Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Standing for Truth in the Public High School

I am a public high school physics teacher. I am also committed to following Christ and to the idea that his reign extends to all of life. Yet in our culture it is inappropriate for a public educator to proselytize or to advocate for one's own religion. How then do I stand for Christ while not being able freely to discuss him in the classroom?

Consider this conversation between me and a student:
Student: Where is room 235?
Teacher: Where would you like it to be?
Student: [look of confusion] I don't know...
Teacher: Well, culture tells us that we can make up our own truth. What true for you is not true for me. So, what is the truth here?
Student: Well, I guess whatever makes us happy?
Teacher: Great. So where would you like room 235 to be to make you happy?
Student: I just want to get to my meeting!
Teacher: Oh, so room 235 can't be just anywhere?
Student: I guess not.
Teacher: So, truth isn't just what we make it to be?
Student: Nooo...[again, the look of confusioin]
Teacher: Room 235 is just around the corner.
What was my point of this conversation that the student probably thought was pretty weird? It was simply to show that reality does not bend to our wishes, that the things that we think in our heads must match the world out there if they are to be true.

Nobody can possibly live consistently with the idea that truth is what we make it, no matter how many times we are told otherwise. Room 235 is where it is and not where I'd like it to be.

Before a person can accept the truth about Jesus Christ and his work of redemption for mankind, and person must first believe that the Christian account of reality is true. Before they can accept the Christian understanding of the world as true, they must first believe that truth is true. Francis Schaeffer used to talk about the notion of "pre-evangelism," that is, that before we can meaningfully discuss the gospel with someone, we first have to prepare the soil, so to speak. They have to be ready to hear truth, and if they are not ready, then we will not be communicating what they first need to hear.

So I look for opportunities in the classroom to show my students that truth is true. The world does not stoop to me; I must stoop to the world. In lots of little ways like this I am proclaiming truth to my students. Then, maybe down the road in God's sovereignty somebody else will come along to meaningfully share the gospel of Jesus Christ and that person will be ready to hear and consider it.

Something to think about.




Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Putting God Out of a Job?



In my interactions with members of our local freethought society, it is simply assumed that science has displaced God. He has become unnecessary because our knowledge of physics, chemistry, cosmology, and biology have grown immensely. Our gaps of knowledge are being filled in, and therefore there is no need for God.

By way of response, I came across  this quotation from physicist Luke Barnes, co-author of the wonderful book, A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos. He speaks directly to this tendency on the part of atheists to assume that God retreats on the field of battle as scientific knowledge marches forward:

The relationship of God to the Universe is something like that of an author to a book. We won’t find J. K. Rowling in Hogwarts or Shakespeare in fair Verona. We can’t put the author out of a job by discovering a new character, or deciphering the plot, of finding the first page of the book, which reveals how the story started. This is not a hastily revised ‘modern’ God, retreating in the face of science. It predates the scientific revolution by a few thousand years, and for the most part was the worldview of the makers of the scientific revolution.
The Christian Philosopher of science and mathematician, John Lennox, makes a similar point in his book, God's Undertaker:
…understanding the mechanism by which a Ford car works is not in itself an argument for regarding Mr. Ford himself as non-existent. The existence of a mechanism is not in itself an argument for the non-existence of an agent who designed the mechanism. 
How silly would it be for a car mechanic to lift the hood and declare, "I don't see Henry Ford! He must not exist!" In the same way as our scientific knowledge progresses, we do not put God out of a job.

Christian theists do not hold to "god-of-the-gaps" theology that says because we do not understand something, therefore God did it. No serious Christian thinker has ever advocated this position. Rather, God is a necessary being who is the ground of all existence. This view of God has been dominant since Aristotle, who although was not a Christian, he understood the need for a different kind of being to ground all motion and change.

Ironically, even as atheists assert that they are the rational and educated ones, they operate with a view of God that historically no one has ever held. I have found this lack of interaction with serious Christian theism to be a hallmark of the thought of our local freethinkers, thus one of my goals for continuing to join them is to disrupt their echo chamber and to represent (as best I can) the stream of Christian philosophy that they have never interacted with.



Monday, August 18, 2014

You Can’t Live Like Truth Is Relative



Our culture tells us that truth doesn’t matter. Everything is relative.

That might be true for you, but not for me, they will tell you. Perception is reality is another common refrain. Find your truth within.

The problem with these sentiments is that no one can actually live this way. It is simply not possible.

