Tuesday, November 12, 2019


Some readers may not be aware that although this blog has been hibernating for quite some time, I have not stopped producing content. If you have enjoyed what you've found here, you'll be happy to know that I write monthly devotionals for Our Portion as well as contribute to Blogs and Podcasts for Verity Complex.

Friday, April 27, 2018

How to Argue, part 1

How to Argue Pt. 1
*Trigger Warning: Different ideas certain to offend*

Let’s talk about arguments and arguing. I’ll try to cut the fluff and give you only the specific, ‘practical,’ details because let’s face it: your arguments are bad—absolutely awful; and the arguments of your acquaintances are even worse. In a previous post I walked through an example argument relating to the glory of God and the love of God. But I realize that even there I made basic assumptions that I should have explained, so in an attempt to make my small corner of the world a little more logical (and in futile hopes that the internet will become slightly more friendly and less exasperating) I offer the following explanation.

1.      Be willing to be wrong.
2.      Understand sources of knowledge.
3.      Hear the other statement/argument.
4.      Clarify the statement/argument.
5.      Respond to the premise.
6.      Choose forwards or backwards.
7.      Make your first counter argument.
8.      Respond to the response.
9.      Repeat steps 6 & 7.

Step 1: Be willing to be wrong
Most so-called arguments are doomed from the start because of the very simple fact that either one or more parties are not willing to be wrong. If neither party is willing to have their mind changed, then neither party will have their mind changed. That’s all well and fine, but don’t deceive yourself into thinking your arguing. You’re not; you’re making a statement. Statements are fine, but they’re not arguments. Your stating your belief and offering that anyone who hears can adopt the belief as their own. If you aren’t willing to be wrong, then you cannot claim the moral or intellectual high ground by stating “I’m making a logical argument.” Furthermore, if you aren’t willing to be wrong, it indicates 1.) that you have found your ‘god,’ 2.) that you probably weren’t argued into your belief, 3.) you will not be able to convince others, 4.) you are prone to condemn others for not believing the ‘truth’ you believe is self-evident.
It’s incredible how quickly the discussion can shift tone when both people realize “I’m not the standard of truth; I’ve been wrong before; lots of smart people disagree; I could be wrong.”
Most people are unwilling to be wrong because they’re afraid; being wrong has consequences. If you are not willing to be wrong, however, then don’t make an argument and don’t respond to an argument. Arguments are the weapons of those who seek truth; and they are dangerous in the hands of those who claim truth.

Step 2: Understand sources of knowledge
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Most people are unwilling to even consider being wrong about their willingness to be wrong (I’m looking at you religious/a-religious apologists). I’m aware that some will have made it through the first step only to consider the rest—those that plan on disregarding step 1 when they spout their claims once again. But I’m glad you’ve made it this far too, as it at least shows you are slightly pliable.

Fluff out of the way, the fancy word for this is “epistemology.” It’s the answer to the question “How do I know what I know?” There are plenty of philosophical investigations into the question, but for our purposes it will suffice to inform you that you know what you know because of 4 sources of knowledge.
1.      Transmission
2.      Logic
3.      Investigation
4.      Experience
I’ve changed their names to make more sense, but the idea is still the same. (For those who want to pursue this further the categories are usually called “Revelation, Rationalism, Discovery, and Experience.”)

Transmission is the method of knowing that comes from information passed down to you. News fits into this category—anchors, reporters, script writers, even video footage are all transmitted to you. It is knowledge/raw data/beliefs that have passed from somebody or something else. Sacred texts like the Bible or Qur’an, etc. fit into this category as well. Transmission is why you believe the earth is round, that North Korea actually exists, etc. Easy enough, right?

Transmission can be summarized by “I heard/read.”

Logic is the method of knowing that we’re talking about. It’s rational argument. It’s making sense between ideas. It’s understanding that a ball can’t be both round and square at the same time; and that the ball has to be round—not square—because that’s what the word ‘ball’ implies under normal circumstances. Logic is the most difficult to explain because we’re talking about it while using it. So perhaps its helpful to define logic as ‘what doesn’t fit into the other categories.’

Logic can be summarized by “I think.”

