Monday, December 24, 2007

Quote of the Week

Election season is upon us (if you couldn't tell by watching the news for 2 minutes). Candidates and the political parties would be wise to take the following admonition to heart -

"Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tough Questions

A pastor from the Mars Hill Church in Seattle recently asked his congregants to ask him any question they wanted. The questions, in turn, would be addressed in various sermons over the course of 2008. 893 questions were asked on the church's website and over 343,000 votes were cast to narrow the list down to the top nine questions, listed below. I was surprised about some of the questions, as well as what didn't make the top of the list. All in all, it seems to be a pretty interesting idea.
  1. Do you believe that the Scripture not only regulates our theology but also our methodology? In other words, do you believe in the regulative principle? If so, to what degree? If not, why not? (i.e. the regulative principle)
  2. What can traditional/established churches learn from 'emerging' churches?
  3. How does a Christian date righteously; and what are the physical, emotional, and mentally connecting boundaries a Christian must set while developing an intimate relationship prior to marriage?
  4. If salvation is by faith alone (Romans 3:28), then why are there so many verses that say or imply the opposite, namely that salvation is by works (James 2:24, Matthew 6:15 & 7:21, Galatians 5:19-21)
  5. How should Christian men and women go about breaking free from the bondage of sexual sin?
  6. Of all the things you teach, what parts of Christianity do you still wrestle with? What's hardest for you to believe?
  7. Why does an all loving, all knowing, and all sovereign God will into creation people He foreknows will suffer eternal condemnation? Why does Romans 9:20 feel like a cop-out answer?
  8. Why do you make jokes about Mormon missionaries, homosexuals, trenchcoats wearers, single men, vegans, emo kids and then expect these groups to come to know God in the same sermon?
  9. There's no doubt the Bible says children are a blessing, but the Bible doesn't seem to address the specific topic of birth control. Is this a black and white topic, or does it fall under liberties?

Monday, December 17, 2007


Borders book stores is giving away a controversial Christmas card reading “O come all ye faithless” with every copy of Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. Apparently, folks have become quite offended over the whole thing. Call me thick skinned, but I don't see this as an attack on Christianity, nor do I feel we need to boycott the store. It is an ATHEIST card given out when one purchases an ATHEIST book. It is not like the card is being given out with every purchase of a C.S. Lewis novel. I have to admit, however, that the card is rather witty on a certain level.

To call for a boycott is this circumstance undermines the integrity of this type of protest (which was used by Dr. Martin Luther King to protest racism). Some have also called for the boycott of the recently released movie, the Golden Compass. To an extent, I understand a boycott in this circumstance if folks feel movie producers are misleading movie-goers. Given the extreme comments by the author of the book that the movie was made from, it is hard to say that the whole purpose of the film or the book was anything other than to undermine belief in God. With that said, I will likely watch it on DVD to see what it being said about my faith.

Sometimes I feel that we as Christians are so quick to be offended...if not looking for ways to be offended. If we are so quick to fight, what does that say about our character or our God? It shows that He needs His creation to stand up for Him because obviously, He cannot do it on His own. We are called to give a defense for the hope that is within us...we are not called to be offended.

Maybe I am cranky this evening, but this is just my opinion and it is worth what it cost me to give it to you.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Quote of the Week

"What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?"

- Rhetorical question posed to theists in general and Christians in particular by Antony Flew after discussing horrors such as childhood cancer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Existence of God

I have been having an interesting conversation with an atheist on the subject of the existence of God -- specifically, if we are able to ascertain His presence from nature, the universe, and the moral law. He certainly raises some good points and has further inspired me to pick up a book or two by a few authors such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris. Other authors have also written retorts to these authors, including Allister McGrath, Dinesh D'Sousa and Michael Martin.

Perhaps I will find a few of these books in my stocking come Christmas...we will see.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Germany vs. Scientology

Late this week, German federal and state interior ministers declared the Church of Scientology "unconstitutional." Ehrhart Koerting, Berlin's interior minister, said Germany's domestic intelligence agencies would "continue gathering information on the legality of Scientology's activities in Germany so that a decision could be made on what to do about it next year." Here is a link to the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. were they posted a background paper on Scientology to justify the Country's criticism of the organization. One interesting excerpt says, "...Germany, as well as Belgium, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Israel and Mexico, remain unconvinced that Scientology is a religion."

I am not a big fan of Scientology, to say the least. With that said, it frightens me when a government has the right to say what is and isn't a religion. It is one thing to arrest leaders of a cult or religious movement when they break the law (see the case against Warren Jeffs). It is a whole different story to declare a belief system illegal or unconstitutional. As dumb or as great as an idea may be, let it stand or fall on its own merits. Protect the followers of a so-called religion if they are being abused, but let the free-flow of ideas take place. When we start to ban ideas, as much as they might be worth hating, that takes us down a scary road.

Other equally frightening cases in Germany, like this, are also floating around. As recently as last year, a European Human Rights Court affirmed Germany's ban on homeschooling (instituted by the Nazi's in the late 1930's). Part of the court's reasoning was that society has a significant interest in preventing the development of dissent through "separate philosophical convictions." The news story I link to above ends with the following: "The problem with entrusting the education of children to the state is, of course, that instead of parents “indoctrinating” their children with their own ideological and philosophical beliefs, they will be indoctrinated with those of the state – which is exactly why Hitler banned homeschooling in Germany in 1938."

Wow is about all I can say.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed his Mormon faith yesterday in a speech some say was reminiscent of the one given by JFK in 1960. You be the judge.

JFK 1960: While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election; the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida--the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power--the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills, the families forced to give up their farms-an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space. These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues--for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.

Romney 2007: ...America faces a new generation of challenges. Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us. An emerging China endeavors to surpass our economic leadership. And we are troubled at home by government overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family. Over the last year, we have embarked on a national debate on how best to preserve American leadership. Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America's greatness: our religious liberty. I will also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my Presidency, if I were elected.
JFK 1960: I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote...

Romney 2007: Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.
JFK 1960: ...I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith--nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.

Romney 2007: Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it.
JFK 1960: ...neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test--even by indirection--for it.

Romney 2007: There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution.

There are significant differences, however, between the two speeches. Romney seemed to want Evangelical voters to feel comfortable with his candidacy. I think he succeeded on this front. He showed were there is common ground with his beliefs and those of traditional Christianity (I loved this quote: "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

JFK, on the other hand, did not ever appear to intend to build a bridge in his speech. If the Romney speech was an act of him extending his hand to Evangelicals, one gets the impression that the JFK speech was meant to wag the proverbial index finger to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association (as one would do to a child when they did something wrong). See this quote: "For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim--but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril."

Both were great speeches and served their purposes well. Obviously, JFK managed to overcome the concerns of his religious critics. We will see if Romney is able to do the same in the days and months to come.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Why he is a Christian

It is the evening of Thanksgiving. I am recovering from a food coma and most of the family is asleep. ASU was losing to USC, so I got a little bored and decided to do a little reading. I came across this article by Stan Guthrie, who wrote a brief editorial for Christianity Today to explain why he is a Christian. Below is a chunk of the editorial. To see the full version, click here. I agree that there is no one thing that is the most overwhelming; it is the weight of all of the concepts that serve to convince me. Just like a court case, you cannot hang your hat on one piece of evidence. As it is said, the sum is worth more than the individual parts.

