We have interviewed Tremper Longman III about his new book “The Bible and the Ballot” concerning Christians and politics. How do we flourish in a politically divisive environment, and try to unite and be persuasive.
If discipleship, at the core, is really a matter of “having the mind of Christ”, then how do we actually change the way we perceive the world to see the world as the Triune God does?
The work of Dallas Willard has been a great source of understanding for me in this. Willard draws from Aristotelian ideas of virtue formation to help us do this. For Aristotle, one of the key means to become a virtuous person is to do the things that virtuous people do. As Christians, if we want to see the world as the Triune God does, then we should try to do the things that Jesus did.
Someone might object that I claimed in the previous post that it is not about our actions, so how can the key be found in our actions? We do not do the things Jesus did in order to master the specific actions, but as part of how we come to understand who Jesus is and how He sees the world. A great musician does not simply reproduce the performance of another, yet, she will study the great performances of the piece carefully. This study is in order to try to see what the other musicians saw when they performed the piece. She may even try to incorporate some of their techniques into her performance, but ultimately, the musician is at her greatest when she interprets the piece for herself and performs with her own understanding in mind. Similarly, some young athletes may try to imitate their favorite athlete, performing the idiosyncrasies of the athlete in order to be like that specific athlete who is great at his sport. Yet, while those idiosyncrasies may help the seasoned athlete, due to his body type, muscle structure, or some other reason, they may prove to be detrimental to the young athlete who is not the same person as the older athlete. Yet, there is something valuable in studying great athletes because you can learn about the kinds of things they see when they are on the field.
However, it is not enough to just look at the actions that the exemplars do in order to become great, but you need to train yourself to be like them. When put in the pressure situations, we rarely are able to make a decision to act contrary to the way we’ve trained ourselves to do things. The work we’ve done before that moment shapes what happens in that moment. This is why musicians practice scales. It is rare to actually play a scale in a performance, yet nearly every musician practices scales. Practicing the scales helps one be able to move between notes with little conscious effort, allowing one to focus on the actual performance of the music as opposed to correctly producing each note. Similarly, basketball players do lay up drills in warm ups, not because they expect to get easy, open lay ups in the game, but because if a lay up is a part of their basic muscle memory, they can then focus on making the adjustments necessary to make a shot like that in the game as opposed to doing the actions necessary to a lay up.
So what are the lay ups or scales in the Christian life? This is the heart of the spiritual disciplines as described by Willard. He breaks down the disciplines into disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement. Practicing things like silence, solitude, fasting, secrecy, frugality, and others helps to train us so that in the moments in our spiritual life, we are able to better recognize our dependency on God and make our bodies servant to our spiritual desires and needs as opposed to being enslaved to our bodily needs. Solitude is not about training yourself to be away from other people for the sake of being away from other people. Rather, solitude helps you to learn to free yourself from the external distractions by removing them and then start to address the internal distractions one would never recognize in the midst of the external ones. So it is with other disciplines of abstinence. These disciplines are not saying that the things from which we abstain are bad, but are showing us that when the desires for them are not properly ordered, they can take away from our experience of the fullness of life promised in Christ. By not allowing them mastery over us, we can use them in fruitful ways to further the Kingdom.
The disciplines of engagement are things like prayer, study, worship, fellowship, submission, confession, and others are things that disciplines that require our engagement. These are good things that are unnatural to us and so we have to take the time to practice these things. They will often feel unnatural when we start doing them. Additionally, these are disciplines that develop, such that you may think you’ve mastered one aspect, only to discover that there are deeper depths that you can enter at each level. However, it is important to remember that the goal is not to master these practices for the sake of the practices, but that these practices lead us to experience the world as Christ and to develop the mind of Christ within ourselves.
The problem with many approaches to spiritual disciplines is that people do the disciplines for the sake of doing the discipline, believing that the actions themselves are the goal. Rather, these actions are like the scales for a musician or the lay ups for the basketball player. They help develop the spiritual muscles necessary for us to act in the pressure filled moments, so that we can attend to what is actually going on before us rather than be preoccupied with trying to think about WWJD. If we have the mind of Christ, that question is not a matter of trying to imagine Jesus as someone dramatically other from us, who experiences and lives in the world in a way almost incomprehensible to us, but it becomes a matter of seeing the value before us and acting in a way that upholds or enhances that value. The spiritual disciplines are an important way that we can help develop those perceptions.
