Thursday, November 7, 2019

Fifth Columnists

                                                von Trapp Family Singers ("Sound of Music")

I was watching a film and was thinking about how sometimes former military officers were forced to fight for an army or navy they did not support.  It led me to think about Baron Georg von Trapp, the father in the “Sound of Music.”  He had been a decorated Austrian Navy officer in WWI. 

The von Trapps were real people.  He refused to serve in the Nazi Navy. The von Trapps fled Austria having lost all their money and their home.  They carried only what they could.  They arrived in the US with nothing but one bag each.

Later after they had managed to earn some money, they moved from Philadelphia to a farm in Stowe, Vermont.  Vermont reminded them of Austria. The ramshackle house on their farm collapsed and they had to build a new house.  However, the locals thought these foreigners were “fifth columnists”, spies, and the locals wouldn’t help them.

Right now we have a similar problem.  Refugees who have fled their countries and only want a quiet home, a modest home, an honest living, are seen as terrorists, when they are in fact the victims of that terror.

Though the von Trapps hated the Nazis and had given up their home and country, they were “different” and “dangerous.” Yet their sons served in the US Army during WWII.

I have written elsewhere about how my father as a boy in elementary school was beaten up for being a “German” (Gottschalk) during WWII when his father, John Irwin, was a Civilian Builder (CeeBee) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii helping to rebuild the US Navy fleet.  

Fear is stupid and mean.  We should care for refugees, not fear them and characture all refugees as terrorists. Propaganda is also stupid.  It led to innocent Japanese Americans being interned in prison camps in the US during WWII, again the reason being fear of “fifth columnists” or sympathizers.

Here’s a part of “the Story of the Trapp Family Singers” where Maria von Trapp speaks of how their neighbors thought that they, the von Trapps, were spies, fifth columnists. 

“Try as we might, we couldn’t get any more men to help us [in our rebuilding efforts]. All the young men were gone, it seemed, and the older ones were already busy. The true reason, however, we would learn much later. The people in this remote mountain valley had read stories in the newspapers of fifth columnists coming as tourists into Holland or Denmark, and starting to build something, anything; a tennis court, for instance. Then at the moment of invasion these innocent-looking buildings were equipped with guns and these innocent-looking tourists were Hitler’s helpers. There had come into this Stowe valley a group of foreigners, dressed quaintly, talking queerly, and they had started to build. Of course they said it was a house, but who knew whether they wouldn’t one day open fire and start shooting down the valley. We were always glad and grateful that we didn’t hear that story at the time when it was still believed. At that time it would have hurt us bitterly. Years later when we learned it from a laughing neighbor, we tried to picture what we could possibly have shot at, and still don’t know to this day.” Maria Augusta Trapp, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Phila., PA: JB Lippincott, 1949, 242.

After the von Tapps gave a benefit concert to pay for fixing of the roof of the school house in town, the townspeople’s view of them changed.  Maria wrote:

“While this most cruel of all wars was inflicting deeper and deeper wounds upon humanity, a group of people in a forlorn corner of the mountains had discovered how to create that good will to which is promised peace on earth: by giving and not counting; each one giving all he has; his time, his skill, his effort, leaving behind a wake of that feeling about which there is so much talked and written, but so little experienced: the feeling of true brotherhood.” Trapp, The Story, 243-44

Friday, November 1, 2019

Rats in the basement

    Somewhere in his writings CS Lewis spoke of “rats in the basement.” He meant that when difficult circumstances came into our lives and we reacted poorly, it was as if there were rats in the basement when the lights were turned on. It wasn’t that the rats weren’t there all along, but when the light was turned on they were there to be seen scurrying for cover. The fault for the rats being in the basement was not the fault of the person who turned on the light, but the home owner who was either unaware of them or hadn’t dealt with them.

     When someone “turns on the light” in our “basement” the “rats”, our bad habits, lack of character, deliberate sins, become obvious. We have a tendency to blame the person who turned on the light for what is exposed, when obviously that person was only the occasion to show our faults.
This is related to the Christian doctrine of sanctification. Some groups believe that just one (or two) big spiritual experiences will conquer our sinful human nature. Others believe in sinless or Christian Perfection that once we are sanctified we will not sin any longer.

     I remember Dr. Bob Evans, the founder of Greater Europe Mission, speaking in the Tyndale chapel. He mentioned these ideas about sanctification and then as he would so inimitably speak he said simply, “Well, I sure haven’t attained it.”

     My experience is that my "rats" are still very much alive and very active. No matter how much I pray or plead, work or sweat my sinful human nature is still there. I do alright until the “light” is turned on, then I fail miserably.