"...remembering Bertrand Russell's famous essay, "Why I Am Not a Christian," here is a Reader's Digest version of why I am.

Creation: The universe, far from being a howling wasteland indifferent to our existence, appears to be finely tuned through its estimated 13.7 billion years of existence to support life on this planet. Tinker with any one of scores of fundamental physical laws or the initial conditions of the universe—such as gravity or the cosmological constant—and we would not be here.

Beauty: Beethoven's Ninth, a snowflake, the sweet smell of a baby who has been sleeping, and a sunset beyond the dunes of Lake Michigan all point to a magnificent and loving Creator. And isn't it interesting that we have the capacity—unlike mere animals—to gape in awe, to be brought to tears, before them?

New Testament reliability: Compared with the handful of existing copies of seminal ancient works such as Homer's Iliad, the New Testament's provenance is far better attested. There are thousands of NT manuscripts in existence, some made within mere decades of the events they report.

Scripture: Unlike other religious texts, the Bible gives us the good, the bad, and the ugly of its heroes: Abraham, Jacob, David, and Peter among them. Further, Scripture's message rings true. It has been said that human depravity is the only religious doctrine empirically verified on a daily basis. And the Bible's gracious solution to our predicament, Christ's atoning death on the Cross, uniquely emphasizes what God has done, not what we must do, for our rescue.

Jesus: Christ's life and teachings are unparalleled in world history, as any Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim—or atheist—worth his salt will admit.

The trilemma: C.S. Lewis, commenting on Christ's claim to divinity, said: "You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Resurrection: After the crucifixion, Jesus' tomb was found empty. His formerly despondent disciples then turned the Roman world upside down with the message that Christ had conquered death. And they were willing to die for it. The best explanation, according to N. T. Wright and other scholars, is that Christ rose from the dead.

Progress: Despite some horrific incidents perpetrated in the name of Christ, freedom and prosperity generally have followed Christianity. Testimonies: While many Christians have behaved badly, Christ specializes in turning sinners around. What other faith can boast of a Chuck Colson? A John Newton? A William Wilberforce? Then there are the innumerable soup kitchens, universities, hospitals, and orphanages founded to the glory of Christ.

My experience: Finally, as a forgiven sinner, I testify to an imperfect yet growing sense of God's peace, presence, and provision since receiving Christ more than a quarter-century ago. Despite occasional setbacks, my faith has deepened and strengthened, whatever life brings."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Jesus Called...

Intriguing post on the subject here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

On Belief, Part 1: God

“There's an invisible man -- living in the sky -- who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time! But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money!” -- George Carlin

The idea of God sounds a little crazy, on the same level as a fairy tale (or a horror movie after reading the above quote by the comedian George Carlin). One of the reasons I enjoy apologetics, theology and philosophy is that is requires me to continually immerse myself in my religion beyond the cursory. Faith and belief are not easy at times. As George Hanson once said, “The difficulties of belief are great; the absurdities of unbelief are greater.” In the end, I think belief is the most reasonable position to hold, as opposed to atheism or agnosticism.

After several years of wrestling with the concept, I ultimately came to the conclusion that God was real and that He revealed Himself through Jesus Christ. On one hand, I wish coming to that conclusion were as easy as writing this sentence. On the other hand, nothing in my life that is of value is easy – my marriage, fatherhood, and, yes this includes my belief in God.

I am writing this blog post as a means to explain why I believe in the existence of a god. This is not an exhaustive explanation and will only (briefly) touch on some of concepts that have been influential to me. I will look at the Bible and Christ in a future post.

Good and Evil

Immanuel Kant once said, “Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry heavens without and the Moral Law within.” Kant makes a profound point with which I would agree. Where we part ways, however, is when we look at the origins of the awe inspiring (Kant did not believe is a god).

Witnessing an injustice brings about a profound anger inside of me. When someone is hurt, I want to protect the victim and see the perpetrator held to account for his actions. When I witness an act of kindness or bravery, it brings a smile to my face. Why is this so? There are certain actions in life that humans look upon in disgust, while there are other actions that we find admirable. The idea of right and wrong, or good and evil, just and unjust is cross-cultural. In other words, if I spend time with another culture, I would see, to some degree or another, many similar standards or norms in place. This is especially the case with the concept of “fairness.”

Is the human idea of good and evil merely genetic, handed down via the evolutionary process, or is there a different explanation? In my eyes, the evolutionary explanation fails in many areas (I touched on this is a previous post). For one, evolution does not explain why humans commit acts of kindness unknown to anyone. Secondly, why do we risk our safety to help people outside of our group (as did Mother Teresa and Oskar Schindler)? There has to be a better explanation.

Our universe is governed by certain laws or constants, such as gravity. Could it be that the idea of good and evil is a similar law for humanity? Before we say no, read what C.S. Lewis said on the subject, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line cooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe to when I called in unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless, from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because he is not a water animal; a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove God did not exist—in other words, that the whole reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. This atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should have never found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

If there is not a god, can there be such a thing as an objective right and wrong? The idea of morality presupposes right and wrong -- but whose definition are we using? If we are using a human definition, then right and wrong is subjective and anything goes, as long as most people feel it is okay. In essence, morality changes with the times. God is not required for a person to make a moral judgment (there are many non-theists whose behavior/actions can be considered moral or good). My argument is that a higher authority is required for an action to be considered inherently moral or evil. A humanistic concept of good/evil is only temporal and thus changes.

It is important to note, that I do not believe in God simply because the alternative would mean the subjectivity of good and evil. Quite the opposite. There are things that are intrinsically wrong (mala in se). If there are acts that are wrong, in and of themselves, how can good and evil be subjective? We can never argue that evil acts by brutal people (such as Hitler or child rapists) are good. As such, evil cannot change with the times, not should it. The fact that humans have what some would call a moral compass, which biology fails miserably to explain, should raise a lot of questions about the origin of such a compass.

The Beauty of Mathematics and the Cosmos

I mentioned earlier the idea of scientific laws or constants, such as gravity. There are many constants in place on our planet and in our universe that are vital to life. Given the preciseness of the constants, some would argue that the existence of life sits on a razor’s edge.

Dr. Francis Collins notes, “Altogether there are fifteen physical constants whose values current theory in unable to predict. They are givens: they simply have the value that they have. This list includes the speed of light, the strength of the weak and strong nuclear forces, various parameters associated with electromagnetism, and the force of gravity. The chance that all of these constants would take on the values necessary to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining complex life forms is almost infinitesimal…In sum our universe is wildly improbable.”

