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Know Doubt

Why don’t we hear more about doubt? Could it be that we don’t talk about our doubts because some well-meaning people we looked up to told us that doubt was the opposite of faith and should be avoided? Maybe we believe that if we have enough faith, we will no longer struggle with doubt.

I don’t see evidence for that in the Bible. Doubt seems to be a common occurrence, even among those closest to Jesus.

John the Baptist is the prophet who boldly proclaimed upon seeing Jesus “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me’”[i]. However, in the seventh chapter of Luke, while John the Baptist was in prison, he began to doubt. He sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was really the Messiah they had been waiting for. How does Jesus respond? Does he condemn him for doubting? He certainly could have.

No! Instead of condemning John, Jesus reminds him of the evidence: “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.[ii]” Jesus offers two lines of evidence. Firstly, that these demonstrations of power are proof that Jesus speaks with God’s authority, and secondly that they are consistent with what Isaiah the prophet said about the future Messiah. After John’s disciples left, he speaks of John to those around him, “I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John.”[iii] Jesus affirms that John is even now a great man.

Doubting Thomas is another well-known instance of doubt in Jesus’s inner circle. Have you considered how Jesus responded when Thomas said he would not believe that Jesus was alive unless certain conditions were met? “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” [iv] Jesus shows us that the response to doubt is to examine the evidence and determine for yourself what it means. Thomas responds with one of the powerful statements recorded about  Jesus’s identity. 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” [v] Doubt is not a sign of weak faith. Doubt is part of the normal experience of being human.

As humans we experience two kinds of doubt: emotional doubt and intellectual doubt. We pride ourselves on being Enlightenment driven “rational thinkers” and believe that the majority of our doubt is intellectual, but the scientific literature paints a far different story. The reality is that about 80% of our doubts are emotionally driven.

Emotional doubt occurs when we experience painful feelings of loss, or confusion. Maybe we don’t feel close to God, or we don’t feel loved by Him. Maybe we feel like our prayers are unheard because they aren’t answered in the timing and the manner that we want. As people well aware of some of the arguments for our faith, we can often respond to someone who is experiencing emotional doubt with intellectual arguments. As Mary Jo Sharp shared with us two years ago, we would be better off asking “Do you need answers right now, or do you just need a hug?”. When we don’t feel comfortable expressing our inner emotions, it can present as an intellectual argument. Are we willing to take the time to discover what’s really going on beneath the surface?

I remember having many vigorous debates with an atheist friend of mine around the Problem of Evil and Suffering. It felt like we never got anywhere because we both returned to the same arguments and at times, we both grew frustrated. Then one evening, an infrequent attendee of our meetings asked him why he had left the Christian faith.

He shared how his grandfather had suffered with a terrible cancer before he finally died. He admitted that he couldn’t believe in a God who allowed that kind of suffering.  All of my arguments had missed the mark because I hadn’t taken the time to learn his story and find the root cause of his pain.

When you doubt, don’t be afraid to explore the doubt more deeply, and to be honest with yourself about the kind of doubt you are experiencing. Find trustworthy people to talk to. Ask thoughtful questions. Engage with the evidence and see where it leads. A warning: if you only seek support for what you are feeling, you will find it and it might lead you away from faith if you don’t hear both sides. However, I am confident that if we genuinely seek answers, if we listen humbly to those who have gone before, God will lead us to a stronger, more vibrant life of trust in Him and His goodness.

If I hadn’t doubted the existence of God or my reason for believing, I wouldn’t have discovered the vast world of historical, philosophical and scientific evidence for the Christian worldview. My faith would have remained superficial, if it survived at all. Instead, I have faith that withstands the staunchest skeptical arguments because I made many of the same questions and then looked for answers. This enables me to also walk alongside others who are working through their own doubt. This doesn’t mean I no longer struggle with these questions. Sometimes they come back in new forms. But I have learned that although I have doubts about my faith, I have greater doubts about all of the alternatives.

Sean McDowell in his recent trip to New Zealand with his father Josh told a story that when he began to experience doubt, he was concerned about his father’s reaction. When he finally told his father, Josh responded with “Great! Now you can discover for yourself what you believe and why you believe it”. (I’m paraphrasing). Josh demonstrated a great way to engage with the doubts of his children. If we follow his example, perhaps the next generation will grow up with a robust faith that can last a lifetime.

Bruce Fraser is a Software Architect, lay Pastor, husband, father. He spent several years learning apologetics from good friends Mike Licona, Nabeel Qureshi, David Wood and Mary Jo Sharp, while living in the U. S. There he learned much about the arguments and demeanour that best communicate the Great News of Jesus to those hostile to Christianity, presenting the truth of Jesus in a way that is gentle and respects their intellect.