Yet, the spiritual disciplines often feel like something that is
more work that we have to fit into lives that are already too full. They feel
like an overwhelming task to accomplish when we aren’t even finishing
everything we need to do each day, feeling like we’re falling further and
further behind. In the next post, I’ll address this and discuss the role of the
disciplines in the life of rest we are promised in Christ.
 This discussion of different disciplines draws from Willard’s chapter ——- in The Spirit of the Disciplines.
Neil Shenvi joins us on our podcast to talk about Intersectionality, Critical Theory, and Critical Race Theory. How should we think about these theories and can we use them in our biblical worldview? Or should they be categorically rejected. Neil believes there is a way forward, but it’s a nuanced as the theories we are talking about. Join us as Matt and Shannon talk to Neil Shenvi about some of these critical issues.
Joel and Travis continue to talk about faith and science, while managing to make reference to Advent (a time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah) and the issue (raised in a tweet by Bret Weinstein) of the relationship between the metaphysical claims about Jesus and his moral teachings. (Note: Audio is a little messy on this one due to some technical issues, which we have since worked out.)Adventfaithscience
Aristotle says in Nicomachean Ethics that every action is done aiming at a good. Before you start listing all the bad actions that people (especially you) do as clear counterexamples to this claim, consider your own thought process when you do something you would say you know to be bad. When you go back to the buffet for the third or fourth time, you may know that you’re going to be miserable and regret doing it, yet you go because in that moment, the partaking of that additional food is appealing and seems to be good. You aim at the good of enjoying food, but your understanding of enjoying food fails to consider the moderation necessary for actual enjoyment that is not fleeting. We can even look at more extreme examples like premeditated murder. When someone decides to kill another person, the murderer may recognize that the victim’s friends and family would be deeply hurt and, if caught, the rest of his life will be spent in prison. Yet, the murderer so strongly holds the belief that the world will be better for him if the victim is not alive in it, that the murderer acts, despite the negatives that could result. For Aristotle, being a good person is not about doing the right action, but about seeing what is good correctly, for an accurate perception of the good will result in right action. Because we all do what we perceive in that moment as good, the way we perceive the good is of the utmost importance. Additionally, the longer we incorrectly hold a perception of something as good, the more difficult to change it, as we fight back against the solidification of our perceptions of value that tend to happen over time.
However, the examples above point to the reality that we don’t properly perceive the good all the time, and that the idea of the good that some have is so misshapen that what is actually good may be repulsive to them. With Christians, Dallas Willard made the case in multiple places that discipleship is too often treated as an optional good for those who are really committed. The mindset is that actually living out the principles of the Sermon on the Mount are only for those “super-Christians”, clergy, or even no one, showing us how far we are from God. However, what Jesus lays out in the Sermon on the Mount is the way of the kingdom, both now and in the New Creation. If these things look unappealing to us now, what reason do we have to think that they will suddenly become appealing upon our death? Jesus tells us that eternal life is not primarily a matter of what happens when you die, but about knowing the Triune God (John 17:3). So if what is now unappealing or lacks value becomes appealing and valuable in an instant upon death, it is worth pondering if it is really you that exists in the New Creation.
If eternal life is something that can be experienced already, then we should be living in that life of relationship with the Triune God in the here and now. Then, as I talked about in a previous post, when you’re in relationship and genuinely pursuing that relationship, the way you see the world is changed, and what you value changes as well. Eternal life is then about learning to see and value reality through relationship with the Sustainer of reality.
While there are seismic shifts that can happen in the way we understand the world, these shifts are incredibly destabilizing and often leave us feeling uncertain of more than just that issue, including who we really are. If we are treating discipleship as an optional part of Christianity, or a secondary emphasis to evangelism, I think we’ve misunderstood what Christianity is about. I am not at all bold enough to make any claims about the salvation of those who hold such a view, whether just in theory or in practice, but it seems that at the very least, the process of transformation into Christlikeness has to happen, and if it fails to at least start in this life, we only further solidify the parts of our life that are contrary to that process, making it a lengthier and more difficult process in the life to come.
