Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Aspects of Creation: Part 2

In the previous article we saw a motive for creation: God created so His goodness could be shared. The next question that arises is how that developed into the universe we see around us. Given that all actions of God are good then there is no one action which is more good. As such if the universe is good then so will be the universe plus organic life thus giving rise to organic and inorganic creation. That being said, if it is good for God for to create simple organic creation (i.e. bacteria) then extending that to more complex organisms (i.e. mammals) is no big leap. Everything He does is good and hence it will be good for Him to produce variety within organic creation.

It is worth a pause to consider the physical laws. Whatever your view of the physical laws (including the anthropic view) the fact is they exist and are consistent and ordered. This comes as no surprise to those who believe in a single Creator who is good and wishes to diffuse goodness to creation. There is no point in fluctuant physical laws; if the rules of play are always changing then the game will never be good. If there are multiple gods then one would expect to see conflict within creation and the laws governing it. Scientific endeavour has shown this not to be the case: we live in an ordered universe with consistent physical laws that works to establish and support life. I guess this is my appeal to the fine tuning argument.

Once a stable physical universe has been created then we have need to establish the beings through which God’s goodness can be shared. How and why humans? Given the impossibility of the creation of new “Gods”, then the only choice is to create limited conscious beings with whom He can interact with in love. God would wish to create beings with which He could share the (good) nature of His being. This being so it is ultimately better if God were to create sentient beings capable of morality and thought.

Why though is morality important to Creation? Given the impossibility of creating further divine agents God created limited beings who could reflect that goodness back to God. Central to this is free will. Love is such a precious gift because we choose to give it others by our own free will. If we were incapable of nothing but love, would “I love you” carry as much impact? Love and goodness are such powerful attributes because of their opposites: hate and evil or worse still apathy. We value these things because they could so easily be the opposite. God cannot bring about a situation where humans can only “freely” do good, for this would be no choice at all. Now God is wholly good, yet He could perform great evil. But He does not. It is outwith His character. We, however, are not wholly good; we may have been created to share in God’s goodness but we stray from that. Hence, God limited our power but endowed us with the understanding of His will and so that we can make decisions of great significance.

What does this mean though: to make significant decisions? This gift of free will was so precious to God that he allows us to choose between good and evil to make deeply significant differences to ourselves and others. We also need to be able to cause in ourselves and others good and bad sensations, to inquire and learn of the world and to share it with others. This is how God’s intended goodness be played out within His Creation. In order to perform these actions we need to interact with the world and others. The only way to interact with the world is with a physical body. If we were to be ethereal beings then, to be honest, there would be no chance of good being performed; we would be only talk. We can perform good with a spoken word, but in a more general way greater good comes from action. Therefore for good to be shared within Creation those desires must be conveyed by some public body. A mind to conceive, a body to act. So it necessarily follows that we inhabit physical bodies.

And this is where I’ll stop. This clearly is not the whole story, but it shows that by beginning with God and His attributes we can logically come to a greater understanding of Creation. We can understand why God would choose to create a structured and ordered physical universe inhabited by sentient beings capable of great good and evil. That is the challenge to us - those created in His image – to respect Creation. If goodness brought about Creation then what a privilege it is for us to reflect that back to the Creator and the Created.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturdays with C. S. Lewis - The Great Weapon

Some Saturday C. S. Lewis" was introduced and explained here.  The following quote is from Miracles, with emphasis, as always, original.  

 On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy.  Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.  On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it.  We are baptised into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall.  Death is, in fact, what some modern people call 'ambivalent'.  It is Satan's great weapon and also God's great weapon: it is the holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Evolution of the Church?

While surfing the waves of theological insight across the information super highway I found what I feel to be a very accurate summation of the church since its inception...

"In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

Richard Halverson Chaplain to the U. S. Senate, 1981-1994

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Aspects of Creation: Part 1

I am going to break with convention for this post. I've had the opportunity to reflect upon creation and realised just what strange thing it is. Ever wondered why creation exists? Creation is a curious thing no matter your stance. For the naturalist, what conditions occurred for the universe to have arisen ex nihilo – as science must surely teach us? For the Christian, however, we must ask why did God create? To delve into this I am going for a two parter.

