Is Seeing Believing?

As an apologist I am constantly thinking through the evidence that surrounds my Christian faith. I’m always looking for ways to communicate the reasonableness and evidence for my belief in Jesus Christ. I want to explain that I have not made a blind leap into the abyss of nothingness so many have dubbed “faith.”

Yet no matter how strongly I’m able to demonstrate the truth of Christianity there will be people who continue to tell me, “Your faith is blind.” In other words, if I would open my eyes and choose to see, I’d give up my faith in God and in Jesus Christ specifically. They tell me I can’t see God, and what I think is evidence is really phantom lights as my eyes strain in the darkness. The clear implication is that seeing is believing; sight is foundational to belief. Continue reading

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Kids without God: Atheist Website for Children

The American Humanist Association has launched a new website for children and teens called “Kids without God,” which is getting a large amount of attention in both theistic and atheistic circles. Being a Theist myself, I was curious to see what this website was like. The children’s section is full of bright primary colors, an upbeat message that kids can be good without God, videos of the great “scientist” Bill Nye (the Science Guy), and fun science experiments kids can do at home.

For a Christian apologist, the website is like a candy store. There are so many fallacies, inconsistencies, and holes that could be poked through it that it’s hard to know where to start or stop. Others have taken time to point out some of these fallacies, which I will link to at the end of this post. For now, there are three general observations I’d like to make. Continue reading

Recommended Reading: Mere Apologetics by Alister McGrath

There are many books worth reading on apologetics. It is often overwhelming and often hard to know where to start.  Having recently finished Alister McGrath’s[1] latest book, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith, I would suggest that this book is a good place to begin.

Apologetics 101

Have you ever wondered, “What is apologetics and what does it have to do with me?” Have you struggled with how to answer the hard questions surrounding your Christian faith? Or are you skeptical of Christianity, asking the hard questions yourself? In Mere Apologetics, McGrath sets out to begin answering these questions. Structured as an introduction to Christian apologetics, the book rests on the Great Commission’s call to “Go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19-20). McGrath recognizes that with Jesus’ command come many questions and challenges.

How can Christians explain their faith in terms that make sense to people outside the church? How can we counter misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the Christian faith? How can we communicate the truth, attractiveness, and joy of the Christian gospel to our culture?[2]

These are the issues McGrath addresses, showing the vital role apologetics play in sharing the reasons for the hope Christians have in Jesus Christ.

Outline of the Book

McGrath’s book flows in logical sequence, making it easy to follow and understand. Chapter one looks at the question, “What is apologetics?” providing a working definition of apologetics, its themes, limitations, and relationship to evangelism. Chapter 2 moves to the history of apologetics in contemporary culture, specifically related to Modernity and Postmodernity. In chapter 3 McGrath discusses the theological basis of apologetics, giving a biblical understanding of God, humanity, and the art of communication. With this foundation laid, Chapter 4 shows why it is important to know your audience, avoiding a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all apologetic mindset.  In chapters 5 and 6 McGrath looks at the reasonableness of the Christian faith and shares various “clues” that point to faith and invite apologetic engagement (including Creation, Morality, Beauty, and Relationality). Chapter 7 looks at how these clues help present the gospel in a many ways; including explanation, argument, stories, and images. Finally, chapter 8 looks at two major questions about faith (Why does God allow suffering, God as a crutch), and chapter 9 concludes with words of wisdom on developing a personal apologetic style.

Why Read Mere Apologetics

The power of this book is that it keeps the joy and privilege of introducing people to Jesus Christ as its heart and soul. Apologetics is more than simply defending Christianity against objections. It communicates “the excitement and wonder of the Christian faith” and translates “the core ideas of the Christian faith into language that makes sense” to those outside the faith.[3] McGrath strongly emphasizes the relational and imaginative side of apologetics, which is refreshing in a world that largely sees this discipline as coldly academic and boring. McGrath shows that the opposite is true. Apologetics breaths life and color into the already breathtaking beauty of the Christian gospel.

Apologetics is not about inventing the rationality, imaginative power, or moral depths of the Christian faith. It is about pointing them out, and allowing people to see them clearly and appreciate them for what they are.[4]

Whether you are a Christian, seeker, or skeptic, this book will help you to see the rationality and beauty of the Christian gospel. There are reasons to hope and believe.


[1] McGrath is president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and professor of theology, ministry, and education at King’s College, London. A former atheist, he is now widely known for his written work, including responses to the New Atheism, as well as debating New Atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. His respect in the academic world is significant in light of his deep commitment to Jesus Christ and bold, yet respectful, defense of the Christian message.

[2] Mere Apologetics, p. 14

[3] Ibid, p. 21

[4] Ibid, p. 47

Four Letter Words: Hope

“It is well we should become aware of what we are doing when we speak, of the ancient, fragile, and (well used) immensely potent instruments that words are.”[1]

So says C.S. Lewis in his less known, yet brilliant, work Studies in Words. This statement has captured my attention and imagination these past days.  I have this mental image of people spitting out words like bullets with no particular care about what they are saying or who they hit. Words, whether spoken or written, have the potential to wound like bullets or refresh like water on the parched soil of our souls.

This concept of words bringing a curse or a blessing has led me to contemplate the power of four letter words. But I’m not thinking of the four letter curse words that are most likely popping into your head at the moment. I’m not referring to the ones that are so flippantly spoken in everyday life, being the dominant vocabulary of movies, television, and music. I’m thinking of other four letter words which also have immense power to harm or heal. I’m thinking of words like hope, love, wait, and faith (I know that’s a 5 letter word, but it applies to this thought). These have become four letter words to me because while they are words meant to offer blessing, when used flippantly or at the wrong time they can feel like a curse. For example, for anyone who longs for marriage or parenthood, the often made comment of “Just wait on God’s timing,” while true, often rings hollow and does little to encourage in the midst of the wounds of longing. Or for the person going through deep suffering, to tell them to “not give up hope” or “You need more faith” may as well be like telling them to fly to the moon. It’s impossible.

This past week I’ve been immersed in conversations surrounding the four letter word Hope. We use it so haphazardly. We hope we make our flight on time. We hope traffic is light. We hope our favorite sports team beats their rival. And in the same breath we hope our loved one survives cancer. We hope we don’t lose our job in a struggling economy, or that we find a job. We hope our children grow up with strong character. We hope tomorrow is better than today. We hope we’re not wasting our life. We hope that whatever we are placing our faith in doesn’t fail us in the end.

So often we use the word hope and we mean nothing more than wishful thinking. It’s a word we use to communicate uncertainty and wish about the future. And when our hope shatters, we have no idea what to do or where to turn.

Into this concept of hope as wishful thinking, the Christian understanding of hope invades our hopelessness, shining brightly in what is often a very dark world. The Christian understanding of hope begins with an acknowledgement that the world is not the safe and good place we long for (which I think we can all agree on).  It does not ignore our pain. It confronts our pain at its very foundation of our own brokenness and inability to right what is wrong in our world and in us. It assures us that we can, with confident expectancy, look forward to the day when right-ness will replace all that is wrong and every tear wiped from the eyes of those who have looked to Jesus to mend what only He can fix.

Andy Bannister of RZIM Canada recently made this point so well. The Christian hope finds its stability in God’s reality and character. He is the only ground for, basis of, and object of true hope. Because its hope based upon the Person of God and knowing Him, the reasons for hope are as far from wishful thinking as one can get. [2] The uniqueness of this hope is that its founded on something outside of us and our world. All other worldviews look either within or without in the search for a better tomorrow. Only Christianity looks upward, acknowledging that there is nothing within us or in our world that can fix the darkness we live in.

As the Apostle Paul said, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Yet the message of Christian hope doesn’t end here, because “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Because of Christ, this four letter word of hope speaks a blessing and not a curse. We may use it carelessly, but the message of confident expectancy it communicates is anything but flippant.

