- 2015Feb 14
There was a time when it was nigh impossible not to believe in God—not because of man’s irrational superstitions, as atheist popularizers tell it, but because of nature’s rational design.
To early thinkers, the intelligibility of nature pointed to an ineluctable fact: a prime, non-contingent source of reality (the uncaused Cause, One, Apeiron, Logos, Yahweh) brought the universe into being with a structure that made knowledge possible. By the late Middle Ages, that fact led researchers to science —a methodological system of inquiry that liberated knowledge from the limits of natural philosophy, and the errors of alchemy and astrology.
From belief to unbelief
Ironically, the success of the Scientific Revolution eventually led to the disenchantment of nature, unseating “God” from the firm ground of “fact” and pushing Him into the misty region of “faith,” making disbelief tenable.
As confidence in nature’s God shifted to confidence in man’s mastery over nature, a certain script took shape: God is out of the picture; and man, through the unlimited powers of reason and science, will unfetter civilization from the vagaries of nature and put it on the inevitable march to progress.
During the next 200 years, the story gained currency, finding a ready ear with anyone having an aversion to the “Man Upstairs.” Although it has had limited success over rank-and-file folks (the vast majority of people today still hold religious beliefs), the meme has had a growing influence over those who shape the media, entertainment, the arts, education, law, the courts, and other cultural institutions.
The effect over the last half-century has been the shrinking of societal support for religion, making religious belief harder to maintain. Since 1960 there has been a seven-fold increase in unbelief, from 2 to 14 percent, with religious liberty becoming ever more tenuous, especially the arena of sexual ethics and lifestyle choices.
Telling a better story
In light of all this, what should concerned Christians do? According to Oxford theologian Alister McGrath, we need to “tell a better story” than the one being foisted by secularism: a story that appeals not only to reason, but the imagination.
Speaking at the 2015 Mere Anglicanism conference, Dr. McGrath suggested that we start out not toprove Christianity true, but use story to make people wish it were true. It brought to mind what someone once said about evangelism: the job of the evangelist is not to give people a drink or even lead them to water; it’s to make them thirsty. Of course that requires knowing people to know what will trigger that thirst.
A case study is the apostle Paul’s tangle with the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill. Continue reading here.
- 2015Jan 12
One of the oddities of the Bible is how little it reveals about the life of its central figure: Jesus Christ. All we know of Jesus prior to age 30 are a few sketchy accounts by Matthew and Luke, with gospel writers Mark and John completely silent on His early life.
A yawning gap
Luke tells of Jesus’s circumcision and presentation at the temple; Matthew reports His visit from Magi as a young child followed by His flight to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod. After that, the biblical record goes dark until the “lost and found” report on Jesus at age 12.
According to Luke, Jesus went missing on a family trip home from the Passover celebrations in Jerusalem. After a frenzied three-day search, a harried Mary and Joseph found Him “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”
That’s it—the sum total of what the Bible says of Jesus’s first 30 years on earth.
While the omission has piqued the interest and imagination of many a Bible student, it is one that no mythmaker would have allowed. As C. S. Lewis has noted, “Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us . . . and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so.”
The yawning biographical gap, while frustrating, adds authenticity and credibility to the biblical record; and the early details that are there, though few, are profound in significance—not the least of which, is that His first recorded public appearances are in the temple.
In the temple
At eight days old, His infant cries pierced the ears of His circumciser. Thirty-two days later, His coos warmed the hearts of Simeon and Anna. Then, at twelve years old, His thoughtful words stimulated the minds of His hearers.
Fast forward to the end of His public ministry, and Jesus is again at the temple, where His voice rumbles throughout the courts as He drives out the moneychangers, upbraids the religious leaders, and, finally, looks over the city weeping aloud for his countrymen. Even from the remove of Golgotha, His last words, “It is finished,” reach the temple in a thunderclap that shreds the veil from top to bottom.
The prominence of the temple at both ends of Jesus’s life points its importance in biblical history and beyond.
Earth as temple
In his book “Surprised by Scripture,” N.T. Wright notes that the biblical creation narrative “would have been seen in the ancient world as a story about a god building a temple, a place for his own habitation.” (Emphasis in original.) Wright suggests that God intended earth as a place to cohabit and fellowship with man, a “temple” facilitating human-divine congress.
One can imagine the original creation as a hyper-dimensional realm in which heaven and earth were not separate, but adjoined, overlapping and interlocking, allowing God, a hyper-dimensional Being, to be manifestly present for man to experience in complete intimacy.
The human design, in God’s image, is suggestive as it would be necessary for the kind of relationship initiated by God toward Adam and Eve (instructing them, authorizing them, empowering them, and commissioning them as partners in creation care).
Also suggestive are the closing chapters of Revelation that describe the new creation. Concerning the Holy City descended to earth, John writes, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”
(As a teasing side note: Some scientists see evidence that our universe came from a higher-dimensional one, rather than from a “big” physics-defying “bang” in the quantum vacuum. But that’s a topic for another day.)
This doesn’t mean that the original creation was non-physical, but that it was more than physical, perhaps like Jesus’s resurrected body that could be seen, touched, and felt, but could pass through solid objects and move from place to place instantly and effortlessly, prefiguring the new creation.
But what was, was interrupted and changed with the Fall. Continue reading here.
- 2014Dec 14
“I just witnessed an event so mysterious that it shook my skepticism.” That from Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptic Society and editor of Skeptic, its official magazine.
A skeptic’s skeptic
Michael Shermer, in short, is a skeptic’s skeptic, whose skepticism is most strenuously exercised against all things supernatural. With a full-throated materialistic bent, he argues that all phenomena are reducible to natural causes ultimately explainable through science.
In his writings, interviews, and debates, Shermer projects an intellectual swagger that has become fashionable in freethinking circles. A number of years ago in a PBS panel discussion on religion, when the topic of the Resurrection came up, he pressed a Christian physician for how (how!) God did it. By presuming that the Resurrection must have occurred through a clever medical manipulation to be credible, Shermer’s question was designed to ensure that naturalism wins.
It was also designed to make his Christian opponent appear badly misinformed, intellectually challenged, or worse. For in our enlightened scientific age, smart people everywhere know “there is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal,” Shermer reminds us. “There is just the natural, the normal, and mysteries we have yet to explain by natural causes.”
Such unswerving confidence in naturalism seals the imagination from any consideration of supernatural causation, even for things currently inexplicable by science (e.g., dark energy, quantum behavior, abiogenesis, consciousness, the Big Bang, etc.). However, when life collides with our worldview, it can create cracks in our ideological foundation and shake our confidence. This past June, Michael Shermer experienced just such a collision. Continue reading here.