Year2016

“I think” versus “I feel”

untitledI’ve noticed my students using “I feel” when expressing an opinion–they always used to say “I think.”

I’m a big fan of discussion in my classes–the kind where students read and annotate an article or paper, one that is difficult, but accessible with effort.  Then they discuss the article, from the structure of its argument to its implications for living.

Since I don’t participate in these discussions, we hear a lot of student voices.

It was three years ago that I first heard a student say, “I feel” when expressing their opinion.  I found it jarring–I still do and I don’t like it.

When researching this topic, I found several articles that make the distinction between “I think” and “I feel.” They say the determining factor for which you use is its persuasiveness.  Use “I feel” when speaking to people who are more emotionally oriented and “I think” with those who are more cognitive.  They claim that if your audience is primarily male, go with “I think”; “I feel” resonates more with women.

Perhaps I am naïve, but I am horrified by this instrumental approach to language.

“I think” expresses something different than “I feel.”  And neither is the same as “I believe.”

“I think” means that you are expressing an opinion for which you think there are rational grounds.

  • I think “Arrival” is a profound and beautiful film.
  • I think that “I feel” is over-used.
  • I think ones Facebook feed is a very bad place to get ones news.

“I feel” doesn’t really have anything to do with opinions–you don’t feel opinions.  “I feel” is about senses or emotions, intuitions or perceptions.

  • I feel cold.
  • You said “Fine,” but I feel like there is something wrong.
  • I feel uncomfortable being alone in the elevator with that man.
  • I feel good about the Seahawks’ chances in game against Philadelphia this afternoon.

“I believe” has to do with convictions–“I believe” often involves a great deal of rational thought, but there is acknowledgement that support for your position cannot be reduced to logic.

  • I believe that gratitude ought to be in the list of heavenly virtues.
  • I believe everyone ought to plant daffodils and tulips in November as a ritual of hope.
  • I believe zombies narratives have a prophetic role in our culture.

Feelings are a lot more important than they used to be.

Trust your feelings, Luke.

This sentiment is axiomatic in our culture.  People believe that if they have strong feelings about something then it must be true or valid.

I don’t think they believe it yet, but the primacy of feelings is seeping into the way my students express themselves in classroom discussions.

Feelings are important, but they aren’t the same thing as thoughts.

I think when you think something you should say, “I think” whether or not it’s more persuasive.

Abraham, Issac and The Walking Dead Season Premiere

lucilleOf course I watched the season 7 premier of The Walking Dead to find out whose head got smashed with Lucille, in last season’s finale.  I expected Abraham because he’s too much of a soldier; Rick and company need to be vulnerable in the face of Negan.  I was also prepared for Glen because he gets it in the comic books.  However, I was not ready to lose both.  It was intense emotionally, and gory visually.  My twitter feed was full of indignant fans who said, “This time they went too far!”

Maybe they did, but that’s not what I was thinking about as the credits ran.

I was thinking about the event that actually broke Rick, the event that broke the viewing audience.  It’s the central event of the episode that will “change everything”–I was thinking about the near-amputation of Carl’s arm by his own father, called off by Negan at the last second.

This is an obvious allusion to Genesis 22 where God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and . . .  sacrifice him . . . as a burnt offering.”  Abraham obediently took Isaac to the place designated for the sacrifice. Isaac, ignorant of the plan,  asked his father where the lamb was for the sacrifice.  Abraham was evasive and answered that the Lord would provide the lamb. Once they arrived at the site, Abraham bound Isaac with ropes and put him on the stone altar.

Negan makes the same demand on Rick–“Sacrifice your son!” or at least, permanently maim him.  We are clearly expected to interpret this scene in, in the light of Genesis 22, so here’s some background.

In Hebrew  culture, the first born belongs to God; Yaweh (the Hebrew name for God) has a claim on the first born as representative of the family (Exodus 22, Numbers 3 and 8) — the firstborn’s life is forfeit.

You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day. (Exodus 22:29-30)

A foundational premise in The Walking Dead, the ancient Hebrews also understood that people were generally guilty of evil, either overtly or in their heart–usually both.  The first born, as the representative of the family, bore the guilt of the entire family and belonged to God as payment for this moral debt.  God’s demand of the sacrifice of Isaac was simply a calling in of the debt.  That’s how Abraham took it anyway.

So Negan is in the position of God, Rick in that of Abraham and Carl, Isaac.  It might be said that Rick and his “family” of survivors, owes Negan.  In season 6, Rick and a number of Alexandrians carried out a pre-emptive attack on Negan’s people, the Saviors.  The reason for the attack is that the Saviors were extorting supplies from the peaceful Hilltop community and Rick expects them to eventually do the same to his Alexandria community, so he proposes the attack.  Morgan, assuming the role of moral conscience, opposes the idea.

As evil as the Saviors are, we ought to have been a little disturbed by the nocturnal attack.  Rick walks into a room and finds a guy sleeping, and he silently presses a knife into his head. The guy never wakes up. This silent execution is repeated by Glenn and Heath.  They admit to each other that they have never killed a living human being. Heath can’t do it, so Glenn murders both in their sleep.  The entire Savior outpost is whipped out in two episodes.  And we see our heroes do some very questionable things.  They aren’t comfortable with them.  Carol even leaves the community because she can no longer handle the guilt of these events.

