Monday, November 29, 2010


If I am going to claim that my Sunday school class is enlightened I have to be able to claim that I am teaching in an intelligent manner.  Unfortunately no one is sure what that means.

Despite a long history of research and debate, there is still no standard definition of intelligence.
The article is more optimistic than that quote makes it out to be.  The authors list 71 definitions of intelligence used in different fields of study but seem to be optimistic about finding some unifier for all of them that will give a general definition for the word.

There have been times when I have been particularly frustrated talking with people about intelligence because most people have a vague definition that is more about making people feel good than attempting an objective way to discuss it.  We don't want to find out that we or the people we care about or the people we agree with are unintelligent so we have all agreed to accept the "everybody is intelligent in their own way" line.  It might be useful to reframe the conversation  to acting intelligent instead of being intelligent (or having intelligence) for the sake of losing the personal label and making people more open to accepting objective standards.

Granted there is probably a lot of truth to being intelligent.  Some people have more capable brains than others and that's just the way it is.  The only reason we would adopt this concept of intelligence would be to make an objective definition of it more palatable for society.  We may have to postpone using objective-adjective intelligence for objective-adverb intelligence until we're mature enough to accept that the people we like and agree with may not be as smart as the people we don't like and disagree with.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why do we think God created the Universe from nothing...

if Genesis 1:1 does not describe creation ex nihilo but simply bringing order out of pre-existing chaos?

Because creation ex nihilo seems to be described in other places.

John 1:1-3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
Colossians 1:15-17
 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Of course, for the Colossians passage you can argue that the creation being described is all about the social order and not physical things.  Still, there are way more verses that have implications for creation found throughout the Bible than Genesis 1.  So maybe we have to rely on tradition and philosophy over sola scriptura for an ex nihilo doctrine.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Enlightened Sunday School: New Post Series

It's a common thing for blogs to have a collection of posts revolving around a theme. I wanted to get in on it.

Here's an interesting experiment to try. Go to an average evangelical church and listen to the theological conversations of the various members of the congregation. Now go to Fuller Seminary and listen to the theological conversations of the students. Or how about this: Go listen to a sermon on Mark and then listen to a lecture on Mark. They come off as pretty different. The stuff you hear in church often feels overly simplistic and (I hate to use this expression) dumbed-down. It has been deep fried and wrapped up in a to go bag to be easily consumed. The problem is that I have trouble criticizing churches for doing this. You can't expect everyone to go to seminary or to afford tuition at a Christian liberal arts college. Churches go for mass appeal because they have an important message to share with everyone. This gets to the heart of the new subject I'm going for. I know that a sermon and a lecture are two different things with different goals, but you would think that cutting edge research and philosophy should inform a sermon. My goal is to incorporate research and good philosophy into Sunday school teaching. That is, I want to be informed by the types of things people discuss in Bible lectures and philosophy of religion to be reflected in lessons I teach children.

This creates some problems for me that I am trying to work out and want to do posts on my experience dealing with them.

1. When I am honest about what I feel I know, what I believe on faith and what I'm not sure about I display less confidence and that can undermine the integrity of my lessons with the students. I need to be able to teach kids without pretending I have all the answers and for them to be okay with that.

2. Many churches are afraid of the types of things that get discussed in seminaries like Fuller. Often times they feel that studying the Bible like you would a historical text undermines the faith. Personally I think it helps us understand the Bible better and, if the Bible really is the word of God, helps us understand God better. I need to teach kids informed lessons in a way that convinces my superiors I'm strengthening their faith.

3. Kids may have trouble grasping complex ideas. I heard a story once that Stephen Hawking's publisher told him about A Brief History of Time "For every equation you put in your book you will lose half your audience." A similar thing could be said for adult sermons let alone Sunday school. "For every exegetical statement you make at church, half your congregation will fall asleep." I need to find a way to make this stuff exciting for kids.

My next Enlightened Sunday School post will deal with my unit on Job.

Should We Nail These On Protestant Churches?

Ben Myers at Faith and Theology put out 12 theses on smiling. My favorite is #7:

I know a little boy whose mother had to go away for a few days. When she came home, he cried and told her he had missed her. Touched by his infant sadness, the mother said, ‘It’s nice to be missed’ – and he replied, ‘It’s not nice to miss.’ It is nice to be missed because we learn what love means in the sadness of another. The face that always smiles is the face of a stranger. Love is written on the face of sadness.

The church can glean some good advice from this in following our commission to comfort those who are distressed.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. -Romans 12:15

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' -Matthew 25:34-36

As said in thesis #7 stoic smiling signals distance in a relationship. This kind of demeanor to one who is suffering pushes him away. In a modern Good Samaritan retelling the priest would have been a prosperity gospel pastor smiling at the victim and saying, "God has an amazing plan for you! Don't be discouraged! Here's a list of Bible verses for comfort" before walking away. The danger of the Protestant smile culture is that it puts up an impenetrable wall between the distressed and the comforter. When those we truly care about are suffering we experience sympathetic suffering little. That's called empathy, it's the cause behind the shortest verse in the Bible (at least in English).

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept. So the Jews were saying, "See how He loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?" So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. -John 11:33-38

Jesus knew the end of the story. He had in mind what he was going to do the moment he approached the crowd. Yet their suffering moved him to tears. He did not put up a smile wall and offer a friendly rebuke of how God would make everything alright even though God was going to make everything alright right then and right there. At this moment Jesus was familiar to these people. He was one of them, weeping with those who were weeping. As a church worker it one thing I have been trying to do is resist the temptation to pretend that I have all the answers to everyones' problems. Sometimes I just need to feel sad or angry or outraged with a victim. Not being a very emotional person that is extremely hard for me. I'd much rather fix a problem than empathize with someone, but if I truly want a Kingdom with strong personal relationships to start developing here on earth I have learn to drop the smile and proactive attitude sometimes.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Should We Move Beyond the Bible?

From the blog Koinonia:

When we take communion with grape juice and wafers, greet each other with a handshake instead of a kiss, or speak out against stem-cell research, we are moving beyond what is in the Biblical text.

The question isn’t if we should. The question is, how?

No one is really 100% sola scriptura.