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Seizing Joy

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:19 AM

I feel joyful tonight. While I'm no way like Jacque, I've quoted him the last two days on here, and I felt like I was feeling somewhat melancholy. I'm rarely depressed, but I do have a melancholy streak (I'd make a distinction between those moods). Now, I'm feeling joyful. I feel like today I've seen some things more clearly than I have for awhile and that's exciting.

The thing with joy is that it doesn't last, but the things that joy brings about do last. Some things I saw today might normally lead me to be depressed, but instead brought joy because they all fit together. Joy isn't having everything go right, it's something much more than that. True joy is coming closer to seeing God's purpose for you, and I feel like I got a glance at that today from some of the least likely places.

The Question of God: Sunday School Edition
In other news, the C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud discussions have been going great. If I ever get some free time, I should like to consider how it can be reformatted for a Sunday School class. After the first time I saw this material, I thought the videos would be perfect in such a setting, and I'm even more convinced now. It would be a class for people who want to discuss things — perhaps it would not draw a large crowd, but I think it would be a healthy thing to do. Faith needs to be pushed to become stronger. Looking at the arguments and counter-arguments of these two men works for that purpose, I think.

Challenges to faith ought to be dealt with in the church. Not by insulting the opposition, but understanding it. Freud's views are popular and powerful today, and the only way for the church to properly apologize against it is to make members informed about the challenges in an objective way. These are serious challenges that can be given by perfectly rational people, and it is only by presenting the arguments as such, and then dealing with them appropriately, that the church can move to a firm foundation in the information age.

How would I present it? I'd cut out the panel (which isn't that good anyway) and focus on the portions that delve into the beliefs of the two famous men. Perhaps you could play two segments (one from each) per week, which would take about twenty minutes, and then discuss for the remaining 40 minutes of an hour long adult Sunday school.

Pondering on Free Will

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:25 AM
Those who follow SCF know I've been musing a lot about free will lately. A good portion of me is solidly in the Reformed camp, because it seems to make the most sense. Yet I continue to find it impractical to reject the notion of free will, as the strictest in Reformed theology will do. Reading Mere Christianity tonight, I reencountered Lewis's argument for the creation of free will:
Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness of joy worth having. (48)

Now, Lewis doesn't suggest that we are able on our own to establish a right relationship with God. Specifically, he argues a case of God being like someone reaching down to save a person drowning in a river. That drowning person has a choice to refuse the help or accept it, but the actual process of being saved from the watery depths is entirely dealt with by the rescuer.

This sounds Arminian, and to the extent that it is, I perhaps should consider myself Arminian. On the other hand, I remain convinced of the perseverance of the saints and believe that God must reach out the hand of Grace for one to be able to accept it; perhaps He does so arbitrarily, more likely, I believe because he foreknows whom will accept Grace of their own accord having been offered that Grace. I believe the latter proposition can still qualify as election, although perhaps in a four-point Calvinist way rather than five point. In the future, I plan on considering Karl Barth's alternative thoughts on the subject of election, but that's too much to handle tonight.

Therefore, I have a foot in both camps, but remain convinced I should consider myself a member of the Calvinist/Reformed tradition. I do believe there is a divine mystery concerning the relationship of the sovereignty of God and free will in which both are allowed to coexist for the greatest good possible.

Mere Lewis

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:18 AM

I started re-reading Mere Christianity yesterday, numerous years after my first pass through it. I had forgotten what a joy that book is. C.S. Lewis had such a gift for stating things clearly and precisely, not to mention interestingly. I started highlighting parts that stuck out to me, and I had to hold back so that I wouldn't highlight the whole thing. I was talking to someone today about how much more I was getting out of the book this time, and I got a lot out of it the first time around.

Now if only people accepted Lewis' push for “mere Christianity” — focusing on the essentials and not the minutia that divide the Church for very little reason…

Tim in the Hands of an Angry God?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:59 AM

When I run into Jonathan Edward's Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God once in a week, I stop and think about his masterful sermon. When I run into it twice in the same amount of time, I start to really ponder it. When I run into it three times in a week, I start to wonder if someone is trying to tell me something.

On Sunday, our pastor preached a sermon that was based in part on Edward's sermon. On Tuesday morning, my American Lit class studied Edward's sermon by chance, since the professor had been sick the week before and therefore was behind schedule. On Tuesday afternoon, my Religion in America class took an unscheduled detour to hear part of the sermon preached by the professor. I don't know but I'm starting to get a bit paranoid!

