Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How To Avoid Being a Disciple, Part 2 - Refuse a Theology of Difficult Things

It is nearly axiomatic in the life of Christians that their greatest struggles with faith come in times of stress and difficulty. Financial pressures squeeze families. Serious illnesses come out of nowhere and throw every expectation and hope out the window. Betrayal pulls the rug out from underneath our relationships.  And on the story goes. Struggles of every kind create unexpected bends in the river and create tension for us, tensions between what we expected to happen, what we hope will happen, what we expect of God in our lives, and who we think God really is.

To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker, all kinds of awful things happen. This is the human experience, and as such, it needs to be dealt with in ways that make sense of both our experience and our faith. If we believe in a sovereign God, we need to come to terms with his plan and power and the fact that things in our lives often do not go the way we expect them to. On the whole, however, we have failed at this task. We have simply not taken enough time on the "street level" of Christian lives to develop a theology of difficult things - an understanding that God is still good and great even when we suffer. And the failure to do so is more than a theological oversight, it is another way in which we avoid discipleship.

If we are unable to develop a clear and faithful understanding of God in the most trying times of life, we will find ourselves tossed and turned by even the slightest of winds. It will not necessarily be the gale-force gusts that topple our faith, it may be one contrary breeze. There is no surer way to destroy the future faith of a young believer than to insinuate that if they follow Jesus everything will go well for them. If we do not deepen our comprehension of God beyond believing in his greatness and goodness when "all is well," we will end up with a shallow projection of ourselves and our wishes on the sky, resulting in us following ourselves and not God. Our default theology is never who God actually is, but who we wish him to be.

At the very least, the disciple must learn where they stand in the God-to-human gamut of power. God is God, I am not and can never be. God is, by his very nature, necessarily good and right. I am, by my very nature, small in power and rife with error. So the disciple learns to respond to God's very existence and his call with confident abandon. The three Hebrew children about to be thrown into Nebuchadnezzar's famous fiery furnace understood this well. They refused to bow down to the pagan idol because they knew who truly was God. At the moment of their peril they said, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18).  In another situation, not leading to potential death but to a radical change in the rest of her life, a young girl also saw what this meant for her. When the angel Gabriel told Mary that as a virgin she would give birth to her long-awaited Messiah, and that her older cousin was also surprisingly pregnant, she replied, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

If the follower of Jesus Christ gains an understanding of the character and power of God, they become able to follow him in the most complicated of times. This is not to say it will be easy - that would, in fact, contradict my entire point. The three Hebrew children were actually thrown into the fiery furnace and Mary watched her son be executed by the Romans. But if a Christian fails or refuses to come to terms with their sovereign and good God in the midst of trials, in the end they will follow their feelings instead. It is a very quick way to avoid being a disciple.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Preach, Live, And Let God Do What He Can Do

“Preach the Word, live in the Kingdom, leave the results to God.” Dallas Willard

I have now heard Dallas Willard say this in a couple of contexts, and I think it is a worthwhile way to think about the vocation of the pastor. As I have argued in the past, I am not sure we have a good handle on a biblical model of pastoring, so hearing from those who have something different to say is valuable to us.

Preach the Word
How could we disagree with this? Yet, my interaction with many churches and pastors tells me that on most Sunday mornings Scripture plays a supporting role at best. Our church supports a lot of missionaries and I often get to preach to people who have traveled throughout the English speaking world and experienced all kinds of churches. After one Sunday morning in which my text came from John 5, the missionary guest said that he could not remember the last time he heard a sermon on God. What does that mean? Can it be that over several years of itineration he had literally not heard (that he could remember) a sermon whose topic was the character and nature of God? Can this be representative of the American church?

If I did not preach from Scripture, I do not know what on earth I would preach from. Does this mean I need to preach verse-by-verse every single week? Not necessarily, but it does mean that my controlling text and set of principles comes from Scripture no matter how I speak.

Live In The Kingdom
The philosopher Aristotle said there were three pillars to effective public speaking: ethos, pathos, and logos. Logos is the logic of your arguments, pathos is your emotional connection with the audience, and ethos is the character or integrity of the speaker. Are you trustworthy? Does your lifestyle somehow backup what you are saying about life?

While striving to avoid some kind of simplistic legalism, it can be reasonably expected that pastors live genuine lives of Christ-likeness. This is not some kind of moralism, but a kingdom possibility. Christ offers us life in the presence and power of the one true God and gave the gift of the third member of the Trinity so that we might actually be able to do that. We say Christ is Lord, but do we live as if he reigns in our lives? The people in our churches have dozens of examples of life outside of the kingdom of God, why not give them at least one example of life within it?

Leave the Results to God
Here is where we may hit the most interference with conventional wisdom. It is either stated or assumed that pastors work to grow the numbers and budgets of their churches. And while health may very well result in that, Willard is clear that this ought not to be the primary goal of ministry. I have said for years that the only thing I am in control of is my obedience to what God has called me to do. I am not called to be a controller or manipulator or herder of people. And if I am not an expert marketer of my skills or church, I am still not called to attach my worth or usefulness before God in terms of “butts and bucks.”

Timothy Keller in his book, Center Church, has challenged me on this. His argument is that we are called to be both faithful and fruitful. At least, we need to strive to be fruitful. And he is right, but in the end his point about fruitfulness may boil down to being faithful to the drive of the Gospel to tell as many people as possible.

But in the end, I think Willard is right. God is the shepherd of human souls, not me. He is the Superintended of our services and gatherings, not me. The Holy Spirit is our guide into truth and toward Jesus Christ, I am only (hopefully) an obedient and useful guide to others along the way.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

How To Avoid Being a Disciple, Part 1

To be a disciple is to follow Jesus Christ. There is no discipleship without following Christ in all he teaches us to obey and in how we live our lives under God. There is, however, a form of the Christian life without discipleship, which is a life without Christ (2 Timothy 3:5). The call to follow Christ goes out to everyone, but not even all those who answer the call in the beginning follow through as disciples.

