Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis made me miss my seminary philosophy classes. It’s the first time I’ve read this work, and I won’t attempt to give much more than a brief overview. Essentially, it is a philosophical argument for the existence of an absolute and objective moral law. Lewis begins by building an argument in favor of the existence of objective value. For instance, the fact that a waterfall can be “sublime” and that such a statement expresses an objective truth rather than simply an emotional response from someone who happens to like that particular waterfall. The point is that there is inherent value in the waterfall that transcends our own opinions or emotions about it. Lewis then continues to build an argument that an objective natural law exists. He finishes the three-part essay (originally three lectures) by playing out the result of a natural moral law not existing to its logical end: arbitrary rule over many by a few.

I am looking forward to rereading this essay in the future–it’s certainly not a book one can understand in just on reading. The brilliance of this essay is that it is a sound philosophical argument that does not rely (but is enhanced by) a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. The benefit of this is to show–using extra biblical sources (in this case the practice of philosophy)–that what the Bible says to be true, we find in our lives to be true. It’s certainly a challenging read, but ever more pertinent in our increasingly relativistic and polytheistic culture.

Great Advent/Christmas Lesson Discussion Starter

Just pop this billboard up on the screen and let the discussion begin. Warning: be prepared (and willing) to engage in a great discussion on apologetics if you use it!

For related news stories on the billboard, which I believe first appeared in New York City, Google “you know it’s a myth.”

Yet Another Article on Young People Leaving the Church

But what piqued my interest in this particular article was the following paragraph:

I also met leavers who felt Christianity failed to measure up intellectually. Shane, a 27-year-old father of three, was swept away by the tide of New Atheist literature. He described growing up a “sheltered Lutheran” who was “into Jesus” and active in youth group. Now he spoke slowly and deliberately, as if testifying in court. “I’m an atheist and an empiricist. I don’t believe religion or psychics or astrology or anything supernatural.”

Lately, I’ve been rereading Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. One theme she weaves throughout is the need for Christians to be able to articulate a Biblical worldview, and to be able to interact with an critique other worldviews. There are a few anecdotes in Pearcey’s book that show how much we fail students and young adults in the church by not providing good, solid answers to their questions, doubts, and crises of faith. Note that the young father in the article defines himslef as an empiricist. When a student asks for evidence as to the resurrection of Jesus, are we able to give any answers?

Doug Groothuis: Six Enemies of Apologetics

Dr. Doug Groothuis has a great post on LeadershipU on the “Six Enemies of Apologetics Engagement”. Here’s a portion of one I see a lot in high school students who want to know how to defend a Christian Worldview but want to do it with soundbites, not with good, solid logical reasoning:

6. Superficial techniques or schlock apologetics

Some who get excited about apologetics may become content with superficial answers to difficult intellectual questions. Our culture revels in rapid responses to most anything, and technique is king. Some Christians memorize pat answers to apologetic questions–such as the problem of evil or the creation/evolution controversy–which they dispense without a proper engagement of the issues and without an empathetic concern for the soul that raises the question. I once saw a little book called something like The Handy, Dandy Evolution Refuter. Yes, macro-evolution is false, and good arguments have been raised against it from both nature and Scripture, but the matter is not as simplistic as the title of that book makes it sound.{3} Apologetics must been done with intellectual integrity.

Francis Schaeffer’s apologetic motto was that we must give “honest answers to honest questions.” First, we must really hear the question being asked or the objection being raised. We must get inside the minds of those who are giving reasons for not following Christ. Each person is different, not matter how common some skeptical objections may be. Don’t reduce people to clichés.

I love teaching high school students on the topic of apologetics. The difficult part about it is students need to be willing to put in a lot of work on their own time in order to gain any level of mastery in it. There are no “magic bullets” that will put someone who disagrees with the Christian worldview in his or her place. In fact, if that’s our goal (putting someone in their place), we’re not really loving the person in the first place. Schlock apologetics, as Dr. Groothuis puts it, only hampers the Christian witness by giving the impression that Christians are only interested in winning an argument, and that there aren’t any serious apologies of the Christian worldview.