The Christlike perspective is necessary in the New Creation, for without it, we may live in the Kingdom, but without an understanding and appreciation necessary for the flourishing we are all called to in the New Creation. So if we must gain this perspective, but it is presently a perspective foreign and unappealing to us, if clothed with that perspective in an instant, would we know how to function? This is not simply being given glasses to make things clear that were once blurry, but learning that what we thought was up is down, what we thought was power is weakness, what we thought was ugly was beautiful. If we are able to immediately accept and thrive with that instantaneous change, what is the connection between these new people and the people we were before this change? It seems like all that we valued and even the way that we remembered our lives would shift so dramatically, that while it may be the same resurrected body, it may be the same embodied soul, but is that the person we knew ourselves to be before we died? 
However, if we are working to bring our perceptions in line with Christ, to see the world as He does, then, like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, what we now see as a reflection in a mirror, we will then see face to face in the New Creation; what we know in part now we will know fully in the New Creation. It is as though we will gain glasses to see perfectly the things we strained to see here and now. Glasses only do good for people who are trying to see reality, but are struggling. Glasses don’t cure blindness, nor do they cure those who lack a commitment to truly experience reality, preferring to perceive things in ways that serve them most.
Working to gain that Christlike perspective of the world cannot be done on our own, but requires Jesus, for at the very least, we need Him as a check on us as to whether our perceptions are actually becoming more like His or not. We too have work in this, as no one can make us see things differently than we want to see them. An oversimplified analogy would be that of the magic eye pictures that were so popular in the 90s. What looks like a weird, formless pattern on first glance, becomes an interesting 3D picture upon looking at it in the right way. However, if you don’t look at it in the right way, you’ll continue to only see the pattern and not the picture that is within the pattern. You can train yourself to make it easier to see the picture, but it is a different way of looking at the picture than you typically look at the world. In Christ, the reality of the Kingdom requires you to train yourself to see in a way that is foreign to this world, but failing to do so, means that you fail to see the depth of what is going on in the Kingdom, not just in the New Creation, but even in the here and now.
Again, I am not saying that those who call themselves Christians but fail to strive toward a Christlike in the present will not be in the New Creation, for the Triune God does not want anyone to perish, but all to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). However, the work necessary to change our perception can and should begin now, because I believe the Triune God wants all of us there, not just our embodied souls, and there won’t be an instant in which our perceptions are completely and dramatically changed to appreciate the reality and beauty of the Kingdom.
How do we do this? I’ll lay some groundwork for this in the next post.
 The explanation of why an immediate, dramatic change in values might undermine our identity is discussed at greater length in a future podcast to be linked once recorded.
In the previous article on faith, entitled Overlapping Magisteria, we saw various ways that faith is used in non-religious contexts. They invariably relate to belief in a person—in that person’s goodness, trustworthiness, honesty, openness, all against a backdrop of evidence that might suggest that one should not believe them. For example, engaging in an argument “in good faith” means that you are not saying things that you don’t believe, you are not trolling, and you are in fact working to understand the one with whom you disagree instead of using straw man or some other informal fallacy. And that you are doing so goes against the normal approach to arguments: To win at any cost.
The “publicly available” evidence—that evidence which everyone can see no matter what values they hold—serves as evidence against trust. But you, if you have faith in someone, trust them because you see something—something that is not publicly available evidence. And this trust simply means that you believe what they say, that their motives are good, and so forth.
What Does Science Want?
Scientific method demands publicly available evidence. Why would any field of study be concerned with publicly available evidence? The answer is obvious: It gives us a sense of certainty about the world. This isn’t like logical certainty, which seems to require no repeatability. Rather, this is a belief that things will repeat. This kind of certainty—that something will repeat—tells us about what science wants. Or, put more clearly, it tells us what we want that causes us to want to do science.