To follow someone is to allow them to be your teacher and begin take on the character of their life, and in the case of Christ it is to also take on the power of his life. In fact, we become like what we follow no matter whom or what it is. The Psalmist tells us about this in the context of idols by saying, “those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:8). So, over time, a mark of the disciple is how different they become from the world and the idols around them. Christ is the one true God, so nobody and nothing else offers us the life that Christ does. People may follow many different idols in this world, but they all end up looking very much the same. The people who stick out as different are the followers of Jesus Christ.

But the minute we say that, we struggle to think of the differences between Christians and the others around them. Christianity without discipleship makes little to no difference in a life at all. After all, how could it? This form of belief is nothing more than lip-service without any intent to allow faith in Christ to sink deeper than some kind of proclamation. As the prophet put it so memorably, “they honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Is. 29:13). So, what are the hallmarks of a Christian proclamation without the difference discipleship makes?

Christianity without adherence to the fundamentals of the faith will create a life that is indistinguishable from a non-Christian life. It may seem odd to some that we begin talking about a different life by talking about what we believe, but our lives are inevitably the result of our most deeply held beliefs. If you want to know what a person truly believes about an issue, do not put stock in what they say, rather, pay attention to what they do. Behavior inevitably betrays belief, and our beliefs turn us into who we become. It makes a difference whether you believe God created the universe and you or not. You will live differently if you believe Jesus is God in flesh reconciling the world to himself. Your priorities will be different if you believe Jesus is worth obeying and he tells you to make disciples of every nation teaching people to obey everything he tells us to do. You will be a very different kind of person if you really believe that people who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed. And the list could go on.

Why would a Christian not hold to the essentials of their faith? There are probably as many answers to that question as there are nominal Christians, but I think at least two general reasons account for most of the failure of discipleship. First, many Christians are not taught what they believe, and they are not intimate enough with the Word of God to learn it on their own. Their churches and pastors fail them. Their TV watching habits fail them. Their lack of reading and comprehension skills fail them. Whatever the case, the warp and woof of their doctrine has not been made clear and desirable to them, so they go merrily along their way, none the wiser.  Secondly, to believe the things Christ teaches us to believe is to – by very definition – stick out. The follower of Christ learns how to believe that forgiveness is more powerful than vengeance and that humility is greater than the exertion of power. These values, and many more like them, are not at all like the world around us. In cultures where the grass of cultural convention is mowed pretty often and people are told to look and believe the same, Christians are like fast-growing weeds that simply cannot be leveled off for long. But, being that weed, the Christian must get used to getting mowed from time to time.

Disciples must know what they believe as followers of Jesus Christ and strive to have those beliefs reflect the truth as closely as possible. To paraphrase Dorothy Sayers, the drama of your life is wrapped up in the power of your doctrine. Otherwise you will find yourself in an inevitable drift of both belief and behavior toward the way the world sees and does things. You will be indistinguishable. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Disciple - It Is All True

I have been reflecting for a long time on what it means to really follow Christ in our changing world. What does discipleship look like when it really takes hold of a life? I believe that discipleship is the priority in the Christian life, so why is it so important? (Yup, I said, "the priority.")

I'll begin here with a few thoughts about what is probably the bottom line, the ultimate reason. It is true.

The whole story is true. Every bit of it really is the way God said it is. He really did create the universe and place humans created in his image in it to tend to it and be in relationship with him. He really did reveal himself. He really did come in person of Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, lived the sinless life, willingly died on the cross, conquered death and walked out of the grave, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit.

Every promise Christ spoke about the reality and power of the Kingdom of God is real. None of it is bubbles and smoke. None of it is intended for only the super-spiritual. All of it is for whosoever will.

The uncomfortable things spoken about the brokenness of the human condition by God are all unavoidably true. It has been said that the doctrine of original sin is the most unlikeable of Christian doctrines, but also the most obvious. Humanity, without Christ, is hopeless - literally.

Now the reason this is an answer to the question of why we ought to be disciples, is that humans are conditioned to believe what is true. It is in our very nature to seek out what is true about ourselves and the world around us. Reality is unwavering and we must, in the end, live according to its terms. This is so ingrained within the human nature that psychology has at least a handful of diagnoses for people who refuse to deal with what is real and true.

We actually live as if 2+2 really does equal 4. Whether we acknowledge it or not we live according to the laws of reason. Human communication would be nearly impossible otherwise. We are ultimately uninterested in false theories of gravity and chemistry because we know they are only useful as curiosities or as bad ideas that help us understand the goodness of the true theories.

The same is true between people. Unless we have reason to believe otherwise, we assume, within reason, that people tell us the truth. If you don't believe me, try going through a day believing everything everyone says to you is a deliberate lie. You will not get far. Even when we interact with strangers, we are built to tell and believe the truth.

There is no good reason not to apply this same standard to ultimate things - to the things of God, life, and salvation. We live best in reality when we are in accord with it, and if God created all things then, we live best when we live in accord with that God. And discipleship is learning to live in accord with God and his creation. When we learn to follow Jesus Christ in his way of life, we are learning to think and act the way God did when he was here on earth in human flesh. Truth himself came and walked among us (John 1:14, 14:6), now we follow.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Can Christmas Still Be True?

It is becoming one of our new Christmas traditions – well-funded atheist organizations spreading holiday cheer through billboard campaigns like this one declaring the Christian faith to be a fairy-tale. A significant part of the atheist strategy right now is to throw around phrases like “fairy-tale” without much argument but a lot of emotion and condescension. It is assumed that the Christian faith is nothing more than something made up for children and simple moralizing like an Alice in Wonderland or Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Once a person matures they learn that what they were taught was simple and hilariously false. It is time to move on. At least, that is how the atheist story goes.

Given how the term is so lightly and accusingly used in these kinds of campaigns, I wonder if anyone involved has done their homework. I am inclined to say they have not. “Fairy-tale” in this kind of use is a slur, not an accurate portrayal of a piece of literature, such as the Bible. Fairy-tale is a well documented and seriously studied literary category, so surely someone has paid attention to it and compared it with the Christian story. One of the differences between fairy-tales and the Christian faith that is simple to see if someone takes the time to see it is the historical rootedness of the Christian story. These were real people, real events, and real effects of the divine in our world. Fairy-tales are not. At even a cursory glance, the charge of “fairy-tale” simultaneously falls flat as untrue and diminishes the credibility of those who make the charge. If they want to call the Christian faith a fairy-tale, at least they could do a little bit of work.