Astronomer Dr. Martin Rees once said, “The expansion speed, the material content of the universe, and the strengths of basic forces, seem to have been a prerequisite for the emergence of the hospitable cosmic habitat in which we live.” He notes that if there were the slightest tweaking of the numbers, “The universe as we know it would not be here.” Further, the mere placement of our plant within our solar system and within our universe is strikingly fortuitous. Along these lines, atheist author Richard Dawkins once said, "It is such a privilege to be born at all" and that his birth was an "improbable event."

Additionally, the mathematics and formulas behind many of these scientific principles are extraordinary beautiful. Some have even called them, “elegant in their simplicity.” The more we dig into science and mathematics, the more we see beauty at the most infinitesimal levels. Nobel-prize winning physicist and atheist Steven Weinberg once said, “Sometimes nature seems more beautiful that strictly necessary.”

God in the Gaps

The fact that we are here is startling. The fact we have the ability comprehend ourselves and analyze what is going on around is also amazing. The fact that once we dig down into our environment we see a great deal or order and beauty would almost be humorous, if it wasn’t so fascinating.

There appears to something working in our universe beyond random chance. The existence of good and evil, coupled with the staggering improbabilities of life as we know it, lead me to keep my mind open about the existence of a god (there are other concepts that help me, but for relative brevity, I focused on these two).

One may look at what I have written an accuse me of using “God in the gaps” reasoning (if one can’t find a scientific answer, attribute the act to ‘God’). Collins also commented on this subject noting, “Faith that places God in the gaps of current understanding about the natural world may be headed for crisis if advances in science subsequently fill those gaps…There are good reasons to believe in God, including the existence of mathematical principles and order in creation. They are positive reasons, based on knowledge, rather than default assumptions based on (a temporary) lack of knowledge.” In short, I let the evidence lead me to my conclusion, rather than the other way around.

My subsequent post on the Bible and Christ will show how God has revealed Himself to His creation, beyond the general revelation outlined here. These general (natural) and specific (Biblical) revelations, in my opinion, are overwhelming evidence that God is real.

At this moment, it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” Astrophysicist Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Positive of Persecution

I have not posted much lately, as my family, job and church responsibilities have taken up much of my time -- I enjoy writing, but sleep is nice too. I have a few posts in the pipeline, including: 1) Why I believe in a god; 2) Why I believe in the God of the Bible and Christ specifically; and 3) Do people go to heaven if they haven't heard the message of Christ. Given the complexity of these three issues, it have taken me a while to wade through everything while posting something of reasonable brevity.

In the meantime, I found this interesting article in Christianity Today regarding the positive side of the recent rise of atheist attacks on Christianity. Christianity flourished in spite of the Roman persecution during the first few centuries after the death of Christ. While we want the message of Christ to be spread the world over, there are dangers when our faith becomes mainstream or common, as it has been in western culture since before the founding of America. The danger, obviously, isn't from the message, but the laziness that can rise when there is no external challenge to being a Christian. We often cherish that which is harder to obtain, but possessions gained through relative ease do not hold the same position in our lives (Christ isn't a possession, but hopefully you get the point). Western Christians have not faced many significant persecutions or challenges to our faith, like for example our Chinese brothers and sisters. Yes, prayer has been banned from schools and it can be argued that many universities are not the most Christian-friendly places. But I can still attend my church on Sunday without having to worry about being thrown in jail.

With the recent rise of atheists such as Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and others, Christians are facing a full-frontal attack to our belief system -- and it is not on a small scale. Since 2006, the three names I just listed have each published anti-God and anti-Christian books that have sold a combined 1 million copies. The questions they raise are not new, but their message is now becoming more widely spread, via television, the Internet, news papers and other media. Thus, Christians are facing a new wave of challenges and we are being called to defend our beliefs. The positive is that under such challenges, the search for answers will strengthen the faith of many and create opportunities to speak about Christ where such opportunities may not have existed before.

Below is an excerpt from the article.


You would have to have been hitchhiking across Siberia to have missed a striking new phenomenon: The atheists are back. Not just back, mind you, but globally parading in triumph across tv, bookstores, and the Internet...

Why a surge by atheists right now?...American evangelicals, we must admit, have not been immune to triumphal attitudes, arrogance, foolish public statements, and, sometimes, downright hypocrisy in personal behavior. A backlash against evangelicals has been brewing for years.

The good news? First, a bracing frontal assault on faith is actually good for evangelicalism. It compels us to reexamine what we believe and to behave—well, with greater humility.

Second, this backlash has produced a fascinating response among believers. For example, the most effective public debater with Christopher Hitchens to date has been Brooklyn Baptist and verbal flame-thrower the Rev. Al Sharpton.

In a debate, Hitchens disparaged the God-fearing sensibilities of Martin Luther King Jr., angering Sharpton. "In terms of the civil-rights movement," Sharpton responded, "it was absolutely fueled by a belief in God and a belief in right or wrong. Had not there been this belief that there was a right and a wrong, the civil-rights movement that you alluded to and referred to would not have existed."

Third...theists have drawn into the debate highly articulate scientists of fervent Christian faith. In England, Alister McGrath, professor of historical theology at Oxford, has battled Dawkins brilliantly on his home turf of science. McGrath holds a doctorate in molecular biophysics as well as one in theology.

Two other new books put forward important ideas about God's existence, offering magnificent ripostes to the atheists. In The Language of God, Francis Collins, a former atheist and director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, refuses to choose between science and God. "Science is not threatened by God," he writes. "[I]t is enhanced." Former Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich, in God's Universe, draws a bright line between theists and materialists. He endorses the view that belief in "a final cause, a Creator-God" gives us truthful, coherent understanding about the design of the universe.

Christians have nothing to fear from the new atheist surge. We evangelicals, in our advocacy for the gospel, also have no need for blunt weaponry.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The 80/20 Rule

This was written by a gentleman the was the pastor of the church I attended when I was a little boy (Jim Taylor). It is worth the read.
“…I did not find paradise. It was only a reflection of my lonely mind wanting what’s been missing in my life...” (from Goodbye Alice in Wonderland by Jewel)

Many people are looking for a personal “paradise” ... the perfect job, the perfect mate, the car, a hobby, an advancement or recognition ... the thing that will fulfill them. Quite often they run from relationship to relationship, seeking that “paradise”. Or they get caught up in trying to “climb the ladder” or make their place in the world, seeking what’s missing and never quite finding it.

Oh, there are good things, yes! And quite often that person in your life or that job has brought a lot of satisfaction, but it is not quite everything that you envisioned. There still seems to be something lacking.

Let me share with you a little secret: There is NOTHING in life that will ever give you 100% of what you are expecting from it. Get used to this idea. Nothing will ever be 100%. No car, no job, no career, no sport, no piece of furniture, no house, no spouse. NOTHING and NO ONE will ever live up to 100%.

That’s a fact of life.

Many things and many people however will sometimes reach about 80% of our expectations. And there is nothing wrong with that. However … and this is important …… we can become indifferent to the 80%. We can grow used to the 80%. So used to it in fact, that we sometimes start worrying about the 20% we don’t have. And IF we are not careful, we will be tempted by the 20%.