Negan has been wronged and, like the Hebrew God, is simply calling in the debt.  In the ancient, eye-for-an-eye legal code, he has a right to an arm and a life–this is his declared purpose for killing one of Rick’s people–which turns out to be two.  Both Glen and Abraham were a part of this clandestine first strike on the Saviors.

Although the Abraham of the Bible would have been distressed by the loss of his son, sacrificing Isaac was also an act of giving God his due, but Abraham’s blow never falls on his son.  Before he can carry out the sacrifice, angel of the Lord calls out “Stop.”

The demand for Carl’s arm, and the sudden and unexpected revocation of that demand solidly correlates Negan to Yaweh.  So what is the point of this allusion?

Is it meant to draw a comparison between the harsh demands of the God of the Old Testament?  If this is the case, the writers missed some pretty important elements of the story.  Immediately after the biblical Abraham is commanded to stop the sacrifice,

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  (Genesis 22:13)

In Genesis 22, God himself provided the alternate sacrifice.  The ram functions as a substitute for the first born who is himself a substitute for Abraham’s family.  Christians draw a parallel between the ram and Christ who dies on the Roman cross as a replacement for sinners.  It’s a story where Grace is at the centre. The God of the Bible transfers the punishment for humanity’s moral failings upon himself.  It seems to me, in order to understand this pivotal scene in TWD, we need to look for the substitute, after all, Carl doesn’t lose his arm.   What is sacrificed in it’s place?  Rick’s strength or defiance is destroyed.  Negan can see it in his eyes; Rick is broken.

Negan’s method to achieve Rick’s submission to his will is coercion. Negan threatens to destroy Rick’s whole “family” if he doesn’t comply.  God, as represented in both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, does not use force.  Although many elements of The Walking Dead’s season premiere and the story in Genesis 22, and the Gospels is similar, this difference is absolutely key.

To illustrate:  Imagine Negan making that whole season 6 finale speech that somebody must die.  And he does the “eeny meeny miny moe” thing, and then stops and says,

You are guilty and all deserve death for what you did to my people and what you’ve done to others since the dead began to walk.  Rick, don’t you know that human beings were made to do wonderful things in the world.  Yeah I know, the zombies complicate things, but they are no excuse.  You got distracted from that purpose, Rick.  And then you killed people.  And I am pissed about that Rick, and someone is going to die because of all the bad stuff you’ve done.

And then he nods and they bring a ram into the circle and smashes its head with Lucille, and they all sit down to a dinner of roast lamb.

A New Testament version would end with:

Remember Rick.  You and your people, all people actually, you were made to thrive, not just to survive.  I want you to get back on track Rick, start thriving.–because I love you Rick.

But that’s another episode.

The allusion breaks down because Negan isn’t comparable to God regarding righteousness.  Negan is far from righteous.  Rick has paid for his sins against Negan with the deaths of Abraham and Glen, but, to use biblical language, Negan is still piling condemnation upon himself.

I don’ think the writers of the show are trying to make some statement on the Old Testament God.  I think they are making a statement on guilt–Rick’s guilt, and that of his band of survivors.  In the world of The Walking Dead, our group of would be survivors might just be a new chosen people, who are called to return to humanity’s purpose.  To thrive in the world despite the zombies.  I am hoping that the allusion to the interrupted sacrifice of Isaac plays out with a form of redemption for Rick and the rest of the “family” as they seek their lost humanity.

Bad Theology in the “New” Doxology?

Praise 1New doesn’t necessarily mean improved.

This is certainly the case for “The New Doxology” by Gateway Worship.

The first verse of the new one is the same as that of the old one, but they’ve added a chorus.

This recent fad of taking some of the greatest hymns of the Christian faith and adding a little ditty of a chorus, presumably, to make it more palatable to a contemporary audience, is not bad in itself (unless, of course, as the cynic in me wonders, it’s just a cash grab–to produce a popular song without having to go through the trouble of writing one).  We like to sing choruses these days, so it’s fine to write one for the ol’ classics.

But at least make it a good one!  By “good” I mean that it ought well crafted poetically and it should be Biblical.

This is where “The New Doxology” misses the mark.  It has us singing bad, or at least weak, theology.

The original song, published in 1709 by Thomas Ken, emphasizes the extent of the praise that the Triune God deserves as the source of all blessings.  It is a call for all “creatures . . . below” to praise him.  Importantly, “creatures” doesn’t mean animals, but all things that were created.  “Creatures here below” is the entire physical creation–which he called “very good.”   The inclusion of the “heavenly hosts” in the injunction emphasizes that there is nothing that is not called to praise him who made it.  The scope of this particular line is cosmic.

With man’s sin, everything fell, so the Fall is cosmic too.  But God set into motion his plan to redeem everything–a Cosmic Redemption.  Jesus said as much in Matthew 19:28, where he speaks of the “the renewal of all things.”  In Colossians, Paul says that God will “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (1:20).  We see the consummation of this Biblical theme in Revelation 21:1, with the coming of the new heaven and the new earth.  Genesis to Revelation point to a Cosmic Redemption–not just of human souls, but human bodies as well; not just of humans but of trees and mountains as well.

