Category: Blog

“Heidegger is There”

Martin Heidegger is an extremely difficult philosopher to follow. If you have ever read any of his stuff, specifically his well-known work Sein und Zeit (better known in the English-speaking world as Being and Time), then you know what I mean. I have a degree in philosophy, and I’m finishing up a PhD on philosophical hermeneutics–but let me tell ya, Heidegger is still hard! Diving into his Being and Time, a work full of abstraction and weird words like Da-sein (“being there”), is not for the faint of heart. He is difficult. 

But he is necessary.

His work was game-changing on many levels, to be sure, and the modern thinker must deal with him. There’s no way around it. 

The focus of my own research has been centered around Hans-Georg Gadamer’s particular construal of hermeneutical theory. Since Gadamer’s hermeneutic was influenced by Heidegger, every good Gadamerian needs to know Heidegger. There is a great quote (below) from Gadamer in his book called Heidegger’s Ways. For those familiar with Heidegger, you’ll appreciate what he has to say.

Gadamer was an extraordinary writer and in typical fashion, his first sentence in the last paragraph below is nothing short of poetic (admittedly, though, I am prejudiced toward Gadamer). All the same, it made me smile:

Heidegger’s rescue attempts are violent. He is constantly rupturing the natural understanding of familiar words and forcing new meanings upon them–often basing this on etymological connections that no one else sees. The products of this approach are extremely manneristic expressions and provocations of our linguistic expectations.

Must it be so? Does not the natural language in its universal malleability always offer a new way to express what one has to say? And is it not the case that whatever does not allow itself to be said has been insufficiently thought? Perhaps. But we have no choice. Now that Heidegger has posed the question, we are obligated to continue our inquiry in the direction it delineates; we can only hope to be assisted by that found in his works which is accessible to our understanding. It is easy to poke fun at things unusual or violent. To improve on it is much more difficult. Certainly the game in which participants shove around the little ivory discs inscribed with Heidegger’s conceptual jargon–a for of following Heidegger that is very common–should not be played. This type of scholasticism blocks the way into the opening formed by the question asked no less than the most caustic polemics.

But either way, Heidegger is there [da]. One cannot get around him nor–unfortunately–can on progress beyond him in the direction of his question. He blocks the path in a most disturbing way. He is an erratic block awash in a stream of thinking rushing toward technical perfection. But he is a block that cannot be budged from its place. [1]

  1. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Heidegger’s Ways, trans. John W. Stanley (Albany: State University of New York, 1994), 27. 

Alētheia, 2

I have said that “truth” is a person—namely, Jesus Christ. But there is more, I think, that can be said about this. Taking cues from Heidegger, I understand alētheia as denoting “disclosure.” The noun alētheia is actually the negated form of the verb lēthō, which means something along the lines of “to be hidden” or “to be outside one’s notice” (e.g., see Mk 7:24). But when “a-” is put in front of lēthō, the opposite is meant, namely, an un-hiddenness. If lēthō means “closure,” then a-lēthō (or simply, alētheia) means dis-closure. The word alētheia, or “truth,” then, means to take something that is veiled or hidden and un-veil or un-hide it. At its most fundamental level, “truth” is the uncovering of that which is covered, it is the revealing of that which is hidden. This is what truth is in everyday life. When a person “tells the truth,” they disclose reality. That is, they show what is, in fact, the case. Suppose, for example, that an archeologist comes upon an ancient, mysterious (but very beautiful) object. The scene is at first confusing, perhaps even perplexing. But after years of research, the archeologist discovers the truth—the truth about the object, who made it, where it came from, its significance, etc. When we say the archeologist “discovers the truth” about the object, what we really mean is that the archeologist un-veils the mystery; he/she reveals and un-covers the reality of the object (e.g., that it was crafted in the Bronze Age). “Truth,” therefore, is an un-veiling, an un-covering, and an un-hiding.

And this is the essence of the person of Christ. The one true God is revealed, unveiled, and disclosed in Christ. When Jesus says in Jn 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, the life,” it is in the context of showing the Father: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (v.7). Phillip begs to see the Father, and Jesus’ reply is telling, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Phillip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (vv.8-9). To know Jesus is to know God.