There are a few who have made their careers studying what we lightly call fairy-tales. Some of them became convinced of the truth of the Christian faith. One man even called it the fairy-tale that came true. C.S. Lewis’ academic career and writings, which long outlasted his tenure, are not well known among evangelicals, but deal extensively with Medieval literature, mythology, and fairy-tales. One of the western world’s leading experts on what fairy-tales actually are came in contact with Christianity and became convinced of its truth.   

Part of the beauty and power of the Christmas season is that we celebrate the moment when divine truth and Being entered human history to make God known and life with him possible. Christmas endures all the onslaughts of consumerism and atheism because it is true. The truth may sometime lie beneath a pile of slurs and propaganda, but it remains. Christ came to earth, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, willingly died on the cross, and then defeated death.

And it is shockingly true that we can still become a part of the Christmas story when we walk and live in Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Word of God is Sharper than any Two-Step Self-Help Program

I watched a service last night from a large mid-western church. I was appalled enough to actually feel like punching somebody in the face. I rarely feel like punching someone in the face, but Nehemiah did (Nehemiah 13:25), and I did, so let me explain why.

As soon as I saw the sermon series was on how to be happy as a Christian, my hackles were up. The "text" for the sermon was a single verse read very quickly and undoubtedly found in an online word search for "happy." The text was promptly dropped. The other passages referred to in the sermon were either mentioned and not read, or utterly abused. The amount of eisegesis was astounding. A couple of theological concepts were raised, but used in an overtly self-serving and flatly heretical way. Jesus did not shed his blood on the cross so that you could live a stress-free life. God's judgment does not precede his mercy (or we would all be gone, including this "pastor"). The points in the sermon were all lifted from local daytime talk shows in the segments when Dr. HelpMeGetSkinny arrives and tells you how to handle your caloric intake during the holidays. I am not joking - the sermon  gave the earth-shaking advice that you ought to drink more water, exercise, and control your portions. Then the bulk of the sermon time was devoted to C-grade stand-up comedy.

I have two pieces of advice.

First, if you attended that church or one like it over the past weekend, you need to run away as quickly as you can. If you hear sermons like this from week to week you are actually being led away from Christ and his grace, not brought closer to him. You are being taught how to be more like the world, not like Christ. And if you think that what I described is a Christian sermon and is the kind of thing the Bible actually teaches the people of God, then I suggest you save your tithe, stay home, and just watch TV. You will get the same ideas with better production value and you don't need to send in your money.

Second, if you preached this sermon over the past weekend, shame on you. You need a run-in with a Jeremiah or a Nehemiah. You need someone to pronounce "false prophet" over your YouTube and Vimeo accounts. You abused Holy Writ and shamed the Sacred Desk. You took what precious little time you have with the people who attend your church and flushed it down the toilet. Your shallow Bible-mangling sermons are part of the reason the evangelical church is not taken seriously in our culture. How could it be, when you are incapable or unwilling to plumb the depths of God's Word and the sacred task of preaching, and connect the Word of God to the lives of people?

You, pastor, have at your disposal the truths and power that once turned the world upside down and you have settled for lukewarm get-alongism. The Word of God, if you can learn how to wield it, is a sword sharper than any two-step diet program.

The vocation of pastor is serious stuff. The task of preaching should never be taken lightly. Pastor, you need to either relearn or learn for the first time how to handle Scripture well. Then you need to learn again how to communicate to people the depths and the riches of something that actually has the power to transform lives.

I pray the American church learns how to leave behind this crass and meaningless consumerism. I am not holding my breath.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Social Activism vs. the Local Church

“For many today it is far easier to be committed to social justice in South Africa, to the restoration of communities on the Gulf Shore following Katrina, to cleaning up from the devastating tornadoes of the Plains, or to fighting sexual trafficking in any country than it is to be committed to building community and establishing fellowship in one’s local church. I hate to put it this way, but I must: it is easier to do the former because it feels good,…Not only that, it is good and right and noble and loving and compassionate and just. It is more glamorous to do social activism because building a local church is hard….But local church is what Jesus came to build, so the local church’s mission shapes kingdom mission.”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Substance of Sermons

When you read the works by C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers intended for popular consumption you can tell they have read and understood Nietzsche, Freud, and Hegel. You will hear echoes of the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and the theology of Augustine and Aquinas.

When you hear many modern-day sermons you hear echoes of Osteen, sitcoms, popular movies, motivational speakers, and books written by professional coaches.

I wonder why the modern American church is largely unprepared for the challenges it currently faces? 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

On Patience

"So amply sufficient a Depositary of patience is God. If it be a wrong which you deposit in His care, He is an Avenger; if a loss, He is a Restorer; if pain, He is a Healer; if death, He is a Reviver. What honour is granted to Patience, to have God as her Debtor! And not without reason: for she keeps all His decrees; she has to do with all His mandates. She fortifies faith; is the pilot of peace; assists charity; establishes humility; waits long for repentance; sets her seal on confession; rules the flesh; preserves the spirit; bridles the tongue; restrains the hand; tramples temptations under foot; drives away scandals; gives their crowning grace to martyrdoms; consoles the poor; teaches the rich moderation; overstrains not the weak; exhausts not the strong; is the delight of the believer; invites the Gentile; commends the servant to his lord, and his lord to God; adorns the woman; makes the man approved; is loved in childhood, praised in youth, looked up to in age; is beauteous in either sex, in every time of life."

Tertullian, "General Summary of the Virtues and Effects of Patience" in On Patience

Monday, October 06, 2014

Those Darn Christian Missionary Doctors!

"These impious Galileans [Christians] not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae [fellowship], they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes." Roman Emperor Julian, second half of the 4th century AD.

Fast forward 1700 years, and we read this in Slate:

And yet, for secular Americans—or religious Americans who prefer their medicine to be focused more on science than faith—it may be difficult to shake a bit of discomfort with the situation. Our historic ambivalence toward missionary medicine has crystallized into suspicion over the past several decades. It’s great that these people are doing God’s work, but do they have to talk about Him so much?