All this is packed into the old doxology.  But to make the new doxology we’ve added this:

Praise God, praise God, praise God, Who saved my soul
Praise God, praise God, praise God from Whom all blessings flow

In the light of the original hymn, which talks of creation in it’s broadest possible sense, the new chorus speaks of redemption in it’s most limited sense–God is the saviour of a single soul.  If it was a single believer, perhaps we could argue that, as we move from verse to chorus, we move from cosmic to individual.  That’d be kind of cool, but this chorus is not talking about a whole believer, but a piece of him.  The cosmic nature of God’s redemption has been reduced to a single human soul, simply so that we could use it as a rhyme for the word “flow.”

Christ Tomlin is up to much the same thing.  He added a ditty to one of the greatest (and most popular) hymns of the faith, Amazing Grace.  Besides the new bridge showing a complete lack of understanding of how metaphors are supposed to work (the line, “And like a flood His mercy reigns” is a mixed metaphor; floods don’t reign, kings do), he brought back the sixth verse of the song, which had been dropped from hymnals, presumably because of its theology.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine

Here again salvation is brought to the level of the individual; the rest of creation will “dissolve” and “forebear” to do what it was created to do.  It seems to me, if God is only able to redeem human souls from all that he made and called “very good,” the devil will have won and “all creatures here below” can give up their praising, for they are all doomed.

The idea that God saves only human souls to live with him in a spiritual heaven is contradicted by the Bible.  So where does this idea come from if not in the Bible?  Plato.  Plato believed that the physical world was distinct from and inferior to the rational world of Ideas.  When Christianity interacted with Greek culture, the ideas of Plato became Christianized.  The world of Ideals sounded a lot like heaven and we accepted the idea that physical and spiritual things are separate, and we took on the idea that the physical world is evil.  These are Greek ideas, not Biblical ones.

To sing of “The God who saved my soul” we are in danger of reducing God to a mere saver of souls.  Are we perpetuating the pagan idea that material things are not “good.” If so, we are reducing God’s concern, and consequently ours, from all things to just some things.

It was my impression, from listening to many sermons and podcasts of several different denominations, that the reductive “souls only” redemption was fading out.  After all, we no longer sing the old hymns that promulgated the idea.  But we’ve got song writers stepping in to mess up the theology of a new generation of Christians.

If the good folks at Gateway actually believe that Christ redemption is for individual human souls then my critique still stands for the chorus still contradicts the verse.  For those congregations that believe in a cosmic redemption, please, let’s just use the “old” doxology, or write a chorus that represents the greatest of all blessings–Redemption–in its cosmic scope.

For more on this vision of holistic salvation:

 

Christians Can’t Simply Be Conservative

Just the other day, I was listening to a pastor casually commenting on social issues, and underlying all his comments was the foundational belief that being Christian goes hand in hand with being conservative.

I have been uncomfortable with this attitude since I was in high school and have been arguing that on some issues, Christians ought to find themselves agreeing with the liberal positions.    I was recently introduced to the work of Dr. Barry Johnson.   I think he has provided me a way of communicating the dangers of believing that to be Christian is to be conservative or, if you want, Republican.

Johnson says that there are two basic kinds of arguments we find ourselves in.

There’s the kind where either you are right or you are wrong.  Let’s call these either/or disagreements.  In these instances, the purpose of the argument is to establish who is right and who is wrong. Theoretically, these arguments are resolved once the truth is established.

Sometimes we get into arguments where there isn’t a right or wrong answer–both/and disagreements.

For instance:

  • Is social media good or is social media bad?
  • Shall we save or shall we spend?
  • Is it better to development or  to preservation?
  • Action or Reflection
  • “You are either with me, or against me!”
  • Ford or Chevy
  • Liberal or Conservative

It is vitally important that people understand which sort of discussion they are in. When you think you are in an either/or argument, but it’s really a both/and disagreement, you are essentially arguing that inhaling is better than exhaling.

If there is no right answer and people are really passionate about their position, how can we possibly navigate through this minefield?

Barry Johnson has come up with a useful tool he calls it Polarity Management.

Let me use the question, Liberal or Conservative? to illustrate how it works.

I know many people will disagree with me here, but this question has no clear right or wrong answer.  It is a both/and discussion that many have made into an either/or argument.  I’ve placed the Christian view of this question, as I see it, into Johnson’s Polarity Management model.

polariz1The questions we want to address with the model is, “Liberal or Conservative? How can Christians best be the salt of the world?”  So in Johnson’s model we put the two neutral terms on the wings.  Christ told us to be salt in the world; he told us that we are to season, preserve and heal the world.  He also said that if we aren’t salt, we would be cast before swine.  Serious stuff.  On the model I have placed where we are headed, the “Higher Purpose” above and at the bottom, the “Deeper Fear,” or what lies in the opposite direction of the higher purpose.  All Christians, both liberal and conservative, have the same higher purpose and the same deeper fear.

