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Mission statements can obscure

5 Apr

Our church mission is “Joyfully to love all, serve all, and to share Jesus Christ with the world.”

A friend who belongs to a Methodist church mentioned her church’s guiding mission in the context of a discussion about homosexuality and a church association to which her church belongs.  This local group of churches had united to serve the community, but differing policies and doctrine threatened to derail some of their momentum.

I got to thinking about the importance and difficulty of choosing words.  Words carry not only verbal descriptive meanings, but also emotional messages, both positive and negative. Just like one’s tone of voice and delivery can alter the explicit meaning of a word, so can culture and the times add layers that color and influence communication.

God does not ignore such obstacles but takes them into account.  He responds by calling us FIRST to think, ponder, and invest time in understanding HIS divine words to us.  In turn, we are to be truthful in how we use words, especially the WORD of God.  Recall Paul’s exhortation to his protégé Timothy: “…Rightfully handle the word of truth!” in 2 Tim 2:15.

Mission statements matter – every word counts.  The verbs my friend’s church chose demand examination.  Let’s just look at the first one, to love:

Since it’s a church that is using this term, does it not make sense to turn first to the Bible to see God’s use?  Besides, should we begin with man’s definition, that is culture’s use, we’d immediately step into a morass.  We can’t assume consensus even within one country. What I consider ‘loving’ probably doesn’t match your personal view.  My ‘love’ might tap into the American ideal of pursuing happiness.  Translated, this has come to signify ‘allowing one freedom to do whatever one pleases, regardless of the consequences’ as long as it doesn’t impinge on my happiness.  But if I’m an alcoholic or drug addict, how loving is it to let me abuse substances and die?

God doesn’t leave us to wonder about what HE says is love.  Here is His standard:  You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:30-31  God cares not just about people’s temporary physical desires and needs, but their eternal soul’s condition.   Is it loving to clothe, feed and house someone for just their fleeting years on earth?

For a flesh and blood case of love in action, I’ll mention ‘Uncle Paul’.  He shows clearly how he himself loves in his letter to the Corinthians.

  • 1 Cor 10:33 I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

It is quite possible that my friend’s church had this kind of love in view when they crafted their mission statement.  But in giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll tell you that I have grown cautious in making assumptions about the meaning of terms. Just because a church uses the word ‘love’ or a colleague talks about ‘God’ or even mentions that they ‘pray’, I stop now and ask them what they mean.  More often than I would have imagined, that person’s usage does not match mine.

When it comes to terms, logical Joes and Janes seek clarity above all.

Your wants won’t hurt you!

15 Mar

“Your wants won’t hurt you!”

Did your parents feed you that line when you were a kid?  Remember those trips to the grocery store?  The ones when you BEGGED them to put THEIR money in one of those contraptions where the claw swings out and SOMETIMES grabbed hold of some prize?

grocerystore-claw

So was it true, that living with an unfulfilled WANT caused you no pain?  After all, you probably heard that line time and time again.  Bet you never thought about it, you just knew what it meant – NO TOY!

I heard that adage the other day and with my ‘Logical Jane’ ears started to think it through.  Actually I DO think our ‘wants’ can harm us.

Before I explain why, I had better start where all clear thinkers begin – with the definition and clarification of terms.  How do I define ‘wants’?

This is actually not quite as simple as it appears. In talking with a fellow Christian a few weeks ago, I learned that the Hebrew word for ‘heart’ is layered. At the bottom of one’s heart are God-given desires.  Out of these desires form feelings of WANT and then on top of that layer percolate thoughts and schemes – the justifying kind and the strategizing kind. Our actions and words are what roll off the assembly line of our factory.

What was new to me was the realization that God has planted desires in us.  But because of the Fall, our feelings, thoughts, words and actions have been corrupted.  Therefore when our wants and needs filter up through our sinful outlook and ungoverned by God, they can’t be trusted.  By nature, our feelings/thoughts (what WE call desires) are dis-ordered.

The world preaches a counter message:

  • Follow your heart
  • Trust your instincts
  • Look inside

(as though correct answers and guidance originate from within us!)

So what can we do?  This is no minor struggle.  Paul pulled out his hair in despair and committed the struggle to his parchments:

  • I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Romans 7:23-24

Paul’s number one remedy for aligning one’s actions with God’s will is to LOOK at Jesus.

