Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Capital Homesteading

It's been a while... but don't call it a comeback. I decided that I found something interesting and wanted to know what all you BLOGGERS out there thought.

As some of you know, I'm studying at the American Studies Program in Washington, D.C. It's a great break from Geneva, because honestly I was getting sick of the place (Mom if you read this it's not because I don't like). Part of the semester is having an internship. I could think of few things worse than opening mail and taking people of tours of the Capital; so, I figured I'd find an internship about something I actually cared about.

After much searching, and almost giving up, I found the Center for Economic and Social Justice. I know it sounds big and important, but it's three people (plus the intern) working out of a basement. I really wasn't expecting this when I signed up, but it's too late now.

Anyways, what I want to know if what you all think of Capital Homesteading. Now, I know that none of you know what that is, but it's an interesting take on "saving" Social Security and changing our economy. I'm no economist, but this proposal seems rather amazing to me. So here's what I'm asking you to do. Go here www.cesj.org and read as much as you feel like... especially this. Then come back to our humble blogging abode and let me know what you think. I really want to know.

Chris Carson

Monday, January 31, 2005

And deliver us from evil...

In the last couple weeks, I have been depressed about the fragility of human life and how close we all are to evil. First, a deacon at my roommate's church committed suicide. I didn't know the man, but my roommate said he didn't see it coming at all. The man had 4 kids and his daughter found him. He had apparently lost his job and gotten depressed to the point that he thought his family would rather have him dead by suicide than living. I can't imagine what it will be like for those kids or his wife to have to explain every once in awhile that their dad committed suicide. Rather than experiencing joy when they think of their family, they will have to bring up a deeply personal, saddening memory.

It also showed me just how capable we are--I am--of committing heinous sins. If a deacon in a church without any terrible (I guess this is relative) problems can commit suicide seemingly out of the blue, what's to keep me or someone I love from doing the same? Hearing about the deacon's suicide made me realize how physically easy it is. It may be extremely difficult or close to impossible mentally and spiritually, but physically, just about anyone can do it. It seems like all it could take is a momentary lapse of sanity, a severe temptation by the devil, etc. This is very scary to me.

I have also been reading Bartolome De Las Casas' Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, a graphic description of the atrocities committed by Europeans in their conquest of the Americas. It is unbelievably gruesome and gratuitous, and I couldn't really think about it too deeply without feeling like I was sinning. In class, my favorite professor made a comment something along the lines of what I said above. He said, "Whenever we interact with people to take rather than to give, only genetics and historical circumstance separate us from the conquistador." This is a very disturbing thought, and also gives a lot more significance to what I typically see as minor sins.

Though I was distrubed by it very much a few years ago, I have been at peace with the doctrine of predestination for the last two years. I am about as convinced as I get that predestination is biblical. The events of the last couple weeks have made me much more uncomfortable with the doctrine, even though I still believe it's biblical. How can there be suicide among God's people? Aren't we protected from at least suicide? How can a whole race of people be slaughtered brutally by another race of people that had some type of exposure to the Bible? It has all seemed more arbitrary than it has in the past to me. I know about Job, and the potter and the pot, but my faith has taken a beating over this nonetheless.

I have been praying more than ever for God's protection in my own life and in the lives of the people I know. Paradoxically, I think my prayers have been about as earnest as they get from me at the same time as my faith has been under attack. God is the only one who can give me the comfort I seek, but he is also the one I am suspicious of and having trouble with. I remember the time that my mom could comfort me about this type of stuff, but now God is the only option. I probably need to spend some time in the Psalms.

Matt Stewart

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Antony Flew's theism

Antony Flew, a famous atheist, has recently become a theist/deist along the lines of Thomas Jefferson, apparently because the evidence for theism according to his criteria became too convincing. He still does not accept any kind of divine revelation. Here is a news article on his “conversion,” and here is an interview of Flew by Gary Habermas, who was instrumental in Flew’s becoming a theist. It seems that he answered the evidentialist challenge to belief in God in favor of God. This is interesting to me in light of my recent study of reformed epistemology, which considers the evidentialist challenge invalid, and also cites Flew as believing that God is “guilty until proven innocent,” rather than innocent until proven guilty, as the reformed epistemologists submit can be the case.

