Relativism and Postmodernism

I recently had to write a post for my Systematic Theology class on the  Relativism and Postmodernism.  The details of the assignment are below in italics and what I wrote follows. Thought there might be someone out there who might enjoy me trying to pretend to know what I am talking about…

The self-identified postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty asserts: “Relativism is the view that every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps about any topic, is as good as every other. No one holds this view. Except for the occasional cooperative freshman, one cannot find anybody who says that two incompatible opinions on an important topic are equally good.The philosophers who get called ‘relativists’ are those who say that the grounds for choosing between such opinions are less algorithmic than had been thought.” (Consequences of Pragmatism [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982], 166.) Elsewhere he describes relativism as “self-refuting.” (“Solidarity or Objectivity,” in The Rorty Reader, ed. Christopher J. Voparil and Richard J. Bernstein [Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2010], 229.) 

 

Similarly, literary critic (reader-response) Stanley Fish asserts: “While relativism is a position one can entertain, it is not a position one can occupy. No one can be a relativist because no one can achieve the distance from his own beliefs and assumptions which would result in their being no more authoritative for him than the beliefs and assumptions of others, or, for that matter, the beliefs and assumptions he used to hold.” (“Is There a Text in This Class?” in Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980], 319.) 

Create a post and discuss this question: Why do you think the charge that postmodernists are relativists persists? In your answer, you MUST interact with Rorty’s claim. It is not simply sufficient to dismiss him, to assert that he is wrong; you must support your claim, you must provide evidence that counters the argument Rorty makes. You may use other sources than the lecture notes and reading but use them carefully and critically. Simply citing your opinion or quoting the opinion of someone else will earn zero credit for the assignment. You MUST engage and interact with Rorty. 

Remember, Rorty is a self-identified postmodern philosopher. He claims that postmodernists are not relativists. He says that the view is “self-refuting.” In short, the claim that everything is relative is an absolute claim, and thus refutes itself. Fish, also, claims that relativism is an impossible position to hold.

 

From 2006-2008, I lived on four continents, Asia, Africa, North America and Europe. In that time, I lived in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Texas, California, and Sweden, my current country of residence. From January 2007 until August 2008, not a single one of my political or theological views changed in any meaningful way, yet depending upon where I happened to find myself at any given time, I was perceived and interpreted differently. When I was in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Tunisia, my views on women placed me on the left of the political spectrum. When I moved back to Texas those same views were fairly centrist. California placed me on the center right, and when I moved to Sweden, the mere suggestion that men and women might in some way have differences placed me on the radical, knuckle-dragging right, yet not one meaningful view I had changed, merely my zip code. My position relative to others changed because of my physical location. It was precisely because of this experience in engaging with people from each of these places on a whole variety of issues that my own views on certain things I once thought important, self evident and absolutely true have been made more elastic. What I once thought important, I have now had to re-evaluate based on new information and new experience. What is more, I began to see that while each of the positions that the culture around me held was different than my own, I could understand the rational thought behind them once I began to understand certain premises that were made. In some cases, while I would disagree with decisions, policies or even beliefs, I could appreciate their views. Does this make me a relativist?

       Richard Rorty asserts that “”Relativism is the view that every belief on a certain topic, or perhaps about any topic, is as good as every other. No one holds this view. Except for the occasional cooperative freshman, one cannot find anybody who says that two incompatible opinions on an important topic are equally good.The philosophers who get called ‘relativists’ are those who say that the grounds for choosing between such opinions are less algorithmic than had been thought.” Craig and Moreland would agree that no one serious would hold the opinion of absolute relativism today. It’s critiques are many and harsh.  Moreland and Carson both equate Relativism and Postmodernism. It is a common perception that Postmodernism and Relativism are one and the same. How does this persist? Philosopher Emrys Westacott of Alfred University helps us to understand 2 basic ideas of relativism common in its various forms (http://www.iep.utm.edu/relativi/ (Links to an external site.)):

“Although there are many different kinds of relativism, they all have two features in common.

(1) They all assert that one thing (e.g. moral values, beauty, knowledge, taste, or meaning) is relative to some particular framework or standpoint (e.g. the individual subject, a culture, an era, a language, or a conceptual scheme).

