Thinking Out Loud

June 28, 2019

Compelling: Believable and Beautiful

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:48 am

For the past six months, my friend Pastor Clarke Dixon has been preaching an epic-length series under the title “Compelling.” Six months is a long time, but it represents a commitment to assemble all the major apologetic arguments in one place. It was truly a labor of love — in many ways — and I decided we would share it here as well as we’ve been doing every Thursday at Christianity 201 for the last six months. Each of the points below is a link, and you can access the full articles for each subject by clicking through.

NIV.I Peter.3.13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

Believable and Beautiful: Why Christianity is Compelling

by Clarke Dixon

Can we really believe what we read in books written so long ago? With so many world-views and so many religions, how could we ever pick just one? Does it really matter what you believe, so long as you are sincere, and don’t bother others with it? Don’t people need to leave their brains at the door of a Christian church? Many people are reluctant to consider Christianity. However, in our series we have considered how Christianity is compelling, both in being believable, and beautiful.

First let us review why Christianity is believable, why one need neither leave their brain at the door of the church, nor their faith in the university parking lot. (Click on the links to read the corresponding “Shrunk Sermon.”)

BELIEVABLE

  • Compelling Truth.  People who are “relativists” when it comes to faith and religion suddenly become “modernists” when they need surgery. Truth can be known and does matter. We consistently live as people who know truth can be known and does matter. The truth about Jesus can be known and does matter.
  • A Compelling Cosmos. We considered that the universe had a beginning, the “fine-tuning” of the universe to be life-permitting, and the fact that anything exists at all. What we learn from studying the universe points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Morality. Very few people will say that there are not certain behaviors that ought to be considered evil for all people at all times in all places. The reality of objective morality points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Life. Life began and now flourishes in a world that seems ideally suited for it. The realities of life point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Minds. Thinking people point to the reality of a thinking God.
  • Compelling Religion. The appetite for the spiritual points to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Evil. The existence of suffering and evil is consistent with what the Bible teaches about our experience. Suffering and evil point to the reality of God.
  • Compelling Holy Books. What caused each of the books of the Bible to be written? The documents that make up the Bible point to the reality of God whose interaction with the world stirred up much writing.
  • The Compelling Man. The most compelling man in history, compelling in his activity, his teaching, his ethics, his presence, his good works, his love, and his impact, points to the reality of God.
  • A Compelling Turn of Events. The tomb was empty and disciples were going about telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. They were willing to die for that testimony. Naysayers like James and Paul, changed their minds. Devoted Jews took radical shifts in their theology. The events of, and following, Easter, point to the reality of God.

Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace speaks of a cold-case trial as being a cumulative case. That is, the best explanation of the evidence is the one that explains all the evidence. With regards to religion and faith, certain world-views may explain some of the evidence. For example, with regards to suffering, Eastern religions have a nice tidy explanation. If you suffer, it is because you deserve it. Your karma is catching up to you. There is a cosmic justice and suffering makes sense. However, there are still many things that don’t makes sense. If Eastern religions are correct, then how did the Bible come into being? Why was the tomb of Jesus empty, why did the disciples go around telling everyone that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead and why were they willing to die for that? Why did naysayers like James and Paul change their tune about who Jesus is and what he is about? Likewise, atheism also gives a good explanation as to why there is suffering. However, again, atheism can not explain all the evidence. Christianity explains all the evidence! Therefore, not only are the truth claims of Christianity believable, there are compelling reasons why we can see them as being the best depiction of reality. God is for real, and in Christ, God is for us.

We can further ask if each worldview is consistent in where it leads. It would be strange if, while the evidence points to the existence of a good and loving God, belief in, and devotion to, that God led to a terrible way to live, and a horrible society. We have used the example of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have read the novel, or watched the TV series, you will see the dominance of a worldview which leads to ugliness and not beauty. Does Christianity lead to ugliness, or to beauty? In our series we considered how Christianity leads to beauty.

BEAUTIFUL

  • Compelling Evidence. Science and Christianity point in the same direction. Christianity helped science get started. A perspective which denigrates science is ugly. That Christianity can work with science is beautiful!
  • Compelling Religion. While religion can, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “poison everything,” a Biblical Spirit-led Christianity leads to healing. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace. The love of God for people is beautiful. God’s grace and forgiveness is beautiful!
  • Compelling Grace, Part 2. The call to grace, forgiveness, and wisdom in human relationships is beautiful!
  • The Compelling God. The perfect justice and wonderful mercy of God is beautiful. Only at the cross do we see God being perfectly just while also being merciful. This is beautiful!
  • Compelling Mission. The sharing of good news is always beautiful. That we share the good news through words, rather than by force, and give people the space and freedom to choose for themselves, is beautiful!
  • Compelling Family. The Christian vision for parenting and marriage is beautiful. Yet the flexibility that no one is forced to fit the mold of “married with children” is also beautiful!
  • A Compelling Life. The Jesus-centered, Spirit-filled, life lived in wisdom is beautiful. That we don’t just follow rules, but grow in character, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Society. Christians are not called to takeover the government and set up a society that enforces Christian living. That Christians are called to be salt and light is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Perspective on Humanity. No one has greater value than anyone else. That all people are created in the image of God, without exception, and without exception Christ bore the cross for all people, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling People. That the Church is to be a people who do good works in Jesus’ name, in allegiance to Jesus, under the influence of the Spirit, is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Future. The future of every single person, whether they receive Jesus or not, is reasonable & consistent with a good and loving God. This is beautiful!
  • A Compelling Invitation. Everyone is invited! You are invited! This is beautiful!

