Archive for August, 2012

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Questions Rewrite: The Existence of God

August 24, 2012

Awhile back my friend Jon and I wrote a book called ‘Questions’. It is a Christian book of apologetics for teenagers. We have sold all of our copies and the project is undergoing a massive rewrite with the help of Jason Ballard (Campusfire.com). I figured I would post various, unedited excerpts of the rewrite on this blog (some parts still need tinkering, of course and Jason might take a knife to this whole section in the end). But, regardless, here is a part from a chapter of the book on the existence of God. This is the intro.

Excerpt

I (Chris) wasn’t a Christian in high school but I attended church religiously. I didn’t really have a choice. When you’re a teenager you tend to pick your battles with your parents (or guardians), and I quickly discovered that if I went to church it meant one less issue to fight about. If I let my parents win the church battle perhaps I could win the curfew war.

In my early teen years my parents force fed me heaping doses of Christianity. Sunday morning and wednesday night youth group were all centered around the church. I learned all about the Bible, Jesus and the commandments I was enthusiastically breaking.

I didn’t believe most of what I heard. Nowadays we’re often told that religious people are narrow minded but back then my worldview was so small I couldn’t even admit a tiny miracle. I was more than happy to dictate to God what He could and could not do and that included whether ‘He’ could exist or not.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve become a bit more open minded to a God who can be God, even if that includes performing the odd miracle and meddling with my life. The change happened slowly. High school finally ended and I launched myself on an ill advised exploration of the world of drugs – hard drugs, soft drugs, and everything in between. I partied hard and had a pretty good time doing it. Before long, however, the bar scene lost its luster and I decided that drugs are dumb.

At this point I’m twenty years old and I’ve already tried religion and investigated irreligion – what was left?

During this time in my life, God had the audacity to grab a hold of my friends heart and utterly transform her life. The change was significant. I couldn’t deny it, or explain it away. She was happier, more joyful, and less likely to back bite and slander people. She gently informed me that she had met Jesus and He was changing her.

I thought she was plain weird – after all, what does it even mean to meet Jesus? I’m sure he was nice 2000 years ago, but isn’t he dead? I also found myself fairly annoyed with the God I didn’t fully believe in for ‘stealing’ my friend from me.

Get your own friends God. Stop taking mine.

But, alas, God got me too. In due course, I myself encountered Jesus. It’s hard to communicate with words what it was like, especially since I didn’t run into Jesus like you bump into friends at the mall. But I am now sure that God is real because God is a living reality in my life.

This is my story. It may be very different then the path you’ve walked, or are currently walking on. But here is a question: does my experience alone provide a good reason for someone else to believe in God, including you? What if they haven’t themselves experienced God?

Moreover, what if our experience of God is conditioned by the family we grew up in, or the cultural stream that we were born into? Or how do we know that an encounter with God during a church service, or under a starlit sky, isn’t a trick that our mind is playing on us?

More good questions.

Don’t get me wrong religious experience can be great. I firmly believe we can know God as an experiential reality in our lives. But are there any convincing reasons to believe in God, besides religious experience? I might know it is true that God exists based on my experience but how do I show it is true to someone who is skeptical; whether they be a seeker, a friend or a family member?

Throughout this chapter we will explore a few solid reasons to believe in God. The question we are asking is not, ‘Is God a nice idea’?, or ‘Does believing in God make some people feel better?’Those are all interesting questions in their own right, but our present purpose requires a different kind of investigation that frames the question like this, ‘Is it true that God created the universe, including you and I’?

Before we precede one caution is needed; in the end it is no good simply talking about reasons for God’s existence if we never taste the reality of God’s presence in our lives. That would be like owning a Porsche, memorizing the owners manual, but never taking the car for a spin once you’ve gotten your learners. You would know about the Porsche but never experience the reality of driving it. What a waste!

God is not an intellectual concept to be dissected God is a living person to be connected with. So regardless of where you are at on your journey with God, if you dare, pray this prayer before you continue reading -after all, it certainly can’t hurt.

God I’m open to you being real. If you exist I want to encounter your presence in my life. Open my mind to your truth and open my heart to your Spirit.

Clue

When I was younger I (Chris again) used to play a boardgame called Clue. Although board games are nearly extinct due to the relentless march of the Apps, Iphones and Ipads, there are a few observations worth noting about this one. Here is how the game works. A murder has taken place. The player’s goal is to examine the evidence and determine which of the other characters committed the crime. No one saw the murder occur. The goal of the game, however, is to discover who did the crime based on the circumstantial evidence – the place of the murder weapon, the time of the crime etc. When you finally figure out that it was Jon, in the library with a candle stick, you win!

In this chapter we will follow a similar investigative procedure. Though we can’t see God and didn’t witness the creation of the world in what follows we will uncover various clues that point to God’s existence. Let’s explore a few of the compelling arguments (clues) that help us know that God created this world.

