Exploring the interplay between ortho-doxy (right belief) and ortho-praxy (right action)...

...and encouraging a life where these intertwined thoughts and deeds simply happen... by default.

28 December 2007

by-default is moving...

Blogger is great...

...but Wordpress is (in my opinion) a better blogging system... (no offense, Blogger!)

I've transferred everything to my new blog at:


I'll leave this one up for a while, but all my new posts will be over there.

Here's a screen-shot:




26 December 2007

the wright gift!

A rather HUGE thanks to my wife this year for definitely choosing the 'Wright' gift this Christmas...

(See pics below!)

Below: One happy husband. One Wright gift.

Below: One Wright-Wreading husband. One Wright gift. Two Wright manuscripts.

(Books: 'The Climax of the Covenant' and 'Hebrews for Everyone')

Cheers everyone!




21 December 2007

the 'science' of intelligent design

I must thrive on controversy or something. I've got posts on speaking in 'tongues', sexual ethics and now --if those weren't enough-- I'm posting on the evolution/creation debate... Sigh... Where to begin!!??

Where I've come from
Since I like honesty, I'll start with a very short (and therefore un-detailed) review of how I've thought in the past, and where I'm at now...

Growing up, I didn't think too much about evolutionary theory. I believed God created all things, and assumed that He did it like Genesis 1 & 2 said. Years later, the topic would become of greater importance to me. I listened to radio programmes, read a few books, looked at websites, etc., etc., and convinced myself that evolution could not be true. I happily enjoyed debating about it, and pointing to 'holes' in Darwinian theory... The title 'six-day young-earth creationist' would have been proudly worn by me, and any Christian who dared think that 'macro-evolution' could have happened would have gotten dis-approving looks from me.

More recently, however, I've taken a much more 'I have no idea' kind of approach to whether or not life as we know it has come about by way of Darwinian processes. My current view of Genesis 1 & 2, is that these chapters are not scientific explanatory reports, but rather theological poetic texts which were not written to explain exactly how creation 'happened', but rather to (beautifully, if you ask me!) contrast the Creator God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with all of the gods of the nations around them. I could go on, but that's enough for a 'very brief' review!

Why this post?
Firstly, I am still interested in such conversations; though at the same time, I'm saddened by the unhelpful ways they are sometimes carried out. Secondly, this interest and sadness have found me discussing such things with some atheists. As we discussed my last post (which was more of a philosophical suggestion concerning the value(s) which underlie ethics and morality) we eventually stumbled onto things to do with evolution. I thought that the conversation was too big to have there... More specifically, I wanted to discuss my thoughts on 'Intelligent Design' (I.D.).

'I.D.' scientific?
I.D. (which enters conversations about cosmology, abiogenesis and evolution) is called a lot of things by a lot of people. 'True science' by fundy young-earthers, and 'Religions' desperate attempt to attack real science' by others. Here are my thoughts, which --perhaps not surprisingly-- are located somewhere between these two...

The biggest criticism of I.D. is that it is not a testable theory. A big problem is that the evaluation of that statement is confused by various expressions of what I.D. is. If I.D. is a theory which makes suggestions about how the universe or complex organisms came to be, then it can only be 'tested' in a mental-experiment kind of way, which may prove quite useful to philosophers and logicians. On the other hand, it offers no empirically testable theories, so --in a very important sense-- it is not a theory at all, but rather an assertion.

Natural science, you see, is what natural science is. It seeks to explain things by natural causes, so you can see why a 'theory' about a super-natural 'designer' is no longer in the domain of natural science. Positing all day long about a designer leaves nothing to empirically test, and thus no way for natural science to even begin to do its thing. Therefore, the idea that the universe and/or complex organisms are designed is one of many ideas that can never be verified, tested or developed by natural science.

A confused mess
Now, having said that, there remains a great deal of value in critiquing Darwinian evolutionary theory - or any other theory for that matter! What I suspect is happening, however, is that the whole 'I.D.' movement --with it's implicit (sometimes explicit!!??) agenda to 'prove' the existence of the Designer-- actually ends up stifling and confusing what sometimes could be fruitful critique of Darwinian theory.