I have seen it in marriages. One partner says, “You are not giving me everything I need. Oh sure, you are 80%, but I need that other 20%!” If they continue to fixate on what they don’t have, sooner or later 20% is going to come walking by. And many times they will leave the 80% for the 20%! Why? Because by fixating on what they don’t have --- the 20% --- they forget the 80% they do have and suddenly the 20% looks like more than the 80%. And so they give up the 80% and run off with the 20%. Then one day they wake up and realize they settled for 20% when they once had 80%, but now it’s too late to go back.

As parents we rarely are everything we want to be (if ever) and I know that in our children’s eyes we come short of their needs or expectations quite often. How many young people just can’t wait to get out on their own, only to find when they do that they have left 80% and now are living with 20%! If you focus on the 20% it often looks like the answer to your problems. When the 20% appears to us as if it is more than the 80%, it will appear to us as the way to everything we desire. When we pursue the 20% it can be exciting, thrilling, and promising. But when we leave the 80% and settle for the 20% life becomes empty and depression, discouragement or despair can settle in.

How many people neglected family and friends in pursuit of a career only to discover one day that while they reached the top of their career, there was nothing there? They have gotten the 20% but at the expense of 80%. Some people never understand the 80/20 Rule and spend all their life running, leaving, seeking, and never finding what they are searching for. They think if they can just get that special (fill in the blank) they will find contentment, fulfillment, and satisfaction. But because they don’t understand the 80/20 Rule they actually are working against themselves! The very thing that would bring what they want is the thing they constantly run away from!

The key is to learn to appreciate the 80% that you have! Do not listen to the call of the 20%. Do not allow yourself think about or dwell upon the 20%. Begin to explore all the possibilities that are in the 80%. Start being thankful for the 80% you have. It will take some time and requires a “training” of your mind, but in time you will begin to see how foolish it is to dwell on the 20%.

When that happens the 80% actually will become more valuable to you than you believe possible. It may even become more than 80%! Yes. That is possible. It may not look like it is now, but trust me, try it and you will find out whether I am telling the truth or not.

As I said, it will require you to train your mind, discipline it, and bring it under your control. If you have something or someone that is 80%, do not allow yourself to dwell on the 20% you don’t have! Think about the good things. Make yourself become thankful for the good parts. As you endeavor to do that, if you will ask Him, you will find the Lord will enable you to follow through, thinking about the good things. And His peace will invade your life. Not only will His peace come into your life, it will actually guard your mind so that the 20% never looks as large as the 80%.

Give it a try! What have you got to lose but dissatisfaction, discontent and unhappiness? You can live without those things!

Phil 4:4-9 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. NIV

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Can Science and Philosophy Embrace God?

I read two stories this week that, while not directly related to one another, carried the same theme: atheists moving toward belief in God. That an atheist may shift to belief in a god is not unusual. However, the two individuals that were the subjects of the stories are not your ordinary persons. One is an Oxford educated philosopher and the other is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Often I hear that one cannot have a rational or reasoned belief in God. Given these individual's distinguished backgrounds in academics, it is hard to imagine either of them "blindly" believing in anything.

Dr. Rosalind Picard is director of affective computing research in the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Picard was raised an atheist, but later embraced the idea of God and eventually Christianity. "Those who argue that humans are composed only from molecular biology and nothing more aren't basing their argument in science," Picard says. "Science is not capable of making such claims." Furthermore, "Scientists cannot assume that nothing exists beyond what they can measure...It's quite possible that there's still something more." Picard says she personally has faith in scientific progress, but also faith in God.

The story also notes that, "When she speaks about DNA, which is the basic ingredient that forms organisms, Picard raises the notion of there being 'a much greater mind, a much greater scientist, a much greater engineer behind who we are.' DNA, is enormously complex, she says. 'It takes a lot of faith to believe it arose from purely random processes. There's definitely the mark of intervention in that.'"

But she does not support "intelligent design" hook, line and sinker. "Picard also laments that the news media put people who are of different minds on the intelligent- design debate into just two distinct camps -- intelligent design or evolution. 'To simply put most of us in one camp or the other does the whole state of knowledge a huge disservice,' she said."

The other two stories (here and here) were written about Anthony Flew. Once a devout atheist, he has embraced Deism in his older age -- critics would argue it is his age that has caused such lapse in thought. Flew makes it abundantly clear that he is not a Christian. Flew's movement from the atheist camp to the deist camp is not new news, as an announcement was made in 2004. But more interviews have been conducted recently due to the release of his book entitled, There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

During a recent interview, Flew states, "I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint despite numerous efforts to do so. With every passing year, the more that was discovered about the richness and inherent intelligence of life, the less it seemed likely that a chemical soup could magically generate the genetic code."

Two factors were were "decisive," as it relates to his change in view. "One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe. The second was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself – which is far more complex than the physical Universe – can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source.

Flew says to those, such as Richard Dawkins, who argue that life and existence can be attributed to chance, "If that's the best argument you have, then the game is over."

The New York Times article on Flew concludes with a startling commentary by the author, "Flew’s colleagues will wonder how he could sign a petition to the prime minister in favor of intelligent design, but it becomes more understandable if the signatory never hated religious belief the way many philosophers do and if he never hated religious people in the least." I get the sense from the New York Times article that the author questions Flew's so-called "conversion" to Deism. But I am a little miffed by his concluding remarks. The author seems to imply that atheists are driven by hate versus reason and thought.

Science, philosophy and God are not mutually exclusive concepts. One can have a reasoned faith. Even if Flew's shift can be explained by old age, there are many scientists and philosophers like Picard, Francis Collins and others to document such a fact. The claim that religious persons are ignorant (to use a milder term) is becoming tired and trite. Such a claim is a simple way of not having to engage on an issue of great importance.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Do People Need God to be Good?

A sociologist from the University of Lethbridge conducted a nationwide survey of 1,600 Canadians, asking them, "Do people need God to be good?" The study found that Canadians who believe in God are "consistently more likely than atheists to highly value a range of characteristics that includes courtesy, concern for others, forgiveness, and patience. God-believers are also more inclined than those who don't believe in God to place high value on friendship, family life, and being loved."

The author of the study, Dr. Reginald Bibby notes, "There obviously are times when religious beliefs and religious groups do not contribute to the social good. However, if they were to disappear tomorrow, we would have to find functional equivalents in Canadian society that are equally effective in promoting good interpersonal traits...To the extent that Canadians say good-bye to God, we may find that we pay a significant social price."

The primary reason for the values differences, Bibby suggests, are as follows:

"People get their values from groups and people who believe in God are far more likely than atheists to be part of groups that work hard to instill values about being good to other people, and having good relationships. That's not to say that God-believers always translate their values into action. But they at least are inclined to hold the values. Atheists, on the other hand, do not have as many explicit support groups that are committed to intentionally promoting positive interpersonal life."

49 percent of the respondents also said they definitely believe God exists and 33 percent said they think He exists; 11 percent have doubts and don't think there is a higher power; and 7 percent say they definitely do not believe God exists.

