Thinking Out Loud

August 3, 2014

The Things That Trip Up Seekers, Skeptics, Doubters

Filed under: Christianity, testimony — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:18 am


Dee and Deb at Wartburg Watch have posted an article by ‘Eagle’ in which he shares part one of his road (back) to belief. It’s a bit longer than what we run here, so click this link to read Eagle’s story.  (Check back with their blog for part two; we’ll try to run the link here as well.)

What I thought important in his story was the list of things that confounded him as he considered the elements of faith. These are the things that get people thinking that perhaps God isn’t real, or, if there is a supreme being He (for lack of a better pronoun) is unable or unwilling to intervene in our affairs.  You’re better to click the link above, but if you don’t, here’s his story already in progress:

The Second Adam

I often wondered about the evangelical definition of sin as portrayed in the second Adam. Why was I held responsible for another person’s sin which took place long before I was born? Why did this issue “taint” me? What kind of loving and forgiving God would allow and hold sin against me – even when I didn’t commit it? And why couldn’t God just forgive that sin? Also why did Jesus have to die? Is God a sadomasochist who took pleasure in murdering his son…especially when this infinite and sovereign God who created the world and brought order to it could have simply said “I forgive you”?

Genocide in the Old Testament

I realized how screwed up Evangelical Hermeneutics can be. You read about this God of wrath in the Old Testament. Then suddenly, you are to “turn the other check and forgive your enemies” in the New Testament. It appeared that God was schizophrenic.  Add to that, the massive loss of life in the Old Testament with the flood, the destruction of the Canaanites, etc. It made me wonder….how is this genocidal God any different than Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Pol Pot?

The Prosperity Gospel

It was obvious to me that this “gospel” did not square with the Bible. I was shocked at how widespread this thinking permeates evangelical groups, both overtly and also insidiously. My analysis is that 90-95% of Christianity struggles with prosperity theology in some context.

The Problem of Pain and Suffering and End Times Theology

…It seemed to me that Christians were not allowed to be disappointed and angry with God.  Why is it that, up to this moment, all I mostly heard was this “happy clappy” God is good, etc. I came to realize that I had never really heard any ministry leader openly talk or teach about their disappointments or frustrations with God.

I began to question the serious flaws in some evangelical perspective on disasters and end times theology. So many events like September 11, the Iraq War, Iranian nuclear weapons program, and the current Syrian conflict are placed as proof of an end times perspective. When this happens, there can be devastating effects. I would even go so far as to say that Hal Lindsey and John Nelson Derbyshire have brought great harm to American Christianity due to how their teachings have led some Christians to view horrific events of war, terrorism or natural disaster to be construed as being “good news”. Why? Because it means Jesus is coming soon, and the rapture is around the corner.  Instead of empathizing it has led some Christians to have this perverse sense of glee in other people’s suffering.

This brings up an important question. When an evangelical minister claims that events in the Middle East “prove” the End Times are upon us and nothing happens…how is that minister any different than Joseph Smith or Brigham Young? It’s just a thought….

The Eternal Destination of Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel

I began to wonder why someone living in Wuhan, China in 400 B.C. would be condemned to hell because he never even heard the Gospel. The Gospel wasn’t even invented yet so why would that be held against someone who never even had a chance to place his faith in the Lord? This made no sense, especially for all the descriptions of the Lord being just.

Sexual Abuse By Church Leaders

The hot button issue for me is child sexual abuse. I first became aware of this issue in 2003-04 when I was deeply involved in the 20 Something Ministry in Elmbrook Church, in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Several years earlier (in 1999) Daniel Varga, the popular youth minister, was found to be a sexual predator who abused a number of young adults, and the scars from that still hung over Elmbrook. For me it was hard to wrap my mind around the idea that there could be a sexual predator in a position of trust. How could this be? The scars of such abuse last a lifetime for the victim, haunt a church and compromise its mission for years. Yet, the evangelical church often covers up and excuses such activities, carrying on as if nothing has happened.

Corruption in the church

Churches can seem no different than secular businesses. Money, nepotism and cronyism often take precedence over the truth and faith. Many parts of Christianity have become a business with money to be made in publishing, conferences, music, etc… There were times when I attended a Christian concert and cringed at the commercialism surrounding it. Nepotism and cronyism are major issues in evangelical Christianity, and it has amazed me how some pastor families can have a lock on a church or Elder board. This could turn a family event into a church meeting without the congregation even knowing about it.