(2) They all deny that any standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.”

It is this second point that is most problematic for Rorty. It is why postmodernist thinking is often regarded as relativistic. The postmodernist holds a profound skepticism toward language, knowledge, history, reason and truth, and at the same time declares that no view they are being skeptical towards has any inherent value other than what it argues in relation to its own context. It is easy to see why a postmodernist would often be equated with relativism. The postmodernists skepticism and mistrust is easily mistaken or even translated into a relativistic framework which does not attach a value to any one standpoint.

Rorty would assert that no one can hold relativism in whole, and largely he is right, but what causes the equating of the two is the “but on the other hand” redefining of truth that takes place when a postmodernist approaches many a subject matter. The postmodernist, like relativism would not necessarily take a position on any given set of subjects, but instead continually declare that there might be another way at looking at things. The relativist says that all positions are equally valid, the postmodernist would often merely introduce doubt, mistrust and skepticism to the modernist approach of having all the answers. For most observers, this looks the same.

The persistence in equating the two persists probably not in academia, but over the kitchen table. I talk with university students at length every week about questions surrounding meaning, purpose, destiny, creation, and the like. I agree with Dr Kreider as he asserts in class that no one is a consistent relativist, that if you were to hit someone in the face, their belief in relativism would go out the window in that very moment. What often happens when I talk to a student about questions of morality and they would question our moral pronouncements against Hitler, they are doing so not because they believe in relativism in its strictest since, but rather because they are skeptical of a world in which there is an absolute moral code in which they themselves have seen the duplicity of man, especially authority figures. It is often easier in these cases to skeptically withhold judgement rather than pronounce it and thus recognize that in some way, a moral law giver exists. These students are not relativists. They are not pragmatists as Rorty is a pragmatist. They have become for themselves the arbiter of all things and therefore are using preference to build a view of the world.

A Swedish friend once told me as we talked about relativism as it takes form in the Swedish culture, that “Swedes are good at finding the third side of the coin.” This is a good summary of where postmodern thought and relativism overlap. The postmodernist would be skeptical of both sides of the traditional coin. This leads to a questioning of truth as it is presented, a redefining of truth and ultimately a personal release from responsibility to make a truth claim at all. The mere “existence” of this third side of the coin releases them from the pressure of deciding. It feels very relativistic yet it is not. Just because the postmodernist does not take a stance or perhaps redefines truth, does not mean that “all standpoints are of equal value.” It merely means that doubt exists and therefore the modernist tendency to remove mystery and doubt are avoided.

While I would not consider myself a relativist or a postmodernist such as Rorty, I would agree with Smith in Who’s Afraid of Relativism? that “I haven’t run into many so-called ‘postmodern’ theorists who actually go around saying ‘there isn’t any such thing as truth.’ That would be a bit too earnest and direct, not befitting their irony.  . . . It would be better to say that they offer us deflationary accounts of truth. They explain truth in terms other than our (realist) habits incline us to”. There is a certain amount of contingency in our existence. We are both dependent upon the divine and at the same time dependent upon each other. We are social beings because we are dependent upon each other. As Dr Kreider has often pointed out in class and points out in his review of Smith’s book (http://www.dts.edu/reviews/whos-afraid-of-relativism-smith) language has a relative aspect to it. As Smith points out, “Language is bound up with our investment in cultural projects; it is part and parcel of our culture making”. Thus for the Christian, it is not that “everything is contingent but rather that everything created is contingent” (Smith p.36). Cardinal Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict, said that there is a “dictatorship of relativism” that exists (Smith p.16). Yet we often forget that along with claims of Absolute Truth has often gone a certain dictatorship of certain teachings within the church which later we acknowledge were less than Christ like such as the justification for slavery, etc. Is this not in and of itself some recognition that we should acknowledge our own need to learn how to be dependent? Is it not a recognition that we are part of “communities of discursive practice”?

