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Thriving at College

21 Oct

I read an awesome article today titled Thriving at College by Dr. Alex Chediak, an associate professor at California Baptist University.  Here are some parts that I feel are worth highlighting.

How can a Christian thrive at college instead of flirting with sin or rejecting his faith?  First, by not negotiating Christian morality (Eph. 5:3-11).  Befriending non-Christian or marginally Christian students need not include practicing activities that clearly displease God or defile your conscience.  Second, by loving God with your mind – seeking to be the best student you can possibly be, given the measure of gifting with which you’ve been entrusted, fruitfully cultivating your God-given talents into skills that prepare you for the vocation with which you will serve the Lord after graduating.  In the meantime, being a student is a vocation, and the work of a student is intrinsically good and a gift from God.  Apply yourself in this season of preparation.  Third, by seeking to grow in godliness within a community that provokes you to vigorously kill sin (Rom. 6:12-14; Heb. 12:1-2), to put away childishness, and to “expect great things from God and attempt great things for God” (William Carey).  In short, college should be a launching pad into all that accompanies responsible Christian adulthood.

Because God’s common grace is distributed to all, non-Christian professors have a wealth of expertise in their respective disciplines.  Pay attention to their lectures and assiduously complete their assignments.  Learn from them even while you scrutinize their philosophical underpinnings.

Joe gets A’s in calculus and physics with little effort, while Jason works his heart out to get B’s.  Unfair?  No, since nobody has anything that they have not received (1 Cor. 4:7), and every talent we receive is to be fruitfully cultivated for the service of God and neighbor.  Furthermore, our divergent levels of gifting help us discern our calling.  Failing in engineering may be God’s means to lead you into a fruitful career in accounting and business.  We work coram Deo, not unto man (Col. 3:23; 1 Cor. 10:31).

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Do not love the world?

10 Jul

The warning not to love the world means not to be infatuated with the values and lifestyles of the dominion of darkness and not to long after or indulge in its sinful pleasures and passions.  We are vulnerable to the enticing allure of sinful values and activities of the world.  We must recognize that the world is not a neutral place, but one that worships and serves other gods.

Some Christians interpret the command not to love the world to mean that we must draw away from evil and separate ourselves from non-Christians, their evil culture, and their evil government in all aspects of life—physically, geographically, socially, and spiritually.  But if we do this, we refuse to emulate the lifestyle of Jesus, who regularly ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 9:10-11; 11:19; Luke 5:30; 15:1-2; 19:7).

The bottom-line question is, “Do we as Christians influence sinners toward Jesus or do they influence us toward their sinful values and practices?”

Mark Driscoll, Vintage Church, pg. 214

Irresistibly Beautiful

15 Jun

For some reason, I’ve been in a very contemplative mood lately.  And I think.  A lot.  About a lot of things.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the past few years.  A week or so ago I was talking to a girl on Facebook — a girl who used to be my best friend.  We were best friends our freshman and sophomore year of high school.  We were inseparable.  Always together, and ALWAYS laughing.  As we were talking about all of our old inside jokes, I realized how much I missed those days. 

But, I also began to think… I am not at all the same person I was two and a half years ago — not even close.  Something pretty drastic happened to me at some point between the middle of my junior year and the middle of my senior year… Jesus became irresistibly beautiful to me.  And that changed everything.

Up until that point, I thought I was already a Christian.  I could tell you more about Christianity and its history and different denominations and their beliefs than any other teenager I knew.  I could write essays that shocked college instructors, and handle just about any criticisms that were thrown at me.  But, there was one major problem — I did not understand (or truly believe) the gospel.

It’s odd, looking back now, since Jesus has saved me, at the person I was just two or three years ago, and then looking at who I am today.  There are very few people, maybe one or two, who really knew me back then and who really know me now, but it’s pretty shocking to them how much I have changed.  I guess you’ll have that when God sovereignly claims you as his own.  To quote John Piper, “Nothing in me contributed to the fact that Jesus became irresistibly beautiful to me.”

Isn’t Science in Conflict with Christianity?

19 Jul

Okay, so this post is going to be kind of lengthy. It is taken from the book “The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism” by Timothy Keller. It is an amazing book, and in fact is one of my favorites. It addresses questions such as “Why does God allow suffering in the world?”, “How could a loving God send people to Hell?”, “Why isn’t Christianity more inclusive?”, “How can one religion be ‘right’ and the others ‘wrong’?”, and “Why have so many wars been fought in the name of God?”

