All posts by paulzung@gmail.com

Non-Conformity: Pluralism, Materialism, Relativism, Narcissism

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?

 

My church history professor once remarked that it is always the sector of the Christian church that most earnestly strives to engage the culture,  that runs the greatest risk of conforming to it.  For fear of conformity, others groups throughout history have sought to live a Christian life apart from the culture of the day, and therefore away from the pull of society’s values.  John Stott tells us that escapism and conformism are both forbidden to us.  He then identifies four challenges to our “being in the world but not of it.” For each of these, I have gathered some online readings that I have found to be of interest. (I am still adding to the list but we begin with these)

I hope that you can pick a topic that seems relevant to you and read about it.  Consider what stance a radical, faithful adherence to Jesus’ teaching would require in that area, and  prepare to discuss it in class.

Pluralism

Every belief system “has its own independent validity and an equal right to our respect. ” pg 19 RD

Harvard Pluralism Project       Global Centre For Pluralism 

Agree or disagree?

a) There are people of diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

b) This diversity is good

c) All backgrounds, worldviews, and values are equally deserving of our respect.

d) Dominance of one view necessarily leads to the suppression of other views

e) Suppression of a culture or belief leads inevitably to the suppression of the people who espouse it.

Is there a difference between religious pluralism and cultural pluralism?

Consider the mixing of Jews, Christians, and Muslims  11th century in Spain,  various Christian denominations in the 18th century in America , Islamic groups in the Arab world,  and the mass immigration to Europe in the past decade.

How have Chinese suffered or benefited from multiculturalism in Canada?

How are material prosperity, status, and pluralism related to each other in countries that are on the rise?  What was the outcome of pluralism in Israel during the united kingdom under Solomon?              1 Kings 11 

‘I told you so.’  Deut 17:14

How did Paul relate the gospel to the multi-cultural-multi-religious world of the Roman Empire?

What is the vision of heavenly worship in the New Jerusalem?

The Good of Religious Pluralism -Peter Berger

Relativism

Relativism is the idea that views are relative to differences in perception and consideration. There is no universal, objective truth according to relativism; rather each point of view has its own truth.[1]

Tell the story of my patient, the world traveller from PEI 

Materialism

“A tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values”
Consider the wilderness temptation of Jesus.  Luke 4
“The tendency of the world is to see things in terms of an indeterminate grey; but the duty of the Christian is to see things in terms of black and white.”  G.K. Chesterton
“The Christian must be consumed by the conviction of the infinite beauty of holiness and the infinite damnability of sin.” Carlyle
What did the tempter want to take from Jesus in exchange for what he offered?

The Millennial Minimalists

 

Narcissism

“a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts”.  DSM IV

The Narcissism Epidemic 

Summary of Narcissism Epidemic 

Birth Cohort Increases in Narcissistic Personality Traits Among American College Students, 1982–2009

A Sociocultural Approach to Narcissism: The Case of Modern China 

 

 

Which one of these is the greatest threat to your discipleship?   What is Christ calling you to do about that ?

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.   1 Pet 2:9 

 

The Radical Disciple

Jesus is Lord.” While many of us would wholeheartedly confess this, all of us need to be mindful of Jesus’ admonishment: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” We will examine eight aspects of Christian discipleship that are commonly neglected, according to John Stott’s personal faith journey and extensive ministry to the evangelical world. We will learn through study of Scripture, personal reflections during the week, and sharing and encouragement from one another. Let us pray that the Lord will use this Sunday School series to transform our lives.

Schedule

Oct 1

Introduction: What is a radical disciple?

Oct 8 (Thanksgiving)

Nonconformity

Oct 15

Christlikeness

Oct 22

Maturity  (moved one week earlier to this date)

Oct 29

500th Anniversary of the Reformation

Nov 5

Creation Care

Nov 12

Simplicity, part 1

Nov 19

Simplicity, part 2

Nov 26

Balance

Dec 3

Dependence

Dec 10

Death

Dec 17

Sharing: Following Jesus as Lord

References / Recommended Reading

  • John Stott, The Radical Disciple – some neglected aspects of our calling. (Downers Grove: InverVarsity Press, 2010).  Preface & Chapter 1

How to make the most of the sessions?