The boxes just above the neutral terms describe the positive side of both options respectively.  On the liberal side we have collective responsibility and individual rights.  These are good things.  When Jesus calls us to be salt, he means that we must do what the law and the prophets have always told us to do: take care of the vulnerable.  In Biblical times, this was the stranger, the widow and the orphan.  If you translate this into contemporary terms it means we take care of the immigrant, the refugee, and the poor, for they are the vulnerable in our society.  This collective responsibility is a Biblical injunction, and if we don’t do it we are in danger of being cast before swine.  The reason we take care of the vulnerable is because of the Biblical view of humanity–everyone bears the Image of God.  The poor and the refugee are dear to God.  The liberal principle for the protection of individual rights comes right out of image bearing as well, so all Christians ought to be very interested in the protection of individual rights.  These liberal principles are, then, biblical; they advocates loving one’s neighbour.  The liberal position also takes into account the Fallenness of humanity; they predict we will naturally be selfish and so advocate the use of government to ensure that our neighbours are loved.

Conservative ideals are also aimed toward saltiness.  Biblically, human freedom and individual responsibility are probably as foundational as bearing God’s image.  These conservative principles are also based on true understanding of the human condition, we are good, but fallen.

[tweetshare tweet=”Both liberal and conservative ideals are rooted in biblical principles.” username=”Dryb0nz”]

The lower boxes illustrate the “downside” of over-focusing on one pole to the neglect of the other.  If we neglect the good that we find in the conservative position we may end up in a bad place–as conservatives are very willing to point out.  But if we neglect the liberal ideals we, as Christians, will also lose our saltiness and end up in the eternal pig pen.

What we have, both in the culture at large and in the church, are people on both side of the political spectrum treating the argument as an either/or.  They fail to realize that their political opponents have an equally valid, alternate view of reality. They accept the principle that if I am right, the one who disagrees with me is necessarily wrong.

[tweetshare tweet=”Both liberals and conservatives accept the fallacy that if I am right, the one who disagrees with me is necessarily wrong. ” username=”Dryb0nz”]

Consequently, there is disunity in the church.  The first step to unity would involve understanding the legitimacy of the opponents position, but this is impossible when one is locked in the polarity paradigm.  So they resist.

Both sides have an equally valid, alternate view of reality.

In a true either/or argument, clarity is an asset–once things are clear, we will be in agreement.  In a both/and argument, simply communicating your position clearly will not result in your opponent changing their mind because it will be clearer to them that you are missing what’s right in front of you–their reality–and they are not wrong.

For Christians to be salt and light in the political sphere, they will have to abandon rigid adherence to just one side of the political spectrum.  They will have to see that there are two legitimate–biblical–realities at play here.  The conservative Christians need to adhere to the positives of conservatism, but they also need to respond with grace and generousity toward the liberal reality, even the negatives, for by doing so, they may also gain the benefits of that position.  In possession of the strengths of both sides, the Christian impact on the world is potentially far saltier than we currently are.

Is Atheism a Religion?

Free-Photos / Pixabay

I recently read an article in which the author insisted that public funds not go to support religious schools. The rhetoric in this article was very much in the “us” versus “them” vein. In essence, “their” views, those of the religious, are tainted with the irrational and divisive forces of faith or belief common to all religions, unlike “our” rational and unifying position which is free from dangerous subjectivity.

In the comment section someone agreed saying:

Religious indoctrination of children is nothing less than abuse, and ought not to be allowed let alone publicly funded.

No child is raised without “religious” indoctrination

What this commenter does not understand is that there is no way to raise a child without “religious” indoctrination.

Modern rationalism or postmodern relativism, which dominate much of western education are inherently “religious.” So to is atheism.  Consequently, public schools are, in essence, are engaged in religious education–religious indoctrination, if you will.

I said as much in my response to above comment. To which another commenter objected saying:

Atheism is not a religion for the same reason that bald is not a hair colour.

He is right, baldness is not a hair color, but it is a hair style.

Two Meanings of “Religious”

There are two ways in which one might use the term “religious.” In one sense, atheism is not a religion.  When we define religious in terms of rituals and believing in spiritual beings, then atheism is not a religion for the same reason baldness is not a hair colour.

But in another very important sense, atheism is religious. The term can also refer to the guiding principles that one accepts by faith, that shape ones reality, and around which one organizes ones life.

These guiding principles are revealed in how one might answer fundamental questions about reality. Not everyone is aware of their own answers to these questions, but their lives testify to having answered them one way or another.

  • Does life have meaning? If so, what is it?
  • Does human life have value? If so, why?
  • Do we have a purpose? If so why?
  • Does the universe have a purpose?
  • Is the universe friendly, hostile or indifferent?
  • What’s wrong with the world?
  • What is the solution to what is wrong with the world?
  • Is there a God or gods?

Every human being lives out their answer to these questions. Interestingly, many people proclaim an answer to a question, but live out another answer. The answers, stated or lived, are religious. They are religious in that they cannot be proven; they are accepted by faith.

The Faith of Atheist

The atheist believes that there is no God on the same grounds that a theists believes that there is.  Both do so by faith; neither can know it to be so.