The comments on this article show how immaturely and impatiently the I.D. crowd react when scientists change their opinion on something. This does not encourage fruitful dialogue.

A new documentary by Ben Stein called 'Expelled' will highlight several controversial scenarios involving abuse or firing of scientists and instructors who subscribed to I.D. ideas. Debates rage about the legitimacy of the tenure denial of seemingly qualified astrophysicist Guillermo Gonzalez, or the dismissal of Caroline Crocker. (Two quick examples of firings that seem more justified (or at least to be expected?) are that of Kris Helphinstine and Nathaniel Abraham.)

An unfortunate example to me is the firing of Richard Sternberg for publishing an article by I.D. proponent Stephen Meyer. Sternberg himself finds I.D. flawed, but published Meyer's article because "evolutionary biologists are thinking about this. So I thought that by putting this on the table, there could be some reasoned discourse." Like all such situations, there is no doubt more to the story than the public will ever know, but the firing of Sternberg (himself neither an evangelical, young-earth creationist or even a theistic evolutionist!) seems to me extreme.

So What?
So, as far as I'm concerned, one of the most disappointing things about I.D. is that it has simply gone too far too often. It seems that because of the attempts to use it to 'prove' a God, they have created justified suspicion in the natural science community. What a shame. As far as I'm concerned, it's silly to think that natural science could ever 'prove' God.

The assertions that the universe looks ordered, fine-tuned or designed are assertions that I find compelling, but these assertions give natural science no counter-theory, no alternative-hypothesis, and no way to even begin to test for the implicitly suggested Orderer, Fine-Tuner and/or Designer.


10 December 2007

true love: stranger & friend

A very recent post had a moral bent, and the ensuing comment-discussion quickly observed that morals are based on values and eventually focussed on the question of what (if anything) underlies our values. In other words, are values grounded 'on' anything? Or, are they as free and changing as the various expressions of human cognition/thought? In this post, I want to try to explore this question further. Just one thing before I begin:

A request for discussion of this post:
I do not wish for this exploration and discussion to be hi-jacked by various statements (of any kind) about what 'the Bible says', and what that supposedly means. Do I think that the Bible has something to say in this exploration and discussion? Most certainly. But many assertions (both 'positive' and 'negative' ones - if I may put it like that) can derail the conversation before it leaves the station. My desire is not to have this conversation in the usual verse-quoting and scoffing fashion, but rather as thinking human beings - with whatever anthropology you bring to the table. And for Christian readers, it is my conviction (I believe C.S. Lewis once said something similar?) that if we can't discuss our beliefs in non-religious --or non-'bible'-- language, then we either don't actually believe those things or we are totally out of touch with the world. Now. Let's think together about this question.

First, we should observe that a conversation about absolute or universal principles, values and/or morals is really a conversation about what is called 'truth'. So we'll use that word here. Secondly, the discussion is often characterised by what I see to be a false choice between two views (including views that are closer to one or the other of these two):

  • The 1st view we will call 'absolutism'. This is the idea not only that there is absolute truth, but that we can and/or do fully know it.
  • The 2nd view we will call 'relativism'. This is the idea not only that there is no absolute truth, but that we couldn't and/or wouldn't know it even if there were.
'Accessing' Truth?
I suggest we have this false choice because (even though our beliefs may vary) our thinking and discussing is still largely shaped by Greek philosophical categories. More specifically, modern Westerners still think in terms of a dualist split between matter and spirit. Matter being the stuff that is less than important, and spirit being that which is most important. This directly affects how we still think about 'truth.' Popular culture still thinks of truth as unchanging, static, pure, 'up there', and needing to be 'accessed' and/or 'brought down' to us. [See diagram: I made it, isn't it neat? :) ]

What happens, then, is that the 'absolutists' not only claim total (or at least partial) 'access' to this body of 'truth', but also claim to know precisely how it is to be worked out in the context of daily life or a specific situation. Now, the 'relativist' would say that this 'truth' is not absolute, but that it changes depending on the context. Some relativists (many atheists?) would even say quite simply that there no 'up there' kind of 'truth', and that we've got nothing but 'context', which we respond to in various ways, resulting in various mental constructs which are held to be 'truth' for that person or culture.

