Kingdom Triangle Discussion

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

JP Responds to Kingdom Triangle Questions

Kingdom Triangle has received considerable attention and enthusiastic reception since its release this last spring. The book's list of endorsers reads like a Who's Who across the Evangelical spectrum. J. P. himself states that this is his most important book to date. As he had hoped, Kingdom Triangle has engendered much dialog. From across the web and when he has done Q&A sessions, he has garnered the top eight questions about/criticisms of Kingdom Triangle along with brief responses.

Q1. When you say "restore the Spirit's power" does this mean that if culture is to be transformed its going to be because of us, since we are "restoring the Spirit's power?" In what sense are we to "restore" the Spirit's power? How does God's sovereignty figure into this strategy?

JP: God is sovereign and does whatever He pleases. However, He usually works as a co-laborer with us. This means that there are certain divinely ordained means—prayer, reading the word, fasting, evangelism, etc.—that provided the grounds for God to act with us in the usual case (God sometimes acts in spite of these). So by “restore the Spirit’s power” I mean we are to re-dedicate ourselves to doing what God has commanded us to do, to doing what is according to our and the Kingdom’s nature, to provide co-labor with the Spirit.

Q2. Do you endorse a postmillennial reconstructionist viewpoint? Dominion theology or restorationism? One gets this impression by your call to "restore the Spirit's power?" If not, why not. Moreover, you act as though American evangelicals should run the world for God (The "we" in the book seems to mostly be Christians in America). Do you hope for an Americanized Christiandom where conservative family values run the world?

JP: I am not a reconstructionist in any sense of the term. The church and the state have different divinely appointed spheres of authority. My language in KT is about being the church as best we can, not directly about the state or political issues (though, of course, being a Kingdom-triangle Christian will impact the broader culture by out thought and lives). We have the resources in the Bible, the Kingdom, and the Spirit to become individuals and communities that lead the way as to how to live a life pleasing to God and conducive the ideal (divinely designed) human flourishing. In the book I indicate with considerable joy how the body of Christ outside North America is taking the lead worldwide. I speak to American Christians primarily because I understand our history and cannot write with authority about the history of Christianity in other countries, and because it is largely American Christians who purchase Zondervan books. Thus, I address those most likely to read my writings.

Q3. In KT, why do you only mention typical American "social ills" (e.g., pornography, abortion, homosexuality) and not other social-spiritual problems (e.g., poverty globalization, unbridled capitalism, racism, ethnic cleansing/genocide, Christian persecution, and the growth of neo-paganism,)?

JP: There is one main reason for my selective references here: I believe that the sexual issues are more towards the core of the worldview shift since that shift has brought about a rejection of non-empirical knowledge and truth and, in its place, the absolutization of satisfaction of physical desire. It isn’t that the sexual issues are more important, ethically speaking. It’s that, ideationally speaking, I take them to be more closely related to the ideational thematic of the first four chapters of Kingdom Triangle.

Q4. You claim that the solution to the "cultural crisis" is really the "Christian worldview"? But isn't the solution not a worldview but the triune God? Please explain.

JP: This question is a red herring. No one who is a Christian could believe anything other than the fact that it is God Himself who is the solution to humanities ills. That is obvious. My book is written to thoughtful Christians, not baby converts, who don’t need to have the obvious pointed out to them. I assumed in writing KT at the level I did a certain level of maturity on the part of my readership. It is hard enough to get everything you want to say in the publisher’s page limits. It would be impossible to say what you want to say if you had to constantly note things too obvious to require mention. Moreover, for our part, we are not God. God is God and will do what He is going to do. However, grasping, embracing and practicing the teachings of the Bible (and more generally, a Christian worldview) is, in fact, something we can do. In this sense, a Christian worldview (grasping, embracing, and so forth) IS the solution for doing our part. Finally, one part of the Christian worldview is the very teaching underlying this question—that it is God Himself who is our hope. By making the Christian worldview front and center, we are actually pointed in a direction beyond that worldview (to God).

Q5. You frequently refer back to the 1800s as an opportune time for Christians interfacing with culture. Are you nostalgic for the past and uncomfortable about the present and future? Please explain.

