Thinking Out Loud

January 16, 2015

Re-Reading: Classic Philip Yancey

Some time ago, I wrote something to the effect that Christian readers should alternate between currently published works, and what are considered Christian classics. Of course, by classics, I meant something a little older than Philip Yancey, but that raises another issue: So many great Christian books — ones still in print, author still living — predate the internet, which means reviews are fewer than for more recent titles publishes are promoting through social media.

Reaching for the Invisible GodPhilip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God is perhaps more significant now than when it was published in 2002. It belongs in the conversation among those wrestling with issues of faith and doubt, and addresses the question of skepticism directly that is so prevalent in 2015.

Reaching is subjective. Most of Philip Yancey’s book are more autobiographical than other authors you encouter. They are about his journey, but sufficiently researched and footnoted so as to represent our universal quest to know and experience God in a world where he is physically invisible.

If you’re new to the name, Yancey started out as a journalist writing for Campus Life magazine, which led to co-authoring The NIV Student Bible notes with Tim Stafford and co-authoring three books with Dr. Paul Brand. Though his earlier writing includes books such as Where is God When it Hurts and Disappointment With God, for this reader the journey began with The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace.

He is very philosophical in his writing. I copied this passage from Reaching… a few days ago to send to a friend which deals with the contrast between the God of the First Testament and the Jesus of the Second Testament. I love this analogy:

Love tends to decrease as power increases, and vice versa.  The same power that repeatedly overwhelmed the Israelites made it difficult for them to perceive God’s love.  A parent stands tall to instill respect in his child and stoops low for hugs and affection.  In the Old Testament, God stood tall. (p. 131)

The original subtitle of the book — which appears on my copy — is “What Can We Expect to Find?” It reminds me of Jesus’ words to his earliest disciples in John 1:38,

When Jesus turned and noticed them following Him, He asked them, “What are you looking for?” (HCSB and others use looking, others use seeking)

In a world where people are seeking and looking for God, people often search for a book, but booksellers and their staff are so oriented to frontlist (recently released items) that they forget that Christian publishing is so rich in backlist titles. Publishers revive older books with new covers and even new titles, but sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find a gem you may have missed. 

If you already own a copy; join me in a re-read. If not, get yourself a copy. I think you’ll find it is perhaps even more relevant more than a decade later.


Related: A few years back I wrote about rich text, which is of course now an HTML computer term, but I appropriated it to mean books that are rich in substance.  You can read that article by clicking here.

Philip Yancey Books

 

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November 14, 2014

Skepticism of Another Kind

So yesterday there were four of us, all male, in a room; two of whom I had never met before and one I had only met the week prior. He was the one who was holding the letter.

The letter was posted (that’s mailed for Americans) in the UK and urgently requested his aid in helping someone in Nigeria claim a $4,000,000 US inheritance. You know the pitch. The type of letter you get as an email perhaps as much as once a day.

Only this guy doesn’t have email. So they tracked down a mailing address for him. It was reminiscent of chain letters. He had never seen anything like this. Imagine never owning a computer and being unaware of the barrage of appeals that are sent out using this same scam.

“They should teach skepticism as a school subject;” I said; but then immediately regretted my choice of words. I thought of the various skeptic clubs and societies which scratch at the door of Christian faith; the people for whom doubting is a default response. Did I want to encourage more of that?

trust1We speak of healthy skepticism, but that implies an unhealthy counterpart. There is after all, a place for trust. I’m glad I never was required to do that team-building exercise where you lean backwards off a chair or table and trust your friends or coworkers to catch you. I don’t think I could commit fully.

“Don’t you trust us?” they would ask; and I would reply, “No, I don’t.”

There is also a place for faith.

If a constant stream of email solicitations leave you simply unwilling to trust, commit, or put faith in anything — let’s say anything other than yourself — you are to be pitied because it implies you can’t find anything good or trustworthy in the larger world.

The next action we take with our scam mail is to press the delete button, and at the urging of a 5th person who waded into the conversation, the letter’s recipient was told to shred it — the physical equivalent — and minutes later the sound of an office shredder was exactly what was heard.

I guess my proposed skepticism class would ultimate teach that it’s all about what you put your faith in. Knowing how to discern truth from lies. And knowing that sometimes it is indeed difficult to tell the difference.

 

December 16, 2010

Why People Love to Argue Noah, Jonah and Adam

Okay, I’ll say it.