  • Read each chapter before the class.

  • Have a partner for sharing and prayer.

  • Use the preparation questions provided by the facilitators. Keep a simple journal on your reflections, and share with the class if you are comfortable.

Reflections on Polkinghorne’s essay

So Finely Tuned A Universe

 

I have always appreciated the ability of great thinkers to see patterns that lie behind a multitude of details. Landmark discoveries are the result of imaginative brooding.  From such effort, people discern the deep, subtle patterns that run through the natural world.  John Polkinghorne discerns two patterns in the universe that ought to make any thoughtful person, whether theist or atheist marvel. First, that the patterns consistently followed by nature are describable by natural laws that are comprehensible to the human mind. At first, this did not strike me as very outstanding, since the brain of any child can model the rules of any language in which the child is raised.  We are capable of modelling all kinds of patterns of thought,  and all sorts of hypotheses about the universe, not just the ones that turn out to be correct, and we hone them until we get it right.  However, as I thought about it, it is marvellous that the ones that turn out to be true have a quality of simplicity and beauty.  (I’m sure that my knowledge of mathematics does not allow me to comment on their beauty but I’ve heard enough mathematicians and physicists quoted to know that there is a general consenus that this is so. )

While it may not be that surprising to me that we can teach any human brain to recognize an almost infinite variety of patterns, I do marvel at the fact that true hypotheses have a quality of elegance to them that appeals to our sense of beauty.  This beauty is not the same beauty that we would find in a wilderness area where the trees, streams and mountains look gorgeous in every direction.  Rather, their beauty lies in their being able to account for so much apparent complexity in very few lines, their harmony with other theories arising from investigation in apparently unrelated areas, and their fertility – their ability to spawn new ideas about the universe. I’m told that one example of this is the beguiling simplicity of Einstein’s ten equations of General Relativity, held by some to be among the most beautiful things in the world.  So the laws of nature are not just small scale pretty, but have a quality of grandeur that makes them breathtaking.

Polkinghorne’s second pointer is the fine-tuning of the universe. I know this is a well worn subject, yet to me it is the phenomenon that inspires me to awe.  Though not without challenges, it remains the concenseus among physicists that this particular universe is an exceedingly improbable one.  (Sean)  Of course, one may argue that it is not surprising creatures who can question why they exist can only exist in a univere with a set of conditions that permitted the development of life,  we do not necessarily have the luxury of a gazillion tries and failed attempts as we have in evolutionary biology. There, we have many mutations that failed to be passed on through species that did not survive the conditions in which they emerged, leaving only the lucky few that thrive.  In the case of the universe, it has to be right from the moment of the big bang -otherwise we have no matter or stars from which the sculpting of evolution can carve its forms.

Sean suggests that the equations that may best describe the unvirese lead naturally to the possibility to the emergence of multiple universes.  There is no way we are ever likely to prove or to disprove through obeservation, the existence of universes outside our own, but if we assume that we are here purely  by chance, we are forced into the belief in something of the order of 10 to the 10 to the 120 universes to have a likelihood of finding one that will produce, stars that could sythesize elements beyond up to Iron on the periodic table. ( Fred Hoyle did this work on carbon synthesis and here is  John commenting on his discovery)

The Medium is the Message

The Medium is the Message: Part 1

A story comes to us from the old Soviet Union.

Those where the days when productivity was low and the ruble was worthless- which gave rise to the saying, “Ve pretend to vork and zhey pretend to pay us.”

So here is the story: At the gate to a construction site, workers are inspected for items of value they might be removing.  One man comes out each night with a wheelbarrow full of dirt, and each night the dirt is carefully sifted for pilferage: nothing.

Wheelbarrow

The guard is certain something is getting stolen. He demands,“ I know you are stealing somesing. I von’t arrest you if you tell me vot you are smuggling.” The worker admitted,“Veelbarrows comrade, Ve are stealing veelbarrows.”