Brian Palmer, the author of the provocatively titled article, "In Medicine We Trust: Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?" goes on to complain that large regions in Africa are, in essence, not first-world. They lack first-world secular (he qualifies words like 'medicine' with the word 'secular') facilities and reporting standards. Thus, we have even more reason to be worried that Christian missionary doctors are unsupervised and on the loose. He is not alone in his complaint. Both Ann Coulter and Donald Trump have added their far more personal attacks to his concerns. After listing a few of his worries about African medical systems, he adds:

And yet, truth be told, these valid critiques don’t fully explain my discomfort with missionary medicine. If we had thousands of secular doctors doing exactly the same work, I would probably excuse most of these flaws. “They’re doing work no one else will,” I would say. “You can’t expect perfection.”

So, clearly, his primary beef is with the qualifier 'Christian' in the medical care. He would trust secular physicians for no other reason other than they are secular.

The problem is, and this is where he opens his article, secular doctors are not there. And might I add, we should not hold our breath.

As someone who understands Christian history and theology, and who is in a fair amount of contact with a lot of missionaries all around the globe, let me add a couple of thoughts to his.

Christian missionary doctors are there because their theology and historical DNA compel them. In this case Christian theology reveals itself as an anthropology and sociology: all human beings are of infinite value because they are created in the image of the God who really exists. This fundamental belief has the profound theoretical consequence of not allowing Christians to take human suffering lightly. And for those with the means and education, it turns into the practical consequence of traveling where others don't want to go to do the things others don't want to do. (As a side note, the Christian missionary world is way ahead of the secular world in bringing drinkable water to the developing world for the same reason.)

As for their historical DNA, acts of compassion are, for all intents and purposes, the invention of the Christian world. This seems like a radical claim, but history reveals a story bereft of compassion for the 'least of these' until Christians showed up and started taking care of them. The quote from the Emperor Julian is a case in point. Everything we now know as compassion, legitimately understood, is a result of what Christians have done as they imitate Christ as best they can. Even down to funerals for the poor. The influence of Christianity is that deep and ubiquitous. See the works of Rodney Stark and Alvin J. Schmidt on this neglected topic.

As for the 'problem' of Christian missionaries also talking about Christ, two more thoughts are in order.

For the Christian, the very act of taking care of those in need ought to be done in the name of Christ, and is thus, in itself, a witness to the care and love within our faith. On one level, the act itself is the witness. Secondly, the Christian cares for humans because they know them to be eternal beings. Everyone has a existence that extends beyond this physical life, and so the consequences of the Christian message for those lives is enormous. It is popular right now to expect Christians to be privately Christian, but that has been popular before and has failed tremendously before. Many individual Christians will be successfully silenced, but there is no hiding or privatizing the Christian faith.

It really may be the case that Ebola-ridden regions of Africa are devoid of secular doctors because they simply have no compelling reason to be there. Many talk a big game, but Christians are already there and will have made tremendous physical and spiritual strides long before the vaunted secular world catches up.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Suffering For The Church, And Loving It!

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Colossians 1:24

What commonly strikes us about this passage is the phrase, “I rejoice in my sufferings,” and it is startling, indeed. Most of us are not accustomed to, much less comfortable with, suffering so we wonder how on earth someone can say something like this. It dawned on me, however, that the substance of Paul’s statement is not about his suffering, but about the institution and people for whom he suffers. In fact, Paul’s vision of that organization, the Church, is so powerful his sufferings pale in comparison. But do not make the mistake of thinking they become less important to him because of the surpassing importance of the Church. His suffering does not “fade into the background” – it becomes something new and powerful and a reason for rejoicing.

The Church is just that important to people who are called to give their lives to the church. Pastor, this means you. And disciple of Jesus Christ, you are not exempt.

Paul suffered greatly in order to take the most important message a human can hear around the Mediterranean world and many of his exploits are dramatically recounted in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. There are pastors and Christians around the world today who still face the same kinds of obstacles and trials because they bear the name of Christ, but many in the West (today) do not experience suffering of the same sort. This does not mean, however, the pastor does not suffer for the flock.

Try building a meaningful vocation in which the definitions of success are diametrically opposed to the definitions of success in the culture around you. This means that when people look at your work and gauge your value, they are measuring apples (which often do not exist in “desired” numbers) when you are striving to grow oranges. Not only is the tension of success a struggle brought to the pastor from outside him or herself, it sits deep within their own hearts. We grew up in this culture, too. We also see the celebrity and financial status of those who have “succeeded” and we wonder what has gone wrong with us. We need to have poison drawn from our own minds as well, and it does not always leave easily.

Pastors and committed disciples of Christ rejoice when someone comes to put their trust in Christ, and they rejoice at every step along the way when that life shows signs of Christ himself. But because our work is so connected with the people God created and loves, we feel deep pain at those who drift in the opposite direction. In some ways, the life of the pastor is constant heartbreak. At the end of Paul’s list of stonings, floggings, and shipwrecks, he lists what sounds like the greatest burden he endures, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (vs. 28).

But the life of the Church and those within it is so valuable, Paul has actually learned that when he exerts tremendous effort, when he prays until he weeps himself dry, when he exhausts himself and the Church is built, it is all joy.

Do we seek exhaustion and pain? Of course not. But can we learn to place our trials and efforts for the sake of Christ and his Church in a new context? Of course we can – and we should. And it begins with reevaluating what we consider valuable in this world and what we are willing to give for its health.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"God is wrathful because God is Love"

"I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of god’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love."

Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), pp. 138-139.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Church In Antioch: A Church In The City

Acts 11 tells the story of a new church in a big city.  Because of persecution Jewish Christians scattered out of Jerusalem and some of them made it 300 miles north to the major metropolis of Antioch. While Jerusalem was large, Antioch was larger and more diverse. History tells us it was the Mediterranean’s third largest city of the day, sitting at the crossroads of every major economy and ethnic group in the area. When the Romans conquered the area it left the city basically intact, declared it free, made it the seat of the Roman governor in the region, and absorbed much of the residual Syrian religion. As a result a large temple just outside of the city was adapted for the Roman pantheon and became famous for its cultic prostitution. Antioch was advanced and dynamic. It was also debauched.

