Abednego: October 2005 Archives

I just finished reading C. J. Mahaney's new book "Humility: True Greatness", and I have to say, I think I'm becoming a big fan of Mahaney's books. My first exposure to him was reading another of his recent books, "Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God," which is really excellent. And this book is quite good, also. Mahaney has a very conversational writing style that makes these books easy, and pleasurable, reading, and they are very Biblical. Here, in a friendly, conversational way he explains what the Bible has to say about humility and applies it practically.

A small roundup

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  • I've been pretty busy this week, so I'd missed that the Volokh Conspiracy has been having a series recently on the same-sex marriage debate, by Maggie Gallagher, beginning around Monday. I haven't read all of the posts yet, but check it out. I especially wanted to point out this one. Gallagher is arguing against same sex marriage, and is responding to a question about what marriage is supposed to accomplish. She writes, in part:
    Here's my short answer: marriage serves many private and individual purposes. But its great public purpose, the thing that justifies its existence as a unique legal status, is protecting children and society by creating sexual unions in which children are (practically) guaranteed the love and care of their own mother and father. The vast majority of children born to married couples begin life with their own mother and fathers committed to jointly caring for them. Only a minority of children in other sexual unions (and none in same-sex unions) get this benefit. ... Please note: Procreation is not the definition of marriage. It is the reason for marriage's existence as a public (and yes legal) institution. People who don't have children can still really be married (just as people who aren't married can and do have babies).
    I don't think she's quite got the purpose right. I mean, that certainly is a benefit of marriage -- but it's not a fundamental one, as we increasingly see as marriage becomes more and more often just a temporary state, and more and more people get divorced. I suppose this is one reason to try and fight against the increase of divorce. But I digress. While protecting children certainly is for the good of society, that's not the fundamental reason I think we ought to have marriage, and particularly same-sex marriage. I think we ought to have it because God established it. He established it as a permanent, inviolable union which two people, a man and a woman, can enter into. It isn't merely a human institution established for convenience or to foster public good. I firmly believe that it does public good, but I don't think that's the whole reason for having it. Rather, God established it, and since he established it, he defines it. We can't just redefine it on a whim. Anyway, that's probably a topic for a whole different post. But check out the series over at the Volokh Conspiracy.
  • Some sociologists are suggesting that the more rapid growth of conservative churches relative to "mainline" churches is due to differences in birth rates rather than people seeking out more conservative churches.
  • This article has some interesting discussion about trying to prove whether the bacterial flagella can evolve. Unfortunately, it's a bit light on details, but it's part of the ongoing intelligent design debate on the subject. I think ID people are probably smart not to do the experiment, because if they found that the flagella can't evolve in this experiment, they might have trouble getting their results published because people would question their motives. On the other hand, anyone who can evolve it in the lab will have no trouble getting their results published, as this would be a huge discovery.
  • Jollyblogger has a good post (by C. S. Lewis, no less) on reading old books, which I think is important and rather neglected in the present. One key reason: In every era, people have their own peculiar blindnesses. By reading things written in other eras, we get to see through the eyes of people who aren't susceptible to the same sort of blindness that we are.
  • Tim Challies disagrees with many Christians on the issue of Halloween.

Gary Gilley's book "This Little Church Went to Market" has a rather ominous sounding title. My wife saw it and remarked, "That doesn't sound good!" But then I read her the subtitle: "Is the modern church reaching out, or selling out?" In this book, Gary Gilley's answer seems to be that, unfortunately, much of the modern church (especially that segment of it which is focused on church growth at all costs and is applying marketing techniques to growing churches) is "selling out", and he does a fairly good job of backing this up with quotes and material from people who are actually part of this movement. (Note: There is an earlier edition of the book with a different subtitle.)

The book is a short and easy read, only 142 pages, but it was quite eye-opening to me. I'm fortunate to be in a strong, Biblical church which has avoided being influenced by unbiblical approaches to church growth, so I haven't encountered many of the things Gilley talks about in here firsthand. The book, then, is eye-opening because it's quite shocking to see the lengths to which some people in this movement will occasionally go. To give you an idea of some of what Gilley is getting at, let me give some quotes from his book:

Some recent news

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Here's some things I found interesting in the last few days:

  • This year's driverless vehicle challenge, run by DARPA, went quite well. Competitors, out for a $2 million purse, had to design a vehicle able to drive an assigned course 132 miles through the desert autonomously within 10 hours. Last year the best vehicle only made it 7 miles and no one won; this year, four vehicles made it within the 10 hours and a fifth vehicle finished later. The first vehicle one the purse. Check out this story for details. The technology obviously has military and other applications, and is, in my opinion, pretty cool. This seems like a great way for the military to spur technological innovation without having to shell out too much money. It rather reminds me of the X-Prize.
  • Bill Dembski has an interesting post on how various groups of creationists have problems with intelligent design -- some because ID tends to lean towards "Old Earth" ideas, and others because it, well, see for yourself.
  • Douglas Kern had an interesting Tech Central Station column recently, "Why Intelligent Design is Going to Win". Via Wittingshire.
  • Jollyblogger has a link, and a good post, on the sin of marital dissatisfaction. If you're married, or thinking of getting married, or might eventually get married, don't miss it. In fact, just read it regardless. Before I got married, I had the naive idea that married life would solve a lot of problems. It doesn't; rather, it brings more problems to light. It's great, but it doesn't provide the solution to all my problems. As a result, it is, of course, easy to be dissatisfied. But complaining and dissatisfaction are wrong (at least, as far as we're being dissatisfied with where God has put us, like marriage. There's nothing wrong with being dissatisfied with some things, like being dissatisfied with overeating or pride or various sins.), and God is able to help us avoid even these sins. I could write a whole post on this; maybe I will sometime. But for now, read Jollyblogger's post, and perhaps the one he references, and remember that there is a reason why God has you where you are, if you're a Christian, so don't grumble or complain.