Read the whole post here.

Sharing Jesus with those who don’t believe: an email conversation

Last week a high school student who was a part of our church in the last school year (she was an exchange student) saw on our Facebook page that we would be talking about how to discuss Jesus with those who don’t believe that he was the Son of God during our Wednesday night gathering.  She wanted to know about the tools we’d be discussing, and here’s what I wrote to her (Note: the video I reference is from the College/Young Adult course, and can be found here):

The key is simply starting from common ground.  When we’re talking to someone about Jesus, we need to know where they’re starting from.   If they’re an atheist, then of course they won’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, because they don’t believe in God!  So, the discussion needs to be about, “Is there a God or isn’t there, and how can we know?”  Or perhaps someone thinks the Bible’s a hoax.  In the video, the speaker talks about how we can trust that—at the very least—the Bible we have today is an accurate transcription of what was originally written down.  Or maybe they think Jesus was a good teacher, but not God.  Well, the problem is that Jesus actually claimed to be God. That’s why he was killed and his own family thought he was crazy!   So, if he was, great.  But if he wasn’t, he was either a liar, or absolutely crazy.

One of the main mistakes Christians make is to assume they know what the other person is thinking or feeling, and starting in on how the Bible says Jesus is God.  We need to do a better job at asking questions. For instance, we might ask:

  • So, what can we know about God?
  • What road brought you to the way you feel or believe today?
  • So, who do you think Jesus was?

The second step in an conversation with someone about the historical reality of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, his death, and his resurrection (the first is to say a silent prayer that God would guide you) is to find some common ground with the person you are speaking with and go from there.

I love talking with students about apologetics! Teenagers are capable of digesting far more deep stuff than we give them credit for.

Nancy Pearcey, Teenagers, and following Jesus in Public

Right now, I’m rereading Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity by Nancy Pearcey, and I’m trying to do so with my youth ministry lenses placed firmly on my nose.  This is a great book as a whole; here’s a small bit that is huge for those working with youth in a ministry setting:

There is nothing neutral about the claim that the only way to get at truth is to deny God’s existence.  That is a substantive religious claim, just as it is to affirm God’s existence.  Yet because of the secular revolution, even many believers came to believe that speaking from a distinctively Christian perspective was biased–that to be truly objective they must bracket their faith and think like nonbelievers in their professional work… Faith is often reduced to a separate add-on for personal and private life–on the order of a private indulgence, life a weakness for chocolates–and not an appropriate topic in the public arena.  (pp. 98-99)

This excerpt describes what Pearcey means by “cultural captivity” in this book: that in our culture, belief in any spiritual reality–especially Christianity–is a priori a biased worldview and cannot be taken seriously.  At best, such views can be respected only so far as they do not have any bearing on public life, such as politics, scientific discovery, and one’s own workplace.  As Pearcey notes, this view in itself is a religious claim, which in effect can be translated, “Your religious views can having no bearing on public life, because my religious views say so.”  Of course, we have been trained not to see it this way.  We have been trained to believe that removing religion from a situation makes that situation more neutral. As is much more expertly explained in Pearcey’s book, our culture–in general–has two categories of life.  In the religious or spiritual category, what is right or wrong, true or untrue has little bearing on life, if such things can be known at all.  This category belongs only in our private lives–not at work, not in politics, and perhaps at the local Starbucks if the discussions are kept at a reasonably quiet level.  The other category, which I’ll describe as secular, truth can be known, but only if such knowledge does not rely on spiritual or religious beliefs.

Some readers at this point are rightly asking this question, or another one like it: “What about postmodernism?  I thought postmodernism was taking us in the direction of questioning whether we can know anything as true?”