This brought to mind one of the ideas I struggled with most with reformed epistemology.
Though I cannot grasp all the nuances, I think I understand that the reformed epistemologists believe (in the tradition of Kuyper) that there can be two “rational” sciences that entail different presuppositions and different conclusions, namely a regenerate science and an unregenerate science. Kuyper believed that Christians and non-Christians could be equally scientific, but have different starting points and frameworks of assumptions. So they were not working on one building in the name of science, but on two different buildings. (From George Marsden’s Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, 122) This is in opposition to B.B. Warfield, who believed that science was an “objective, unified, and cumulative enterprise of the entire human race,” and that basically rational discussion would always lead to belief in God (Marsden, 123).

Though it seems that Kuyper has basically won in the minds of most (at least in the circles I read), I still can’t get my mind around the whole idea for one reason: I would like to think that an idea can’t be rational if it misrepresents reality, which it seems like I would have to admit if I were to accept the Kuyperian view. Can a view of science that misses out on reality itself really be considered to be rational? I can see that a person who believes in the eternality of the cosmos, as Carl Sagan does—“The cosmos is all there is, there was, or ever will be”—would be able to concoct a mostly consistent and believable body of beliefs, but is this necessarily rational? I guess this depends on one’s definition of rational, but it still seems like a point I can’t let go. Wouldn’t any science that misrepresents reality be bad science, not merely unregenerate science? I guess maybe this assumes too much out of a human ability to understand reality.

As has been the case with all I’ve written in response to my epistemology class, I look back on what I write and feel like I have just contradicted what I said by how I wrote it, or some other inconsistency. So basically I am writing this in the hope that I need to put stuff down on paper and make mistakes in order to gain better understanding. With that, can anyone offer any help with this topic based on my rambling? And does anyone have thoughts on Flew's theism?

Matt Stewart



Saturday, January 08, 2005

"Einstein on the Beach" or "The Search"?

For the last semester, I have been blowing all the fuses in my brain as a result of a class called Reformed Epistemology with Dr. Esther Meek. I start to think about one of the many topics the class brings up, feel like I'm getting somewhere, and then all the sudden my brain pops, just like a fuse. It refuses to go on further. The books I read for the class were Faith and Rationality, edited by Nicholas Wolterstorff and Alvin Plantinga, Longing to Know, by Esther Meek, and Reason within the Bounds of Religion, by Wolterstorff.

I have never been more paralyzed when writing a paper than I was in that class. Throughout the paper-writing process I kept thinking about two different songs: "Einstein on the Beach", by Counting Crows, and "The Search", by Dolorean.

Here's "Einstein on the Beach":

Albert's always sincere, he's a sensitive type
His intentions are clear, he wanna be well-liked
If everything is nothing, then are we anything?
Is it better to be better than to be anything?
And Albert's vision is blooming uncontrolled
All his wings are slowly sinking
The world begins to disappear
The worst things come from inside here
All the king's men reappear
For an eggman, on and off the wall
Who'll never be together again
Einstein's down on the beach staring into the sand
Cause everything he believes in is shattered
What you fear in the night in the day comes to call anyway-ay
We all get burned as:
One more sun comes sliding down the sky
One more shadow leans against the wall
The world begins to disappear
The worst things come from inside here
And all the king's men reappear
For an eggman, on and off the wall
Who'll never be together again
Albert's waiting in the sun
On a field American
For the cause of some inflated form of hit and run
One more sun comes sliding down the sky
One more shadow leans against the wall
The world begins to disappear
The worst things come from inside here
And all the king's men reappear
For an eggman, fallin' off the wall
Will never be together again
Albert's fallen on the sun
Cracked his head wide open
The world begins to disappear
The worst things come from inside here
And all the king's men reappear
For an eggman, falling, falling
The world begins to disappear
The worst things come from inside here
And all the king's men reappear
For an eggman, fallin' off the wall
Will never be together again
No never be together again
No no never never never again, uh huh
What you fear in the night in the day comes to call anyway

This song illustrates to me what epistemology is without the God of the Bible: an eggman falling off the wall. It's impossible to put the thing together. I also felt at times that my head cracked wide open, and the world began to disappear. Thinking about knowledge sometimes makes it seem like all there is is what's up in my head. I don't think that at all, but I can see how that feeling comes about.