During the 30’s AD, Christians began to show up and preach, as Luke puts it, that Jesus is Lord. The church grew among the Jews in the city and then quickly spread to the Gentiles. The church grew and drew the attention of the apostles in Jerusalem. They sent Barnabas, Barnabas brought Saul, and within a generation the church at Antioch surpassed the influence of Jerusalem and became the center of the early church for nearly two hundred years. The disciples in Antioch were so dynamic, it was there they were first labeled, “little Christs.”

The church in Antioch gives us some important things to think about.

Often the “foreign mission” is across the street or across town from us. When they first arrived the Christians preached only to the Jews. But Antioch was full of “others” who needed to hear and it was not long before they did. And because the church was actively opening its arms to literally everyone, a dynamic and powerful church was built. Every church in every modern city is not far from people who are drastically different. They are from different cultures and they have different native tongues. But the church has never (when it is right with God) been turned off by that. More than ever, the modern city, even of modest size, is full of “mission field” people. We send missionaries around the globe and we ought to send them across town.

The church preached a simple message: “Jesus is Lord.” It was clearly full of the message of the resurrected Savior, but Luke notes its simple and effective focus in a pluralistic, pagan culture. Jesus is unique and he alone is Lord of all. He is greater than all other idols and forms of worship, and the human soul will find its rest alone in him. Without neglecting the full gospel, the contemporary church can learn from a simple laser focus of a message like this. No other substitute for God will do for human experience.

The church was unafraid to throw its message into a crowded and hostile public square. They could have stayed in the corner of culture where they found relative comfort in the Jewish neighborhoods and Synagogues, but they did not. They stepped out into the fray and talked about Jesus to the Romans and Persians on their way to their temple sacrifices. And it worked. It can be fairly said that the greatest mistake the church can make in the city is to fail to step out into the public area with the objective and powerful truth of Jesus Christ.

New Atheism's New Problems

After a period of pop-culture bullying on its part, there appears to be a growing backlash against the bluster of what is often called New Atheism.  At a recent conference called TAM, one of the leading skeptics in the movement was accused of getting one girl drunk and raping her. This long article at Buzzfeed tells the story and then expands its focus to talk about a broader culture of abuse within the movement. A family friendly version of the account can be found here at ENV. In part it states,

The reality of sexism in freethought is not limited to a few famous leaders; it has implications throughout the small but quickly growing movement. Thanks to the internet, and to popular authors like Dawkins, Hitchens, and Sam Harris, atheism has greater visibility than at any time since the 18th-century Enlightenment. Yet it is now cannibalizing itself. For the past several years, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and online forums have become hostile places for women who identify as feminists or express concern about widely circulated tales of sexism in the movement. Some women say they are now harassed or mocked at conventions, and the online attacks — which include Jew-baiting... — are so vicious that two activists I spoke with have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. One of these women has been bedridden for two years.

Add to that the more recent tumbling of another New Atheist hero, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has been caught in various untruths and misattributions. When called on the carpet for these mounting untruths, his response has been decidedly unscientific.  What matters is the theater of the moment, not the facts.

Even more disturbing is the defense you hear from Tyson himself and from his legions of fans: that the accuracy of the quotes doesn’t really matter, they’re just convenient illustrations to get attention, get people thinking, and promote his pro-science message.
 But there’s the rub, isn’t it? How do you promote a pro-science message by saying that the facts don’t really matter?

I think two issues stick out as a result of these accusations.

First, much of what has passed for science and the supposed rational superiority of atheism/naturalism has largely been the result of public force and intimidation, not reasoned argument. The perceived strength of New Atheism is a classic case of the emperor having no clothes. Dawkins' books are used in college philosophy classes as examples of bad argumentation. Reading Hitchens' books is an exercise in listening to someone espouse and believe in attacks on the Christian faith that were exposed as empty one hundred years ago. Engage an ardent atheist and 99 times out of 100 you will uncover argumentative fallacies, emotional aggravation, intimidation, and belittling.  It is a bitter fact of public atheism today - very little of it is philosophically reasoned.

That is not to say there is not any philosophically robust atheist thought out there. It just doesn't see the light of day among New Atheists right now. Anyone can still read Russell or the pre-conversion Antony Flew, but apparently not many of the new-fangled apologists for metaphysical naturalism do.

Second, does atheism have the moral chops necessary to correct these problems? Will the atheist community even see them as problems?  And here is the deeper philosophical question. Atheism lacks an objective moral standard. So it will not, in the long run, be able to condemn immorality in any kind of substantive fashion. For example, a worldview cannot simultaneously mock and politic against the Christian values of chastity and marriage and condemn sexual misadventure. In the short run it sure seems they can, because in many instances they try very hard to do so.  But once the dust settles from the accusations and the emotions of the moment, a question remains. Says who?

Every atheist attempt at grounding moral judgment fails to find solid ground outside of subjective human judgment or cultural consensus. This is, by nature of the worldview, necessarily true. Kant, who felt the unflinching reality of moral realities, worked hard to develop an utterly rationalistic morality. But even his Categorical Imperative fails its own test. The Utilitarianism of Mill and Rousseau’s nature - these and many more are valiant yet failed attempts at grounding morality without appealing to a personal being beyond our cultural conventions.

So the new atheist relies often on current political notions of "progress" and moral ideas that are easy to enforce via propaganda and sitcoms in our cultural atmosphere. But all those things are intellectual sand castles and it takes almost no time and effort to rationally disagree. And by virtue of the nature of relativism, the very act of disagreeing renders them impotent. So I disagree. Atheism does not have a rational standard that allows it to call chastity prudish, celebrate sexual liberation, and at the same time condemn sexual abuse. It also apparently does not have the philosophical courage to claim a scientific “just the facts, ma’am” stance and call out its hero de jour for propagandistic falsehoods.

New Atheism has a growing problem, and it isn’t recalcitrant Christians. It is its lack of firm footing for its own belief system and lifestyle.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Screwtape And Heaven On Earth

"The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unraveling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the Earth....So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven, that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to Earth is to make them believe that Earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or 'science' or psychology or what not."

C.S. Lewis

Screwtape, Letter XXVIII

Monday, September 15, 2014

God Shows No Partiality. Neither Should We.

Part of the simple logic of the Christian faith flows from the nature of God. God reveals himself to
have certain qualities, and since his people belong to him, they ought to begin displaying the same qualities.  At a crucial point in the life of the early church, the typically heavy-footed Peter came face to face with this logic when he entered the home of Cornelius the Roman Centurion.

