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 ( 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.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Intelligently Designed Experience in Seattle

I have just returned from spending nine days in Seattle. Quirky, yet beautiful Seattle. Home to the Space Needle, Pike’s Place Fish Market, Puget Sound, Ivar’s Salmon House, and the Discovery Institute. Chances are that you may have heard of some of those places. I for one highly recommend going to the top of the Space Needle. For 20-odd dollars you can purchase a transcendent experience. Amazing.

But the reason that I left my wife and children, whom I have hardly seen this summer, for Washington state was to attend this year’s Seminar on Intelligent Design (ID) in the Natural Sciences with the Discovery Institute. Unless you have been in a coma for the last few decades, you will probably know that what I just did would be considered outright heresy in many circles. Subversive. Idiotic. Damnable.

The scientific establishment in the West, and particularly in our country, would assign a thoroughly dark and hideous corner of hell for ID proponents. If only they believed in hell. They certainly think they have the requisite power. It is completely acceptable in our country to “come out” as a homosexual or a conservative (although this particular unveiling will probably result in fewer invitations to cocktail parties). But the one thing that you must never do is admit to questioning Darwin. This is heresy of the first order, and it will not be tolerated.

I am a heretic. So be it.

Something like 45 of us heretics wore our little eyeballs out with piles of preparatory reading (they sent me two full boxes of books, articles, and DVDs) and then sat through nine full days from 9 AM to 9 PM with breaks for lunch and dinner. As a participant in the science track(they also had a track relating to the humanities), I had classes on understanding Neo-Darwinism, Cosmological fine-tuning, detecting design, philosophy, biochemistry and much more. We had great interaction with many of the leaders in the ID research community.

One of the greatest benefits for me was meeting and befriending like-minded design enthusiasts from all over the world. It was a fantastic experience for this community is so gracious and welcoming. Not everyone who came initially accepted ID at the same level – some were a little skeptical of various aspects of ID upon arriving. Not everyone was a Christian. All they asked of us is that we have an open mind.

I cannot speak for others, but my own experience was such that after departing I am even more convinced of the inherent design in nature. Darwinian evolution is so scientifically unlikely that few would believe it if it were not first motivated by strong metaphysical and psychological reasons to avoid a personal Creator.
ID provides empirical evidence, evidence from the natural world, that materialism is false. We are not just particles bumping together in the grim, dark night, but we have been purposefully designed. This inference is as far as ID will get you, however. You cannot reason from empirical design in nature to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For that you need other apologetic tools.

Though ID can be used in a properly restrained argument for theism, I am not just a theist. I am a follower of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob come in human form, Jesus of Nazareth. And the design that I observe and study in nature leads me to worship. This Seminar has, among many other things, brought me to my knees in awe of our Creator. In a different context Paul erupts in a doxology (Romans 11:33-36) that I think is appropriate as a capstone on my reflections:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Monday, July 22, 2013

All It Will Take Is One

Materialism is our sworn enemy.  Materialists (those who hold to materialism) believe that our universe is closed, that all of reality can be summarized thusly: in the beginning were the particles.

So begins the creed of those who hold to the supremacy of particles, of mass and energy, with all the fervency of the radical faithful. Like the barbarians of old sweeping through the city gates, the materialist Vandals have left nothing but destruction in their wake, offering nothing of value to our civilization. The idea that we just are particles bumping together in the dark night has grim consequences.

Consequences. All ideas have them. And what hath materialism wrought? At bottom, if it is true, we live in a valueless world. We humans all have this sense that when we look within ourselves to consider our own experiences that we are valuable. That we should be taken seriously because we take ourselves seriously. I have thoughts, beliefs, intentions, desires, and goals. I am about something. But particles are not about anything. How could a collection of particles have desires, beliefs, and goals?

So what’s the payoff for materialists? Why has Western civilization allowed itself to be been overrun by this metaphysical barbarian that devalues life? Because particles do not require anything of us. Particles are indifferent to my lifestyle. Particles don’t care if I give full rein to my passions. And let’s be honest: it usually comes down to sex. Particles are uninterested in what I do with my various body parts. It is often said that denial is not just a river in Egypt. Given the choice between a Creator who might make claims on my life because, oh, say he actually made me and apathetic specks of matter, many will have strong psychological reasons to deny God and to choose valuelessness.

Given these powerful psychological causes, we can now see why materialists exhibit such overt vitriol toward Intelligent Design (ID). All it will take is one bona fide demonstration of design in nature, and the materialist project will be over. Finished. And they know it.

In the ID research community we think that we have much good empirical evidence of design in nature. We infer from the evidence, for example, the existence of functionally specified information encoded in DNA in every one of your trillion cells, give or take a few hundred billion. Look around you. Every instance of functional or specified information comes from a mind, not a chance or law-like process. Observe, for example, billboards, the software in your smartphone, magazines, Mt. Rushmore, and the lyrics or melody in any song.  These are all instances of information specified for a purpose. As Stephen Meyer points out is his book, Signature in the Cell, we argue in the same way that Darwin did – we observe processes in nature that are now in operation. Chance and the laws of physics or chemistry did not create Mt. Rushmore  – an intelligent mind did.