For example, you might walk into your local bank to cash a check, and while there find out that some money is missing! Whereas your bank statement indicated that you had $450 in your account, your teller says, “Oh, we just send out those statements to make you feel good about yourself. We always add in some extra on paper so as not hurt anyone’s feelings. You only actually have $275.”

You expect the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, not just from banks, but from everyone in every walk of life. You expect truth from witnesses on the stand, your doctor, your financial planner, and your used-car salesman.

No wife wants to hear from her husband upon returning home late, “Whatever makes you happy – that’s where I was.”

We expect college transcripts to faithfully report our progress (well, at least we don’t want them to be worse!).

Congressman Jones says that those funds were not donated by a racist group. The road sign says that it’s only 20 more miles to Albuquerque. The instruction manual says to turn the handle three times and then pull.

In every area of your life, you expect truth-telling. You demand it. You wouldn’t put up with lies or deception from any professional person, business, governmental agency, or news story.

Truth is basic to life.

So why do we pretend that it is any different when it comes to religion and ethics?

Christians contend that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the grave three days after having been killed. Well, is it true or isn’t it? If it is, that changes everything, doesn’t it? If it isn’t, then I no more would want to be a follower of Jesus than a follower of David Koresh.Well, ok, I guess Jesus was nicer.

The next time that somebody says to you that all truth is relative, simply ask them, “Would you say the same thing of your bank statements?”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Review of A Reasonable Response

I respect greatly the work that Dr. Craig does in providing a defense of the Christian worldview, so when I learned that his new book, A Reasonable Response, was coming out, I jumped at the chance to read it and to provide a review of it.

A quick scan of the table of contents reveals a fairly comprehensive list of topics. There are six parts dealing with the following topics:
·         Questions on Knowing and Believing What is Real
·         Questions about God
·         Questions about Origins and the Meaning of Life
·         Questions about the Afterlife and Evil
·         Questions about Jesus Christ and Being His Disciple
·         Questions about Issues of Christian Practice

Craig and Gorra clearly have in mind a target audience who are Christians concerned about dealing with atheists and skeptics. They are speaking into contemporary Western culture that is dominated by philosophical materialism and skepticism. While appropriate for any reader, the audience best suited for A Reasonable Response includes those in a university environment, those in contact with university students, or those interested in broader philosophical debates relative to the Christian faith. It is this type of environment where more weighty intellectual challenges tend to arise about which a Christian defender would want a “reasonable” response to challenges.

The range of questions and topics in A Reasonable Response will be interesting and of value to any Christian. The responses written by Craig, however, are largely written for an above-average reading level. This is a benefit for the reader because it is like taking our brain to the gym for a little workout when we read. Craig unapologetically expects his readers to think (imagine that!) while engaging with the material presented. The authors will be like personal cognitive trainers to stretch you to become stronger intellectually. Having said this, however, I do not think this book is out of reach. Any reader will be able to absorb the ideas from the vast array of topics presented.

The format of the book is such that you do not have to read it sequentially from beginning to end. Because the authors compiled it in a Question-Answer format, you can simply jump to a topic that interests you. This format makes the book very handy, and even though the print version contains 432 pages (this review is based on the Kindle version), you don’t feel overwhelmed.

In his introduction Gorra declares that one of their goals for this book was to provide succinct answers to tough questions, enough to “chew on.” They want us doing apologetics, not just studying and endlessly discussing it and never letting them escape out into the wider world where people need Christ. Craig and Gorra desire that this book act as a go-to manual to look up questions and issues as they arise in conversation. In fact, as an example of the usefulness of this book, recently I was discussing with a co-worker the reasons that I hold for the existence of God using the Kalam Cosmological argument – one of Craig’s signature arguments. I didn’t think that I did such an effective job of explaining why the First Cause of the universe had to be personal, as opposed to an impersonal force. When I got home I looked in A Reasonable Response  to see if it dealt with this issue. Lo, and behold!  I spotted an entry entitled, “Must the Cause of the Universe Be Personal?” I have been since studying this chapter so that next time the issue comes up, I will own it!

You will be introduced to a fascinating concept advocated by Dr. Craig called molinism. This review is not the place to introduce it –  I’ll let Craig and Gorra do that. Suffice it to say that they will present you with a view of how God can sovereignly control the universe while at the same time giving his creatures libertarian free will. While I don’t hold to this view, molinism is a fruitful philosophical and theological concept that is definitely worth thinking about!