Scripture teaches us that God existed before time and creation enjoying the perfect relationship of His triune self. This changed with Creation: time came into existence and God no longer existed as the only being capable of sense. A question that needs to be asked is why would God choose to create us in the first place? More than this, does the mere fact of creation point to God? Science may teach us the mechanism through which the universe was created; what it does not – and cannot – explain is why. Many atheists, like Peter Atkins, would argue this is a question that may not be asked. But that is to avoid the issue. Explanations need explaining. It seems necessary therefore for us to reflect on the reasons of why God should create.

But where to start? I have always found great beauty in the explanatory power of simplicity: consider how a single photon of light causing conformational change in the retinal photopigments culminates in the experience of the visual world. Equally, the seemingly complex reasons behind Creation can be tackled by looking at attributes of His Nature. Namely His goodness. God is wholly and perfectly good. Admittedly non-Christians would argue with this, but it is assumed in this discussion.

Personal experience teaches us that goodness is of its very nature diffusive: it flows from “the good one” to others. Whoever has been described as good yet did not share with others? How else would their goodness be known? So God, compelled by His goodness, created other good things so that He might share His goodness with them. Ultimately this would allow the created good beings to reflect that goodness back to the Creator.

This prompts an important question: did God need to create? Some have argued that creation suggests God was not self-sufficient and needs humans. I, personally, do not see this to be the case. When we love someone we do good things for them, go out of our way for them, support them and so on. We do this because we are compelled by, well, love. We do not need to do these things per se, but it is within our nature and our desires to do so. There is no obligation on our part and why therefore would there be on His? We are made in His image and so if we can be motivated by love then how much more God will be! To counter the question: does God need to save us? No. We rely on unmerited grace. I see the same argument working for God and creation: His very nature meant that He would create good beings, yet He was under no compunction to do so.

So we have a reason of why Creation should arise. In the next article this reasoning will be extended to how Creation took shape and appears how we see it today.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: The Vertical Self by Mark Sayers

The Vertical Self is half sociological study, half spiritual discipline guide. Unfortunately, Mark Sayers shines as a sociologist and merely glows as a spiritual guru. However, this is not to say I did not enjoy this book or would not recommend it (I did and would respectively). This book is worth the price of admission for the first half alone.

The former half of this book reads a little like David Brooks. However, instead of writing about the blending of the bourgeois and bohemian classes, Mark Sayers delves into the Christian individual's abandonment of an identity defined by the vertical (God) in exchange for one defined by the horizontal (society, Hollywood, self, etc.).

With startling insight, Sayers perfectly describes a Christian generation that has turned its eyes downward for a sense of identity. Movies and reality TV have us all acting out our own scripts. The Internet has fostered our separation between who we are and who we want to be. Narcissism feeds off this horizontal self, "in which our worth is tied to what others think of us, we end up obsessed with ourselves".

If you are in any sort of ministry (especially youth), I highly recommend this book. Here's a brief reason why: "Ministers and church leaders assume that they are speaking to people who have a vertical sense of self, but those they minister to both inside and outside the church (if they're younger than sixty years old) almost certainly have a horizontal sense of self . . . The emergence of the horizontal self is one of the most pressing challenges for the church in our day. Most of our theology was written by people who lived during the time of the vertical self. Most of our evangelistic approaches were designed to communicate the gospel to people with a vertical sense of self".

While the second half of the book can't quite stand up to the first, I was still very impressed in the end. Despite a latter half that seems to meander and wander when trying to reform us to a vertical self, the spot-on description of the horizontal self makes Sayers' book a greatly beneficial read for anyone in ministry.

This book was a free review copy provided by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Why Heaven Will Be Superior To Eden

There is an idea floating around in contemporary Christian literature and music and I am baffled at its popularity. It usual manifests itself in phrases like "return to paradise" or "get back to Eden". I am baffled because—if one makes even a cursory reading of Genesis 2-3 and then Revelation 20-22—heaven seems plainly superior in many ways to Eden.

Yet this idea that salvation and heaven are just a reclaiming of what was lost in Eden seems to have some staying power. Certainly there are obvious similarities (which seem to get all the attention by many), but the differences are significant and considerable. I'm not even talking about the superficial distinctions—obviously one is a garden and the other is a city (the only carry-over we see in both places is the tree of life). Some of the other differences, however, are important because they inform our understanding of the fall, of heaven, and of the sovereignty of God.

