Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Honest and Safe Places of Refuge for the Journey of Faith

I recently read In Search of a Confident Faith: Overcoming Barriers to Trusting in God by J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler (IVP, 2008).  In the first chapter they speak about "What Faith Is...and What It Isn't."  They tease out the differences between unbelief ("a willful and sinful setting of oneself against a biblical teaching") and doubt ("an intellectual, emotional or psychological hindrance to a more secure confidence in some teaching or in God himself--I believe something but just have doubts").   Moreland and Issler address the need of being able to deal with doubt--both intellectual and emotional--in realistic ways.  In the process they state these words which I found profoundly moving and challenging (both at an individual level as well as at a church level):
Thus, we now have a stifling, stagnating situation in the evangelical community: People do not feel safe in expressing doubt or lack of belief about some doctrinal point—even the question of whether they actually believe in God.  The result is that people hide what they actually believe from others, and even from themselves, all the while continuing to use faith-talk to avoid being socially ostracized in their local fellowship.  Because we do not fully understand assensus (and fiducia; see below), we have unintentionally created a situation in which people do not know how to distinguish what they believe from what they say they believe.  Thus, they substitute community jargon for authentic trust.  To effectively address this situation, we must create safe, honest, nondefensive fellowships in which people are given permission to be  on a faith journey, with all the warts, messiness and setbacks that are part of such a journey.  We must also address general and specific intellectual doubts, provide insights about the affective, emotional hindrances to growth in confidence in God, and become more intentional about bearing credible witnesses to each other regarding answers to prayer and other supernatural experiences that strengthen faith.  (p. 22) 
"They substitute community jargon for authentic trust"--powerfully true!  This happens in the church and it happens in families of believers.  We need to be aware of this dynamic.  "Fighting the good fight of faith" (1 Timothy 6.12) deserves so much more than "community jargon."

Monday, July 25, 2011

J. P. Moreland on Theistic Evolution

J. P. Moreland, in his recent book The Kingdom Triangle (Zondervan, 2007) makes the following observation that is helpful in the current discussions regarding theistic evolution:

Theistic evolution is intellectual pacifism that lulls people to sleep while the barbarians are at the gates.  In my experience, theistic evolutionists are usually trying to create a safe truce with science so Christians can be left alone to practice their privatized religion while retaining the respect of the dominant intellectual culture....While there are exceptions, many theistic evolutionists simply fail to provide a convincing response to the question of why one should adopt a theological layer of explanation for the origin and development of life in the first place.  Given scientism, theistic evolution greases the skids toward placing nonscientific claims in a privatized, make-believe realm in which their factual, cognitive status is undermined.  (p. 46)

Excellent Article on the Historicity of Adam

Dr. Ardel Caneday (Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Theology at Northwestern College) has written an excellent article on the historicity of Adam.  "The Language of God and Adam's Genesis & Historicity in Paul's Gospel" appears in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15.1 (2011).  A number of aspects of Caneday's discussion make this well-worth reading.  A few items of note:

1.  Caneday interacts extensively with the Biologos view of theistic evolution.  In particular the views of Peter Enns are fully engaged with as he is one of the main theological proponents that Biologos utilizes in combining theistic evolution and a "revised" reading of Genesis.  Caneday argues that Biologos in fact deconstructs Adam to fit evolution.  Along the way Enns and the folks at the Biologos have to argue against the historicity of Adam and Eve.  Furthermore they have to separate death from an historical Adam all the while claiming to uphold the authority of Scripture.  The argument is that Paul is mistaken about the historicity of Adam but that this is okay since God has "accommodated" himself to the "categories available to human beings at that time."

2.  Regarding the issue of "accommodation" Caneday brings out the fact that there are at least two versions of accommodation in the history of the church--one that is historically situated in the early church and the Reformers; the other standing in agreement with Faustus Socinus and Hugo Grotius.  The first recognizes that accommodation applies to all of Scripture because God the Creator must accommodate himself to the creature in all of his revelation.  The latter conception applies to views that see God accommodating himself to errors of the biblical time period.  Caneday demonstrates that these two views of accommodation ought not to be conflated and that the Biologos/Enns view of accommodation is out of accord with the historical view of Augustine and Calvin--even while claiming them for support.

3.  Caneday is an exegete of the finest caliber but he also understands theology.  Caneday utilizes the thought of Cornelius Van Til in a careful and helpful manner in his theological evaluation of Biologos and Enns.  I have often wondered why the thought of Van Til has not been used more in the arena of Old and New Testament studies.  Caneday effectively utilizes the resources in Van Til's apologetic to evaluate the current denial of the historicity of Adam.

