RESPONDblog: Locking Eyes With People – and Seeing Christ

helpsI am part of a small group of people who run a toddler group for Dad’s at Kingfisher Church in Tredworth, Gloucester. The group is called Dad’s Only – cos our demographic is Dads and Granddads who are keen to take their little ones somewhere fun and not too expensive on Saturday mornings.  I was there last weekend, and one of the regulars was chatting to me about his week. And do you know what that guy said to me? He said, “these mornings are the highlight of my week.”

 

This comment reminded me of a text I received earlier that week. It was from one of the Dads who have not been to the group for quite a while. His family situation changed last year – and as a result – time with his girls has become limited. Yet his text basically said – I miss Dads Only! I’m working out a way to juggle my schedule so I can bring my girls back!

 

And I look at the small group of folks who lead this group and make it happen – their hard work and commitment. The gentle care and the time that is generously given to everyone who arrives there each week. And I am reminded of something that Mother Theresa once said.

 

I believe in person to person contact. Every person is Christ for me and since there is only one Jesus, the person I am meeting is the one person in the world at that moment. I see Christ in every person I touch, it is as simple as that.

                                — Mother Theresa

 

And then I look at the impact that Kingfisher Church is making on the lives of people, of families in the UK, Africa and India. And I think that it might be because of the high value we place on the smallest soul. The least important person in society’s eyes – represents Christ himself to our eyes  – it’s as simple as that. And guess what – when we treat people with dignity and respect, when we honour them and selflessly serve them – it feels good. For them. And ironically – also for us too.

 

And many will quickly point out – there are many caring organizations that have been setup by atheists – that are free from religion or tricky God talk. And my response is – that’s great! But you know – God talk doesn’t need to be tricky. What’s more – the Christian church isn’t here out of some kind of duty that requires us to care for you. Why is the Christian Church active on planet earth today? What makes it different to any other human organisation?

 

The Church is here to recognize the evidence of the Creator within you –

  • to point it out to you (however hard, or cynical or crushed we have become),
  • to call it out of you,
  • to honor and encourage you as we live in the light of it

 

After all – it’s what Jesus Himself has called us to:

 

I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[f] you were doing it to me!

— Mathew 25:40, The Message

 

 

 

RESPONDblog: Why the Bible Cannot Be Classed as Myth

 cornetto

Oliver:             You do know that “The Three Musketeers was a fiction, right? Written by Alexander Dumas?

Gary King:      A lot of people are saying that about the Bible these days.

Steve Prince:  What, that it was written by Alexander Dumas?

Gary King:      Don’t be daft, Steve! It was written by Jesus!

                — The World End, Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost

 

 

I do have a soft spot for The Cornetto Trilogy of movies. And in the particular scene I’m quoting above, there’s a stray comment that resonates with me strongly. As I talk to different people – I do get the sense that many folks today are coming to the opinion that the Bible is simply a bundle of myths – and it has no place being taken seriously by any thinking person.

You don’t need to watch a movie to sense it either. Look at the Gallup Poll that was done recently. The view that the Bible is an ancient book of Fables has grown 9% in 30 years.

fable

And yet – when one actually takes a cursory glance at the evidence – the evidence for the Bible as Myth or Fable just isn’t there.

 

What do we mean by Mythology? Ancient mythologies have many forms.  For example:

  • From Rome, the Greek hero Hercules.
  • The Norse fertility goddess Freyja, the daughter of the sea god Njord.

Popular modern mythologies we could point to would be Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings saga, or George Lucas’ ongoing Star Wars saga.

 

Mythology is there for a purpose; it has its own internal truth and logic, it tells an important fictional tale containing themes that people will naturally relate to.

 

Yet the evidence suggests that the Bible is a very different library of literature.

 

Unlike Mythology, the Bible has a solid, historical framework. People pop up who are mentioned outside of the Bible in surviving world history. Take the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (634 – 562 BCE); history documents the alliance he secured with the Medes, his defeat of the Egyptians and much more besides. Including his part in the Babylonian exile of the Jews that the Bible explores in the Books of Daniel and Jeremiah.  Yet we’ve hardly touched the tip of the iceberg. The Bible’s history coincides with Cyrus, Herod, Felix and Pilate. Its narrative calls out the Hittite, Egyptian and Persian nations and many more. And the action occurs in geographical areas such as Canaan, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.

 

Unlike Mythology, the Bible has many confirmations amongst the sciences. Take Archaeology, for example. The Old Testament book of Exodus tells the tale of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and eventually entering and occupying the land of Canaan. In the Ancient near Eastern culture, these nations would create things called “Stelas” – effectively memorial stone inscriptions.  Similar to our monuments celebrating the end of the First World War (for example). Well – in 1896, the Merneptah Stela was discovered in Thebes. Dating from 1200 BCE it recounts Pharaoh Merneptah’s victories. But it also happens to recount the existence of a people group called Israel who had occupied Canaan by that point in history. The Merneptah Stela is one of the most ancient records of the nation of Israel.