The potential for a fall

I was tempted to break these all into individual points, but in the interest of brevity (and intellectual integrity) I summed them up to the basic idea that the fall and all that came with it loomed as an ever-present possibility. In Eden, mankind was of the nature that, though morally perfect in that he had not sinned, was not perfect in that he could not sin. Thus the possibility of sin and the fall kept these all as potential realities (and as we know, eventual realities). These ever-present possibilities include mourning, crying, and pain (Gen. 3:16, 17) and even physical death (Gen. 2:16, 3:19). Yet these all become impossibilities when God promises there will be no more "mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more" (Rev. 21:4) and Death itself will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).

The presence of Satan

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman . . . " (Gen. 3:1) The beginning of the fall narrative opens with the presence of what most theologians agree is a physical manifestation of Satan. Yet in Revelation he is defeated and banished to the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). This is reaffirmed when we read that "nothing unclean will ever enter [heaven], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Rev. 21:27).

The presence of God

While the last point is probably quite obvious to most, the presence of God also seems to be different between Eden and heaven. It is possible that God was not perpetually present in Eden in a physical manifestation because we read that "[Adam and Eve] heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Gen. 3:8). This seems to suggest he was not constantly walking in the garden. It also seems implicit that God is not physically present during the conversation between Eve and the serpent. Whether this is true or not, it is certainly true that Adam and Eve's awareness of the presence of God was such that they thought they could escape it as they "hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden" (Gen. 3:8).

Now I am certainly not questioning God's omnipresence, but I am suggesting that there will be a change in our awareness of the presence of God from Eden to heaven. In heaven, we read that "the dwelling pace of God is with man" (Rev. 21:3) as well as this great promise: "They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." (Rev. 22:4,5) It seems clear that in heaven we will

The ignorance/innocence of mankind

This last point is to some extent an outgrowth of the first three. While Adam was indeed quite intelligent (e.g. naming of the animals) and enjoyed a relationship with God of which we can only speculate, there is a great bit of experiential ignorance/innocence in man pre-fall. Adam and Eve did not have the same experiential understanding of God's grace, mercy, saving love and sacrificial servanthood that we have this side of Eden—and we do not have the same understanding that we will have someday while remain this side of heaven. Everything between Eden and heaven serve to shape and form worshippers who understand and appreciate who God is better than we ever could if we had stayed in the garden.


Obviously more could be said for each item and more items added to the list (for example, could Jesus' incarnated body and his post-resurrection glorified body be a picture for us of the bodies from Eden to heaven?). However, I feel these four points are sufficient to delineate between the condition of mankind in Eden and in heaven. So what? Why does it matter? I can think of at least two reasons.

1) This understanding of heaven as superior to Eden give us a greater appreciation of the sovereignty of God. If mankind had to endure everything between Eden and heaven just to get things "back to the way they were meant to be", it would seem somewhat pointless. But if God had planned from the beginning to bring a chosen people from Eden, through the in betweens, and to a heaven far superior to Eden, then that is a very amazing and beautiful thing. Indeed, I believe that is exactly what Revelation is talking about when we read "All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world." (Rev. 13:8) Notice that both those who would be saved and their means of salvation have been written from the creation of the world. This seems to imply also a fall that was somehow written from the creation of the world. (See also: Ephesians 1)

2) The understanding of a superior heaven should motivate us to live a life both joyfully in the present and eagerly anticipating the future. If all the trials we endure on this Earth are just backlash from our sin in Eden, then we've just gotta buckle down and bear it. But if each and every trial is a piece that God sovereignly ordained (see point 1) so that in heaven that very trial will all the more magnify the grace of God and the conquering joy of his people, well then we can, as James instructed, "consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds". If all of the in betweens are just the hoops we must jump through to get back what we'd lost in Eden, we could spend all of our lives looking back regretting the fall and questioning God. But if heaven surpasses Eden, then this is reason enough to press on, to look forward, to trust God and to pray with fervency "come quickly Lord Jesus!"

