Philosophy: Unavoidable in Theology

In my systematic reading seminar last fall, we read through several systems of theology: Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, liberal, etc.  A common theme tended to pop up among the conservative Protestant authors, and that is to denigrate philosophy while upholding some supposed pure theology of Scripture.  In fact, virtually every conservative Protestant author would take potshots at other systems, seeing them poisoned by philosophy, while claiming that his system was the one that was based purely on Scripture.  This sentiment is very common today, even among (or especially among) professional theologians.  Philosophy bad!  Scripture good!

On a certain level, this conservative Protestant suspicion of philosophy is understandable, given the downright nonsensical roads that liberal theology has taken.  However, as pious as this sounds, it shows a lack of self-awareness and a lot of presumption.  Though all of those authors claimed to jettison philosophy for the sake of Scripture, every single one of them would then sneak his own philosophy through the back door, seemingly without realization.  This remains true today, and it is both aggravating and amusing.  Christians need to realize this: Philosophy and reason are unavoidable when interpreting Scripture and developing theology.  That does not mean that they displace Scripture as the lead, but it does mean that pretending that one does not engage in philosophy at all is a quick way to adopt underlying philosophical ideas without awareness or critical thought.

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Tulsa: A little late, but I’ll write about it

Like last year, I went to Tulsa, OK to help out at a church’s VBS, teach their youth and college, and train up members of the team that went.  Also, like last year, I am morally obligated as a Longhorn to make jokes about Oklahoma:

“Why did Oklahoma raise the drinking age to 25?  To keep alcohol out of their high schools.”

“How do Oklahoman brain cells die?  Alone.”

“Why do Oklahomans have a hard time dialing 911?  They can’t find the number 11 on phone.”

Now that I have fulfilled my obligation, I can say this: Tulsa was another great experience, even though I was very tired, because the people there were great, hospitable, and encouraging🙂.

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Insecure Church Girl Fishes for Compliments by Asking About Modesty

PARIS, TX–Daisy Michaelson, a 25 year old member of Elmcreek Baptist Church, has sought to boost her low self-esteem by disguising her attempts to receive affirmations that she is beautiful as intellectual discussions about modesty.  Endlessly insecure, Daisy has figured out that a good way to brag about her looks and receive compliments is to ask questions about modesty, share horror stories of boys hitting on her, and innocently ask how she can avoid leading guys on.

“At church, we are taught not to boast, and we are also taught that physical beauty should not be emphasized because it is fleeting,” Daisy mused.  “But I still want to hear that I’m cute because, deep down, I’m scared that I’m not.  I’ve found that if I force discussions on modesty, I can get others to tell me that I’m gorgeous.”

Daisy’s conversations and social media posts confirm this strategy.  Late last week, Daisy posted on Facebook:

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Is Trump the Moral Choice? Responding to Wayne Grudem

For many people, this election season is about as distasteful as it can get.  Even for a guy like me who dislikes politicians in general, this upcoming election is particularly bad.  On the one hand, the Democratic party continues to drift in a direction that seems unacceptable for Christians, but on the other, Donald Trump basically completed a hostile takeover of the Republican Party because that party was so disorganized and disappointing.  After the circus shows of the national conventions, we officially have our candidates for America’s two major parties, and for many people, it feels like choosing between drowning in a lake or in a swimming pool.

I’ve already written before about Trump’s puzzling popularity.  Now, more and more evangelicals are talking themselves into supporting Trump, including revered systematic theologian Wayne Grudem.  Grudem is well-respected as a theologian and as a man, and the respect is earned; even though I would disagree with him extensively on Reformed theology, I don’t question his intellect or his heart.  However, in his article saying that voting for Donald Trump is a morally good (or at least, morally better) choice, I think he overstates his case in many respects.

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Racial Reconciliation: Nebulous, Elusive, and Contentious

Racial tensions have skyrocketed again in recent weeks.  There are two more incidents of the police killing a black man.  Philando Castille in Minnesota was shot during a traffic stop, and the aftermath was recorded by his girlfriend.  I always preach patience for all the facts to come out, but it sure does look like the officer panic shot him for no rational reason.  Castille was armed but apparently had already told the cops that he was carrying and was licensed to do so.  The other man who was shot was Alton Sterling.  Sterling was killed after a struggle with police, and the officers allege that he was reaching for a gun.  Protesters have objected and tried to paint Sterling as a harmless man at first; others then responded by posting Sterling’s rap sheet, which showed a history of criminal acts, some violence, and even sex with a minor.  The other side then furiously fired back that his criminal background was irrelevant.