In my first paragraph I ended with the question, “Does this make me a relativist?” I do not believe it does. I do think it introduces into my life is a certain amount of humility when processing truth claims with another no matter what one’s philosophical assumptions. Rather than being an absolutist on most things, while I am convinced of many of my own views which I hold, I do not hold them as tightly as I once did. What is of importance to me today is certain views central to the Christian faith such as the resurrection and the deity of Christ. This is something I am willing to lose my life over. Other things I am willing to lose my house over, things of importance, yet less than those like the resurrection. Yet many things, because I see the fluidity with which views can change over time and history and in community, I am willing to lose my lunch over. Simply put, by seeing some of the relative nature in which I find myself, I am able to live by the saying that “All true-truth is God’s truth.” I am able to journey together with someone to seek understanding so that I may know truth.

 

1. J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove: IV Press 2003), 410.

2. J.P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle: Recover The Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) 77.

3. D.A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 132.

4. James K Smith, Who’s Afraid of Relativism? Community, Contingency, and Creaturehood, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2014), 27.

The Best Part of the Week

On Tuesdays I get to travel an hour away to the town of Västerås and I meet with students of MDH College. It has become the highlight of my week to be frank. I get to do a lot of really cool things, but meeting with these students for discipleship and some evangelism keeps me fresh. I enjoy it because I get to see life change in them, transformation of the heart by the power of the Spirit. I also enjoy it because it always gets my creative juices flowing. I am the type that has my most creative energy flow when I am engaged with a task knee deep in the muck of it all.

As I sit here in this cafe waiting on my next appointment, I am overwhelmed with prayers and hope and creativity for seeing things happen here in Sweden. It makes me wonder how often we do not see things happen, how often we do not pray, how often we do not offer people an opportunity to participate in the kingdom because we remove ourselves to the side lines of life because we have “other ” things to do. In my position I can busy myself with lots of important work, but truth be told, I am better at all of it when I am engaged with students one on one, talking about the implications of the gospel. And you are too. It may not be students, but it is someone. Go engage.

The Apologetics of Jimmy Fallon

Like many these days, I have taken a liking to Jimmy Fallon. Like him or not though, it is undeniable that he has fun when he is doing his show. I think that “just some people having fun” is the great appeal of his show and a secret to his success, if you will. As I was watching a few clips not too long ago, I can across this one of Jimmy and Billy Joel having fun singing “do-op” with an iPad app, and it hit me that in this 4 minute video on a secular show, by two men who I have no idea of their personal beliefs regarding God, they give an incredible apologetic for the God of the Bible.

Christians are skilled at giving a defense of the really tough topics like life, death, suffering, good vs evil, the historicity of the resurrection, and a few more to be sure, but we are woefully skilled at joining the good things of life with a good God. When we share Christ we are quick to ask things like, ” Aren’t you miserable? Aren’t you ashamed? Don’t you feel bad for all the bad you have done?” and on and on. This works great with a general population that has a good moral compass, especially if that moral compass is Biblically based as it was up until recently in the Western world. Here is the problem though, increasingly in today’s world, people do not feel as though they are really that miserable. They don’t feel the shame of sin in the same way they used to. The self esteem movement has worked and people don’t really think they are all that bad. I see it daily here in Sweden. People have a general sense that they have a pretty good life here and don’t really need a whole lot from life, especially a God. I have heard time and again the refrain “Maybe I would need a God if I were really poor or had some kind of really bad problem.”  To be sure, the gospel speaks to this and plainly so. But to a world that doesn’t yet accept that we are broken and need of a savior, perhaps we need to have a different starting point. After all, does not the Bible start off with “And it was good” before it moves on to the Fall?

In Acts 14 while in Lystra, Paul’s points out the goodness of God in giving us “food and gladness” when beginning his argument for as to why Jesus is the Christ. Yes we live in a sad state. Yes we need to saved. But in a world that does not want to listen to that, isn’t it worth asking, “Life is really good isn’t it? Who you have to be thankful to for all these good things?” Is it possible that this nagging question could lead some one to interact with the goodness of God in a new way and eventually turn to him?