     Salvation is all of grace. “By grace are you saved through faith and not of yourselves that no one should boast.”

     Perhaps I am making more progress than I seem to be to myself. I’m not sure, but I am also reminded of St. Augustine and how he felt that he was further from God the longer he was a Christian. Perhaps we only really perceive the distance between the holy God and ourselves as we age.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Red Planet 2000 Film by Anthony Hoffman

Red Planet 2000

Film by Anthony Hoffman

Starring Carie-Anne Moss, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, et alia

Spent $88M, made only $33.5M, total bomb

Roger Ebert says 3 of 4 stars due to good science fiction, good use of actors and CGI. IMDB says 3 of 5.

Others hate it. Rotten Tomatoes says only 14%.

What’s wrong with it?

I like “John Carter,” but it also bombed.  My son found a billion reasons why... I still like it, but I don’t think I’ll buy this “Red Planet” movie.

It has a heroine, a beautiful captain in Moss, who is a strong female officer.  It has a copilot full of braggadocio in Benjamin Brett.  It has a goofy and heroic techie in Val Kilmer.  It has an obnoxious and brilliant double doctor in Tom Sizemore.  It has neurotic and unhinged botanist in Simon Baker.  It has Yoda like figure in Terence Stamp.  It has killer CGI in AIMEE, the psycho bot.  It has excellent space ship and other special effects.  So why did it flop?

Was it talk of God between Chantilos and Gallagher?  Was it too slow?  Were there too many issues with verisimilitude? 

For instance, when Bowman goes out to rescue Gallagher, she has 5 minutes left and then must launch the space ship or lose her chance to return to earth.  Gallagher is 43 kilometers away.  Somehow her tether reaches that far.  Also, she must go something like 120 km/hr. to make that distance in about 20 minutes and the return trip will also take 20 minutes. That means it would take eight times as long to accomplish this operation than the time she has left before she must launch the ship.  And still they have time to joke and kiss. But many movies have such problems, but we don’t feel them.  “Passengers” has a sort of similar rescue between Aurora Lane and Jim Preston, along with a similar improbable resuscitation.

As I watched “Red Planet” a second time (I get 36 hours rental on Amazon.), I thought, “Wow, the CGI is great and if the space ships are plastic models or CGI they’re great.”  The performances seem good enough.

The one thing which I thought was just bad was the music.  For instance, when Bowman rescues Gallagher there is Brahms symphonic choral type music.  Also, there are times when the music is just too “2001: Space Odyssey.”  I think the music could have been more effective and at times much creepier.

“Ex Machina” is a sort of science fiction / horror film.  It is much more suspenseful.  For some reason “Red Planet” wasn’t as suspenseful as it should have been.  The feeling of the possibility of being trapped in space or dying on Mars wasn’t there somehow.  Perhaps the music was partly to blame.

Everyone blames directors.  I’m sure Hoffman is to blame, but I can’t put my finger on how.

The actors are/ were well-established.  They played roles in many films.  It’s a great cast. The photography is very good.  Shot selection seems good and camera angle, as well as framing of shots.

Moss has an extremely expressive face.  Her mannerisms and behavior seem believable.  Kilmer seems to handle his role well.  Sizemore (despite rumors that he and Kilmer fought on set) seems to give a credible and goofy performance of the know-it-all scientist.

I just can’t put my finger on the problem(s) which made it a dud.  What are your thoughts?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A philosophical and theological exploration of humility

By Philip A. Gottschalk, Ph.D. for his oratio upon inauguration of his professorship at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Badhoevedorp, the Netherlands 25 April 2019

This is the full text of the lecture I gave this morning in which I “inaugurated” my professorship at Tyndale Theological Seminary.

I will not be giving an “academic” lecture in the sense of a class lecture or reading a paper prepared for a professional conference. This “exploration” is a form of a reflection that is philosophical, theological and biblical.

People often think of philosophy as difficult material presented in a very abstruse way. in the past, however, people like Plato, for example, presented philosophy as dialogue between characters. He does this in his famous dialogues like the Timaeus and the Theatetus. Timeus was a young man asked to give an account, a “likely story,” of the creation. Throughout his story he engages with Socrates, who questions him. I won’t use a dialogue form today per se, but I will rather consider one concept using several approaches. I will use an approach that is more like viewing a diamond from different angles.

I will discuss three understandings of the word, humble.
The first is the sense of being humble is to be
Of humble birth
The second is the sense of being humble is to be 
The third is the sense of being humble is to be

So let us turn to the first sense of being humble: 

Of humble birth
In English when we say someone is humble, the context must decide what we mean. We might mean this person is of humble origin.
Some people are “to the manor born”, of high class.