So we have evidence. Positive, empirical evidence for design. Many more evidences could be given, but this is sufficient to make my point: one single instance of design in nature and its nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey…good-bye materialism.

And good riddance.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Discovery Institute Seminar on ID in the Natural Sciences - Opening Day

I am in Seattle, Washington for this year's Seminar on ID in the Natural Sciences at the Discovery Institute. I arrived here last night after midnight (local time) with a guy from Europe who rode the same shuttle as I did. Of course, something got screwed up and they didn't have a room for me, so we waited for awhile until everything was put in order.

My new friend from Europe - I'll call him Stefan. This is not his real name, and I won't be identifying his home country because we are under very strict guidelines not to "out" anyone as an Intelligent Design (ID) advocate lest careers be ruined. Yes, Victoria, there is real hatred out there in the world, and some of that is directed toward those who, in an ironic twist, have the temerity to bring competition to the intellectual landscape to see which idea is the fittest to survive.

In this contest for survival there is no question in my mind that Intelligent Design will win the day. Not this year, probably not in 5-10 years, but in the next generation or two, some version ID will be the standard view in biology and the hard sciences.

Why am I so confident? Because we live in God's world. God is, among other things and at the very least, intelligent. And since he actually did design life and the world in which it flourishes, then the evidence will continue to pile up and pile up. Evolutionists and died-in-the-wool naturalists will be wading in rivers of design evidence so high that they will need their metaphysical snorkels to breathe before they give in, but it will happen.

Giving in to ID does not mean, however, that suddenly the world will fall down and worship the Creator. As one of my professors at Biola, Dr. Keas, recently quipped, humans are creative in their sinfulness, and so some other lie will take its place to steal the hearts of those who continue to suppress the truth. The emperor still will not have any clothes on, but his tailors will at least provide a new suit for him.

(By the way, for those of you who are interested in answering questions regarding the Christian faith - fellow apologists by interest and training - we will need an apologetic prepared and waiting for when this transition begins. For my money I think that some sort of pantheistic, New Age-ish deception will be the reigning paradigm in time.)

So, anyway, here I am to sit at the feet of the experts in the various aspects of ID. My hope and prayer is that I can take what I learn through this experience and through my graduate work at Biola and use it to a) encourage the faith of other believers, b) equip other believers to engage the culture, and c) to advocate for ID in the public square.

To loosely quote Paul, pray for me that God may open doors for ministry in this area.

ID is not creationism, but it is an important tool in our defense of the Christian worldview.

Now, I've got some reading to do for my upcoming sessions so...ciao!

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.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reading List for Discovery Institute's Seminar on ID in the Natural Sciences

Reading List for 2013 Seminar on ID and the Natural Sciences


·         Course Packet of Readings for Seminar on ID in the Natural Sciences
·         The Nature of Nature (Gordon/Dembski)
·         Darwin’s Black Box (Michael Behe)
·         The Edge of Evolution (Michael Behe)
·         The Design Revolution (William Dembski)
·         Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (Stephen Meyer)
·         Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (Stephen Meyer et al.)
·         The Privileged Planet (Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards)
·         Where the Conflict Really Lies (Alvin Plantinga)
·         Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Jonathan Wells)
·         The Myth of Junk DNA (Jonathan Wells)
·         Science and Human Origins (Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe,  & Casey Luskin)
·         God and Evolution (Jay Richards et al.)
·         Darwin Day in America (John G. West)
·         Intelligent Design: A Briefing Packet for Educators

Individual Articles (Students should find online and print out or save)

Doug Axe, Brendan Dixon, Philip Lu, “Stylus: A System for Evolutionary Experimentation Based on a Protein/Proteome Model with Non-Arbitrary Functional Constraints,” PLoS ONE 3, no.6 (June 4, 2008): available online at:

Henri Atlan and Moshe Koppel, “The Cellular Computer DNA: Program or Data,” Bulletin of Mathematical Biology 52, no. 3 (1990).

Keith Baverstock, “Only DNA? Really?” at:

Robin Collins, “The Fine-Tuning of the Cosmos: A Fresh Look at its Implications,” available online at:

W. Ford Doolittle and Eric Bapteste, “Pattern pluralism and the Tree of Life hypothesis,” PNAS 104 (2007).

Iris Fry, “Are the Different Hypotheses on the Emergence of Life as Different as they Seem?” Biology & Philosophy 10 (1995).

Eugene Koonin, “The Biological Big Bang model for the major transitions in evolution,” Biology Direct 2 (2007).


·         Unlocking the Mystery of Life
·         The Privileged Planet
·         Darwin’s Dilemma
·         Metamorphosis

Supplemental Reading Packet for Seminar on ID in the Natural Sciences      

Axe, Douglas. “The Limits of Complex Adaptation: An Analysis Based on a Simple Model of Structured Bacterial Populations”

Gauger, Ann, and Douglas Axe, “The Evolutionary Accessibility of New Enzyme Functions: A Case Study from the Biotin Pathway”

Gauger, Ann, et. al. “Reductive Evolution Can Prevent Populations from Taking Simple Adaptive Paths to High Fitness”

Meyer, Stephen. “The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories”

Minnich, Scott and Stephen Meyer. “Genetic analysis of coordinate flagellar and type III regulatory circuits in pathogenic bacteria”

Plantinga, Alvin. “Methodological Naturalism?” (Parts 1 & 2)

Richards, Jay. “List of Fine Tuning Parameters.”

