Monday, September 01, 2014

Christianity on Trial

In this podcast of Houston Baptist University, Mark Lanier discusses his book Christianity on Trial. He talks about the nature of evidence, the concept of reasonable doubt and more.  Mark Lanier is one of America's top trial lawyers.

You may also be interested in the Lanier Theological Library. It looks like a useful and excellent resource.

Stand firm in Christ,

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Eight: The Reason for Suffering

On page 163, Dr. Keller says, “According to Christian theology, suffering is not meaningless – neither in general nor in particular instances.  For God has purposed to defeat evil so exhaustively on the cross that all the ravages of evil will someday be undone and we, despite participating in it so deeply, will be saved.  God is accomplishing this not in spite of suffering, agony, and loss but through it – it is through the suffering of God that the suffering of humankind will eventually be overcome and undone.  While it is impossible not to wonder whether God could have done all this some other way – without allowing all the misery and grief – the cross assures us that, whatever the unfathomable counsels and purposes behind the course of history, they are motivated by love for us and absolute commitment to our joy and glory.  So suffering is at the very heart of the Christian faith…And that means that our suffering, despite its painfulness, is also filled with purpose and usefulness.”

In our modern world we no longer espouse any idea of the usefulness of suffering.  We understand that stress is generally bad for peoples health, yet we also find empirical support that shows we also need adversity and setbacks in order to achieve to our highest levels.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out three benefits of suffering.  The first is that by enduring, we become more resilient.  Second, it nurtures and strengthens relationships.  Third, and most significantly, it changes our priorities and philosophies.  Those who invest most of their energies into personal achievement and happiness find themselves most vulnerable to adversity.  For those whose priorities include relationships, religion or contributing to society find suffering enhances their efforts towards these.  Times of pain and suffering will often force us out of self-centered life agendas and move us into ones that are other-centered.

On page 167, Dr. Keller lays it out for us.  “According to all branches of Christian theology, the ultimate purpose of life is to glorify God.  That means that the first – but perhaps hardest to grasp – purpose for our suffering is the glory of God.”  It is unfortunate that many of today’s most popular churches teach that God is there for our personal benefit, to make us happy, healthy and prosperous.  As we have previously discussed, happiness is a western cultural idea of life’s purpose.  The church should know better.

There are also those who argue that one who needs constant reminder of his own glory is not one to be admired.  C. S. Lewis counters that when we notice “that a work of art is admirable, we don’t mean that it “deserves” praise in the way that a good student deserves a high mark.  Rather, we mean the artwork demands admiration because it is the only ‘adequate or appropriate response to it’ and that if we do not give it praise, we shall have missed something.”  Therefore, God directs us to do that which is simply right to do because we need to do it.  “[In] every action by which we treat him as glorious as he is, whether through prayer, singing, trusting, obeying, or hoping, we are at once giving God his due and fulfilling our own design.”

But what exactly is the glory of God that we should be giving him his due?  For one it is “his infinite beyondness”.  Again, this is one of those things that modern people dislike.  How can we believe in a God beyond our comprehension?  We don’t want to believe in a God who would do this thing we don’t like or who would judge people.  But would a god that we can figure out and completely understand really be God?

The glory of God is also “his supreme importance”.  “[When] the Bible says that God is glorious, it means he should matter, and does matter, more than anything else or anyone else.  And if anything matters to you more than God, you are not acknowledging his glory.  You are giving glory to something else.”

Thirdly, the glory of God is “his absolute splendor and beauty”.  This comes from the Greek word doxa used in the New Testament that means “praise and wonder; luminosity, brilliance, or beauty”.  As Dr. Keller states, “Glorifying God does not mean obeying him only because you have to.  It means to obey him because you want to – because you are attracted to him, because you delight in him.”

To illustrate what he has been saying, Dr. Keller describes the story No Graven Image by Elisabeth Elliot.  The point of the story is that a god who acts the way we think he should, who supports our plans, who makes everything go the way we think it should, is really a god of our own creation, a counterfeit.  He is only a projection of our own wisdom.  But when we expect God to serve our plans, we are not treating him as God.  We expect young children to trust adults they don’t understand, yet we are horrified at the idea of trusting a God we cannot understand.   Elisabeth Elliot would later write that “I dethrone Him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice…There is unbelief, there is even rebellion, in the attitude that says, God has no right to do this…”  So we can trust God’s wisdom in our suffering, even when we don’t understand, because we remember the glory and meaning of the cross.

While we can glorify God in our suffering, we can also glorify him to others as well.  How we handle suffering demonstrates the greatness of God to those around us.  As early Christian writers such as Ambrose, Cyprian, Ignatius, and Polycarp said, onlookers wondered where these dying Christians were getting this power to face their torture and pain.