Other people, even in democracies, are “of humble birth.” In other words, they are from the lower class(es). It doesn’t necessarily mean that they are stupid. Some people of lowly birth had a great influence on society.

Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius

Epictetus is a well-known Greek Stoic philosopher (55-135 AD). He was also a slave. His name means “acquired”, or bought. He was among, other things, a secretary to Nero.

Epictetus developed a philosophy of coping with a miserable life, a sort of Stoicism. One can be a slave and still be free within, be free in one’s spirit. The idea of submitting to one’s fate is one of his ideas. If we submit to our fate, rather than fight it, we can find peace, he believed.

Epictetus’ teaching influenced the later Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD). Epictetus, the slave, was not free to choose his fate. Neither was Marcus Aurelius free; he was born a patrician. Through his royal relatives he finally became king. He was not free to choose a lesser position. He had to make fateful decisions about the life of his people and make many difficult decisions.

Each of these men understood what it was to be submitted to a greater cause or person. One was of humble birth, the other of noble birth, but both realized that no human is truly free in the sense of being able to choose completely just what one will be. Life and circumstances limit our choices, as do the acts of other free beings.

So, humble origin does not determine a person’s worth or ability, nor does it need to affect their dignity or sense of self-worth, though it often does. At the same time being humbly born does not mean one is humble.

William Carey and C.T. Studd

Christian missions has examples of this same idea that being of humble birth does not mean to be demeaned nor does being of the higher class mean needing to remain wealthy and powerful. 

William Carey, the well-known missionary to India, was a cobbler, a shoe maker. He was called by God from his humble origins and trade to go to India as a missionary. He started the well-known Serampore College. He translated the Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Assamese, Marathi, Hindi and Sanskrit. Though he was of humble birth and a humble occupation, he was quite brilliant and turned out to be a pioneering missionary, educator and a Bible translator/ linguist.

Charles Thomas or C.T. Studd, on the other hand, was born to wealth. I have often mentioned C.T. Studd in my sermons. Our imagination is fired by Studd’s career and that of the so-called “Cambridge Seven.” The Cambridge Seven were seven Cambridge University students at the end of the 19th century who decided to give up their careers and go to the mission field.

Studd was born to a high-class family and schooled in England’s finest “public” (i.e. private) schools. He was a Cambridge Cricket Team captain, being a great bowler and an excellent batsman. He excelled in all he did and he had a LOT of money. However, he gave up that money £29,000 (by today’s standards £3,351,838.71) to go to a humble place of service on the mission field. First, he served in China, then India and finally in Africa. He spent his whole life as a missionary.

We are amazed by Studd’s willingness to leave riches, comfort and fame, but perhaps less impressed when a man of humble origins, like Carey, makes a decision to leave his home and go to a foreign country. The truth is that both were servants, slaves of Christ. Humble birth doesn’t make one humble and being “to the manor born” doesn’t mean one cannot be humble.

Being humble, however, doesn’t mean being of the lower class or simply being of humble birth. Contrariwise sometimes those of humble birth strive to achieve wealth, fame and status and they do.

As well, being of “humble birth” doesn’t mean to have been or to be humiliated.

At this point I would like to turn to the second sense of being humble:

Being Humiliated

All of us have likely been humiliated at some time. Children tease mercilessly on the playground. Sometimes even adults, parents or relatives, tease in a way that is too much for children.

Thomas Aquinas

I always recall Thomas Aquinas when I think of teasing. Thomas lived from 1225-1274 AD. He was nobly born. Thomas’ father wanted him to be a lawyer, but Thomas chose a religious vocation as an Augustinian monk in the Roman Catholic church (then the only church, as this was before the Reformation).

Apparently, Thomas was a large fellow. He was beefy and physically thick. He had a big head, which must have looked sillier in a tonsure, a shaven head with a ring of hair. He was also a quiet person and very reserved.

Thomas’ fellow theological classmates often made fun of him. They called him “the dumb ox.” Having overheard this taunt, one of their instructors told his fellows students, “Someday that ox will bellow so loudly the whole world will hear.” He meant that Thomas’ brilliance would one day be recognized.

Thomas is known for his massive Summa Theologiae and his Summa Contra Gentiles among his many other works, which include Bible commentaries. The Summa Theologiae is a massive compendium of theology and the Summa Contra Gentiles is a sort of apologetic work. Thomas has been named the “Angelic Doctor” of the Roman Catholic Church and his theology has been made their official theology.

Thomas’ Summas along with Peter Lombard’s Sentences formed the basis of theological instruction in the Roman Catholic Church until the Reformation and beyond. Luther and many others would have studied his works. 

