Forums to share

Whenever I find them, I will try to watch or listen to roundtable discussions composed of my favorite authors or speakers. I sometimes find these attached to larger conferences, variously described as Q & A or open forums. At the best of times, I’ll find a relaxed and serendipitous conversation, where thinkers will address a range of topics they haven’t necessarily covered in their writing and speaking.

I’d like to share two such talks in this post. The first is a round-table discussion between the notorious Four Horsemen of the New Atheism movement, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. Apparently the title of the video, “The Four Horsemen” was its inaugural use. While I like these guys quite a bit more than they would like me, what I appreciated about this video was the opportunity to see these men interacting on areas of agreement and, most interesting to me, areas of disagreement. I have read quite a bit of Dawkins and have always found him more enjoyable in print that in person. I admire the late Christopher Hitchens the most of the lot, primarily because of his candor and interest in granting fair representation of those whom he (sometimes vehemently) disagrees with. Though their rhetoric can occasionally be taxing to this pious Christian, I find interacting with their challenges to be mostly enjoyable.

The second video is a discussion between pastors and theologians, John Piper, Doug Wilson, Sam Storms, and Jim Hamilton. The two hour session was called An Evening of Eschatology. The four men interact on various views regarding what Scripture says about things to come. The discussion is situated around the various positions on the millennium referenced in Revelation 20 (Wilson- postmillennial, Storms- amillennial, Hamilton- premillennial, with Piper serving as moderator), so you have a unique opportunity to see how the positions compare in the context of a passionate yet irenic debate.

If you’re in to this sort of thing, drop a line into the comments of any talks you’d recommend. I’ve enjoyed these discussions across a variety of subjects including history, theology, politics, science, ethical issues, etc. I’ll try to share more as time allows.

Always a miracle

Birth is a miracle. Every birth. And every new birth is a miracle. We are all participants in the miracle. We have all been born. Jesus used the birth imagery in his phrase “born from above” (John 3:3, NRSV) to introduce Nicodemus to an equivalent miracle in their famous nighttime conversation. God is in the business of making life, bringing into being what is not. Birth is the name of this act. It is always a miracle.

Naming an event a miracle doesn’t mean we can’t understand it. It means we can’t anticipate it. It means we can’t reproduce it. We cannot control it. There is more going on than we can comprehend. There is more to life than we can account for. Miracle is a word Christians use to name events, at least some of them, that God brings about.

~ From As Kingfishers Catch Fire, a new collection of Eugene Peterson’s sermons. Excellently edited, these sermons provide a glimpse of the candor and earnestness of Peterson’s ministry. They are a gift to the church.

Our need for bias

Without the aid of prejudice and custom, I should not be able to find my way across the room; nor know how to conduct myself in any circumstances, nor what to feel in any relation of life. Reason may play the critic, and correct certain errors afterwards; but if we were to wait for its formal and absolute decisions in the shifting and multifarious combinations of human affairs, the world would stand still.

William Hazlitt, quoted in How to Think (p.86-87), written by Alan Jacobs. Jacobs continues:

“So we need the biases, the emotional predispositions, to relieve that cognitive load. We just want them to be the right ones. As a wise man once said, one of the key tasks of critical reflection is to distinguish the true prejudices by which we understand from the false ones by which we misunderstand.”

Calling our collection of predispositions and biases ‘System 1’ (a term borrowed from Daniel Kahneman), Jacobs argues that our ‘System 1’ thinking can be “changed, trained; it can develop new habits.” He connects this with John Stuart Mill’s insistence that we consider our whole being in this arena- the emotions and the intellect. Jacobs writes: “This is what Mill meant when he spoke of the power of rightly ordered affections to shape the character. Learning to feel as we should is enormously helpful for learning to think as we should.”

This passage evoked so many from Jamie Smith’s You Are What You Love that I nearly brought that volume back upstairs. Some of the most splendid moments of my reading life occur when I witness my authors speaking to one another. Often they are echoing one another, or taking a drink further downstream. At other times they are sharpening the argument, flipping the blade to the other side.

These conversations are most easily perceived with the best writers, by the way. Often, the most important conversations span centuries. This interestingly brings me to a concluding comment that Jacobs makes about the role of rightly ordered affections in our thinking. He writes:

“And this is why learning to think with the best people, and not to think with the worst, is so important. To dwell habitually with people is inevitably to adopt their way of approaching the world, which is a matter not just of ideas but also of practices.”

Laying It Down

This guest post is written by Matt Bulman. Matt works construction, spends time with his wife and three boys, and follows Jesus with the people at Harvest Bible Chapel in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

                When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. – God turning down David’s request to build a permanent temple for Israel to worship God.  II Samuel 7:12-13

“Lead me to the end of myself, take me to the edge of something greater.”  -Frontiers, Vertical Worship

 

You ask me to lay this dream down, this house I’ve wanted to build for you. You say you have another plan, something better for me, a bigger picture that I can’t yet see. You ask me to lay it down, to walk away from my good thing, my great gift for you. I know you say I can’t have it, but God you know how much this hurts. Forgive my hesitation, my unwillingness to trade the certain for the not yet. Let your patience hold you a little longer while I hold this dream as it breathes its last. I’m going to let it go but God you know this is hard.

Why can’t I see your bigger picture? What do I do when my dream looks better than your promise of potential blessing? How do I lay down this good thing I want when I can’t see what you promise in return? Why are the hard times all mine? Why do I get the tears, the agony, the blood and war and another gets the victory celebration?

You command me to walk away, to let another fulfill my dream. You demand my sacrifice, but reject my plan for how to make it. You desire my worship, but rip away my offering. You answered my prayers, saw my tears, fought my battles, and worked my miracles. You are my rescuer. My stronghold, my fortress, my rock, my deliverer, my defender, my shield. You were a forest fire of hope in the middle of the darkest nights. Every hard time you were there and I learned to trust you in the chaos. But why were the hard times all mine and the rewards destined to go to another? I know you say I’m on the edge of something greater, but forgive me, it is so hard to see that from where I’m standing. I just can’t see it and I don’t understand.

But I will lift my eyes to yours and call this back to mind, you are God of gods and Lord of lords and your steadfast love endures forever.  These battles were mine but the victories are yours and your steadfast love endures forever. The hard times were mine but you are the rescuer and the redeemer and your steadfast love endures forever. The tears were mine but you are the prayer answerer and your steadfast love endures forever. It is enough for me that your steadfast love endures forever.

Who am I that you would keep your eye on me? Who am I that you never turned away?  Who am I that you brought me here? And who am I that you would promise me anything? Your love for me is enough, and your steadfast love endures forever.