This question is from Chapter six: Science Has Disproved Christianity (pg. 87-92).

Isn’t Science in Conflict with Christianity?

It is common to believe today that there is a war going on between science and religion. One of the reasons for this perception is that the media needs to report news events as stories with protagonists and antagonists. It gives wide publicity to battles between secular and religious people over the teaching of evolution in schools, stem-cell research, in vitro fertilization, and many other areas of medicine and science. These battles give credibility to the claims of Dawkins, Harris, and others that it is either-or—you can be either scientific and rational or religious.

Over the years at Redeemer I’ve talked to many people trained in science and biology who were very wary of orthodox Christian belief. One young medical student said to me, “The Bible denies evolution, which most educated people accept. It bothers me terribly that so many Christians, because of their belief in the Bible, can take such an unscientific mind-set.” His concern is quite understandable. Here’s how I responded to him.

Evolutionary science assumes that more complex life-forms evolved from less complex forms through a process of natural selection. Many Christians believe that God brought about life this way. For example, the Catholic church, the largest church in the world, has made official pronouncements supporting evolution as being compatible with Christian belief. However, Christians may believe in evolution as a process without believing in “philosophical naturalism”—the view that everything has a natural cause and that organic life is solely the product of random forces guided by no one. When evolution is turned into an All-encompassing Theory explaining absolutely everything we believe, feel, and do as the product of natural selection, then we are not in the arena of science, but of philosophy. Evolution as an All-encompassing Theory has insurmountable difficulties as a worldview. We will look at these difficulties in Chapter 9.

Dawkins argues that if you believe in evolution as a biological mechanism you must also believe in philosophical naturalism. But why? The same year that Dawkins’s The God Delusion was published, Francis Collins published The Language of God. Collins is an eminent research scientist and head of the Human Genome Project. He believes in evolutionary science and critiques the Intelligent Design movement that denies the transmutation of species. However, Collins believes that the fine-tuning, beauty, and order of nature nonetheless point to a divine Creator, and describes his conversion from atheism to Christianity. Here then is what Dawkins says can’t exist, someone with a firm belief in evolution as biological mechanism, but who completely rejects philosophical naturalism. Collins, of course, is not alone.

Contrary to Dawkins’s simplistic schema, there are many different models proposed about how God relates to the development of the life-forms we see today. Ian Barbour lays out four different ways that science and religion may be related to each other: conflict, dialogue, integration, and independence. At the one end of the spectrum, in “conflict,” are both the proponents of “creation science” and, ironically, thinkers like Dawkins. Each side has bought in to the warfare model of the relationship of science to faith. Many creationists’ view of Genesis 1 makes any kind of evolutionary process impossible, while the philosophical naturalism of Dawkins makes religious belief totally invalid. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who believe faith is mainly a private, subjective thing and therefore does not speak to the empirical realm at all. In this view science and religion have nothing to say to each other at all. Barbour himself thinks this view gives away too much, and prefers the spectrum of more moderate and complicated approaches in which science and religious faith recognize their respective spheres of authority.

It is the conflict model, however, that gets the most publicity. Fortunately, the view is losing credibility with a growing number of scholars. The history of the secularization of American institutions is treated in an important and influential book edited by Christian Smith. In it Smith argues that the conflict model of the relationship of science to religion was a deliberate exaggeration used by both scientists and educational leaders at the end of the nineteenth century to undermine the church’s control of their institutions and increase their own cultural power. The absolute warfare model of science and reason was the product not so much of intellectual necessity but rather of a particular cultural strategy. Many scientists see no incompatibility between faith in God and their work.

Two famous studies that support this contention were done in 1916 and 1997. The American psychologist James Leuba conducted the first survey of scientists, asking them if they believed in a God who actively communicates with humanity, at least through prayer. Forty percent said they did, 40 percent said they did not, and 20 percent were not sure. In 1997, Edward Larson and Larry Witham repeated this survey asking the very same questions of scientists. They reported in the scientific journal Nature that they had found that the numbers had not changed significantly in eighty years.

What, then, of Dawkins’s claim that nearly all prominent scientists disbelieve in God? In The God Delusion he cites Larson and Witham’s follow-up correspondence in Nature a year later. There they noted that when they asked the same questions about belief in God to members of the National Academy of Sciences only 7 percent said “yes.” Dawkins cites this statistic as evidence that intelligent scientific thinking almost always leads to the conclusion that God does not exist. There are, however, major problems with the way Dawkins, and even Larson and Witham, interpret the data from these studies.