The Christian Post ran an article on this study and highlighted a recent debate between Alister McGrath and Christopher Hitchens. The article noted, "Rebutting Hitchens' argument that knowing right from wrong is innate and doesn't come from a higher being, McGrath, who said he is a former atheist, asked how one can have a viable moral system without some sort of transcendent basis of morality. 'There are some forms of religion that are pathological, that damage people. For every one of these atrocities which must cause all of us deep concern, there are 10,000 unreported acts of kindness, generosity, and so forth arising from religious commitment,' McGrath argued."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What the Hell?

I haven't posted in a few days, as I have taken the time to visit and comment (here and here) on other blogs. While I recently wrote on heaven, one of the blogs got me thinking about the doctrine of hell (see the first link). After wrestling with the concept for a few days, these are my thoughts.

Theologians note that there are more important doctrines to the Christian faith than hell. However, critics hold the idea of hell up as one of the main objections to our faith. One Christian writer said, "Of all the doctrines in Christianity, hell is probably the most difficult to defend and the most burdensome to believe..." Given these issues, it is important to more fully understand what the Bible says about hell. Some of the bigger objections I have come across include:
  1. Hell is contrary to the love of God -- it is hypocrisy and immoral.
  2. Infinite punishment for a finite sin is contrary to justice -- it is cruel.
There are other objections, but I will focus on these two for relative brevity.

We often think of hell as a place of everlasting fire and torture, as this picture portrays (William-Adolphe Bouguereau - Dante And Virgil In Hell, 1850). But is this really what hell is like? Jesus spoke about it often and used images of fire, destruction, torment, and gnashing of teeth.

I do not believe that Hell is a place of eternal physical torture, as if we are being whipped and beaten on a daily basis while God watches in with a vengeful eye. The Bible uses analogy, allegory and figures of speech. It uses fire, gnashing of teeth, etc. as an analogy for what it is like away from God's presence, which is what hell is - separation/banishment from God's presence. As such, there is suffering because one is away from God. I am not downplaying hell, only putting it in perspective. From all accounts, it will be a nasty place. Just not in the way we might expect, like the picture. (For example, God's love may be the fire - if one hates God, then His love will feel like fire and torment. I don't know if I agree with this description, but it is one that has been put forth.)

One blogger I encountered asked a very insightful question relating to hell being separation from God: If God is omnipresent, how is it that we can be separated from His presence? I see a difference between an active and passive presence of God. Those in Hell will not receive the full benefit of His active presence as those in heaven. Further, some theologians believe that there will be degrees of isolation and separation in Hell. If God’s judgment is proportional, Hitler will be judged harsher than a person who might have been a relatively “good” person whose sin is rejection of the Gospel.

It is important to note that hell is not the analogy, only the descriptions used in the Bible. If you have never tasted beef and had to explain its taste to a person who has never even seen a cow, you would say, “Beef is like…” This is exactly what the Bible does. Hell is described as utter darkness, yet with flames. Both are obviously not possible and can be viewed as figurative language.

Hell is contrary to the love of God
Taken at face value, I would not disagree with this statement -- with the caveat that hell was not part of God's initial plan for humanity. He does not want his creation to go there anymore than we want to be there. So in that sense it is contrary. However, given our rebellion, it becomes necessary. God's love gives us freedom -- including the freedom to reject Him.

But if God is so merciful and loving, God should forgive the rebel for rejecting Him, right?. I think that this is a misunderstanding of justice. Mercy cannot contradict justice. By accepting Christ's sacrifice, we have the ability to have our sins forgiven. This is mercy and grace. It is offered to us for free, but it came at a price. By rejecting Christ and never seeking forgiveness for our actions, we are refusing to disassociate with our sins. Sin cannot enter heaven. Our sins are either excluded through Christ, or they stay part of us. Justice says that the price of sin must be paid. We have two options and the ball is in our court.

It is important to keep in mind that if God truly loves us, He will allow us to make our own decisions. As such, God would not pull someone into heaven kicking and screaming. If we are free, rejection of God is possible. Thus, Hell is possible. We have the opportunity to choose our paths. While a person may not want to go to Hell, they chose a path that leads there. God respects us so much and wants a voluntary submission to His will. We will not go to hell against our will, but because of it.

Infinite punishment for a finite sin is contrary to justice
To God, the most heinous thing a person can do, in the words of Dr. J.P. Moreland, is to, “mock and dishonor and refuse to love the person that we owe absolutely everything to, which is our Creator, God Himself.” The Bible says the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The punishment of a lifetime of refusing God will result in an eternity apart from Him (ultimate sanction for the ultimate sin). We have a lifetime to choose Him. If we were to have a second chance after death, what would be the point of this life? Who is to say that one will not reject God after the second opportunity? Is hell okay under these circumstances? Further, such a question assumes that we do not have sufficient opportunities to meet God during our lifetime. If we are to be held to account for our decisions, we must have the opportunity to make the correct one. If God is truly just, such an opportunity will occur.

When we argue against the finality of hell, we are failing to see the horror of what sin really is in God's eye. It is rejection of Him.

An interesting theme behind the critique of hell is that it is not "moral" or "just." In most accounts, the critic is disavowing God, while at the same time calling hell unjust. C.S. Lewis has this to say, "How had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust." In essence, when one denies the existence of God but refers to good and evil, it becomes a self-defeating argument. When we call something bad, we refer to a standard that is beyond ourselves. Where does that standard come from? If the standard is man-made, then it is subjective. How then can we call crimes such as those committed in Darfur and Nazi Germany truly "bad" if humans are the ones defining good and bad. Our ideas of good and bad can change. If there is not a God, what then can we defer to as the arbiter when we say something is evil?

I have yet to read an atheistic argument relating to morality that does not ultimately end in subjectivity, thus doing away with any notion of inherent human rights or inherent evil. I am not saying that God is required for a person to be "good" (there are many non-Christians whose behavior/actions can be considered moral or good). My argument is that a higher authority is required for an action to be considered inherently moral or evil. A humanistic concept of good/evil is only temporal and thus changes.

Lastly, it is very important to note that Christians (at least the ones I know) do not enjoy the thought of people going to hell. We are not "gleeful" as I have seen some say. I are saddened by the thought of hell. This is why Christians try to reach about to non-believers. Those that take joy in preaching hell should be ashamed of themselves.

While hell may play an initial part in someone becoming a Christian, our continued faith is not necessarily reliant on the fear of damnation. At least in my case, I do not stay a Christian out of fear of hell -- I stay out of love for my creator.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Jesus and Cheese Sandwiches

Every couple of months, a news story is run that highlights what someone believes to be an appearance of either Jesus, Mary or another Christian figure in anything from food, to windows to clouds. For example, a few years ago, someone saw Jesus in this grilled cheese sandwich.

Well...we have another sighting. This time of Pope John Paul II. It appears that Pope JP2 was a big fan of the Fantastic Four, as his image was seen in the form of a giant flame, a la the Human Torch. Makes we wonder if we will see any future divine appearances of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman or the Thing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Imagine There's No Heaven

John Lennon wrote a song released in 1971 called Imagine. It has since become one of the top songs of all time. I never really looked at the words until recently, although I was familiar with the tune since I heard it on the radio as a child. While it has redeeming qualities, such as imagining peace and no greed or hunger, there are a few verses that can be less than uplifting if one is a Christian, including imagining there's no heaven or religion --- but, this is exactly what I did today (imagining no heaven, that is).