The outworking of the Christian faith is consistent with the good and loving God the evidence points to. There are many aspects of Christianity that make us say “of course that is how a good and loving God would do it.” However, Christians have often made a mess of things and been the cause of ugliness rather than beauty. When this happens, it results from a disconnect from Jesus, and often, an unfortunate understanding of God’s Word. The inconsistency is ours. The ugliness is ours. But there is beauty. There is beauty, because there is God.

Perhaps you still have questions. I do. We don’t need all the answers. I have long thought of faith as being like a jigsaw puzzle. As we are figuring out our view of the world, our spirituality, and the way things are, pieces come together. Some people start with the most difficult of questions and give up. But for many of us, the puzzle pieces come together in such a way that the picture begins to form. It is a beautiful picture. So beautiful, in fact, that we cannot help but keep working on it. Sometimes there are pieces that we cannot yet place. Sometimes we have the sense that we are forcing certain pieces together that don’t fit. Sometimes we need to take pieces out that we thought fit, and fit them in where they really belong. This is all a normal part of growing and maturing in our understanding. The picture that comes together as we grow in our understanding is beautiful, and well worth the effort. It is a picture of the cross, of God’s love in Christ.

My prayer throughout this whole series is that you would find the Christian faith to be believable and beautiful, that you would find Christ to be compelling.


Use the above links to read any of the posts in the series. At each you’ll find a link for the audio version of the full sermon on which they are based.


1 John.1.1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete. 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

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October 5, 2017

What You Don’t See Just By Looking at the Amish

I don’t know offhand if the Amish permit what’s called here “Agritourism” — in other words farm tours — but I have something that would be of greater interest than seeing the hay lofts or furniture making workshop. I’d like to sit down with an Amish elder and discuss the underlying faith, specifically their faith and how it informs their customers. It beats driving around Lancaster, PA and going, “Over there! It’s another one!” and then snapping camera-phone pictures of these precious people simply trying to live their lives in peace.

This week, I got a bit of an insight into the type of information I’m seeking. I work two days a week at a Christian bookstore that my wife and I coincidentally happen to own. When an audio book came in missing the shrink-wrap usually found on audio products1 I considered the idea of listening to a few minutes of it as, despite the various podcasts and sermons I listen to constantly, I have no personal experience with audio books.

Then I discovered the book was voiced by none other than Christian Taylor, one of the regulars at The Phil Vischer Podcast.2 I decided to see (or hear) what her vocational labor produced.

The audio was for the book Amish Peace: Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World by Susanne Woods Fisher.3 Interspersing Amish proverbs with anecdotal stores would make this a fun read, but it was probably a bit of a challenge voicing a reading of the book.

Putting it as simply as I can, there is a world here which, while it may seem strikingly different to observe as a tourist, is actually more different than you think in terms of the underlying principles which guide everyday life in an Amish family and an Amish community.  They live out an ethic which is certainly rooted in the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings of Jesus, but in many respects almost goes beyond that high standard in terms of everyday life.4

Even if I could embed myself in an Amish family for a week, I don’t know that I could ever expect to fully get it without having spent a lifetime being educated and shaped by their community values, passed on from generation to generation. They live in a world without electronic media and yet possess a wisdom many of the rest of us cannot imagine. Their formal education ends at Grade 8, yet they have better literacy rates than in other neighboring rural areas. Their children are given responsibilities that would boggle the minds of parents who bubble-wrap their kids in the cities, such as driving a team of mules to plow a field.5 And their pace of life means they see things which the rest of miss while driving Interstate freeways at 70 mph.

I enjoyed the (audio) book, but I find myself wanting more; more than I can get from simply packing up the car and heading off to Amish country or Mennonite country to simply look at them.6

I want to take a month and be them.7


1To my readers in other countries: For years records, tapes and CDs in North America have come plastic-wrapped, as we don’t want to get to get germs, at least that’s what a record vendor in England told me years ago.

2As in “…We’ll talk to Skye and Christian, too, but we’ve got no guest this week for you…” (Show theme song.) Christian is a voice actor. christiantaylorvo.com

3Oops! Fisher wrote Amish Peace in 2009. In an earlier version of this blog post, I identified the book as The Heart of the Amish which she wrote in 2015. This appears to be a different book, not a title update. My bad.

4The stories about forgiveness will break you.

5Full disclosure: The book admits this freedom results in a much higher rate of Emergency Room visits due to injuries compared to other children in rural areas.

6Pennsylvania or Ohio or Western Ontario would be the destinations of choice for such an excursion. The book notes the Ohio Amish have a lower percentage of people living in farm communities.

7I would probably not be able to give up my phone or internet connection. Today, several houses share an outdoor phone booth of sorts which is for making calls, not receiving them. That would be somewhat insufficient.