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Faith and Science

August 19, 2012

Awhile back my friend Jon and I wrote a book called ‘Questions’. It is a Christian book of apologetics for teenagers. We have sold all of our copies and the project is undergoing a massive rewrite with the help of Jason Ballard (Campusfire.com). I figured I would post various, unedited excerpts of the rewrite on this blog (some parts still need tinkering, of course and Jason might take a knife to this whole section in the end). But, regardless, here is a part from a chapter of the book on faith and science. In this excerpt the limits of science are discussed.

I hope you enjoy it.

Excerpt

There are two main areas where the tension between Christianity and science is said to lie: the age of the universe, including our earth and the theory of evolution. We will explore these potential avenues of conflict in this chapter and argue that there should be no final hostility between good science and proper biblical interpretation. But in a day and age that glorifies science and continually looks to science for all the answers it is necessary to understand its very real limitations before we discuss the teaching of scripture, the age of the earth, and the theory of evolution.

The Limits of Science

Everyone is a theologian whether they know it or not. We all have thoughts about God, religion and the afterlife. Our opinions may be held loosely or they may be very dear to us but they are there, waiting to be unearthed by a religious conversation with a friend, family member or a stranger on the bus. Even the atheist has a well developed theology about the God he or she rejects. That makes us all theologians – not necessarily competent ones, but theologians none the less.

The word theology comes from two Greek words: “theos” is Greek for “God” and “logos” is Greek for “discourse” or “word.” Theology is a conversation about God most often based on sacred Scripture. Christian theology is based on the Bible and centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is, according to Hebrews 1:1-3, the exact representation of God’s character.

Science is different than theology. Though the scientific method is notoriously difficult to define, simply stated, Science is the study of nature. It operates by proposing hypotheses as to how certain natural events occur. These hypotheses are then tested through experimentation, involving repetition and the collection of data. Science investigates the natural world; it is limited to that type of investigation by its tools, methods and principles in those observations. As a result of science’s inherent limitations, it cannot make confident pronouncements about things outside of the natural realm — namely about the existence of a supernatural God. God is not in nature God is the maker of nature. As a result, science can’t address theological questions about the character of God. Science may point us to God (see the last chapter) but it can’t tell us much about God.

Moreover, moral values are also beyond the proper bounds of science. Science can accurately describe to me the chemical composition of my baseball bat but it can’t determine for me whether it is right or wrong to hit someone with it, or that I ought to be kind and loving to people. Science addresses what is not what ought to be.

Or, have you ever gazed at a glorious sunset, or met that boy or girl who makes your insides catch on fire; who makes you excited and nervous at the same time? Love and beauty are meaningful parts of our human experience from a young age. Science can explain the chemical reactions taking place in our brains when we taste romantic love and encounter natural beauty but to reduce a rendezvous with a significant other, or a stunned silence before a picturesque landscape, to neurons firing in our brain doesn’t do justice to romance, beauty and life in general.

Wouldn’t you agree that love, beauty and justice are true concepts but they can’t be examined in a test tube, placed under a microscope, or dissected in a lab?

In addition, all truth is God’s truth but not all truth is scientific. A true statement is one that corresponds to reality. If I say it is raining and it is in fact raining then I have made a true pronouncement about the weather outside. If I claim that God exists and God does in fact exist that is a true statement regardless of whether you believe it or not because true statements match up with reality as it is, not as we would make it to be.

A young person once said to me, “Science is the only way you can find truth about our world.”

“Really”?

Let me ask, ‘is that a scientific statement’? No, it is a philosophical statement, which if true, would mean that there are other ways than science to discover truth – like philosophy. To claim that science is the only way to uncover truth, or hold rational beliefs about our world is a self-defeating endeavor. The student unwittingly made a self-refuting comment similar to saying, ‘I can’t speak a word of English’. The student, by uttering the above sentence, was unfortunately refuting the very position he was advocating.

Likewise, mathematical truths and truths of logic are not scientific in nature. A mathematical truth is like two plus two equals four, or three times three equals ten… I mean nine. Now you know why I’m a pastor. We’re not good with numbers.

A truth of logic would involve an argument like this: all bachelors are unmarried men. John is a bachelor. Therefore, John is an unmarried man. The above line of reasoning exemplifies one way to discover truth in logic. Both math and logic are necessary for science but are not the result of science. Yet, both are legitimate avenues in the pursuit of truth apart from which science could not work.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, in this long list of things that science can’t do; Science is noticeably silent on questions like, ‘ Does life have ultimate meaning? and “Are we loved”?

Enter Jon’s comic strip….

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Questions Rewrite – an Excerpt

August 17, 2012

Awhile back my friend Jon and I wrote a book called ‘Questions’. It is a Christian book of apologetics for teenagers. We have sold all of our copies and the project is undergoing a massive rewrite with the help of Jason Ballard (Campusfire.com). I figured I would post various, unedited excerpts of the rewrite on this blog (some parts still need tinkering, of course). Here is a part from the last chapter of the book on the Gospel. In this chapter Jesus’ death as our substitute, his defeat of Satan and the forgiveness of our sins is discussed. I end the chapter with a discussion about eternity.

