Sunday, August 26, 2007

Indoctrination into Relativism

As a course assignment, I was required to read and learn educational researcher William Perry's primary stages of intellectual development in college students. He studied college students for many years and theorized the most important stages (or "positions", as he thought that the term "stages" was much too restricting and static...) he saw. The study was done in the 50's and 60's, and one can therefore imagine what "positions" the 21st century university minds/lack of minds are in. It is being used as the educational standard for many universities to this day.

Stage one: Dualism (either/or thinking)
This stage is one where the student sees the instructor's role as one who conveys truth, or the correct answers. The student studies the correct answers, ignoring all others. Perry saw that students who believed in the presence of right and wrong answers were quickly influenced to think in more flexible, "open minded" ways when in the presence of the pluralistic atmosphere of the university.

Sadly considered the most primitive form of intellectual functioning, IN REALITY, dualism is merely undeveloped critical thinking at worst, and a respectful view of the nature of Truth at best. Unequipped thinkers are then rather forcefully ushered into the next stage by their instructors in order to "help them to intellectually develop". This precludes any hope of the pursuit of any real intellectual honesty.

Stage two: Multiplicity (subjective knowledge)
Or,"you're entitled to your opinion". This stage is a challenge to the "constraints" of dualism, and students view knowledge as a matter of opinion. The instructor's role is to teach from his or her perspective, but that does not mean it is correct. Students expect the instructor to see value in all perspectives, even what could be considered to be "incorrect". Perry believes that most college students are in this stage.

In Perry's "middle ground", the nature of Truth has been cognitively obliterated. This view is ultimately nihilistic in its approach, for when everything has value, then really nothing does. That is, in order for something to have a high value, its relationship to that which possesses a lower value must be apparent. When everything is equal, then everything is thus rendered meaningless.

Stage three: Relativism (constructed knowledge)
Essentially the same as above with the rejection of absolute Truth, except knowledge is now defined by its functionality as opposed to merely being an opinion. The instructor is present as a guide, giving scenarios and helping the student to choose the most practical approach. Knowledge is reached through experience and reflection. According to Perry, relativism defines when the student has "arrived", so to speak, intellectually.

Aside from committing the fallacy of false association (relativism and intellectualism are always associated), this stage is one of convenience. If it is convenient and useful, then it is true.

Seeing as I, an ardent absolutist who believes that knowledge is an understanding of Truth, am intellectually unsound and undeveloped, I will attempt to use my lacking abilities to pursue Perry's theory.
1) A theory adherent assumes, contrary to relativistic values, that everyone must ultimately either conform to relativism, or that it must be their ultimate goal.
2) A theory adherent rather arrogantly believes that any thought not grounded in relativism is not truly intellectual. This, again, is not relativism. This is an appeal to an absolute concept. Hence, it is cheating.
3) At the so-called "pinnacle of development", if knowledge is that which is functional, and relativism itself is considered to be non-functional for a student, is that student not able to use this "constructed knowledge"?
4) Relativism is an elaborate exercise in absurdity. Without fixed standards, there is chaos. Where there is chaos with no hope of order, and life is rendered absurd. Why then pay for college to learn about absurdity? I for one am able to pursue that on my own.
5) True to postmodern form, we again see a disbanding of the categories of Truth. Perry's theory requires that an adherent merely ignores such boundaries. Gravity is ultimately in the same category as one's opinion on dark versus milk chocolate. (albeit you will likely never hear this from the postmodern mouth)

The truly disturbing part is that this is to be memorized and held to by those studying education in many colleges and universities. Furthermore, I do not believe this approach allows for one to process and test the theory's functionality before filing it away under "constructed knowledge".