I've been reading John Frame's The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, which I'm enjoying very much. I had one bit fairly early on I was particularly struck by and wanted to excerpt here. Frame is discussing how God's thoughts are different from ours:

2. God's thoughts ultimately determine, or decree, what comes to pass. God's thoughts cause the truths they contemplate; ours do not. This is the Lordship attribute of control in the realm of knowledge.

3. God's thoughts, therefore, are self-validating; they serve as their own criteria of truth. God's thoughts are true simply because they are his. None of us can claim to have such self-attesting thoughts. Our thoughts are not necessarily true, and when they are true, it is because they agree with the thoughts of someone else, namely God, who furnishes the criteria for our thinking...

8. God possesses knowledge in a different way from us. He is immaterial and therefore does not gain knowledge from organs or perception. Nor does he carry on "processes of reasoning," as understood as temporal sets of actions.

I don't have a lot to add to what he said, but I found point 8 very striking. It's easy to anthropomorphize God and start thinking that he must be reasoning about things, responding to my decisions, etc. While God does act in time, he is eternal and omniscient, and, as Frame points out, doesn't carry out processes of reasoning like I do. When I start thinking of God in anthropomorphic terms, I reduce him in my thoughts to less than he really is.

A couple links

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Here are a couple things I thought were worth reading. Some of them are things I would have wanted to write about eventually had I not found these.

  • Pyromaniac argues that pacifism isn't Biblical. And while you're there, see also this post, which relates to how much Christians ought to try and be like non-Christians in order to reach out to them. It reminds me of a book I'll probably be posting a review of soon, This Little Church Went to Market, which deals with some similar issues on a whole-church rather than individual level.
  • Evangelical Outpost has some reasons why it may be a little early to be extremely critical about Bush on the Miers nomination. I keep finding myself tempted to get upset about it, but the fact is I still don't know much about her. Does someone really have to be one of the top legal scholars and judges in the country to be qualified for the Supreme Court? I'm not sure.

Brief customer service gripe

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I use SBC Yahoo DSL, and the last time I had to deal with their customer service, it ended up being (shockingly enough) a pleasant experience. This struck me as so unusual that I wrote about it at the time (elsewhere). So, in the interest of fairness, I now have a customer service gripe regarding the same service.

My wife and I both need to use VPN (Virtual Private Network) software to access our work remotely, and I haven't been able to get this to work from home. I recently tried it from elsewhere with my laptop, and it works fine. So I concluded the problem was the firewall in the DSL modem, and today talked to SBC tech support. It turns out they know that the firewall in the DSL modem they sold me as part of my original package does NOT work with VPN software. So they are willing to sell me another DSL modem at the full price which WILL work, and won't replace my existing DSL modem which I've had for more than 30 days.

I tried to convince them they ought to replace my existing modem for free, since (a) they knew it wouldn't work with VPN when they sold it to me in the first place, yet didn't bother telling me that, and (b) it took me more than 30 days to figure out that the problem was with the DSL modem rather than with the configuration on my end. But they refused, and explained they have a disclaimer in their service agreement that says that they don't guarantee the DSL will work with any outside software. Fine, but this is worse than a non-guarantee: According to the tech support, they know that the DSL modem they sold me won't work with any VPN software using IPSEC protocols. So they effectively can guarantee it won't work. But did they tell me that? No.

Oh, well. Now I have to go buy a modem which will work. I'm not going to buy it from them, though.

That concludes my gripe for today. And I have to say, this rather outweighs the positive experience I had last time. I'm not very happy with SBC right now, so when my contract is up I'll probably go elsewhere.

UPDATE 11-14-05: To make matters even worse, it turns out that the SBC tech support people have no idea what they're talking about. I found someone who uses the same setup as me at my work and has no problems connecting to the same VPN I use. As a result, I figured out that it was just a matter of reconfiguring the firewall on the DSL modem SBC had originally given me to get the VPN to work. So I didn't end up having to buy a new DSL modem, etc., as SBC had told me I would. That's good, I guess -- except SBC's tech support shouldn't have told me I had to buy a new one when I didn't. So now I'm even more frustrated with them than I was before; if I'd listened to them, I would have wasted $100+ replacing something that didn't need to be replaced.

Romans 14 tells Christians to "stop passing judgment on one another" (v. 13) and speaks of the believer's liberty of conscience in certain matters. In the passage, for example, it mentions those who eat meat, versus those who eat only vegetables, and those who consider every day sacred, while others regard only certain days as sacred. Paul argues, "He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God, and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God." He points out that each of us will give an account of ourselves to God, and concludes that therefore we are not to pass judgment on one another.

Now, it's clear when we look at the rest of Scripture that this doesn't mean we aren't to judge anyone at all (for example, many other New Testament passages command believers to make judgments about people in certain situations, or command churches to cast out those engaging in certain kinds of immorality, etc.). So this passage is (I think rightly) understood to speak about what I would call disputable matters -- matters where individual Christians may have different convictions which are rightly left up to the conscience, because they are free to act in either way. Paul gives the only restriction by concluding the chapter with this statement: "Everything that does not come from faith is sin." The idea, then, is that in these cases of disputable matters, as long as people are acting in faith in accordance with their conscience, they are free to do as they see fit (and either eat meat, or not eat meat, to use Paul's example).

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