Here's what I see as a more accurate account of my epistemological situation (I'm thinking here mostly of the honest searching part, and the affirmation that "wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord" part):

Dolorean "The Search"

Surely there is a mine for silver
And a place where they refine gold
Iron is taken from the hills
And copper is taken from the ground
So where's the place of understanding
And where can wisdom be found?

No bird of prey has gazed upon it
Nor falcon I have seen
It's never been passed by a fierce lion
Or trod upon by earthly beasts
So where's the place of understanding?
And where can wisdom be found?

Pure gold cannot be traded for it
Please don't mention crystalware
Topaz of Africa cannot equal it
And fine pearls fail to compare
So where's the place of understanding?
And where can wisdom be found?

Wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord
And understanding those who depart from evil
Wisdom can be found in the fear of the Lord
And understanding those who depart from evil

My apologies to the Counting Crows and Dolorean for probably misinterpreting their songs. Anyway, I think that the "Wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord" line from Proverbs and sung by Dolorean was a life preserver for me whenever I felt like "the world begins to disappear," as the Counting Crows put it.

Matt Stewart



Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Gabe ist Aufgabe

There is no doubt that we have been given gifts. While the extent, number and power of those gifts might vary, the gift is still present in every person. However, rarely do we think of gifts as responsibilities. We view our gifts in the same light that we view presents, and this is rejecting the biblical notion of a gift.

Since the holiday season officially starts two days from now – and unofficially started two months ago – we as consumer Americans (and maybe even consumer Canadians) are surrounded by the “gifts” that we should be giving to others. We can give them pictures to sit on their desks or gift certificates to buy more stuff or toys to play with if we feel like it, but nothing is required of us. Once it is ours we can do whatever we want. There is rarely a requirement given with the gift – other than a gift in return.

Chalk another one up in the loss column for America. Big surprise we’ve construed another idea to our selfish nature. Several parables taught by Jesus illustrate the point of return for the gift. The most obvious in my mind is that of the talents. The master gives out talents and comes back expecting return on his investment. No one’s ever come to me expecting that I doubled what I got for Christmas last year.

I’m not out to bash Christmas and gift giving, because I like it too. However, the idea of what it means to receive a gift has been tainted. Klaas Schilder points this out wonderfully stating, “election means calling, privilege implies task. ‘to may’ is ‘to must’…Gabe ist Aufgabe,” or, “Gift is Task.” We have all been given something incredible, the least of which isn’t salvation. And we’re expected to do something with these gifts.

The point isn’t to tell you what to do, but the point is to tell you to do something. Different gifts require different tasks. I’m not out to say that salvation isn’t a free gift. However, once we have the gift we are do something with it. Just as the servant who returns to the master empty handed is scolded, we too shall be held accountable for what we are given; whether it is much or whether it is little.

In this season of giving and expecting to receive, don’t forget what you have already been given and what you are obligated to do it response. Our gift gives is our task, and we should rejoice in this for both the gift and the task.

Chris Carson

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Christian education and theology in the core

The other night my roommates and I had a debate for the umpteenth time about how to make Geneva a better college campus. This specific one focused on teaching Reformed theology as a core class, whether or not it should happen, and if so, at what point during a student’s four years here. Our opinions varied.

My premise was that at some point at Geneva, students should hear the basic tenets of Christian and Reformed theology, things like the inerrancy of Scripture, the order of salvation, TULIP, and the Regulative Principle of worship, not because everyone has to agree with them—I’m not saying that at all—but simply because Geneva believes these things and it’ll make a student’s stay here that much more profitable if they understand why things are done the way they are. (Plus they can never be bad things to think about.)