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturdays with C. S. Lewis - More Than to See Beauty

Some Saturday C. S. Lewis" was introduced and explained here.  The following quote is from the essay "The Weight of Glory", now published in the essay and sermon compilation by the same name. 

God has given us the Morning Star already: you can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings if you get up early enough.  What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more--something the books on aesthetics take little notice of.  But the poets and the mythologies know all about it.

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough.  We want something else which can hardly be put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.  That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves--that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image.

That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods.  They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can't.  They tell us the 'beauty born of murmuring sound' will pass into a human face; but it won't.  Or not yet.  For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very nearly prophecy.

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door.  We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure.  We cannot mingle with the splendours we see.  But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so.  Some day, God willing, we shall get in.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Review: Why Is God Ignoring Me? by Gary Habermas

Gary Habermas has long been known for his role in Christian apologetics, in particular his contribution to the argument for the resurrection of Jesus. Yet Habermas proves himself to be much more than a one trick pony by tackling the daunting challenge of the supposed silence of God in Why Is God Ignoring Me? Others have addressed this question—most notably in my mind Philip Yancey in his book Disappointment With God—but Habermas covers new ground and gives answers both emotionally and intellectually satisfying.

Indeed, his intellectual approach is clear from the onset as he deals with the issue of "Supernatural Activities In Our World" in the first chapter. In the following chapters he then addresses the biblical tension felt between the nearness of God and the promise that we will face hardship—the same tension that many of the biblical characters themselves had to face. Yet one of the most simple—and profound—answers to the problem of the supposed silence of God is that the problem may not lie on God's side. Thus he points us towards some of the classical spiritual disciplines as a sort of spiritual troubleshooting.

While it's a short book (139 pages), Why Is God Ignoring Me? packs a significant punch for those in doubt and a needed lift for those in pain. Christians should certainly be glad that we have one as Gary Habermas investigating the resurrection of Christ. Now we can be equally glad he is investing some time and effort toward other pressing issues for the Christian's confidence.

This book was a free review copy provided by Tyndale House Publishers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Don't Be Friends with Wannabe Missionaries

Justin Botz, a good friend of mine, left southern California indefinitely to do mission work in Cambodia this week.  You know what I think?  I think it sucks.

Well, not really.  It's a pretty fantastic opportunity for Justin and I couldn't be happier for him in that respect.  But it does bring up the larger reality that being friends with people who are set on doing missions is crappy because they inevitably just leave.  Like Kyle and Melody Thibodeau did a couple weeks before Justin.  Here one week, in South Korea the next- and for two years at that.

Soon enough, two more married couples who are some of mine and my wife's closest friends will go to Africa, and my reaction to those is quite the same: it's fine that you want to go serve Jesus overseas and all, but what about me?  What about the fact that this means we don't get to hang out while you're there?  Ever think of anyone besides yourselves and Jesus?

Apparently not.

So let it be a lesson to all of you: don't be friends with people who want to do missions.  Eventually they just pick up and leave and it's stupid.

Except for the part where it's awesome, of course.  Just keep in mind the relational hazard and make sure they send you a card every once in awhile...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: Your Church Is Too Small by John H. Armstrong

The lack of unity within Christianity—by it's broadest defintion—has long been a point of tension for believers and a point of ridicule for nonbelievers. I myself have felt this tension, and John Armstrong addresses it in Your Church Is Too Small. The divisions between Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant (and the further denominational splits therein) can feel a far cry from the unity of believers one might expect after reading through the New Testament. I speak of those three branches of Christianity because those are the groups Armstrong is addressing. Yet the simple fact is that everyone under the broad umbrella of Christianity—branch, denomination, and individual alike—must first determine what Scripture considers the true believers and the church before we can work towards unity within it.

And here, it seems, we find the sticking point for many both today and throughout Christian history. The simple definition—and Armstrong's most often used definition—of the genuine believers would be those who have trusted Christ for salvation and have received the gift, promise, and seal of the Holy Spirit. Yet, for all it's objectivity according to Scripture, those objective marks remain unseen and unavailable to us in our pursuit for unity.