Investigation is the method for knowing that our culture thinks they most often practice while in fact they least often practice it. Investigation is the use of the scientific method & five senses to discern the world. Take our example from “transmission.” Most people who believe the earth is round would say they believe it because of science. But that is false. They believe it because they’ve been told by someone who claimed science discovered that the earth was round. There are perfectly good scientific methods for discerning that the world is round, but most people ‘know’ this not by investigation but by transmission. This sounds like we’re talking about water vs. wet, but it is incredibly significant for understanding arguments and responding to them. If the source of information is untrustworthy, then the argument needs to center around the source, not around the supposed fact. Just to reiterate the scientific method: observable (5 senses), repeatable discoveries [pertaining to the natural order] that can be codified into a statement/law. There’s a lot that gets thrown around as ‘science,’ that is simply, definitively not science—by definition.

Investigation can be summarized by “Try this.”

Experience is the method for knowing that was once the most often used by our culture… just several years ago (I experienced). However it has recently been superseded by transmission—in large part due, I think, to the connectivity offered through social media. Regardless, experience is a source of knowledge, and is the 2nd most commonly used by our culture. These are the ‘facts’ that are ‘obvious, self-evident, just because, everyone knows.’ This is the knowledge that is more often absorbed than being told, discovering, or thinking through. It sometimes happens on a personal level and sometimes on a cultural level. The most common one today relates to sexuality, gender, gender identity, etc. But you often find this source appealed to in the ‘privilege’ propaganda. Note: I use the term intentionally but without malice. Propaganda is simply statements/information presented—not argued. It is information, knowledge, beliefs offered up to be adopted—have you noticed that in the information presented, they include statistics (which technically speaking is not science, but a societal experience) but the statistics seem to always oppose ‘blacks vs. whites’ instead of accounting for the many other ethnicities in the United States? In other words, the advocates are relating an experience comparison as a fact (not an argument) as the only basis for certain reforms. Which is fine as long as they understand it's not an argument.

Experience can be summarized by “I feel” or “these are just the facts.”

Now that’s a lot of information, I know. And it can be confusing and may seem pointless, but remember… we’re learning how to argue—something you were probably never taught before. Something you’ve been practicing wrong your entire life… ever since the first person stole your toy and your argument was “but it’s mine.” It’s okay to not fully grasp the epistemology, just be aware that while you may think you’re arguing, you might actually be speaking to someone who can’t understand you because the knowledge your using is a different kind.

To give you an idea of how to spot epistemology, and to show how complex peoples assumptions and ‘arguments’ can be, I have an anecdote for you (transmission):

I was teaching a class one day(experience), and found a child watching (investigating) a YouTube video on his phone. He said it was a “reaction” video. In other words, he was watching (observing) the experience of another person experiencing a different YouTube video. I was amazed, and it doesn’t make sense (logic) to me why you would use your time in this way, but this kid believed that it was the most valuable use of his time in that moment.

It is important to note that none of these categories of knowledge are false or bad. They are all valid forms of knowledge—we just have to realize that sometimes the knowledge has its limits. I should not argue that children are nonsensical simply because I had one experience of a kid doing something that seemed nonsensical. It’s why there’s such contention around abortion: one side has scientific knowledge and argues that it stands as more important than experiential knowledge; the other has experiential knowledge and argues that it stands as more important than scientific knowledge. I haven’t tested this, but I’d be willing to bet that at the center of each political debate you’ll find each side grasping its category of knowledge as supreme, but the best and truest things are those things that find resonance in all categories of knowing—those are the things worth believing; the things worth loving; the things that while I’m willing to be proven wrong, I doubt you can convince me.

Well, that seems like enough for today. And while it’s all quite complex, I think you’ll find that even these first 2 steps will go a long way in understanding and making arguments. Come back soon for a few more steps.

**I'd just like to add a note here because I've seen a lot of condemnation of people with different opinions (especially John Piper). Please note that I did not argue that certain things are true or that others are false; I did not paint certain groups as enemies; if you intend to decry and defame me (or simply 'argue against me') then please make an argument, not a statement.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Glory vs. Love

I've been seeing/hearing a lot of bad argumentation lately. Most often people don't even listen to the first thing their opponent said, and then when they respond they do not respond to the argument--instead they attack the person. Aren't we supposed to have a free marketplace of ideas? I know, I know--some ideas are too 'offensive, toxic, hate-speech,' blah blah blah. So much for tolerance. If we can't even discuss possibilities how neanderthal have we become? Instead the mass opinion must be true, and I'll beat you down with my club of peer-pressure until you submit to the hive mind.