Why do we have this false choice? Why this spectrum between absolutists and relativists with no seeming middle ground? Could there be a third way of seeing how 'Truth' works? If so, how might we understand (or even imagine?) such a thing?

A more 'down to earth' Truth?
Indeed, the English word 'truth' can represent various ideas for various people, and even one person might use it to mean slightly different things at times. Often, it's used in a kind of verifying way, with things that can in principle be verified: "Is it true that Dad is coming home early tonight?" Other times it's used for inquiry into less verifiable things: "Is it true that Macintosh computers are more sleek and stylish than PC's?" Other times the usage is to gain information that might be 'hidden' for various reasons: from "Did you eat the last slice of pie? Go on, tell me the truth!" to "Where were you last night? Tell me the truth!"

The interesting thing about all of these usages is this: They have nothing at ALL to do with an 'up there' kind of truth. Instead of having to do with floating principles in the sky, all these usages have to do with real situations - real life, the real world. So, in case you need me to say it clearer, truth ain't 'up there'! So, at least concerning the existence of an 'up there' kind of truth, I am in agreement with many relativists.

But, I am not a moral relativist, nor do I believe that truth (wherever it is 'located' or whatever shape it is, etc.) is relative. So what does my picture of truth look like? Well, I don't plan on trying to 'describe' an idea as huge as 'truth' with a few sentences... that would be silly. But I do want to present one way of which I think truth can be 'known'.

Now, my use of the word 'known' warrants an entirely separate discussion about epistemology, but suffice it to say that I'm not talking about 'knowing the truth' like one knows that 2+2=4. Rather, I'm talking about something much like 'knowing' you've just said either something entirely inappropriate which you wish you could take back or something entirely appropriate which simply had to be said at exactly that moment...

Truth Transcending Tensions?
When I picture truth, I think of Love. What a shame that the word 'Love' can mean mere feelings, as the phrases 'falling in love' or 'I don't love you anymore' or 'I love creamy Jif peanut butter' would suggest. But the attitude, mentality or disposition of selfless, patient, tolerant, kind Love remains.

I discussed this a while back in another post, but I'll summarise here. Love resides in what might be called the 'tension' between 'self' and 'other'. Tom Wright (who is drawing on the thought of Bernard Lonergan) puts it this way: "the point about love - the epistemology which love generates - is that love both affirms the other-ness of the object [objectivity] while remaining in deep, rich and close subjective [subjectivity] relationship to it. Love transcends the objective-subjective divide."

I lov... um... well, I fully agree with that. :) Love transcends more than the objective-subjective divide, however. Life is just cram packed full of tensions which Love transcends. Male-female; Order-Chaos; Logic-Emotion and more.

True Love?
Just before closing this post, I want to say one more intentionally paradoxical thing about Love. I want to suggest that Love is (as the title of this post suggests) both the most foreign and the most familiar thing to us.

On one hand, it is familiar; we know what it looks like. We've seen it - if but for a passing moment. In living rooms, at coffee tables, through tears - both of joy and pain. Strangely, we know what Love looks like as much from its absence as from its fleeting presence. Like a beautiful garden that has been 'let go' and is now over-run with weeds and tall, unkempt grass, we 'know' what it's like to see Love fade away - just out of reach, just around the corner.

On the other hand, it is foreign - totally other. Hundreds of beds in a clothing factory providing a few hours of rest for hundreds of human bodies which will awaken the next day to produce thousands of garments underneath florescent light to be shipped across a body of water for other human bodies to purchase at 'everyday low prices' in various large retail buildings in other countries, underneath all-too-similar florescent light. Love is a pipe dream. A silly notion. All that matters here are dollars, cents, profit margins and stock dividends.

Yes, I am suggesting a contradiction. We know exactly what Love is, and yet we have no idea what Love is.

(I look forward to rationalising about such a wishy-washy thing!)