[i] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Jn 1:29–30). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[ii] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Lk 7:22). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[iii] Tyndale House Publishers. (2015). Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Lk 7:28). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

[iv] The New International Version. (2011). (Jn 20:26–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[v] The New International Version. (2011). (Jn 20:28). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

When in Doubt

It is part of human nature to doubt. In a world in which the prominent worldviews are contrary to Christianity, it is no surprise that many followers of Christ have doubts about their faith. I know from personal experience that doubts can often seem overwhelming, and that it is extraordinarily easy to blow them out of proportion. What should simply prompt reflection and consideration instead causes one to become anxious and defensive both internally—emotionally and intellectually—as well as externally—in one’s interactions with others. In such cases, there are two missteps that believers should beware of.

The Gospel According to Dawkins

The ‘new atheists’ have frequently ignored their best qualified critics, particularly in recent years. As Richard Dawkins tours NZ this month, will he continue with this trend? If his many confident claims about the core historical aspects of the Christian faith (an area well outside his field of expertise) were subjected to rational scrutiny and public debate, would they survive? Dr Graeme Finlay’s recent book ‘The Gospel According to Dawkins’ suggests not. It moves rapidly through a wealth of detail including a lot of quite recent work in the field, but in a very accessible way. The conclusion is clear – Dawkins and friends are well out of their depth in this area. 

Professor Dawkins needs little introduction, as a populariser of evolutionary theory who in the early 21st century used that platform to help develop the movement that came to be known as the ‘new atheism’, a movement widely believed to now be in decline, subject to as many attacks from fellow atheists as from believers.

Dr Graeme Finlay is a senior lecturer in the medical school at the University of Auckland, and an experienced participant in science-faith discussions, author of many helpful books (e.g. on evolutionary genetics), booklets and articles in the field, also having training in theology. For more background, here’s a transcript of an interview with him on this book. Dr Finlay is also a project director of the recently established NZ Christians in Science

The book starts with discussing the relation between faith and evidence, and the ways in which our culture, in particular our scientific worldview, is so inextricably embedded within the Christian tradition – many of the conclusions of which, ironically, many atheists take on faith. Not all faith must be blind in this way, however – “Dawkins asserts that faith ‘requires no justification’. But I gladly acknowledge Christian faith precisely because it is rooted in the empirical world of human history.” Indeed, Christianity is perhaps uniquely among the religions focused on historical claims rather than ecstatic experiences, rituals, or prosperity.

As background, in the first two chapters, Finlay briefly traces the history of science, and the pre-Christian foundation for science to the New Testament. He also shows the relevance of theology, particularly the biblical descriptions of God’s nature (e.g. good, acts freely, has supreme authority), in understanding Christian views of the world (respectively: matter is not evil; nature is contingent – must be observed; and nature is secure and not at risk of being overwhelmed by chaos).

Next, it is asked – did Jesus exist? Leading new atheists and many of their followers have flirted with the claim that he didn’t – keeping it as a live option, while (for most of them) never quite fully committing to it. The historicity of some parts of the Hebrew scriptures are briefly touched on to follow up on a comparison Dawkins made with king David. Then Finlay gives the various early non-Christian references to Jesus substantive treatment. These references are widely discussed in introductory writings on the topic, but ‘the Gospel according to Dawkins’ provides a lot of helpful context which I wasn’t aware of – particularly fascinating is the discussion around Tacitus’ treatment. Then, we have the writings of Paul, and early Christians from the end of the first century, with many fascinating insights along the way.

The rest of the book explores the authorship of the gospels (we can know more than often thought), the history of gospel scholarship, the transmission of the gospel texts (reliable), other writings that got called gospels (late and uninformative), the historical value of the gospels (high), the problem of sin, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and much more. A recurring theme is that the new atheists engage in something similar to science denialism when they disregard the findings of New Testament studies. This book is written by a scientist and touches on science-related issues in a few places, so is particularly suitable for those who have or think they have a scientific mindset. It also works well though as a general introduction to reasons to take basic Christian ideas seriously. 

One of these central ideas is the idea of sin, which Dr Finlay helpfully explores towards the end of the book. Dawkins castigates Christians for obsessing over this topic, but the chapter on sin helps to show why it is as crucial for our modern lives as to people in any other era. In particular, it is illustrated with careful discussion of the environmental crisis our society faces and which all of us living in the modern world contribute to. This is no unthinking fundamentalist tract, but instead the product of decades of scientifically informed Christian thought. 