While I have no reason to doubt the Biblical accounts I learned as a child, my faith journey is not contingent on whether David killed a giant with a slingshot (I think he did) or Joshua blew a trumpet and and the walls of Jericho fell (I think he did and they did) or whether Jesus put mud in a man’s eyes and then he could see (which I not only think he did, but think that belief on that one becomes a bit more central.)

But there are many people who love to argue these points.   The reason is simple:

  • If it should turn out that the Bible narrative is true, then that would make the Bible authoritative in other areas of life.
  • If the Bible is authoritative in all that it says, then that would require some kind of response from its hearers/readers.
  • That response would require a change in lifestyle; a change in priorities.
  • Many people, simply don’t want to make those changes.

So it’s easier for them to look at you and say, “You don’t really believe that Joshua prayed and God halted the earth’s rotation, resulting in more than 36 continuous hours of daylight, do you?”   A discussion that’s motivated more by the love of sin and not having to deal with accountability than it is with science.

And if you’re honest, you’ll probably say that while you do believe that God can (and did) cause the sun to stand still, that’s not what your faith journey, your God’s-love-receiving,  your Christ-following, your Spirit-indwelling, etc., is all about.

Because let’s face it:  While the children’s department of Christian bookstores is packed with stories about Jesus feeding 5,000 men or walking on water, Elijah being fed by ravens, and Daniel’s lack of appetizing characteristics to the large felines; the adult Christian living section of the same bookstore is relatively sparse on those particular narratives.

So what’s the deal?   Maybe, just maybe…

The woman who says, “You don’t really believe that a guy named Jonah lived inside a whale — sorry, ‘large fish’ — for three days do you?” is actually carrying on an illicit affair with a guy in the warehouse.   If the Bible is true in its narratives, it means it is reliable in everything, and that would require a response and a change in lifestyle.

The guy who says, “You don’t really believe that Noah and all those animals lived on board a yacht — sorry, ‘large boat’ — for a full year do you? is actually transferring money from an advertising account to a bogus consulting company which is actually a personal bank account.  If the Bible is true in its narratives, it means it is reliable in everything, and that would require a response and a change in lifestyle.

The woman who says, “You don’t really believe that stuff about God creating Adam and then taking one of his bones — sorry, ‘large rib’ — to create a woman do you? is actually getting her son to purchase ecstasy for her from a dealer in his high school.  If the Bible is true in its narratives, it means it is reliable in everything, and that would require a response and a change in lifestyle.

For some of us, here’s the 411:

  • The Bible is authoritative and reliable in what it says; there’s no picking and choosing; you either trust the book or you don’t.
  • We have heard and listened and chosen to respond to God’s offer of love and forgiveness, of which whales, arks and Adam’s ribs is but a small part — the realm of the miraculous — in a much, much larger ‘love letter’ to His creation.
  • This has changed our perspective, our worldview, our priorities and values; a change that can be seen by people who knew us before vs. after or know how we live in contrast to the larger society around us.
  • While we’re far from perfect, we think we’ve got the hottest news on the rack and want you to share in both what we’ve learned and the grace we’ve received.

December 17, 2009

What If God Was One of Us: Which He Was, Briefly

If selling the idea of the virgin birth to unbelievers has been tough over the centuries, it’s an especially hard sell in an age of greater sexual abandon.   It’s just too easy for the skeptic to wink and go, “…Yeah…right…”

I get into discussions with people on atheist and general religion discussions sites about this.   (If you’re a Christ-follower, and you want to have a real ministry online, consider spending your time apart from Christian blogs.   But you need to be creative and allow God’s Spirit to lead you at each step.   The rest of the world has heard all our formulaic answers already.)

Sometimes I’ll engage in a rather risky game of speculative theology.  “What if?”   I ask, “What if there is a God, and for whatever reason — because if there is a God, He can do whatever He darn well pleases — He wants to fully enter into the human condition?”   Except that recognizing who I’m dealing with, I don’t always capitalize “he” and sometimes I don’t hedge with a word like “darn.”

What options does He have at that point?