Though Thomas was of noble birth, he bore with humiliation and achieved a legacy which is still influencing many today. You are not humiliated because you are of humble birth. Nor should one be proud because he or she is of noble birth. Humility is not being born of “humble birth” nor must one necessarily be arrogant or full of oneself if one is wealthy.

My father and his last illness

My father developed prostate cancer in his late sixties. My father had been a very physically strong person. He worked as a manager of the print shop in a large corporation. He was responsible for the forty copy machines in the company. He regularly lifted paper boxes full of paper. They were equal to two of the paper boxes we get or the way they look and the weight they have when they are packaged and wrapped in plastic two together. He would sling two of these larger boxes of paper around like they were nothing. Each box weighed 50 lbs. or 23 kg. Two boxes together weighed about 100 lbs. or 50 kg. He did this day in and day out. 

My father was proud of his strength. I won’t say he was proud of his physique. He was in one sense quite humble. For instance, he would not buy expensive clothes. He had grown up during the Great Depression in the US in the 1930s, a time of great poverty and joblessness, when his family lived on fish from the river, food they grew in the garden and fruit from his grandfather’s property.

As my father’s illness progressed he became weaker. He had to have many rounds of chemotherapy and they weakened him generally. He had trouble walking up the stairs. He couldn’t carry things anymore. He became extremely sensitive to the smallest changes in hot and cold. He had other complications which meant he could not travel in an enclosed vehicle like a car or an airplane with other people. Perfumes and deodorants bothered him. He became allergic to many things.

I dare say in a way that my father was humiliated. He had no control of what was happening to his body. He could not decide what he would like to eat or do things which used to be normal. However, he remained in a true sense humble. Though he was humiliated physically, he became more sensitive and kinder than in the past. The illness meant he had a lot of time to think and pray, and he did. What strength he had left he used to continue to do layout and design of prayer letters and to print them for the missionaries (including us) whom my parents had sent out to the mission field. My parents prayed for these folks until my father finally was in hospice in the hospital.

My father was humiliated by disease. He felt worth less. He was unable to do the things and the work he had previously done. However, being humiliated is not to be humble. My father learned more humility as he suffered, but the suffering was humiliating. No other explanation or sugar-coating of it will suffice. He suffered and was humiliated. However, through his suffering he learned more humility.

Being humiliated, though, is not being humble in any sense. It may mean that one is teased or forced to do “humble” or mean things (e.g. clean bathrooms), but it doesn’t mean being worth less or being truly humble.

So, let us turn to our third sense of being humble:

Being humble

Being humble is a virtue. By virtue, we mean a character trait that is praiseworthy and is also a personal choice.

Thomas chose to be humble. C.T. Studd chose to be humble. William Carey also chose to be humble.

Interestingly humility was not considered a virtue in ancient Greece. Areté ἀρετή (virtue) is more about being proud of oneself and one’s achievements.

The Bauer Arndt Gingrich and Danker Lexicon of New Testament Greek says of the ancient Greek understanding of areté ἀρετή (virtue): 

{The} Exhibition of ἀρετή invites recognition, resulting in renown or glory. In Homer [this term is used] primarily of military valor or exploits, but also of distinction for other personal qualities and associated performance that enhance the common interest.

It is interesting that in list of what we would call “virtues” in 2 Peter 1, areté ἀρετή is only second in the list. Faith is first and love or agape is last…

And you, employing all care, minister in your faith, virtue; and in virtue, knowledge; And in knowledge, abstinence; and in abstinence, patience; and in patience, godliness; And in godliness, love of brotherhood; and in love of brotherhood, charity. 2 Peter 1:5-7 Douay Rheims Version

The Bible does not see pride as a “virtue.” Humility or meekness, however, is. Humility, though, is a personal choice. It is also a fruit of the Spirit that we must grow in.

Paul tells us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness [πραΰτης (prautes)], {and} temperance” Gal. 5:22, 23 KJV

Meekness/ Humility

The Bible tells us that “Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3 KJV) Moses forbore the abuse that some of his followers hurled at him for marrying a non-Hebrew, a Cushite. Perhaps this refers to Zipporah, daughter of Jethro, the Midianite. The NIV uses the term “humble” “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” Though Moses had the power to destroy all his enemies, and God even suggested that God himself might destroy the Israelites and start again with Moses, Moses was humble and a true leader of his people. He asked God to forgive the people’s sin and for God to continue to remain with the Israelites in their pilgrimage through the wilderness until they reached the Promised Land.

The Bauer Arndt Gingrich and Danker Lexicon says of πραΰς (praus) meekness or humility that it is “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance.” This is just the opposite of arete ἀρετή or virtue in classical sources.