Richards, Jay. “When to Doubt a Scientific Consensus.”

Talbott, Steve. “Getting Over the Code Delusion.”

Talbott, Steve. “The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings.”

Talbott, Steve. “What Do Organisms Mean?”

Talbott, Steve. “Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness.”

Talbott articles are online at:

Steve Talbott, “Getting Over the Code Delusion,” The New Atlantis (Summer 2010), at:

Steve Talbott, “The Unbearable Wholeness of Beings,” The New Atlantis (Fall 2010), at:

Steve Talbott, “What Do Organisms Mean?” (Winter 2011), at:

Steve Talbott, “Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness” (Fall 2011), at:

Can Science Prove that God Doesn't Exist?

Science is limited. It is like a strong dog on a chain. It rules its own area legitimately, but no more. Science is powerful and has brought us a tremendous amount of knowledge about the way in which God has set up the regularities of nature. Yet it is on a leash...

Scientists of the modern era, however, think that the dog has been let loose to roam the neighborhood. Many in our culture will claim that science is, in fact, the only way to gain knowledge. For example, Alex Rosenberg, in his book The Atheist's Guide to Reality, defines scientism thus, "....the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science's description of the world is correct in its fundamentals..."  If science didn't tell it to you, you can't know it according to those represented by Rosenberg.

If I may be permitted to switch my metaphors, we may think of science as a metal detector. A young boy goes down to the beach with his metal detector and comes back with a delightful collection of soda tabs, lost earrings, and spare change. Is anyone in his family surprised that the boy found metal with his metal detector? Of course not! Notice,though, that his collection did not include sea shells, beach balls, or sand crabs. A metal detector finds what is within is capabilities.

The same is true for science. It can only find what is within its capabilities. Science goes down to the beach to study the natural world, and low and behold!, when it returns it reports to us regularities and elements of that natural world. For a scientist to proclaim that there is nothing beyond the natural world would be just like our young boy to insist that the whole world is made of metal.

Amazing how we would quaintly pat the young boy on the head with a knowing look to the other adults in the room, yet we listen to some scientists or thinkers who say the logical equivalent and nod our heads up and down in deferential agreement.

The next time you hear someone say that science is the only path to knowledge, simply pat him on the head and tell him (or her) how quaint he (or she) is.

So, can science prove that God doesn't exist? Well, is God a physical being? Not according to orthodox Christianity. And if God is not physically a part of the natural world, then he is beyond the capabilities of science and cannot be ruled out by science. Returning to the dog metaphor, science cannot investigate anything outside of its territory. It may bark threateningly, but it is restrained no matter how hard it tries not to be.

I do think, however, that God has inscribed in the regularities of nature evidence of his having designed it, and that science can detect these inscriptions. But that is a topic for another day...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Are the Sun and Earth Insignificant?

Have you ever heard that the Earth is "just" an insignificant planet orbiting around an "average" star? Well, forget that! I'm reading Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, by Ward and Brownlee. These are two guys who study astrobiology, the field that looks at requirements for life to exist elsewhere in our universe.

It turns out that our star is far from average. Here's just a few quick facts:
  1. Our Sun is a yellow star. This very fact means that it is bigger than 95% of all the stars in our Milky Way galaxy. The "average" star is a red dwarf. These ruddy fellows are too small and don't put out enough energy to support any intelligent life.
  2. Our Sun is not a blue star. Blue stars are the hottest stars. They release most of their energy in the UV part of the spectrum. You know, the put-your-sunscreen-on-or-you-will-get-a-nasty-sunburn type of UV - same stuff. Living under a permanent tanning bed is not the ideal way to encourage meaningful life.
  3. Our Sun's brightness is quite stable. Some stars are variable stars, which means they, well, vary their brightness. Not good for life. It would be like trying to bake your cake as your oven fluctuates its temperature wildly and frequently.
A ton more things could be said, but I'll leave it there for now. Our Sun is very, very, very unique.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Response the Flying Spaghetti Monster

A Challenge from Friendly Flying Spaghetti Monster

Take a minute and a half to watch this video. It represents a satirical challenge to our Christian convictions that is becoming more common. Yes, it's corny. And of course, it's meant to lampoon us. But take it seriously. Pretend that a rather obnoxious atheist is standing in front of you and presenting this her "religion" to you. Post your thoughts below in how you would answer this person (just remember to do it with gentleness and respect - 1 Peter 3:15).

I will post my thoughts in a day or so of how we can respond thoughtfully to this.

So, whaddaya gonna say?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Noble Seeker?

Overheard from Greg Koukl recently at his Tactics seminar, "Why in our culture is it noble to be a seeker, but ignoble for the search to be over?"

Think about it: you can tell people all day long that you are a seeker of truth, of God, of meaning, of anything. But the moment you say that you have found the truth, God, or meaning to life, they accuse you of arrogance. Well, if reaching your destination is not considered to be possible, then why go on the trip?