Then, with all of this going on, a sniper open fired on police during a Black Lives Matter protest last Thursday in Dallas.  Five officers were killed and several more were injured.  The shooter, Micah Johnson, was former military and specifically said he was targeting cops, especially white cops, out of a sense of revenge.  He was not directly associated with the BLM movement, but the fact that a black man gunned down cops (some of them Hispanic) in the most cowardly way did not help race relations at all.  It especially did not help as many people on social media, quite stupidly, labeled him a martyr and said that his actions were justified (though of course, most people, including most in the BLM movement, denounced his actions).  How killing random cops in a completely different city (a city with a black police chief at that) from where these other shootings occurred constitutes justified action is beyond me.

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“Expository” vs. “Topical”: Overstatement on Both Sides

If you go to certain conservative seminaries these days, you’ll probably see a heavy emphasis on what’s called “expository” preaching.  This is taught in contrast to “topical” preaching, which is often considered, implicitly or explicitly, inferior and less God-honoring.  Such criticisms have ruffled feathers of pastors who practice topical preaching, and some have shot back by calling expository preaching arrogant, disconnected, and sometimes even unbiblical.  One such article is this one here that was written a few years ago.

I myself engage in expository preaching the few times I’m in the pulpit, and even when I teach elsewhere, the majority of the time it is in an expository manner.  However, I agree that some who champion expository preaching do so in an overly superior way and that their arguments against topical preaching can be overstated and haughty.  Likewise, some responses against expository preaching are often too defensive and fail to see some of the good points brought up by those who prefer expository preaching.  I think it is more of a pro/con thing, rather than a matter of right or wrong.

Still, I do prefer expository preaching most of the time, and I’ll explain why this is the case, though I am not against topical sermons per se.  I will also discuss the potential advantages of topical teaching and argue that it is not wrong to do and can be very beneficial.

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Why Christians Need to be Careful and Nuanced With Boycotting

When Target announced their plans to allow people who identify as a certain gender to go to any bathroom they want, many conservatives threatened to boycott the supermarket chain and then carried it out.  Because of this, Target’s stock price has dropped like a rock, and while their corporate headquarters are pretending it’s no big deal, there’s no doubt that they’re feeling it.  After all, it’s not like there aren’t plenty of other options for people to do their shopping.

On the one hand, I don’t have much of a problem with people doing this.  Liberals have long threatened boycotts on things they don’t like, so they can’t really complain when someone pushes back in like manner.  Also, people are certainly not obligated to shop at Target and can choose to shop elsewhere for virtually any reason they want, such as disliking Target’s logo.  Such an action is well within their rights.

On the other hand, I think many conservatives, particularly Christian, need to be careful with public boycotts on companies that do things that we disagree with.  The reason is rather quite simple: A lot of companies do things that we disagree with, sometimes without us really knowing about it, and it is decidedly impractical to boycott everyone.  If we are going to publicly champion boycotting a certain company, we need to be clear with our reasons for doing so or else we make ourselves look self-contradictory when we don’t boycott another company.

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Dishonoring of Christ: When Allegedly Christian Universities Lose Sight of Priorities

As an avid football fan, I watched Baylor’s meteoric rise to the top of college football with surprise, respect, but also a bit of suspicion.  Art Briles seemed to be cooking something good even back in 2008 when the Longhorns were still strong, but to reach the heights that the Bears did was stunning after spending decades as a bottom dweller.  Stories and rumors circulated that Baylor was doing everything they could to get talented players on campus, which of course includes illegally paying players.  True, there are always accusations and rumors, and even if they were true, there are undoubtedly boosters in all major programs who give improper benefits to players, something that is difficult for schools to regulate.  Still, Baylor has a reputation of being a conservative Baptist school that, as of yet, has not abandoned its Christian mission.  It seemed especially amiss that they would try so hard to be noticed in the world of athletics.  They had already been rocked with scandals before, most notably the basketball scandal back in the early 2000’s, but they recovered and were enjoying unprecedented athletic success.

However, this new scandal threatens to topple Baylor athletics, damage the city of Waco’s reputation, and more importantly, dishonor the Savior they claim to follow.  As reports piled on that the university mishandled sexual assault cases over the years, many of them involving football players, the university was backed into a corner.  They had no choice but to do the unthinkable: Fire by far the most successful football coach in their history and a figure pretty revered in Waco.

I won’t talk about the details of how Baylor failed on this issue; suffice it to say, it was a pretty widespread failure and it is bad that the football coaches were negligent or even complicit in trying to make such cases go away.  This is extremely important, but plenty of articles around the web have covered that.  I won’t talk much about the ramifications on football and recruiting either because, frankly, that stuff isn’t really all that important (or at least, shouldn’t be).  What I will talk about is how Baylor’s failure has already given ammunition to people who want to criticize Christianity and has bewildered people who can’t understand that Christians could do this.