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Reinventing Jesus- a Brief Review

Reinventing Jesus- What the DA VINCI CODE and Other Novel Speculations Don't Tell You
by J.Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace

At first glance of the title, it would seem that Reinventing Jesus would attract the eye of those sympathetic to liberal "theology", and perhaps intentionally. Upon closer examination and reading, it becomes apparent that RJ is a much needed, educated rebuttal to those views which seek to destroy Christianity by debunking the Biblical Jesus. These respected scholars respond with a systematic, well researched, scholarly apologetic. It stands in complete antithesis to the lack of scholarship and honesty from sources who claim to have found a Jesus divergent from the Biblical records. The authors have brilliantly recorded the information and exposition in an easy to digest format. This book is absolutely vital to those who have heard the voices of the "other side", that is, the media and popular culture, and long for answers.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Biblical Illiteracy: Spiritual Starvation Facing the Church

These days, an ailment is eating away at the Church; from the inside. The symptoms include a misunderstanding of the nature of God, a seemed inability to think critically and apply Scripture, increased involvement in and tolerance of worldliness, and perhaps most of all, a view of man as, somehow, less than absolutely sinful and in need of Grace.

Diagnosis: widespread Biblical illiteracy.

Why must a working use of Scripture be important to a Christ-follower? Because it is our tangible resource through which God chose to reveal His Truth!

Paul speaks of using the importance of using the Bible in 1 Timothy 4:13, Until I come, give public attention to the reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

In 2 Timothy 3: 15-17, the importance of the Bible is mentioned again:

and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.

Logically, when we as the Church are separated from the revelation of God (not the apocalyptic book but the Scripture in its entirety), we have no tangible resource of the standard by which to live. Though Paul tells Timothy to "give public attention" to the use of scripture, the fact remains that a large number of American Evangelicals don't even know that this imperative is internally located in the Word itself.

What does a missing standard (Biblical illiteracy) look like?
  1. Lack of expository (or topical, drawing upon a firm scriptural basis) preaching
  2. Church services that are designed based on "entertainment value", or what the congregation wants to hear
  3. Children in the church being subtly "taken over" by Postmodern thought
  4. The young adults and sometimes mature adults being tossed about by the various "winds and whims" of thought
  5. Ineffective evangelism
  6. An inability to address and/or deal with the presence of sin within the Church

...Just to name a few.

The passage from 2 Tim 3 sums it up concisely and perfectly:

Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (emphasis mine)

In conclusion, without a working literacy of Scripture, we are all dooming ourselves to spiritual starvation.

Note: All quoted scripture is taken from the NET Bible (New English Translation)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Philosophical Illumination in Statistics Class (Who Knew?)

Let one thing be made certain, I am in no way gifted in mathematics. In fact, it has been suggested that I have a full-blown math disability. Aside from it being humorous to watch me attempt to figure a tip at a restaurant without the aid of a counting mechanism, this has historically proved to be anything but helpful. However, Introduction to Statistical Methods my junior year of college provided a grand philosophical moment (for myself, as others have probably come to the same conclusion), despite my assuming the role of the proverbial deer in the mathematician’s headlights the rest of the time.

Upon one “simple” math problem which I naturally did not understand, I realized that this class was entirely dependent on the existence of absolute, universal, objective truth. Further, mathematics itself is dependent on such absolute truth. 2+2= 4. Some, subscribing to a different school of thought will attempt to deny this reality, but suffice it to say that there is only minimal thought of the wishful type done in said school. I apologize if this seems a bit harsh.

If 2+2 did NOT equal 4, ever or even occasionally, then every math-based scientific discovery would crumble because they are entirely dependent on this being consistently true. You will never see a true math test which is graded subjectively. This is because there cannot be a middle-ground. The operation, done in the same way, either always produces the same answer, or it is entirely wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Otherwise, we have an unreliable mathematical framework, and the stakes for such are painfully high. Math reflects truth. My mathematical ANSWERS, because they are most of the time WRONG, do not reflect truth, nor do they change the composition of math itself. Why is math universally accepted? Why is math universally trusted (when done correctly, of course)? Thought provoking, isn’t it (at least it was for me during class)…

I argue that the person who does not believe in absolute, universal, objective truth must then also throw out the privilege to use mathematics. One cannot have their cake and eat it too. (Though many try, much to the chagrin of intellectual honesty…)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Biblical Jesus: Consistent With History

A claim which I heard recently disturbs me, not because I cannot debate it, but because it is completely ridiculous. This claim is that we have little to no evidence that Jesus existed. While outside evidence is not trustworthy in terms of theology, it does prove to be consistent with the Bible’s claims that Jesus not only existed, but was crucified, and had a massive following soon after the crucifixion.

