The Treasure Principle (Matthew 6:19-21)

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In this sermon, Pastor George P. Wood talks about the biblical hierarchy of values: Things are good, people are better, God is best. When it comes to money, we should invest according to our values.

The Treasure Principle (Matthew 6:19-21): Sunday, April 26, 2009


Leadership Beyond Reason by John Townsend

John Townsend, Leadership Beyond Reason: How Great Leaders Succeed by Harnessing the Power of Their Values, Feelings, and Intuition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009). $22.99, 179 pages.

Leadership is influence. And influence is a rational process. Leaders analyze their situation, strategize a way forward, and incentivize others to move in the right direction.

Influence also draws upon nonrational factors, however. Nonrational does not mean irrational. The former is against reason, the latter beyond it. In Leadership Beyond Reason, John Townsend addresses the nonrational side of leadership by looking at values, thinking processes, emotions, relationships, and the experience of transformation.

Townsend is a Christian clinical psychologist and author of several best-selling books, including Boundaries, Who’s Pushing Your Buttons?, and It’s Not My Fault. His interest in emotional well-being is evident throughout the book. Indeed, the book’s thesis is that “[g]reat leaders succeed by harnessing the power of both the external world and the internal world,” that is, “the world of objective reality and the world of subjective response.”

In my opinion, the chapter on emotions is worth the price of the book. Feelings, Townsend writes, “alert you that something is going on, something you need to pay attention to and deal with. That something may be an event outside of you or one inside.” Whether negative or positive, emotions signal you that something needs to change. A successful leader listens to his emotions and makes the right changes.

Most of Townsend’s examples in this book are drawn from the business world, but what he writes is applicable to leaders in all kinds of organizations, including churches and non-profits. To be successful, leaders should know their “business,” but in addition, they must know themselves.

The Rite by Matt Baglio

Matt Baglio, The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist (New York: Doubleday, 2009). $24.95, 288 pages.

What should a modern Christian make of exorcism?

New Testament scholars agree that exorcism was a crucial component of Jesus’ ministry. Mark 1:39 summarizes his ministry this way: “So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.” Those same scholars disagree as to the nature of exorcism. Conservatives understand it literally, as the casting out of a demonic spirit. Liberals interpret it metaphorically, as the healing of a mentally ill person.

Modern Christians must choose between these two options.

Matt Baglio’s The Rite is the fascinating story of how one Roman Catholic priest made his choice. Father Gary Thomas was a parish priest in northern California until his bishop appointed him diocesan exorcist. Like many American and European priests, he sided with a more liberal interpretation of Gospel texts, but he was open-minded. So he traveled to Rome for instruction in the theology and practice of exorcism. Part of his instruction was an apprenticeship to a veteran Italian exorcist named Father Carmine de Fillipis. The instruction opened his eyes and changed his life.

As a Pentecostal pastor, I was interested in reading this book for a number of reasons: learning more about possession and exorcism, seeing how modern Christians deal with the supernatural (and, frankly, weird) aspects of their faith, learning what the Catholic church teaches on the subject. The Rite ably satisfied my thirst for information. It also provoked the following thoughts:

Father Gary’s instructors taught him to use exorcism as a last resort and only with the permission of the bishop. They encouraged him to provide ordinary pastoral support—counseling, prayer, and confession—to those seeking exorcism before performing the rite of exorcism over them. This support could also include referral to psychologists and doctors, who would be able to confirm that the person’s behavior was not psychological or physical in nature. Additionally, the bishop had to grant permission for the exorcism to occur, adding a layer of accountability to the whole procedure. All of this seems reasonable to me. If modern Christians believe in exorcism because we are Christians, we also believe in biochemical and psychological causes of strange and deviant behavior because we are modern. It seems that the only responsible thing to do is to determine whether the cause of “demonic activity” is actually demonic—as opposed to manic-depressive—before an exorcism takes place. The Catholic rite is a model of the integration of faith and reason in this regard.

And yet, I was troubled by specifically Catholic understandings of exorcism. Performance of the rite is limited to priests who are obedient to their bishops. While this provides a layer of accountability to the process, it also reflects the post-biblical concentration of believers’ spiritual gifts into the hands of the clergy.

Second, while the rite of exorcism itself is Christ-centered, the experience of exorcism involves an undue emphasis on the saints. Baglio interviewed many of the exorcized after the fact. They reported seeing visions of Mary, John Paul II, and various other saints, and these visions provided comfort to the exorcizee. No one seemed to have had a vision of Jesus.