My search is over. What other religion or worldview can adequately explain the following:
  • Why the universe is here? Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Why are the fundamental laws and constants of the universe so tremendously fine-tuned?
  • Why does life exhibit information (DNA and the genetic code)?
  • Why are we conscious? Why are we aware? If all of this happened by chance and natural law, then at best we should be zombie-like creatures just bumping around and procreating.
  • Why do we have the capacity to reason if we are just a fancy chemical reaction?
  • Why do we all have this sense of having failed morally, of being guilty? Maybe we all feel guilty, because we actually are guilty...
  • How else do you explain the tremendous evidence in favor of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazereth?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why would a good God allow innocent people to be killed by

Monday, June 10, 2013

Making Decisions through Wisdom, Part 2

In my last post I laid out why I think the 'personal guidance' model of decision making is not biblical. Today I want to offer what I think the Bible does present as the method for making decisions.

The Wisdom Model

The wisdom model is not complicated. The following is adapted from Decision Making and the Will of God, by Garry Friesen and from some of Greg Koukl's work at Stand to Reason ( When you have a decision to make, follow these four steps:
  1. Where God commands, we obey.
  2. Where God has given no command, he gives freedom.
  3. When operating in your freedom, use wisdom.
  4. When you have done what is moral and you have done what is wise, then put your plan into action, trusting in the sovereignty of God.
That's it. The wisdom model boils down to this: you have freedom to do what you want as long as it is moral and wise and you may do it with God's blessing.

1. Where God Commands, We Obey

God commands, we obey. It's that simple.

Sooo, how do we know what God commands? Do we listen for his inward voice telling me? No, we go to the God-breathed Scriptures. Paul tells Timothy that it is to the Scriptures that we must go to show us righteousness and to be fully prepared for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).

This principle should motivate us to read and study God's Word with a passion. Christians walk around fervently praying, "Show me your will, God. Tell me what to do!" But many of us rarely go to the one place where God tells us what to do: his Word. Or if we do open the Scriptures, it is for a one or two verse pep talk in the mornings with very little depth. Paul says that we need to handle accurately God's Word (2 Tim 2:15). The only way to accomplish that is to get to know it by regular study.

If you want to know what God commands, read verses in context. Greg Koukl teaches a principle that I have found to be very helpful: Never read a Bible verse. See him in a YouTube video here discussing this critical concept.

Knowing what God commands is wrapped up in knowing his Word. You can't know the first without knowing the second.

If you are looking for personalized guidance on specific decisions, such as what to do if you are considering changing jobs or moving houses or marrying your sweetheart, the Bible won't tell you specific answers. But it will give you principles

If you're considering an upcoming career change and you have an interest in becoming a drug dealer or a mob boss, obvious scriptural principles are at play here that you may want to consider before filling out your W-4 form. But if you want to take a promotion in a more mundane industry that will involve more pay, more responsibility and more hours, then you can (and should) consider your gifts (1 Pet 4:10), your ability to provide for your family (1 Tim 5:8), your responsibility to raise your children (Eph 6:4, Mark 9:42). These principles are pertinent to your situation and are a part of God's revealed moral will for all believers.

2. Where God has given no command, he gives freedom

In the book of Acts as we watch the apostles beginning to preach and to spread the Gospel outward from Jerusalem, notice what we don't see. We never witness any disciple or apostle sitting around scratching their head and praying for God's will to know where they should go and to whom they should preach. They don't listen for the voice of the Spirit to get their marching orders for the week. They just go. They just preach.

Consider how Paul begins his second missionary journey. He and Barnabas are in Antioch just after the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. Paul leans over to his partner in ministry and says, "Hey, Barney! Let's go visit all the churches that we established before and see how they're doing" (Acts 15:36). Paul simply decides to do it. He wanted to, so he makes it happen. This pattern we see repeated throughout the book of Acts.

Paul had freedom, and obviously felt free, to conduct his ministry how he wanted to.

In the midst of this freedom, God did interrupt occasionally.

It is fascinating to read as Paul begins this second missionary journey. After Paul and Barnabas split (see below), Paul travels to Derbe and Lystra and meets Timothy. Paul needs a traveling companion, and everyone spoke highly of Timothy, so Paul brings him along. They continue journeying throughout Phrygia and Galatia, but - watch this - they were "kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia" (16:6). Again in the next verse, Luke informs us that "the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them" to enter Bithynia.

So we see Paul and Timothy out there traveling from town to town preaching the Gospel and checking on Paul's churches, but occasionally God would stop them. Paul must have thought it was a good idea to preach in Asia and also in Bithynia, so he tried to. He had the freedom to conduct his ministry as he saw fit, but God is sovereign. We don't know why Paul was prevented from entering these regions - that was part of God's sovereign will. But Paul had to obey when commanded by the Lord (whatever that looked like).

The bottom line: there is freedom when there is no command.  

3. When operating in your freedom, use wisdom

God has given us an entire book in the Bible devoted just to finding wisdom. Proverbs! Clearly God considers it important for us to develop into a wise people. Why give us so much wisdom literature if he's just going to call the shots anyway? We should be reading this scriptural jewel on a regular basis to gain wisdom.