One may chose not to use the term religious to describe this category, but it doesn’t get atheism out of the category, whatever you call it.

Baldness is not a hair colour, but it is a hair style. Atheism does not engage in religious activities that arise out of a belief in a God, but they do make unverifiable claims about reality based on faith.

There is no way we can have an a-religious education, so the government will always be funding religious education. The question now remains, which religions will they fund.

Ghetto and Good

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Because I dabble in philosophical questions, I sometimes make comments that don’t go down very well at parties: I suggested that I thought human beings are naturally evil.  There was some disagreement, and then all conversation, as it always does, turned to Donald Trump.

There’s quite a bit of evidence that human beings are naturally evil–watch the evening news or read the comments on pretty much any post where someone offers an opinion.  But there’s also quite a bit of evidence that people are basically good. Everyone knows lots of people who are good and not too many who are bad–bank robbers and such.  I know lots of people who are good too.

The Ringelblum Archive

I picked up a book in Warsaw at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.  The book contains excerpts from The Ringelblum Archive, a collection of documents and testimonies collected by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and his team of researchers between September 1939 and January 1943.  Dr. Ringelblum did not survive, but his collection did.

In one interview a man named Aron Einhorn says,

It is difficult to say whether this moral swamp which we see around us nowadays is the result of the abnormal conditions prevailing in the ghetto, or whether the ghetto uncovered that which had previously been covered up, masked.

He goes on to describe this “moral swamp” of thefts, looting, cheating, cruelty, indifference, oppression, and corruptionWP_20160804_16_57_37_Raw.

They Used to Be Good

The ghetto was filled with a large proportion of people who used to be good.  They were good because they had homes, clothing, food, and hope.  Many had money, respect, freedom, and safety.  It’s easy to be “good” when you have these things.  When these things were taken from them, or at least became scarce, their true nature came out to the surface.

When I look around my community, I see a lot of good people.  I also see a lot of people who have homes, clothing, food, safety, and hope.  Many have money, respect, and freedom.  But are they really good?

We are so individualistic that we actually think we will be judged only for the sins we commit.Click To Tweet

Am I Really Good?

Am I really good?  If I’m honest, there’s some self-centeredness slithering around inside me, but I’m not too bad.  As I walked around the area that was once the Warsaw Ghetto and stood at the site where the residents of the ghetto were put on trains bound for Treblinka, I wondered what I would have done if I had lived there in 1942.  I’d like to think I would have been good, but there’s a very good chance I would not have impressed Aron Einhorn.

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The only remnant of the wall that surrounded the Warsaw Ghetto.

If the Bible is right, we are naturally evil, and we will be judged accordingly.  What people don’t realize is that we will not be judged by what we’ve done.  It’s not what we do that is the issue, it’s who we are.  What I would have done had I lived in the Warsaw Ghetto is a much better indicator of who I really am, than living in my townhouse near a lovely golf course.  I will be judged for who I am.

This is pretty scary,  but if the Bible is right, there’s also some good news–the best news.  It’s been arranged that, if you want, you can be judged as if your very nature were perfect and someone else will take the judgment that your actual nature deserves.  You need only ask him to take your place.

Why Poland?

DzidekLasek / Pixabay

When we told people that we were going to Poland for our holiday this summer, they invariably asked, “Poland? Why Poland?”

The main reason we wanted to go to Poland, I suppose, was because it’s in Europe. My wife, Dani, and I love Europe. We love European history and culture, so anywhere in Europe is great.

Now that we have returned from this trip, I can report that Poland is an incredible vacation destination.  I’ve also got a fuller answer to the question, “Why Poland?”

Polish History

WP_20160715_17_24_38_RawI found myself regularly and meaningfully interacting with Poland’s incredible history. Recalling the Tartar invasions of the 13th century, every hour on the hour we heard a trumpeter in Krakow playing the Hejnal, or Hymn to our Lady, out of the tower windows of St. Mary Basilica. Tradition has it that when the Tartars appeared on the horizon, a trumpeter sounded a warning which saved the city.  After the battle, the trumpeter was found slain by an enemy arrow. This is why, at each sounding of the Henjal, the song is interrupted mid-note, commemorating the sudden death of the trumpeter. It was awesome to even hear the trumpeter clearly through the open windows of our room just off the square (Tango House).

We also stayed at in the renovated stables, converted to a charming hotel, of 16th century Palac Stuga. On our WP_20160721_08_11_44_Rawpersonal tour of the old palace we saw the original circular wooden staircases and wall decorations, and also Renaissance additions. The palace itself suffered from Nazi and Soviet degradations, but with government grants, the proprietor hopes to restore Palac Struga to its former glory. One evening, I took a four kilometer hike through fields and forest to the ruins of the much older Cisy Castle. We also took a look at Książ Castle, which, they say, Adolf Hitler planned to make one of his residences.