9 December 2007

truth hurts real good

What an inconvenience!

I mean, seriously. Doesn't it just stink that the thing that people need to hear most is what they enjoy hearing the least?

It's just the way we are, isn't it? We love people as long as they always tell us what we want to hear and smile at us a lot. Are these expectations of others healthy? Are they even based in reality?

I think not.

Truth is, we tend to keep people at a safe distance from us. None of us want to be alone and not have any friends, but very few people want a friend that cares enough to say the uncomfortable but true things that they need to hear. We like friends that only talk about things they KNOW we agree with. Rugby, TV shows, or maybe that person that both of you don't really like.

Maybe you love to talk to other people that are frustrated with Christians or the Church.

Or, maybe you love to talk about how other people just don't 'get it' as much as you do.

Maybe it's been a long time since you've had a discussion that wasn't comfortable.

Maybe that's why we struggle so much with conflict.

Maybe we have forgotten how to speak the truth in love.

Maybe we don't want to hear the truth about us.

Proverbs 15 (selected verses)
A fool despises his father's instruction, but he who receives reproof is prudent. v. 5
Harsh correction is for him who forsakes the way, and he who hates reproof will die. v. 10
A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, nor will he go to the wise. v. 12
The ear that hears the reproof of life will abide among the wise v.31
He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds reproof gets understanding. v.32

Be willing to be the BEARER or RECIPIENT of truth.
Strangely enough, sometimes those with the hardest message to hear are often the ones that care about you most.


22 November 2007

sexual identity remixed

I'm well aware of this topics' controversial nature. In fact, that's part of the reason I've been wanting to write about this for a while. What I do not want to do is quote verses or provide what I think 'the Bible says' about this issue. Of course, I do have a view on that, but that specific pathway into this topic has been almost ruined for all kinds of reasons, not least simplistic applications of various texts.

As with any other discussion, the use of words is key. At one extreme, the sheer number of terms being created ('pangender', 'omnisexuality' and 'heteronormativity' to name but a few) does not seem to help fruitful discussion, but at the other extreme, many can fail to appreciate the complexity of the issues being discussed. Because of this complexity, it would be easy to spend huge amounts of time trying to address everything that has ever been said about human sexuality. But, of course, that's the job of a lengthy dissertation or something. My hope is to fruitfully contribute to the conversation. Quite simply, I want to raise two concerns I have relating to human sexuality.

Just one thing before I get going. Much harm has been done in this area. For all variety of reasons, people have said things in ways that are careless, abusive, condescending and just plain hurtful. To say that only religious people have done this would of course be inaccurate. The issue is far more complex than that. It's not simply a matter of Christians 'versus' homosexuals, or whatever. It's fathers against daughters, communities splitting, families and relationships crumbling and various cultures defining and redefining themselves. Many people of all persuasions simply need to apologise for what they've said and done. That is a bigger concern than any that follow...

But, alas, the issue is important and simple answers to complex questions will not do. Now, finally, here are two concerns to consider...

Concern #1 - Sexuality needs guidance like all other human activity.
I still remember hearing her say it. The younger (20-ish) of two women was sharing her inner pondering as to her own 'sexuality', and the older (50-ish) woman assured her, '...whatever decision you come to will be the right one.' One would struggle to imagine a more relativistic statement.

Also, I read a brochure from an organisation seeking to support youth dealing with these issues. It shared the same assurance: "...whatever you are, it's a perfectly natural part of being you." I talked with a representative from this organisation, and politely asked if there were any sexual activities that they did not approve of. What advice, I asked, would they give to youth feeling that they most identified with things such as incest, pedophilia and beastiality (sex with animals)? The reply was that these were not supported, and that youth wishing to identify with these things would be 'referred to a counselor.' This, of course, means that this organisation is not as all-approving as their brochure would suggest.

Guidance, leadership and direction happens in all areas of life, but when it comes to sexuality (especially in rich, western affluent areas), for some reason the only tolerated thing to do is to throw up your hands and say, 'whatever you think...' Why is this?