Pastor DuWayne Lee, my pastoral mentor

Rev. DuWayne Lee, who was pastor of Northwest Baptist Church in Chicago and was my pastoral mentor, used to say: “Meekness is not weakness. It’s strength under control.” He characterized that behavior. He was quick with a smile and a greeting. He was patient and quiet in adversity.

As an intern and youth minister in the church I went through a cycle of budgeting with the church and its leaders. We had meetings of the various committees: Christian Education, Music, Youth, etc. Then we had a “Daisy” meeting. The “Daisy” meeting was a meeting of only the heads of the various committees. Someone started to misuse Robert’s Rules of Order to take over the meeting. Robert’s Rules of Order are a way of structuring a meeting to allow for discussion of contentious matters without anyone being able to take over the meeting. So, they were being used in just the opposite manner in which they were meant to be used, i.e. to squelch opposition. Pastor Lee got really angry, but he didn’t shout or rave. He got up and said, “I am not going to participate in this. When you decided to listen to the Holy Spirit I will come back.” They got the point!

Nietzsche and Dostoevsky

Sometimes nonbelievers find the Christian emphasis on humility disgusting and ridiculous. Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philologist and philosopher, was one. He saw Christianity as the “old-woman’s religion” because it bound strong men and forced them to behave like sheep.

For Nietzsche strength was the only virtue. The Strongman or Superman, the Übermensch, was the one who could impose his will on other people. He was not oppressed with notions of gentleness and meekness or humility.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the Russian novelist, concluded just opposite of Nietzsche. Dostoevsky in his novel, Crime and Punishment, shows the misery of a man who believes he can be a law to himself. Though Raskolnikov, the antihero, has committed the perfect murder and convinced himself as a nihilist that he had the right to make the law, to commit the crime, his conscience continued to trouble him. Eventually it drove him nearly mad and drove him finally to confess his crime.

In another novel, The Idiot, Dostoevsky sketched two protagonists: Prince Myshkin, a Christ like figure, and Rogozhin (which means the horned one or perhaps the “devil”), who is a selfish, self-willed person. Myshkin was an epileptic. He was also considered to be a “foreigner” because he had lived abroad a long time due to his illness and wore foreign clothes. Myshkin, however, chose to love his enemy, Rogozhin. Rogozhin, on the other hand, had murdered the woman they both loved because he could not possess her. Myshkin, though, chose to love Rogozhin despite the fact that Rogozhin had murdered the girl he loved. It is clear whom Dostoevsky considered the hero.

Belgrade: a discussion of “pride”/ Pride in any other language

One day as we were learning the Serbian language in Belgrade in Yugoslavia I had an argument with Linda’s friend, Emilija, about pride. Emilija and I often argued! We are both rather self-willed people. I was arguing that in biblical terms that pride is a bad thing.

She argued, however, that ponos, or pride was a good thing. One can be rightly proud of one’s accomplishments, say having earned a medal or passing an exam or being skilled at playing a musical instrument.

We started then discussing other words in Serbian for pride that were not positive: e.g. gordost (arrogance) or oholost (again, arrogance). I will let Nenad tell us whether the last two are just synonyms or not.

While it’s true in a way that one has a right to be proud of one’s accomplishments, many who are the most accomplished are also the most humble. If an athlete or a musician is realistic and fair-minded, then he or she must recognize that he or she has achieved their goals through the help of coaches, teachers, trainers, parents, and others. There is no violinist without a violin maker. Similarly there is no rower without a boat. Also inherited talent is not something of which we can boast since we did not choose it.

Deadly pride

There was a type of pride that the Greeks recognized as deadly. It was called hubris (´υβρις). We use the term to mean someone who is “too big for their britches.” Someone who has overweening pride, pride which is beyond reasonable measure.

Hubris ´υβρις was the sort of pride a man showed when he held the gods in contempt or refused to accept their demands. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology says that this term is used of Penelope’s suitors in Homer’s Odyssey, of the men who would force Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, to count him dead and marry them, thus angering the gods.

The same article also says that hubris is “an infringement of the order of justice established by Zeus, which enabled community life in the Greek polis to be maintained.” A man or woman proud in this sense of hubris destroyed their own community. 

Being prideful in the sense of hubris can mean not knowing or keeping within your own limitations. We need to learn to stay within our limitations or we will be guilty of this form of hubris. Knowing one’s limitations is vital to survival and thriving. I often joke with students by asking whether they know the one rule of missionary survival. The rule is: “There is one Savior and you are not a candidate.”

Pride and our limitations

You must protect yourself and others by keeping within your limitations. If you are a linguist, don’t try to be a manager. If you are a manager, don’t try to be a preacher. 