Why would anyone want certainty? Because certainty let’s us know that if we do action X, we get effect Y. Every time. And why would we want to know that? Because we want the power to control the world, or our environment (including our own bodies), and also to know the limits of what we can control.
Thus, science appeals to one’s desire to control the world.
Understand that I am using “control” in a neutral way. “Control” usually has a negative connotation—I do not mean it that way. Without control of (a part of) the world, you couldn’t eat, protect loved ones, or really anything at all. Science is an explanation of why those actions that have always worked work, and also how we might do them more efficiently and safely in the future.
The various theories of science in fact reflect this element. They are grand descriptions of how the universe works—from the unimaginably large to the unimaginably small.
But no one can be satisfied with the ability to control the world, nor the understanding required for reliable world-manipulation. We need a reason to move things about. Science itself is no “pure” interest in knowledge. It exists only because of the extra-scientific desire to control our environment with confidence. And the desire to control the world is driven by even more central or foundational values—everything from hunger to love, from fear of death to hatred of one who has hurt you. Of course, these values can include things as “purely” intellectual as the desire to solve a particularly difficult scientific (or mathematic) puzzle. In my own studies, I fell in love with complex logical proofs that were simply puzzles with no real content. But, even in solving a large and complex logical proof with no content, I was driven by a desire to overcome an obstacle, to find my way through a maze, to exert a kind of power-over—the exercise of control over a problem.
The point? Science wants something. It is not “objective” in the sense of being “without value.” Science is about puzzle-solving and world-manipulation. And these are obviously necessary things: to overcome complex difficulties and to be able to manipulate the world so that we can accomplish our goals is surely a good thing. It is only bad if our motives are bad (e.g. we want to burn down our annoying neighbor’s house) or if we desire to control things that are not meant to be controlled (e.g. we enslave people).
Setting these issues aside for a moment, it seems that the value on which science is founded (world-control) is not sufficient for human life. We need other motives, too. But can science or, at least, thinking scientifically, give us values that would be sufficient for a human life?
Does Science See Enough?
If you pay any attention to what some might call the “science vs. religion” debate, you recognize that science is often praised as not only epistemically superior, but also a better ground for peace.
Why would someone say that if we all threw away religion and embraced science, we would be more at peace?
The answer to that question is quite simple: We disagree over religion and it can be very difficult to argue about which religion is true, at least based on publicly available evidence. On the other hand, science is strictly about publicly available evidence. Thus, an important value of science is, you might say, agreeability. And if we are all seeking that which can be supported only on publicly available evidence, we will all likely have some level of agreeability.
Of course, we already noted above that the value that gives rise to science (world-control) is not enough for a human life. What then can the practice of science grant us in terms of values?
But science has only one real value: Control of our environment. And this is not enough
Indeed, the problem is perhaps worse than this.
Imagine we were to say that science should be the final arbiter of all values. (This is already a problem, since science cannot give us the values that got science started in the first place. But let’s simply grant, for the sake of argument, that control is in fact a fundamental, true value.) Given that science is about control, each thing studied is understood by science to be an object studied with the goal of the knowledge required to manipulate it. So, when science comes to “understand” a human, science merely determines how that person might be controlled. What makes a person act a certain way, what stops certain feelings, and so on.
This is not all bad. After all, medicine is a way of controlling a person. Discipline is a way of attempting to control people—not in the sense of slavery, but in the sense of encouraging them to develop into responsible adults. And so forth.
But there is a problem when controlling the person is not meant to create a situation in which that person might be free. If medicine becomes that which controls a person, we might call that person an addict. When an authority wants to keep the person in a situation of discipline, then that is, at best, patronizing and, at worst, slavery and abuse.
This suggests that science has tremendous importance, even for morality. For science is about control, and one element of morality is self-control, which surely involves looking upon parts of yourself as objects to be controlled. But you are not merely an object to be controlled, made up of objects to be controlled. So, too, much of our moral concern involves relating to one another in ways that encourage virtue, responsibility, love. Learning about ourselves, what causes lead to what kinds of effects in us, is terribly helpful for such moral endeavors.
And this is not even to mention the other obviously great results of scientific endeavors—from the almost-eradication of polio to sending a human artifact into interstellar space.