WP_20160719_11_22_47_RawIt is an understatement to say that Hitler and the Nazis were a significant part of Polish history. It was probably in Poland that Nazi atrocities were the greatest. The murder of Polish Jews was essentially accomplished and the enslavement of the Polish people was well underway. Visiting Birkenau you walk among the physical remnants of an ideology that came dangerously close to conquering Europe, or more. We walked along the railroad tracks, and through the large area where people were sorted–live or die–and down the road which led to the crematoriums. We’d been to Dachau, but the scale of Auschwitz-Birkenau is overwhelming.

Built on top of the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto

Built on top of the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto

Although very little of the Warsaw Ghetto wall exists, for me, the idea of the Ghetto dominated our visit to Warsaw. What shocked me was the size of the thing. The northern point of the ghetto was the train yard where, in the summer of 1942, 250,000 Jews were loaded for the 75k trip to Treblinka. From this point you can see the very tall Palace of Culture and Science, which stands at the most southern point of the Ghetto’s former boundaries–it’s a long way down there! Some neighbourhoods in this area are 15 feet higher than the streets around them. This is because they are build on top of the rubble of the Ghetto.

We went to several museums including the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Solidarity Museum, but by far the best was The Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This museum is probably the best narrative museum I have ever been too.

Polish Food

I often say that the only reason I go to the historical sights is to give me something to do between meals. I love good food, and Poland has a lot of it.

WP_20160729_14_46_47_RawMilk bars have been in Poland for a long time (late 19th century). They were government subsidized canteens where workers could get a nutritious and affordable meal. Every time the Polish people found themselves in dire economic straits, bar mleczny (milk bars) flourished. It seems as if the requirement for the middle-aged women who work in the milk bars, besides hard-working efficiency, is that they speak no English. So you point to items you think you’d like to eat, and nod in the affirmative to any clarifying question they ask you in Polish. They you pay the equivalent of about $4 and enjoy your pork knuckle with mustard, beet soups and cabbage roll.

Before we left, we were told by a former resident that we’d be eating nothing but pork and cabbage. We did eat a InstagramCapture_0a5dc3e4-5b5e-43a7-9f07-94277fb849f1lot of traditional polish food, and, yes, there was always pork knuckle, neck, breaded pork steaks, but there was almost always duck and trout on every menu. There was also bigos, a cabbage and meat stew and amazing soups: zurek, which has several kinds of meat in a sour base, and tasty beet soups, served both hot and cold. But we had some incredible non-Polish meals as well, including Italian, Thai and Spanish. These meals were almost always significantly better than what I have eaten in North America.

One of my favourite things about my previous trips to Europe is the restaurant patio. The inside of restaurants WP_20160724_12_18_10_Raware empty; the seating that spills out onto streets and squares is full. This culture is alive and flourishing in Poland. Each day, we ate at least two meals and made several beverage stops in an outdoor restaurant.

If all this sounds good to you, wait till you hear about how much it costs! Poland is very inexpensive. Museums cost about $4. A B&B in the center of all the action is less than $80, and in the country closer to $50. Most of our dinners, a generous main and a beverage, were less than $30, often less than $20, for the two of us.

So that’s why I loved traveling in Poland this summer.  If you are looking for a wonderful European experience, full of history and great food, try Poland.

In Africa, take-out is more expensive than eat-in.

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In Africa, Take-Out is more expensive than Eating-In.

Well, at least it is Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Just after just picking up some Take-Out Sushi.  My wife and I discussed whether or not the tipping percentage should be different for Take-Out than for Eating-In. She then recalled that she always paid more for Take-Out when she lived in Africa. I thought this peculiar, as did she when she first encountered it. But then someone explained it to her.

It has to do with the fact that with Take-Out, you are leaving the store with something extra–the container in which the food is packaged. Any of the costs associated with Eating-In is not a factor, since most of the labour is performed by a family member and the dishes can be washed and be as good as new.

In the mind of the restaurants proprietors, there is a tangible sense of loss as the cardboard container walks out the door.

I just thought you should know.

A Case for Infant Baptism (2)

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I want to move from the scriptural support for the practice of infant baptism to some that is worldview related.  Mixed with these are some personal, perhaps even sentimental, considerations as to why I remain a paedobaptist.

Believer baptism (credobaptism) puts together the offer of God’s promises and their acceptance.  Infant baptism (paedobaptism) separates the offer from the acceptance.

In my mind, separation has a couple of advantages.

God’s Action, Not Mine

For one thing, applying the sign of baptism on an infant emphasizes God’s promises, rather than the individuals reception of these promises. In infant baptism, God promises–He is the agent–and the little helpless human simply receives.

Every time we witness this ceremony we see again this picture of Grace.  The individual is incapable of responding to God.  They can’t reject him, can’t say thank you. There is no way that we deserve or in any way can earn the blessings of God and unity with Christ as symbolized in baptism.  The very helplessness of the recipient reinforces this idea.

This is a strange idea in our modern culture where the individual is supreme, but not so in the ancient world.   It is likely that the first century writers of the New Testament couldn’t conceive of believer baptism for they were community and family oriented, rather than individual oriented.  When they report that “households” (Acts 16:15 and again in verse 31) were baptized, they would likely be shocked that anyone could think that this didn’t involve children.  It wasn’t until the sixteenth century–the century in which the individual was born–that Christians began to question the legitimacy of infant baptism.