  • 2 Cor 3:18 – And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Isn’t that a relief?  By looking AT Jesus and His desire to submit to the eternal plan to take our place at the cross, the transforming work on our wants begins.  And it continues as we nurture our union with Him with on-going looks at His work on our behalf.

We don’t have to remain a slave to our wants.  With Jesus we can begin to see how to meet those God-given desires in God-pleasing ways.  Only then can we agree with Mom that our wants won’t hurt us.

If God is love, is love God?

1 Mar

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love

The copula/verb ‘is’ proves tricky.  In grammar, the copula links the subject to the predicate or compliment of the subject.  For example:

The sun IS bright.    Bright is the predicate or subject compliment to the subject the sun.

It’s easy and sometimes helpful to think of  ‘is/are’ as functioning like an equals sign. But there are limits, too. We mustn’t over-generalize about the copula and today I want to talk about the dangers.

The truth in 1 John 4:8 states that God is love.  In other words all that sums up God is called ‘LOVE’.

To study this proposition logically, we need to add the quantifier.  So for ‘God’ we have a choice of:

All God is

Some God is

Some God is not

No God is

John in his pastoral letter makes the job easy for us.  ‘God’ is ‘theos‘ in the Greek.  And according to Septuagint translations,  theos or kyrios were used interchangeably for the personal name of Yahweh.

One of the laws of logic states that quantifiers for personal names must be ‘universal’ (ALL or NONE) and not ‘particular’ (SOME or SOME ……NOT) because there is only one person in the world who is meant when a personal name is used.  Think: ‘John who lived on State Street in house # 42 in October 2015’ as opposed to ‘every boy named John’.

So now our proposition is:

All God is love

Now to the danger of viewing the copula (is) as an equals sign.  Unlike the math equation:

2+4 = 6  which can be written as 6 = 2+4 with no harm done to the integrity of the equation

we cannot replicate the same procedure and enjoy the same outcome with the proposition about God and Love.

Consider what happens if we switch the two terms in God is love’.  We would gain this proposition: All love is God

Is that true, that any and all kind of love represents a God-like quality?  This is a critical question. In today’s climate of redefining not only marriage and gender, but removing any limits on human sexuality, we have to be careful about relating any and every kind of ‘love’ to God.

Looking to another law of logic helps us think clearly.  This law actually provides guidelines for maintaining equivalency during the logical procedure named ‘conversion’, an interchanging of terms

  • Swapping the terms of an A proposition (like our All God is love) requires us to change the new subject quantifier to SOME.

Therefore, All God is love MUST become……..Some love is God, for it is NOT true that All love is God.

Fortunately, we can see how reality reflects this truth.  Only some of what we humans call ‘love’ would match God’s character of ‘love’

My love for chocolate is not a godly love.

In fact ALL unordered or inappropriate loves are not godly love.

Why is this helpful to a thinking Joe or Jane?  If you’re ever caught unable to unravel a particular example of reasoning that appears twisted, the ready tool of logic is a comfort. Thinking logically can also buy you time to work out what IS true and valid. Working to understand some fundamental laws of logic do help us parse out distinctions.

So all this talk about God’s love and the kinds of worldly ‘love’ that DO qualify leave us wanting to know better what His love is like.  John doesn’t abandon us to search that out for ourselves.  He leaves us with a clear description of the highest kind of love:

1 John 4:10

This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins.

Can you be a Christian and not believe the Bible?

22 Feb

Did that question get your attention?  I hope so, because it is one I ponder often.

Why?  Run your eyes over some of these responses I’ve encountered when talking about God with friends and family:

  • I worship the God of the New Testament
  • The Bible was written by men
  • How can we trust what the Bible says?  It got corrupted through all the oral retellings passed down from one generation to another
  • The Bible represents primitive man’s best explanation at the time
  • Because of science, the Bible is obsolete
  • What applied then doesn’t fit society today
  • I don’t think Jesus really said that
  • That’s just Paul’s opinion
  • I attended divinity school and my professors taught us how the Bible actually came to be.  We are to take it metaphorically

Do you see why I am drawn to sort out what one must accept/adhere to in order to be a Christian?