As I watched Jimmy Fallon do-op with Billy Joel, I saw in these two men enjoying life, the best apologetic for the modern world. Here are just a few observations which to me confirm the truth of the Bible. Fallon begins with stating his excitement that Billy Joel is sitting in front of him and that he is honored to get the chance to be with him. Have we ever stopped to ask “Why?” would he get butterflies around such a man who sings songs if life is a result of time+matter+chance? I assume that Fallon has appreciated Joel’s music for years, that he sees in him creativity and talent that is rare. But it is not rare in a random sense, as seen in Joel’s looking for what key to sing in as they begin. It is rare because it is practice coupled with raw talent. And where does this talent come from? But wait, if time+matter+chance be our god, then laws that we can count on, math that produces music coupled with creativity and the human voice box shouldn’t create something to be enjoyed, should it? This is not to mention what music can do to a soul is it? It is truly more than notes and words, it is joy, it is pain, it is human experience. And this is just the first 30 seconds.

Take for a moment the app that Fallon uses to loop their voices. It is no chance encounter. Someone had to make that app. But it didn’t just start with someone deciding that it would be cool to make an app. This app has its roots in a worldview that we live in a world that is governed by some laws and in understanding those laws we can like a master vinedresser, produce an amazing amount of fruit. As science grew out a men and women who worshipped a God of order, then a foundation of knowledge expanded to the point that a few app developers could use the outstanding advances in technology so that two grown kids could simply enjoy the sound of each others voices. For us to think that  such advances in technology and knowledge are possible in a world whose foundations are time+matter+chance is to check our better senses at the front desk of the reason hotel. Instead of giving thanks to a benevolent being who has given us these things for our enjoyment, we turn to the gods of our own invention, deciding for ourselves what is and is not.

Fallon and Joel make this point beautifully without even knowing it, which in my mind makes it the best apologetic. It is not philosophical. One does not have to study for years to “get it”. We all experience it every day. We live in a world that has goodness, joy, love, and hope. It is a true but perhaps tired apologetic that tries to explain that we need a savior to restore these things, but it is a fresh perspective that all can appreciate: But to whom will we thank for all that is good? Of all the possible worlds that could have existed, we live in a world where God chose to create us where we would enjoy food, love, laughter, and simply being.

My Contact Lenses: A Guest Post by Jenny Knox

Jenny Knox serves with is in Sweden. She recently wrote this post for another publication and when Victoria read it she thought it would be great to share with you. I agree. She really captures what it means to live as we do cross culturally. Enjoy.

My contact lenses (preface- I currently live with Swedes)

So at every STINT briefing, they warn you about “stint goggles”- the idea that you will go overseas single and become attracted to someone on your team that you would never otherwise even think about dating. It’s not that this person won’t be a great individual, but you’re on STINT, you’re options are limited and this person is passionate about Jesus, so of course, you will think it’s a great idea.

I think ICS is more like monovision contact lenses. Basically, the way they work is that in one eye, your contact lets you see distance, and in the other eye, the contact functions as reading glasses for things close up. But the cool thing is that our brains work in such a way, that you don’t even notice unless you cover one eye.

So in a sense, I now have an “American contact lens” and a “Sweden contact lens” and most days they blend together into a comprehensive, though broader picture of the world, both are part of my “life” and it works…

For example, every American, or at least every southerner knows what to do in warm weather. And every Swede knows what to do in below freezing temperatures. I read an article by a North Caroline news channel during the recent cold snap and laughed at their advice on how to deal with cold weather because the Sweden part of me knows that in cold weather (and snow) you just put on your jacket, get on your bike and go wherever you were heading regardless. So now with my contact lenses, I’m good with both hot and cold weather and it works.

Or, how I now see both places as home- it’s easy to be there, comfortable and I like it. But at the same time neither place feels like home. In America, it’s loud, I don’t know why we need 20 kinds of bacon, and we clap. A lot. In Sweden, there’s almost always a rule for everything and I don’t know them. Or I meet with a student and tell her I’m going to pick up “Turkey,” the country rather than the food. Something like that happens on a daily (or hourly) basis because the moment I leave my room I could need to speak Swedish. I have two homes and yet I’m always a foreigner- but it works.