First, keep in mind the original question posed to the scientists in both surveys. Scientists are asked if they believe in a God who personally communicates with humanity. To hold that a transcendent God created the universe is not enough to be listed as a “believer.” Any NAS scientist who believes in a God who does not communicate directly with humanity is automatically put into the category of disbeliever. The surveys were only designed to “see” scientists with conservative, traditional belief. Those with a more general belief in God are screened out by the way the question is formulated. Second, Dawkins reads the data as establishing a casual relationship between the scientific mind and atheism. His assumption is that NAS scientists disbelieve because they are scientifically minded. However, the study does not and cannot prove what the cause of NAS scientists’ disbelief in God really is. Alister McGrath, a theologian with an Oxford doctorate in biophysics, writes that most of the many unbelieving scientists he knows are atheists on other grounds than their science. Many complex factors lead a person to belief of disbelief in God. Some are personal experiences, some are intellectual, and some are social. Sociologists of knowledge like Peter Berger have shown that our peer group and primary relationships shape our beliefs much more than we want to admit. Scientists, like non-scientists, are very effected by the beliefs and attitudes of the people from whom they want respect. In McGrath’s experience, most of his atheist colleagues brought their assumptions about God to their science rather than basing them on their science.

Also, Dawkins gives readers the impression that all atheistic scientists would agree with him that no rational, scientific mind could believe in God. But that is simply not the case. Stephen Jay Gould, the late Harvard scientist and evolutionist who was himself an atheist, knew all about these studies, but could not conclude with Dawkins that science necessarily clashed with Christian faith. He wrote:

Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid, or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs—and equally compatible with atheism.

When Gould spoke of “half his colleagues,” he was probably not thinking strictly of survey data. He simply knew that a great number of his most respected scientific colleagues had traditional religious beliefs about God. One of the reasons Gould does not agree with Dawkins is that he was much more willing to concede that science might not be able to account for everything about human existence to every thinker’s satisfaction.

Another scholar who makes this point is the philosopher Thomas Nagel, who critiqued Dawkins’s approach in a review of The God Delusion in the journal The New Republic. Nagel, too, is an atheist, but thinks Dawkins is wrong to insist that, if we are going to be scientific at all, we must embrace “physical naturalism . . . that the ultimate explanation of everything must lie in particle physics, string theory, or whatever purely extensional laws govern the elements of which the material world is composed.” He asks, for example, whether we really believe that our moral intuitions, such as that genocide is morally wrong, are not real but only the result of neurochemistry hardwired into us. Can physical science do full justice to reality as human beings experience it? Nagel doubts that. He writes:

The reductionist project usually tries to reclaim some of the originally excluded aspects of the world, by analyzing them in physical—that is, behavioral or neurophysiological—terms; but it denies reality to what cannot be so reduced. I believe the project is doomed—that conscious experience, thought, value, and so forth are not illusions, even though they cannot be identified with physical facts.

This is why even many atheists believe Dawkins is wrong, that science cannot explain everything, and why scientific thought can be compatible with religious belief.

Even though the concept of warfare between science and religion still has much popular credence, we should disabuse ourselves of the notion that we have to choose between the two, or that if you want to be a Christian you will have to be in conflict with science. A majority of scientists consider themselves deeply or moderately religious—and those numbers have increased in recent decades. There is no necessary disjunction between science and devout faith.

Mathematical Proof for God?

26 Jun

The following is an article I came across on about.com that I found interesting. I have never actually thought about some of the points it makes before…

Do we really need mathematical proof of God’s existence? Jack Zavada of Inspiration-for-Singles.com talks about the faith shattering experience of losing his hero—his dad. Through his spiritual struggle in the months following his father’s death, Jack discovered something even more reliable, even more convincing than math, to prove that God indeed exists. If you wrestle with similar doubts about God’s existence, perhaps this peek at Jack’s discovery will provide the proof you seek.

Mathematical Proof of God?

The death of someone you love deeply is life’s most devastating experience, and none of us can avoid it. When it occurs we’re often surprised at how we respond.

Although I had been a lifelong Christian, the death of my father in 1995 shattered my faith. I continued to attend church services, but I struggled with all my might just to function normally. Somehow I managed to do my duties at work without any major mistakes, but in my personal life, I was lost.