I love this story because it reminds me of one of the most important truths about communication: The means by which something is said often has more impact than the content that is conveyed. This fertile thought is the basis for so much that has been discovered about media and communications. Pause for a moment and think about the difference between your boss coming by your desk to chat with you and being called into his office for a ‘chat’.

The implications of this thought was expounded to the world by Univeristy of Toronto’s Professor Marshall McLuhan. He has been called the greatest media theorist of the past century, the high priest of pop culture.

McLuhan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImaH51F4HBw

In 1962 he predicted: “The next medium, whatever it is — it may be the extension of consciousness — will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, (make obsolete) mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.” — The Gutenberg Galaxy.

His astoundingly prescient predictions anticipated the revolutionary power of such things we now know as –the personal computer , Google, Wikipedia, e-commerce, artificial intelligence, and several generations of multimedia and World Wide Web technologies. Knowing that the communications media would shrink the world, he coined the phrase ‘the global village’

He also packaged his most important ideas into very catchy phrases, none more famous than ‘The medium is the message’. What does he mean by a medium? Narrowly, it refers to anything that changes the way we interact, often a technical innovation or way of communicating ideas but broadly, though it could mean almost anything.

For McLuhan, a medium can be thought of as an extension of the human body. Wheels extend our legs, allowing us to travel further and faster than ever before. A hammer is the extension of one’s arm allowing one to multiply and concentrate force.

What then is a message? – It’s the punch, the impact- how our lives change as a result

For example in the1950-70’s a car was not about four wheels attached to an engine. Rather, a car is the cluster of benefits that travel makes possible: independence and availability. To have the car meant that you can take someone on a date; it opened up a social world of friends. That’s the message of having a car.

Much of the social impact of a teen having a car in the 50’s has been replaced by having a smart phone in this decade. It’s impact on life is that it creates the possibility of being in constant contact with others and with an endless variety of amusements. Texting and tweeting keep us aware of how others are reacting to us, moment by moment and to events in our world.

But every extension of the body’s capabilities is simultaneously an amputation. The use of the automobile has meant that we use our legs a lot less and that has had huge implications on the health and the pace of life for most living in industrialized countries. Texting has resulted in fewer of face to face interactions and forced our thoughts to fit shorter and simpler messages.

Media have the effect of imperceptibly reshaping of our lives and our minds; it becomes the water in which we swim- we take for granted the way they totally dominate how we live and function. What we gain when society embraces a new technology is obvious early on; what is lost is obvious to most people only in retrospect. By the time most of us realize what it has cost to adopt a new innovation, we find ourselves unable to live without the new benefits that it has provided.

A feature of great ideas is that it becomes obvious once it is stated. 

‘The medium is the message’ is a truth about how technologies, especially communications technology affect us. If you accept this description of how media affects culture, then you understand that any change in the dominant medium results in a change in the message- therefore, a change a change in our world. It is then easy to understand how each breakthrough in communication from writing, to the printing press, to radio and telephone and the cybertechnologies have defined new eras in world culture. It really does change our expectations of each other and the ways in which we think. After that, there’s no going back.

How did John know? How do we?

There is no discounting the importance of John the Baptist’s testimony concerning Jesus. But how did he know that Jesus was the One?  How do any of us know? My Western naturalistic upbringing teaches me to withhold trust in anything that cannot be verified by others.  But we are not alone; the ancients set the bar of credibility fairly high as well- if for no other reason than the fact that Galilee, that seething hotbed of insurrection produced a number of ‘messiah’s’ that led movements to overthrow Roman rule.  Being wrong about following someone could get you and your friends crucified.  It was brutal.

The writer of this gospel said that ‘ I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.” (Jn 1:29-32)

Barclay tells us that the dove was a sacred bird in Palestine, neither hunted nor eaten.  “The Rabbis said that the Spirit of God moved and fluttered like a dove over the ancient chaos breathing order and beauty into it. The picture of the dove was one which the Jews knew and loved.”