James urges us to pray for wisdom (James 1:5) when we lack it. Why pray for wisdom if God is going to lead me in every important decision?

In 1 Kings 3, the Lord offers to give Solomon anything he asks for, and Solomon asks for wisdom. Why? Solomon evidently had this conversation with God - why not just ask the Lord to lead him in all his decisions? Because this Personal Guidance model is basically brand new on the Earth. It never would have occurred to the ancients to ask God to make all their decisions for them. Thus, Solomon asks for wisdom so that he will know the best course of action.

Solomon had chosen...wisely.

The way of wisdom is also heavily modeled for us in Scripture. As another example, if we go back to the beginning of Paul's second missionary journey in Acts 15, he and Barnabas part ways over John Mark. Barnabas wants to take Mark along, but Paul doesn't. Notice how Luke records it: "Paul did not think it wise to take him" (v38, emphasis mine). What Scripture doesn't say here is almost as important as what it does say. It does not indicate that Paul and Barnabas spent a season in prayer asking for the Lord's leading. Paul simply thought it unwise because he'd been left in the lurch before by Mark (see Acts 13:13) and didn't trust him. Paul used his judgment.

Paul uses his wisdom when deciding to take Timothy with him just a few verses later. The believers in Lystra speak highly of him and "Paul wanted to take him along on the journey" (16:3). No seeking the Lord's voice or leading here. Paul simply wanted to take Timothy. It seemed good to him, and he did it. As it turns out this relationship between Paul and Timothy blossomed to the point where Paul writes to Timothy, "To Timothy, my dear son..." (2 Tim 1:2) and "my true son in the faith..." (1 Tim 1:2). God had sovereignly worked to bring Timothy into Paul's life, and they developed a close and meaningful relationship. God brought someone into Paul's life that he could trust to pass the baton on to after Paul's ministry came to a close (read 2 Timothy). 

Which leads into the last point...

4. When you have done what is moral and you have done what is wise, then put your plan into action, trusting in the sovereignty of God

From Paul's point of view, he was getting a traveling companion for his second missionary journey. But God had other plans - to give Paul and true son in the faith and fellow worker in the Gospel.

Our wisdom and freedom to act within the constraints of God's moral will is how God expects us to operate. But there are times when we try to do something, and it just won't work out. Obstacle after obstacle gets thrown in our face. If you have done your best to honor God and act wisely and yet this thing you want to do is just not coming together, then sometimes we just need to understand that God may be sovereignly preventing you from doing that thing. Remember Paul and Timothy above trying to go to Asia and then Bithynia. They were prevented somehow by the Lord.

The Wisdom model recognizes that after we have done everything we can, we must ultimately trust in God's sovereignty and his control over the events of our lives. Proverbs 16:9 has one of my favorite verses about this idea. The NIV says, "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps."  This verse is not saying our plans are worthless (for their is no sense of judgment here), but Solomon is showing us both sides of the equation. On our side, we make plans and try to make things happen. But it is also the Lord directing our steps. Solomon recognizes that both are involved when we make plans.

Benefits of the Wisdom Model

Several benefits recommend the Wisdom model of decision making over the Personal Guidance model.

First, it has the advantage of being taught in Scripture. There is no indication from the Bible that I am to seek out God's personal, individualized guidance on an issue, but I do observe generalized commands from his moral will that are to be obeyed. I don't see in Scripture a requirement to "hear from the Lord" before I make a move, but I do discern time and time again admonitions to search for and to ask for wisdom in decision making. I haven't noticed any people in the Scriptures using language such as "I felt led," "I'm trying to find God's will," or "God gave me a peace about it," but I do observe the decision-making habits of the early apostles. They appear to simply make the wisest choice available at the time while being submitted to God's sovereignty.

Next, I don't have to try and figure out what God is telling me. This was a big problem for me when I still held to the Personal Guidance model. How do I know what God is telling me? When I asked other Christians, I always got conflicting advice on how to listen to the voice of the Lord. Was this a sign from the Lord? Is this a confirmation? That thought in my mind - is it mine or God's? The great thing about this model is that I don't have to waste time figuring that out.

Can God put thoughts in our minds? Of course! But the difference is I don't have to figure out the source. A good thought is a good thought. Maybe I'm talking with a non-Christian friend and the thought enters my mind to say something to him and that opens up a spiritual conversation where I get to share the Gospel. Where did that idea come from? I don't know, and it really doesn't matter. It was simply a great idea to say what I did.

Now, some will say that this takes away from God's glory because I could take credit for something that God said to me. Well, ok, maybe, but remember, there are no instructions from Scripture for me to discern what God is saying to me individually. None. So from my perspective a good idea is a good idea, and we can give glory to God for our ability to think and for the opportunity to share the Gospel. All of our minds are offered to the Lord for his glory (or should be, anyway).

Third, I don't have to feel left out all the time. Have you ever heard stories about Christians telling how God was really speaking to them to do this or that? Well, I hear those stories all the time. But I used to feel left out. Why wasn't God speaking to me that way? I read the Bible, I pray, I plead with him to talk to me. Why wasn't he doing talking to me? Was it my sin? That must be sin is keeping me from hearing from God, and those that do hear from him, well, they must really be close to the Lord!