To Geneva students: Don’t most of you wonder why chapel is the way it is, for example (an example I hesitate to use because chapel is certainly not what Reformed theology is all about)? Wouldn’t you love to hear a good reason for it? Well here ya go.

It’s my impression that students are never given this explanation, or a good overview of what it means to be Reformed. At some point we’re expected to pick it up on our own I guess, which is fine for RPs, PCAs and OPCs, but what about a non-Christian or a new Christian who has never heard this stuff before? When does Geneva lay out the reasons for why they believe what they believe—reasons I find to make sense, but reasons you can’t understand, let alone agree with, if you’ve never heard.

I can’t speak to this real well because I took Bible 151 and 152 over 112 and 113, but I hear you don’t get a lot of that in those survey classes (which I guess is why it’s a survey class), it’s more memorizing kings and one lecture on predestination that makes everybody really mad. Survey is a good place to start, but not enough on its own. Sending your child to Sunday School is great, but eventually they have to hear some sermons.

In fact, thinking back on my seven semesters here thus far, I haven’t really heard a lot of anything about Reformed theology actually in my classes. Things are taught from a Reformed perspective, but how does that make sense if you have no idea what Reformed is? Bible 300 focuses on one part of it, but where’s the broader picture?

My argument for a theology-driven class made total sense to myself and I wondered why there isn’t one. It would seem to benefit everyone involved. But my roommate offered a good piece of insight: Geneva is pretty unique among Christian schools. A student hearing what their college believes is kind of a rare thing, I guess—a fact that boggles my mind. Apparently when people come to even a Christian school, doctrine is the last thing they expect to hear.

Three questions came to my mind at this point. Why is this so? Is this a good thing? And is it bad that Geneva isn’t following the crowd? The last two answers are easy: No and no. Colleges should profess what they believe (if I went to St. Wherever I would expect to hear Catholic theology… I would hope to, etc.) and I am very glad Geneva is breaking the norm on this one. It would take a whole series of articles for me to explain fully why. (Read the Foundational Concepts of Christian Education for starters.)

The other question though, the “why is this so” thing, is a little harder… or maybe it isn’t.

I’ll admit that I’ve known Reformed theology for a while now, at least since 8th grade when I took a Sunday School class on the Westminster Confession. We were new members of a PCA church and I was eating the stuff up. It just made so much sense to me. It’s always made sense to me that a church would teach doctrine.

Likewise, I graduated from Beaver County Christian School after transferring there from North Allegheny High School after my freshman year. I made the conscious decision to switch schools because I recognized that schools, like churches, teach what they believe, and I wanted to learn from a Christian perspective. BCCS pushed me further along my Reformational educational journey.

So why am I in the minority thinking that this whole teaching what you believe thing makes sense? First, because a lot of Christian schools don’t do that, and second, because neither do a lot of churches. If doctrine isn’t being preached so to not offend or divide, this is a bad thing. The Bible is true and Christians must work out what they believe. We must always be prepared to give an answer, and we do this by meditating on the Word both day and night. We should teach it to our children and learn it from our parents. If this isn’t being done than we aren’t following the teachings of Christ. Plain and simple. This should happen from the pulpit as well as in our own reading of Scripture.

However, many churches today preach empty sermons and sing empty songs. They pray empty prayers and produce empty Christians, filled with nothing more than words like “Jesus” and “love,” with nothing more to build a life around. Certainly these ideas are important at first, but the Bible teaches that once we are accustomed to milk we must move on to solid food.

Also, many Christian schools and teachers try to leave out what they believe when they teach. I can see why this might make sense if you’re teaching 3rd graders from a range of denominational backgrounds, but college students ought to be able to hear something and test it against Scripture without getting all riled up.

I have no idea if this is why Geneva doesn’t have a theology class in the core, but it’s certainly why it wouldn’t be well received if there were. I don’t think becoming educated in doctrine is the purpose or end of a Christian, but I do think it is a good thing to become sure of—to know what you believe and why you believe it.