The Problem of Prayer

I wondered…What good is prayer to an omniscient God? Does prayer serve any purpose in illness? Why do some seem to get answers in prayer and why does God seem to be silent in other instances? What purpose does prayer even serve?

The Problem of Evil

This was the hardest question for me and the tipping point which finally drove me away from the Christian faith. Evil is everywhere, and its not something you can escape… [He gives several examples] …So why would I worship an omniscient God who allows evil to occur? Why is such a God considered good?  (I’ll talk about it later, but I would also suggest that in many parts of evangelicalism today words are being redefined. The word “allow” is one of many.)

So there’s a cliffhanger for you. How will Eagle overcome these various obstacles to faith? Stay tuned…



May 3, 2010

Pete Wilson: An “A” Quality Examination of Life’s Plan B Experiences

I believe that with this single book, Pete Wilson moves outside the circle of American pastors and bloggers and into the arena of people we consider major Christian voices for this generation.

I had a bit of an advantage here.   After years of being aware of Nashville pastor Pete Wilson through his blog, and listening to several of his sermons and video posts, I was able to hear his voice in my head as I read each page.   I’ve been impressed over the years with Pete’s complete honesty and transparency as someone walking the journey of life as we all do, albeit in the set-apart position of vocational ministry.

So I really, really wanted to be included among the 500+ people who are posting reviews of this book today as part of a blitz by the publisher, Thomas Nelson.    The book is Plan B – What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would? Knowing this was his first time in print having to compete for the attention of North American Christians in a crowded publishing market, I was a little unsure how Pete would fare.

Here’s my review:

This is a landmark book.

Using a large number of examples from the lives of people Pete has pastored in Kentucky and Tennessee; combining in the Biblical examples of David, Joseph, Job, Ruth, and even Jesus; and finally mixing in quotations from some of today’s most popular contemporary Christian authors; Pete delivers a treatment of his subject that would be thorough enough to meet the most rigid academic requirements, but is delivered in a totally grassroots, down-to-earth, unpretentious style.


This is not an easy book to digest.   Life is hard.   This is not a feel-good book with rhyming couplet sayings.   There are chapters that seem to ask more questions than provide answers.   In the end — spoiler alert! — there is no pastoral closing scene with a golden sunset or a rainbow against a blue sky.

If anything, I got the impression that as someone who has been pastoring for just a little over a decade, Pete has had more than his share of being with people at the deepest moments of personal crisis and tragedy.

When I was pastoring in Kentucky, I would often ride with law-enforcement officials after someone had been murdered or killed in a car accident.  The officers liked having me along when they went to inform the next of kin.   I still remember the sick feeling I would get when we pulled into a driveway to do that sad job.  I would think, Inside that house is a family just living their lives, going through the normal routine.  They have no idea how my next few words are going to turn their very life upside down forever.

Not a book for people — including myself at times — who would like to bury their heads and deny that life often presents us with seemingly impossible challenges.  But a book that finds there is hope to be found at the foot of the cross.

I found the overall pacing and writing of the book very similar to another title (from the same publisher) Fearless by Max Luacdo.   I think that fans of Lucado’s writing would find this a very comfortable fit for their library, if they’re open to trying a new author.   I won’t labor the similarities, but they are many.

But I also think there’s another application here:  I think that pastors and counselors should buy this book, read it, and then have an extra copy handy to give to people who suddenly find themselves in the valley.    This is an author who understands, who gets it.

Finally, I think there’s yet another direction for Plan B, which is hinted at in an eleven-page set of study questions at the back:  This would be an excellent group study.   We all experience unique trials and we all process these difficulties differently.   What better healing process than to get people sharing some of the darkest times in their lives with others who have had, are having, or will have similar times where God seems conspicuously absent?   Combining the first two chapters also yields a viable 13-week adult study curriculum.

Those of us who’ve enjoyed Pete’s blog, Without Wax, or listened to sermons at Cross Point already knew what Pete Wilson was all about.   I believe with this single book, Pete steps into the circle of people we consider significant Christian voices in North America and beyond.

Plan B – What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would? by Pete Wilson (Thomas Nelson, 244 pages paperback, May, 2010)

January 31, 2010

The Christian Vs. The Athiest: A Debate

Last night our town’s largest Baptist church, in association with the local Humanist Association presented a debate in which Joe Boot, a pastor and Christian apologist and former staff member with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries debated Dr. Clare Rowson, a lecturer, psychiatrist and medical columnist.      The event was well attended, the moderator kept things orderly and the mixed crowd — I’d guess something like 65% Christian and 35% atheist — was polite toward both guests.