I highly recommend this book, it is much more interesting than I can adequately communicate in this short review. There is material here for old Christians, new atheists, and everyone in between, including many helpful references to the wider literature. I hope that Professor Dawkins and many members of the movement he has given birth to will also read it – they may find here a path to the intellectually fruitful and personally fulfilling enlightenment which they seek.

Why not pick it up on kindle now?  And if you have comments after reading, feel free to get in touch with me to discuss them. 

Jesus The Game Changer

Jesus the Game Changer 1 of 10: JESUS

This is the first post in a series of posts running parallel to weekly screening of the series Jesus the Game Changer on Shine TV.


Who has had the greatest impact on history? Who is the most important person who ever lived? Who is the most unexpected person to ever be remembered?

Jesus.

The Romans built Bath in AD 70, 2000 kms from Rome itself. At the same time in Palestine, a small group of people existed who had no power and authority, claiming that a person who had died in obscurity was the Messiah. If you had to guess which would last the longest, what would you say? 2000 years later Christianity is still here and Rome is long gone. How did this happen?

The Impact of Jesus

In the episode this week, Karl interviewed a computer scientist, Steven Skiena, who undertook a study to analyze Wikipedia with the goal of finding the relevance of people in history. He looked for things like how long an article is, how many times it is read, how many links to it, and how many times it was edited. Jesus came out number one. This is significant, it shows that Jesus is, today, the person around whom there is the most discussion and controversy. Who would have ever thought that Jesus would still be so popular? A man who lived and died 2000 years ago? It is strange because Jesus died in obscurity, having written nothing and in a state of utter and complete humiliation, was crucified on a cross. For everyone, surely, this was a clear sign that Jesus was nothing. Yet today, people are still talking about him. According to a 2005 study, Jesus is followed by approximately 2 billion people, around 33% of the world’s population[1]. For a person who never led an army, never held government office, never had children, never wrote anything but who died on a cross in obscurity 2000 years ago, this is remarkable. Jesus is the most controversial figure today.

So, what is the evidence that Jesus existed?

Evidence for Jesus

Nothing in history is certain, however, we do have some pieces of evidence, and what we have is better explained by the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than his non-existence. Some of the best pieces of evidence, are writings by hostile historians who mention Jesus, people like Josephus, Pliny, and Tacitus. These sources are pieces of external evidence, yet we also have a great deal of internal evidence coming from the gospel accounts themselves, four different accounts that have differences but yet a striking similarity. People in history didn’t record things in the same way that we record things, we want perfection, but such a thing is not a realistic perspective for ancient history. Rather, when dealing with history, we want independent accounts from as many different perspectives as possible. A great example is the video ref in rugby. The more cameras that have a perspective on the play, the better the picture is of what happened, and the better the judgement is of the ref. Thus, it is possible that what skeptics call contradictions may in fact be merely a difference in perspective, a different angle on the same event.

So, if we accept that the gospel accounts are all relatively reliable perspectives on the same event, how do we know we have what was written?

It may seem strange to you, but the New Testament is the most well attested document in history. If you have 200 manuscripts of a particular document, that is significant. However, for the New Testament we have over 5800 manuscripts in Greek, and 8000 Latin manuscripts. This is simply incredible; the wealth of manuscripts we have today means we can be almost certain that the documents we have today are actually what was written. But what about the authors, what do we know about them? Well, for one thing, they had no incentives to lie. Think about it. Your messiah has been killed, and you are hunted by the authorities. If you knew the whole deal was a lie, would you really write a book that might get you killed? No, you must believe what you are writing is the truth, and is truly important. The gospel accounts are four biographies, claiming that Jesus did some things that were seen, and that those things were recorded so that the readers might have eternal life.

However, some may object by saying that many of the events recorded in the gospels are miracles, and miracles can’t happen because the laws of nature cannot be broken. This objection only works if we live in a closed universe without a creator who created the universe. Yet, this is not what Christians claim. We agree, people cannot naturally turn water into wine, walk on water, create bread, and rise from the dead. However, the universe is an open universe, created by a being who can step in and alter the natural course of events.

Even so, miracles aside, why is Jesus unique, how is he different?

All the other teachers drew men to themselves and have others do things for them. However, Jesus came and did something for us, rising from the dead and by that, opening the door to eternity. He gave himself away in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, doing that which we never could have done, reconciling us to God, and giving us life everlasting.

So, what is Faith? What does it mean to have Faith in Jesus?

Faith in Jesus

The Christian faith is 3 things:

  1. Information
  2. Agreement with the Information
  3. Trust in the Information

How does this apply to Jesus?