As far as Jewish evidence, the Dead Sea Scrolls are of help indirectly. They do not offer anything that would change the New Testament picture of Jesus, which is a validation in itself. The Scrolls are further evidence of the Jewish world which surrounded Jesus, making his existence even more plausible.

Josephus, a Jewish historian, actually deals directly with the existence of Jesus. In his work The Antiquities, Josephus says “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man…”and continues on to talk about historical facts surrounding Jesus’ existence. There are things in certain passages that were probably added later because they are not consistent with Josephus’ views, like the phrase “if indeed one ought to call him a man”, implying that even Josephus believed Jesus was indeed more that a man. Josephus, however, did not believe this. But, the fact remains that Josephus does mention Jesus, and entire passage of his work is devoted to what happened to this man, and the fact that there was a “tribe of the Christians, so called after him,” that Josephus makes reference to. Josephus also mentions the crucifixion.

Another piece of Jewish evidence outside the New Testament is the Talmud. The Talmud is a group of writings by early Jewish Rabbis, which not only mention Jesus, but mention his miracles as well. The work talks about many strange occurrences which are unlikely that Jesus was involved in, but do attribute Jesus’ miracles to sorcery and magic. Why would this be necessary to write about if a man who didn’t exist didn’t practice miracles either? Obviously from the attempt to explain miraculous works, Jesus not only had to exist, but had to spark the controversy in the first place by doing things seen as miraculous works. Even though the Talmud does not state that Jesus was who he claimed to be, it still shows that people before the fourth century believed Jesus existed and did miracles.

Other sources are from the Romans, who also happened to be wonderful historians. There are four sources that we know of mentioning the rein of Tiberius, the emperor under whose reign Jesus was crucified. One of the sources, Suetonius, talks about Jewish disturbances from something or someone called “Chrestus”, which is thought to be a spelling of “Christus”. What can be for sure, though, is that Suetonius was well aware of the existence of a group called Christians at the time. He says in his writings, “punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.” His work is very historically accurate, and there is therefore no reason to discredit his testimony of the existence of Christians. If there were Christians, then there had to be a Christ.

Tacitus and Pliny the Younger are also sources used for drawing evidence of the existence of Jesus. Tacitus was known for absolutely despising Christians, and even so still affirmed that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was aware of the enormous amount of people that passionately followed Jesus. Pliny the Younger discussed the group of Christians, and addressed their passion, attributing it to carrying cultish practices “carried to extravagant lengths”. However, despite his low view of Christians, Pliny still did recognize that this new religion was definitely something big, and recognized how widespread Christianity had become by the end of the first century.

In addition to Jewish and Roman sources, there are later Gnostic sources that are used as evidence that Jesus existed. The “agrapha” refers to sayings of Jesus not found in the canonical gospels. There are many writings, such as the Gospel of Thomas, that were written generations later and are not accurate, but they are almost entirely dependent upon the original canonical gospels. It is important to recognize that these were largely not written by Christians, and were either disregarded by the church or were held in limbo by a few select Christian groups until ultimately throwing them out. Also, contrary to popular belief, they were about throwing out the human aspect of Jesus and turning him into a purely spiritual presence. In no way did these works deny His deity. Therefore, it is not likely that there would be so many spin-off works based on the gospels if the canonical books themselves were not held in extremely high regard from very early on.

In summary, as said in the book Jesus Under Fire, the external (outside the Bible) information we have available to us include: Jesus was a Jewish teacher, many people believed his healings and exorcisms, he was rejected by the leaders, crucified under Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius, he died and was followed by people who believed he was alive, spreading far beyond Palestine by A.D. 64, and all types of people worshipped him as God by the beginning of the second century. There is absolutely no basis for the claim that there is no evidence that a significant and world changing Jesus existed.