Christian responds:

Related: A 2010 article I wrote about the Amish and the concept of being separated from the world.

Photos: Daily Encouragement by Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

March 23, 2015

When Down Is Up

Today’s article contains some graphic imagery.

About 40 years ago, Kirk, the son of family friends, was walking in a park near his apartment complex when he was lured into a public washroom where he was then sexually assaulted. As I was very young, my parents felt it better to spare me some of the details, but in the hushed whispers I gathered that it was an assault of the worst kind, and although the event faded over time, as I grew older the sense I got was that Kirk had been sodomized, and while I was never to speak of it if I had contact with him, I was left to believe that for one person to do this to another was an act of unspeakable horror.

Fast-forward 40 years and I’m checking out who some people on Twitter are following and I land on the account of a young man who is probably now the same age as Kirk was when his assault took place. A quick look told me this was not an account I wanted to check out further; in between the model cars and sci-fi themes there was some very hardcore gay pornography. But before I clicked away never to return, I wanted to see how he had captioned a picture of two guys who were, well… It said, “I wish someone would do this to me.”

The title of this old Doobie Brothers album sums up how change takes place: "What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits."

The title of this old Doobie Brothers album sums up how change takes place: “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits.

What was for Kirk a couple of generations ago an act of the worst kind imaginable, is now something desired by high school students, and even middle-school students. The very activity that made Kirk a victim has become in some places a recreational, after-school sport.

How did things change so quickly?

I don’t want to blame the internet for things it didn’t do, but we know that revolutions in communications brought about by technology tend to accelerate social change. From the reaction of our family friends to Kirk’s unfortunate assault to 2015 where a kid wants this type of contact, something has shifted radically.

But it doesn’t always take place over the course of 40 years.

Sometimes worldviews are altered more quickly. I don’t need to footnote this with a source to be able to say that even within the church, attitudes toward homosexual practice or gay marriage have shifted, even in the last two years, with some suggesting that attitudes toward polyamory and incest are also in flux.

Your attitude toward an particular social issue or behavior can change over two years, but it might change over two weeks depending on what voices are allowed to speak into your situation, or what types of input you allow yourself. What was once so very wrong becomes less of a big deal. You find yourself now ‘soft’ on a particular subject that years before would have produced a ‘hard’ reaction.

If you are the type of person whose values and worldview are absolute, that is, in one sense, good to hear. But anyone who ever changed political party, or switched from coffee to tea, or made any other type of shift knows well that we are capable of having our opinions reshaped.

That’s what happening right now in our society in general, and in the Church. We’re living in a time when down is up, and that should horrify you every bit as much as Kirk’s attack did our family 40 years ago.

January 15, 2012

Sexperiment Disaster Lesson: Always Use Protection

While the media had a lot of fun with Ed and Lisa Young‘s Friday night “bed in” to promote the new book Sexperiment, I didn’t see a lot of coverage on the web, in blogs, or in news feeds taking place during and after.  But the 24-hour live event ended badly because Ed and Lisa failed to use protection.

Eye protection. 

If you’re going to lie in bed on the roof of a Texas church on a sunny January day, apparently you’re going to risk ‘sunburned eyes.’  According to the host of the section we watched on Friday evening, the two had gone to hospital for medical treatment.  Clips from earlier in the day showed the couple wearing dark sunglasses, but again, with a lack of information available online, we’re not sure at what point they realized their eyes were hurting from the sun, not to mention television lights.

Having someone acting as an actual “producer” for this event might have helped in this and so many other ways.  We caught some of the late evening feed — between 9 PM and midnight EST — and clearly some microphones were simply not working, and the (presumably) last-minute substitute hosts had gotten away from the purpose of the event with the conversation reduced to Christian TV talk show fare.

Which is unfortunate because the previously-recorded sections we did see from earlier in the day contained a strong message to Christ-followers that a Christian view of sex and sexuality is going to stand distinctively apart from the view of sex held by the wider society; a message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

August 6, 2010

Let’s Look at the Amish

Somewhere near the end of our vacation, we were in a town where suddenly a horse and buggy appeared in the opposite traffic lane. Not knowing if my wife had noticed, I simply said; “Amish;” to which she replied; “Oooh! Let’s look at them.”

The strange remark — which I got right away, but you may not have — is a dry reference to people we know who say they are going to go to Pennsylvania to “look at the Amish.” Not shop in their stores and buy jams, jellies or crafts from them. Not spend a week helping out on one of their farms — the way one might volunteer on an Israeli kibbutz — as much of an adventure as that would be. Not attending one of their worship services.

No… just “looking at the Amish;” the way we might visit a town if everybody there had two heads.

But maybe, just maybe, we should take a minute to ‘look at’ (in the sense of ‘consider’) the Amish.

While everybody else in Christendom has suffered the fate of slowly being dominated and shaped by the spirit and culture of the world, these people have managed to truly understand what it means to be “set apart;” what it means to not ‘give in’ to the dominant culture and its ways of seeing the world.

And isn’t that

…continue reading here…

Photo is from Daily Encouragement by Stephen & Brooksyne Weber.

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