  1. Vulcan mind meld — While part of Him is still running things at Heaven Central, another part totally enters into the thoughts, feelings and emotions of a randomly selected victim.   It’s not bad, but it’s a bit subjective to that individual to whose mind He is joined at that point.
  2. One to beam down — Yes, that’s right.   Two consecutive Star Trek images.   As Captain Kirk often did in the original series, God could simply borrow a period costume from the wardrobe department and simply show up in [insert name of your local community] and walk over to [insert name of your local community hangout] and begin a conversation about [insert name of your local community’s losing sports team] and then move on to a discussion of higher things.   It’s better than #1, but He would have no history with those people and that would prevent the conversation from going in certain directions.    Then again, Jesus had history with the people of Nazareth which made it hard for them to do the stretch when He suggested He might actually be Someone Else.
  3. Take the entire journey — When you get right down to it, entering into the human experience from conception to birth to adolescence to manhood does start to make a lot of sense.   The “how” of conception must by definition be consigned to the realm of mystery, though.  But compared to other options, it satisfies the need to empathize fully (“…tempted in all points as we, yet without sin…”) with greater disruption to the natural order of things here (i.e.  people don’t usually ‘beam down’ on a regular basis.)

So ultimately we haven’t made the kind of progress the skeptical mind would like to see.  We still begin with two propositions; (1) that God exists and, (2) that He desires the full IMAX experience of what it is to be one of His created.   Then, on top of the two propositions, we have to relegate the full “how” to mystery.

But this is indeed the premise on which our faith as Christians is based.   And this is the faith that has survived all manner of attempts to shut it down.   Throughout history, from the time Christianity began to as recent — I’m sure — as last week, people have been willing to die for belief in a creator God who enters fully into the experience of HIs creations.

But he doesn’t just show up.    He comes “in the fullness of time.”  Timing is everything.   The prophets give the heads-up that it’s going to happen, though no individual prophet has all the puzzle pieces.   While here, He plays by most of our rules — which are actually His rules, His design — but offers a glimpse into greater power.

A party trick with some washing water that becomes wine starts things off rather innocently.    But there is a wisdom in this rabbi’s teaching that transcends anything the people have heard before.    Then there are the healings.   Reports of the raising of the dead begin innocently, too; you can think Jarius’ daughter was only sleeping, but then what do you do with Lazarus, dead four days?   But then He, Himself beats death itself.

In the end, His identity can’t be hidden any longer.    From age 0 – 30 he did his best to ‘blend,’ but then for three years, His identity becomes less and less veiled.   And finally…

Finally…the God who didn’t just ‘beam down,’ does, in fact, ‘beam up.’

To be continued…

More on this tomorrow, but with a twist… you’ll be directed to click to another blog to continue this topic…

June 12, 2009

Apologetics in a Box

Filed under: Christian, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:31 pm

apologeticsSo there I was, a young, zealous Christian guy in my 20s, flying back from two weeks immersion in Christian community in southern California.    He was a French scientist, en route from Los Angeles to Toronto.

I shared a little bit of what had driven me to spend two weeks in Orange County, and then decided to probe him about his faith.   Eventually the conversation rolled around to evolution, which he said he believed in.

So of course, I started to unpack my reasons why evolution can’t possibly be true, and number two on my list was the Law of Entropy, which states that things tend to break down in complexity not increase in complexity. Devolution, not evolution.

That’s when he interrupted me and said there was a flaw in my logic.   I was taking the Second Law of Thermodynamics and applying it to a life science.   “You can’t do that;” he said.

Oh.   How come nobody mentioned this issue before?

I mention this story because I know a young guy who is, figuratively speaking, on his own flight from L.A.    He’s encountering people and ideas online that are, in one sense, like a breath of fresh air, but his box of apologetics is too neat, too ordered, too unchallenged to accommodate these recent objections.

So the atheists, agnostics, and followers of New Thought, while they have not won the war, are certainly winning the battle.

It’s a confusing time.

I’ve decided I can’t win those arguments.   I know people who can hold their own in discussions of science and faith, but I have to content myself that knowing the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is sufficient.   I can trust that he’s got it all worked out.    What I can do is communicate the reality of the faith I experience.  And once in awhile, I can articulate the way out of an argument trap, simply because I know God’s got it all sorted.

I wonder what might have happened if I’d asked the scientist, “Where do you think ‘love’ came from?”  “What is your view on why we are here?”  “Do you believe that humans are endowed with a soul?”  “What do you think of Jesus?”

Instead, I, an arts major, tried to debate thermodynamics with a French scientist.    It’s laughable, really.

Anyway, pray for my young friend.   I don’t know him well, but I know his family and I know they’re trusting God that the present season of doubt and uncertainty will not last long.

And pray that he encounters someone whose faith is robust enough to withstand the challenges to faith that happen to us all.    Maybe I’m that person.  Maybe you’re that person.

The comic is from Back on Earth, which began online in January, has posted 40 episodes so far, and is, well, certainly one my more interesting online finds!

Related reading:  The Changing Face of Apologetics — An interview with Lee Strobel at Christianity Today Online.

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