No, this is not proof, but it is positive identification.  Because people of Jesus day didn’t need to be convinced that Messiah was coming- they needed to be able to recognize him when he came.  It can be compared to sending my brother to pick up my friend at the bus station and telling him, “You’ll know my friend because he will have his pet cockatiel with him- a rather rare identifier, wouldn’t you say? 

But how can we be sure that God spoke to John? In this case, the word and the sign form a self-authenticating pair.  If the John heard only a figment of his imagination,  no man would appear to have the Spirit alight on him. On the other hand, Jesus, the bestower of the Spirit is identified from among many people by reference to and an unusual sign that John could not have conjured.  Much faith is based on this sort of revelation. It does not qualify for proof, for proof refers to evidence of the kind that is repeatable and yields the same result to whomever performs the experiment. But it is a basis for a reasonable belief.

If prophecy X is true, then fulfillment Y will happen.          (Y being an unlikely occurrence.)Y occurs.                             Thus, the credibility of X is supported.

How do we know that John was an authentic prophet?  1) His message of repentance was in line with the prophets before him.                                                                           2) The popularity of a man with an unpopular message suggests spiritual empowerment and anointing.  Remember that baptism was for Gentiles wanting to cleanse themselves in preparation for admission to covenant Judaism. For a Jew to receive baptism would be make the humbling admission that one was an outsider, seeking to enter the covenant God had with Abraham.  This would raise questions about who John thinks he is and why he has the right to do this.(1:24)                                                                                                         3) He is willing to transfer his status and following to the one he has called, the Lamb of God. Furthermore, he says in effect that he is not worthy to be this man’s slave. ( Jn 1:27. To tie and untie sandals was the lowliest of the low. To middle-easterners, shoes were dirty and feet were the most despised part of the body.)

If you want to know who Jesus is, make yourself like John.

 

 

 

 

 

What Qualifies for Truth?

Dear Janice,

Forgive me for the length of time you had to wait for my response to your very reasonable questions. I wanted to honour the query by taking the time to answer it thoughtfully, and I thought it best to enter the discussion through your last question, “Why can’t the truth come as a set of ideas?”

For the most part, I have thought of truth as something that matches reality.  The Cambridge  Dictionary of Philosophy calls this the correspondence theory of truth. More formally stated, truth is the property of statements or propositions that correspond to reality.

Now I am a product of the Western modernist tradition so my tendency is to assume that the truth can and should be stated as a set of ideas. That assumption rests on a more fundamental conviction that ultimate reality is something like the natural world, which can be approached through testing, and detached reasoning. If so, then I can apprehend the truth concerning stars or electron states, hamster ovulation or neural networks apart from my personal involvement with them and without any expectation that my identity would be affected by my discoveries.

But what if nature is not the ultimate reality? What if the fine-tuned universe took its form not under the chaotic whims of chance, but the elegant and purposeful crafting of a Personality?  That would imply that the most natural way to ultimate Reality lies in the realm of revealed knowledge, through person-to person-relationships in history. Let me illustrate.

Suppose I am new to Toronto; I want to visit the Royal Ontario Museum and I ask you for help at the Bus Terminal. You could do one of three things. First, you could give me directions to St. Patrick station and tell me to ride the University line north to Museum. But because I am terrible with a sequence of verbal direction to places I’ve never been, you give me your trusty TTC map so I can picture where I’m going. Both the directions and the map are objectively  truthful in the sense that they correspond to a reality.  If I could follow either one faithfully, I’ll get there.  But suppose that I’m still confused and you realize that I’m going to the ROM by personal invitation from a grad student who happened to be one of your tutors in anthropology. ( When I was in Chicago, I  was actually invited for a personal guided tour of the Oriental Institute.) You find this to be a remarkable coincidence and it being a sunny day, you offer to walk with me to my destination and say hello to your teacher.

This last offer, though it takes the most effort on your part,  is the best for me because I can’t possibly misinterpret your directions and you would personally introduce me.

This is the force of Jesus’ claim,  ” I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No man comes to the Father but through me.”  Through his life, he demonstrated the pattern of loving submission to God, that we are to emulate – the Way. Through his words and deeds, we have an absolutely faithful and dynamic picture of the Father’s attitudes and intentions-the truth.  Then by putting ourselves in his hands he puts something of his own life and spirit within us that allows us to follow him as he walks us to his Father’s side-the Life.

