Friday, February 19, 2021

Three types of thinking

As we, professors at Tyndale Theological Seminary near Amsterdam, the Netherlands, were discussing problems about how to help our students understand our subjects, I thought of David Hesselgrave's teaching about these two forms of thinking, abstract – logical and concrete - relational.


Actually he advocates three forms. (My memory of 40 years ago is probably failing.)

1) The "conceptual postulational thinking" of the Western world.

2) The "concrete-relational/pictorial thinking" of China.

3) The ''psychical/intuitional thinking" of India.


I have attached an article he wrote which explains these ideas and how they can be used in missiology (and teaching).


It was interesting for me after forty years to think back on this material.  We used Hesselgrave's first edition of his Communicating Christ Cross-culturally and his book on Dynamic Religious Movements which came out at the time.


I was struck that Russian thinkers are somewhat similar in their mindset to Hindus.


Nicholas O. Lossky, on whom I wrote my dissertation, had a three tiered approach to knowledge:


1. Sensual intuition - ("concrete-relational/pictorial thinking") which meant what Kant meant by our faculties, which process sense data and construct a "phenomenal" world.  Everyone is engaged in this type of knowledge production. It takes no special training or giftedness.  It is something everyone does "intuitively" without any thought.


2. Intellectual intuition - ("conceptual postulational thinking") Some, who are trained, can become logicians and mathematicians.  These people must also have a native ability for this type of thought, but anyone can also improve their grasp and use of this sort of knowledge with training. (He does not mean what Kant means by intellectual intuition, which only God would have: thinkings something creates it.)


3. Mystical intuition- (''psychical/intuitional thinking") Only a few adepts can reach this type of knowledge which we might call intuitionism.  Through spiritual exercises and asceticism, they reach a non discursive knowledge of God and spiritual things.


I think we as Western Evangelicals have traditionally focused on the 2nd tier.  We (like Norman Geisler, for instance) give arguments and expect people to learn to think this way.  (Geisler is actually using Thomas Aquinas' method.) Often average believers cannot follow such arguments. Fundamentalists eschew these arguments for a "simple preaching of the Gospel" or other theologians prefer some sort of fideism.


These days more Western Christians are enamoured of Eastern Orthodoxy and just these sorts of mystic experiences and exercises.  Many feel that there is much more than simple rationalistic arguments.  They hate apologetics.  Many are reading the works of mystic saints, e.g., Theresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, et alia.  Ignatian spirituality is gaining a lot of ground.


If Hesselgrave is right, we use all three types of thinking.  Our students from Africa and some parts of Asia are using Concrete relational thinking.  They tell stories and use discrete examples, simple examples.  They often do not understand making an argument and simply continue "circling" around an idea without drawing conclusions and don't see the need for an explanation or a structure.


Our attempts to give rational explanations or logical structures (XYZ statements a la Turabian) seem unclear to them, if not pointless.  We need to try harder to use concrete examples, but continue to teach logical argumentation and its importance.


Gary Habermas gave me a simple illustration to help people understand the cosmological argument. He would draw a caboose and a train car and ask, "What pulls the caboose?"  He would continue on with car after car and then ask, "But what pulls the whole train?" “The locomotive... This is God. He draws all things towards himself.”  (This is pure Aquinas, his First Way (proof) of his Five Ways; which is also Aristotle's Prime Mover argument.)


In Apologetics I would ask students to memorize the ontological, cosmological, teleological, moral or deontological and Francis Schaeffer's argument from the Trinity.  They would memorize like anything. However, they often couldn't explain them at all.


The idea of the teleological argument and the moral argument are clear enough and easily demonstrated. Who created the eye? Who is the judge of the moral law within? But still I couldn't get them past raw memorization.


North American students and European students (even those without a BA) had no problem with logical arguments or understanding these arguments (even if they thought that they were dull).  My children when they were in high school had a course called "Theory of Knowledge" at the Rijnlands Lyceum in Oegstgeest, the Netherlands.  It was, in fact, a course in argumentation.  They excelled in the class.  When asked how they knew how to argue so well, they said, "Our dad is a philosopher.  We argue this way every night at dinner." ;-)


Some professors give some assignments using mystic literature. But in general we as Evangelical eschew the "subjective."  If the subjective is rooted in the scripture, it is not a problem, but as evangelicals we have no authorities, no way to limit such experiences to say which are legitimate.