Emphasis on Family

While, primarily emphasizing the actions of God, infant baptism also emphasizes community–the nuclear family, biological or adoptive families, and the church family.

At an infant baptism, following the promises of God, the parents promise and the church body also make some heavy promises. The Bible is very clear that just because you are in the family, doesn’t mean that you will necessarily grow into the transformation for which circumcision is the sign, but God still has established family as the means by which God’s Word is to be taught and lived.

This same principle is embodied in infant baptism.  From my position as the father, infant baptism was a daunting event. In it there is an awareness that this baptism is no guarantee that the child will receive the ultimate spiritual blessings for which it is a signifier. And that if the helpless child in your arms is to know about God’s promises, it is pretty much up to me to communicate them. Standing there the parents become poignantly aware of the awesome responsibility that is theirs to train and teach the child in their arms so that she becomes the individual who will profess her acceptance of God’s promises.

Emphasis on Community

When the parents have made their promises, the church body makes theirs–they accept the obligation to support the parents as they raise the child.  The ceremony of infant baptism emphasizes the actions of God and his agents.

We are talking about two very important events in the life of a Christian–every Christian acknowledges the importance of doing something about the children of believers; every Church also recognizes the importance of the new Christian publicly professing their faith in Christ. The questions is where do we put baptism? And what do we use to commemorate the other significant event?

When those who have been baptized as infants come to faith in Jesus Christ, they publicly profess their faith. This is commemorated in many different ways, but this is how it went with my children. They attended a year long class where they were instructed in the foundational beliefs of the church and discipled in being a member of the Body of Christ. Then they were examined by the church leadership. During a church service, an individual who had been a significant mentor on their spiritual journey, introduced my child. She then offered their testimony, after which hands were laid on her by friends and family and she was blessed with prayer. The church service was followed by a time of fellowship with the church family and later, at home, with the extended family. This was a significant event, and it was treated at such.

Many (all?) churches that practice adult baptism alone, practice child dedication.  Child dedication emphasizes primarily the actions of the parents who bring the child forward for dedication.

I have contended that infant baptism emphasize the actions of God at the baptism and believer baptism emphasizes the actions of the believer.  Those who espouse infant baptism would argue that the practice that acknowledges God as the primary agent is the preferred, and more Biblical, approach.

Who is speaking in baptism? God or the baptized? Or both? For the infant baptizers, it is clearly God–he speaks first and human beings receive (as opposed to, human beings are active and God responds to our obedience). In my tradition, the believer will have their chance to speak, but that won’t be until he or she becomes a beleiver.

In a culture where the individual is god, to baptize infants is counter-cultural.  We swim in the waters of individualism, and a ritual that focuses us on God’s action rather than our own, that focuses on the offer of Grace, rather than on our acceptance of it, is a ritual we ought to observe–if it’s scriptural.  I think that there is strong evidence infant baptism is scriptural.

This is an important issue, but it is not a foundational issue, so I can easily continue to worship in my wonderful credobaptist church.

The Case For Infant Baptism (1)

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Lately, I’ve been having a lot conversations about baptism.

Some of these have been with credobaptists who wonder about the scriptural justification for infant baptism. Some with those who were baptized as infants, but now attend a church that holds to believer baptism, and are required to be re-baptized in order to be a member.

This post is my explanation, to those who wonder, why some Christians insist that infant baptism is baptism.

This is a difficult task because, in the case of most protestant denominations who practice it, infant baptism has everything to do with Covenant Theology.  This is more of a worldview, than an interpretation of scripture, so to actually understand infant baptism, you really need to be looking through the lenses of Covenant Theology.

I have no problem with believer baptism (credobaptism). No paedobaptist (infant baptizer) does; it is clear that the church in Acts baptized adults.  Christians are called to be baptized.  When an unbaptized person becomes a believer, they will then be baptized.  Baptism is an important issue, but it is not, as they say, a “Salvation issue.”

I believe that there is adequate historical and scriptural evidence that infant baptism was normative in the early church. I also think that baptism of infants is, today, a counter-cultural practice to which all Christians might consider returning.

Historical Evidence for Infant Baptism

The historical evidence points to infant baptism being practiced in the early church. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) speaks to the universality of infant baptism saying it is  “held by the whole church, not instituted by councils, but always retained.”  There is only a century separating John the Apostle and the Church Father Origin, who was certainly baptized as an infant in around 180 AD.

It is reasonable to assert that the practice of baptism as performed in the earliest days of the church, was imitated in the decades that followed; they did what they saw done. By itself, historical evidence like this is not an adequate reason to accept infant baptism, but it can be used as a support to scriptural evidence.

Scripture ought to be our guideline when trying to determine who to baptize. So the question is, What do the scriptures say?

Scriptural Evidence

Well, this is inconclusive. There can be clarity, but to achieve it, you have to read every verse regarding baptism from a particular perspective. If you read it with one perspective, one can convincingly argue that believer baptism is scriptural; if you read it from another, then infant baptism is the way to go. Proof of this is that both credo- and paedobaptists use exactly the same texts to support their views.