JP: I have no nostalgia for the past, and I am both comfortable with and uncomfortable with the present and future. I see much for which to give thanks currently and much that is wrong and needs to be changed. I sense the same regarding the future. My mention of the 1800s is in KT because the information I communicate is historically true. It is during that period that the church, the structures of the culture (e.g., colleges), and the general population were more influenced by Holy Scripture. It is a simple fact that we have been secularized since then. It is also a simple fact that the church’s failure to deal with the leadership opportunities before it is a major factor in the subsequent secularization. We need to learn from this failure and not repeat it.

Q6. In KT and Lost Virtue of Happiness, it appears that you encourage some a form of non-rational "affective meditation" in our hearts that sounds like New Age meditation. Is this true? If not, why not?

JP: This is the worst objection possible and, to be honest, it is embarrassing that our Evangelical community is a place in which this sort of item could be raised. Four points: 1) The objection violates the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent. The logically valid modus ponens goes: If P, then Q. P. Therefore, Q. (If it is raining then it is wet. It’s raining. Therefore, it’s wet.) Affirming the consequent goes: If P, then Q. Q. Therefore, P. (If it is raining then it is wet. It’s wet. Therefore, it’s raining.) By way of application: If one is a Buddhist (New Ager, etc.), then one does x (eats food, breathes oxygen, uses visual imagery, breathing techniques, affective meditation in the heart area, etc.). One does x. Therefore, one is a Buddhist (or is practicing Buddhism). Some things are true and helpful in spite of the fact that Buddhists et. al. employ them. 2) Paul’s teaching about meat sacrificed to idols instructs us in two things. First, even though this meat was sacrificed to an idol, indeed, according to Paul, to a demon, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the meat or with eating it. Second, it is the symbolic association with the pagan religious practices that are at issue. If the meat (or eating it) is disassociated with those practices, Paul does not condemn eating it. If some practice x (that is not intrinsically evil such as temple prostitution) is disassociated from the religious associations, there is nothing wrong with x (unless it is otherwise evil). 3) I am among those who take the body and its role in spiritual formation seriously. Accordingly, I believe that the soul stores emotions, habits, etc. in different areas of the body. The term “heart” has many different meanings, but when it is used for the deepest affective, intuitive aspect of the person, I ask “Why was a term associated with the physical heart used to express this aspect.” I think it is because that bodily part is the locus of where the soul stores affective states. And just as the self uses the eyes to see and the ears to hear, I believe the self uses the heart to be aware intuitively of various things. Thus, in these contexts, “heart” is more than an arbitrary figure of speech. It is a figure of speech with a literal component referring to a body part that is relevant to the figure. 4) My use of the heartmath technique of meditation is taken from medical science (and my understanding of biblical anthropology just expressed) not from New Age religion. The medical community is reaching a consensus that heartmath exercises are essential to a healthy emotional life in certain circumstances.

Q7. You seem to emphasize a subjective, almost alway emotional "experiential Christianity," which relies on personal revelation directly from God, and would consequently minimize the normative authority of scripture as the Word of God in a person's life. Is personal revelation or the Word of God the final arbitrator of what is true? Please explain.

JP: The inerrant, written Word of God is our ultimate authority by which all practices and beliefs are to be judged. But God leads, guides, speaks in various ways in addition to this. Experience is crucial for a healthy Christian life (the love of God, conviction of sin, and so on), and it is a strawman to imply that one cannot be concerned to grow in this way without being an extreme subjectivist. No one who has read my writing for twenty years or so would think that I am in favor of the latter.

Q8. I know you say that Christians cannot be possessed but can be demonized. But isn't it also likely that the so-called "demonized Christian" was never a Christian? Or, perhaps they are a Christian, but simply behaving sinfully. Can you offer examples from first-hand experience of what it looks like for Christians to be demonized? Have you ever been demonized? In short, how do you discern what is demonization vs. sinful behavior?

JP: Many leading Evangelical experts on demonology (Clint Arnold, C. Fred Dickenson) hold that Christians can be demonized. Even if they are wrong, there are too many first-rate conservative scholars who hold to this to believe the view is dangerous or harmful. At the end of the day, it is irrelevant anyway. The important thing is that we Christians can be deeply harassed by demons, they play a much bigger role in our problems that we Western Christians usually think, and it is time for us to align ourselves with our brothers and sisters throughout most of the world outside North America and Europe and re-adopt a biblical worldview on this matter. I give references in Kingdom Triangle for further study on this.