He also suggests that all three branches of Christianity share a core orthodoxy, or "core truths shared by all Christians everywhere". But even here there seems to be a wide variation among the understandings and applications. Indeed, I would suggest that the divergent understandings of these core truths are actually a contributor to our lack of unity, not a step toward the solution. We are united in Christ, yet we cannot ignore doctrine or core truth because by it we learn and understand how we are united to Christ. Moreover, one cannot even communicate the Gospel absent of doctrine, core truth and orthodoxy.

If we consider the example that the apostles modeled for us, they called for and pursued unity. They seemed to encourage unity in fellowship even when there was not unanimity in beliefs. Yet at times they too disassociated from—even attacked—certain teachers and sects.

I feel Armstrong made one of his strongest points when he differentiated between unity and unanimity. While I don't have unanimity with my denomination, my church or even my pastor, there is certainly a strong sense of unity. This same unity minus unanimity would do well to grow between denominations and beyond.

So I am sympathetic to Armstrong's position in his desire for unity. I am grateful for the conversation he is engaging in. I hope this book serves to temper the backbiting, the bickering, the theological grandstanding that makes the Church look infantile in the eyes of the world. I pray Your Church Is Too Small will contribute to a stronger and more winsome—and not a watered down or compromised—Gospel.

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan Books.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Careful Caring Isn't Uncaring

Norm did a nice job of getting us all thinking the other day, wouldn't you say?  For those who are not up to speed and are too lazy to click the link and read his post, I'll summarize: Christians should take suffering and death seriously because real people are involved.  Therefore, extending health care to those who cannot afford it needs to be a real priority.

And I offer a hearty "amen".  If you are a Christian and and withhold an "amen",  then, well...then...gosh, I don't know what to say to you.  You're being dumb.  There, does that cover it?

Good.  We all agree so far.

I wish I could tell you that I have read widely and can offer a thoughtful opinion about how we ought to handle this incredibly complex problem, but I can't.  What I can offer is an opinion about how we go about having conversations like this.

Here is an opinion on health care that I'm tired of: "People are dying, no one's helping, the government wants to, so we should be fine with that- so what if it costs you a few extra tax dollars?" It's almost an "I don't care what we do as long as we do something" position.  Typically an advocate of this thinking caricatures those who disagree as uncaring, financially selfish, in bed with the Republicans, or simply not aware of how bad it really is.

So here is my opinion: this isn't helpful to anyone.  Here are 5 reasons why:

1.  I know almost no Christians who are actually like that.  They're probably out there, but I don't know them.

2.  This wildly underestimates how complex the issues really are.  It's all well and good that people want to care for the poor- really, it is.  But the issue isn't simple, and a simple solution probably won't do.

3.  Therefore, when a Christian disagrees that the government will genuinely be helpful with this, it may actually be because s/he has a thoughtful opinion about this complex subject.  S/he may, in fact, care so deeply for those in need that s/he is not satisfied with what s/he thinks is a less-than-adequate solution, or a solution that will be hurtful in the long run, or a solution that will set us back even now.  In this case, s/he is not being at all uncaring, unreasonable, or unbiblical, even if s/he is wrong.  Which means the other side is being foolish to shrug off the opinion as any of these things.

4.  Further, how we care for those in need is really, really important.  The rush to care is sweet, but it may actually be unhelpful.  I need only to point you to Africa for support, where it seems that more people are saying all the time, "All this foreign aid may actually be hurting them in the long term." It is important that we care, but it is equally important that we care thoughtfully.  Careful caring isn't uncaring.

5.  On top of all of this, there are legitimate biblical concerns that also deserve serious thought.  For one thing, if anyone who is passionate about government health care wants to get Christians who disagree to change their minds, that person will need to articulate the case thoughtfully.  Passion alone won't do it.  For another, some of those arguments are serious, and you need to actually deal with them if you disagree.  Again, I see too much shrugging off because, well, the Bible says we should care.  That's true.  It does.  But it says a lot of things- we evangelicals must deal with the whole counsel of Scripture.

I suspect that if pro-government health care types took these points seriously, they might be more helpful to those who aren't convinced.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review: The Reason For Sports by Ted Kluck

I was first introduced to Ted Kluck and his writings in his tag-team style book with Kevin DeYoung addressing the Emergent (and emerging) Church, enigmatically titled Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be).