Peter had been raised, along with all his Jewish brothers and sisters, to believe that Gentiles were beneath them and the Romans were oppressors who needed to go.  But one afternoon he was praying on a rooftop on the shore of the Mediterranean when God began to change that. While he was staying in the home of a leather maker (an ironic twist in the story seeing that the job of leather making made one unclean), God put him in a trance and showed him a sheet full of unclean animals.  When God told him to rise and eat, Peter responded out of his upbringing and faithfulness to Old Testament Law. “Never,” he said. “I have not eaten anything unclean and I won’t start now.”  But God’s response is what changes things.  God told him to never call anything unclean, or common, that he has called clean.

At that moment an envoy from Cornelius shows up at the house where Peter is staying and asks him to come.  God told Cornelius to send for Peter.  God told Peter to go. God was up to something big.  As soon as Peter enters the house of the Roman Centurion something strikes him as so important he repeats the topic twice in a short span of time. He says, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me” (Acts 10:28-29). And then, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).

Peter was raised to show a harsh partiality.  He was raised with a strict “us vs. them” ethic and now God was teaching him something very different.  He was taught to see people like Cornelius as beneath the honor of his presence and on this day Peter brings a whole group of Jewish Christians into his house to fellowship, eat with him, and talk about Jesus.  Peter came face to face that day with a truth woven into the bones of the Christian faith: no human being is unclean.  Every human being is of inestimable value. Every human being is worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No human being is beneath a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The logic is clear – no human being is beneath Jesus Christ, the God who emptied himself and became flesh. Thus, no human being is “less than” any other human being, and certainly not “less than” a follower of Jesus Christ. And every human life can become something that glorifies its Savior, Jesus Christ.

And why is it no human is beneath another in the eyes of God? It is by virtue of our creation in the image of God, and, as God told Peter, God has called every human clean. In other words, our status measured in earthly or ethnic terms does not determine our worth. The creation and decision of God does. No human lacks the image of God. No human is unclean.

One of the radical beliefs a Christian carries into this world is that God does not show partiality.  For all of its bluster about equality and human rights, our culture loves to decide who is and who is not worthy of life and privilege.  Our culture loves building ladders out of people. The abortion rate for children diagnosed with Down Syndrome is 94%. In a now infamous study, the abortion rate for African-American children in the city of Manhattan is over 80%. Children are still sold as slaves on the streets of Western, advanced cities. Political schemes rely on dividing people into groups that suspect and hate each other. Politicians have become wealthy beyond reason stoking those fires. And we all know the story goes on, and on.

But the Christian belongs to another God, a different kind of God. One who does not show partiality. God does not draw distinctions between people, calling one better than another.  And thus, by the grace and strength of God, neither do we.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weddings: A Reflection

As a pastor I have the privilege of performing all kinds of weddings for all kinds of people in all kinds of situations.  This afternoon Heather and I sat at a reception table watching all the first dances, and a few things began to dawn on me. A wedding – the formal act of a man and woman dedicating themselves to each other – in whatever form it happens has been common among humans across all cultures since the dawn of, well, humanity. It brings families from every possible background together in the same room as they celebrate the union of two lives.

Weddings build new things while extending the reach of the oldest things. A new family is made while the deep roots of old families push life into new limbs.

Weddings represent, maybe more often than we know, the hope of reclamation. Where the past has been imperfect, maybe deeply imperfect, there is the real chance of something healthy and stable being built. If the new home continues the dysfunction of the old ones, hope waits one more generation. Where the new home is dedicated to ways that build souls and love God, the cycle of pain can be broken.

Weddings are inescapably between a man and a woman. The two getting married came from the union of two other sets of men and women and they will likely build their family in the way their natures determine. Every other option available to us is either a technological marvel or a societal novelty, but they all are thin shadows of how humans have built families for millennia. None of them replace the nature God has given us all.

Research and, more importantly, theology and history are on the side of men and women getting married and building families. Children need moms and dads.  Men need women and women need men. Kids thrive with grandparents. Families can be beautiful for their sheer expanse and life shaping in their extended intimacy.

Those who seek to expand and change the definition of marriage are in the smallest minority possible.  They not only find themselves in the minority now, they find themselves swimming against the tide of all human experience. All their ancestors are against them. Every example against man and woman marriage is the epitome of the anecdote – it only proves how universal the rule is.

And most importantly weddings are how God shows his absolute joy in humanity. He began the institution. Jesus made really good wine at one. It predates every other human organization and is thus more important than them all. It is how God encourages us to make more of us, and in this he delights. God loves that new human smell.

God created us to not only be together, but to be together for the expanse of our earthly lives. In that commitment we find stability, hope, and joy. Sexual promiscuity is soul soiling. One of the great testimonies one human can leave to another is life-long commitment to their spouse through all kinds of thick and thin.

And in them God is able to show how his love for us works.  There is emotion, heart-felt connection and even romance.  But over the long run there is love. This love is truly what love is. You can tell who and what you love by what you have committed yourself to over the long-haul.  You can tell by your sacrifices. You can tell by why you endure what you endure. This is often myself, but it can be, and ought to be, the one you married. And when there is this kind of love we begin to glimpse the love God has for people he created. People he adores and put his image in. People he sent his Son to live among and die for. Broken people he reaches out to over and over.

Weddings bear the promise of God’s love among us.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Responding to Cultural Change

In light of cultural shifts like the derecognizing of InterVarsity Campus Ministries by Cal State, I
think it is crucial that Christians in the American and Western world give serious thought to their place in a shifting landscape. The recent events with IV are only the latest in what could be a long list of cultural changes going on around and underneath us.  But as one wise man once told me, I am a Christian, therefore I have hope.

These changes are not reasons to grow angry or defensive, but become new and potentially powerful opportunities for Christians to follow Christ with more clarity than before and for the Church to rise up and be the difference it is supposed to be.  I think it is entirely possible that the American church has relied on its cultural position of strength for too long and has thus been caught a bit off its guard as the cultural shift away from Christian values picks up steam. So, to begin with, we need to rethink our relationships with cultural power structures.