Covenantal Approach

Those who baptize infants start with a covenantal perspective. God deals with his people using Covenants. The mark of the Old Covenant was circumcision, carried out long before a child could make any personal response to God. Abraham circumcised Isaac at eight days old (Genesis 21:4). Babies born into a believing home receive this sign of the covenant, and it is clear that the faith of the parents is sufficient for the whole household, including the children. Clearly, children were a part of the Old Testament people of God.

Circumcision was a sign–it pointed to something else–a transformation of the heart. In Deuteronomy 10:16 this is referred to as the “circumcision” of the heart. We also find this language in Jeremiah (4:4). In Ezekiel 36:24-27 it’s called a new heart, a heart of flesh as opposed to one of stone.

Importantly, outward circumcision did not guarantee the inward transformation.   In Jeremiah 9:25-26 it says, “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh–Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab–and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” The sign of circumcision was not simply a sign of belonging to a racial group, or even a particular religion–it was a sign of spiritual transformation. One which the recipient of the sign may or may not experience.

Paul sees circumcision in this way as well. In Romans 2:25-29, especially verses 28-29, he emphasizes that what counts is “circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit.” He then comments on God’s first command to Abraham to circumcise his household: “[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Rom 4:11).  Paul reinforces the idea that physical circumcision is a sign for spiritual transformation. He also says that Abraham is not only the spiritual father of uncircumcised Gentile believers (4:11b), but also of “the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (4:12).

Here we see that faith precedes the sign of the covenant, but once received, the faith of the adult is sufficient for the whole household, including children.

Parallels Between Circumcision and Baptism

The general pattern of scripture shows important parallels between circumcision and baptism; both are a signs of the covenant of the righteousness we receive by faith, both symbolize the righteousness that believers (like Abraham) receive by faith; both point to the cleansing and renewal of the heart, fulfilled ultimately in Jesus.   In the case of circumcision, God commanded that it be administered to Israelite baby boys at 8 days old, before anyone could tell whether God had changed or would change their hearts by his Spirit, whether he would enable them to trust his promises.  The New Testament doesn’t explicitly identify the recipients of the sign of the New Covenant.

Protestant denominations seem to agree that baptism is a sign of union with Christ, symbolizing righteousness in Christ and participation in his Death and Resurrection which can be receive only by faith.   Credobaptists argue that since baptism symbolizes grace received through faith, the recipient ought to have professed their faith before receiving the sign.   Paedobaptists say that, just like circumcision in the Old Covenant, baptism is not a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been accepted, but a sign that it has been offered.

I believe this is the key difference between the two views, so let me say it again, for the sake of emphasis: Supporters of believer baptism see baptism as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been accepted by faith. Supporters of infant baptism see baptism as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been offered and will be received only by faith.  You don’t need to accept either view, but you must conceded that both are reasonable readings of the supporting texts.

Supporters of believer baptism see it as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been accepted by faith. Supporters of infant baptism see it as a sign that righteousness and union with Christ has been offered and will be received only by faith. Click To Tweet

A Sign of the Promise

I think that many of the credobaptist objections to infant baptism are resolved when we allow the sign of baptism to stand as a sign of God’s covenant promises (which can only be received through faith) and not a sign of the acceptance of these promises. If this point is conceded, then we ought to be baptizing babies. The question now is whether or not it is to be conceded.

I think this point ought to be conceded and here’s why: there is no scriptural reason for children to be treated differently under the New Covenant than they were treated under the Old. The Israelite children were clearly considered part of the covenant community–they received the sign of circumcision. It is appropriate to assume the continuity between the two covenants unless there is explicit biblical reasons not to.

Major Changes from Old to New Covenant: Baptism didn’t make the list.

If the children of Christians are to be considered outside of the New Covenant community, then we would expect this significant change to be explicitly expressed in the New Testament writings. All the other ways where the New diverges from the Old is explicitly articulated.

Here’s the list:

  • circumcision is no longer a requirement
  • both Jews and Greeks must be baptized
  • no more animal sacrifices
  • dietary laws no longer apply
  • temple worship is replaced by the “Spiritual Temple”

The New Testament offers no shift in the relationship of children to the covenant, moving them from inside through the covenant sign of circumcision, to outside through exclusion from the covenant sign of baptism. If children were suddenly outside the covenant, a radical change in God’s way of dealing with his people, surely there would have been some discussion, if not a major controversy, that would have been recorded in the New Testament.

Indeed, what is remarkable about the New Covenant is that it became more inclusive. Where the Old Testament sign of circumcision was restricted to males and, in general, Jews. The New Testament covenant adds women and Greeks. It seems inconsistent that the sign of the New Covenant would become less inclusive in just this one way.

In conclusion, paedobaptists would say that every objection raised against the baptism of infants can be raised against circumcision. If these objections are invalid for circumcision, they are invalid for baptism.

Every objection raised against the baptism of infants can be raised against circumcision. If these objections are invalid for circumcision, they are invalid for baptism.Click To Tweet

There are other dimensions and arguments to infant baptism that I have not gone into because they, too, are not conclusive.

The discussion continues with A Case for Infant Baptism 2.

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