Thursday, February 23, 2012

reason versus faith part 3

Recommended Resources for BARRIERS:

• Mere Christianity: C. S. Lewis
• Reasonable Faith: William Lane Craig
• The Reason for God: Timothy Keller
• Christianity for Modern Pagans: Peter Kreeft
• Can Man Live Without God?: Ravi Zacharias

…two simple “first start” books:
• The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ: Lee Strobel

• The Language of God: Francis Collins
• Absence of Mind: Marilynne Robinson
• Lost World of Genesis One: John Walton
• Beyond the Cosmos: What Recent Discoveries in Astrophysics Reveal about the Glory and Love of God: Hugh Ross


• The Problem of Pain: C. S. Lewis
• Evil and the Justice of God: N. T. Wright
• Screwtape Letters: C. S. Lewis
• The Gift of Pain: Philip Yancey and Paul Brand
• Is God to Blame?: Greg Boyd
• Tim Keller’s 9/11 Anniversary speech:

• Surprised by the Power of the Spirit: Jack Deere
• Power Evangelism: John Wimber
• Surprised by Hope: N. T. Wright
• Miracles (an apologetic): C. S. Lewis

reason versus faith part 2

Lately I’d heard several stories of young Christians trotting off to college and getting blown out of their faith because of hearing views that didn’t harmonize with their Sunday-school version of faith. Listen: faith is rigorous, not opposed to reason, and not for the faint-hearted.

And a lot of the time it seems to center on creation and science…which is unfortunate in my mind. It doesn’t have to be that way. Believe it or not, evangelical Christians have different views on the issue.

There are basically four positions that Christians take regarding this issue. I’m indebted to my fellow Vineyard Pastor Ken Wilson in Ann Arbor for this overview…

Young Earth: This position says the earth was created six to ten thousand years ago. Each species was created separately with no common biological root. Once each species was created, it remains fixed. Small changes are allowed, but none so great that they eventually result in two species where there was once only one. Of the four positions, this maintains the maximum disagreement with mainstream science. Evangelicals who hold this position include John MacArthur, Josh McDowell, John Maxwell, and Charles Stanley.

Old Earth: This position says the earth could be as old as mainstream scientists say; the six days of creation in Genesis 1 could be six eras, when each species (though species may be defined flexibly) was separately created, with no descent from common ancestors. The theory of evolution has no merit, except to account for changes within a given species. This position maintains much disagreement with mainstream science, though less than the Young Earth position. A primary writer is Hugh Ross and the evangelical leaders in the U.S. who hold this view are way too many to mention.

Intelligent Design: This position is a relative newcomer to the debate, championed by writers like Philip Johnson. However, it’s difficult to assess this view because it’s advocates hold a wide range of views. Many who hold Young Earth and Old Earth positions advocate this position in public debate. Others, like Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, leave a lot of room for evolutionary process. Behe articulates what he views as a key weakness in evolutionary theory, what he calls “irreducible complexity.” Some biological structures are so complex that it’s difficult to imagine how an evolutionary process could account for them. There are so many using the language of Intelligent Design these days, but certainly Behe’s position involves less disagreement than the Young Earth and Old Earth positions, but it’s still substantial.

The fourth view is Theistic Evolution: This position says that God, working through evolution, created. Theistic evolution objects to scientists who step beyond their science to say that evolution proves that there cannot be a creator God. These are scientists who claim that since we have in evolution a mechanism that accounts for the diversity of life as we know it, then it follows that there is no creator God, no purpose in creation, and no design, not even in a big picture or theological sense. Theistic evolution says, “That’s just importing atheism into science; nothing in the science itself justifies that conclusion.” Many big guns, even in the field of evolutionary biology, agree. Theistic Evolution has many variations but certainly many who hold it would claim that Genesis is not meant to be read as science. God is very much the author, the text is inspired, reliable and authoritative. It simply isn’t meant to convey a scientific understanding of origins.