My father had been my hero. As a combat infantryman in World War II, he stepped on a German land mine in Italy. The explosion blew off part of his foot and sent shrapnel through his body. After two years of surgery and recuperation in a veterans’ hospital, he was able to walk again but had to wear a built-up, orthopedic shoe to do it.

When I was diagnosed with cancer at age 25, the example of my father’s quiet courage and determination in overcoming his disability gave me the strength to endure surgery and 55 grueling radiation treatments. I beat the disease because Dad had showed me how to fight.

Life’s Worst Emptiness

Cancer claimed my father’s life when he was 71 years old. By the time the doctors arrived at a diagnosis, it was already too late. It had spread to his major organs and he died within five weeks.

After the funeral and the paperwork the following week, I returned to my home, about 100 miles away from my mother and brother. I felt a numbing emptiness, as if my world had caved in.

For some unexplainable reason, I developed a strange nightly ritual. Before getting ready for bed, I walked out in the back yard and just stared up into the night sky.

I wasn’t looking for heaven, although my faith told me that’s where my father was. I didn’t know what I was looking for. I didn’t understand it. All I knew was that it gave me an odd sense of peace after 10 or 15 minutes of looking up at the stars.

This went on for months, from autumn into mid-winter. One night an answer came to me, but it was an answer in the form of a question: Where did all this come from?

Numbers Don’t Lie—Or Do They?

That question ended my nightly visits with the stars. Over time, God helped me accept my father’s death, and I moved on to enjoy life again. However, I still think about that nagging question from time to time. Where did all this come from?

Even in high school, I couldn’t buy the Big Bang Theory for the creation of the universe. Mathematicians and scientists seemed to ignore a simple equation familiar to all grammar school children: 0 + 0 = 0

For the Big Bang Theory to work, this always-true equation had to be false—at least once—and if this basic equation is unreliable, so is the rest of the math used to prove the Big Bang.

Dr. Adrian Rogers, a pastor and Bible teacher from Memphis, TN, once challenged the Big Bang Theory by putting the 0 + 0 = 0 equation into more specific terms: “How can nobody plus nothing equal everything?”

How indeed?

Why Atheists Have a Point

If you do a search at Amazon.com on “God +mathematics”, you get a list of 914 books that supposedly prove the existence of God through various formulas and equations.

Atheists remain unconvinced. In their reviews of these books, they accuse Christians of being too stupid or naïve to understand the higher math of the Big Bang or Chaos Theory. They painstakingly point out mistakes in logic or probability assumptions. They believe that all these calculations in all these books come up short in proving the existence of God.

Oddly, I have to agree, but not for the same reason.

The most brilliant mathematicians using the most powerful supercomputers in the world would fail to settle this question for one simple reason: You can’t use equations to prove the existence of love.

That’s what God is. That is His essence, and love can’t be dissected, calculated, analyzed or measured.

A Proof Even Better Than Math

I’m no math expert, but for more than 40 years I have studied how people act and why they do what they do. Human nature is remarkably consistent, regardless of the culture or era in history. For me, the best proof of God depends on one cowardly fisherman.

Simon Peter, Jesus’ closest friend, denied knowing Jesus three times in the hours before the crucifixion. If any of us had faced possible crucifixion, we probably would have done the same thing. Peter’s so-called cowardice was completely predictable. It was human nature.

But it was what happened later that causes me to believe. Not only did Peter come out of hiding after Jesus’ death, he began preaching the resurrection of Christ so loudly that the authorities threw him in jail and had him severely beaten. But he got out and preached all the more!

And Peter wasn’t alone. All the apostles who had been cowering behind locked doors spread out across Jerusalem and the surrounding area and began insisting that the Messiah had been raised from the dead. In the following years, all of Jesus’ apostles (except Judas who hanged himself and John, who died of old age) were so fearless in proclaiming the Gospel that they were all murdered as martyrs.

That is simply not human nature.

One thing and one thing only can explain it: These men had encountered the real, solid, bodily-resurrected Jesus Christ. Not a hallucination. Not mass hypnosis. Not looking in the wrong tomb or any other silly excuse. The flesh and blood risen Christ.

That’s what my father believed and that’s what I believe. I don’t have to do the math to know that my Savior lives, and because He lives, I fully expect to see both Him and my father again some day.

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