I’m not sure if an event like this can be discussed in terms of winners and losers.    People arrive with their feet firmly planted in one camp or the other, and while I’m not saying it’s impossible, I doubt there are many people converting to the opposite opinion before nights like this are over.    There are two remarkably different perspectives, and not a lot of common ground, although quotations from writers with the opposing view flew back and forth over the evening, just to make things more interesting.

I think the winners are the audience members who get some exposure to people and viewpoints they may be somewhat isolated from.    I know many Christians who simply don’t get into philosophical or religious discussions with anyone other than members of their own tribe.   I think it’s a good thing for them to hear from an intelligent, articulate and logical atheist, and then to see a representative of their own team respond appropriately.

I am also sure that some atheists might find themselves similarly isolated, although given the topic — Does God Exist? — they didn’t exactly hear what Christians would call “The Gospel,” but rather a sort of pre-evangelistic discussion that only a handful of times mentioned the name of Jesus.   (In a Church service the next day, Joe Boot addressed this as he lectured on the topic, “Is Jesus the Only Way?”)

Boot indicated at one point that he was using a “reverse apologetic,” in other words, trying to show the futility of atheism.    Rowson indicated early on that since you can’t prove a negative hypothesis — “God Does Not Exist” — this placed the burden of proof on the Christian side.   As stated,  Boot, for whatever tactical reason, was not setting out to do this, so I am sure there were people in both camps who walked away disappointed.

The event also suffered from the use of the standard debate format.   The initial presentation from each debater was 20 minutes, followed by a four minute rebuttal and two minute rebuttal response.   The rebuttals seemed very short by comparison.

The second half was two-minute responses to questions that had been preselected from e-mails received during the week.   That was also unfortunate, since there were things said in the first half that begged clarification, and also, it meant that the two hour evening had no interactive component.    It would have been ideal to find a somewhat neutral journalist who could engage audience questions in a less formal “talk show” kind of situation.   (Yes, I’m available in future, but I’m not exactly neutral.)

Should your town or city consider an event like this?   I’m not sure.  The church that helped promote this event is very “program and event driven,” so it fit their church culture well.    But there was also a lot of energy that went into this for very little initial evidence of what the Christian side would call fruit.

It did however bring the word “apologetics” into discussion.   As Boot said this morning,  “Some people think you need an IQ of 120 or more to do apologetics and everybody with an IQ under 120 should do evangelism.  That’s not true.  Everybody should be ready and able to give a defense of their faith.”

For more information about Joe Boot’s new Church plant in Toronto, Canada, Westminster Chapel, click here.   For information on another of his projects, the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity, click here.    You can also check the sidebar of this blog periodically for links beginning with the keyword, Apologetics.

Today’s Quotation:  Does This Mean Spurgeon Wasn’t Arminian?
“It always seems inexplicable to me that those who claim free will so very boldly for man should not also allow some free will to God. Why should not Jesus Christ have the right to choose his own bride?”–Spurgeon

October 20, 2009

“New” New Athiests Don’t Believe in God, But Like Religion

Filed under: Faith, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm

This story came out yesterday at USAToday.  Here’s the premise:

USA TodayThe old atheists said there was no God. The so-called “New Atheists” said there was no God, and they were vocally vicious about it. Now, the new “New Atheists” — call it Atheism 3.0 — say there’s still no God, but maybe religion isn’t all that bad.

This new generation sees the energy being spent attacking the religious better used elsewhere:

…a new crew of nonbelievers is taking on the New Atheists, arguing that while they may not have faith themselves, there’s little reason to belittle believers or push religion out of the public square. The back-and-forth debates over God’s existence have shed a little light, but far more heat, they argue, while the world’s problems loom ever larger.

There’s a suggestion that the pendulum is simply swinging back into a position of balance:

While no one expects the God debate to end any time soon, in the meantime, perhaps people can agree to disagree a little more agreeably, the new New Atheists argue.   “There was a moment when atheist books were selling,” [Austin] Dacey said. “But people like objectivity, they like the feeling of balance. So after this wave of atheist books and the criticism that they are extremist, people are trying to find a happy medium.”

Read the whole story at USAToday Religion here.  For those too lazy to click (!) here’s a closing quote:

“The work that we need to do, we atheists, humanists and non-believers, is to build a better world and not try to tear down those with whom we disagree,” said Greg M. Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University.  “When our goal is erasing religion, rather than embracing human beings, we all lose.”

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