In the Roman Catholic Church and in the Eastern Orthodox Church each monk or nun has a father confessor (a priest), a spiritual director (abbot/ abbess) and must submit to the rites of the church.  They must confess the creeds or symbols of faith.  They must make confession on a regular basis and do penance.  There is a "rule" or “anchor” which directs their days: 

  • Matins (during the night, at about 2 a.m.); also called Vigil and perhaps composed of two or three Nocturns
  • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at dawn, about 5 a.m., but earlier in summer, later in winter)
  • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 a.m.)
  • Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 a.m.)
  • Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon)
  • None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 p.m.)
  • Vespers or Evening Prayer ("at the lighting of the lamps", about 6 p.m.)
  • Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, about 7 p.m.)

This arrangement of the Liturgy of the Hours is described by Saint Benedict.


There are also rules about working a physical job, a regular routine of the hours and taking the sacrament (Eucharist).


There are also the Pope and Magisterium which determine orthodoxy.  A mystic can be disciplined, if they do not follow their Rule or do not take the sacraments or refuse to say the creeds.  


In the end only the "profession of the lips" can be known objectively.  If they refuse to say the creeds or promulgate known heresy, they are disciplined.


Having a Pope and a Magisterium has been appealing to some who left Evangelicalism (e.g., Thomas Howard, Elizabeth Elliot's brother).  Others want an "Apostolic succession" and a bulwark against modernism (e.g., those who have become RC or EOC to protest ordination of women).


Since Protestant churches lack this sort of structure, mysticism is more dangerous and cannot be challenged except by appeal to scripture, though the interpreter can always be rejected (just start another church).


Some Reformed communities focus on creeds (and synodal decisions). James KA Smith is a member of a Christian Reformed Church NA congregation.  He manages to stay "orthodox" by submitting to the creeds (I guess), though he attacks logic and "Enlightenment Reason."


I think we can learn from Hesselgrave and Lossky.  Most people are on the Concrete - relational level.  They need examples, pictures and stories.  Some are Conceptual - postulational thinkers.  We must teach logic and argumentation, rational belief. We dare not become fideists, which will lead as Hesselgrave says to liberalism and universalism.  We can use psychical - intuitional thinking, but we must be sure to (as we do) ground students in the concrete - relational (OT stories, Gospels), but also insist on learning logical arguments and reasoning (Pauline epistles and apologetics / systematic theology).


We who call ourselves Evangelical apologists fall into two camps: Evidentialists and Presuppositionalists.  I am an Evidentialist (like Norman Geisler or William Lane Craig, et alia (those who Smith calls the "California school" (Talbot))). We must be very careful to avoid giving the impression that anyone can interpret the Bible without a worldview (theism and a commitment to rationality, the laws of logic).  We must avoid in my opinion falling into the sort of fideism which Hesselgrave speaks of which lead to the demise of the Japanese Evangelical Church.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service GIVE



It’s what we’re all about.

For 80 years, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) has been a champion for refugees and migrants from around the globe. We compassionately serve the most vulnerable as they rebuild their lives in America. 

At a time of unprecedented crisis, these newcomers need our help more than ever. Learn more about our work and how you can make a difference today.


Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service (LIRS) HAS WELCOMED MORE THAN 500,000 REFUGEES & MIGRANTS over 80 years!

For 80 years, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has been a champion for refugees and migrants from around the globe.

Our legacy of compassionate service has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who have found safety and hope in America’s communities.

See their website

Donate to Church World Services!

 Church World Services

Make an impact in our world with your gift today


Our vision is a world where everyone has food, voice and a safe place to call home. To do that, we come alongside families and communities, helping them to make that vision a reality.

... Refugee families are settling into new homes and jobs, far from the conflict that forced them to flee.

Church World Service Celebrates Executive Action to Restore Life-Saving Refugee Resettlement Program

CWS Celebrates Executive Action to Restore Life-Saving Refugee Resettlement Program


“Today is a great day for refugee families seeking safety and the countless American communities who want to welcome them. Our resettlement program should be rooted in compassion and fairness, and today’s order is an important first step to ensuring that it is,” said Rick Santos, President and CEO of Church World Service. “While this is an important step, there is more to be done. The administration must now take additional action, by raising the refugee resettlement goal for this year and by rebuilding this vital system at home and abroad, so the United States can return to its role as a global humanitarian leader during this crisis.”