In a subtle way the Personal Guidance model makes some believers feel like second class citizens much like the prosperity gospel does. Here this my friends: if you are not hearing from God, you are not being left out. God isn't speaking to those people the way that they say he is. I know that this sounds harsh and unspiritual. But there just is no indication from Scripture that this hearing-from-God mentality is something we are to expect.

So what are they hearing? I don't know. As Greg Koukl says, I exegete Scripture, not experiences. In other words, we should be figuring out what the Bible means, not the significance of our experiences.

The fourth benefit of the Wisdom model is the freedom. I experienced a tremendous weight lifted from me when I began to study this issue. I don't have to constantly try and figure out what God wants me to do. Mine is to obey Scriptural commands, seek out wisdom, and then do what I want. If God does not want me going down a particular path, he will establish my steps (Prov 16:9). He will sovereignly direct me by opening up opportunities or closing others just like he did with Paul and Timothy. I will not know it at the time why certain things are or are not working out, but ultimately God's plan will be done.

Finally, the wisdom model removes superstition from the Body of Christ. Reading the signs of God's will has almost become a pagan art in some circles. Oh, we don't use pagan terminology. We would never do that! We baptize our paganism with Christian language, but its roots are the same. Modern Christians don't read chicken intestines, but how many of you have ever done this: hold your Bible up on its spine, open to a random page and point to a random verse (with your eyes closed, mind you), and accept whatever it says as God's message to you? I must confess I have done this, and it is not Christian! Treating God's holy Word like a magic 8 ball is not recommended...

Pagans read signs in nature everywhere. Have you ever encountered the same word or phrase throughout the day and interpreted that as a sign from above? Maybe I randomly hear the name "Botswana" three times today in various ways. Lord, we pray, do you want me to move to Botswana and become a missionary? This type of thing becomes normal to Christians who have been taught to looks for signs, but Christians don't do this. Pagans do. (By the way, I am not calling you a pagan if you've ever done these things - only that these practices are rooted in pagan thought and superstition.)

But God does not drop signs or hints for us. That is so not our Lord's way. Please give him more credit than that! Here's how you will know if you are receiving a message from the Lord: you will encounter a talking donkey (Num 22), a burning bush (Ex 3), a nighttime vision (Dan 7), a vision of a man from Macedonia (Acts 16), a supernatural wrestler (Gen 32) or an angel with a flaming sword (Gen 3). Now that's creative and kind of hard to miss!


I urge you to search the Scriptures to see if what I am saying is so. Don't just take my word for it.

If you think that I have misunderstood the thrust of the Word on this issue, then show me where. If you read this seriously, some of you may feel that something has been taken from you. The idea of hearing the voice of the Lord is so entrenched in evangelicalism that it is not uncommon to have strong emotional reactions to the Wisdom model. But if you feel something was taken from you, I assure you that it is not something that you ever really had. We have just been socialized in our Christian circles to interpret our thoughts as God's voice.

But go to the Scriptures. Find out for yourself. The following resources are great if you want to learn more about this:

If you have any comments, questions, or smart remarks, feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Making Decisions through Wisdom, Part 1

In my last post I introduced this topic with a recent decision that Sara and I had to make. Today I want to begin by laying out why I think the popular 'personal guidance' decision-making model is not based in Scripture. This post is a little long, but bear with me. This idea of making decisions by listening for the voice of the Spirit is so ingrained in our Christian culture that there is a lot to respond to.

The Personal Guidance Model

The unspoken assumption behind the 'personal guidance model' of decision making is that God has an individual blueprint for your life and that we must discover what he has planned for us for each of our decisions. Discovering that plan for my life is what we call "finding the will of God."

Notice the catchphrases and expressions that we use:
  • "I felt led by the Spirit to do this..."
  • "God confirmed this by giving me a peace about it."
  • "God gave me an open door..."
  • "I heard that still, small voice leading me..."
Have you ever searched the Scriptures for these phrases that have crept into the modern evangelical Christian's vocabulary? They roll off our tongue regularly with hardly a thought. Let's take a moment and look at one of them.

The "still, small voice" is commonly heard by those reporting to have heard from God. This phrase occurs in the King James version of 1 Kings 19 (the NIV chooses the phrase "gentle whisper"). Elijah is on the run from Jezebel after his triumphant Mount Carmel experience. The emotional pendulum has now swung, and Elijah is depressed, thinking himself alone as a prophet, and is a little fearful. God has looked after him, though: feeding him, giving him access to water, letting him rest. Elijah gets up and travels for 40 days and nights until he finds lodging in a cave on the side of Horeb.

While in the cave, he shares with the Lord what is on his heart, and God invites him outside to witness the presence of the Lord passing by. Not in the wind. Nor the earthquake or fire, but in a still, small voice.

I want you to notice a couple things abour this account. First, this was not an inward nudge as this phrase often is interpreted today. What does the text say? The voice was an actual sound - Elijah heard it with his ears. "When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face" (1 King 19:13, NIV) and went outside. Elijah proceeded to have an actual conversation with the voice of God.

Second, this phrase does not occur in the context of decision-making. Elijah isn't using the still, small voice to help him figure out what he should do. It is simply the manner in which the Lord chose to reveal his presence to Elijah and speak to him.