Moreover, Jesus is the picture “of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). As Gadamer has taught us, all pictures have the essence of presentation—i.e., they image-forth. This is their mode of being. He says, “A drama really exists only when it is played, and ultimately music must resound (T&M, 115).” I wonder if there is not a parallel here? Just as sound cannot be separated from the essence of music and just as performance cannot be separated from the essence of a drama, so also is Jesus the very real presentation and revelation of God to the world. Indeed, it is through Christ that the divine drama is being revealed, disclosed, and unveiled. Why? Because Jesus is Truth.

Alētheia, 1

What is truth? Most define “truth” as “that which corresponds to reality.” I agree. Whatever concurs with reality, that thing, whatever it is, is the truth. The proposition, “These words are written in the English language,” is true insofar as it corresponds to reality. Considering these words are, in fact, “written in English,” then that proposition is to be taken as true. But consider the following: “Diese Worte sind in englischer Sprache geschrieben.” Is that proposition true? No, it is not. The reason, of course, is because it runs contrary to reality, for it is written in German, not English.

According to Christian tradition, “truth” (alētheia) is much more than a proposition, it is a person. “I am the way, the alētheia, and the life,” says Jesus of Nazareth (Jn 14:6). Of course, it is easily understandable, I think, why Christians would believe that Jesus is the embodiment of alētheia. He is for us, after all, the ultimate reality. He is the logos, the most fundamental reality there is (Jn 1:1-3). Of course, as logos (“Word”), Jesus is the “through-which” all things were created (Col 1:16). The Genesis account of creation (Gen 1) remains the backdrop for John’s Christology, to be sure; there is to be no doubt about the Jewish overtones in John’s use of logos, I think. But I believe John’s use of logos would appeal not just to a Jewish audience, but to a Greek audience as well. The logos, after all, was believed to be the foundation of all cosmic order (something a few Greeks mused about from time to time). And yet John says that Jesus of Nazareth is logos. Jesus, therefore, is to be seen as the central part of fundamental reality and order, for everything that is and has being finds its basis upon the divine logos. In this way, Jesus is alētheia, since truth is that which corresponds to reality, and Jesus as logos is the basis for ultimate reality. Truly, one can say that the Christos, as the logos, sustains the cosmos.

Passion & Wisdom in the Modern Age: Musings on Proverbs 29:11 (LXX)

As Christians, we are called to think rightly; we are called to wisdom. But what are the characteristics of wisdom? What does it look like to think rightly, especially in our modern age? The Bible goes about answering these questions in various ways, but one particular passage I have been thinking about lately is Proverbs 29:11. My love for the Greek New Testament has ignited a love for the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX). So, wanting to deepen my reflections on this verse, I ran over to the LXX to read it: holon ton thymon autou ekpherei aphrōn, sophos de tamieuetai kata meros. I have loosely translated this as, “The foolish person lets out all of his passion, but the wise person does so reservedly, in a measured way.”

A simple first glance reveals that the “foolish person” (aphrōn) is set in direct contrast to the “wise” (sophos). Here, “foolish” (aphrōn) denotes wrong thinking. It is the opposite mindset of God and his people (cf. phronimos in Matt 7:24 and phroneō in Phil 2:5). There is, therefore, a way of thinking that is characteristic of God and his people—namely, a mindset based upon wisdom, insight, and prudence. Simply, aphrōn (“foolish”) in Prov 29:11 means “not wise” or “unwise.” Biblically, to call someone a “fool” is not to digress into name-calling, but rather to point out that someone is behaving, practically speaking, in a way that betrays their very human calling to a life of wisdom.

The “wise person,” sophos, behaves differently than the aphrōn. In what way? It all has to do with what each one does with thymos (passion, anger). The foolish person does not hold anything back; they have no filter. To be foolish, at least here, is to show no restraint in what one does with his or her passion. The wise person, by contrast, is not necessarily without anger (as the text of the LXX implies); rather, they are simply more reserved and careful with it. That is, they let it come out “in measure.” One gets the sense that the sophos lives a much more quiet life than the foolish person (cf. 1 Thess 4:11ff). The wise person, it seems, is less rambunctious and less imprudent with emotion than his or her counterpart.