Specifically, I asked myself I would still follow the will of God if there was not a "reward" (for lack of a better word) in the end. In other words, if Christians did not go to heaven, would I still be motivated to serve God? Part of the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind. Would I love my creator, then, if He did not offer heaven?

"No heaven" is hard for a Christian to imagine (no pun intended). It does get me thinking about my underlying motivations for serving God. Am I doing it to get my "prize," or am I doing it because I love the Lord my God? I hope it is the latter.

I don't know if this makes sense to anyone else, or if I just have too much time on my hands to think about random things.

Imagine - John Lennon
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Are Christians Contributing to Unbelief?

S. Michael Craven at the Center for Christ & Culture has an interesting article in which he asks if Christians are contributing to unbelief. While 89% of Americans claim to believe in God and 11% claim to be atheist or agnostic (numbers that have stayed the same for many years), there has been a lot of popularity of recent books written by prominent atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris -- several even landing on the New York Times best-seller list. If we are a country that believes in God, why is there such an interest in books that are so anti-god? Craven looks at one possibility: a backlash against the mingling of religion and politics.

Craven notes the following, "J. David Kuo, who served in the Bush White House for two-and-a-half years as a Special Assistant to the president and eventually as Deputy Director of the Faith-Based Initiative, offers one possible suggestion... According to Kuo, a self-professed conservative Christian, growing interest in questions about God’s existence may be the result of a “backlash against the mingling of religion, politics and public policy,” and this idea that “Jesus was about a particular conservative political agenda.” In essence, he means that the actions of some Christians may be encouraging the spiritual seeker to further doubt the existence of Jehovah God."

He goes on to say, "This growing interest in “questioning the existence of God” seems to parallel the decline in church attendance or more precisely, those leaving the institutional church. According to Reggie McNeal, author of The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, “They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.” McNeal adds, “They contend that the church no longer contributes to their spiritual development.” This would certainly be the natural consequence of a Christianity that has lost its Christ-centeredness."

He concludes with this, "Regardless of where you are in relation to politics or the kind of church you attend; the question we must each ask ourselves everyday is this: “Is my life and conduct drawing people toward Christ or pushing them away?” I pray for my own sake that it is the former."

It is important to ask ourselves if our actions are a stumbling block to someone accepting Christ. But as important, we should ask if the Church has stayed from its primary mission. Even if the mingling of Christians and political party politics is not the primary cause of folks flocking to atheist best-sellers, I would argue that it certainly plays a role in folks not being willing to accept Christ's message (I have had several conversations with non-Christians who have noted this exact point). If someone wants to deny Christ, God or the Bible, let it be because they have hardened their heart to His word, not because we are sandpaper when we should be salt and light.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

How to Convert an Atheist

No, the link to the video clip below is not a step-by-step of how to convert an atheist, despite the title of this posting (sorry folks). I took my title from the title of the video.

It is interesting to watch (only 3 minutes or so) as it provides an overly simplistic and satirical view of Christians. If you are easily offended, it may not be the best 3 minutes you will spend today. If, however, you are interested in how Christians are viewed by some in the atheist community, then take a look.

1 in 5 Pregnancies Worldwide Ends in Abortion

I don't usually blog on stories like these, but I felt the need. Neither of these numbers are good:
  • One in five pregnancies worldwide and more than half of pregnancies in eastern Europe end in abortion.
  • 70,000 women die every year from unsafe abortions.

Here is a news article on the study behind the numbers. The positive is that the number of abortions dropped from 46 million in 1995 to just under 42 million in 2003. The authors of the study note the need for contraception to reduce the chances of pregnancy and thus reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Evil, Plato and God

I attend a study every other Friday at a friend's house where we discuss, among other things, whether there is a rational basis for belief in God and Christ. The chapter in the book we read for this week covered the question of why there is evil in the world. This is a question that theologians have wrestled with for centuries.

The existence of evil is a prominent criticism of Christianity by non-religious persons. In short, the argument goes something like this: If God created all things, and evil exists, then God created evil. Therefore, God is either one of two things - 1) bad for allowing evil, or 2) not all powerful because He doesn't stop bad things from happening. Neither option is a good and some, in turn, find that they cannot bring themselves to believing in such a dichotomy. While the logic of if-then-this may be logical, as any philosophy professor will tell you, just because something appears logical does not mean it is correct.

So then, why evil? I wish I could say I had a simple silver-bullet answer, but I do not (I have discussed the subject here and here). If anyone claims a simple answer, run away fast. Despite the difficulty, there are many crucial observations that can come from asking this question.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, "My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust." In essence, when one denies the existence of God based on the existence of evil, it becomes a self-defeating argument. When we call something bad, we refer to a standard that is beyond ourselves. Where does that standard come from? If it is man-made, then it is subjective. Taken to its logical conclusion, crimes such as those committed in Darfur and Nazi Germany could be justified. In fact, the Holocaust was permitted by German law, although no decent person would say that such an atrocity was "good." If there is not a God, what then can we defer to as the arbiter when we say something is evil?

This does beg the question of how God communicates such standards to humans. Some would argue that humans can and do pervert the idea of divine revelation for personal gain -- if God "told" me that murder is evil, then what is to stop me from adding a few of my own pet-peeves to the list simply to control those I don't like? While humans have used the name of a religion for wrong, this is an ancillary criticism and never answers the question of where we draw our concept of right and wrong.

If God does exist, where does He come up with right and wrong? This is an interesting question offered by Plato, called the Euthyphro Dilemma. Simply put, Plato asks if an act is right because God says it's so, or does God say it's so because it's right. Some see Plato's question as a devastating objection to the concept that morality is grounded in God's commands, but it doesn't need to be. I saw one person make the following statement, "What if God had ordained murder and rape as the morally obligatory ways of treating others? If so and rights and values have moral authority merely because God ordains them, then murder and rape would be morally obligatory. You can't protest here and say that since God (who is perfectly morally good) would never ordain anything as immoral as murder and rape, murder and rape couldn't have been morally obligatory. If you say this, you'd be appealing to a moral standard independent of (not ordained by) God. So, either human rights and moral values have an authority independent of God's commands or they derive all of their authority from the fact that God has ordained them and we must accept that human rights and moral values are arbitrary: whatever God says goes - no matter how horrible."

Christian philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that the dilemma is false (thanks Wikipedia for the following condensation of his argument): "Yes, God commands something because it is good, but the reason it is good is that good is an essential part of God's nature. So goodness is grounded in God's character and merely expressed in moral commands. Therefore whatever a good God commands will always be good." Thus, God's commands are not subject to an outside authority, nor are they arbitrary.