So, in an attempt to exemplify what an actual argument is, I offer this--no frills or filler, no ironic jabs (despite how much I wanted to). For clarification, every argument contains a 1. Premise, 2. Logical inference, 3. Conclusion. Every argument contains certain assumptions as well--EVERY argument. Example: even when I use a word, I assume that word signifies the same (or roughly similar) thing to you. It does not advance the discussion or count as more points for your side if you pretend that you aren't assuming things. It just helps you to justify yourself and not convince others. Now something should be noted as regards the specific arguments below. In the first section, I offer the conclusion that is proclaimed by the group of believers; I do not offer the conclusion that their argument actually affords. See the footnote at the end for more information.

It is common for certain believers to criticize the belief/statement that "God's first purpose is to glorify himself." They prefer to believe that "God's first purpose is to love."

Argument: If God's first purpose is to glorify himself, then God is selfish.
Assumption: God is not selfish.
Conclusion: Therefore God's first purpose cannot be to glorify himself.

Argument 2: "God is love," says Scripture.
Assumption: Something God "is" must be fundamental to his existence.
Conclusion: Therefore God's first purpose must be to love [humans/creation/something other-than-self].*

However those who argue thus have a theological omission.
Omission: God exists in trinity.

Those in the "Glory" camp (commonly called 'Reformed') would thus rewrite the argument:

Argument: If God's first purpose is to glorify the other persons of the Trinity, then God is self-giving.
Assumption: To self-give is to love.
Conclusion: Therefore God is ultimately loving and self-giving towards the other members of the Trinity.

Argument 2: "God is love," says Scripture.
Assumption: Something God "is" must be fundamental to his existence.
Conclusion: Therefore God's first purpose might be called "love" towards the Trinity.

Counter-Argument: Humans/creation/something other-than-self have not always existed.
Assumption: If God is cannot fulfill his existence, he is incomplete; if incomplete he is imperfect.
Conclusion: Therefore God's first purpose cannot be to love humans/creation/something other-than-self |OR|
Alternative Conclusion: God is imperfect.

Argument 3: God is perfect.
Assumption: The 'perfect' is fully worthy of glory & love.

Conclusion: Therefore if God is to remain perfect, he must respond rightly to that which is perfect [namely love & glorify it].

*As stated in the introduction, I believe the actual conclusion the argument affords is that God must love. However, adherents to this camp insert the direct object(s) of humanity, creation, etc. Probably, I believe, because they start with the conclusion and argue backwards instead of starting with their premise and arguing forward.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

"One Night" by Dr. Tom Pfizenmaier

I was recently given the chance to read this poem, and I consider it a gift. I post it hear for the benefit of all who happen by.

The One who wove the helix, woven now in flesh,
Bound fast together on the earth, God and Man enmeshed.
Ineffably committed, no way out, nor back.
It is finished; God is Man, of mercy now, no lack.

Echo of sage and prophet now find your voice in him,
Present now for all—or none—to hear his joyful hymn.
Deep shadow now illumined, in flashing flesh grown bright,
Present now for all—or none—to see his holy light.

The roadless way is travelled, with tiny fetal feet.
She sweats and cries and thrashes, all for him to meet.
Seraphic eyes now shielded under pinioned wings,
Creation gasps upon his birth, and heaven starts to sing.

Oh Healer of the primal wound, who wounded must become,
Join us here in our travail, and be of sin our sum.
We welcome you, we WELCOME you! Come well–Lord Jesus come,
For in the chasm of our souls you’ll find your journey’s run.

Oh deep long night of winter, when all is dark and drawn,
Arise now all creation sing, the glories of your Dawn!
The endless end is ending, God’s kairos now has come.
The Son is here to save us, “it is finished,” just begun…

"One Night," Dr. Tom Pfizenmaier
Bonhomme Presbyterian Church
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Friday, September 16, 2016

Waiting to lose my son

Being faced with the constant reminder that the baby boy I’m raising isn’t my own, that depending on court decisions in the near future, he could be taken from us is… faith-building. And of course, by ‘faith-building’ I mean emotionally tumultuous. I’ve traveled through a gamut of thoughts and emotions over the past months, few of which I could put into words, some of which are a little too dark for me to confess. In the process, however, the Holy Spirit has given me a new lens with which to view Scripture.

The Loss of the Firstborn

From the first family to Jesus, the world has witnessed the devastating losses of the firstborn [male] children.

God lost his son Adam to sin and the East of Eden.

Adam lost his son Cain to sin and wandering.
Adam lost his righteous son to sin-inspired death and received a new son, Seth, through God’s mercy.

Noah lost his son Ham to sin and curse.

Abram lost his first son to sinful jealousy and estrangement.
Abram lost his son of promise to sacrifice in obedience to God… and received him back.

Isaac lost his son Esau to sinful manipulation.[1]
Isaac lost his son Jacob to sinful threats of retribution and estrangement… and received him back through faith in God’s promise.