This is a massive issue and one that I think deserves a lot of attention, so here are two very quick thoughts.

Christians and Cultural Power
In the past 35 years, conservative Christians have been very active in politics, creating what might be the most influential political movement in that time.  The hope was that movements like the Moral Majority would produce the kind of change in the halls of power that would preserve Christian values and act as a kind of influence on the rest of it.  Its actual effects are debatable.  However, at the same time we have sorely neglected other places of power that turn out to be far more influential than the evangelical world once believed.

The halls of education, from Pre-K to Doctoral Programs, are the cultural canaries of our time.  Do you want to know what lawyers, journalists, and movie producers will be thinking 10-20 years from now?  Take a look at their college curriculum and professors today.

The art world has become a bit of a joke to everyone but those buried within it, in large part because of the loss of transcendent values and the belief in anything beyond this world and immediate experience.  This part of our culture is more influential than many would expect, and needs a re-injection of the beliefs and values that made Western Art beautiful centuries ago.

Whether or not the Christian knows it, within their belief system is the understanding that the Kingdom of God is the most powerful kingdom on earth right now.  That deserves a little explanation.  Most Christians, by virtue of their cultural sensitivities, are under the impression that the things this world calls power are real or actual power. There is no doubt that guns and economic policies wield a certain kind of power in the world, but every time they wield themselves against the Church, the Church wins. The Church, when appropriately dislodged from state powers, does not enforce itself through guns and money.  Yet, when the guns and money of this world are turned against the Church, the state loses every time. How can this happen?

The Church has access to God’s kind of power and when it wields it well, nothing overcomes it. Christians need to learn to have their vision of power changed in order to comprehend and live in the kind of power given to them by God.  Jesus’ disciples once asked him if it was time to restore the kingdom to Israel.  This was a question about earthly power, and full of their expectation that Jesus’ power was of that kind.  His answer is essentially, “God will decide when that kind of power will be unleashed. You will receive power, but not that kind of power.”  He actually said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).  They received plenty of power, but none of them filled the halls of government.

Christians and churches will need to readjust their vision of culture and their role within in it while all the props we were accustomed to are pulled out from underneath us. This is not time for panic, but for renewed focus on discipleship and the Kingdom of God among us.

When Non-Discrimination is Discrimination

Recently the Cal State University system derecognized InterVarsity as an official campus organization.  According to their non-discrimination policy, IV would be required to allow and/or have non-Christians in their leadership and IV has refused to sign the appropriate documentation.  As a result IV, and other Christian campus organizations such as Chi Alpha, no longer have free access to campus rooms and resources and are not recognized as official campus clubs.  According to the way the Cal State system has enforced its non-discrimination policies, other campus organizations such as Greek, academic, and sports clubs, are still allowed to discriminate along lines pertinent to their mission and membership.

All of this is, of course, in the name of non-discrimination.  Ironic, isn’t it, that a Non-Discrimination policy has created some very targeted exclusion from the public square.  With a case like this what we have is pretty naked discrimination masking itself as non-discrimination.

Non-Discrimination policies are allegedly intended to keep organizations from unfairly choosing against people, likely for bad or ad hominem reasons.  In their simpler forms they are intended to keep people from having their feelings hurt for not being able to be a part of some group.  What the Cal State policy has done is discriminate against Christian organizations and exclude them from the fraternity of campus organizations.  And many foresee that if this policy is carried to its logical extreme, most all campus organizations will be similarly affected.

In addition, the philosophy behind the non-discrimination policy is far from neutral or valueless.  It may be assumed that these policies, given their name and all, do not impose a set of social values but instead keep other, badder, people from imposing theirs.  However, just a few moments of reflection tell a different story.  The belief that Christian campus groups MUST have or allow non-Christians to run their organizations, is a value – a belief about the moral rightness or wrongness of an idea.  The value may be simply stated something like, “on a diverse campus, it is better for Christian organizations to be forced to admit non-Christian leaders than to allow them to have their way and not allow them.”  That is a value statement.  And it has been effectively imposed in a coercive way. 

I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot safer.

As a side note, many public college campuses are quickly becoming the least likely places to hear or be able to express opinions that do not cohere with the reigning conventional wisdom.  More irony, indeed.

In the end, these non-discrimination policies have done nothing but impose anti-Christian values on Christians and in public arenas for a lot of transparent and illogical reasons.  So be it.  I think the real question is something like, “Now what?”

Next, let us wrestle with exactly that.

Friday, August 29, 2014

We Must Be Wiser Than This

If you get your information or analysis of the world from The Daily Show, you need to have enough sense to be embarrassed for yourself.  You either need to grow up and learn to absorb the world and important issues like a thoughtful adult, or you need to turn in your “I Learned How To Use My Frontal Lobes” card.

The world of politics is rife with things that ought to be made fun of and the line of political comedians is long indeed.  Much in political life should be laughed at.  ISIS should not be.  Brutality matching ancient Assyrian levels is not an appropriate place for mockery.  It just isn’t funny.

Whether or not ISIS is a clear and present danger to the American homeland is up for debate (but remember, that is what we thought about Al Qaeda before 9/11), but the level of evil being acted out by them should not be.  What also should not be up for debate is whether or not we are allowed to laugh at ISIS and the kinds of things they are doing.  It is morally inappropriate to make this kind of mockery of this kind of evil.  Laughing at it and making cheap jokes does not help anyone deal with the systematic slaughter of Christians and other religious minorities, and it does not help us put the YouTube beheadings in some kind of ‘big picture’.

Part of maturity – the growth of virtue in the human character – is learning what emotions are appropriate and inappropriate given the situation.  You do not laugh at funny cat videos during the funeral of a friend who committed suicide.  You do not weep at your loss to a friend when they are tremendously blessed and you are not.  Instead, you learn to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

The Daily Show gets this profoundly wrong.  It is unable to tell the difference between things that ought and ought not be laughed at.  Stewart, though a very intelligent man, is not wise.  Maybe we can laugh with him from time to time at the absolute absurdity that is our political system, but we must be wiser than he is and learn when not to laugh.