There are a growing number of evangelical Christians taking this position. Much in the writings of C.S. Lewis suggests that he held this view. B.B. Warfield, a contributor to Christian fundamentalist movement and a very conservative scholar who championed the “inerrancy” doctrine of Scripture, held to a version of this. Billy Graham is friendly to this view, along with Francis Collins, John Stott, Tim Keller, Peter Enns, to some degree J. I. Packer, and even Pope John Paul II.

I’m not here to tell you which of these views you should adopt, but I am saying there is a wide-range of very respected Christian thinkers, theologians and scientists who do not take a monolithic view on the interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis…and all deeply love Jesus and His atoning work on the cross for us. But for us to have a relevant voice in the culture, we need to be wise.

When Galileo was inquisitioned by the Church for promoting heliocentrism (the earth wasn’t the center of the universe and actually revolved around the sun—not a totally new thought but the Church considered it only a theory), his accusers based their view on scriptures like Psalm 93:1: Surely the world is established, so that it cannot be moved (NKJV)…and multiple verses about the sun “rising and setting”, proving that the sun moved around planet earth. And since scripture cannot lie, then Galileo must be wrong.

Galileo would write: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use.”

Physics professors Loren and Deborah Haarsma of Calvin College write:

“The Galileo incident shows us that the Holy Spirit can sometimes use discoveries of science to prompt us to reexamine our interpretation of Scripture, leading us ultimately to a better understanding of Scripture. We should not neglect this means by which God can teach us new things.”

Or as the proverb says, Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights. Proverbs 18:15 (Message Version)

Again, my reason for talking about this is not to convince you of any particular view, but to reconsider the idea that you have to park your brain at the door to become a follower of Jesus. But you may need to do some research. And truth is, all four views have difficulties Biblically…and to varying degrees, scientifically. But you have to think.

I love how Luke, the physician, historian, and someone who took some hellish missionary trips with his friend Paul, writes to a friend to help him in any open questions he might have regarding the truth of Jesus the messiah. Luke would have lived before and after the time of Jesus’ resurrection. His gospel is simply a letter written to his friend Theophilus. Luke writes:

Most honorable Theophilus: Many people have written accounts about the events that took place among us. They used as their source material the reports circulating among us from the early disciples and other eyewitnesses of what God has done in fulfillment of his promises. Having carefully investigated all of these accounts from the beginning, I have decided to write a careful summary for you, to reassure you of the truth of all you were taught. Luke 1:1–4 (New Living Translation)

In other words, “Theophilus, your heart has experienced the reality of God, but you may have some open questions intellectually, or some doubts regarding the historicity of the stories. I’ve taken the time to investigate this thoroughly so that you can trust the reports you’ve heard…”

The reality is: There are honest, real issues that Christians have to wrestle with: Why is there suffering? What is the origin of evil? How can natural calamities happen if God is good? Our most painful questions are usually more along philosophical, moral and theological lines than scientific. That’s simply because science, in general, is designed to answer “how” questions, not “why” questions.

I’ve recently been posting Facebook questions, such as “If Jesus sat across the table from you, what would you ask Him?” All of sudden there were over 160 comments…some funny ones, of course, but many of them were heartbreaking, as in “Why did my baby…” or “Why did my marriage…” or “How come cancer took my mom…”—issues of loss and pain and brokenness.

Another question was: “Total honesty: what barrier keeps you from deeply experiencing God?”—and again very vulnerable comments were posted exposing a longing to know why God did or didn’t do certain things.

And beneath all those comments is an undercurrent of fairness or justice. Something is simply not fair. “That’s not right.” “That’s not just.” The unfairness of life and circumstances was a common theme. That issue was a large part of former atheist C.S. Lewis’ whole problem with God in classic little book: Mere Christianity. He writes:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?