I hope you enjoy it.

The New Heavens and New Earth

The book of revelation is the last book of the bible. It is also the weirdest book of the bible. When approaching Revelation it is important to remind oneself that the bible should not be read literally but, rather, literarily – that is according to its genre. The genre of Revelation is apocalyptic. Apocalyptic literature is visionary, it is highly symbolic, (including the use of numbers as symbols) and is often dualistic; meaning the literature is filled with a cosmic battle between God (or good) and evil. Revelation contains all of these elements to greater and lesser degrees. Revelation is highly symbolic. Yet even symbolism contains literal truth. Look at this amazing scripture:

“Then I saw a New Heavens and a New Earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be their god. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who is seated on the throne said, “ I am making everything new” (Revelation 21:1-5).

This is part of the Biblical picture of our future hope. Here we witness a great cosmic renovation. My friend invests in properties. He will buy a place, fix it up and then sell it for profit. He has entered some homes where paint is peeling from the walls, fungus is growing on and under the carpet, the plumbing is shot and the rickety roof leaks at even the promise of rain. The structure is often good, however, the insides simply need to be gutted and refurbished.

The worse for wear home represents the current state of our world filled with sin, suffering and sorrow. What we are witnessing in Revelation 21 is not a complete demolition but a comprehensive, all inclusive renovation. It is striking when we realize what is missing from this New creation. There is no longer any sea. As we mentioned previously Revelation is symbolic and the sea often represented the forces of evil and chaos – they are no more, banished forever from the presence of God and his people.

In addition, there is no temple in this new creation. Throughout the Old Testament the temple was the place where heaven and earth intersected, the space where God’s presence uniquely dwelt. There is no more temple because God’s people are the temple and his presence floods the New Creation. We also find that the New Jerusalem, the city of God, is in the shape of a cube. The reader who is familiar with the Old Testament will know that in the temple the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place, was shaped in a cube. In the New Creation the entire city becomes the Holy of Holies. Here, in the New creation, God’s presence will not be a trickle, it will not be a flood, it will be an overwhelming ocean that we will sink into. Our long exile from his presence will be forever over. We will be home. In this life the most glorious moments of God’s nearness are only dim premonitions of what is in store for us. We will be vessels tossed into the infinite ocean of God’s love, filled to overflowing. There will be no lack, no loneliness, and no seething sorrow because the light of God’s presence will chase away all our shadows. God’s presence won’t be a lifeline then, it will simply be Life.

For some the Bible’s picture of a New Heavens and a New earth sounds far fetched. The Christians belief in God’s great cosmic renovation is made more plausible, however, by several factors discussed elsewhere in this book including: God created the heavens and the earth (this means God could certainly recreate them). Secondly, God raised Jesus Christ from the dead as the first great act of recreation. Thirdly, God has planted a desire deep in our hearts for heaven. C.S. Lewis argued famously that people don’t have desires unless there are corresponding objects that exist to satisfy those desires. We get hungry, there is such a thing as food. We have sexual desires and there is such a thing as sex. Lewis than springs his rhetorical trap on the unsuspecting reading when he writes that if within in our hearts we find the desire for something that nothing in this world can satisfy the best explanation is that we were made for another world. Parts of this chapter (and this book) have been designed to help the reader find within themselves a deeper desire that cannot be satisfied by any earthly thing – suffering in fact, is often pressed into the service of awakening us to this (often) buried desire for a better country – a heavenly one (if all was perfect now we might never seek it. We certainly wouldn’t desire it as we should). Taken together the above streams of evidence flow into a rushing river that sweeps us up into the purposes, plans and promises of our creator.

The popular Narnia films are based on children books written by C.S. Lewis. The last book of the Narnia series is called The Last Battle. The scene depicted below describes the main characters entrance into God’s heaven at the end of all their earthly adventures. Lewis writes:

“The things that began to happen after that [death] were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures…had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter one of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”[1]

This is the grand story that God invites you into; a journey that begins now and continues throughout eternity. A true story that is made possible through Jesus’ death for sins and his resurrection from the dead. This is the Gospel – Good news for all! Creation is about Jesus, the Bible is about Jesus, everything is about Jesus. So get to know Him!

Conclusion

In the introduction we wrote that Christianity is not an argument it is an adventure that God invites us into. God has plans and purposes for your life. You are not here by mistake. You are not reading this book by accident. You have been reading a book about God because the God you are reading about wants to be in relationship with you.

Throughout this book we have appealed to your mind now we want to appeal to your will. We all have a choice to make. There is an invitation from the God of the universe with all of our names on it.Will you accept his invitation and move from arguments to adventure, from reason to romance and from intellect to intimacy, from knowing about God to knowing God personally?

Again, that’s a question only you can answer.