In conclusion, you will find this book to be a versatile and beneficial addition to your library shelves. With its wide range of topics aimed at an educated audience, there are very few common challenges for which you will be unprepared after having studied its pages. Craig and Gorra have done a service for the Church to give us a sword and a shield for taking our Christian convictions out into the world to make a difference for Christ.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What Does God Promise Us, Really?

When I say that God has a wonderful plan for your life, what Scripture is the first to pop into your mind?

Chances are that Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”) was the first Bible verse that you thought of. My purpose in this short blog post will be for you to consider a new Scripture that gives a similar promise but has the advantage of being a promise that we should claim.

But first, a quick word about Jeremiah 29:11. Considering my purpose here, I will only do the briefest of overviews. More pillows, wall hangings, and Bible covers are stitched with this verse than any other selection of literature in the English speaking world. It has tremendous emotional appeal to many who have held on to this verse in times of difficulty, and some of you will question my Christian orthodoxy by what I’m about to write. But I’m convinced that if you give me a fair hearing, the Scripture passage that I replace it with will do more for your spiritual journey.

Jeremiah 29 was not written for you. Or me. Nor anybody alive today.

Let me explain. When I read Scripture I employ a rule that I learned from Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason (str.org). This rule is simple, significant, and enlightening. It goes like this: Never read a Bible verse (NRBV).

Never, ever read a single verse of Scripture. When you read the Bible, you should always read at least a whole paragraph – before and after the verse in question. Following this basic rule will give you more of the author’s flow of thought. The alternative is always to read verses out of their context and develop a meaning contrary to the author’s intent, and thus, in essence, to write your own Bible.

So when we employ NRBV to Jeremiah 29, we find that Jeremiah wrote this section specifically to the Jews who had been taken captive in Babylon. He wrote it as an encouragement to them that after 70 years of captivity, God would remember them and bring them back to the land. Why? Because he knows the plans that he has for them. Good plans for welfare and not for evil; plans that will give them hope.

You see, Jeremiah 29:11 is somebody else’s promise, and nobody today is now alive to claim this promise anymore. Now, it is very common at this point for some Christians to spiritualize the verse and say that, well, the point is that God has good plans for his people. I have two problems with this approach. First, it’s true enough that God plans well for his people, but why can’t we find Scripture more pertinent to us from the New Testament that speaks to us? Second, and more problematically, when Christians take this verse to heart, it gives the impression that God has only pleasant things in store for us in this life. God has plans for my welfare, after all. It is often unspoken, and we absorb it from our Christian culture in a hundred subtle ways. We expect that things will go well for us.

And then they don’t. The car dies. You develop cancer. A job is lost. But God, I thought you had good plans for me? Plans for a future and a hope! What happened?

Let me suggest a selection of Scripture that makes the same promise that we take Jeremiah 29:11 to be, but is more powerful, more encouraging, and is actually written for New Covenant Christians.

In Romans 8 (using NRBV) Paul asserts that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, that those who have the Spirit are led by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body, that we have been adopted as sons (and daughters), that all creation is awaiting our full redemption, and that that the Spirit intercedes for us. The apostle then says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers….if God is for us, who can be against us?” (v28-31). He goes on to proclaim that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing. Not tribulation. No power, no angel, no height nor depth. No job loss. No dead cars. Not even cancer will ever separate us from God’s love in Christ.

Now that is a promise that we can cling to! Jesus said that in this life we will have trouble, but that we shouldn’t worry because he has overcome the world (John 16:33). We will have trouble. God never promises us easy street. But none of this trouble will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ. And this is not the general love of God for all people. Paul is specific that it’s the love of God in Christ. For you, Christian.

But wait, there’s more meat to this promise that Paul is giving us. For those of us who love God, who are called according to his purpose, all things will work together for our good. What does good here mean? Does that mean everything will be hunky-dory in my life, all peaches and cream? No. He completes the thought in the next sentence. The good for which all things will work is that we will be conformed to the image of Christ. God is promising us that all things, all things, all suffering, pain, depression, anxiety, and sadness. All happiness, pleasantness, and sunshine. All things will work for our good to make us more like Jesus.

This is a promise that we can claim, hang on to, dig our nails into during our toughest times when life seems to have gone off the rails. We followers of Christ need to prepare for suffering. It will come. Many a believer has had her faith derailed because of unexpected trials. Don’t let this happen to you.

By the way, the more you mature as a follower of Christ, the more appealing the promise to be like him will become. When I was younger this promise felt like the booby prize at a third grade birthday party. But now that I’m approaching middle age, and about 33 years in the Lord, I desire more and more to be made more like Christ.