“…In the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist — in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless — I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality — namely my idea of justice — was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

In the end, reason will lead you to the doorway of God, but it won’t take you in. Reason will take you all the way to the door, but it won’t turn the handle. That’s where the actions of grace, repentance and faith must kick in. To experience God, one has to walk through a very small and narrow door that one can only fit through humbly on one’s knees. The only way in is via humility…with just enough self-awareness to say, “Maybe I’m not as smart as I thought I was. Maybe not as clever as I think. Maybe I don’t have all the answers. Maybe I’m more broken than I realize. Maybe there is something more to this life than this life.” Repentance means to change your mind. That’s why the Bible says that a fool says there is no God (Psalm 53:1). It’s the fool who believes he already knows everything, who has such little self-awareness that he can’t see any need. Only a fool would accept the senselessness of the universe as a way to live.

Again, often the problem is not an intellectual one, but a moral one.

The amazing Jewish prophet Isaiah—the prince of prophets in my mind, persecuted for his proclamations—once had a word from God for his people, his tribe. Israel had become so defined by her rebellion against God in the worst religious ways, that God had some gut wrenching things to say to them:

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:18

Once that condition is taken care of, then you’ll know God. Or as Jesus put it, “You shall know the truth…and it will set you free.”

[ Part 3 contains some recommended resources ]

reason versus faith part 1

Disclaimer: Some people asked me for notes about the talk last weekend; I supposed it stirred some things up. Here’s the bulk of it…in three parts. I warned you.

In this segment of the weekend series Barriers, we tackled Reason versus Faith. The argument goes like this: since the Enlightenment, light-year advances in the sciences, archaeological discoveries of other Ancient Near Eastern texts, the development of brand new fields like psychology, genetics and neuroscience, and the overthrow of the Church as a socio-political power creating a cultural context to question what were absolutes, launched an undercurrent of modernist thought that reflected this idea in the most simplest terms: no rational person can believe in a personal god any more than belief in a tooth fairy. We all know who puts the money under the pillow at night and pockets the little incisor. Religion was seen as a dinosaur, lumbering around with a brain the size of a walnut, doomed to extinction. It was viewed as anti-intellectual, anti-science and antiquated.

In high school and college I laughed at the idea of a god. I was way too smart for that. What’s more, I had felt the sting of so-called good church people who judged me because of the way I dressed and the length of my hair. There were churches I would not have been allowed in. It seemed to me that Christians were mean-spirited, hypocritical, judgmental and frankly backward. Creation could be explained naturally, telescopically we had found no evidence of heaven “out there”, and the supernatural stories of the Yahweh God seemed as unlikely as Zeus. The Bible was filled with contradictions as old as the Scopes Monkey Trial: just look at the opening chapter of Genesis—you have three days and nights before God made the sun…let alone calling the moon a light. And don’t get me started on where Cain found a wife. I had good reasons to be an agnostic at best.

And so in my dismissal of all-things-God, I assumed that morality was a human construct as well and, frankly, sexuality was purely animalistic and finally the Sexual Revolution had dawned on the human race. In my mind, everything was being liberated from restrictions, and certainly medieval ones.

And then a funny thing happened on my way to hell.

I met Jesus.

I’ve told my personal God-story before so there’s no need to rehash it. But what happened was that people inexplicably began popping into my path telling me how their lives had changed by surrendering to Jesus. What I had to admit was that they seemed different in some way than the people I hung out with. What’s more, I couldn’t argue with their personal experience. I had no reason to think they were lying; for one, several of them were family members who radically changed. I could certainly say they were going through a phase (“They’ll get over it…”)…or had joined some cult and been hypnotized…or that the basis for their conversion was no more than mythology. But nevertheless, they had experienced something. That was undeniable.

They had something I didn’t.

The genius author, mathematician, and philosopher Pascal, after he came to Christ in a dramatic way, once described the condition of someone who doesn’t know God like this:

“I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which surround me as an atom, and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.