The same subtleties—along with a healthy dose of humor—make his latest book, The Reason For Sports: A Christian Fanifesto, a very easy and enjoyable read. Kluck has written for ESPN The Magazine and Sports Spectrum, and his knowledge and love of sports show on every page.

While the spiritual content carries less of the weight than does the sports content, I imagine it would be annoying and heavy-handed if it were any different. Don't pick up this book expecting a deep theological treatise on how we are drawn to sports because the Christian life is a battle or how we will all one day "win" when Jesus returns. Rather, this book reads like a collection of essays centered around sports and how certain themes emerge for the fans (and players) that can be addressed by a Christian worldview. Such themes include steroids, sin and apologies, honesty and authenticity.

Kluck succeeds in writing a book that will appeal to sports fans while still writing a book that deserves to be on a Christian publisher's roster (yeah, I said it). While I did come away with one disappointment (What is the reason for sports? I still want to know), The Reason For Sports is a worthy read for any sports fan. In fact, it was the first book I have given to anyone this year for that very reason.

This book was a free review copy provided by Moody Publishers.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Portrait of a Foolish Pastor

My past contributions to this blog will be all the evidence you need to support the following self-descriptive claim: I am the type of fellow who endlessly analyzes and strategizes about, among other things, how we ought to be doing church.  So imagine my surprise when it occurred to me the other day that I have been wasting my time.

My moment of enlightenment (and it was enlightening) came when I was standing in the back of a musical worship session at the camp I took my high school students to this last weekend.  As I saw students confessing sin and praying for one another, the following thought entered my mind: "You do not pray seriously about your ministry, and therefore do not actually rely God to minister.  This is foolish."

The next thing I did was laugh.  Folly is funny, even when it is your own.  I laughed at how a guy with as much Bible training as I have could still manage to be so foolish.  Then I thought, "I wonder how many other reasonably smart, personable, and generally competent folks are out there ceaselessly thinking and talking about ministry who don't spend real time praying for the Spirit to work."

I assume there are many.  Some of them probably read this blog.

So here is the point of this post: what we really need to do if we care about being effective ministers of the gospel is to pray.  We need to pray a lot.  We need to pray alone and we need to pray in groups.  We need to pray specifically for our congregations, our leaders, our ministries, and the non-Christians we know. And if we aren't doing these things, we need to repent and start praying.

We can plant and water all day, but God must cause the growth (1 Cor. 3:6).  There is no clearer indication of our belief in this truth than our commitment to prayer.  Revivals don't come from the analyzing and strategizing- or at least not primarily.  They come when we pray.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review: On Guard by William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig is one of the top Christian apologists alive today. So when he writes a book on apologetics, I expect it to be well-argued and -reasoned. But I do not necessarily expect it to be accessible to the average reader, for better or for worse.

Yet On Guard, released this week by David C. Cook Publishers, is just that and more. This book is ready-made for undergraduate classes, church small groups or any Christian looking for an introduction to the key arguments in defense of Christianity.

Most of the content is not new to the discussion, but the format by which it is presented is. This is one of the primary appeals to this work. There are wide margins on the pages perfect for note-taking, unless that space is used for definitions of key words and logical fallacies. There are even profiles of some of the key thinkers along the way.

Craig presents the chapters in ascending logical order of arguments, from "What difference does it make if God exists?" to "Is Jesus the only way to God?". Along the way he hits some of the most popular arguments today for God's existence: the moral argument, the design argument, and of course the kalam cosmological argument, which Craig is especially well-known for modifying in his doctorate thesis.

If there is one weakness in the book, it is that it tries to be all things to all men. While the book is meant to be introductory, there are points when the content will simply be heavy lifting due to the subject matter at hand—despite the occasional single-panel cartoon thrown in. And the "Talk About It" questions seemingly geared for the small group are, in my humble opinion, more distracting than beneficial.

With only these few exceptions, William Lane Craig has written the perfect introduction to Christian apologetics. I know it will be among the first books I recommend when a Christian wants to get his feet wet in the defense of the Christian faith. Even to those familiar with the arguments, this book will be a worthwhile tool to add to the belt.

This book was a free review copy provided by David C. Cook Publishers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Rejoice You Haitians, Rejoice!