Third, the exorcisms were not one-time affairs but could stretch out over lengthy periods of times and many visits to the exorcists. In the Gospels and Acts, Jesus and the Apostles exorcize demons “at once,” not over the course of months and even years.

Fourth, all of the exorcizees were baptized and confirmed Catholics. In Catholic theology, a Christian believer can be possessed. As a Pentecostal, I have a hard time swallowing that belief. How can a person filled with the Holy Spirit be filled with a demonic spirit as well?

Now, I fully understand that many people reading this review—especially my atheist and agnostic friends—are sure I’ve gone off my rocker at this point. The mere fact that I believe in supernatural beings has them laughing, let alone that I go on to pick fights with Catholics over the finer points of exorcism. To them, I say, “Read this book!” It may change your mind. Reporting on De Fillipis and Thomas up close awoke Baglio from “cultural Catholicism” to a more authentic practice of the faith. And as Hamlet told Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth / than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”


An Exposé and Critique of the Word of Faith Movement

Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009). $23.99, 427 pages.

If Hank Hanegraaff is to be believed, one of the most popular movements in American Christianity is not authentically Christian. Rather, it is grossly heretical. Its gospel is variously known as Word of Faith, Positive Confession, Health and Wealth, Prosperity, and Name It and Claim It (or Blab It and Grab it to critics). The gist of its gospel is that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy, that faith is the key to both, and that sick and poor Christians have only themselves to blame.

In 1993, Hank Hanegraaff published Christianity in Crisis, an exposé and critique of the Word of Faith movement. Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is a revised edition of that book. Hanegraaff’s core critique is the same, but he has updated the “cast of characters” to incorporate newer Faith teachers (Osteen, Meyer, Dollar, Jakes, and Parsley) alongside the older ones (Kenyon, Hagin, Copeland, Hinn, and Hagee).

Hanegraaff is host of The Bible Answer Man syndicated radio show, as well as president of the Christian Research Institute. Both were founded by The Kingdom of the Cults author Walter Martin. Neither man was a stranger to controversy, being regarded as “defenders of the faith” by their friends and “heresy hunters” by their enemies. (According to William Lobdell, Hanegraaff also engaged in some less-than-above-board financial practices when CRI was located in southern California. It has since moved to North Carolina.)

Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is no more likely to endear Hanegraaff to Faith teachers than the 1993 edition did. It identifies five critical F.L.A.W.S. in Faith teaching:

F = Faith in faith
L = Little gods
A = Atonement atrocities
W = Wealth and want
S = Sickness and suffering

As a fairly well read Pentecostal pastor, I was aware of the almost magical view of faith among Prosperity preachers. I was also aware of their biblically deficient understandings of poverty and sickness. I was appalled, however, by their strange views of God and their tortured interpretations of the atonement. Hanegraaff has opened my eyes to these errors of prominent Faith teachers. If Hanegraaff has reported them accurately, they are indeed heretical departures from the historical Christian faith.

However, I also know a few followers of the Faith teachers, and while I think they are in error regarding faith, poverty, and sickness, I’m not sure they go the entire distance with prominent Faith teachers in terms of these other errors. Hanegraaff seems to agree. His target is the Faith leaders, not the Faith followers.

Hanegraaff concludes this exposé and critique with five basics Christians need to focus on:

A = Amen (or prayer)
B = Bible
C = Church
D = Defense (or apologetics)
E = Essentials (doctrine)

On the whole, I agree with Hanegraaff’s exposé critique of the Faith teachers and his prescription for getting back to Christian basics. His exposé and critique is documented with several hundred footnotes, so his claims can be checked against the facts. At best, Faith teachers are seriously in error but within the boundaries (just barely) of Christian orthodoxy. At worst—and Hanegraaff makes the case for the worst)—they have crossed the line of orthodoxy into heresy.

If you are interested in the Word of Faith movement, Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is a good resource.


Stop Spending Our Future

This video by Reason puts the Obama Administration’s spending into historical perspective.


"Deepest Differences" by Sire and Peraino

James W. Sire and Carl Peraino, Deepest Differences: A Christian-Atheist Dialogue (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009). $15.00, 203 pages.

Does God exist? The question is perennial. Indeed, it is of such long standing that one wonders whether an answer to which all sides give their consent is even possible.