See the whole article

Biden commits to 125,000 refugee immigrants

Legal immigration to return to earlier levels, but will require rebuilding of some institutions which help


Matthew Soerens, the director of church mobilization at World Relief, one of those resettlement agencies, said his group closed eight offices during the Trump administration. He said resettling 125,000 refugees during the remainder of fiscal year 2021 would likely be impossible, given the current infrastructure.

"We're really eager to rebuild and excited for the opportunity," Soerens told CBS News. "But we're also doing this as quickly as we can with limited resources. It's not going to be something that's going to be rebuilt overnight."

Resettlement agencies receive refugees when they arrive to the U.S. and help them with housing, finding employment, enrolling their children in schools and other matters to facilitate their integration into American communities.

Meredith Owen, the director of policy and advocacy at Church World Service, another resettlement agency, echoed Soerens' comments.

"We're going to need the Biden administration to really take concrete steps to rebuild the overseas and the domestic infrastructure to actually be able to resettle the number of refugees that we're hoping to over the next four years," Owen told CBS News, saying the processing of refugees should also be expedited.

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service closed or suspended services at 17 of its 48 resettlement offices during the past four years. While acknowledging the logistical challenges of ramping up refugee admissions, Krish Vignarajah, the group's president, highlighted the symbolism of Mr. Biden's commitment.

"Raising the ceiling will literally be life-saving for hundreds of thousands fleeing violence and persecution because of the color of their skin, how they worship or who they love," Vignarajah told CBS News.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Chapter Two Welcoming Strangers... Who do you see at your door?


You can find the video for Chapter 2 here Ch 2 


We have a war going on about perception, how we see things.  Some argue that only one media network is trustworthy, while others argue a different one is the only one.  Some argue we don’t know the truth, since everything we see has been edited or filmed in a way to convince us of one thing or another.

We often say: “Seeing is believing,” but what if we can’t trust what we see? Much of what we see depends on what we are prepared to see and what we expect to see.

News media makes money by gaining viewers.  Often the most extreme image is used over and over again to catch our attention and to try to convince us to do something else or at least to watch some show.

The National Geographic channel had a series called the “Evolution of Evil.” At one time the commercial for this series ran just about every commercial break.  In that short commercial break, we saw Hitler, Stalin, Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong-Un.  We saw the Twin Towers in New York City fall on September 11th, 2001, over and over and over.  We saw jihadis shouting with AK 47s in their hands.

Certain images move us.  We come to accept a certain view of people and events based on the images we see.

We see Al Shabab Muslim extremists behead someone. These sorts of images “sell” in the sense that they strike a nerve.

The problem is that these images become the “normal” for us.  All Muslims become jihadis.  All Muslims hate Westerners.  All Muslims are blood thirsty.  We have learned this from what we have seen with our own eyes.

However, real life is not so interesting.  We don’t see the other 1.7 million “ordinary” Muslims baking bread, sweeping streets, selling their wares, playing with their children.

We see what we have seen and what we have become conditioned to see. We don’t take the time to see the majority of the people as they are.

A friend was unsure about meeting Muslims, who were immigrants in her neighborhood.  She wondered how they would accept a woman, particularly a middle-aged American woman.  She found to her surprise that they treated her with respect and dignity.  She was surprised when one Muslim man picked up a saxophone and began to play it expertly.  For some reason she hadn’t expected a Muslim to be able to play a saxophone.

As this friend talked to these Muslim immigrants, she finally asked, “Aren’t you angry with Americans?”  To which one man said, “We love the US Marines! We hate our government!  They bombed us!”  Of course, this surprised her.

We are conditioned by our cultures and education to see certain things and people in certain ways. It’s convenient for us to have stereotypes.  No one wants to admit that they have stereotypes, but we all do.

How we see things and people depends on what we have known previously. Throughout history Jews have been despised in many places.  Ashkenazi Jews with long noses, dark hair and dark skin often encountered prejudice and even abuse.  The fact that some religious Jews wear black suits, yarmulkas and fedoras also makes them distinctive.  Also, because religious Jews can sometimes be standoffish towards outsiders, they are seen to be elitist or exclusivist.