Or people… there are people in both places that I love and care deeply about, that I miss when I’m not wherever they are. And as long as I live here I will bounce back and forth- always being away from people I love. It’s not just that they are people who are part of my life and then I move and make new friends. They are people that are part of my life and I bounce back and forth. And yet, I’m never really understood by either group- there is always a part of me, a part of my life, that doesn’t compute or requires a lot of explanation and to be honest some days I just don’t want to explain any more. And so there is a third group of people- the other people who have contact lenses like me- maybe theirs read “America/Germany” or “America/Lebanon.” But they get it- they are also contact wearers and there isn’t as much explaining, but then I miss them too.
And then, there are the things that I close one eye on and see through only one contact lense…

Through my America “contact” I see things like: country ham- It will never be a part of my Sweden world (unless is comes in the mail and is savored for days), or college sports- specifically basketball, there is nothing comparable here and try as I might my roommates will still ask, “Wait, they show university sports on TV? Who cares?” and yet I love it and will get up at 3am for the UNC-Duke game!
Through my Sweden contact lens, I see that it’s only natural that children would dress up like cute witches on Easter and go around asking for candy. Or that having a “cozy” environment or evening, even if you are two dudes watching a movie, is one of the highest values and to be sought after. Or that having discipleship in the forest while picking mushrooms will lead to a more honest conversation than you might otherwise have.

But mostly, I love that the gospel is fuller and Christ is bigger because I get to see through both contacts lenses. Just small examples, but because I have an American lens, I see how important and Biblical it is that we value individuals’ uniqueness and God’s design in creating us differently in ways. We can, and should, rejoice over this because He loves to be creative and express his creativity. I also see that Jesus wasn’t afraid of strong words and as his followers we are called to speak boldly and yet graciously. I am reminded that I need to be willing to speak boldly about truth to non-believers and believers as well.

Because I have a Sweden lens, I understand more what it means to spend time with people and to enter into their lives. To spend hours together with nowhere else to be and to have a more practical example of what it means to be “with” others as Christ is “God with us.” Also, I understand on a whole different level what it means that Jesus is the light of the world. I thought I understood that before, but living in a city where it can be dark for 18 hours a day- light makes a difference-it changes everything. Every year you are reminded how important light is because in the winter you never really see clearly and then the sun begins to come back and it peeks out from behind a cloud and people stop in the street. They turn their faces towards the sun and enjoy. Christ is that light and living here I see more clearly what it means to turn my heart to Him.
The point with any kind of contacts is to help you see better, that you see more clearly with them than without. I hope and pray that becomes more and more true with my contacts. I love my contacts lenses. I like that I get to see the world through these lenses (and probably always will). There are plenty of days when it’s hard, when I’m tired of Sweden and when I’m tired of America. There are plenty of bittersweet tears when I miss people, and then I remember that Jesus also had contact lenses- his read more like “God/man.”

I can’t begin to imagine the “culture shock” He experienced. I wonder if those moments in the gospels when he says things like “Where is your faith?” and when he weeps over Jerusalem, if He was wishing those around him could see through his God contact lens? Or on the beach cooking those fish after his resurrection, I wonder if he was reveling having a man contact. I know my contacts don’t even begin to compare. But I am so thankful that he chose to come to earth and wear them.

Swedish Influence in Pop Music, Melodifestivalen and EuroVision Song Contest

If you have listened to pop music in the last 30 years, chances are, you have listened to the words or music of a Swede. Swede’s are everywhere in pop music being the world’s 3rd most influential country in pop behind the US and UK. The Swedish Invasion of pop is rather incredible. Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Avici, Kelly Clarkson, and Pink are just a few recent artists to either record a song written by a Swede or produced by one.

You might be saying, “Yeah, yeah, no big deal.” But pause for a second and consider that the entire population of Sweden could fit into Los Angeles. The Uk has 64 million people. The US has 300 million. So when you consider the amount of influence that Swedes are having in the world, especially the anthems of they young, it is staggering. Consider also that an Irish revolutionary once said, “I don not care who writes a countries laws, let me write its songs,” and you begin to understand the importance that music plays in the psyche and values of a society. Sweden’s influence is inversely proportional to its population.