Now, I've not mentioned any specific sexual behaviour(s) so far - I'm just raising the concern that this is an area which I think needs guidance. For example, while I've never heard anyone suggest that heterosexuality in and of itself is 'wrong', there are indeed examples of heterosexual actions which most would say was indeed wrong; incest, pornography, pedophilia, etc. While the basis against such things may vary (which is a key question), most would agree, I suspect, that we need some kind of 'guidance' here.

Three examples may be helpful here.
1. Infidelity
Men who are in a marriage (or committed partnership) with a woman will admit that women other than their wife or partner are still sexually attractive. But most (especially the wives or partners of these men!) would say this is one attraction which would be 'wrong' to follow through on!
2. Rape
If one objects that the first example is a result of 'the socially constructed idea of commitment', then consider this example. A man attracted to a woman who doesn't desire sex with him must also answer his desires with a firm 'No'.
3. Pedophilia
If one should still object on grounds that all sex between consenting parties is valid, then consider the next example. A man attracted to a consenting 13 year old girl must also control himself.

All three above examples, by the way, are between men and women, who have what I like to call 'genital compatibility', yet they show a need for personal restraint and self control - even in view of such 'compatibility'. Indeed, the bodily organs would function quite aptly; but the answer to these desires is still a firm 'No.'

Further, very few people would deny that at least some desired sexual actions could be - at least in principle - harmful, dangerous or wrong. Nobody would suggest that desire alone ensures that a given action is a good one. If we made the rest of our life decisions that way... well... we'd buy, eat, use and do whatever we wanted. We understand the need for restraint and self-control in other areas of life - why do we so often neglect this need with sexuality?

Concern #2 - Personal identity based on sexual desire/attraction is problematic.
When people identify themselves as a "_____"-sexual person, they are identifying with a sexual attraction, and that attraction obviously implies a desire to follow-through on that attraction. That's the thing about desire; it's not desire just to have a desire - it's desire to actually do something. When we don't follow through on our desires - we don't like it; we're not getting what we're desiring. It's quite simple, really.

The reason, I suggest, why basing personal identity on such desires or attractions is problematic is this: because we don't always get what we want. For example, imagine someone who's personal identity was based on a specific sexual desire (whatever that might be). Now, if that person is not able to have the specific sexual experience they desire, then they are not able to fully express themselves according to what their personal identity has been based on. A person who identifies their whole self based upon their sexual desires, who is not sexually active, is not actualised in their person-hood. They are only a "_____"-sexual person in theory, and not in reality (like a firefighter who never fights fires, or a seamstress who never sews). Again, I've said nothing about any specific kind of sexual activity being 'wrong'. My second concern is specifically about basing one's personal identity on desire or attraction.

A helpful chapter called 'Angels and Animals' in Rob Bell's book 'Sex God' highlights two extremes for understanding ones' sexual self or identity. For one extreme ('animals'), he cites the example of two movie stars who 'hooked up' (in spite of a marriage), who later said, 'We just couldn't help ourselves.' This is a case of seeing yourself as an animal with sexual 'animal instincts' which cannot be harnessed. The other extreme ('angels') is to reject one's sexuality altogether, perhaps even viewing it as bad or evil. The healthy middle between the two is when sex is protected, valued and respected.

Western culture inundates us with messages via advertising (billboards, magazines, commercials), movies and television programmes which all too often present sexuality as a 'no holds barred' arena. The more active you are, the better. Go out and have a good time, enjoy yourself; oh, and by the way, don't get caught - whether that means the sexual partner's spouse catching the two of you, the sexual partner getting pregnant or either of you getting 'caught' by a sexually transmitted infection/disease.

We need help. The human race, obviously, is kept going because of sex. It's a good thing. But used poorly, it can make families, communities (even nations?) unstable - and harm individuals along the way. There are big questions here, and simple answers just won't do any longer.


21 November 2007

Amos 5:18-7:17 (targum)

'Targum' (plural is 'targumim') is a literary genre in which parts of the Hebrew Bible are 'modernised' and/or re-interpreted for the current time (specifically, it means an Aramaic translation.). This genre has been around for at least 2000 years, because some of the writings from the 'Dead Sea Scrolls' consist of 'targumim' fragments. Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, in their book 'Colossians Remixed: Subverting The Empire' use this genre quite well - I think - to suggest how the message of certain parts of Paul's letter to the Colossians might be heard in modern, western culture.