So in summary, I’m not telling you to throw out all your pillows that have Jeremiah 29:11 stitched on them. I simply want you to replace in your mind the promises that you cling to. Jeremiah is weak sauce compared to Romans 8, which is rich and deep with meaning for us in Christ.

Praise be to the Lord that he will work all things out in my life for my good so that I will resemble more and more the Lord whom I have chosen to follow.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Are We Investing our Talents for the Kingdom?

As I've written before, the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30) is one of the most challenging parables/teachings in Scripture to me. It is clear from this parable that the Lord will hold us accountable for what we do in life with what he gave us. He gives each of us resources and abilities to further his Kingdom, and there will be a reckoning.

Given this reckoning, I want to make sure that my remaining days in this life are devoted to Kingdom work. I am about to turn 38 years old in just a few weeks, and while this would not quite be considered middle-age by most standards, I am feeling more middle-aged than I ever have. Most people probably follow this natural tendency toward becoming more reflective as they age, and I am no exception.

Regardless of how much the Lord gives us (5, 2, or 1 Talents), we are expected to invest what we have. After almost 38 years I have come to realize and accept the abilities and gifts that the Lord has given me. I am not handy - my wife will attest to that. While I enjoy playing my guitar, I am no skilled musician. Stick figures are my idea of great art. While I greatly respect entrepreneurs and those that can successfully run a business, I don't think naturally in those terms. I run for (a perverse) pleasure and to get basic exercise, but I don't have any great athletic skill.

What I am is a scholar. I love to read, to learn, and to study. And I love to teach given the proper audience (as a high school science teacher, the "proper" audience involves those who are interested in the material - a situation relatively rare with the average American teenager). I teach in my local church when given the opportunity and have consistently received positive feedback from both adults and students.

This is how God made me, it is what I am passionate about, and how God will hold me accountable. I will not be condemned for not being able to do a slam dunk or paint the next Mona Lisa. But I will be held accountable for not being me. I am a learner and a teacher, and these are my passion. I will be judged accordingly.

Knowledge of myself causes me to act differently. I recently (in the last year) was accepted into Biola University's Master of Arts in Science and Religion (MASR) program, and I started taking classes last fall. The reason I did this was to increase my skill as a scholar and teacher. I can't teach what I don't know, and so if I want to invest my "talents" for God's Kingdom, I need to develop those talents. My long-term goal is a PhD in philosophy, probably specifically in the History and Philosophy of Science. Not because I covet being a "doctor," but because as a PhD I can have a wider impact for the Kingdom. As William Lane Craig often writes, the university drives our culture. All future politicians, business leaders, and even community organizers will pass through the university. This is a major mission field in our culture.

Self-awareness also causes me to pray differently. This last year, after beginning taking classes at Biola, at the same time I went from two jobs at my school (I used to run an evening classroom) down to just my daytime physics position. I did this to honor my family above the extra income I was making. But it also means my financial resources available for taking classes with Biola has greatly diminished. So I am praying to the Lord asking him to give me the resources that I need not only to take care of my family but also to continue developing my abilities for the Kingdom. Because I know myself and how God made me, I am simply asking him to give me what I need to be more effective at how he made me. If I were a farmer, I would pray for the Lord to bless my crops and farming abilities. I am a scholar, so I am asking him to bless my learning and to expand my opportunities for teaching what I have learned so far.

This is a matter of trust for me and simply placing it before the Lord. The PhD especially would have to be a work of the Lord because I am the sole provider for my family. Not only would I have to be accepted into a program but I will also need funding from the school. If the Lord does not provide an open door for ministry in this area, then I will seek out other ways in which I can have an impact for the Kingdom.

So, what about you, dear reader? How has God made you? Have you spent a season thinking about this and asking the Lord for wisdom to discern your abilities? Have you taken steps to develop those abilities? Are you investing your skills in kingdom work? Have you prayed, asking the Lord to give you what you need to develop yourself and for the wisdom to use your gifts? No matter your age, it is not too late (or too early) to begin thinking about how to have the most impact and how to be the most effective for the Kingdom.

If every follower of Christ in our culture made a decisive effort to engage themselves and their abilities into kingdom work, this world would be better, almost overnight.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Waging War on an Enemy in the Camp

An enemy has overrun the camp.

We are captives, POW's, from a series of battles that was won decades ago by an enemy that is at once both hidden and obvious. It is obvious, because we can see its affects all around us. It is hidden because we all have patterns of thought influenced by this enemy that we don't even realize.