Some time ago a poster campaign was undertaken in the UK. It was billed as public demonstration of the rise in New Atheists' power as a reasonable force in the abolition of religion. They even had Richard Dawkins as the proud poster boy. They led with the tag-line:

"There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Aside from their refusal to hedge their bets and actually stick some resolve behind the message with which they wish to change 2,000 years of Western thought, there is a deeper and more alarming consequence of such statement. The assumption is that joy can only come without God.

Why would this ever be the case? The perusal of any new atheist writing makes their rationale clear why - one can only be left gobsmacked by the caricature of God presented through the selective and often misread passages of say Dawkins in The God Delusion. God is genocidal, sexist, filicidal, malevolent, fickle, demanding but most of all uncaring and unloving. How could the possessor of these traits be anything other than joyless? Or are there Shakespearian shades of 'he doth protest too much'? Put simply does our utter refusal to accept the consequences of our actions underlie the insistence of God being joyless? It's not my fault, but His. To surmise - and I do not think I'm skewing this at all - people find it wholly unacceptable that there is inherently nothing lovely or loveable about us. We are so blinkered by self-obsession that we act as errant spoilt children who are so self-absorbed that we refuse to acknowledge fault even when it is blatantly obvious.

Much is made of our Perfect and Holy God and the general abhorrence towards the fact we need to be without sin to approach Him. "I'm a good person, sin is for all those other people" people cry. After all we may have faults but at least we're better than that guy - God may not want him but he definitely wants me. In short there is no joy because we refuse to accept that all have sin and so no one can approach God. One thing that often comes to my mind when considering issues like these is that if we were to be treated within our earthly relationships as we have treated our Heavenly one then there would be no one who would stand for such behaviour. We would be encouraged to leave that person behind - "you don't need that stress in your life, you're too good for them". Without being too personal would Dawkins, Harris, Dennett et al. accept repeated adultery, the refusal to listen to instructions or requests, permanent self-obsession or the inability to accept the disastrous consequences of poorly thought through decisions? They may say they could but I doubt it. I for one certainly could not. So why do we demand this of God who is perfect and holy, vastly divorced from our sinful disposition? John makes it clear how we delude ourselves and hide from God's awesome glory (c.f. 1 John 1:5-8).

Back to the point and the source material: the Bible gives extended accounts of when God Incarnate walked on Earth. I for one struggle to find any examples of Jesus bringing anything other than joy unless you are a Pharisee or caught up amidst His Passion. No one moped because Jesus was in tow. So I struggle to find examples of how God is a killjoy - indeed He wishes for us to be joyful and share in the intra-Trinitarian relationship which is hardly characterised by misery!

This humanist message also carries a more callous - accidentally I'm sure - undertone. The authors would claim that they hold the keys to happiness - that their worldview of reductionist fatalism is true. To paraphrase one should always be happy because bad stuff just happens. No rhyme nor reason - it is just because. Rejoice you Haitians - there's probably no God, enjoy life! Rejoice you serial victims of rape in the theatre of war - there's probably no God, just get over it and enjoy your life! Now this may not be principal message behind the campaign, yet this flows from their rationale. This stance is entrenched in our obsequious Western middle-class worldview where if truth be told we have no concept of suffering. We are rich and well-provided for. Sure we all have problems but how may of us would swap that for the Third World? We pretend that we understand their situation, yet mock them when they speak of God as if we know better. Again I doubt reductionist fatalism would seem so appealing in Port-au-Prince or Darfur.

Now this is not about truth statements and I encourage you to come at this from an impartial view. Some people in suffering will automatically look for an explanation for their position: some blame the universe, others blame or praise God. Is it unreasonable for those who are broken by their situation to look for the joy of God? Even if God did not exist why would it be a terribly bad thing to look to Him anyway? Bad stuff just happens will not please or comfort anyone. To me it seems fairly obnoxious to demand of those suffering that they forget any reason for their suffering and therefore expect such a paradigm shift when we know nothing of a given situation. I speak with no authority on suffering, but just pray that those involved in the campaign never know the depths to which suffering can take us. It is easy not to worry about God when there is nothing driving you to question your very existence.

Despite my protestations I have nothing against campaigns like these: they open up discussion and allow a Christian response. The danger comes from the implicit messages entangled within their rhetoric and so we need to wary of the impact glib comments may have.