What can we, people of the 21st century, learn from this verse? Ours, after all, is an age of passion, of hype and hysteria—a time when access to social media affords us a quick outlet for every little thought and every whim of passion that enters our mind and heart. People are—and always have been—passionate, whether over their religion, their non-religion, their entertainment, or their politics (I have written briefly about that last one here). In this way, the 21st century is no different than other times. But having been thrown into our modern, technological age, our passion has the unique ability to go public in an instant, sometimes to our detriment (not to mention others’). There is nothing wrong with going public with our passion. Sometimes it is necessary. But indiscreet passion is unbecoming for anyone, and unreasonable passion is dangerous to everyone. While anger and passion are never wrong in and of themselves (both have a place, as I say), each person is obligated to show measure and restraint. This is the essence of wisdom. Passion, of any sort, is never beneficial if it is allowed full reign without sound reason and self-control restraining it. I do not make an idol out of human reason (I do not buy into rationalism), but I do think wisdom and understanding, sophia kai phronēsis, are indispensable to the life that God requires. It is the wise person, after all, who shows constraint with emotion. How come? Because he or she, as a prudent thinker, understands the consequences that an overly-rash life tends to bring. 

As Christians, we are said to embody Christ in the world (1 Cor 12:27); if that is so, then may our fervent passion be the pursuit of wisdom and right thinking. May every passionate thing we say (or do not say) be founded upon sound reason. May we be a passionate people who think rightly, carefully, and wisely. 

Four Meditations on the Lordship of Christ

My Bible study habits tend to vary—sometimes I plow through chunks of Scripture, sometimes I bite off a small verse and meditate on just that verse for a few days, sometimes weeks (Ps 119:15). (There’s no formula that needs to be universalized, I don’t think, since we are all unique.)

All the same, the past few days I have been meditating upon four words: “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:11). I found myself needing to meditate on these words, soaking them up, breathing them in and out and back in again. Why? Because I know these words; I know them all too well. That’s the problem, in fact. Having heard them for years, they have grown to sound trite and cliche. I have said, “Jesus is Lord,” probably a thousand times. (I have probably said them more than that; I’m a baptist preacher, after all.) These words are fundamental words for all Christians, for they embody the truth of our most basic Creed—that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, is the true Lord of all. The church universal has proclaimed this message since the beginning; I would do well not to let them become yet another tired cliche.

The thing with words is that, when they become important and timeless, they become familiar. And the thing about time and familiarity is that these two often give birth to indifference. As someone who believes that holy Scripture is a divine speech to people, I must not let an attitude of indifference take over—not least in regard to an important Creed such as “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Yet, I found that to be the very issue: Am I indifferent to the divine proclamation that, indeed, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’?” I’m not responsible for anyone, except for myself. Therefore, that question remains immensely personal. That is why I have determined to revisit this Creed by way of a journey through meditation and contemplation (a journey inspired by Craig Bartholomew’s wonderful new book on hermeneutics). I want to share, briefly, a few things from that journey below. Specifically, I want to share what this Creed means to meWhat has God said with this statement to me? And furthermore, what am I to do with it? I pray that this is encouraging to you on your journey with God as well.

1. That Jesus Christ is Lord means that I am not. If Jesus of Nazareth is Lord, then it follows necessarily that no-one else is. And that includes myself. Every person must grapple with the agony that comes from surrender (shall I be honest: it is agony, isn’t it?). Indeed, I must grapple with this reality. The Christian faith is one of the white flag. Jesus called it a daily death (Luke 9:23). Paul called it a “death,” too (Rom 6). Surely of all people, he would know all about death. As Saul, traveling to put others to death, he found his own Self dying at the sound of the divine Voice, a divine Speech addressed to him. This is the personal reality that I, and you, face. There is no compromise, only surrender. For as much as he loves me (John 3:16, 2 Pt 3:9), he has never once lowered his terms of surrender in order to be reconciled to me. His terms are repentance and trust in Christ as Lord. He will not be pliable to my demands, to my image, to my liking. He will be Lord over me. He will not be molded or crafted or fashioned to my whims. He will be Lord over me. Saul must die; so must I. The beauty, furthermore, that must not be forgotten is that for every death on a Damascus Road, there is also a rebirth. For every baptism into death, there is a resurrection to life (Rom 6:5). To say that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is to deny that I am and to affirm that he is. In my dethroning the Self, I am recognizing the established truth that there is One greater who is enthroned in the heavens, Jesus of Nazareth. The great temptation is that I can be lord; the great truth is that this lie is enslaving, for I cannot be lord. I have failed at all such endeavors. There is but one Lord, and he is Jesus—a liberating truth for exhausted mortals like me.