Everyone who has ever come to God has been given access through him, whether one realizes it or not. (Jn 1:4, 8:56-58)

So that is how I have come to understand that the
Truth is not just a set of ideas.  If ultimate reality is really the Creator and not the creation, then Truth is a person and can only be represented by a person who can bring us into intimate union with the Creator.

Now what is the implication for those who seek to know the Truth.  Now truth about anything, propositional truth, is just information, most of which has no immediate bearing on our lives.  Now I believe that the existentialists are right in saying  that life cannot be thought, it can only be lived. Information can be understood, even enjoyed, but Truth has to be lived by choosing – by authentic commitment.  A woman who knows several men who would make good husbands but can’t decide on which one, has by default chosen singleness.

It is for this reason, that the call to relationship comes embedded within the revelation of Truth as a person.

The Face of God

God  no one has seen ever yet; [the] only-begotten God the [one] being in the bosom of the Father he has made [him] known.– That is a direct word to word english translation of the greek text of John 1:18, which is helpful for people like myself, who do not read Greek.

The writer of John’s gospel calls the reader to believe in him- what is the main substance of that belief? It is to entrust oneself to the claim that Jesus is who he says he is.  To be sure, he claimed to be God’s Anointed One- the Messiah, but few Jews of his time expected the Messiah anything other than a mere human being.

Most Christians of the modern era fail to gasp and the audacity of this claim, or to grasp how much ink and blood was spilled over it- we take it for granted as a point of doctrine.  But the functional impact of this claim is that God is knowable in the most intimate way to humankind through his darling Son. What a comfort to know that the claims of Christ reflect the authority of God, his words are God’s very thoughts, feelings, and intentions, his pronouncement of forgiveness-the seal of God’s own forgiveness, the tears of Christ – God’s own anguish, the sympathy of Christ God’s own tenderness, the anger of Christ-God’s own indignation, the promise of Christ- God’s own guarantee, the blood of Christ-God’s own purification for sin, the resurrection of Christ- God’s own victory over death, breath of Christ, God’s own Spirit.

Now to set the record straight concerning William Barclay. It is said that he has suspicions about the Trinity.  But here is a direct quote from his Daily Study Bible and I think it is clear at this time anyway, that he remains true to the text of John.

(i) Jesus is unique. The Greek word is monogenes (Greek #3439), which the King James Version translates only-begotten. It is true that that is what monogenes (Greek #3439) literally means; but long before this it had lost its purely physical sense, and had come to have two special meanings. It had come to mean unique and specially beloved. Obviously an only son has a unique place and a unique love in his father’s heart. So this word came to express uniqueness more than anything else. It is the conviction of the New Testament that there is no one like Jesus. He alone can bring God to men and bring men to God.

(ii) Jesus is God. Here we have the very same form of expression as we had in the first verse of the chapter. This does not mean that Jesus is identical with God; it does mean that in mind and character and being he is one with God. In this case it might be better if we thought of it as meaning that Jesus is divine. To see him is to see what God is.

[My comment: Keep in mind that in most places, when John uses the word God, he refers to the Father.  Athanasian Trinitarianism holds that the Son is not identical with the Father, but he is one with the Father in being.]

(iii) Jesus is in the bosom of the Father. To be in the bosom of someone is the Hebrew phrase which expresses the deepest intimacy possible in human life. It is used of mother and child; it is used of husband and wife; a man speaks of the wife of his bosom (Numbers 11:12; Deuteronomy 13:6); it is used of two friends who are in complete communion with one another. When John uses this phrase about Jesus, he means that between Jesus and God there is complete and uninterrupted intimacy. It is because Jesus is so intimate with God, that he is one with God and can reveal him to men.

In Jesus Christ the distant, unknowable, invisible, unreachable God has come to men; and God can never be a stranger to us again.

“No one has ever seen God; the only God,e who is at the Father’s side,f he has made him known.”  -ESV