The rest of the phrases and terms mentioned above, when seen in their context, do not have anything to do with decision-making. I will save discussion of them for another day, but you may, as good Bereans, search out whether what I'm saying is true or not.

For instance, check for the phrase "led by the Spirit." This phrase only occurs three times in Scripture: Romans 8:12-14, Gal 5:16-21, and Matt 4:1. What does the text actually say about that phrase? If you want to study the idea of inner peace as a confirmation of God's will, then Colossians 3:15 is where most people go. What does the context of that verse say? Care to look up open doors? Go to 1 Cor 16:8-9, 2 Cor 2:12-13, and then Acts 16:26-28. Does Paul always go through an open door provided by God? Did Paul see an open door as indicating God's will for him and something that he must obey?

You will find that in all cases, a legitimate phrase from Scripture has been ripped from its original context and given a completely new meaning. But this is never appropriate when studying Scripture! Our new meanings to these phrases are not inspired, only God's original meaning in context is. Scripture is God's Word, not ours, and spiritual danger abounds when we walk around giving new meanings to old texts. Ours is to mine that original meaning as a '49'er looking for that first lucky strike.

Interpreting Scripture or Interpreting Our Experiences?

If listening for the voice of the Lord is so crucial for us to make decisions, where Scripture teach how I may listen for it? Where am I taught how to hear it? How shall I distinguish the Spirit's urgings from my inner emotions? I must confess that I used to really struggle with trying to figure out what God was saying to me because I certainly never heard anything audible from him like Elijah or Moses. Scripture seems to be mighty silent on an issue of utmost importance, if indeed this is the model we are to follow as Christians.

I know that many of you might have had experiences where you felt like the still, small voice gave you guidance on a particular issue. I urge you to consider that we are to interpret Scripture, not experiences. God's Word is our authority for our life and conduct, not anecdotes or experiences. We should interpret our experiences in light of Scripture, not the other way around.

God's Sovereign and Moral Wills

Now, some of you may be thinking that surely God has a plan for my life. He is sovereign and omniscient after all, and it would be best for me to seek his counsel in order to know what that plan is.

Yes, I agree. God is sovereign, he knows what will happen to us, and he most likely does have a plan for our lives. But, where does Scripture teach that God will share his sovereign plan with us?

Theologians have generally recognized in Scripture two "wills" of God: his sovereign will and his moral will.

His sovereign will cannot be thwarted, no man can stand against it, and it will be done (see Daniel 4:35, for instance). This "will" is not always revealed to us. But, looking backward on our lives, we can often understand God's sovereign plan for our lives and why things happened the way they did.

God's moral will is his will for how we are to live in a godly manner, and it is fully revealed to us in Scripture. Among other things, we are to avoid sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18, 1 Thess 4:3), hate what is evil and cling to what is good (Rom 12:9), in fact, read all of Romans 12 - it is a treasure trove full of God's moral will for us. He tells us what we should and should not do as we interact with other people. God's will for you is to live a holy life (1 Pet 1:15-16).

So, we should not expect to know in advance his sovereign will, but God's moral will has already been revealed to us. In fact, his moral will is completely revealed to us so that we will know how to live. It is not personalized for me - it is broadly general so that all Christians will know how to live.

God's moral will does not tell us what to do, but rather how to be. God does not tell us whom to marry - it tells us what kind of husband or wife we should be. He does not reveal to us whether or not to take the job - he tells us what kind of an employee we should be. He desires for us to be more like Christ (Rom 8:28-29).

Since God is concerned with us becoming more like Christ, we should be making our decisions, not based on inner hints or feelings, but based on the answer to this question: will this endeavor give me the opportunity to be more like Christ? Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason asks, "When was the last time you made a decision based on humility, self-sacrifice, servanthood,...or the interests of proclaiming the Gospel?"

Does God Hint?

When God speaks to a person in Scripture, it is never through hints, suggestions, nudges, leadings, or checks in the spirit. God acts boldly. When he wants to get someone's attention, there is no doubt who is doing the talking. Think of any person in Scripture with whom God speaks: Paul on the road to Damascus, Moses by the burning bush, Peter with his vision in Acts, Isaiah's vision of God on his throne. Even Samuel hears an audible voice, although as a child he mistakes it for Eli at first. There is no case in Scripture where God tries to communicate to someone and they don't get it. The Lord will get your attention if he has a message for you.

More than this, though, a principle laid down by Paul is violated by the idea that God is trying to communicate to us through hints and nudges. In the context of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 14, Paul discusses the superiority of the gift of prophecy over that of speaking in tongues, because prophecy builds up everyone in the church, not just the speaker as in the case of tongues. Now, the principle. If you are going to speak in the church, it must be clear. Otherwise, whom will your message help? Now, if we are urged to speak clearly to each other, how then can God get away with being unclear with us?

Ahh, but our sin gets in the way of our hearing God's voice some will say. Well, consider this: God had no trouble getting through to Saul on the road to Damascus even though he was out to kill or imprison Christians. Talk about sin! And yet Saul/Paul heard God's message crystal clear. The Bible just does not teach that our sin will prevent God from speaking to us if he has a message for us.