A recent example we can look to is the Amish community’s response to the tragic school shooting in Lancaster, PA in October 2006.  The Amish response was considered by the media to be an example of “the best in us”, yet their ability to forgive has a basis on two things.  First, their ability to forgive is grounded in Christ forgiving his enemies and it is at the heart of their faith and practice.  Second, they understand that forgiveness involves self-renunciation – giving up the right to pay back.  But this is in direct opposition to our individualistic, consumeristic society that emphasizes self-assertion that is more likely to produce revenge.

Even the suffering that no one sees can be a testimony.  The secular world says there is no transcendent, no supernatural, only this world.  Yet the Bible teaches that angels are watching the church and rejoicing when sinners repent.  Job was watched by a great council of angels and the devil.  Knowing that all is seen and known brings great meaning and significance on the most insignificant thoughts and actions.  As Joni Eareckson Tada wrote about Denise Walters, a woman who spent 8 years alone in a hospital room dying of multiple sclerosis, “Angels and demons stood amazed as they watched her uncomplaining and patient spirit rising as a sweet smelling savor to God.”

“No suffering is for nothing…Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God…Jesus Christ suffered, not so that we would never suffer but so that when we suffer we would be like him.  His suffering led to glory.  And you can see it in Paul…He is like Jesus now.  Because that is how Jesus did it.  And if you know that that glory is coming, you can handle suffering, too.”

Next week Chapter Nine: Learning to Walk

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Friday, August 29, 2014

Are There Things God Can't Do?

In our family devotions we are studying God's omnipotence with the aid of William Lane Craig's excellent children's book God is All-Powerful.  "Omnipotence" comes from the Latin words omni (all) and potentia (power).

Since beginning this discussion with my girls (6 and 7 years old) they have learned that although God has all power, there are actually things He can't do!  As you can imagine, this was news to them!  As we've worked through the book they've learned that God cannot:

1. sin.

2. make a circle which is in the shape of square.

3. make a stone that is to heavy for Him to lift.  As Dr. Craig explains, that would be like asking if God can make something which can't be lifted by someone who can lift anything!

4. make someone freely decide to something.  If God makes you do something, then you don't do it freely.  If you do it freely, then God doesn't make you do it.

Does this somehow show that God's power is limited? [1]  Not at all.  Why?  As Dr. Craig explains:

"...these other things aren't really things at all.  There's no such thing as a square circle or a stone too heavy for God to lift.  They're just nonsense.  When we say God is all-powerful, we mean that God can do anything which it makes sense for Him to do."

It is important that Christians understand what exactly it means when the Bible says, "Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you" [Jeremiah 32:17].

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Fore more on this, see here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Video: Contradictions in the Bible? with Mike Licona

In this short video, scholar Mike Licona offers a concise answer to a potentially thorny question.

You can find more of Mike Licona's work here.

You can find more from Bobby Conway, "The One Minute Apologist," here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cross Examined.Org App Now Available for Your Mobile Devices

I recently discovered the CrossExamined.Org App and downloaded it to my mobile phone.  I would highly recommend it as a resource for your apologetic tool kit.  The best part of the app, in my opinion, is the "Quick Answers" that is broken into four categories: Truth, God, Bible, and the 4Es (Evolution/Creation, Evil, Ethics, and Eternity).

For more information, you can click here or search for it on Google Play, The Apple Store, or your Windows Phone.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Biologist William Provine on Natural Selection

"Natural selection does not act on anything, nor does it select (for, or against), force, maximize, create, modify, shape, operate, drive, favor, maintain, push or adjust.  Natural selection does nothing.  Natural selection as a natural force belongs in the insubstantial category already populated by the Necker/Stahl phlogiston or Newton's 'ether'...Having natural selection select is nifty because it excuses the necessity of talking about the actual causation of natural selection.  Such talk was excusable for Charles Darwin, but inexcusable for Darwinists now.  Creationists have discovered our empty 'natural selection' language, and the 'actions' of natural selection make huge vulnerable targets." [1]

Courage and Godspeed,

1. William B. Provine, The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 199-200 as quoted by John Lennox in Seven Days that Divide the World, p. 180-181.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Wishing it Were True

While investigating the validity of Christianity, Sheldon Vanauken corresponded with C.S. Lewis to discover how he went from agnosticism to faith. Within the correspondence Vanauken wrote:

And so I wish it were true and would accept any humbling, I think, for it to be true. The bad part of wishing it were true is that any impulse I feel towards belief is regarded with suspicion as stemming from the wish

Below is the response Lewis provided. Note that wd. is for would:

And now, another point about wishes. A wish may lead to false beliefs, granted. But what does the existence of the wish suggest? At one time I was much impressed by Arnold's line 'Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.' But surely, tho' it doesn't prove that one particular man will get food, it does prove that there is such a thing as food! i.e. if we were a species that didn't normally eat, weren't designed to eat, wd. we feel hungry? You say the materialist universe is 'ugly'. I wonder how you discovered that! If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it you don't feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or wd. not always be, purely aquatic creatures?Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. ('How time flies! Fancy John being grown-up & married! I can hardly believe it!') In heaven's name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal.