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The Shaky Foundation of Feelings: Why Even Liberals Must Appeal to Absolute Truth

Observing political and social discussion may lead one to think that America has descended into madness.  What was once common sense and undeniable fact–one’s sex and gender–is under attack based upon what an individual identifies as.  Even if someone is born male, if he feels female, then society must cater to his preferences by allowing him to go to girls’ bathrooms and otherwise participate in female-only activities (though as of now, opposite sex sports teams are off limits, a clear indication that there is something really wrong here).  If schools do not follow this, this current administration will threaten loss of federal funding.  If businesses do not follow this, they risk getting punished.  If individuals express disagreement, they are labeled as bigots, “transphobes,” haters, and the like.  This is par for the course for the left, as they have followed these tactics for gay marriage, abortion, and virtually any other issue.

Most arguments from transgender advocates appeal to people’s feelings and emotions.  These people identify as a different gender, regardless of the biological facts of their sex.  They feel hurt when they are told they are confused or when they are not allowed to go to the bathroom meant for the opposite sex.  This is mean discrimination.  We are to be “inclusive” and “loving,” liberals say, and make everyone feel comfortable.  Who are you to dictate what is true, they ask.  Asserting biological facts and moral truths is arrogant and hurtful.

Of course, they quickly realize that it is not possible to make everyone happy; after all, what about the many women and girls who feel very uncomfortable with a known man being in the girls bathroom with them?  What about the small, but very real, chance that such laws will be taken advantage of by men who do not really identify as female but will say so just to get into the girls bathroom?  What about a woman who has been sexually assaulted in her life who gets “triggered” by the presence of a man in the girls bathroom?

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Batman v Superman Review: Critics v Audience

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I am sure you know that the highly anticipated Dawn of Justice movie came out.  I am also sure you know that it was brutalized by most critics: It currently has a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  However, among the general audience, it’s rating is 70%, and it has a 7.5 rating on IMBD.  I myself watched it at 1 a.m. on the first Saturday morning, and I will readily say that the movie is not nearly as bad as the critics are making it out to be.  In fact, I would say that the movie was mostly entertaining, though flawed in many important respects.  So the question is: What gives?  Why is there such a massive distance between critics and the general audience (to be fair, the way RT aggregates scores isn’t very nuanced)?

I’ll eventually review the movie itself, but I want to address this question first because I found many critical reviews frankly to be a bit off the mark.  It gets even worse that Iron Man 2 and 3, objectively mediocre to terrible movies, astonishingly have a 72% and 79% rating on RT, respectively.  In fact, I would have no problem saying that BvS is a better movie than those as well as other Marvel movies such as Thor 2 (66% on RT), and it’s not any worse than Age of Ultron (75% RT).  I think there are a few illegitimate reasons why critical reviews were so incredibly negative:

  1.  Conditioning by Marvel movies.  In multiple reviews, critics complained that BvS was bleak, depressing, and overly dark.  “Shouldn’t superhero films be fun?” they asked.  “Will it kill you to have some upbeat tones and jokes?  This is just Superman and Batman being mad at each other.”  Since the Dark Knight trilogy, Marvel movies have taken off and have set the tone for superhero movies, and they are known for lightheartedness, incessant jokes, and bright colors.  It really does seem like critics were looking for something that simply was not going to be there: This was not going to be a Disney Marvel flick, even if Snyder had ironed all of the film’s real flaws.
  2. Conditioning by old Superman films.  Another source for critical expectation of positive feelings seems to be the old Superman films with Christopher Reeves, particularly Superman III.  Fans of those movies are going to get mad at me for saying this, but it’s true: Those movies have not aged well, and I am not talking about the understandable limitations of special effects of that time.  I’m talking about an overall cheesiness and campiness to them that will make a modern audience cringe.  Man of Steel didn’t have that same tone and critics and some fans weren’t happy, and BvS simply wasn’t going to be that either.  Critical expectation of cheese and feel-good nonsense became even clearer to me when multiple reviewers stated how delighted they were with the Flash and Supergirl crossover last Monday and how they wished BvS copied that tone.  That episode featured horrific writing that sounded like it was written by emotional teenaged girls, corny acting, and a stupid climax.  Yet we have people who get paid to write about entertainment actually say that they preferred that?
  3. Inconsistent standards.  This is related to #1: Because the MCU has now built a brand, it seems like reviewers give those films a free pass even though there are some truly curious decisions when it comes to writing.  Give Marvel credit for building that brand, but critics who are using their brains should resist passing out good grades to Marvel films simply because they have built a reputation.  There are some legitimate criticisms of BvS, but some of those same criticisms can easily be applied to other Marvel movies, such as trying to cram too much into one movie while setting up other movies later (cough, Age of Ultron).

That said, as I have hinted, this does not mean that BvS did not have real problems, problems with choppy editing, incomplete storylines that were haphazardly “resolved” without real thematic unity, and one particularly bad casting.  Still, the film has much to commend to it, such as amazing visuals, some good casting choices, and introduction to some surprisingly mature concepts (that they again dropped halfway through the movie, unfortunately).

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