Last weekend brought the conclusion of the Melodifestivalen Song Contest here in Sweden which is Sweden’s selection process for the EuroVision Song Contest in a few weeks time. We really enjoy watching for the 6 weeks of the contest, seeing what new acts are out there. Swedes don’t always win EuroVision, but they typically do very well. Here’s a taste of the past few years winners. This year’s winner, Heroes, has a good shot at winning it all.

Patrick of Ireland

Today is the day that the world claims its Irish heritage. And why not? The Irish are a wonderfully affable, fun loving, charming people. There’s a lot to like about Ireland. As with any day of significance however, St Patrick’s day has taken on a bit of a change since its inception. Let’s take a pause for a moment to consider the man who name this day bears and what this might mean for our own lives.

Patrick grew up in England, the son of a priest but who did not really care for the ways of Christ. He was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave. It was there that he found his faith in Christ. He struggled as a slave, but learned in the moment obedient to the Christ who had truly set him free. After some time be it through escape or being set free it is unclear, he made his way back to England. While there he studied the Bible and entered the ministry. During this time though a peculiar thing happened. He could not get out of his head and heart the people of Ireland who had taken him as a slave. What would become of them without the gospel of Jesus Christ? Most in England thought those in Ireland too pagan to deserve the gospel, but Patrick saw them through the eyes of God, as image bearers of him. In Christ he packed up, moved back to Ireland and brought the gospel. And Ireland became Christian.

Story done, right? Well, yes and no. You see, Patrick not only saw the gospel brought to an entire people, but he started one of the greatest missionary movements the world had ever seen. From Ireland, many travelled to far off places to give the good news of Jesus Christ away. This is what the gospel does when it comes in its most pure form, that men and women who have been forgiven much, who have suffered much affliction, extend the grace of God to their tormenters, many lives are changed. These lives are changed and they are in turn propelled to go out into the world and to do the same.

Below is a poem/prayer of Patrick of Ireland. Read it today and celebrate those who take the good news of Jesus Christ to those who need it most, humanity wherever it may be found.

Thank you Patrick for your sacrifice and example of what it means to display the gospel to all men.
The Lorica, Or, St Patrick’s Breastplate
I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,

The Three in One, and One in Three.
I bind this day to me forever,

By power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;

His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb;

His riding up he heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom:

I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power

Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet “Well done” in judgement hour;

The service of the seraphim;
Confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,

The patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
All good deeds done unto the Lord,

And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today

The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,

Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today

The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,

His ear to hearken to my need;
The wisdom of my God to teach,

His hand to guide, his shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,

His heavenly host to be my guard.

[Against the demon snares of sin,

The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,

The hostile men that mar my course;
Of few or many, far or nigh,

In every place, and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,

I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,

Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles

Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,

Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave and poisoned shaft,

Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.]

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,

The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,

The Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,

Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,

Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

The Kindness of the Lord

Ravi Zacharias once said that “There is never a good reason to be unkind.” I would agree. I just don’t live that out very well. But I should, shouldn’t I? Or at least as a follower of Jesus Christ, and a man who has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, my life should be marked by the fruit of the spirit in which kindness is named. Yet I have found in me so often that I do not live a kind life.

I can be quite the jerk to my kids and my wife. I get tired and irritated. I answer questions and requests by my kids as though what they were asking was outrageous. I have been ashamed of this all too often ritual in my life. I started asking myself why I would get so annoyed by people who need. I say I love my family, but so often I have lacked in my showing it. I’m not sure when it was, but two scriptures are radically changing me from the inside out.

One day as I was particularly frustrated by one of my kids for being…a kid, the words of Paul came to mind, “Love is patient, love is KIND,” and then almost immediately after, “It is the kindness of the Lord which leads us to repentance.” Those two scriptures stopped me in my tracks. Yes I have known that I should be kind as a follower of Christ yet for some reason that day, by God’s grace, I began to see them differently. I began to see this word “kindness” as what it is, part of God’s character. I am to be kind because it is part of who HE is. And if it is part of who he is, then I was created to express that kindness. How often I have thought of the fact that God’s grace has said me, that Jesus loves me and demonstrates it by death on a cross, but I rarely think of God’s kindness in leading me to repentance.

