Eric Metaxas – How much trouble would you take to understand the Bible just a little bit better?
Pierpont Morgan was perhaps the most influential financier in American history. During the latter part of the 19th century, Morgan began using some of his extraordinary wealth to become a collector—of rare books, manuscripts, drawings, prints, and ancient artifacts—for his personal library.
In 1924, his son, J.P. Morgan, donated his late father’s library and all its treasures to the public. It became known as the Morgan Library and Museum, or “the Morgan,” for short. And it’s right here in New York where I live.
Back in 1962, the Morgan added to its collection of rare manuscripts by purchasing a clump of charred parchment leaves. The artifact is a codex, or ancient book, written in the Coptic language, that dates between A.D. 400 and 600 from Egypt, before the Muslim invaders arrived. The codex contains a copy of the New Testament’s Book of Acts, as well as another work yet to be determined.
But the condition of this codex, known as M.910, is so fragile—a journalist said it “looks as delicate as a long dead flower”—that no one has dared to open it, for fear of causing further damage. Until now.
In December, W. Brent Seales, a computer science professor at the University of Kentucky, began using a CT scanner and his own software to, according to The New York Times, “model the surface of a contorted piece of papyrus or parchment from X-ray data and then derive a legible text by assigning letters to their proper surface.”
In other words, Seales has the technology to read a crumbling book that has been closed for a millennium and a half—even while it remains closed—Amazing! The technique, Seales says, “can turn things thought to be of no value into precious objects.”
We should begin to receive the results for M.910 very soon. The findings are expected to shed light on the formation of the New Testament canon, as well as the original Greek text of the book of Acts—no small matters to Christians! And who knows what we might learn from the other work that may be concealed along with Acts in this ancient codex?
Uncovering the secrets of ancient artifacts such as M.910 is fabulous. As the Proverbs 25:2 tells us, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.” And the fact that a secular organization, the Morgan Library and Museum, would devote so many of its resources to this task demonstrates just how valuable to human civilization biblical texts really are. As Samuel Chadwick stated, “No man is uneducated who knows the Bible, and no one is wise who is ignorant of its teachings.”
This brings up a very natural follow-up question: How valuable is God’s Word to you? And a second is like unto it: What pains are you willing to take to understand that Word?
If a museum will buy a crumbling, basically unreadable biblical text and hold it for over five decades in the hope that somehow, some day a technology will be invented so that its pages can be opened and its history understood, what are we doing with our perfectly good Bibles?
It’s almost funny—we sometimes treat our Bibles as if they are museum pieces, and only infrequently do we dust them off and look for the precious treasures hidden inside their pages. A real museum, however, spares no expense and works diligently, knowing that what it finds could change how we understand the world.
By the way, what we find in the Bible today could change our world. Of course, you have to read it.
John Stonestreet – “Don’t Mess with My Kids” Evangelicals are on the rise in Latin America. And at least one writer at the New York Times is very, very concerned.
The explosive growth of Christianity in what is called the “Global South”—places like Africa, Asia, and Latin America—has been well-documented and reported. While much attention has centered on Africa, the story in Latin America is no less dramatic and no less important.
Someone who’s noticed what’s going on there is the New York Times but, to put it mildly, they’re not very happy about it.
A recent op-ed piece, written by Javier Corrales, a political scientist at Amherst College, starts by describing the growth of Evangelicalism in Latin America. Corrales tells readers that “Evangelicals today account for almost 20 percent of the population in Latin America, up from 3 percent three decades ago.”
These impressive numbers are only a prelude to the main point of his article: Evangelicals’ growing impact on Latin American politics which, for Corrales, is bad news. While “Evangelical pastors embrace varied ideologies,” he writes, “when it comes to gender and sexuality, their values are typically conservative, patriarchal and homophobic.”
Thus, “in every country in the region, [Evangelical pastors] have taken the strongest stands against gay rights.” This makes the “rise of evangelicalism . . .politically worrisome,” Corrales writes.
He goes on to complain that evangelical voters “tend to be intransigent on issues of sexuality, which feeds cultural polarization.”
You might ask, “Cultural polarization about what?” The principle example is what Latin American Christians call the “ideology of gender.” In Corrales’ words, “This term is used to [negatively] label any effort to promote acceptance of sexual and gender diversity,” including the idea that “gender identity is a construct.”
If this sounds familiar, it should. So-called “gender diversity,” among other things, is what fuels our current cultural obsession with transgenderism, gender fluidity, and other rejections of biological reality.