Good question.  Let me limit myself to a quick paragraph on the topic as I take a mental note to expand on it in a later post.  First, postmodernism cannot be help to a single, sweeping definition.  Perhaps this will be possible centuries from now when the philosophers and historians try to make sense of this time period that we’re a part of now.  In short, postmodernism as a movement, as a time period, or whatever you want to call it, is still playing itself out, and we cannot say, “postmodernism is X” with any kind of authority.  Second, relativism (which is what I think many, if not most, people associate with postmodernism) is adopted by people in varying degrees and in many different spheres in life.  For instance, a college physics major might be very much an absolute truth kind of gal in her sciences classes, but when it comes to spiritual matters, she may wonder if there’s any Truth at all.  While there are some philosophers and scientists who are willing to apply relativism to all aspects of life (even whether we can be sure that gravity exists or that chemotherapy really helps treat cancer), most people live their lives firmly planted in an absolute truth kind of universe.

And this brings us to exactly what Pearcey’s getting at and the connection with youth ministry: as a culture–and even as Christians–we have bought into the false notion that spirituality should only influence our private lives.  But what good is a Christian worldview if it does not inform our entire world?  To some extent, we recognize the disconnect.  We get that something’s wrong when a student is not allowed to bring up her Christian worldview in a graduation speech, even in passing, or when a pharmacist must choose between keeping his job or upholding Christian ethics by not filling a prescription for the morning after pill.  But we don’t fully recognize the whole problem.

I want to make something very clear here: I’m not talking about the Evangelical hot points that pepper the headlines of NBC’s nightly news, such as the Ten Commandments in the courtroom, prayer in public schools, or public funding of abortions.  Those are important issues, but “winning” those battles would not solve our problem and make us a Christian Nation, complete with a thundering applause from angels and perhaps Jesus himself.  They are only symptoms of an epidemic that few Christians fully recognize.  The epidemic: many who claim to adhere to a Christian worldview don’t realize that in practice, they adhere to a very secular worldview.

Our students need to be taught to hold to an integrated, true-in-all-areas-of-life worldview.  So many times in my teaching of youth–especially high school students–is to help them understand what it means to hold to a fully integrated worldview.  This is ground zero for our students, before we really even get to  the Bible, the Gospel, or even the existence of God.  What good is it to teach on a full, multi-faceted view of the kingdom of God as described by Jesus if those listening do not even know that what they’re learning applies to ALL ASPECTS OF THEIR LIVES, including the classroom, their sports teams, their after-school jobs, and their families?

I frequently am approached by people in our church regarding high school or college students dealing with teachers or professors denigrating the Christian worldview in their classes.  In fact, I get it so often that I should give the question its own name: the Tell Me Or My Teenager Or College Student Exactly How to Put a Teacher Or Professor in His Place Or at the Very Least Not Be Totally Embarrassed About Being a Christian in His Class Question.  I love apologetics.  I believe there is truth, I believe that what the Bible says about humanity and God and Jesus is true, and I believe there are very good reasons for believing that those things are so.  And I love talking about those reasons.  A lot.  And so I used to get really passionate about helping people learn basic Christian apologetics.  And then I realized the problem: the people I’m trying to help don’t really adhere to a Christian worldview in all areas of their lives.  I’m not saying that they try and come up short–I come up short in just about everything I do every day.  I’m saying they don’t even try.  Rather, they follow Jesus in their private lives, go on mission trips, attend church, and maybe even pray and read the Bible.  But they have a very secular, my-God-is-a-private-God kind of world view in just about every area of their lives.  And so I’ve found that I need to start at the beginning and help people see what it means to have a fully integrated Christian worldview.  Which, by the way, is very difficult when I’m struggling to do that very same thing in my own life.