Jacob/Israel lost his son Joseph to the sinful slave-trading of his other sons.
Jacob/Israel lost his son Simeon to the caprice of Joseph.
Jacob/Israel lost his son Benjamin in desperate hope for life.
And he received them all back because of merciful forgiveness and faith through famine.

Job lost his sons to death because of his righteousness, and received sons again because of the will of God.

The mother of Moses lost her son to the sinful oppression of God’s people, and received him back—for a time—because of her faith and obedience.

Pharaoh lost his son because of his sinful idolatry and blasphemy.
God took back his son Israel from the clasp of Pharaoh for his own glory.
The people of Israel did not lose their firstborn sons to death because they offered the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb to consecrate and redeem their firstborn sons.

Moses nearly lost his son for disobedience, but received him back because of his faithful obedience in the patient mercy of God.

Aaron lost his sons Nadab and Abihu because of their willful profaning of a holy God.

Hannah ‘lent’ her son Samuel to the ministry at Shiloh because of her faith and the Lord’s covenant faithfulness.

Eli lost his sons Hophni and Phinehas to death because of their sin and his own scorn of the glory of God.

Saul lost his son Jonathan to the loyalty of David because of his jealous pride and anger.

David lost his first son Solomon to death in infancy because of sin against God, despite his pleas.
David lost his son Absalom to rebellion and death because of his refusal to pass judgment against oppressors or grant full mercy to avengers, and the arrogance of Absalom.

Mary and Joseph lost their son Jesus for a time because he had to be about his Father’s things.
Mary lost her son Jesus to the Jews, Rome, suffering, the cross, and the tomb because of the sin of the people and the glory of God.
And she received him back—for a time—because death has no power over him.

The Father lost his Son because before the foundation of the world, he planned to redeem humanity through the incarnation.
Lost his Son to an earthly dwelling because of his great love for us.
Lost his Son to the curse of sin and death because he loved us in spite of our great disobedience, rebellion, and hatred.
Lost his Son to the wrath of the Triune God because he is both just and the justifier of those who believe.
Lost his Son to the depths of human despair because he would become our sympathizer.

And the Father received him back because it was the will of God to lay his life down and to take it up again.
Because the glory of God is most clearly revealed in the person and passion of Jesus.
Because he is making all things new, reconciling to himself all things.
Because he accomplished the work he set out to do.

And now he has said, “I have not lost any of the ones you have given me.” And also, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons” and “You who were once ‘Not My People’ are now called ‘My People” and “he gave them the authority to become children of God,” and “I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, you know I will return for you that you may be where I am also.”

And so I am taught.
I am taught that should I lose my son, I sit in line with saints and sinners of ancient days, who whether innocently or justly, for internal or external reasons, lost their sons also.
I am taught that no child needs remain lost when there is a God who will not separate his love from those he has called according to his purpose.
I am taught that the will of God and his thoughts are above my own.
I am taught that there is hope.
I am taught that although loss comes to both the good and the wicked, I am to serve God and obey his commandments—for this is what is given to me under the sun.
Scripture tells us the stories of a son lost. But that son is found.

[1] By which I mean that Isaac was not able to bless Esau has he intended, or to give him his birthright and advance his heritage through the son of his choice.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Some 'self-help' from Karl Barth