How do we even begin to answer the question?

All adept Logical Joes and Janes start with clarifying terms.  So which terms need parsing and comparing to reality?

  • Christian
  • Believe
  • (the Bible is concrete and unequivocal)

The terms ‘Christian’ and ‘believe’ could potentially require a long time to arrive at a truth-reflecting definition.  (It’s not consensus we aim for, but accuracy and clarity of terms.)

For does it matter what the world calls a Christian?  Would any one disagree that many who self-identify as Christians are not in the least?  I don’t know if Hitler considered himself to be a follower of Christ, but atheists often trot him out as poster-boy of a supposed Christian who perpetrated untold evil.

More difficult to discern are those people who attend church, who do kind things, who serve humanity and choose to self-identify as Christian.  Here is the rub.  Can we tell from one’s outward behavior whether one is a Christian or not?

Turning to what it means ‘to believe‘, how is this concept often taken?

It can mean to agree, to follow, to espouse.  But isn’t our church replete with people who say they ‘believe’ the Bible?  Yet upon a fair assessment of their actions, temperaments and words, one wonders.  I do acknowledge that true Christians are always growing, with fits and starts, so we should be careful about judging.

Why am I even bothering with this analysis?  Because many people dear to me are on this spectrum of:

  • a sort of Christian
  • a sort of belief in the Bible

My husband and I were once members of that ‘sort of category’.  Although had you asked us to explain ourselves, we would have avowed without reservation that we were Christian. I do think we would have equivocated with the second question – Do you believe the Bible? For we had not READ the Bible.  We had read/heard bits and pieces of the Bible, for sure. But read it?  No, not in our Episcopal Church experiences growing up.

Now, having been given light to SEE and having acquired Biblical truth through Bible studies, evangelical pastors’ sermons, books, podcasts, church community, small groups and friendships with Christians, we can easily ‘catch’ the aroma of a true Christian.  They can be as distinct from me as you could imagine, yet we recognize each other as blood -bought brothers and sisters in Christ.  We talk the same language, cherish the same Jesus, marvel over God’s goodness, and enjoy boasting about His magnificence.

I’m curious to know what and how you define these two terms.  Please post a comment. And in a few weeks, I’ll summarize your responses as well as clarify and delimit those terms.  In the meantime, let us not stop praying for ‘heart-transplants’ in those whom we love, about whom we are not sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explore what the question even means and how we would go about setting up a discussion and then at the end invite readers to respond to the question I don’t have to answer it myself

Stating the obvious – words matter!

18 Jan

Aren’t you thankful that God created us with communicative language skills?  I often take that gift for granted.

Two recent ‘aha!’ moments brightened my day and made me grateful for the insights words can provide.

The first one:

This morning, while walking for exercise, I listened to a John Piper sermon where he mentioned God’s purpose for creating you & me.  He cited Isaiah 43:8 when describing what God says His reasons:

  • everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

What was new to me was that the fact that God WILL be glorified by every person.  Piper framed it like this.  Are we going to glorify God like Judas or like Peter? It’s not up to US whether we glorify Him or not.  If God says He created us with the express purpose of showcasing His glory, then He will. For being God, by ontological nature, everything that He wills to be done IS/WILL BE done.  And how do WE know what His will is?  From what He says, what is written in the Bible.  Words!

The import of this fact that God will be glorified by each of the people He creates is this: Whether we die as a hardened God-hater or rather as a person whose heart burns to proclaim and point to the wonders of God, each of us WILL bring glory to Him when He rewards or punishes us.

The second one: 

Alan Shlemon from Stand to Reason wrote a letter about how Jesus modeled truth and compassion while on earth.

As I began to read, I assumed I knew what sense of ‘truth’ Alan was addressing:  the truth that Jesus, as God, had about the moral failures of everyone He met.

But the way Alan described Jesus’ use of truth was in focused study of someone.  Read this excerpt from his letter dated Thursday, 5 January 2017:

In Matthew 9:35–36, for example, Jesus is going through all the towns and villages, healing diseases and sickness, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Matthew writes, Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Notice the order. Jesus learns the truth and then is motivated by compassion. He sees that the people are distressed, dispirited, and like sheep without a shepherd and, because of that truth, He is driven to compassion.