 

Unlike Mythology, so much of the Bible is actually presented as documented history. Luke, for example, claims of his gospel that he had “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” and so wrote an “orderly account…so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (See Luke 1:1-4) The book of 2 Chronicles  makes a side reference to the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon apparently  to engage in trade negotiations. And – indeed – historians know from studying artifacts and inscriptions in ancient remains, that Israel was indeed trading with a number of countries – including Sheba – 900 BCE. The events of Solomon’s life and reign as king of Israel are set to the backdrop of history.

 

Unlike Mythology, the Bible contains many fulfilled prophecies. Predictions about how things will play out in the real world. It has been estimated that up to a third of the entire Bible deals with prophecy in some way, shape or form. The Old Testament, for example, contains more than 300 prophecies that are all fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ who lived hundreds of years after the original texts were written (we know that because of the internal evidence of the text itself, and the external evidence of history, ancient copies and archaeology).  This makes perfect sense – if God exists, as the Bible assumes from the beginning, then he is going to know how things will play out.

 

Of course not every book in the Bible is historical narrative. The Psalms contain songs; Proverbs recounts Solomon’s wise sayings. To understand the Bible, we must first understand the style of the text we have before us. But whatever the genre, it contains an honest expression of someone’s real and down to earth experience. One cannot dismiss it as a made up tale; human history does not permit it.

 

I’m as fond of stories as the next guy – probably more.  So was J.R.R Tolkein, who said this:

“Fantasy remains a human right; we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” – J.R.R Tolkein

 

I agree – our love of creating and exploring fictional world’s points to the similarity between us and our creator – who has expressed Himself to us thru the ancient, true stories of men and women in the Bible.

Does Human Reason Point Toward God’s Existence or God’s Absence?

RESPOND

thinker

Human anatomy is a mind bogglingly amazing thing.

For example…

The cardiovascular system threads through your body. Hundreds of miles of plumbing carry 5 litres of blood around our frame every minute. Oxygen is distributed, nutrients shared, and cellular waste products are disposed of.

The digestive system converts food into energy, absorbs that energy and excretes the waste.

The skeletal system is like scaffolding that supports and protects our soft tissues. Each bone is a living organ; some featuring mounting points for muscles, many containing red marrow for the production of new blood cells.

And on – and on it goes. Amazing.

Now some think that your body and its systems are simply the product of the blind and purposeless forces of nature. Others feel that it is the intentional product of a supernatural (i.e. outside of time + space) Designing Intelligence. But both groups agree – there is clear…

View original post 1,404 more words

Does Human Reason Point Toward God’s Existence or God’s Absence?

thinker

Human anatomy is a mind bogglingly amazing thing.

 

For example…

 

The cardiovascular system threads through your body. Hundreds of miles of plumbing carry 5 litres of blood around our frame every minute. Oxygen is distributed, nutrients shared, and cellular waste products are disposed of.

 

The digestive system converts food into energy, absorbs that energy and excretes the waste.

 

The skeletal system is like scaffolding that supports and protects our soft tissues. Each bone is a living organ; some featuring mounting points for muscles, many containing red marrow for the production of new blood cells.

 

And on – and on it goes. Amazing.

 

Now some think that your body and its systems are simply the product of the blind and purposeless forces of nature. Others feel that it is the intentional product of a supernatural (i.e. outside of time + space) Designing Intelligence. But both groups agree – there is clear purpose inherent in each and every one of our body’s systems.

 

 

 

We also have another incredible system.

 

I’m referring to our faculties of REASON. This is our capacity to think, to consider, to explore, to theorise and to speculate about whatever takes our fancy! I believe (or I reason) that our ability to reason has as much purpose as any of the other biological systems we have mentioned.

 

We can reason for a good reason.

 

So what is the purpose of our ability to reason? Surely it is there so that we can begin to understand. So that our choices are carefully selected from the options open to us. And we use reason in the hope that it will lead us to an important destination. Discovery of the truth!

 

If the purpose of the digestive system is to keep me energised and healthy – then the purpose of my faculties of reason are to allow me to move towards discovering the truth – in which ever topic takes my fancy.

 

I reason that it’s a pretty cool system. But it leads me to a question.

 

Why do you trust your ability to reason?  And why do I?