  1. Jesus died and rose from the dead
  2. It may seem impossible, but it is hard to explain the facts any other way so we accept them
  3. We act on the Information and trust Christ for our salvation

Jesus the Game Changer

Jesus was and is a game changer, not just for people alive today, but also for the apostle Paul. Paul was a man who hated Christians, who made a living seeking out Christians and throwing them in jail. Yet when Christ entered Paul’s life, everything changed for Paul. This is still true today. Maybe you feel that because you can’t believe in God or Jesus as the Son of God, then you are out of luck. However even today, Jesus is a game changer. He comes the way he did 2000 years ago, telling stories that haunt us, and bringing us to the realization that we need him. Give Jesus a go, step into his story, there is more there than is on the surface. Only in Christ do we have hope. Life is very brief.

In this week’s episode, Mary Jo Sharp commented that reading the Bible got along the path, but didn’t get her to Jesus. She only realized she needed Christ when she heard the truth of the Gospel which says that we are sinful, separated from God by our sin, and that only through Christ is the path unto salvation.

Do you know Christ? Have you accepted His offer of forgiveness? Have you repented of your sin and now rejoice in newness of life?

Jesus is a game changer, He has changed my life, and I know that He can change yours.


References

[1] http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

Thinking matters

The world is changing. I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my toes.

Anti-intellectualism is sweeping through Western civilization and there is no high ground, no safe haven from the rushing tides. Constant technological advance is making modern life easier and more convenient every day, and while there are definite benefits to this, there is also a clear downside.

Shaking the lucky-8 ball of Google whenever a question arises has taken the effort out of thinking, and the ease with which modern people can get the answers has actually been demonstrated to have a negative impact on intellectual health. Even universities, the institutions of knowledge and learning are not free from this unstoppable force, albeit in a different way. While culture at large falls prey to not thinking hard about much at all, many academics have fallen prey to only thinking one way, blind and deaf to the cogent and coherent alternatives of opponents.

As with most cultural contagions that ravish the Western mind, the Church also falls victim, despite our allegiance to Another Land. I have seen this most notably in the following ways:

  • A separation between theology and piety (what you believe and how you live)
  • Redefining childlike faith as childish faith
  • A disdain for the past and the history of the Church
  • An over-emphasis on being led subjectively and directly by the Holy Spirit, to the neglect of his promised means of grace (the Word preached)
  • The belief that doctrine divides (an example being the existence of denominations)

I don’t sound the alarm as a concerned scholar, sitting in my ivory tower and nodding at all your indiscretions, but rather, as Mark Noll put it, a “wounded lover” of the intellectual gold mine that is Christianity. Apart from missing out on having your mind absolutely blown by the truths that the Bible teaches, an aversion to thinking in the Christian life is actually a sin. The command to love the Lord our God with all our hearts does not stop there, but is a call to devote every fibre of our beings to the pursuit of grace and knowledge, given to us through Jesus Christ. Attempting to love God without knowledge of Him is tantamount to attempting to love your partner or spouse while avoiding learning any of their hobbies, joys or deepest fears.

The way I see it, anti-intellectualism in Christians will result in three things:

  1. Stunted spiritual growth
  2. A hollow worldview
  3. Robbing God of glory that is all His.

I pray that you will join me as over my following few articles, I attempt to delve into these consequences, demonstrating not only the harm they are causing us, but also the joy and satisfaction that we are missing out on.

Faith and Evidence

Zachary Arden, in a guest post at the Kiwifruit Blog, discusses the role of evidence and faith:

Faith is primarily trust in God. Saving faith is not just correct doctrinal belief (for, as James notes, even the demons have this), but requires what I think of as ‘a volitional shift’ towards God. For a fallen human being to trust in God, the action of the Holy Spirit is required, and any knowledge of God requires His gracious self-revelation. The question at issue in discussing the role of evidence is not whether an act of God is required in order to bring about faith, but what means he may use. I contend that he ordinarily operates by ‘ordinary’ means, and that the use of rigorous evidential arguments for the rationality of Christian faith can play a part in this. So, what is evidence? I say it is any fact that, when believed, makes a proposition appear more likely to be true than it did prior to accepting the evidence. A wide range of facts can be considered evidence. In the case of the resurrection, we have testimonial evidence from eyewitnesses, which is corroborated by a host of archaeological and historical considerations, as well as by a broader context including earlier predictions of the event, weighty events leading up to it, and the purported consequences in the subsequent development of the Church. Assessing the context in which the resurrection occurred I think provides evidence for its reality as an event of spiritual significance rather than a mere statistical aberration or inexplicable exception to natural law.

Read the whole thing here.