The opposite of hubris in the ancient world was sophrosyne, (σωφροσυνη) modesty. The Bauer Arndt Gingrich and Danker Lexicon says that sophrosyne is “one of the four cardinal virtues; for the Hellenic perspective of general harmony of the κόσμος (kosmos) [the world] and φύσις (fusis) [nature].” Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, as well as other Stoics, considered it a virtue.

The Superman or the Crucified

So, who is correct? Should we shrug off the “old-woman’s religion,” the Christian exaltation of meekness and humility? Or should we embrace the Crucified?

First of all, it depends on whose reality you chose and whose reality is the “real” reality. If there is no almighty, all knowing, transcendent creator God and whatever value there is we make through our own efforts, then if we are strong enough, perhaps we can be the Superman. 

However, no one, no matter how strong, no Superman, no Übermensch, no “Blond Beast” who “rides the wave”, can control history and destiny forever. The “Blond Beast” is the Teutonic Knight, the Aryan warrior who destroys all before himself at will. However, even the strongest of the Supermen is not eternal.

Concluding concept and triad
Get a grip: 
We are all born. 
We are all creatures. 
We are not gods.

We are born. We do not dwell in positively negative time, that is from eternity to eternity. In other words, we came to be. We are not timeless.

We are creatures. We were born somewhere, in humble circumstances or in the manor, but all of us were born. We are not gods. Still we are not animals. 

As my doctoral mentor, William Desmond, likes to say we are in the “Between.” We are self-conscious. We are creative. We are at times amazing, but we are also at times disgusting. We are not animals. We have a conscience. We can behave nearly like gods, but also at times we can behave worse than and more disgustingly than animals. Think of the Holocaust, for instance.

We are also as creatures “given to be with a promise,” again to use a phrase of my doctoral mentor. We have been given the gift of life and our being, as well as a potential which we can pursue and achieve or renege on.

We are born by a mother, nurtured by her for nine months in utero and then cared for by her for many more years. In the beginning we are fed at her breast and don’t even realize that we are separate from her.

Eventually we learn that we are separate from her and perhaps dependent on her. We don’t realize it then, but we are also born into a family and community which nurture and educate us. Our father cares for us as well as our siblings, and grandparents, aunts and uncles. The church and school nurture and educate us.

Being born means that we are dependent not only to God, but on others, many others and we owe them something. No one is born master of his own fate. All that we have is a gift and we have it as a promise to fulfill or to renege on.

We are mortal creatures, though we are eternal.

We have been born, but we will live forever. The scripture tells us clearly that there are two destinies for humans: eternal blessedness and eternal torment.

We must “get a grip!” When someone says something boastful we may say, “Oh get a grip!” What we mean is you have lost your sense of perspective. “Get real!”

When we become proud in the sense of arrogance or hubris we have lost our grip. Our grasp of reality has failed. 

Even if I were a slave like Epictetus, I would be a man, but even if I was a king, Marcus Aurelius, I would never be God.

I might be as poor as Carey or as rich as Studd, but I would never be the Almighty. I might be a great artist, but I will never be the Creator who creates ex nihilo.

The Crucified: of humble birth, humiliated, humble: our example

Jesus was born of humble birth. He was born in a barn. He was laid as a newborn baby in a feed trough. He was visited only by shepherds and foreigners.

Have you ever smelled a shepherd? One day we were traveling by car in Bosnia. We saw a shepherd and asked if we could take a picture with him. It was good that it was not a “smellophone.” He stank!

No one on earth has likely ever been born in more humble circumstances than the Son of God come to earth!

Not only was the place humble, but his parents were humble. The Talmud says that Jesus was the son of Mary and a pantera or pandera, a Roman legionnaire. In other words that Mary was a loose woman and Jesus was a bastard.

These are sharp words, but they were also launched at Jesus during his ministry. “Who is this? Where did he get this teaching? Is this not the carpenter’s son and Mary his mother? Do not his brothers and sisters live among us?” (Mt. 13:55) That’s when they were being mild.

At other times they asked: “Who is your father? At least we know who our father is!” (John 8:19) They were clearly referring to the fact that Mary had become pregnant before she married Joseph.
So, Jesus was “humbly born,” born in a bar to humble parents. He was also humiliated. But he also chose to be humble.

You have perhaps heard the saying, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” There’s a lot of nonsense taught in the nursery, though also some wisdom.

Jesus was not mild. He drove the money changers out of the Temple. (Jn. 2:13-25) At the same time, he bore with many unfair comments, even abuse and slander, because as he said: “my time has not yet come.”

Jesus bore with worse treatment. When his time came, he went to the cross freely. He could have called a legion of angels to escape an unfair death, which was the sentence of a mock trial, a “kangaroo court.” (Mt. 26:53, 57-68).