I have, lying on a bookshelf by my chair, a collection of Karl Barth's sermons. I've perused it noncommittally before, but I recently picked it up off the shelf because it was small enough to hold in the one hand not occupied by an infant. I read these convicting and encouraging words, and I hope they are of some help to you on your path to loving Jesus more.
Forefield fighting is the usual method by which we ordinarily fight evil. All of us have a lot of evil about us. Sometimes it rises up in awful power. I think of physical suffering or the greed for money. It takes possession of the length and breadth of our lives and breaks forth either unbridled, or in mere bad conduct, in our though, speech and behavior. We protect ourselves against evil. We battle against it. Perhaps we succeed in controlling it or suppressing it until the dam breaks and it emerges anew! And so the battle wages without success, back and forth. For, is it not true that the evil in us will not permit itself to be overthrown, annihilated or decisively defeated? It always rises up again, it always returns. For evil would long ago have been defeated and destroyed, it would have been easy to be through with it, if, yes, if, it did not always have a strong place to flee to in that fortress, if it did not receive its power of opposition from that "I" of man behind that wall so deep within us. That is why it never is completely driven from the field. What would money be, or sensuality, alcohol, or the sword of might, if man would no longer ally himself with them, if he would no longer ally himself with them, if he would not secretly consent to them? For it is only out of this alliance with man, only out of this demoniacal yes of man that these powers do suck their life-blood and their life-sap. If this inner retreat should collapse, then evil would be powerless. Therefore "Man is something that must be overcome," if evil is to be overcome.
It has often struck us how little weight Jesus put upon the differences in men, whether they were moral or immoral, pious or worldly. Undoubtedly He saw these differences better than we, but He looked beyond these differences better than we, but He looked beyond them as though He saw the enemy with whom He had basically to deal, the enemy who stood behind these other little enemies with which we often engage. He saw the good and the virtuous in good people and He did not lightly regard it. But at the same time He saw that behind all these goodly virtues there arose this absolutely unbroken line of defense which continually hinders the good from gaining a complete victory. And He, indeed, saw the darkness and the unrighteousness of the ungodly and worldly and He certainly did not call them good. But at the same time He saw, behind all their evils and ungodliness, the last stronghold which made it indeed possible for their evil and ungodliness to continue to maintain itself. And above all, He saw that this last inner stronghold is most unbroken in the pious and believing people whose piety serves to establish more firmly the defiant, crafty "I" of man. Continually Jesus realized that this inner position must be stormed. Jesus realized that this inner position must be stormed. God must be captain of this strong bulwark of man. Everything else is futile. And so Jesus never took any part in the attempts to make the world better, or in the attempts to make good triumph over evil, or to bring about the destruction of evil which is often undertaken without touching this last ultimate premise, without overcoming men, without making God first of all absolute and only king. 
The man who has allowed himself to be overcome is one who makes no demands, has no surety, no rampart upon which he can depend, no wall behind which he can defend himself; he is driven out of every human position, without any human support, into an exposed spot in the midst of the profound circumstances and enigmas of life; he is hounded about, disturbed, stormed, shaken, humbled, the opposite of an assured man who has an answer for every question. Indeed, this is the man who has allowed himself to be overcome. 
Sometime an hour of terrible upheaval and ruin will come to us. This no one can escapte. Against it no betrayal can avail. The only question is whether we shall, like Judas, defend ourselves against it to the utmost, only to have to encounter it finally with despair. Or, perhaps, the Cross has given us a presumption that this terrible, this impossible way, this way into very death which all of us must travel, is perhaps a way, yes, the way, which leads beyond death; a presumption that precisely there where everything about us comes to an end, there, on the other side, all things really begin; a presumption that if we but endure to the end, even out of the end, the judgment, the ruin, there might break forth the victory, the redemption. The question is whether we see some of the imperceptible light of the resurrection in which the Cross (as Rembrandt has painted it) stands. Oh, that we might see it, so that in the midst of our fears we would not fear, that we might dare to say "Yes,"--even against ourselves, to God. For that is the reason why Jesus endured death. 

Excerpts taken from Karl Barth's sermon "Jesus and Judas" as found in Come Holy Spirit, p.123-136 (ed. Eduard Thurneysen).

Monday, July 18, 2016

Book Review: J. Ellsworth Kalas' The Pleasure of God

This is a short book, but I think it will be beneficial for many who choose to pick it up. Each chapter is only a few pages, allowing for 5-10 minute readings on your lunch break, the start or end of the day; perhaps even to place in your bathroom--if you're one of those kind of people... It can (and probably should) be used in fashion of a devotional: one reading per day, with time given to absorb the content and let it shape your daily life.

The primary value of this book lies in its brevity & its attempt to reorient the whole mind rightly upon Christ.

No topic is exhausted, and there are several instances where I've thought, "That argument doesn't follow," or "that's an unsubstantiated claim," or "why did you use that passage when others teach the subject clearer?" but it isn't the purpose of this book to offer every viewpoint and a defense of the author's perspective. The purpose of this book *is* to help the believer "take every thought captive for Christ," to "whether eating or drinking or anything, doing all for the glory of the Lord," to "present your life as a sacrifice which is your reasonable response of worship," to "consider all things joy." But perhaps I should stop quoting and just write bluntly:

Do you suffer from the tedious and mundane? Has life sapped the joy from the things you do?

This book is for you.

Kalas writes with a view to the subjects we too often neglect, and he writes in a way that causes you to rethink why you've dreaded your morning commute, sped through your shower, regretted your sleep on the weekends. Kalas invites you to pause,


and learn to enjoy God in everything.

*I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
**This review has been crosslisted on Amazon, Goodreads, NetGalley, and my blog.