Latin American Christians, understandably, don’t want to go down that road. And by “Christians,” I mean both Evangelicals and Catholics. As Corrales tells us, “Politically, we may be witnessing a historic truce between Protestants and Catholics in the region.”
Fighting the “ideology of gender” is the result of this cooperation. Another result is the phenomenon known as “Don’t Mess With My Kids,” which has spread across the region.
The movement originated in Peru as Evangelical and Catholic parents objected to a school curriculum that, in their estimation, sought to indoctrinate their children into a new sexual ideology.
In response, 1.5 million Peruvians marched in the streets, telling their leaders that “the people ‘refuse to surrender.’” The movement has spread to neighboring Ecuador and other parts of Latin America and everywhere it goes, it’s primary objection is to “state meddling” as well as “the exclusion of parents in the sexual formation of their children.”
For the New York Times, all of this might be “politically worrisome,” but lost in all those worries is the fact that gender ideology is a prime example of what might be called “cultural imperialism.” The ideology is being imposed on Latin America by its secular northern neighbors, and Christians there have said, “Don’t mess with our kids!”
I, for one, am grateful to our Latin American brothers and sisters for teaching us with their example.
January 4, 2018 – John Stonestreet “That Which We Have Seen With Our Eyes”
What do a Greek-speaking Egyptian rebel and an ancient king of the Nabateans have in common? They both point to the reliability of the Bible.
One of the most popular topics we cover at BreakPoint is the way that archaeology and related disciplines are continually confirming the biblical narrative.
It’s easy to see why so many Christians respond to this topic: unlike other faiths, Christianity is rooted in real human history. It tells the story of God’s actions in the same world that you and I occupy, as opposed to some mythical “once upon a time.”
The September/October 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) presents the latest entry in a series of articles listing biblical figures whose existence have been confirmed in extra-biblical historical sources and/or archaeology.
The editors of BAR have told the author, Lawrence Mykytiuk of Purdue University, that his previous entries are among the most popular articles ever published in the magazine, whose readership is a combination of scholars and very well-read laymen. In his last entry, Mykytiuk focuses on political figures named in the New Testament. Some of them, like the four Roman emperors named in the New Testament, are obviously well-attested. Something similar can be said about the plague of the Herodians that feature prominently in the Gospels and the book of Acts.
But the New Testament writers don’t stop at the obvious. They, especially Luke and Paul, provide details that only someone who lived through the events or spoke to an eye-witness could provide. One confirmed example is found in 2 Corinthians 11. Paul tells the Corinthians that “At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me.”
Aretas, “a contemporary of Herod Antipas,” was a real person whose existence has been documented by both extra-biblical sources and archaeology. Coins and other artifacts bearing his name have been found from what’s now Jordan to Italy. What we know of his life and reign outside of the Bible argues for the historicity of Paul’s account.
A more obscure example is found in Acts 21. Paul has returned to Jerusalem, where he knows that imprisonment and possibly death await him. He is attacked by a mob at the Temple and only survives because he is rescued by Roman soldiers. The commander, upon hearing Paul speak Greek, says “Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” Paul replied that no, he was a Jew from Tarsus, which he called “no mean city.”
This exchange was a reference to a rebellion chronicled by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. There was an Egyptian, who would have spoken Greek, who lead a violent uprising involving thousands of men in the wilderness at around the same time as the events in Acts.
While the Romans put down the insurrection, the Egyptian escaped and was believed to be in or near Jerusalem. Thus, what Luke records in Acts is exactly the kind of exchange that would have taken place at that time between Roman troops and suspicious Greek-speaking strangers.
These are just two examples of many, written in both parchments and in the very ground of the Holy Land, that attest to the reliability of Scripture and the historical nature of Christian revelation. You see, instead of being myths and fables or even disembodied ideals, Christian proclamation is about, as 1 John says, that “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched . . .”
So it shouldn’t surprise us that the list of biblical figures and places confirmed by archaeologists and other scholars continues to grow. It’s exactly what we should expect—and I’m happy to be the one who reminds us this time.
December 25, 2017 – Peter Wehner Why is it that, according to Jesus, faith is better than proof? That’s a question I’ve struggled to answer ever since I began my pilgrimage of faith as a young man. Sometimes it seemed more pressing, other times less so. It can intensify during periods of grief and pain, when faith may not offer much consolation or even make much sense in a world that seems random and cruel.
This question is compounded during periods like this one, when faith seems to distort reality rather than clarify it, when it’s easily manipulated for low rather than high purpose and when some of those who claim to be people of faith act in ways that bring dishonor to it and themselves.