Faith in the Face of Evil

Paul Helm:

Faith cannot be totally blind, a gamble in the face of infinite odds. Whatever doubts and risks may be associated with trust, faith, in order for it to be intelligible and defensible, must have some evidence going for it. And the point of Christianity (at least) is to hold that enough of the purposes of God can be seen to trust him for what cannot be seen.

We may trust God in the face of evil not by an act of blind faith, but because there are other parts of the ways of God that are eminently trustworthy. God has a plan; parts of that plan are intelligible to us, and we trust him for what at present it is hard to make sense of.

One reason why it is hard to make sense of the plan of God is that it expresses itself in a temporally unfolding panorama which we, living for a few years in the 20th century, can only see part of.

The faith which can face and even surmount evil cannot be a mindless leap; nor is it a form of faith which has all the answers. It sees part of the picture, and trusts the Creator and Redeemer for what it cannot see.

Read the rest here.

[HT: Patrick Chan]

How to Know Who Should Take an Outsider Test and When

John Loftus’s Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) has become rather infamous. More infamous than is warranted, since Matt Flannagan (among many others) has shown its incoherence. But ignoring that, Paul Manata now crushes the OTF‘s relevance by asking the question: should we take it, or shouldn’t we? “The answer, if you’re wondering, is that hardly anyone should take an outsider test.”

Is belief in Jesus any better than belief in the tooth fairy?

UCLA law professor Daniel Lowenstein interviews Oxford mathematician John Lennox about the truth of Christianity and the grounds for faith.

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[Source: Veritas Forum]

Faith Seeking Understanding

Gregory E. Ganssle explains when certain issues take us beyond the parameters of scripture we must think both Christianly and philosophically.

Christian philosophers have traditionally sought to think Christiainly by thinking in the mode of faith seeking understanding. This mode was introduced as early as Augustine (354-430) and has been articulated throughout the history of the church. What it means to operate in this mode is that Christian philosophers recognize that they know some things by faith in a reliable authority. For example, they know some things simply because they see them in the Scriptures. As God’s written revelation, the Scriptures are reliable indicators of what is true. Philosophers begin with this knowledge (we could call it faith-knowledge) and try to reach another kind of knowledge (understanding-knowledge). Understanding knowledge is knowledge gained through the application of one’s own reason.

Faith seeking understanding is not an approach for turning mere beliefs into knowledge. Rather, it is a mode for turning one kind of knowledge into another kind. It turns faith-knowledge into understanding-knowledge. We begin with God’s revelation in the Scriptures, recognizing that we know certain things based on it. We then apply our reasoning to these things to see if we can also grasp the same things by our reason. Grasping some issue by our reason often involves a process of unfolding what is only suggested or hinted at in the Scriptures. Thus philosophers may differ from each other in what they claim to have grasped.[1]


[1] Gregory E. Ganssle, Four views: God & Time (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity Press, 2001) p. 11-12.

Auckland Event: Postgrad Study for the Glory of God

This weekend, the Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship is hosting a seminar in Auckland to consider the issues involved with postgraduate life, whether in further academic study or in the workplace. One of the biggest challenges Christians often face is in integrating their faith with vocational or academic work. This Saturday (the 29th of May) Catalyst, TSCF’s ministry to graduates, postgraduates and academics, will be running a one day seminary led by Dr Bev Norsworthy.  Norsworthy, one of New Zealand’s leading educators, will be exploring three crucial questions:

• What is the gospel and how does it impact your postgraduate study?
• In what ways can the gospel be applied to research and teaching?
• How can postgraduate research be done for the glory of God?

The seminar completes a national tour that has been running throughout the country in 2010. The day will run from 9am until 5pm, with morning and afternoon tea provided.

When: Saturday 29th May 9am-5pm

Where: Carey College Christian School, Domain Road, Panmure, Auckland

Cost: $20

For more information and registration visit www.catalyst.ac.nz/events/2010/postgraduate-seminars or email principal@carey.school.nz

Kenneth Samples on the Compatibility of Faith and Reason

Riddleblog has posted audio from Kenneth Samples lecture in his series on “Historic Christianity’s Seven Dangerous Ideas”.

The talk, delivered on May 7 at Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, is entitled “Faith Makes Sense:  The Compatibility of Faith & Reason”. In the lecture, Dr Samples gives an overview of arguments for God’s existence, including arguments from cosmology, objective morality and abstract entities.

Download the lecture here.

Kenneth Samples is a senior research scholar at Reasons To Believe (RTB) and teaches at the Academy and Adult bible study classes at Christ Reformed Church.  He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference and has also written several articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal.