Monday, November 29, 2021

An Excellent Conversation, Part II


Part one can be found here.

NB: I have been giving some thought as to just how “excellent” this conversation was; time and reflection have a way of filtering.  I think I am downgrading it to a very good conversation, but one lacking a couple of very important points – and, perhaps, the single most important point.  But I will come to all of this at the end, in the Epilogue of this post.

In this post, I continue with my review of a conversation held by Jordan Peterson to include Bishop Robert Baron, John Vervaeke, and Jonathan Pageau.  This portion of the dialogue begins here.  The first topic is the use of psychedelics, with Peterson asking, given the failure of the Church to attract people, what about it? 

Now, before continuing, a different conversation between Jonathan Pageau and two authors of a book about Peterson just posted a few days ago, and they discussed this topic of psychedelics.  The two men, Christopher Kaczor and Matthew Petrusek, are Catholic professors at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, and, also, Word on Fire fellows.  Word on Fire is the outreach of Bishop Baron.

The discussion regarding psychedelics begins here.  Pageau introduces it by noting that in the last few months, Peterson has been talking a lot about psychedelics.  Following are comments in response to this:

Psychedelics put feeling before love.  A proper ordering places love before feeling – if we properly love, we will develop proper feelings for that which we love.  It is the difference of experience in a passive way and an embodied experience.

“It’s cheating!” “You want the Resurrection without the Cross.” 

Pageau describes a discussion Peterson had with “a couple of mushroom guys.”  For two hours, they just talked about the experience.  After two hours, Peterson asked, “so what is it about?”  And one of the guys answered, “you realize that God doesn’t exist, and it’s just you.”

Pageau: Yeah, that’s it.  Solipsism.  The flip side of that ecstasy is despair, and the difference is paper thin.  You end up alone, and that’s terror.  Like the lowest level of Dante’s hell, each one frozen, alone, in ice.

Given that my experience with psychedelics is limited to listening to early Pink Floyd, Yes, and Sgt. Pepper’s, I won’t say much.  However, it sounds like religion for the atomized individual – an extension of libertarianism individualism taken to places for which it is not designed.

In any case, returning to the reaction in the subject video, neither Pageau or Baron reacted favorably on this topic.  Bishop Baron replies:

I would be more at home using the wisdom tradition, as you [Peterson] have been doing.  We have our problems, certainly.  Some of it came from the scandals, and some of it came from an exaggerated attempt to be relevant to society and dumb down our language to echo the culture.

How many times in church has dialogue been cut off – just believe, don’t ask questions.  It seems to me that this is the opposite of what the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill, where he engaged the philosophers.  We are to be prepared to answer with reason regarding the hope we hold.  Continuing, Vervaeke offers:

I will ask my students: where do you go for information?  The internet.  Where do you go for knowledge?  The classroom, etc.  Where do you go for wisdom?  There is deafening silence.  And wisdom is not optional. 

And this ties back to the move toward nominalism.  The words; propositions.  Pageau (the opposite of a nominalist) offers:

We have had several centuries in Christianity to focus on proving the history.  But this wisdom tradition is all there – we just need to go back and get people to connect to these experiences.

Bishop Baron then owned that this was the case in the Catholic church and his young training, that the focus was on the words, on propositions.  And then, a real zinger from Pageau:

In the Orthodox Church, they say, if the sermon is more than fifteen minutes, it’s pride.  Keep your sermons as short as possible. 

Which pretty much counts every Protestant service I have attended.  (To be clear, I am not advocating Pageau’s view, but I understand the sentiment.)

Propositional understanding is fine, but it is to be participatory.  You enter into the church, you have a space structured as the ontological hierarchy of being, and then you see these images that are patterns and are revealing to you these mysteries that are beyond words. 

I have described my feelings in such a church before.  Just the space is worshipful, with Christ Pantocrator on the ceiling of the dome, and surrounded by the icons of a hundred saints and prophets, all joined by the parishioners – a real image of the Kingdom of God.  But, I keep in mind…there are many words in a liturgical service, and the words are rather important…even propositional.

Friday, November 26, 2021

An Excellent Conversation


Jordan Peterson hosted a discussion to include Bishop Robert Barron, John Vervaeke, and Jonathan Pageau.  This conversation was held over two months ago, on September 10.  The video is entitled The 4 Horsemen of Meaning.  I will say, the interaction of Peterson here was much better than when he spoke one-on-one with Vervaeke – when Peterson was hyper-activated and interrupted often; the interaction between Peterson and Barron was also much better, as it seemed the two of them better understood each other than the last time I saw the two of them together.

I do believe the conversation would have been greatly aided by including Paul VanderKlay, somewhat because he brings a Protestant view to a conversation that includes the Catholic and Orthodox, but especially because he has a way of taking the high level, intellectual conversations and breaking these down into understandable chunks for the masses (myself included).

The conversation started slowly.  I think four people trying to feel each other out, and, especially, when one of the four, Bishop Baron, is outside of the circle of these conversations – he does not have the history or familiarity with the others.  In any case, from about the 1 hour, 20-minute mark and on, it was a terribly engaging conversation.

The conversation goes for two hours.  It is too much to cover in one post, so I will split it into two.

The conversation begins with Peterson asking the others to give an explanation of meaning.  Baron offers a clean and simple definition: a purposive pursuit of a value.  This definition helps me to clarify what is meant when I use or hear the phrase “meaning crisis.”

We live in a world with no objective truth when it comes to action, behavior, ethics – in other words, we have abandoned the natural law ethic.  We are each left to choose our own highest value, and every choice is equally valid – we are not guided by the purpose for which we are made. 

But what does this mean in practice?  I have no fixed target at which to aim, the target is of my making.  Any target I choose is no better or worse than any other target I could have chosen.  In fact, there is no such things as “better” or “worse.”

In other words, there might as well not even be a target.  But without a target, there is no purposive pursuit.  The pursuit is aimless – a perfect picture for one shooting without a target.  What is the meaning of pursuit if the thing one is pursuing is meaningless?  Hence, the meaning crisis.

They turn to addressing why the meaning crisis has become so problematic.  Vervaeke offers the following, which he also puts to his students:

We have a scientific worldview in which science and the scientists and their meaning-making have no proper ontological place.  We are the hole – science – we are the black hole in this worldview that dominates.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who wanted a little more explanation about what Vervaeke means.  Peterson asked:I am still unclear about that.  What is this black hole?”  Vervaeke offers:

What I mean is: does science exist?  If it is, what kind of entity is it?  Tell me, just using chemistry, physics, or biology – using just those – tell me what science is.  And tell me how it has the status to make the claims that it does.  And tell me how science is related to meaning and truth.  And how do meaning and truth fit into the scientific worldview.  They are presupposed by that worldview, but they have no proper place within it.  That’s what I mean.

Science – as chemistry, physics, biology, etc. – cannot answer any of these questions.  It cannot discover the answers via something acted on by science; the answers are to be found in something that makes room for science to act.  Vervaeke continues:

Whenever we are doing science and saying “this is what the world is,” we are absenting ourselves from it; we have no home in which we are properly situated.  And I think that ramifies itself into everything we say and do to each other and with each other in a profoundly corrosive way. 

The idea is that science sees itself as coming from a neutral space, that it can act outside of, or uninfluenced by, the stage on which it is acting.  As Vervaeke concludes, this is “causing massive suffering.”  Hence, the meaning crisis.

Now, Peterson digs further: “What is the profoundly corrosive way? He asks.  And Vervaeke offers an interesting example:

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Crisis of Protestant Worship


Not my title.  I stole it from the title of a video conversation between Len Vander Zee and Paul VanderKlay – both ministers in the Christian Reformed Church of North America.  In other words, this isn’t a review of Catholic or Orthodox mudslinging against the Reformation (I really dislike that kind of stuff – from any of these against any of these).  It is a form of self-reflection on the part of the two participants in the Dutch Reformed Church.

This is part three of my (up to now) three-part series on the divisions within the Church.  Parts one and two are here and here, respectively.

As background for this conversation, Len Vander Zee is writing a book to address the crisis of worship that he sees in Protestant churches.  Many Protestant churches have dumbed down the worship in order to “meet the people where they are at.” 

Len: There is a crisis happening in Protestant worship of all stripes.

He describes his early life in the CRC, when there was a standard of worship. 

Len: the minister would always begin: “The Lord is in His holy temple.  Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

The only “participation” was singing.  The basic structure of the worship service goes all the way back to the Synod of Dort.  For background, this synod, held by the Dutch Reformed Church, was called to settle the debates regarding Arminianism.  Delegates came from across Europe.  The synod also…

…set forth the Reformed doctrine on each point, namely: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement (arguing that Christ's atoning work was intended only for the elect and not for the rest of the world), irresistible (or irrevocable) grace, and the perseverance of the saints. These are sometimes referred to as the Five points of Calvinism.

An official Bible translation was also initiated.

Returning to the discussion….

Len: In the late 1960s, the Reformed Church produced a revision to the service that was quite similar to the Catholic Mass.  It ended up in the dust heap – hardly anyone used it.  It came at exactly the wrong time, when the culture was falling apart.

Paul: It sounded like they were sixty years ahead of their time.

Why does Paul say this?  What we find today is a move toward the traditional – toward the Orthodox Church, toward the Latin Mass in the Catholic Church, toward the more culturally conservative Protestant denominations.  As the West has suffered its meaning crisis, many are finding hope in the more traditional.

Len told a very funny story.  When he was younger, he taught a catechism class at his church.  He was going through the various flavors of Christianity, so he took his dozen or so students to a Catholic Church nearby, a “beautiful, big basilica.”  This was post Vatican II.

Len: We got there and sat in the back row, so we wouldn’t be too disruptive.  The church started with the procession, and the first hymn of the procession was, “believe it or not,” …

[And certain Catholic readers of this blog should cover their eyes]

Monday, November 22, 2021

A Comment on Comments

I am sitting on a few comments to the recent posts that focus on the coming apart of Christendom, and am not sure I will post these.  I am finding these destructive, not constructive.  I do not like the mudslinging between traditions. 

Yesterday’s post was based on a Protestant scholar’s evaluation of Protestantism; the post tomorrow is based on the concerns of two Protestant pastors about their own tradition.  Such things are positive signs for me, that people are willing to consider the log in their own eye instead of the speck in another’s.  Some of the commenters could learn something from this.

An example of an individual from one tradition looking into the history of all Christian traditions is John Strickland, through his books on the history of Christendom.  Strickland, an Orthodox priest, treats all traditions with respect, but offers criticism where he sees it.

Another example is Paul VanderKLay, who demonstrates an excellent characteristic of being able to hold respectful conversations with Catholics, Orthodox, atheists, whatever – and this from a Dutch Reformed pastor, whose tradition considered the pope the anti-Christ. 

There is value in each tradition, and there are reasons to find fault in each.  Going back through history, the opportunities to find examples of either are almost endless. 

So, what is my point in writing posts such as these, especially when I know that those who are new to this blog don’t understand my ground rules and purpose?  Certainly, it is not to debate theology or doctrine.  No one who reads this blog is qualified to speak authoritatively on such topics.

My point is simple: the world is coming apart, and our liberties are being crushed – and this has accelerated in the last twenty months.  Only one institution can turn this tide, and the vast majority of the official representatives of this institution have failed completely – if not, in fact, are in service to the enemy.

There is a remnant, to be found out of each tradition, that sees and understands this.  The battle this remnant faces is captured in Ephesians 6:12, and I have best described it here.

Those who see the world this way need not tear each other down.  We are all we’ve got.

Sunday, November 21, 2021



Some time ago, I attended a seminar on the topic of Evangelicalism – looking at the history, primarily as it has played out in the United States.  To summarize…what a mess.  I felt sooner or later it would be a topic worth writing about at this blog.  It seems to follow well my earlier post on Christian Arrogance.

Evangelicalism did not arise at the time of the Reformation.  Protestants travelled through pietism and puritanism before discovering this new identity. 

What does it mean to evangelize?  To bring the Good News.  Nothing at all wrong with that.  Evangelism focusses on four distinctive matters: conversionism, activism, Biblicism, and Cruxi-centrism (a focus on the cross and Christ’s sacrifice).  The four of these began to come together in the eighteenth-century revivals – the “Great Awakening,” both in the United States and England. 

John Wesley would preach of the need for conversion; George Whitfield would draw crowds in the thousands; Jonathan Edwards would write of the surprising work of God.  Congregational churches would form in New England; Presbyterian in the middle colonies; Methodists and others in the south.  Sermons were all based on Biblical texts, with pointed messages and offering direct application.

Then the fragmentation began (as if these three major denominations didn’t offer enough of this).

There was revivalism: western New York, Tennessee, the Cumberland Valley.  Charles Grandison Finney – emotionalism for the sake of emotionalism.  People have the free will to choose salvation (see Luther and Calvin spinning in their graves).  You don’t have to wait for God to do His work; you decide – just come forward (a prototype for Billy Graham, it seems).

D. L. Moody – the YMCA, hymnals, the Moody Press.  Billy Sunday – went from professional baseball player to evangelist.  He attracted the largest crowds of any in the late eighteenth-century – and he played a significant role in the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment (no booze).

Biblicism was weakened – just get a confession of faith; the door was opened to liberalism and the leftist version of the social justice movement.  The Enlightenment contributed here: reason, divorced from God, could not accept many of the claims of the Bible.  Let’s just try to hold onto the moral stuff, without the grounding in the Bible or in worship.