Why take a leap of faith, given all that? Insisting on a little more empirical evidence before you make the leap seems pretty reasonable.
The apostle Thomas clearly thought so. According to the Gospel of John, the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the risen Lord, to which Thomas replied he wouldn’t believe until he put his fingers in the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his hand into Jesus’ side.
Fast-forward a week, when Thomas encounters Jesus, who tells him, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas does, to which Jesus replies, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Not seeing and still believing is held up by Jesus as a greater thing than seeing and believing. But I’m not sure I have ever fully grasped what it is about faith that makes it precious in the eyes of God. Recently, with the help of friends — pastors, theologians, authors, fellow believers — I’ve tried to deepen my understanding on that subject.
To start out, it’s worth noting that treating Christian faith as different from proof doesn’t mean it’s antithetical to evidence and reason. Christianity is a faith that claims to be rooted in history, not abstract philosophy. St. Paul wrote that if Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, the Christian faith is “futile” and followers of Jesus are “of all people most to be pitied.”
Christians would say, in fact, that reason is affirmed in Scripture — “Come now, and let us reason together,” is how the prophet Isaiah puts it — and that faith properly understood is consistent with and deepens our understanding of reality. “Reason purifies faith,” George Weigel, my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told me. “Faith without reason risks descending into superstition; reason without faith builds a world without windows, doors or skylights.”
But faith itself, while not the converse of reason, is still distinct from it. If it seems like that’s asking too much — if you think leaps of faith are for children rather than adults — consider this: Materialists, rationalists and atheists ultimately place their trust in certain propositions that require faith. To say that truth is only intelligible through reason is itself a statement of faith. Denying the existence of God is as much a leap of faith as asserting it. As the pastor Tim Keller told me, “Most of the things we most deeply believe in — for example, human rights and human equality — are not empirically provable.”
“The supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason,” is how Blaise Pascal put it. Something would not require faith if the proof of it was absolute. According to Philip Yancey, the author of “The Jesus I Never Knew,” “Faith requires the possibility of rejection, or it is not faith.”
Perhaps the key to understanding why faith is prized within the Christian tradition is that it involves trust that would not be needed if the existence of God were subject to a mathematical proof. What God is seeking is not our intellectual assent so much as a relationship with us. That is, after all, one of the purposes of the incarnation of God in Jesus.
Every meaningful relationship — parent-child, spouse to spouse, friend to friend — involves some degree of trust. It is better and more vivifying to be the object of someone’s trust rather than the last person standing after a series of logical deductions. That’s true for us as individuals, and it can be true for God as well.
Faith demonstrates human trust in him — and, according to James Forsyth, pastor at McLean Presbyterian Church in Virginia, which my family attends, it demonstrates that we accept God’s love for us. “There is a force within love that longs to be received,” he says.
Craig Barnes, the president of Princeton Theological Seminary, told me, “Faith is a greater blessing than proof because it gives us a relationship with Jesus. All good relationships are bound together by love. And love is always an expression of faith.” He also pointed out that proofs don’t necessarily inspire belief. Toward the end of his Gospel, Matthew mentions that some still doubted after they looked right at the risen Christ. (“When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”)
Some of those who witnessed the miracles of Jesus eventually sought to kill him. And Judas, one of Jesus’ original disciples, betrayed him with a kiss. So sensory experience isn’t enough to compel belief and allegiance.
Our most important forms of knowledge rarely come from logic or proof, according to Cherie Harder, the president of the Trinity Forum. Citing the work of the theologian Lesslie Newbigin, she says it comes through a more personal knowledge. For example, I know my wife loves me because I know her, I know her heart, I know her character, and because I trust her. “Your knowledge of her is less about physical certainty,” Ms. Harder wrote to me, “and more about a well-placed confidence in who she is (a faith in her that is qualitatively different, and far more personal and holistic, than intellectual certainty).”
“Faith,” Ms. Harder added, “is tied to love in a way that logical deduction and reason are not. We are changed by what we love more than what we think.”
Faith can allow us to understand things in a different way than reason does, in a manner similar to what J.R.R. Tolkien meant when he said that pagan myths weren’t lies but rather pointed toward deep truths. The imagination could be integrated into reason, he believed, in a way that helped us to see reality a bit more clearly. Reason is one way to perceive reality; faith — rooted not in partisan ideology but in grace and a sense of the sacred — is another.