I don't have the stomach to embed the video. Here is the link.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Clear Insight Into The Role Of Pastor

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989). 171 pages.
Eugene Peterson

Quite often when I read Eugene Peterson on pastoring I feel my blood pressure dropping and my spirit settling into the place it longs to be.  As a pastor I am subject to a lot of theories and expectations about what it means to do my job, and I suspect most of them are warmed-over corporate make-work that simply do not belong in my vocation.  Peterson, however, expresses with great experience and aplomb what it is like to try and be a good pastor.

When I sat down to open up "The Contemplative Pastor," I thought I would just read a couple of pages to get started and so did not have a pencil in hand.  I read the first sentence, put the book down, and returned with a pencil.  "If I, even for a moment, accept my culture's definition of me, I am rendered harmless."  I do not want to be harmless, but I suspect that is how many view me.  I knew then that if the rest of the book lived up to the promise of this first thought I was in for a marvelous read.

Peterson's goal in the book seems to be reshaping what we mean when we talk about the vocation of pastor.  What do we do? What makes us different from other people helping professions?  Is there anything different between the two, and if so, is there a way of recapturing it?  He begins with describing the pastor as "unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic."  And so the book goes, relabeling the pastor in ways that are not in-step with current cultural trends but which capture the significant, if hidden, vocation of pastor.  One particularly insightful passage near the end deals with the adolescence of our age and how that kind of immaturity has crept into even the pastor's life.

The first half of the book simply soars with insight and encouragement to be something different from what the world around us, and even within us, wants us to be.  At moments halfway through the book I thought the pastoral insight waned a bit, but overall it never really lost its subversive encouragement.  Throughout, Peterson moves expertly from discussing a theology of sin and what that does to our view of others, to the genuine expectations of a congregation, to the value of learning to use language well through reading and writing poetry.  There is a lot here to absorb and learn from.

The biblical role of pastor has been lost in our American and Western cultures, and therefore needs to be regained.  It is something of significant value in the lives of people, congregations, and communities and thus cannot be surrendered to corporate style leadership or nice-guy optics.  Peterson is a phenomenal guide back to the path we should be trodding.

If you found this review helpful, pleas say so on Amazon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Christian Theology, History, and Science

An area of significant debate in our culture right now is the relationship between the Christian faith and the scientific endeavor.  It is largely assumed in most non-Christian circles, and more and more within them, that the Christian faith is largely hostile to science.  It is said that science is a matter of knowledge and Christianity is a matter of faith, placing science on the higher pedestal.  And then, often, stories are trotted out to make the case that the Christian faith has historically been anti-science in one fashion or another.  But does this point of view do justice to both Christian history and theology?  I will deal with some of the basics - many of which will surprise readers - and leave the gory details to those who write book-length treatments of such things.

Christian Theology Has Been a Science Starter

One bumper sticker used in this debate is that Christianity is a "science stopper," basically meaning that the act of putting faith in God excludes someone from the act of engaging in science.  This view simply does not account for key components of Christian theology or the progress of science within the Christian church.  Christian theology was the fertile soil in which the scientific revolution took place.  Of course there are plenty of historical figures in science who were not Christian, but the foundation was built by Christian theology.  As the sociologist, Rodney Stark, puts it, "In contrast with the dominant religious and philosophical doctrines in the non-Christian world, Christians developed science because they believed it could be done, and should be done."[i]

The celebrated philosopher Sir Alfred North Whitehead argued that Christianity was the mother of science because of the medieval insistence on the rationality of God.[ii]  The fundamental idea was that God the Creator is rational, so his creation is able to be studied with reliability and order can be discovered.  Others, like the scholar M.B. Foster, attribute this idea to the uniqueness of the Christian doctrine of creation.  Unlike mythologies that have the universe beginning in chaos or struggle between gods, the Christian doctrine is one of simple creation by a law-giving God.

History Followed Theology

As a result, the history of science, especially early on, is littered with people driven into scientific discovery exactly because they believed they were able to and God wanted them to.  Instead of believing they were getting rid of the "God hypothesis," they believed they were honoring God with their intellects and abilities and would see him more clearly the more they learned.

Over 70% of the Royal Society of London, a society established in 1660 to promote the cause of science, was Puritans when it began.  Puritans were far less than 70% of the population of England at the time.  It was they who were the pioneers of the methodology of observation and inquiry.  Francis Bacon, seen by some as the "major prophet of the Scientific Revolution," once wrote, "There are two books laid before us to study, to prevent our falling into error: first, the volume of the Scriptures, and then the volume of the Creatures."[iii]

Copernicus wrote that the universe was "wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator."[iv]  Galileo, whose story as it is popularly understood is largely oversimplified, was a devoted Christian even while he was put under pressure by forces within the church.  He was convinced that God was "a Divine Craftsman or Architect Who created the world as an intricate mechanism"[v] and could be studied to the glory of God.

Johannes Kepler was not shy about his investigations into astronomy and his God.  He wrote, "My wish is that I may perceive that God whom I find everywhere in the external world in like manner within me."[vi]

Isaac Newton is worth quoting at length from his General Scholium:

But it is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes could give birth to so many regular motions: since the Comets range over all parts of the heavens, in very eccentric orbits. For by that kind of motion they pass easily through the orbs of the Planets, and with great rapidity; and in their aphelions, where they move the slowest, and are detain'd the longest, they recede to the greatest distances from each other, and thence suffer the least disturbance from their mutual attractions. This most beautiful System of the Sun, Planets, and Comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being. And if the fixed Stars are the centers of other like systems, these being form'd by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of One; especially since the light of the fixed Stars is of the same nature with the light of the Sun, and from every system light passes into all the other systems.

These examples only scratch the surface of the pioneers of science who discovered science-forming and science-creating realities and simultaneously sought God with an open heart and open mind.  But these examples may suffice to make the simple point: there is no inherent conflict between believing in the God of the Christian faith and pursuing science in all its viable forms.

[i] Stark, Victory of Reason, (Random House, New York 2006), 14, emphasis his.

[ii] Alfred North Whitehead [1925]. Science and the Modern World. (Free Press, New York, 1967), 13.

[iii] Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning

[iv] Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science,(Crossway, Wheaton, Ill, 1994) 25

[v] Pearcey and Thaxton, The Soul of Science, 71

[vi] Kepler, quoted in Will Durant, The Age of Reason Begins (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 600