It is important to point out that someone does not have to be religious to do "good" things, like feed the poor (although, most outreach centers I can think of that offer such assistance are part of a larger church ministry). But as Norman Geisler says in his book Unshakable Foundations, "In order for moral evil to be present, a moral agent and a moral law must also exist." Who else can that moral agent be but God?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Common Ground

I subscribe to email updates from Sojourners, a Christian group that advocates for the "biblical call to social justice," as their website states. While organizations like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council and other similar groups advocate on issues like abortion, gay marriage, pornography and the like, Sojourners seeks to implement government policies to help the poor and needy like housing, health care and similar services. Their update today caught my attention, as it included a link to a report by a group called called Third Way, entitled Come Let Us Reason Together, A Fresh Look at Shared Cultural Values Between Progressives and Evangelicals. As the name of the report implies, Third Way attempts to find common ground between the two ends of the Christian faith -- what some might call "liberal" and "conservative."

Many political pundits see Evangelical Christians as a voting block (who usually vote Republican) and fail to see the nuanced political beliefs that make up people that attend Christian churches. As early as 20 years ago, this stereotype could not be as easily made. The report notes, "[In] 1988, Evangelicals were split evenly between the two political parties. In the 1980s, partisan divides among Evangelicals were correlated heavily to region, with Evangelicals in the South still tenuously wedded to the Democratic Party and Evangelicals outside the South more connected to the GOP." They note that while Evangelicals make up one quarter of the population, our influence and visibility has increased dramatically due to recent partisanship. "By 2004, 56% of Evangelicals identified with or leaned Republican, with only 27% identifying with or leaning Democrat; the remaining 17% identified as Independent(Green 2004). Partisanship in 2006 was fairly consistent with this picture, although moderately more favorable to the Democrats: 59% of Evangelicals identified with or leaned Republican, 34% identified with or leaned Democrat, and 7% identified as Independent."

As I noted earlier, things are not as simple as the numbers might portray. Progressive/Liberal Evangelicals do not necessarily fall in line with the more conservative branch of the faith. This simplistic assumption has been a mistake of the Democratic Party, who has largely dismissed the possibility of reaching Evangelical votes. This assumption has been to their detriment. Today, Democratic presidential candidates have taken an about-face and are courting Evangelical voters. They seem to have become more comfortable talking about their faith.

This could be because over half of Evangelicals can be considered what the study calls "Centrists (41%), and Modernists (11%)." They entitle Conservative Evangelicals at Traditionalists (48%). The study makes an interesting observation regarding these groups and church attendance, as well as beliefs in the Bible. "Traditionalists are the most orthodox, attend religious services most frequently, and record the highest rates of biblical literalism. Centrists are more religiously moderate, attend religious services less frequently, and hold less literal views of the Bible. Modernists are less traditionally religious, attend religious services a few times a year, and hold low rates of biblical literalism. Although these subgroup distinctions are based entirely on religious measures, they are highly correlated to political opinion and provide an initial window into the complexities of the relationship between religion and politics among Evangelicals." The report also has an accurate analysis of why Conservatives believe in a limited form of government. It also describes their concerns with religion being taken out of the public square.

The power of the religious right certainly is not fading. As I have noted in other postings, Republicans are fearful that Conservative Evangelicals will break rank to support a 3rd party candidate. But it appears that more moderate Evangelical voices are starting to be heard, such as groups like Sojourners and especially younger Christian's in their 20's and 30's (like myself). Where does this leave us then? How can both sides work together in the public square in the cause of service for Jesus Christ? Third Way makes a few suggestions in areas like gay & lesbian issues, abortion, human embryos, protection of children, and responsible fatherhood. Most importantly, however, is that they want to open up a dialogue between Christians (which is somewhat ironic). Liberals and Conservatives have the same goals, one would hope, but different methods of achieving them. Once we can understand one another, it makes it possible to work together. If we were to simply achieve productive, honest dialogue, it would be ground gained beyond where we are now. Any eventual alliance between the two sides has the potential to produce a powerful force to change our country for the good.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Vote for President of a (Christian?) Nation

Was the United States founded as a Christian nation? One of our current presidential candidates, U.S. Sen. John McCain, believes that we were. A recent poll shows that McCain is not alone in his beliefs. 55% of Americans think that the Constitution establishes America as a Christian nation. McCain received some flack for his comments, which he has since clarified, "What I do mean to say is the United States of America was founded on … Judeo-Christian values, which were translated by our founding fathers [and are] basically the rights of human dignity and human rights."

Conservative radio talk show host Michael Medved, an observant Jew, wrote a detailed article this past week on the subject and defended McCain. He concludes, "The framers may not have mentioned Christianity in the Constitution, but they clearly intended that charter of liberty to govern a society of fervent faith, freely encouraged by government for the benefit of all. Their noble and unprecedented experiment never involved a religion-free or faithless state but did indeed presuppose America’s unequivocal identity as a Christian nation."

Christianity Today, a magazine founded by Rev. Billy Graham, ran an editorial in July of 2005 that was critical of the concept (the article is no longer on their website, but can be found here). The editorial begins with strong words, "George W. Bush is not Lord. The Declaration of Independence is not an infallible guide to Christian faith and practice. Nor is the U.S. Constitution, nor the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. "Original intent" of America's founders is not the hermeneutical key that will guarantee national righteousness. The American flag is not the Cross. The Pledge of Allegiance is not the Creed. "God Bless America" is not the Doxology. Sometimes one needs to state the obvious—especially at times when it's less and less obvious." They go on to say, "The not-so-subtle equation of America's founding with biblical Christianity has been shown time and again to be historically inaccurate. The founding was a unique combination of biblical teaching and Enlightenment rationalism, and most of the founding fathers, as historian Edwin Gaustad, among many others, has noted, were not orthodox Christians, but instead were primarily products of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, we should recall, has never been much of a friend of biblical Christianity."

It appears the extent of the influence of Christianity on our founding fathers might be debatable. But it is undeniable that Christian morals at least played a role. With all of this said, should we base our vote for a Presidential candidate on whether or not they are a Christian? It appears important to folks like Dr. James Dobson, who is less than thrilled with the selection of Republican candidates and is threatening to put his support behind a 3rd party candidate (even if it means that his candidate will split the Republican vote and thereby guarantee a Democratic victory). Dobson has even questioned the faith of one candidate, former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson, because of his lack of church attendance.

Just because one is a devout Christian does not mean one will be a good President (Jimmy Carter). On the other hand, a lack of a church attendance does not mean one will be a poor President (Ronald Reagan never attended church during his two terms as Commander-In-Chief). We must also be careful of any candidate who wears their religion on their sleeve for political gain. All else being equal (and assuming I support their policies), I would be inclined to vote for a candidate who shared my faith. But if the qualifications of a non-Christian candidate where better than the Christian's, I would likely lean toward the non-Christian. While I love my Christian brothers and sisters, I would not select a surgeon based on their faith. We must be careful in doing the same when we look at Presidential candidates, no matter how strong an influence the Christian faith had during the formation of our country.