2. That Jesus Christ is Lord means that worry and fear is vain. There is no purpose to worry, no matter what type of worry one worries about. Whether I worry about failure or fret over the unseen or the might-be or the going-to-be, all worry is vain. Whether I fear devils or man or beast (sometimes these three are the same person), fear is still pointless. If Jesus Christ is Lord, then that means all others are not. All others are, really, “non-Lords.” Why should I fear the non-Lords? Why should I grow anxious over the threatenings of mortals? It is unreasonable to allow non-Lords the right to lord themselves over me. Moreover, to give trembling fear to non-Lords is to steal from Jesus Christ, the true Lord. Worry and fear, pointless activities, are shown to be spiteful blasphemies. After all, to fear non-Lords is to say, at the same time, that the true Christ Lord cannot save me. But he can, and he will. All who believe so will never be put to shame (Rom 10:11), nor should they fear or worry. Just because there is much to fear and worry about does not mean there is a good reason to do so. Why? Because Jesus Christ is Lord.

3. That Jesus Christ is Lord means that he wins. The nations rage, their kings mock and their rulers plot, but God laughs (Ps. 2). Why? Because his son, Jesus Christ, is Lord. He knows that all planning and plotting and fighting and killing on the part of arrogant, earthly powers is to be seen for what it truly is: a profound folly. But it is more than a folly, it is a temporary folly. The powers of the earth rule the earth for but only a season; yet Jesus has a Kingdom that endures through all times (Dan 2:36-45). Ours is a time of a temporary Winter that will soon give way to an eternal Spring. How so? Because Jesus Christ is Lord. No matter the political upheaval in the world—especially in my part of the world—there is one Mover and Shaker who will restore the world anew (Rev 21). My hope is built on this fact: Jesus wins because Jesus Christ is true Power over non-powers; he is the true Lord over non-Lords.

4. That Jesus Christ is Lord means that I must act. I have given myself to Jesus Christ as Lord. Like a scribe, I know those words, kyrios Iēsous Christos, much like I know the ABCs. But for all the memorization, meditation, and contemplation there must be application. Like the Shema, one does not truly hear unless one’s hearing becomes one’s acting. God calls us to hear so that we can act. As divine speech to me, mere musing must find its culmination in the acting. To believe “Jesus Christ is Lord” is a call to move, to walk, to run, to jump, to plead, to rebuke, to love, to proclaim. The Christian life (a life that is founded upon the idea that “Jesus Christ is Lord”) is no private matter. It is not a secret, tucked-away-in-my-room sort of calling. Rather, it is a public endeavor, an outside-the-four-walls-of-the-church endeavor. There are real consequences to such belief. The news that “Jesus Christ is Lord” is public news. Its truth is not restricted to me, nor will it be narrowed to any one group. It’s an announcement that demands an audience. All announcements demand an audience. An announcement ceases to be an announcement when there is no audience; news must ultimately be told. I must find people. Will they embrace Jesus Christ as Lord? I can’t answer that.

But will I? That’s a question I can answer.

And so can you.

Quote: Richard Hays on the Relationship between Paul’s Gospel and his Hermeneutic

“There is no possibility of accepting Paul’s message while simultaneously rejecting the legitimacy of the scriptural interpretation that sustains it. If Paul’s way of reading the testimony of the Law and the Prophets is wrong, then his gospel does constitute a betrayal of Israel and Israel’s God, and his hermeneutic can only lead us astray. If, on the other hand, his material claims are in any sense true, then we must go back and learn from him how to read Scripture.”

Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1989), 182.

Quote: N.T. Wright on Words and their Meaning

“First, the meaning of a word (following Wittgenstein) I take to be its use in a context, or an implicit context; that is, its use of potential use in a sentence or potential sentence. If I say ‘book’, the meaning of this is in doubt until I form a sentence: ‘I am going to book the tickets’; ‘The book is on the desk’; ‘The criminal was brought to book.’ Even where a word is clearly univocal, we can never rule out possible metaphorical meanings, and in any case we only know the univocal meaning through experience of sentences in which it has become plain. Second, the meaning of a sentence is its place in a story or implicit story. ‘The book is on my desk’, spoken by my assistant, carries a different meaning (a) in an implicit story in which I have been searching my shelves in vain for a particular book, and (b) in an implicit story in which I had intended to hide the book before the next person enters the room. ‘Jesus was crucified’ carries different meanings in the story told by the centurion as he reported back to Pilate, in the story told by the disciples to one another the same evening, and in the story told by Paul in his mission preaching. Third, the meaning of a story is its place in a worldview. (This assumes, no doubt, several intermediate stages, in which lesser stories acquire meaning within larger ones, and so on.) As we have seen frequently, stories relate in a variety of ways to worldviews: the articulate them, legitimate them, support them, modify them, challenge them, subvert them, and even perhaps destroy them. The same story can have different meaning in relation to different worldviews.”

N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, vol. 1, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 115-116.

A Message to the Oklahoma State House of Representatives

It was a true honor to to have been invited to the Oklahoma State House of Representatives this week as their chaplain. I opened each session/day with prayer, asking for God’s wisdom and guidance to be upon each House member before they began their work on behalf of the people of Oklahoma. Below is a transcript of the short message I shared at the end of the week on Thursday, May 12, 2016:

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Thank you for allowing me to come and serve as your chaplain this past week. It has been an extraordinary blessing to me, and I only hope that my being here has served to be a personal encouragement to you. It is my sincere hope and prayer before God that this has indeed been the case.

IMG_3042I was told that I was not allowed to do two things: Not to go longer than
five minutes and,
 second, that I could not take up an offering. This is a rather huge challenge for me, a Baptist preacher. Don’t worry: I shall resist all such temptations. Joking aside, I do think I have hit on a common stereotype of preachers—namely, a stereotype characterized by being long-winded and money-hungry. Stereotypes are unfair precisely because they are not always true. You, perhaps, are in a position similar to mine. By virtue of your position, your job title, you are stereotyped. I don’t think this is fair, as I am sure you don’t either. After all, stereotyping often proves to be, among other things, discouraging—and discouragement always leads to being distracted from the task God has given us. So the question remains: How do you and I—as servants to people before God—overcome these stereotypes, these distracting stereotypes? The answer, I think, is simple: We must continue to commit ourselves to that which is Good. Scripture says, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

G.K. Chesterton used to comment about how the word “good” has different meanings. He once quipped that if a man could take a sniper rifle and pick off his grandmother from a distance of 500 yards that one could, indeed, call him a “good shot” but not necessarily a “good man.” The man in question would, no doubt, have been good at what he does, but not at all good in who he is. This is the great challenge before us, isn’t it? Too often we come to focus on the things we do in our jobs to the neglect of the people we are supposed to serve through our jobs. Our jobs were designed to serve people for the sake of people, for their well-being, for their good. This is God’s desire.

Another way to say all this is that we are called to love. Of course, that word itself has its own stereotype, being packed with assumptions like romance and feelings. But most fundamentally, “love,” at least in the Christian sense, are those actions that look out for the well-being of other people, that look out for their goodThe challenge before us, before you, today is to realize that the position you hold, the title you bear, the honor you carry, is, at the end of the day, only fitting for good men and women.

The three traditional Christian virtues are: “faith, hope, and love.” The first two are wonderful virtues to have. When I see a person of tremendous faith, I am inspired; when I see a person of amazing hope, I am encouraged; but when I see a person of selfless love, service, and self-giving sacrifice, I see true goodness, indeed, true greatness.