_________________________________

[1] C.S. Lewis, Studies in Words, Cambridge University Press, 1961,  p. 6.

[2] Notes from Andy Bannister’s talk, “Hope and Thinking,” at the RZIM Summer Institute, June 13, 2012. http://stayintheconversation.org/rzimcanada/

Is Faith a Crutch? You Better Believe It!

My four-year-old niece has a little stuffed panda named Pammy. Pammy is her “best friend” and the two of them do everything together. Even though this little bear is falling apart and almost as old as I am (she was mine as a little girl), she is my niece’s favorite toy. When she is sad, Pammy is there. When she’s afraid, she hugs Pammy for comfort. She shares her laughter, jokes, and kisses with this little stuffed animal. The joy and comfort she has received are legitimate. Yet in reality, my niece’s faith in Pammy’s ability to comfort her is a misplaced faith. Pammy is a toy that cannot offer her any real help.

For many, faith in God is similar to my niece’s relationship with Pammy the Panda. You may gain perceived comfort from it, but it’s a fictional comfort divorced from reality. Just as Pammy can’t really protect my niece from her fears, God can’t protect us, help us, or guide us because He’s not real. He may make us feel better, but in reality nothing changes because He’s just a psychological toy. He’s a crutch people use when they don’t understand what’s going on around them and don’t know how to cope with life.

If you had come up to me a year ago and told me my Christian faith in God was a crutch, the apologetic wheels in my head would have begun turning and I would have started sharing with you all the reasons why my faith has legitimate grounds. I would have delved into the evidence for God’s existence and tried to show you that my faith in Him is not wishful thinking. I might have looked at Freud’s understanding of faith as wish-fulfillment and compared it with how C.S. Lewis would respond. Maybe I would have taken you to passages in the Bible that talk about faith’s foundation being built on evidence for God’s existence and loving character. I definitely would have sent you to articles by apologists smarter than I am who have answered this question so well.[1]

But that was a year ago. A lot can happen in a year, and in my case a lot has. In a year I’ve gone through a period of depression, which in all honesty, I’m not sure has fully gone away. I’ve experienced the discouragement of unemployment in a struggling economy. I watched one of my closest friends lose the fight against cancer. I’ve worked through the pain of broken relationships and the loss of trust.  I’ve watched my family suffer and experience injustice that leaves me at a loss for words (which is saying a lot because I’m a very wordy person). When I’ve thought I can’t handle another wave of suffering without shattering into a million pieces, another wave has come crashing down. I’ve questioned my worth, purpose, and God’s goodness. I’ve gotten angry at Him, and agonized over how a good God can allow the personal suffering and injustice I’m experiencing. This past year I’ve had to wrestle through my faith in God where the rubber meets the road.  My faith’s been tested as I’ve had to wrestle through what, or who, I base my faith upon.

So what about today? If you came to me today and told me my faith is a crutch, how would I respond? Well, I still hold to and believe everything I would’ve said a year ago. I still believe my faith rests upon reliable evidence and not wishful thinking. But my response would be quite different.

Is my faith a crutch? You better believe it! In fact, it’s more than that. It’s my life support.  It’s what keeps my heart beating and my lungs breathing. My faith is an acknowledgement that I am utterly broken and weak. I can’t do this thing called life in my strength. My faith is kind of like that mustard seed Jesus talked about. It’s small and has no strength. But my God is strong! I desperately need Him and I have no one else to cling to but Him. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. Clinging to Him and not the brokenness of this world and my life is a safe place to rest.

My soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”[2]

 

Unlike my niece who finds fictional comfort and friendship in Pammy the Panda, my comfort comes from choosing to trust that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in the midst of life’s sorrows is real.  I gladly acknowledge that He is my crutch.


[1] I still recommend you read these articles: “Your relationship with God is just a Psychological Crutch,” http://www.rzim.eu/your-relationship-with-god-is-just-a-psychological-crutch  and “Is Christianity just a Crutch?” http://www.rzim.eu/is-christianity-just-a-crutch