I had never considered that use of truth.  But because of how Alan painted Jesus’ actions toward people, I now WANT to look more carefully at those around me, to study their tone, their faces, their postures and ask the kind of questions that will give me some true insight into their burdens.  I know this:  only THAT kind of truth will soften my heart.

 

The other kind of truth can puff up, even if it’s accurate and well grounded.  (I’m not arguing against the responsibility we all have to KNOW truth and live by it.)

So here’s to WORDS and the power of eloquent and accurate communication, whether from a fellow created being or our Creator!

Bears repeating: our presuppositions matter

28 Dec

A dear friend of mine dove into theological waters for the first time last week.  As a result, I understand more clearly her view on the veracity and usefulness of the Bible.

She belongs to the United Church of Christ.  One of their beliefs is essentially ‘no creeds’.

  • The UCC has no rigid formulation of doctrine or attachment to creeds or structures. Its overarching creed is love. UCC pastors and teachers are known for their commitment to excellence in theological preparation, interpretation of the scripture and justice advocacy.

I am not writing a post to attack this denomination, but to use what they write about themselves to illustrate several points regarding logical and clear thought.

A couple of conclusions one can draw from that paragraph:

  1. If there is no substantive content to a belief, then there is no foundation for saying something is true or false, right or wrong.
  2. If you advocate ‘love’, who is going to criticize you, especially if you are vague about what love means?  Seems attractive and safe, yes.  Nevertheless, meaningless.

Some questions I would ask:

  1. Just what DO you mean by ‘love’?  Whose definition are you using? Is ‘love’ allowing people to continue in self-destructive ways because they believe them to be right?  Is it ‘loving’ (in order to avoid saddening or offending someone) to withhold a diagnosis for a disease that is curable?
  2. If there is no doctrine, then how can one interpret the Scriptures?
  3. And on what basis can one’s interpretation of Scripture be judged ‘excellent’?

That’s a short response, having read what this denomination writes about itself at the macro level. At the micro or individual and personal level, here is what weighs on me concerning my friend.

If I am correct in presenting her viewpoint, she believes that certainty about what the Bible teaches is impossible and in fact ‘destructive’.

I passed some sleepless hours across three nights last week working out the implications of this view.  What I have been given by God, the light and faith to believe that the Bible is not only true but authoritative, is precious and incalculably beneficial to me.  Here are just a few of its gifts:

  • God’s promises are both a safe haven in scary times and a source of REAL, supernatural strength when I both feel and AM weak
  • His Word provides guidance and wisdom
  • I have assurance that I am personally known and loved by a good Father who created me and everything in the universe
  • There is a purpose to both my life and my suffering
  • I have an inheritance safely waiting for me that outweighs all suffering on this earth

So there you have it, some out-workings of presuppositions.  Beliefs really do matter.

So what is my advice to all of us?  Not only must we know what we believe, but WHY we hold those beliefs. And we must be willing to follow the ramifications and determine if we like where they lead.

Bonnes Pensées!  Happy thinking!

 

 

Post-truth? What does that mean?

30 Nov

oxfordengdict

Today I welcome Michael Cochrane as guest writer to ‘Logical Gal’.  Michael, besides being my husband, works as a technology reporter for World News Group and voiceover artist. I fell in love with him 37 years ago when I overheard a young man announce, “The unexamined life is not worth living!” He has been a guiding force in my growth as a critical thinker.

Each year the Oxford University Press, publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) select a word of the year, one that “reflect(s) the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and… [has] lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.”

The OED word of the year for 2016 is “post-truth,” which is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Unlike words such as “post-war” or “post-modern,” the term “post-truth” does not suggest the world has moved beyond a time in which truth is relevant or significant. Rather, it implies that we now live in a world in which public opinion of events, politics, economics, science, morality and ethics – essentially anything that comprises reality – is more important than reality itself, and that emotional appeal or subjective belief is more effective than factual truth in achieving that objective.

Another way to think of this is to look at the classical correspondence theory of truth, which states (according to Wikipedia), “the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world.” In other words, truth is “that which conforms to reality.”

If we accept this definition of truth, then by inference, “post-truth” also means “post-reality.” Which actually makes more sense as a word of the year given the secular, cultural elite’s current embrace of ideology as a substitute for objective reality.