What Do You See?
Science sees the world through the value of world-control. And so it interprets all things as objects-to-be-controlled. This does not mean that science is in error, nor that it is bad. Rather, it sees a part of life.
There are two ways that science can be used badly. The first is obvious: Using scientific knowledge to do bad things. This is bad, but, at risk of sounding like a terrible person, it does not involve a misunderstanding of the place of science.
It is this misunderstanding that is the second bad use of science: I will call this, as others have, “scientism.” While some lovers of science mock this term, it does refer to a real problem. Scientism, as I’ll be using it, is the belief (which no one in fact holds, but many claim to) that only what can be proven, either now or at least theoretically in the future, by science is real. If this is the case, then people really are nothing more than objects that can be controlled. But no one with any healthy relationship, nor anyone who loves art or virtue, can possibly believe that. Thus, scientism is indeed not real. It really only exists in the statements of those who are actively engaged in trying to disprove religious beliefs, and perhaps in the minds of sociopaths.
So what do you see when you look at the world? When you look at other people? When you look upon a loved one? Yes, a large part of our interaction with the world involves acts of moving bits of the world about. But this is always for a deeper purpose—not often good purpose, but always deeper. Thus, science plays on a shallow set of values. These are indeed shallow enough that all humans may very well adhere to them—after all, we all want to have some control over our lives, our environment, our world. But if we allow the perspective which can only see objects-to-be-controlled to be the final arbiter of all interpretation, then our bad habit of seeing others as mere means to our own selfish ends will in fact be bolstered, not weakened.
Science is not enough. No one who is thinking clearly about the issue could ever say that it is.
Of course, this is not proof that Christian faith is enough, nor that it is good. But it is evidence that values richer and deeper than science will always be in play in practice, but that some good set of values must exist to temper and constrain the vision that science gives us of the world. Yes, you are an object that can be controlled. But that is not all you are. In fact, that is not what you fundamentally are. Your essential nature possesses a dignity beyond questions of control. One seeing you correctly, as you really are, should respond in love (and perhaps awe).
In short, you are a person. And seeing your personhood is truer to reality than seeing you as an object-to-be-controlled.
Indeed, the eyes that give us a vision for persons are the eyes that we should turn toward the world. These are the eyes of faith. But a lot more explanation is required to explain what this means. To that we will turn next.
 Rather importantly, you’ll notice that belief in the existence of the person is not really a question. The element of belief in the existence of God is perhaps not part of what it means to have faith in God. This issue will be discussed in a later post.
 One could respond here that the development of theories that give a description of the world we find a pure desire for understanding or factual information. But this response betrays a lack of understanding of the point. We desire to understand that which matters to us. We don’t seek understanding of that which has no value. And the value of the understanding that science offers is invariably a kind of control, or perhaps that the utmost limit, a line drawn on the limits of our control.
 I do not think agreeability is a fundamental value, but is a necessary result of the desire for certainty/repeatability.
 Puzzle-solving may be seen as another value alongside control. But it seems likely that puzzle-solving is a kind of practice of world-control, and so science can be reduced to simply world-control. Nevertheless, many experience the love of puzzle-solving as separate—a love of the intellectual. In a way, this might be akin to the love of money itself. Money, apart from what it can do for us, is in fact valueless. But it seems that some transfer the love of what money can do to the love of money itself. That is, instead of loving the things that money can acquire for us, they instead come to love the power (money) itself. Again, then, love of puzzle-solving is in a sense a kind of love of the power of overcoming difficult tasks. And so, while a game like Sudoku might be considered by some to be a fun exercise to keep mentally sharp, others come to love playing Sudoku just for the sake of playing it. I’d suggest that this is akin to the love of money (except perhaps less vicious) in that it is a love of the power of obstacle-overcoming itself. This love of obstacle-overcoming could open up a large conversation about existentialism, and one of my favorite thinkers, Nietzsche, who suggests that really our primary love is obstacle-overcoming (i.e. “will to power”). But for our purpose here, I believe desire to solve puzzles is a sub-category of the desire for controlling our environment/world.