Quote du Jour

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:23 AM
“Many times persons under great awakenings were concerned, because they thought they were not awakened, but miserable, hard-hearted, senseless, sottish creatures still, and sleeping upon the brink of hell. The sense of the need they nave to be awakened, and of their comparative hardness, grows upon them with their awakenings; so that they seem to themselves to be very senseless, when indeed most sensible. There have been some instances of persons who have had as great a sense of their danger and misery, as their natures could well subsist under, so that a little more would probably have destroyed them; and yet they have expressed themselves much amazed at their own insensibility and sottishness, at such an extraordinary time.”

— Jonathan Edwards, Narrative of Surprising Conversions

Intelligent Design Prevails Again

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:13 PM

Well, he may not be Christian (yet), but a famous atheist has succumbed to the evidence that there is a God, perhaps in a fashion not all that alien from C.S. Lewis's slow conversion. Anthony Flew, whose most famous statements had to do with the fact that asserting the existence and/or love of God was meaningless since “nothing could disprove it” to the believer, now believes in a deist-like God. That science can convince an avowed atheist (for 66 years, since he was 15, no less!) of the existence of God should worry people in the “Bright” movement.

It just shows that we as Christians should not fear things like science. On the contrary, we ought to spend our time appreciating how all ways of looking at God's creation can give pointers to the Creator. “Seek truth knowing that there can be no conflict between God and truth.”

The Question of God Revisited

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:18 AM

Well, I finished the four hour PBS special The Question of God with Dr. Armand Nicholi, which follows the lives of two very bright, but very different men: Dr. Sigmund Freud and Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis. The biographical sections and the debates between Freud and Lewis are well done, complete with photos, interviews and reenactments with actors who bear an uncanny resemblance to the two historical figures.

The panel of “smart people” that was assembled to discuss the segments was wanting, however. Dr. Frederick Lee did a pretty good job of representing the orthodox believer, although he was stumped on a few issues that I thought he probably should have been able to answer. One other gentleman representing the believing side seems to be a bit too into seeing faith as adjusting “power dynamics,” and the two women on the theist's side both seemed to be mystics, albeit of a Christian flavor (despite the one rejecting miracles and the other rejecting the existence of the devil as a component of dualism). The skeptics were represented by only three men, but they seemed to be more on Dr. Lee's level than the other believers were.

They could have, and probably should have, left the panel out. On the other hand, it strikes me that one could make an excellent small group or Sunday School class out of the Freud/Lewis segments. They make great conversation starters, and obviously, given the panel, they were divided up in a way meant to encourage discussion. Dr. Armand Nicholi's lead in questions were good starting points as well.

On a merely aesthetic point, the two part series was done in a very slick fashion. It “felt” well done, rather than the cheap, cheesy feel that goes with many religion-focused documentaries. I just saw one with Houston Smith the other day, and I think the video technicians must have taken the day off when they produced it. Good production might not save a doomed piece, but it does allow a good piece to thrive by avoiding distracting the viewer with annoying camera angles, bad sound and so on.

As a whole, I liked the series, and I think I'll recommend that my church library purchase a new copy (we are presently working on getting some DVDs as we phase out VHS tapes). The series could have been vastly improved had the panelists been better, but as it stands it was still probably the most thoughtful discussion of the “Question of God” to hit the airwaves in a long time. Lewis would probably be quite pleased.

Rating: ***+

The Question of God

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:39 AM

I started watching PBS's special the Question of God tonight. It aired here in St. Louis at 2:00 A.M. on two Fridays in September since KETC was running a pledge drive. I obviously didn't watch it live, so now I'm watching a recording of it. So far, its pretty good, although mostly biographical information on the two key people of the special — Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis.

I'll post more on it when I get farther along in it.

Predestined Not to Comment?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 12:27 AM

Well, after reading Christopher's interesting post on election (as he guest blogged on another blog through BlogSwap), I wrote up a post on my thoughts on the subject, including some concerns about what the doctrine of election means to other parts of the Bible. Unfortunately, the post disappeared. I guess I must have closed the web browser window it was in (I had several tabs opened, maybe I switched tabs and then closed the whole thing) or something, because it is gone now.

Oh well. Maybe I'll write something up again another day.


By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 1:47 AM

I knew the National Council of Churches was an extremely liberal group that has been promoting ecumenism with non-Christian religions to the point of minimizing the necessity of Christ, but I still was surprised to see just who one of their member groups is. I thought all of their members were the (fading) mainline denominations like the UCC (my old denomination, ABC and PCUSA… but they have the Amercian Swedenborgians in there too! Mary Baker Eddy would probably be hurt that they didn't want a few scientists to go along with the mystics.

Nothing like adding a weird sect/cult to your group to help in the credibility department! Yes sir! That's sort of like the other thing the NCC seems to be up to: spamming my e-mail box. They subscribed my webadmin address from my church to their daily newsletter without my requesting it.

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