There’s one other difference between faith and reason. The latter can analyze things like quantum physics and modern cosmology. But what faith can do is to put our lives in an unfolding narrative in ways reason cannot. It gives us a role in a gripping drama, of which the Christmas story is one defining scene. It’s a drama that includes sin and betrayal, redemption and grace; and ultimately it gives purpose to our lives despite the brokenness and pain we experience. This may mean nothing to you, but to people of faith, it can mean everything. If God is real, perhaps it should.
It’s notable that when Thomas makes his request to Jesus, he’s not condemned. Rather, Jesus gives Thomas what he needed — in his case, proof — and in doing so makes it clear that Jesus is willing to meet us where we are. Some need proof, at least as a start; for others, faith alone is enough.
According to Christian tradition, Thomas would eventually go on to serve as a missionary in India, where he was martyred. I imagine his faithfulness had less to do with putting his hand in the side of Jesus than what transpired within his heart. His intellectual doubts gave way to calm trust. In my experience, at least, that journey hasn’t always been an easy one. For many of us, shadows of doubt coexist with faith.
To emphasize faith is not to cast out doubt. In fact, it is precisely to take doubt seriously, but also to understand the doubter more completely — not just as a reasoning mind but as a full person, possessed of a divine spark that lets us see, now and then, right through the walls we have built between faith and reason.
Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.
December 6, 2017 – Ethiopia has the largest Orthodox Christian population outside Europe, and, by many measures, Orthodox Ethiopians have much higher levels of religious commitment than do Orthodox Christians in the faith’s heartland of Central and Eastern Europe. The country in the Horn of Africa has 36 million Orthodox Christians, the world’s second-largest Orthodox population after Russia.
Nearly all Orthodox Ethiopians (98%) say religion is very important to them, compared with a median of 34% of Orthodox saying this across 13 countries surveyed in Central and Eastern Europe. About three-quarters of Orthodox Ethiopians say they attend church every week (78%), compared with a median of 10% in Central and Eastern Europe and just 6% in Russia.
Orthodox Ethiopians are more likely than Orthodox Christians in Central and Eastern Europe to wear religious symbols (93% vs. median of 64%), to say they believe in God with absolute certainty (89% vs. 56%), to fast during holy times such as Lent (87% vs. 27%), and to tithe (57% vs. 14%). Indeed, these gaps between Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia and Europe mirror broader differences in religious commitment between people living insub-Saharan Africa, where religious observance is relatively high among all major religious groups, and those in more secular societies in Central and Eastern Europe.
Orthodox Ethiopians also tend to be more conservative on social issues than are other Orthodox Christians surveyed; they express higher levels of moral opposition to homosexuality, prostitution, abortion, divorce and drinking alcohol. For instance, Orthodox Ethiopians are much more likely to say that having an abortion is morally wrong than are Orthodox Christians in Central and Eastern Europe (83% vs. median of 46%).
Orthodox Christians do not make up a majority of Ethiopia’s overall population: 43% of Ethiopians are Orthodox, while approximately 19% are Protestant and 35% are Muslim. Still, in 2010, the 36 million Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia made up about 14% of the world’s total Orthodox population (compared with a 76% share in Central and Eastern Europe), up from about 3 million in 1910, when Orthodox Ethiopians made up 3% of the Orthodox total. This increase is owed mainly to natural growth in Ethiopia’s population, which rose from 9 million to 83 million between 1910 and 2010.
Ethiopian Orthodoxy is part of the Oriental branch of Orthodoxy, which accounts for approximately 20% of the global Orthodox population and is not in communion with Eastern Orthodoxy, the larger branch, largely due to theological and doctrinal differences.
December 3, 2017 – John Stonestreet TV commercials, radio stations, and shopping malls are all proclaiming that it’s the Christmas season! But actually, it isn’t.
Last Sunday in churches all around the world the Gospel reading was Matthew 25: 31-46.
The passage opens with words that should make our hearts soar, or, perhaps, shiver with dread: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
As the passage makes clear, Christ’s second coming will be very different from his first. He will return in glory, not obscurity. He will return as the King of the Universe, not as a nobody in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire. And this time, He will do the judging.
This, and not shopping, or who saw whom kissing Santa Claus underneath the mistletoe, is what we’re supposed to be thinking about these next four weeks, the season known as Advent.
Now if you’re wondering, “Wait, isn’t this the Christmas season?” the answer is, well, “no.” Of course, we wouldn’t know that from watching television, where some networks have been running “Christmas” movies—none of which ever mention Jesus—since late October.