Since the Holocaust during World War II, most people in the West know more about Jews.  They recognize at least Ashkenazi, eastern European Jews.  But sometimes they don’t know that there are also Sephardic Jews, who come originally from Spain and Portugal.  Here in the Netherlands the first Jews who came to the Netherlands were Sephardic Jews.  Some Sephardic Jews are blond or red headed and have blue eyes.  Those of us who knew only Ashkenazi Jews are surprised to realize that there blond, blue eyed Jews!  We see what we are prepared to see, what we know.

As we look at immigrants, we tend to see stereotypes, if for no other reason than we don’t know anything else. Stereotypes allow us to deal with abstractions: “Muslims” or “Hispanics.”  However, anyone with knowledge of “Hispanics” knows that you should never confuse a Cuban with a Puerto Rican or a Puerto Rican with a Mexican.  Here in the Netherlands and in neighboring Belgium to call a Fleming (a “Dutch” speaking Belgian) a Dutch man is an insult! 

When we get to know individuals, we come to understand that while they might belong to a larger group (“Muslims”), they as individuals may belong to a smaller subset, which hates another subset.  Some Sunni Muslims hate Shi'a Muslims.  Sunni Muslims are committed to the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad as expressed in traditions passed on by him to his relatives.  Shi’a Muslims follow a leader, an imam or Ayatollah. Many Iraqi Muslims are Sunni, while Irani Muslims are Shi’a.  Many Sunni Muslims consider Shi’a Muslims to be heretics and vice versa.

For many of us that have grown up in the Western world we have never had to learn or had occasion to learn such distinctions.  Perhaps you know that Turks hate Kurds and Kurds hate Turks.  However, both groups are Muslims.

My point is that all of us see what we are accustomed to see. I was in the London Heathrow Airport in a long snaking security line waiting to reach the security point.  Another American near me cocked his head at a security guard and said, “Look, they have Muslim security guards.” I turned and said, “He’s not a Muslim.  He is a Sikh.  Sikhs have been the queen’s personal body guards for hundreds of years.  He doesn’t like Muslims.”  My countryman in the line did not know a Sikh from a Muslim, but why would he without being taught to know the difference between a Sikh turban and netted beard compared to a Muslims white turban and flowing beard?

We should not make assumptions about people merely based on appearances.  We should get to know people as people.  Rather than fearing a stranger who “looks dangerous,” we should try to get to know that person as my friend did when she met the Muslim man who could play the saxophone.

When we reach out to be helpful to immigrants, we learn more about the world and about ourselves.  We grow. We learn.  We come to appreciate others.

When you have made friends with Ahmed and Afra and they invite you to a lovely dinner of lamb and tabouleh followed by a dessert of baklava, they cease to be an abstraction and a threat and become real people. When Ahmed asks you in a Bible study whether you believe in jin (demons) and you have to explain that you do and why, you grow.

There was another image which was repeatedly broadcast on television in the last several years. It was a haunting image. It was a picture of a father who was kneeling on the beach of a Greek island. The father was holding his dead three-year-old son.  His son had drowned.  Migrants hoping to reach the coast of a Greek island from Turkey are often put into boats which are not seaworthy.  The boat that this father and son were on had sunk.  The son was drowned and the father had not been able to save him.

People all over the world were struck by the image.  The father’s grief was palpable.  Almost anyone could identify with his anguish.

When we see another person, who is in need or in pain, we empathize.  We want to help. At least we want to help when we are at our best.  At our worst we turn away or change the channel.

When we see that father, we become in a way responsible for him. We feel an ethical responsibility for that man and his situation.

Jesus told us to love others as we would have them love us.  We must ask what we should do for these people.

It’s too easy to say, “I didn’t start that war! I’m not responsible for their suffering.” No, but we are responsible for our own reaction: Will we turn away, change the channel or respond from a heart of compassion?

That father might have been a Syrian fleeing Aleppo, a city which was repeatedly bombed until there was no “home” left. I met Syrians on the Greek island of Lesvos in the Migrant Detention Centre.  That man could easily have been someone I would have met there.

Rather than seeing enemies or jihadis or “dirty foreigners” we need to look at these suffering people through the eyes of Christ, through the eyes of compassion.  “In as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me."