Feel free to give your thoughts on the response provided by Lewis.

Both quotations are taken from Vanauken's A Severe Mercy.

Stand firm in Christ,

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Seven: The Suffering of God

On page 147, Dr. Keller states, “…in teaching unique to the Christian Faith among the major religions, God also made himself vulnerable and subject to suffering.  The other side of the sovereignty of God is the suffering of God himself…the main reason that Christians insist that God can be trusted in the midst of suffering is that…God himself has firsthand experience of suffering.

We can’t overemphasize the importance of this…God is sovereign and uses suffering as part of his often inscrutable purposes.  Yes, he is Lord of history, but he is also the vulnerable one who entered that history and became subject to its darkest forces.  Yes, God often seems to be absent, but Jesus himself experienced the searing pain of that absence.”

So how does the sovereign God become the suffering God?  We understand that the more we love someone, the more their suffering affects us.  The Old Testament describes God as one who loves his creation such that it grieves him when we pursue our own way.  Genesis 6:5-6: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination and intention of all human thinking was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved at heart.” (Amplified – 1965).  Other examples can be found in Hosea 11:8-9 and Jeremiah 31:20.  It is remarkable that the transcendent God loves us so much that his heart feels pain and grief.

But then there is Jesus.  He experienced the ordinary pressures, difficulties and pains as well as weariness, thirst, distress, and grief such that he often prayed with loud cries and tears.  He knew how it felt to be misunderstood by his friends, rejected by his family and hometown and to be tempted.  Don Carson is quoted that, “The God on whom we rely knows what suffering is all about, not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience.”

In the final week of his life, what we refer to as the Passion, Jesus was abandoned, denied and betrayed by his closest friends and forsaken on the cross by his father.  The ultimate suffering is the loss of love, the disruption and loss of family relationships.  And we see that “God knows what it is like to suffer, not just because he sees it in far greater clarity than we, but because he has personally suffered in the most severe way possible…the agony of loss by death, the separation from a beloved…[and] the disruption of his own family (the Trinity) by the immensity of his own wrath against sin.”

From the secular view, suffering is random and meaningless, it cannot be part of any plan, therefore there can be no God who is in control of history.  Yet if God has not suffered, how can we trust him?  “If God is no exception – if even he has suffered – then we cannot say he doesn’t understand, or that his sovereignty over suffering is being exercised in a cruel and unfeeling way, or that he is a cold king who let things happen without caring about what we are going through…Because suffering is both just and unjust, we can cry out and pour out our grief, yet without the toxic additive of bitterness.  Because God is both sovereign and suffering, we know our suffering always has meaning even though we cannot see it.  We can trust him without understanding it all.”  We understand why children need to trust their parents without understanding, why cannot we trust God when we don’t understand?  “We should trust him because he earned our trust on the cross.”

While Christianity does not offer a complete explanation for why God allows much evil and suffering, it does give a final answer for it.  The bible teaches that God will not suffer injustice forever, there will come a day when all will be judged with justice.  In Revelation, chapter 5, John describes God on his throne holding a sealed scroll that contains the meaning and purpose of history, his great plan.  When asked who can open the scroll, we see the one at whom every kind of evil was thrown, who was abandoned, betrayed, denied, tortured and killed.  A wounded lamb is hardly what we would imagine able to issue Gods decrees with strength and power, yet that is the whole point.  It is a wounded lamb that cannot just judge evil, but can also undo all the damage that evil has done.

Henri Blocher is quoted stating, “Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself.  He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin.  The manoeuvre is utterly unprecedented.  No more complete victory could be imagined.”  He also stated, “The requirement of [justice]…that evil be punished by death…permits our Brother and Head to intervene in love and take over the debt in place of the guilty party…At the cross, evil is conquered by the ultimate degree of love in the fulfillment of justice.”  The answer at the end of history will be completely satisfying and infinitely sufficient.  As Dostoevsky wrote, “something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

Revelation ends with the suffering of Jesus ending suffering.  No more evil, suffering, sin or pain.  Also, our future is not an immaterial bliss, but a new earth.  Christianity gives a hope like nothing else.  Secularism offers no future hope for good of any kind.  Other religions teach of a future paradise of consolation.  Christianity offers restoration.  “[Because] the joy will be even greater for all that evil, this means the final defeat of all those forces that would have destroyed the purpose of God in creation, namely, to live with his people in glory and delight forever.”

Next week Chapter Eight: The Reason for Suffering.

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9