We’ve all seen this in action.  We all know a follower of Jesus who’s just–different.  It’s not just that they’re faithful, or that they sacrifice a lot to serve others or help homeless people have a good meal.  It’s…well…they follow Jesus in everything they do.  It’s not over-the-top, as though they’re a walking John 3:16 sign that makes people avoid them on the street.  They simply carry Jesus wherever they go.  They don’t have all the answers, but they’re not afraid to answer what they do know.  They love to tell people about Jesus.  They’re not freak-you-out-with-a-pamphlet-and-a-bullhorn kind of street evangelists, but more than once you’ve witnessed them telling a complete stranger about Jesus, as naturally as you would giving someone directions to a great new burger joint that you’ve just discovered.  Having a Christian worldview isn’t about getting everything right–only God can do that!  It’s about seeing that what we believe–or don’t believe–about God, humanity, and the nature of reality does affect every aspect of our lives, whether we know it or not.  And if that’s really the case, why should spirituality be private?  If we believe that a statement about reality is true, shouldn’t it apply to all of reality?  Why should issues of morality be discussed only in the context of personal dilemmas?  Why should God’s justice and mercy only have their reign on Sunday mornings or in Bible study?  Why shouldn’t what we believe about the world not apply to all aspects of our world?  Gravity is gravity, whether I’m at work, or a politician, or at home.  If God is God, is he not God in all aspects of our universe?

How Do We Know?

Over the past month and a half or so, my wife, Jennifer, and I have been meeting with Mormon missionaries in our home once a week. They knocked on our door one Saturday, and I was excited to finally be visited by missionaries! After all, we moved to Utah a little over a year ago, and newcomers are usually visited pretty quick here as compared to other states.

I’ve really enjoyed our conversations. We get along really well, which helps when discussing issues that we disagree on. It’s also been a great learning experience for my wife and me as well.

The topics we discuss each week have been varied: the Trinity, the nature of revelation, the human condition and salvation, among other things. Needless to say, our views differ on most of the issues, and I’m thankful that “our missionaries” (as we affectionately call them) have not shied away from discussing those issues, especially those surrounding what we believe about Jesus.

So far, we’ve met four times, and I believe the most foundational difference in our views comes down to epistemology: “How do we know what we know?”
For our missionaries (and according to the official teaching of the LDS Church), the most important piece of evidence for the truth of the Latter-Day worldview is one’s own personal testimony within themselves and from God that the words of the Book of Mormon are true.* While personal spiritual experience is certainly a part of the Christian worldview, we believe that there is good reason–in the form of historical and philosophical evidence–to believe that the Christian, biblical worldview is true and conforms to reality. As my wife has pointed out to our missionaries, if Truth is based only on our personal testimony within ourselves, how do we know the validity of one person’s personal testimony as compared with another’s?

The view of our missionaries–and I believe most practicing LDS people–is that anyone can conduct research and find the results he or she wants, but we will only find the results we want to find. If I were to set out on an archaeological quest to show that the stories in the Book of Mormon do not even remotely correspond to the archaeological evidence, that’s the conclusion I would reach. But if I set out to show that the Book of Mormon is true, that’s the conclusion I would reach. They do not believe that the LDS worldview can be proved or disproved.

Yet the Christian worldview holds that if we are to believe in something, it must be internally consistent, it must be tenable (livable), and it must correspond to reality. In other words, it must be verifiable by outside sources. So, even before we sat down in our living room around a plate of delicious treats and before we even realized it, we were at an impasse. Any discussion on whether there is evidence for a particular worldview is irrelevant. To them, what matters is the personal testimony they feel they have received from God.

We will continue to meet with our missionaries, at least until they are transferred to another district. Hopefully, in the coming weeks we will have them over for dinner, and I plan to take them to a local minor league baseball game as well, if they can get permission. Even if we remain at an impasse, I’m thankful for our time with them. I’m also thankful that I’m now a little more aware of how and what I teach. As a pastor, I need to make sure I help the students in our church develop a fully-orbed worldview, as one of my seminary professors is fond of putting it. Certainly a personal, real encounter with the God of the Bible is an important part of one’s faith in Jesus Christ. However, we cannot rely only on emotional experiences, because those can be fleeting and they can be deceiving. Sometimes, coming to God is not the result of an emotional experience, but rather the result of continually doubting the truth of Christianity until the mounting evidence requires that we admit it is true. As one South African at L’Abri put it to Nancy Pearcey (recounted in her book Total Truth) when she asked him why he had become a Christian, “They shot down all my arguments.”