I am reminded of Murray Rothbard’s work, World War I as Fulfillment: Power and the Intellectuals:

Also animating both groups of progressives was a postmillennial pietist Protestantism that had conquered "Yankee" areas of northern Protestantism by the 1830s and had impelled the pietists to use local, state, and finally federal governments to stamp out "sin," to make America and eventually the world holy, and thereby to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.

The high-bar (or low-bar, more accurately) of this merger can be summed up in two words: Woodrow Wilson.

Returning to the evangelical timeline and splintering… What I view as, perhaps, the most corrupting: John Nelson Darby and Cyrus Scofield.  A focus on end-times theology, a focus on a state for Israel (resulting in a worship of the modern state with that name).  Scofield, a scoundrel in his personal life, would somehow have his reference Bible printed by the prestigious Oxford Press!  Many denominations would read from his Bible. 

There would be a further splintering in the form of “Bible-believing Christians” vs. liberal modernists – they would push for all having to conform (leftists never change).  There would also be a mushy middle in every denomination, eventually leading to a growth in the liberal side – after all, if you don’t feel strongly about something, you won’t really fight for it.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Christian Arrogance


I have stumbled on a statement that fascinates me.  I only raise it here because I know some people who read this blog will help point me to some further answers.  But before coming to the statement, I would like to clarify some things and set some general ground rules.

The topic is very “Christian.”  Not really “how Christianity is necessary for liberty,” at least not directly.  Perhaps indirectly, as this issue of Christian arrogance points to one of the causes of a ruptured Church that cannot, therefor, so easily stand against corrupt power.

What do I mean by Christian arrogance?  Well, before coming to this, I will reiterate something I have often said: no-interdenominational or inter-traditional food fights here.  No matter which tradition any of us calls home, we all know that there are either corrupt leaders or corrupt doctrines or both in our own home.  No need to get nasty about it regarding someone else.  And no point in trying to resolve it here either.

Broadly speaking, what I mean by Christian arrogance…this idea that a new generation can somehow find truths unknown to those who have been developing the Christian theology for 2000 years.  I heard Paul VanderKlay say something very helpful recently – and keep in mind, he is a pastor in a Dutch Christian Reformed Church, about as Protestant as it gets.

He said something like: Sola Scruptura should be used to test tradition, not to eliminate tradition.  This is a valuable way in which to consider the specific issue at hand: the issue of the nature of Jesus Christ.  Which makes me wonder – and something I read, I think in Strickland’s books: if we really want to achieve ecumenical dialogue and, potentially, harmony, go back to the earliest councils and work forward.  And, I would add, apply the VanderKlay filter.

And this comes to the statement that fascinates me, one that points to this intersection of Scripture and tradition.  One that demonstrates that the formula of “let’s see what the Bible says” (sola Scriptura) cannot answer every question – even tremendously important ones…like, you know, the nature and person of Christ.

So…this question was addressed at the Council of Nicaea:

The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey) by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325.

This ecumenical council was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all Christendom.

I find that last statement tremendously important when it comes to dealing with matters of theological importance that are not so clearly understood from Scripture.  A body of bishops; not individuals deciding on their own, as this is arrogance.  About 1800 bishops were invited; something around 300 bishops attended (different numbers from different sources). 

Here is the curious statement, taken from Documents from the First Council of Nicea - A.D. 325:


The Fathers of the Council at Nice were at one time ready to accede to the request of some of the bishops and use only scriptural expressions in their definitions. But, after several attempts, they found that all these were capable of being explained away.

What is so important about Homousios that it was desired to use only Scriptural expressions in formulating the definitions?

HOMOOUSIOS: A term first defined by the first general council of the Church to identify Christ's relationship to the Father. It was chosen by the council to clarify the Church's infallible teaching that the second Person of the Trinity, who became man, is of one and the same substance, or essence, or nature as God the Father. The Arians, who were condemned at Nicaea, held that Christ was "divine" only in the sense that he was from God, and therefore like God, but not that he was literally "God from God, one in being with the Father." (Etym. Greek homoousios, of one essence, consubstantial.)

It turns out that Homousios is rather important – like…everything.  Was the second person of the Trinity God, or was there no Trinity – like Jesus was just a really good guy, overly blessed by God?  Closer to a Mother Theresa type, perhaps?  This matters a lot, and these learned bishops couldn’t find a clear defense solely based on Scripture.

How did the Council intend this word, Homousios, to be understood?  St. Athanasius explained: