-based and Twelve Step-centered. This spills over into counseling where I have become increasingly critical of medication-based treatment approaches for addiction and mental health problems.

There seems to be an unacknowledged presumption in these treatment approaches that addiction and mental health problems are fundamentally biological in nature. This violates a basic biblical belief in human beings as created in the image of God, as psycho-somatic beings with bodies and souls. “Treatment” for behavioral or mental health issues that emphasizes the bodily somatic side while ignoring or minimizing the psychic side will always be inadequate.

Consider this an invitation to stop back and become a regular visitor here. Let’s see where a faith that seeks understanding about addiction, counseling and attempting thinking God’s thoughts leads us.

Do you think that it is possible to truly understand the world and universe around us without faith in God?