In God We Trust

Next month marks the 146 anniversary of the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury's directive to prepare a motto for our national coins. In his letter to the Director of the U.S. Mint, the Secretary notes, "No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins." The Director of the Mint submitted designs two years later and Congress approved a motto for the coins -- In God We Trust -- shortly thereafter (the motto was adopted as our national motto some 90-years later in the 1950s and was also placed on our paper currency at that time).

The change took place during the ravages of the Civil War. A Pennsylvanian pastor was one of many who wrote the Secretary requesting recognition of God on our coins. The pastor states in his letter, "What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation?" He goes on to say, "From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters."

Just a little bit of trivia to think about as you carry that pocket full of change. I have a feeling that such statements by an elected or appointed government official would not fly today, to say the least.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

One Story, Two Accounts

Ben Stein (from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Visine eye drop commercial fame) is more than an ordinary actor and is certainly no intellectual slouch. He graduated from Columbia University with honors in economics and as valedictorian of his Yale Law School class. His latest film work, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, covers the debate between evolution and intelligent design, with a special focus on educators who have been ridiculed for supporting an intelligent design model of creation.

Right from the start, one can imagine that such a film would bring about a little controversy. In fact it has done just that. While I may watch the film when it is released in February 2008, an even more interesting subject is how the media has covered the film. The title of a recent New York Times article on the movie is: "Scientists Feel Miscast in Film on Life’s Origin." The author focuses first on an apparent controversy as to whether or not evolution supports were tricked into being interviewed for the film. Later in the article, it touches on the subject of the film -- educators that have been criticized and lost tenure for their support of intelligent design.

When one reads another article published by the Christian Post entitled, "Ben Stein Confronts Dominance of Darwinian Thought in New Film," it creates an interesting juxtaposition. This story focuses first on the educators and second on the supposed skulduggery of the film's producers.

Reporters know most readers only read the first portion of any newspaper article. If a reporter has a bias, the information they find important or worthwhile is placed early in the piece (it might also be helpful for me to point out that the authors to not write the headlines -- this is left to another person, such as the editor). Do either of the above referenced reporters have a bias? I guess that depends on your position on evolution. Like I story, two accounts.

This just goes to show that we should not get all of our news from one source (and read beyond the first paragraph). While I happen to fall more toward the conservative side in my politics and faith, I find it important to get my news and information from a wide variety of sources (including, God forbid, what some might term "liberal"). If we only hang around those who agree with us, we will find that we are never wrong.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

September 26

September 26th holds a lot of history for our country. In 1789, Thomas Jefferson was appointed America's first Secretary of State. Nixon and Kennedy held the first televised Presidential debate in 1960. The Beatles released Abbey Road (1969). In 1981, Nolan Ryan set a major league record by throwing his fifth no-hotter. In 1986, William Rehnquist was sworn in as the 16th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Well...some events held a little more weight than others.

September 26th holds mixed emotions in my family. My biological father was killed 30 years ago on this day -- which happened to be his mother's birthday. My mother later remarried and gave birth to one of my little sisters on September 26th. In 2005, my mother was admitted into the hospital on that day and placed into a medically induced coma after emergency surgery for a stomach problem. She died several days later. To say the day holds mixed emotions is an understatement.

I am visiting my paternal grandmother and little sister this weekend to celebrate their belated birthdays (they are 82 years and 24 years old, respectively). Both live 2 1/2 hours away, so my wife, daughter and I do not get to see them often.

Family is very important to my wife and me. September 26th always reminds me to keep family a priority in my life. I try to not put my career or personal interests ahead of my wife and child. The Lord giveth and He taketh away -- we never know when the last time we will see our loved ones on this side of eternity. Sometimes we get so focused on the material possessions (money, titles, knowledge, Ph.D.'s, cars, houses, recognition), that it is easy to put our families second. I have never met an older person who wished they spent more time at work. In fact, the exact opposite is true.

Material possessions, or more accurately obsessions, come and go. But our family will (or at least should) always be there for us. In my brief few years on this Earth, this is one of the few things I have learned. Unfortunately, the hard way.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nothing New Under the Sun

Atheist Christopher Hitchens posted a commentary in the "On Faith" section of the Washington Post's website yesterday. Not surprisingly, there was nothing really new that he said in his post, which railed against religion. However, it hit me while I was reading it that I also had nothing new to offer in response. King Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible that there is nothing new under the sun. How true he was.

The more I read about atheist comments against religion, it often sounds like a broken record. The opposite is also true, as I have not heard many new responses/defenses to religion. Throughout my life, I have succeeded in getting my car stuck in sand and snow on many occasions. As I spin my wheels, I only managed to dig my tires in deeper. I feel like this is what we are doing when we (people of faith) go back an forth with atheists debating God and religion. I don't feel that we should not lovingly disagree in a respectful manner. But the back and forth for the sake of debate can be useless.

An older Christian once told me that there are occasions where it is wise not to continue to debate someone. When you have responded to every question they pose, and yet they still remain obstinate, it may to be time to end the conversation. I am not advocating that we should end the relationship -- just the conversation topic. The Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts did this on occasion. Several cities he visited did not want to hear the Gospel and ran him out of town. Rather than going back and continuing to debate, he obliged their wishes and moved forward.

It is important to keep an open ear, however, should our atheist friends truly have something new to say. I find that I often learn the most from those I disagree with (such as when I was listening to the Dawkins/McGrath video I previously posted. I gained a certain respect for Dawkins' when he explained why he felt so strongly about his desire to search for truth. I had never heard an atheist articulate this point). Atheists also can have important observations about faith that we on the inside may fail to see. But once we begin to spin our wheels, nothing more productive can come from the conversation -- and we as Christians can look bad in the process, limiting our ability to be an effective witness in the future.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." - Mahatma Gandhi

A new study released by the Barna Group on Monday gives new insight into young adults' perceptions of Christianity. The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds are more skeptical of Christianity than were people of the same age just a decade ago. The issue is also covered in a new book, entitled "unChristian", by David Kinnaman, the president of the Barna Group. The findings are sad and show particular negative views of Evangelical Christians. One common theme of almost 1/4 of those interviewed (Christian and non-Christian) is that "Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus."

Some of the findings include:
  • A decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a "good impression" of Christianity.
  • 3% of 16 - to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals, compared to 25% in the previous generation (Baby Boomers).
  • 91% of the nation’s evangelicals believe that "Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity." Among senior pastors, half contend that "ministry is more difficult than ever before because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity."
  • The study explored twenty specific images related to Christianity, including ten favorable and ten unfavorable perceptions. Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) - representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. The most common favorable perceptions were that Christianity teaches the same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), is friendly (71%), and is a faith they respect (55%).
  • Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.
  • Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

One interesting finding is the growing number of non-Christians, or "Outsiders" as the study calls them. Of those over 60-years old, less that 25% are "Outsiders." Of those between 16-29 years old, 40% are "Outsiders."

David Kinnaman noted that when his group tried to determine why young people held such beliefs, he was "surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly ‘unChristian’ experiences."

All of this reminds me of the song by Casting Crowns called, "If We Are the Body."

It's crowded in worship today
As she slips in trying to fade into the faces
The girl's teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know

But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ
Jesus is the way