4.  Caneday has a discussion of the relationship between Acts 17 with Paul and Athens and the current deniers of Adam's historicity.  Caneday writes:
These ancients responded with more consistent logic to Paul's sermon than to evolutionists in the church today.  For, if Biologos evolutionists insist that Paul begins his proclamation of the gospel with a myth from Genesis, the one man formed directly by God, why do they believe Paul when he culminates his preaching of the gospel with the one man God raised from the dead?  After all, what Paul claims concerning the beginnings, which they cannot test scientifically by direct observation or experience, the nonetheless reject because they suppose that their present focused study delineates laws by which they can deduce how the present emerged from the past.  Yet, what Paul claims concerning resurrection from the dead, which they also cannot access to assess scientifically by direct observation and experience, they nonetheless do not reject. (p. 36)
5.  Caneday is especially good when he speaks to the issue of "literal" vs. "symbolic" readings of Genesis.  He faults all sides for a "false polarity."  Caneday argues:
Lost in this debate is the fact that both appelations--"literal interpretation" and "symbolic interpretation"--are, at best, misnomers, but even worse, they pose a false polarity.  This antithesis entails the tendency to suppose, speciously, that things portrayed in the creation-fall narrative cannot be simultaneously corporeal and symbolic.  People often proceed on the incorrect assumption that if narrative features bear representational significance, those features should be understood not as actually existing but simply as literary devices.  If held consistently, this flawed polarity would render nearly all in Scripture, certainly the Old Testament given its typological or foreshadowing nature, little more than literary symbolism without real existence.  (p. 37)
Caneday develops this thought fully in this essay and it is here Caneday makes a real advance in argumentation for those who affirm the traditional historicity of Adam.

Caneday's essay is not easy reading--it requires work to follow his arguments and nuances--but it is well worth reading.
Addendum:  Dr. Caneday saw my brief review and had kind words.  He wrote this on August 28, 2011:
Here is a welcome review that accurately understands my essay, “The Language of God and Adam’s Genesis & Historicity in Paul’s Gospel.” It is heartening when readers display the fact that they actually understand and accurately represent what they read.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Psychiatric Drugs and the State of Mind

Recently in The New York Review of Books there appeared two insightful review essays by Marcia Angell.  In these articles Angell reviews a number of books calling into question the current cultural rampage for psychiatric drugs.  I can't begin to do justice to Angell's reviews of these books but a few select quotations might be enough enticement to go see her articles.  Angell begins her first article with the following facts about the amount of "mental disorder" that is being "diagnosed" in our time:

It seems that Americans are in the midst of a raging epidemic of mental illness, at least as judged by the increase in the numbers treated for it. The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from one in 184 Americans to one in seventy-six. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. Mental illness is now the leading cause of disability in children, well ahead of physical disabilities like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, for which the federal programs were created.
A large survey of randomly selected adults, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and conducted between 2001 and 2003, found that an astonishing 46 percent met criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for having had at least one mental illness within four broad categories at some time in their lives. The categories were “anxiety disorders,” including, among other subcategories, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); “mood disorders,” including major depression and bipolar disorders; “impulse-control disorders,” including various behavioral problems and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and “substance use disorders,” including alcohol and drug abuse. Most met criteria for more than one diagnosis. Of a subgroup affected within the previous year, a third were under treatment—up from a fifth in a similar survey ten years earlier.
Later, in the second part of her series, she ends with the following practical consequences that are already being seen and will, in all liklihood, be more prevalent.

As low-income families experience growing economic hardship, many are finding that applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments on the basis of mental disability is the only way to survive. It is more generous than welfare, and it virtually ensures that the family will also qualify for Medicaid. According to MIT economics professor David Autor, “This has become the new welfare.” Hospitals and state welfare agencies also have incentives to encourage uninsured families to apply for SSI payments, since hospitals will get paid and states will save money by shifting welfare costs to the federal government.
Growing numbers of for-profit firms specialize in helping poor families apply for SSI benefits. But to qualify nearly always requires that applicants, including children, be taking psychoactive drugs. According to a New York Times story, a Rutgers University study found that children from low-income families are four times as likely as privately insured children to receive antipsychotic medicines.
In December 2006 a four-year-old child named Rebecca Riley died in a small town near Boston from a combination of Clonidine and Depakote, which she had been prescribed, along with Seroquel, to treat “ADHD” and “bipolar disorder”—diagnoses she received when she was two years old. Clonidine was approved by the FDA for treating high blood pressure. Depakote was approved for treating epilepsy and acute mania in bipolar disorder. Seroquel was approved for treating schizophrenia and acute mania. None of the three was approved to treat ADHD or for long-term use in bipolar disorder, and none was approved for children Rebecca’s age. Rebecca’s two older siblings had been given the same diagnoses and were each taking three psychoactive drugs. The parents had obtained SSI benefits for the siblings and for themselves, and were applying for benefits for Rebecca when she died. The family’s total income from SSI was about $30,000 per year.
Along the way through her essays, Angell speaks about neurotransmitters, placebos, and the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  The DSM-V is being worked on now and is set to be released in 2013.  The list of disorders will be increasing.  You've heard of ADHD. Well that led to "juvenile bipolar disorder" which was so over diagnosed that there was backlash.  The new DSM-V is set to give us a new childhood disorder--"temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria"--TDD, for short.  You watch for it.  In a few years this will be the new code ("TRR") bandied about much the same way ADHD was, and still is.

Angell's two review essays are important reading in that they direct us to important literature and facts not widely known to the populace at large.  You can find her two articles linked below.

"The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?" June 23, 2011

"The Illusion of Psychiatry" July 14, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

A New Dialogue: "Why I Am/Not Charismatic"

There is a new dialogue starting up over at Parchment and Pen Blog on the issue of the continuation or cessation of the "supernatural" gifts.  C. Michael Patton, the host of the blog, will argue the cessationist position (or at least a modified version of it).  Sam Storms will argue for the continuation of all the spiritual gifts.

The introduction to the series can be found HERE and an introductory podcast can be found HERE.

C. Michael Patton's opening statement is HERE.

Sam Storm's opening statement is HERE.

The interaction has been more than cordial in that Patton and Storms are friends.  This should be a good series.