And to fully do this, churches and Christian schools must teach! (If you can’t say what your church believes, than I think you need to find a new church—or pay more attention. Does this apply to your school, too? It does if we live our lives as seven-day-a-week Christians.)

We, as Christians, must be willing to listen and discern what is true and what is not. If students come through Geneva, hear about Reformed theology, understand it, and disagree, then the school has done its job. That’s all it can ask. But if students are not willing to engage the ideas held by this college, than we are holding ourselves back from knowing better what we believe and why we believe it—whether or not we believe Reformed ideas.

I’ll admit I put a lot of faith in Christian education. If it was up to me, government schools would soon be a thing of the past. But it’s not up to me—in America’s public schooling system or here at Geneva. And as much as I like to hope people will read this and agree with me—they won’t. But for any of you who have at least made it this far, my plea is this: always be willing to test what you believe and to test something new or different. Don’t give in to worldly ideas—there is truth out there. And it’s our calling to find it.

Jon Dodd

Thursday, November 11, 2004

10 years of "Mulletude"

10 years ago today I became a big brother. That in itself is a pretty amazing thing. I really couldn’t imagine my life without my little sister. Not because we’ve always been good friends, and because she’s never gotten on my nerves. That’s not even to say that I’ve never been a complete jerk to her, because I’ve definitely done that many times, and I’m sure many more times are in store.

There’s just something amazing about having someone that much younger than you looking up to you. We even have nicknames for each other. She’s a, “Mullet” and I’m a, “Snot-rocket” (I came up with the last one too, but she stole it from me). I remember the first time she said, “Shut-up!” Not because I thought it was funny, but because I felt so guilty. I knew she only knew it because I had said it around her.

I see her going through what I went through as a kid and remember how tough it was, and she hasn’t even hit the toughest times yet. The sad part is she’s way cooler than I ever was. Now she’s just starting to say she likes other boys, and it’s ticking me off. I’m dead serious if some kid breaks her little heart I’m going to hurt him.

I could go on forever about what it means to me to be a brother, and to have a little sister that I love so much and that loves me so much, but that’s not the point of this at all. See my little sister is somewhat unique because she was adopted. She’s also biracial (her dad was African-American and her mom was Caucasian). 10 years ago today she officially became my little sister.

I guess that’s made me think about adoption a lot. In itself it is a pretty amazing concept. First, that someone would be willing to give up their child; and second, because someone else is willing to pay a lot of money to get her. I would assume that this would blow the mind of some people in today’s society. But it’s normal for me. My best friend’s parents adopted a girl. My aunt and uncle have adopted three Vietnamese kids. My pastor and another woman from my church are about to adopt children from different countries, and I’m sure there are plenty of other’s that I am forgetting.

One could truthfully say that I’m surrounded by adoption. I think that’s why the notion of being adopted into the “family” of God is such a great illustration to me. Kate did nothing to get adopted. It was all the graciousness of my parents. They decided they that they could take on another kid (I know that sounds harsh, but I don’t mean it to) and so they went to all the work to get her. They spent thousands of dollars, countless hours in prayer, and tons of time filling out paper work to get her. I know if you ask them they would say it was well worth what they gave.

Now I really don’t think of Kate as being adopted. Sure I remember well the day that we did adopt her. I thought I was so cool because I got to hold to video camera. She’s part of the family now. It kills me when people tell my dad how much she looks like him, and I think that’s fitting. She is a part of our family. Someday she might want to find out who her real parents are, and my parents will be willing to help her. They’ve told her repeatedly, and I think she has a grasp of the fact that she adopted. She knows she’s special, and she definitely rubs it in my face.

God was willing to give a great sacrifice for us not because of anything that we did. He loved us when we were still dead in sin, and continues to love us. I guess this is getting pretty sappy; so I’ll stop soon. I love my little sister and this for her, but it also just amazes me to think of God’s continuing love for us. We’re part of the family, and I bet he doesn’t even think about us being something other than that too often.

Chris Carson (proud brother)