“…Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty. And from all this I conclude that I ought to spend all the days of my life without caring to inquire into what must happen to me. Perhaps I might find some solution to my doubts, but I will not take the trouble, nor take a step to seek it; and after treating with scorn those who are concerned with this care, I will go without foresight and without fear to try the great event, and let myself be led carelessly to death, uncertain of the eternity of my future state.”

You would think that just stopping to reflect on life for more than ten minutes would cause us to go on a desperate search for God, but instead, we jam our time with diversions and busy-ness to avoid the despair and angst that naturally comes when you do think about those things.

I had one other problem I had to admit…and hated to confess: I felt deeply and intensely lonely in the universe. British writer G.K. Chesterton famously wrote: “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” I had to admit that the stuff I was drinking, smoking, ingesting and watching was not really filling my heart. I felt like the story in John’s gospel of Jesus and the woman at the well: “If you have water that can make me never thirst again, give it to me!” There seemed to be a big hole in my soul that had me puzzled.

And so I would think and think about this Jesus-thing late at night. And when I finally surrendered my life to Him in a church in Clifton, things started to change remarkably. I began to discover how much God really loved me…that I had a purpose in the universe…that life isn’t all random events...that I could actually experience the Spirit of God in a real way. That was pretty mind-bending.

But a few months into it, the doubts came roaring in. What if I psyched myself into this? What about other religions and their truth-claims? What if the stories of Jesus were made up…or at least exaggerated? What about issues of evolution and the Biblical creation story? How do I deal with doubts?

In other words, I knew I had experienced something real, but I had a lot of intellectual—not to mention practical—questions to be answered. Something had happened to my heart, but my head had real questions. Part of the problem was that I had bought into the atheist mantra that only people with double-digit IQ’s believe in God.

Now here’s what’s funny. Somehow I had overlooked scientists like Copernicus, Francis Bacon, Kepler, Descartes, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Mendel, Planck (the father of quantum theory) and Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project).

Interestingly enough, in a recent study from Rice University, over sixty percent of natural scientists—people in disciplines like physics, chemistry and biology—said they believe in God. That’s much higher than I would have thought. While a separate survey from the University of Chicago revealed that 76 percent of doctors said they believed in God.

And what’s more, I somehow missed brilliant authors like Dante, Shakespeare, Dafoe, Bronte, Hugo, Longfellow, Dickens , Harriet Beecher Stowe, Swift, Wordsworth, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, Flannery O'Connor, Graham Greene…and even, uh, John Grisham.

Or artists who believed in God like, DaVinci, Rembrandt, Albrecht Durer, Michelangelo, Cezanne, Delacroix, Renoir, Blake, and Matisse.

And brilliant musicians and composers like Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Charlie Hines, Jim Zartman…not to mention the Fray, Common, Switchfoot, the Civil Wars, Mutemath and Mumford and Sons.

Or what about brilliant philosophers like Hegel, Kant, Kierkegaard, Spinoza, Wittgenstein and Barth?

The only reason I’m mentioning these—and they weren’t all Christians, but did believe in God—is because there’s a “pub theology” that says that smart people don’t believe in God. That’s so arrogant and narrow-minded it’s embarrassing.

And so I prayed that God would put me a place where there were books and I could read and learn (I had earlier tossed away a four-year scholarship to chase a music career). I landed a job at the Public Library downtown and discovered in about the Dewey Decimal 220’s that there were actually brilliant Christian writers and a whole area of study called apologetics that challenged my mind and got me thinking way more sharper to answer ontological and theological questions that had been tearing me apart.

The learning is this: if you have doubts, don’t be afraid of questions, but approach it scientifically…look at the evidence for proof. If you’re going to do serious studious research into Christianity or have questions regarding its validity, don’t just read the pseudo-intellectual agnostic blogs with their interpretations of it, but go to the source material. Find Christians who are smarter and sharper than you and find out what they have to say. I’d have to say that C. S. Lewis saved my life with three books: Mere Christianity, The Problem Of Pain and Miracles.

In other words, feed your faith, not your doubts.

[ Part II continues… ]