Deepest Differences by James W. Sire and Carl Peraino displays some of the arguments and counterarguments offered for Christian theism and evolutionary naturalism. Sire (the Christian) and Peraino (the atheist) are friendly interlocutors, having met through a book club. Their book is an edited version of a series of more than 70 emails they exchanged between April 14 and July 19, 2007. None of the arguments each advances is original. What makes this book valuable is its demonstration that intellectual antagonists can engage in dialogue that is both personally warm and intellectually pointed, not to mention inconclusive.

Having said that, the book disappointed me in two basic ways. First, like many of the so-called “new atheists,” it is obvious that Peraino has not read (and probably is not much interested in reading) major works in theology or the philosophy of religion. He has read Hume and Russell, and evidently thinks their arguments dispositive, but I’m pretty sure he would (rightly) criticize any theist whose scientific reading was decades or even centuries old. Just as all theists need to read Darwin, so all atheists should at least try to engage contemporary Christian theistic philosophers such as Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga. At one point, Sire, drawing on the groundbreaking work of Thomas Kuhn has to explain to Peraino that scientific method involves more than observation, hypothesis, and verification/falsification. It’s almost as if Peraino didn’t know that kind of debate in the philosophy of science even existed. Sire seems (to me anyway) better read on a wider range of topics. Plus, his writings over the years have explicitly addressed these kinds of issues, while Peraino’s writings are more narrowly tailored to technical issues in biochemistry, especially related to oncology.

Second, Sire frustrated me by letting several arguments drop to the ground. At one point, Peraino rhetorically hammers Sire for the violence committed by Christians in Christ’s name. Sire agrees that the violence is deplorable and argues that such violence has no warrant in genuine Christianity. Fair enough, but Sire should’ve exploited the weakness of this argument in at least two ways: (1) Yes, Christians have committed violence in the name of Christ, but atheists have committed violence in the name of their scientific materialism. Fair being fair, if “Christian” violence discredits Christianity, then “atheist” violence discredits atheism. (2) Peraino might respond that atheism properly understood does not entail violence, that such violence was an aberration. But fair being fair, this argument is available to Christian theists too.

Another argument that Sire does not pursue vigorously enough for my taste revolves around Peraino’s understanding of the mind. For Peraino, the mind is simply what emerges from complex brain interactions with nature and nurture. His account is both materialist and determinist. Consciousness, in other words, is the effect of complex biochemical causes, which are sufficient to produce the results. Describing his take on his differences with Sire, Peraino writes: “key structural and functional elements of our brains differ, consequent to dissimilarities in our genetic heritage and early formative experiences.”

Now, there is obviously some connection between the mind and the brain. Brain damage can result in decreased intellectual capacities. Mind-altering drugs (whether legal or illegal) can produce hallucinations and change moods. Sire agrees that there is some connection between mind and brain, but correctly argues (in my opinion) that mental states are not identical to brain states without remainder. Ideas are not the same thing as biochemical processes in the brain. The mind is the brain but not only the brain.

Peraino thinks Sire’s position is bizarre, but logically, it’s his position that is absurd. Consider, after all, that if his materialist and determinist account of the mind is true, then (1) neither he nor Sire can help their beliefs for they simply are what nature and nurture acting on their respective brain structures have determined them to be. On this account, if Peraino could concoct a drug that altered the “God part” of Sire’s brain, Sire would become an atheist. Or, even more ridiculously, if Sire could concoct a biochemical “atheism antidote” to alter the irreligious part of Peraino’s brain, Peraino would become a theist. (2) If this materialist and determinist account of the mind is true, how can we ever know it is true, since our belief that is true is simply the result of nature and nurture acting on brain structures? Our philosophical and religious conclusions are not the results of intellectual deliberation. Rather, our intellectual deliberation is simply the result of external causes working on our brains. (3) Indeed, on Peraino’s account, why argue about such matters in the first place? Debate assumes that non-material ideas may be articulated and evaluated based on their empirical correspondence to reality and/or logical coherence, to name just two criteria. But since our ideas (a kind of mental state) are just brain states, and since brain states are determined by material causes, why bother debating? Indeed, on a materialist account, how could a non-material idea ever change someone’s mind, which is simply a material process of nature and nurture acting on brain structure? Sire should’ve pursued these implications of Peraino’s belief as a reductio ad absurdumof that belief. He didn’t, at least not sufficiently enough for my taste.

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What’s Sauce for the Goose…

Remember’s ad regarding the Bush Deficits? updates the ad for the Age of Obama. Priceless.