Beginning this Sunday, December 3rd through Christmas Eve, we’re in the season of Advent, according to the Church calendar. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “come to.” Thus, Advent is the season Christians anticipate the celebration of God’s coming to live and die as one of us. And to better appreciate the immensity of that gift, we are to put ourselves in the place of ancient Israel which yearned for the promised Messiah who would set things right.
One of the ways to do this is through hymns. The ancient Advent carol “Creator of the Stars of Night,” which dates from the 7th century, expresses this Old Testament yearning in a way that has literally stood the test of time.
“Thou, grieving that the ancient curse/ Should doom to death a universe/ Hast found the medicine, full of grace/ To save and heal a ruined race,” the hymn reads.
The “medicine” required to “save and heal a ruined race” was Jesus, as Paul told the Philippians, emptying himself and becoming obedient to death.
But that’s not the entire story. We also sing “At Whose dread Name, majestic now/ All knees must bend, all hearts must bow/ And things celestial Thee shall own/ And things terrestrial, Lord alone.”
That’s because Advent is not only a time of anticipating Christ’s first coming but also anticipating the next and final time Jesus comes to Earth. And, I repeat, this coming will be very different from the first: The same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus will return as the “judge of the living and the dead,” and “his kingdom will have no end.”
This makes Advent not only a time of reflection, but also a time of repentance. This season is a time to examine our lives and ask ourselves whether we are sheep or goats. Are we living, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, for ourselves or for Him who died for us and rose again?
Unfortunately, very little in contemporary culture, including both inside as well outside our churches, inclines us towards a proper observance of Advent. Thus, we have to be intentionally counter-cultural about it, and we must teach our children what the days before Christmas are supposed to be about.
A good place to start is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas.”
Be joyful, reverent—and intentional–as you and your family prepare to commemorate the incarnation of the Son of God and His return in glory during this season of Advent.
November 10, 2017 – Over the last century, the Orthodox Christian population around the world has more than doubled and now stands at nearly 260 million. Yet despite this increase in absolute number, Orthodox Christians – who remain concentrated in Europe – have been declining as a share of the overall Christian population and the global population due to far faster growth among Protestants, Catholics and non-Christians, primarily outside of Europe. The largest Orthodox community outside of Europe is in Ethiopia, where Orthodox Christians are highly observant and growing quickly. A new Pew Research Center report looks at a variety of survey and demographic resources to paint a picture of Orthodox Christianity today.
October 19, 2017 – John Stonestreet Who is Jesus? It’s a foundational question, and one many Christians struggle to answer.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
“Some say John the Baptist,” they replied, “others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But who do you say that I am?”
These days, increasingly odd and just plain wrong answers to Jesus’ question seem to be floating around everywhere, and churches are one of the easiest places to find them. This shouldn’t surprise us, however. As we’ve said before, beliefs come in bunches. So when you see increasingly unorthodox and innovative ideas about sex, marriage, and the human person coming from religious leaders, you can bet they’re also entertaining increasingly unorthodox and innovative ideas about truth, the Bible, and even God Himself.
For example, Dr. Karen Oliveto, the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church, recently offered this message to her flock:
“Too many folks want to box Jesus in,” she wrote, “carve him in stone, create an idol out of him. [But] the wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting one, prince of peace, was as human as you and me. Like you and me, he didn’t have his life figured out.” Jesus had “bigotries and prejudices,” she added, even sins which He had to learn to overcome.
Wait, Jesus can be an “idol?” As John Lomperis with the Institute on Religion and Democracy remarked,“[A]n idol is something other than God, usually something created by human hands, improperly worshipped as a god.” But Jesus is God. For Dr. Oliveto to suggest that it’s improper to worship God is like suggesting it’s improper to love your spouse.
And a Jesus who sinned wouldn’t have been God, nor worthy of our worship. Ironically, this bishop’s imaginary Jesus would be the idol—along with the Jesus of the Arian and Unitarian heresies, which teach that Jesus was a good man but a created being, not God in human flesh.
But before we give Dr. Oliveto too much grief, we ought to ask where our own theology is.
A 2014 LifeWay Research survey of self-described evangelicals found that while nearly all profess belief in the Trinity, one in four say God the Father is “more divine” than Jesus. That’s similar to what the Arians believed, it’s the error the Nicene Creed was written to combat.
In another survey conducted last year, LifeWay talked only with those who held core evangelical and conservative beliefs. Yet an astonishing seven in ten said Jesus was the first being created by God—again, a defining feature of Arianism. And more than a quarter held that the Holy Spirit is not equal with either the Father or the Son.