I was told that I could not do two things: Go beyond five minutes, nor could I take up an offering. I think I have been faithful to the first, but perhaps I have failed at the second. Thinking about it, I do hope I have succeeded in encouraging you to offer something this morning. I pray that you offer yourselves completely and fully and self-sacrificially to both our Good Savior and to the good people of the State of Oklahoma. May these things be said of you. May they be said of me.

Thank you all so very much; you’ve been very kind. Blessings to you and your families. Please join me in prayer.

“My God, may you give to these wonderful men and women before me, these servants to the people of Oklahoma, the encouragement they need to carry out their task, their duties, their responsibilities. May they never be discouraged and always hopeful. Indeed, may they be united in faith, in hope, in love—in you, for the people. Amen in Christ our Lord.”

IMG_3044

 

Academic Review of N.T. Wright’s “Paul and the Faithfulness of God”

A couple of years ago, Prof N.T. Wright came to Oklahoma Christian University to give several talks to the faculty, staff, students, and community. I had the privilege of hearing the public lecture and the academic review of his recent book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress Press, 2013). The video below is a recording of the academic review, with talks given by N.T. Wright, Richard Hays, and others. It was a fabulous time; check it out!

Logisch Denken: The Cosmos, Beginnings, Faith & Reason — Part 3

With the series that I have called “Logisch Denken,” I’ve tried to show that faith in God is reasonable. (Stated negatively, I’ve tried to show that faith in God is not unreasonable.) The common assumption among skeptics, and even among a certain number of evangelicals, is that “faith” and “reason” are not in any way compatible. Thus, what I have tried to show (and will conclude with this post) is that this is not the case—faith is not unreasonable, both reason and faith are compatible. 

I talked about causation in the last post. Here I want to examine one more aspect of how the universe came to exist. We determined previously that the universe—i.e., the the space-time universe—must have had a cause. We recall that to say otherwise would commit oneself to an infinite regress of sorts, and all things considered, this is not logically satisfying (at least in light of the alternative). We concluded that the theist’s idea that the universe was created by God is not, at least up until our last post, shown to be in the slightest bit irrational, for theist’s believe there was a cause for the universe to come into existence; they simply call this cause “God.” Since it is not unreasonable to believe in causation, the belief in God as the Cause, then, is compatible with reason.

Of course, just because the universe had a cause does not necessarily lead one to conclude theism, at least not initially. It could, after all, have been the case that the universe caused itself to come into existence. How does this idea stand in the face of logical scrutiny? There are, perhaps, several things that could be said here, but let’s look at just one area of critique below regarding the idea of self-causation.

If the universe was caused, it was either caused by itself or caused by an outside agent/force. If it was caused by itself, then the universe would be both its own effect and its own cause. But this means, it seems, that the universe would had to have existed before it existed in order to have caused itself to come into existence. But this is absurd, for how could something exist before it existed?[1] That violates a fundamental law of logic, namely, the law of non-contradiction. Therefore, the universe’s cause for its existence, by definition, must have come from something outside of the space-time universe. Logic lends to this idea. So does theism, which also states that the universe’s cause remains outside the space-time universe, namely a cause described as “God.” Theism is therefore seen to be both reasonable and unscathed.

Technically, I’m not trying to prove God’s existence with this argument. What I am trying to do here is somewhat less ambitious. My point is to simply show how belief in God, theism, is not unreasonable. After all, belief in causation is not absurd. Moreover, the attributes of God, as depicted in the tenets of classical theism, seem to be compatible with what logic demands of the universe’s cause—namely, a cause that is non-material, all-powerful, and timeless (not to mention all-knowing). This, again, is what theists call “God.”

Therefore, belief in God, while it may be a matter of faith, is still seen to be a matter of reason, for I have shown through a set of propositions that theism can be construed logically. In the end, however, I realize that the arguments that have been presented in these posts may not convince the atheist/agnostic that theism is true, and that’s quite okay. But out of all the things the atheist/agnostic will say by way of response, one of those things cannot be that belief in God is illogical or unreasonable. It turns out that theism is quite reasonable.

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[1] William Lane Craig brings this point up often.