Before he went to the cross where he was stripped and nailed to the beams, he was mocked and spit upon. They beat a crown of thorns into his head, then clothed him a purple, royal robe and gave him a reed as a scepter. Then they blindfolded him and beat him with fists saying “Prophesy! Who hit you?” (Mt. 27:27-31).

While he hung on the cross his accusers (false accusers) hurled insults at him, “He says he trusts in God, let Him deliver him!” (Mt. 27:43)

Jesus was humiliated, but he was not devalued. He was demeaned, but he was not stripped of his honor or glory. He chose to bear our punishment to buy our redemption.


So, “get a grip!” You are not the Crucified! You are not the Creator! You are not the King! You are a servant, a bond slave of the King!

We need to keep a grip. One way we can keep a grip is to try to remain and nurture humility. A title, Professor, Doctor, Captain, Commodore, doesn’t make you anything. A title should only be a recognition of what you are.

I am glad that my colleagues and the Board of this seminary have seen fit to bestow on me the title of “Professor.” I appreciate their recognition of my accomplishments, mostly that I have survived here for 18 years and to have survived Yugoslavia before that.

No matter whether you are a Professor, a Bishop, a Senior Pastor or a lowly usher, you need to get a grip! God did not send you out, does not send you into his church for you to rule and reign over others. Those who serve the Crucified serve as slaves, bond slaves.

My family name – Gottschalk - means God’s bond-slave or indentured servant in German. It has always seemed significant to me that I was born with this name. It hasn’t determined all of my relatives’ lives, but it has always guided mine.

My existence is a gift. My abilities are a gift. My limitations are also gifts. I was “given to be with a promise.” God knows me and has given me life, things and knowledge so that I can serve him. I hope that I can be truly humble.

Thank you for this honor. I hope that I may show myself truly worthy of it.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Panentheism and Hegelian Controversies

One other reason I was so long in writing here is that I was working on an article for my doctoral mentor's festschrift. His celebration was in May 2018. The volume came out December 2018. My article is entitled: "Panentheism and Hegelian Controversies." The book is edited by Dennis vanden Auweele and is called William Desmond’s Philosophy between Metaphysics, Religion, Ethics, and Aesthetics: Thinking Metaxologically. It was published by Palgrave Macmillan Press.

A hermeneutic of suspicion or a hermeneutic of generosity : On Doubt Part III

We cannot know everything.  We must rely always to a large degree on the expertise of others.  I don’t know much about pharmacology, but I trust my pharmacist.

As believers we have doubts.  We should go to a “doubt doctor”, so to speak. This takes humility and this is something honestly which those who doubt are often duped by.

There is a more than subtle tendency among those who doubt and leave the faith to suppose that they know better.  They are enlightened.  They are advanced.

Again, I think of a Lewis reference.  In the novel Perelandra Professor Weston has become the “Unman.”  Weston was seduced by “forward” thinking.  He believed that he controlled the future of the human race and eventually the whole universe.  He was seduced by his “advanced” thinking.  He was the expert.  He was the master.  All others were caught in darkness or were too unevolved to understand.

Too late Weston realized that he had been seduced by Satan.  Though he wanted to fight back, it was too late once he had become the Unman, once he was animated by the devil.  The spirit who animated him allowed only glimpses of the old Weston to appear.  Weston had given himself to a lie and in the end the lie consumed him.

Am I saying that all doubt is satanic?  Yes!  What else would it be?  Someone desperately wants us to give up our faith.  That same person wants to paralyze us with doubt or make us ineffectual in our faith.

I don’t mean to be irrational.  I have a PhD in philosophy. (That certainly taught me the difference between truth and foolishness.) However, there is also a spiritual battle going on.

It is not irrational to believe in the devil.  The devil uses pride as one of his chief tools with intellectuals, though not solely with intellectuals.

Perhaps intellectuals are more prone to a sort of scholarly pride than other folks.  Certainly, Christian intellectuals who work on doctorates at state universities face challenges to their faith all the time.

From my own sphere of philosophy there have been many challenges to faith.  The current major contender is “Postmodernism.” 

Postmodernism has many faces.  It appears in literary criticism and hermeneutics (literary interpretation), as well as in philosophical epistemology (theory of knowledge) and anthropology, sociology and ethics. 

The main thrust of “Postmodernism” is that we finite humans located in space and time (limited not only by our human sense organs, but also bound to one place and a certain era or time period) cannot know truth objectively, if at all. There is no “true truth”, to borrow a phrase from Francis Schaeffer.  The gist is that since we are so bounded, limited we cannot know truth.  All we know is our own viewpoint, what we think truth is.