 

 

 

Okay – we might not feel very clever, or quick to reason. Yet I can guarantee that we are sharper than we think we are. Think of the smartest person you know. Perhaps you’ve read one of their books or listened to them talk. And you have been captivated by their ideas and their discoveries around life’s big questions. Why are we here? What is our purpose in life? My question is not why do you like their ideas – my question is is why do you trust their ability to reason in the first place?

 

“The fact that we human beings – who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature – have come close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our Universe is a great triumph.” — Stephen Hawking

 

Yes okay Professor Hawking – but why do we choose to trust your understanding of the Universe? After all, we did not create the Universe. Did we? We were born into it. We have found ourselves here and some of us are compelled to study it and reach some understanding about the truth contained within it. But here is an important thing to consider. My ability to reason does not define that truth – it simply seeks to understand it. However clever the reasoning is – these are just ideas and theories about how life works. How do I know the theories are right?

 

Ah – by using our senses. That’s the answer. By gathering evidence! But wait – evidence is simply an input to my system of reason. I’ve still got to draw conclusions about the evidence I have found. This takes me back to my original question. Why does anyone trust the conclusions that we make?

 

Is human reason capable of reaching objective truth? Think of it like this. Someone who sits down at a piano with no training – will quickly master the ability to make the sound of musical notes. But as they randomly press down on the keys, the result will most likely sound horrible! It takes time and training to master the instrument – to play a tuneful melody (altho what is tuneful to my teenagers right now, ain’t so to me!). My question is – we do we believe that human reason is able to reach the truth, in the same way that a pianist can work reach that tuneful melody?

 

To most people – the intuitive rightness of human reason is just assumed. But I am asking – why is that…and is it right?

 

 

 

It is common amongst many people today to assume that life is a big cosmic accident. That human beings are the product of millions of years of biological mutation and natural selection of the most appropriate mutants. This counts AGAINST our assumption that human reason is right and trustworthy. Why? Because if all of life’s an accident – then there’s every chance that my reasoning faculties are just compounding the mistake!

 

“if the thoughts in my mind are just the motions of atoms in my brain – a mechanism that has arisen by mindless unguided processes, why should I believe anything it tells me?” — J.B.S Haldane

 

Why indeed.

 

It seems to me – as I exercise my questionable faculties of reason – that if people are solely the result of blind, unguided, Darwinian evolution, then we lose any solid ground for rationality. Chaos leads to chaos – randomness leads to randomness not exquisite structure and information.

 

Further – if we are the product of evolution – why do people intuitively care about truth anyway? Why do we spend so much of our lives seeking for our own truth that will bring us security and happiness? Or running from that same truth? Why do so many spend their lives seeking a true understanding of how our Universe works? Surely if we really were the product of evolution – we would simply be a machine that prioritises survival above everything else. Genes are apparently selfish, not truth seeking!

 

 

 

I suspect the irony of atheism is that it may undermine the very rationality needed to understand, to study and to explore the Universe.

 

“If Dawkins is right that we are the product of mindless unguided natural processes, then he has given us strong reason to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties and therefore inevitably to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce – including Dawkins own science and his atheism.” — Alvin Plantiga

 

 

I am not painting a rosy picture here. If evolution is right – then human reason is broken.

 

 

 

Unless, however, Christianity is true.

 

 

 

If Christianity is true then we have a coherent explanation for why our Universe is rationally intelligible. Because God lovingly created everything – including my mind – to be rational and intelligible. He made me in his image – in other words, he has passed his rationality on to me.  This is precisely why I can trust the capacity of human reason. Because I’m built to reason my way toward the truth.

 

“we are faced, not with the choice between God and science, as the New Atheists would have us to think, but with the choice either to put faith in God or to give up on understanding the universe. That is, if there is no God there can be no science.” — Robert Spaemann

 

 

If there is no God – there is no designing first cause mind – therefore there is no guarantee of a rationally understandable universe.

 

And yet a rationally understandable universe is precisely what we find. Surely a Designing Intelligence is sure to follow?

 

Personally I believe that Christianity is true; that it makes sense of human reason and points to God’s existence. And I agree with CS Lewis, when he said:

 

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” — C. S. Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

If you have reached this far – you will be reacting to the argument that I am laying out. Namely that human reason points to the existence of a creator God. At this point – let me mention that we have also been provided with free will in addition to human reason. This means I am well within my rights to acknowledge God – or not. Some today happily stand on the firm ground he has provided – and declare him absent. Or shake their fists at him in anger. Or exercise their reason and communicate in a way that tries to obscure his presence for other people. I can choose to use my God given reason to deny him.

 

At least I can for now. But our window of opportunity for ignoring him is closing. The clock is ticking.

 

And frankly what an unreasonable exercise anyway? Cos I reckon the human faculties of reason point to the true, loving, patient and hope giving God that we are working so hard to avoid!