Anyway, our church is almost finished teaching through the book of Amos, (I've just recently finished a course called 'Prophets in Context' by Tim Bulkeley at Carey Baptist College and his Amos commentary is - in my humble opinion! - the best fully-online commentary on this book.) and I recently preached on the text of 5:18 - 7:17. Here, for your enjoyment, discomfort (or both!?) is my 'targum' of this passage...


(Judgment against hollow worship - 5:18-27)

"You want Jesus to come back? Yeah right! You know when He comes, He's going to judge the wicked, don't you!!?? It's not going to be fun for you! God says, 'Nothing makes me sicker than your conferences. I want to vomit during your church services. Even though you offer your so-called 'worship' I couldn't care less! I don't listen to junk like that! Will you please just shut up already?? I don't want to be your boyfriend! I want you to be passionate about justice! I want you to live lives that are righteous! Hello? Did you organise music festivals, worship conferences and other such 'Christian' things? I'll make your 'Hill' songs into 'Valley' songs – for the 'god' that you are worshipping is the music god you've made for yourself!!! I'm going to make you completely and totally irrelevant and non influential in your own culture. No one will care AT ALL what you have to babble on about!

(Judment against excessive consumption - 6:1-14)
"You are so comfortable, so 'spiritual' and so 'successful'. You're RICH as well! Your
ridiculous obsession with video games, new clothing and entertainment and eating – YUCK!
Don't you care? Would you turn off your 'worship CD's' long enough to consider your out-right hypocrisy? This is why no one listens to what you say! Don't you get it!!?? It's not just the fundamentalist weirdo Christians who make a bad name for us, it's YOU – yes YOU – you hypocrite! The bach and your holiday home? I'll smash them to pieces! You've absolutely wrecked my project for justice and righteousness! Again, this is why Christians aren't listened to in Western Culture. The things you spend time and money on have more to do with the world's stupid notions of 'success' than MY values of simplicity and self-less-ness!

(The three 'visions' - 7:1-9)
God gave me three word-pictures. Check them out…

First, He showed me a timer counting down rapidly toward zero, and it was like the number of professing believers in New Zealand. I prayed to God, 'Please forgive us! There won't be any of us left!' He had mercy because of this and said, 'OK. This won't happen.'
Second, God showed me a Smith & Caughey's Christmas display –with Carols echoing 'God and sinners reconciled' -but next to it was a sexual advert objectifying men and women made in God's image! God said this was exactly like the mixed message that comfortable, affluent Christians are sending to the world, and therefore our influence will perish. I prayed, 'No! Please! We're weak!' He again had mercy…
Lastly, God showed me a funeral service. He asked me, 'What do you see?' I said, 'People weeping and mourning.' Then He said, 'See, I'm causing my people to weep and howl and mourn, because I am incensed at their hypocrisy! I will not stay silent. I will show them that their lack
of works means their faith is DEAD!!!'

(The brief encounter narrative - 7:10-17)
Now, the most 'spiritual' and 'successful' Christian in Auckland complained to his pastor, saying "This guy is preaching against us and we can't stand his muttering. He says we're missing the point of the Gospel." So he went to me and said, "Your so divisive! Spare us your theological musings! Save it for your dead spirit-less church! Don't quench what the Spirit is doing with us!" And I said, "Hey, I'm not saying anything that you need a Masters in Divinity to understand! I saw hypocrisy, and God compelled me to call it what it is. I cannot BUT speak! You say, 'Don't touch the Lord's anointed', therefore God says, 'You will be seen to be hypocrites by the entire world. Your self-serving hollow worship and your romanticised moment-spirituality will leave you dry, naked and poor! Your sons and daughters will reject the faith you've taught them because they will see how shallow it really is!' "


Do compare it with the original, and if you can/want to, do comment with thoughts (positive or negative) that come to mind!