I am still thinking about what exactly does it mean to be kind and what it means to express kindness as an image bearer of the everlasting God, but what I am finding very freeing is that often throughout my day, I am presented with a choice to be burdened by people, things or circumstances. In the past I have responded with frustration, but lately I have asking myself “How can I show the kindness of God in this situation?” I am asking God to teach me the joy of his kindness as I meditate daily on what it means to be kind like He is kind. In the process, my cold heart is changing, hopefully becoming more like his.

Often in the church or in evangelical circles, we present a picture of following Christ that requires constantly saying no to things. Sure this is true, we say no to many things. But what I am finding more and more as I journey with Christ in my life is that when I say yes to him, when I seek to be like him, when I seek to express who I am as a reflection of who God has made me as an image bearer of the everlasting God, I find LIFE. Much richer and much deeper than anything I experience outside of who He is. I also find that I begin to give life to others.

I am enjoying meditating on what it means to be kind as He is kind. Join me and ask yourself the question: How can I show the kindness of God in this situation?

The Blessedness of Wanting More

CS Lewis famously said  “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” I have quoted this on many a occasion. I believe it is true. Yet as a believer in Christ, I still find myself wanting more out of life at times, that what I am experiencing is still somewhat lacking. Why is that? I’m sure the answers are legion and that many of them would point to an issue of what I am doing wrongly or how I am not experiencing God in the way that he so longs to fellowship with me. And perhaps, there is another reason, what theologians call the “Now but Not Yet-ness” of the kingdom.

This “Now But Not Yet-ness” of the kingdom is that as believers our future is secure. Our redemption is paid for and somehow not yet fully complete. It is a fact of future certitude, yet in the meantime, I live in the not yet. In thinking about this fact today, that in the meantime while we wait, while we struggle, while we seek to be more like him, to live in the reality of what is true about us, to anticipate The Return of the King, I feel like there is so much more of which I have only begun to taste. Bono says it well when he sings out, “I believe in the kingdom come. When all the colors, they bleed into one–bleed into one. Yes I’m still running! You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains. Carried the cross of my shame, of my shame. You know I believe it. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Now, I cannot speak for Bono and what he is looking for, but for me and the chorus of saints who have gone before me, I long for the day when we see that promise of his glory as a reality, when what we have tasted is no longer a taste, but a well from which we drink! A mirror no longer reflecting the reality, but the Real and true king! That day when we will stand before him with the throng of faithful singing his glorious praises! Do you not long for something more? Do you not long for a king? Do you not long for what each person on this blessed earth longs for, a savior who satisfies, who comforts those who mourn, so much so that he has loosened the chains and removed the shame once and for all? Oh but how he has already completed this work. It IS Now. It is now, but not Yet. And for this conquerer I wait.

The Cost of doing “business” in a Western Bureaucracy

My head hurts. Since Thanksgiving we have been in a bit of emergency mode trying to figure out situations with various staff’s visa issues here in Sweden. Sweden, like almost all Western countries today, is a veritable labyrinth of bureaucracy. Trying to figure out compliance with any given number of laws takes a team of lawyers. For us as a small organization this is nearly impossible.

I understand the need for so much of it, but do I have to like it? Does this make us free? Does it make life better? Instead of doing the things we exist as an organization to do, we spend exorbitant amounts of time simply trying to comply, only to realize that our compliance was wrong. Of course, we need lawyers and professionals who only job it is to understand how to comply. Of course, this takes a lot of money. We operate on a shoe-string budget each year. As we grow, I am learning that we need to raise money simply to pay lawyers and accountants so that we will in the long run save time and energy. It simply is a reality we face and I face it realistically.

It is hard when you signed up to work with people and you end up writing letters and filling out forms, sometimes over and over again because some level of bureaucracy lost your previous paper work. I’m not blaming anyone, simply stating some of the realities that exist.

With Cru, we have an incredible staff services team, many of whom raise support to do our payroll, tax information, and countless other things that make the wheels go round, all so that so many can be on the ground having all the conversations we signed up for. I am more and more blown away by their professionalism and dedication to what is often a thankless job. Here’s to hoping some Swedes who are like minded as those in US staff services would some day join our ranks.