*See http://mormon.org/book-of-mormon/, under the heading “How to know the Book of Mormon is true.” The following was current on the page as of August 2010:

Of course it’s one thing to read the Book of Mormon and another to believe deep in our hearts that what it says is true. This sincere belief, or testimony, in the truth of the Book of Mormon comes when God sends His Spirit to confirm the truth of what we read. We can feel this confirmation when we study the Book of Mormon with diligence and faith, as we are promised in the following scripture:

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. ” (Moroni 10:4)

Student Life Youth Minister Magazine: Deep Discipleship

I wrote an article on “Deep Discipleship” for Student Life‘s latest Youth Minister e-mag. Unfortunately, a couple of lines are missing on the first page, so here’s the full text of the first few paragraphs:

Mark is a high school student in our church that I meet with every other week for Bible study. One day, our conversation turned to world religions and how Christianity—with its insistence that we can’t earn our salvation—is different from other religions. Suddenly, he became a lot more interested in the conversation. He asked, “How we can know that what we believe as Christians is really true?” Mark has a growing relationship with Jesus, but he is hungry to go deeper and know some of the reasons behind why we believe what we believe.

Mark is not alone. The students we lead are hungry to go deeper.

Unfortunately, we look out at our group of middle school or high school students—distracted by texting, their iPods, and the opposite sex—and conclude that they’re just not ready for real meat yet.

But they are ready. They are hungry to learn about Jesus. They are hungry to know theology. They are hungry to know how to logically defend their Christian faith as truth. They want to believe in something they can count on, and they are prepared to examine the claims of Jesus, understand what they believe, and know that it’s true.

An Interesting Exercise in Worldview and Apologetics

Below are responses to Oliver Thomas’ opinion piece entitled “Why Religion?” published August 8th, 2010. It would be interesting to take these three short responses and comments in a lesson or discussion on apologetics, worldview, evangelism, or any combination of those three. Simply take each of the responses and see how students respond to them, then frame the discussion around the Christian worldview.

Commentary writer Oliver Thomas’ piece “Why religion?” is spot on in claiming that religion’s greatest contribution to society is its ability to render life meaningful (On Religion, The Forum, Aug. 9).

But religion must also do more to ensure that man’s life is worth living.

At the very least, it needs to revamp its Scriptures by expunging those statements extolling or justifying arrogance, intolerance, disrespect, incivility, anger, hatred, violence and war. These “holy” writings serve only to provoke the indecent to engage in bad religion.

To promote human existence in a more life-affirming manner, “good religion” has an obligation to eliminate its negative scriptural provocations. Until then, the idea that “religion makes it easier to be decent,” and “helps one be a better person” is questionable.

Kilian Currey

Brewster, N.Y.

———————–

Oliver Thomas naively states that lives must have “meaning.” Does meaning have to come through mythology taught as fact as in the major religions?

Life is, and always has been, the adaptation to the changes and mutations of the universe. Religion is, and always has been, a culturally devised defense mechanism. Each life’s meaning is individual. It seems that with religion, the meaning involves war and terrorism. This I can do without.

R. Sloan Wilson

Rye, N.H.

———————–

Oliver Thomas’ “Why religion?” so completely misses the boat I was dumfounded. Religion is not about us, as his whole column suggests. It is about honoring and worshiping the man who gave his life so that we might live eternally. Thomas isn’t describing religion; he’s describing the Rotary Club.

Mitch Allerton

Puyallup, Wash.