In biblical and theological studies this spills over into questioning how we could know whether any revelation is true.  All revelations are the work of some author(s) limited in space and time and reflect their values and desires.  Worse, following some thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault, all such “revelation” or revealed truth is nothing more than the attempt of the priest craft to control a society.  There can be no objective truth which applies to all.  All such attempts to define such a universal truth are attempts at “power ploys,” attempts to control others. This sort of literary criticism of the Bible, then, becomes by its very nature a “hermeneutics of suspicion.”  While Postmodern hermeneutics says that we cannot know what the author intended when he wrote, we must at the same time, incoherently, identify what “power ploys” are at work in the text.

In terms of theology there can be no “objective” arguments for the existence of God. Most Postmodern thinkers follow Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Feuerbach saying that all “gods” are merely products of human imagination, “projections.” “God” is either a father figure who protects us and gives us what we want or “God” is a projection of our twisted fantasies and fears.  “God” might, according to some like Ludwig Wittgenstein, be a word which has meaning to theologians, but which has no meaning outside the discipline of theology.  There is no way to reach God epistemologically, that is through sense perception or thought.

As I was wrestling with these subjects while pursuing my MA in Philosophy, I came across an article by Douglas Groothuis, who is a Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary in Colorado.  Groothuis entitled his article “Apologetics, Truth and Humility.”[1] In this article and elsewhere Groothuis has explained the limits of human knowing (epistemology) and the role of humility in our knowing.  I usually refer to it as epistemic humility.

Obviously, I am a human and limited.  Again, it’s clear that I am located in a certain place and time.  I tend to think like the people around me and see the world as they do. However, a normal response would be, “OK I have a tendency to be biased in these matters. So, I’ll try to take that into consideration.”  However, with Postmodern epistemology the stakes are much greater.  Postmoderns argue that NO ONE can know THE TRUTH.  We only know something which is biased and we cannot escape that bias.  There is no “God’s eye view”, that is no one has a universal third person observer stance.  Everyone is biased and limited to the point that no one can know THE TRUTH.  There is my truth and your truth and her truth and his truth.

The Postmodern view or epistemology is very persuasive and tenacious once it gets a grip.  Some of its tenets seem true: I am finite. I am located in time and space.  I do have biases.  However, the idea that I cannot know any “true truth”, to borrow a phrase from Francis Schaeffer, is patently absurd. I know what I had for breakfast.  I know who my wife is. I know who my children are. I know that my feet are cold since I don’t have socks and shoes on.  We may not know everything and there may be some things we will never know or know with absolute certainty, but it is a mistake to expect anyone ever did or could know everything truly.  The issue is: Do we know some things certainly, truly?

Don’t get me wrong. I think Postmoderns are worth listening to.  They hold a lot of beliefs which technically they shouldn’t, but which are true: love for minorities, support for women’s rights, care for the oppressed, love of democracy, and other issues.  However, this may be a case of “Do as I say, not as I do.”  While being sure there are no absolutes, Postmoderns hold some things absolutely.

Which brings us back to Postmodern biblical interpretation.  We should beware of our biases and prejudices.  We should listen to the other and take the other’s views into our accounts.  We should protect women, minorities, the oppressed and work for democratic society.  However, the rejection of revelation as a possibility would exceed even the Postmoderns’ claims to knowledge.  The best they could say is, “I can’t prove or disprove that any revelation is true.”

However, we have a right to affirm biblical revelation based on our experience of God, Jesus and the Bible to use a “hermeneutics of generosity” when we read the Bible.  Our experience and our research have shown us that the Bible is true in so far as we can test it.  Clearly we cannot test every statement.  That would be absurd and we do not trust or distrust anything else in this way.  If challenged by a defeater we look for a rebutting defeater.  We do not easily give up our biblical faith in the face of every supposed challenger.  We seek truth as we can and have faith (not blind trust, but reasonable trust) that we can find answers.  Our knowledge is more like an asymptote, a curved line approaching an axis.  We never have “absolute” knowledge, but we have knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt which is ever approximating, getting closer to truth.

So, a “hermeneutic of generosity” towards the Bible will usually  bring us closer to the truth.  A “hermeneutics of suspicion” may be useful to identify our biases and power ploys, but it cannot explain why we believe anything at all and it cannot produce any “truth” or even any pragmatic goals.

How then should you handle doubt? Turn to a trusted friend.  Hang on to your faith and seek a “rebutting defeater.” Resist pride.  Don’t believe you and you alone or at least you and the small group of illuminati have the truth.  Exercise a “hermeneutic of generosity” and don’t take any wooden nickels.