The Importance of Reading the Word

Another common response is that I am putting God in a box by not allowing him to speak to us. First, I am not saying that God can't lead us through inner promptings and the like. What I am saying is that the Bible does not teach that we should expect it as a matter of course. If God chooses to do something special, that's his prerogative. Second, if you want to hear God speak to you, read the Scriptures.

This point is so important it is worth repeating: if you want to hear from God, read God's Word! Scripture is God's personal, active Word to us. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (3:16-17, emphasis mine). Notice the phrase "thoroughly equipped for every good work." God's Word has everything we need for every good work that we could do for the Kingdom. We do not need anything else. Not urges, hints, leadings, open doors, or voices. 

The problem is that we don't read the Word. This is a grave danger of the personal guidance model of decision making: it often hinders the reading of the Word. If I think that God will just direct my life through inner promptings, then I will not be searching his Word where he actually does speak to us. If we really believed that God's Word was living and active and that God was really speaking to us through it, we would read his Word. But we don't. My friends, God's Word is alive! He speaks! If you want to hear his voice, you have but to open the Scriptures and pour yourself into them. Are you feeling dry, parched, separate from God? Don't seek him in the inner voice of your emotions. Seek his face in the one place where the living God of the universe is guaranteed to meet you: his very Word.

J.I. Packer has written,
What shall we say of [the personal guidance model]? The first thing to say is that this idea of guidance is actually a novelty among orthodox evangelicals. It does not go back further than the last century. Second, it has lead people to so much foolish action on the other hand, and so much foolish inaction on the other, as well as puzzlement and heartbreak when the 'hotline' to God seems to go silent, that it has to be seen as discredited. Third, it must be said that Scripture gives us no more warrant constantly to expect personal 'hotline,' 'voice from the control-tower' guidance than to expect new authoritative revelations for the guidance of the whole church. [Hot Tub Religion, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1987), 116]

Ok. So far this has been a negative argument. In my next post I will lay out for you the positive case for the wisdom model of decision-making.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How Do We Make Decisions? (or, Why I Had to Leave My Second Job)

How do we make decisions as followers of Christ?

Think of the last big decision that you had to make. How did you make it? Chances are that if you are a follower of Christ, you prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide you and to show you his plan for your life in this area. You probably listened for that "still, small voice" to lead you.

What I want to discuss over this and the next blogpost or so is that I do not think that this listen-for-the-Spirit's-voice is the biblical model for decision making. I know this sounds radical, but bear with me...

First, some context. Here is the latest "big" decision that Sara and I had to make. For the last three school years I have been working two jobs. I teach physics by day, and by night, I am a caped crusader fighting crime and bringing justice, wait...sorry, my inner 5-year old keeps coming out.

My actual second job is only slightly less interesting. I teach alternative education at my district in the evening, which means I get all kinds of students, from students failing their classes to drug users to social adaptation issues. I've had a student come to school so hopped up on synthetic weed that his heart was banging out of his chest, and he was pale as a ghost. His parents came and took him to the hospital. I had another high school student who liked to go to the bathroom and throw poop around.

Yes. You did read that correctly. He was my little monkey. Of course I didn't know who was leaving these little gifts in the boys room was until he got kicked out for bringing a knife to school and the poo-lympics subsequently stopped. Somehow I missed the class in college on how to deal with airborne excrement...

So you can see why I might want to leave this enviable position.

The decision, however, was a difficult one for Sara and I because of the extra income that the job brought in.  Sara and I decided early on that when we had children that she would stay home with them and work in the home. Then we chose to homeschool our kids, and Sara enjoys doing this. Well, of course there are the rare days when she'd rather have her kidneys pecked by crows or be waterboarded by the CIA, but those are pretty few. We both think that our boys are best served by being educated in the home.

And that means that I am the sole wage earner for the family, and thus my second job. For three years. With drug users and poop throwers. But this past month Sara and I finally made the decision to call the second job quits. We chose family time and more limited income, and both of us are looking forward to this upcoming change.

How did we make this decision?

First, we both agreed that in a perfect world I would be home with my own family in the evenings. We knew this from the beginning. A father should be involved in the home as much as possible.

Second, we sought and received wise counsel. I spoke with several people, including one man in particular from our church, who was able to help me think through the issues and the importance of being there to help raise my children. "For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers" (Prov 11:14).

Third, we prayed, sharing with the Lord that we would trust him to provide for our needs.

Finally, I submitted my resignation letter.


Now for the controversial part. Nowhere in this decision-making process did Sara or I ask the Lord to tell us what he wanted us to do. Nor did I ever sense the "leading of the Spirit" to do this. In today's current evangelical climate that almost sounds at best foolish and at worst, arrogant.

Why did we not "seek the Spirit" on this issue? Because I am not convinced that this model of decision making is taught in Scripture. I don't think that the Bible teaches us to expect that the Lord will share his plan for our lives.

This post is long enough already, so in my next post I will outline why I think the Bible teaches a wisdom model of decision making and not a ask-the-Lord-to-show-me model. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

By the way, I know that this is an emotional issue for many Christians, and I expect that most of you won't agree. But allow me to lay out my case before calling me a heretic!