Worst of all, we have allowed this enemy to overtake us. In a sort of spiritual Stockholm Syndrome, we have come to admire and adore this enemy that has no good plans for the Church.

We have not been vigilant and have ignored Paul's admonition to play defense in Colossians (2:8) by not being taken captive by deceptive philosophy. In another passage Paul switches from defense to offense, still using this key word, "captive." In 2 Cor 10:3-5, he tells us to "take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (As an aside, this verse is usually taken out of context to mean we should capture impure thoughts, etc., but in context it is clear that Paul is referring to arguments, speculations, and cultural strongholds that hold sway over people's minds)

From this moment on I am hereby declaring war on this enemy that has infiltrated our ranks in the Church and in our culture.

We have been overrun by naturalism and materialism - the idea that the only thing that exists is the physical universe and no such person as the Christian God exists. (Materialism does not mean too much shopping, but that the world is only made of material with no spiritual aspects)

Now, I said before that this enemy is both hidden and obvious. The obvious aspects are, well, obvious. All of the major influential organs of our culture are committed to this worldview: the universities, Hollywood, major media outlets, legal system. We hear the message in a thousand different ways that all we are is body without soul. My purpose in this post is not outline all of the various and sundry ways that the overriding philosophy of our culture is naturalistic.

What I want us to see is the more hidden aspect of materialism and naturalism, for many of you have already turned me off. For you may be thinking: I go to church. I haven't bought into this naturalism stuff. I believe in God. He's real! Well, let me ask you - a representative of Western Christianity - a few rhetorical questions (meaning I don't expect an answer - you're welcome to, but it's unlikely I'll hear you...or put them in the comments below):
  • What is your view of the universe? Is it a system that runs efficiently, sort of like a machine? Did God set it up at the beginning and then just let it run?
  • Do you think in categories of natural vs supernatural?
  • When you pray about a particular topic weighing on your heart do you secretly expect that nothing will really happen?
  • Is science the study of the natural world and physical processes within the world only?
  • Do you, or your denomination, see the Scriptures as perhaps true with regards to spiritual things, but maybe not in historical or scientific aspects?
  • Do you think that all of your thoughts are generated in your brain? 
  • When Jesus promises us things like he does in John 1:7, does the promise die a death of a thousand qualifications?
  • When you think of miracles in the Bible, such as the parting of the Red Sea or the Burning Bush, do you tend to think of natural processes that could have caused this to happen?
  • If you believe in God as Creator, do perhaps think of God doing it strictly through secondary causes or indirect means?
  • Do you listen to neuroscientists ("brain scientists") to tell you what you "really" are?
  • Do you tend to see sin as a product of bad environment or poor education or possibly as an unhealthy psyche?
  • Are psychiatrists and psychologists the key to our "sin problem?"
  • Is the presence of natural evil (i.e. earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes) just due to the natural forces at work in the physical world?
Most of us Western Christians have been trained to answer the above questions with a yes! The problem is that the answer from the Christian worldview to all of them is no! Maybe you only answered yes to a few of these. Even if you answered yes to only one question, then to some extent you have bought into materialism/naturalism, a hollow and deceptive philosophy.

The Bible knows nothing of this separation between natural and supernatural. Biblical categories are human vs superhuman (see the Introduction to Craig Keener's excellent work, Miracles). Because of naturalism we tend to devalue the work of God. Oh, we say that we believe that God is a miracle worker and that he created the universe, but what did he really do? Do we believe in a passive God who somehow only operates hands-off, by letting other things do his dirty work?

You see, in the Bible God takes all of the credit. He causes the grass to grow and waters the earth (Ps 104). He alone created the heavens (Is 40:26). God is the one who works wonders (Ps 77:14). He even creates natural disasters (Is 45:7).

Our acceptance of naturalism, even though we may not realize it, has caused us to take glory away from God. Contrary to what our culture teaches, Scripture tells us that he is the initiator and sustainer of the entire created order (Gen 1, John 1, Col 1:15-17). He is responsible. The buck stops with him, not with natural laws or created things. 

So, my challenge to you is to be open to the ways in which we have been taken captive by a hollow and deceptive philosophy. Naturalism has nothing to offer us. It is completely bankrupt as a philosophy. It makes us think less of ourselves, less of others, less of creation, and less of God. Much moral evil has resulted from the acceptance of this insidious idea. For this reason I am declaring war on naturalism and materialism, and this will continue to be a theme on my blog.

We have been overrun. Let's take back our camp for the glory of God.