A Life Well Lived: My Small Tribute To A Significant Woman

On the final day of 2014 our glorious Lord and Savior called home one of his finest, Lynn Oliphant. Wife to one man for 47 years, mother of 7, six of them boys, grandmother of I honestly lost count a while back, incredible host of a constant flow of people and impacter of souls too numerous to begin trying to count. She battled long. She battled hard. She lived well. She lived life really well. Her reward is great. Yet her work is not done. Not the work she has to do, but the impact she leaves behind. My own life was impacted by Lynn in ways I am certain that she never knew, and I regret not getting this small tribute to her before her passing. Nevertheless, it is a good a rightly exercise to express oneself and give honor to a woman who is worthy. This is a small thanks…

There are very few people one can and should point to in life when thinking about who one would like to emulate. I know that Lynn would somewhat blush and disagree at my saying it, but I have no problem in steering people in her direction when it comes to looking for examples of how to love people, love God, love family, laugh, host, impact people and so much more. While I did not know Lynn well, she has left an indelible impact upon my life. I came in a friend of Rob while at Texas A&M. I was perhaps just another in a long line of young people who hung out in the Oliphant kitchen and ate whatever masterpiece of making a meal feed 5000 Lynn happened to have on the stove. She always greeted me with the warmest of smiles, (Incidentally I think that is where Rob gets his fierce friendliness from), a strong embrace from her little frame and somehow a faith in our savior that was communicated by her mere presence. I felt it time and again. Here the faithful matron of the Oliphant clan, a life lived in complete faith to God and devotion to her husband and family. I never told her, but looking back I am guessing that was the secret ingredient in the corn bread. That’s the thing about her–about my friends the Oliphants. It doesn’t matter who you are, you are family. That house, no matter which one it was that I happened to walk through over the many years, that house was home. I was welcome. It is one of the reasons that we try to have people and students to our home. It is because the truth of the body of the gospel is clothed in the hospitality of the saints. I somehow picked that up through watching Lynn.

When I lost my own father, sitting there in the chapel among so many friends was Lynn and Buck. I regret that I never told her what that meant to me. I have tears streaming down my face as I type this knowing that the distance of the Atlantic Ocean restricts me from being there to give my dear friends an embrace and celebrate her incredible life with them. Yet, in some way, it is poetic justice. In many ways, I am overseas because Lynn lived her life the way she did. Her son Rob and I had so many conversations over the years about following Christ. We were iron sharpening iron. Such men are not developed in a vacuum. It is no chance that Rob helped to point me to Christ. He was just doing what Lynn had done his whole life. How many prayers did Lynn pray for her sons and their friends to follow God? And did she know that I was watching? Did she know that as I thought about the financial destitution I dreaded as a missionary, I was watching her live a life of humble means, impacting so many lives with the gospel and such joy that she and Buck became for me examples of people humbling living out incredible lives all for the sake of the gospel? Certainly not in my life, but I do know that she lived that way because she calculated that following Christ would bring so much joy than any temporal pleasure this life could offer. And that is what makes her life so great. She lived out what it means to live as Christ in Philippians 2. She considered others as more important than herself. I get a bit irritated when people talk about “selfless” living. It is a bit of Christian-Buddism. You see, we are SELFs. It is what you do with that self that matters. The choice is yours. Christ CHOSE to humble himself. He CHOSE to be obedient even to the point of death, even death on a cross. It is precisely because he knew who he was, where he came from and where he was going that he could take ALL of his self and throw it in to serving others. And to me, that is what Lynn did seemingly her entire life. She took every last bit of who she was, surrendered it to God her savior and threw herself into the service and love of other people. That is legacy. Surrounded by people who she impacted and those of us all over this globe, Lynn Oliphant had a life well lived.

There is a shortage of truly significant people in this world. Lynn lived that so many might know her sweet savior, she lived a life of significance. I know he and he alone made all the difference. Lynn, may you enjoy casting crowns at the feet of our Lord. Thank you for living the life you did. Thank you for living the faith you lived. Thank you for dying the death you died. You died well. You will rise again, in full glory, and to that day I look forward. This hope is sure, it is promised, it is secure. Thank you for your smile. It truly is a remarkable one.