 

 

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him–though he is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:27, NLT

 

 

RESPONDblogs: FAITH isn’t Pretending to Know Something You Don’t Know

in_the_event_of

 

A poll was done recently which suggests that when Christians use the word faith – Skeptics think they mean “believing something even though its not supported by the evidence.” Interesting result – because the poll ALSO shows that this is exactly NOT what the majority of Christians mean when they use the word “faith”!

You can see the poll here…

 http://tinyurl.com/pjm8nju

What is causing the confusion?

When I personally use the word “faith” – I do so in a particular set of circumstances. It is usually when I’m in a position where I cannot CONTROL the outcome – yet I have some EVIDENCE that has convinced me that I can PREDICT a good outcome.

Peter Boghossian, on the other hand, describes faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know.” And Peter seems to repeat Richard Dawkins’ aggressively anti-faith position. It was Dawkins who claimed that, “faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate. Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any Religion.

 

It seems odd to me to attack the activity of putting one’s faith in something or someone. Because we all do it whether we believe there’s a God or not. Of course what is really going on here is this. A caricature of religious faith is being rejected. Why? Because belief in God is being rejected.

 

Well – faith in God is no different to any other sort of faith. For faith to rise within us – there has to be a good reason for it. And two things are usually present.

 

 1 – TRUST IN SPITE OF DIFFICULTY:

For example – I recently climbed aboard an aeroplane that was flying to Malawi in Africa, I had faith that I would reach the destination safely. Now – I guess I could substitute the word faith for the word confidence. But faith seems more appropriate to me. Why? Because even tho I faced difficulty and uncertainty – I stayed on the plane. What difficulty? Well a safe journey depends on the aeroplane being of sound mechanical construction and maintenance. I know nothing about these two disciplines – thats a problem. But I do not have to be an aeroplane engineer to have faith that the airline looks after their aircraft properly. My arrival in Malawi also demanded that the person flying the plane was an experienced pilot of large body aircraft. Now – I didn’t meet my captain. Frankly he had no interest in inviting me up to visit the cockpit. And I don’t think I would know a fully qualified pilot just by looking at him anyway! I know nothing about training to fly aircraft. But – I had faith that my captain was qualified, that he had many hundreds of successful flying hours under his belt.

 

I had faith – even tho I had no immediate way of checking these things as I sat in economy and waited for the wheels to leave the runway.

 

I use the word faith – when I trusting myself to something in spite of challenges or difficulties. In my flying example – the difficulty is that I can’t be 100 percent sure the aircraft is airworthy and the pilot is trained before we take off. In my Christianity example – it’s because I can’t sense God directly with my traditional senses.

 

 

 2 – COMFORTED BY PAST EXPERIENCE:

And this leads to the next aspect of the use of the word faith. It is used when we are faced with uncertainty, but we are comforted by past experience.

Because of experience – or to put it another way – because I have evidence based on my past experience – I believe that this aircraft and this airline will get me to Malawi in one piece.

 

Today I have faith in the God of the Bible. I also have faith in air travel. But it wasn’t always that way.

 

The first time I ever climbed onto an aircraft, I was seven. And as soon as I saw the safety card talking about the escape procedure should the aircraft land in water – I began to wail and howl. I publicly humiliated my poor parents. “We’re all gonna die!” I confidently wailed. I had no faith in air travel at that point. I’d never done it before – and there was a great big picture of a crashed plane staring at me from the seat back in front of me. What’s a seven year old to think? Thankfully, my parents shared their experience with me. It’s ok Stuart. We have done this before. We will be fine! They injected faith into me at that moment. Of course, all they really wanted to do was to shut me up and stop me making an embarrassing noise. Rightly so.

 

My point is – faith starts with difficulty and uncertainty. And then faith flourishes with the injection of some evidence – either our own evidence, or evidence given to us from someone else.

 

 

So when I hear Boghossian confidently assert that faith in God is somewhere between lies and delusion….it sounds a little bit like 7 year old me in the plane. Wailing and shouting. “Christianity is evil – it’s based on an absence of evidence, etc.” What he’s actually saying is – I’ve never flown in a plane before and I don’t trust it!

 

Well – okay, I get your problem. But it is just possible that there is someone sitting in the seat next to you who is saying – its okay. I’ve got experience here. This works. It’s safe. You will be fine. Why not stop wailing and listen?

 

Today I have faith in air travel. And I also have faith in the God of the Bible. Because one day I experienced God’s love for me in a tangible and real way and I’ve never been the same since. Because in the years that have passed, God has proven Himself real and trustworthy to his words. And because He clearly has a purpose for my life that He is working out.

Try it. It’ll be alright – I promise.

“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.” Hebrews 11:1, NLT