This sad mess shouldn’t just bother theological eggheads. These errors strike at the heart of Christianity, giving fundamentally unscriptural answers to the question, “Who is Jesus?”
Answering this question correctly is itself an act of worship. It’s a vital part of knowing and loving our God as He is. And it impacts Christians’ lives at the most basic level.
For example, because Jesus is equal with the Father and fully God means He can truly pardon us. As the scribes in Mark 2 correctly observed, “Only God can forgive sins.”
Yet Jesus is also fully human. In order to serve as our High Priest, He became like us in every respect, as Hebrews 2:17 says. In order to redeem Adam’s race, the Last Adam had to belong to it.
This God-Man was not only sinless, He is entirely worthy of our worship. In reply to His question, “Who do you say that I am?” We should be able to say with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and with Thomas, who fell on His knees before the risen Jesus and said, “My Lord and my God.”
October 11, 2017 – Eric Metaxas Sometimes, holding on to faith in God can be hard. But then again, so can holding on to faith in no God.
One of the most persistent challenges of the Christian life is doubt. The most faithful, and spiritually mature believers experience it, especially in the midst of trials, temptations, or hard questions.
Every one of us occasionally wonders whether God is really there, whether Christ really rose from the dead, or whether we really are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. That’s natural.
None other than John the Baptist, alone in Herod’s prison, sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus responded, “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”
But Christians aren’t the only ones who suffer from doubt. It turns out that unbelievers, atheists, and agnostics all experience nagging uncertainties as well.
A recent poll from Newman University and YouGov found that one in five British atheists and over a third of Canadian atheists agreed with the statement: “Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness.”
Of the non-religious—those who aren’t explicitly atheists but don’t identify with any faith—34 percent in Britain and 37 percent in Canada agreed that evolution cannot explain the mind.
Twelve percent of British atheists and an astonishing 31 percent of Canadian atheists even agreed with the statement, “Animals evolve over time but evolutionary science cannot explain the origins of human beings.”
Remember that atheists traditionally hold a naturalistic worldview. They believe that, as the late Carl Sagan put it, “the cosmos is all that is, all that was, and all that ever will be.” In other words, matter and energy are ultimate reality.
These respondents are also living in some of the world’s most secular societies. The famed “new atheists,” like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, have hailed from the U.K., where polls now show a majority of citizens identify as non-religious.
Yet nearly a third of them suffer from a persistent sense that unguided natural processes alone cannot explain the miracle of human beings, who are profoundly different from everything else in creation.
In his book, “The Reason for God,” Tim Keller invites skeptics to explore these suspicions. These folks, he writes, should “doubt their doubts,” reexamining their objections to Christianity and looking for the hidden beliefs underneath each.
For example, those who reject belief in spirits, angels, and God should ask themselves: If only matter exists, where does morality come from? Or what about our sense of self? If the mind is merely the byproduct of chemical reactions inside our skulls, how can it be trusted to accurately understand the natural world?
These kinds of doubts, argues Keller, can undermine doubt, itself, and lead skeptics to a new open-mindedness about God and the claims of Christianity.
As C. S. Lewis might say, atheists really can’t be too careful. He argues in “Mere Christianity” that it’s normal for believers to sense that the Christian faith looks “very improbable.” But these moods aren’t unique to believers. “When I was an atheist,” he confesses, “I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.”
That’s why Lewis defined faith as “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” It’s also why Christians shouldn’t be afraid of reason or evidence. We should engage our doubts with confidence that our worldview—unlike the secular one—has the resources to explain both the natural and the supernatural aspects of the human experience.
In both cases, doubt—counterintuitively—can lead to faith.
October 5, 2017 – John Stonestreet Living As Christians In A Deeply Divided Time
For many Americans, the most crucial factor in their Thanksgiving plans is who they’ll have to talk to across the table. More on being Christian in a divided nation…
In the wake of last year’s election, many Americans decided to spend Thanksgiving with friends instead of family. This year, I suspect it will be even worse. After all, once Uncle Bill starts talking about President Trump, or Aunt Sally weighs in on transgenders in the military, or Cousin Phil announces why a Christian baker should or shouldn’t decorate a cake for a gay wedding . . . well, who knows what might happen.
I’m not that old, but I can’t remember a time when our country, our communities, and even our families have been so ideologically divided. Not only do we disagree but we tend to see others not only as wrong, but as our enemies. On news outlets, college campuses—certainly on Twitter—civility is out the window.
It’s one thing to say “I disagree with you.” It’s another thing to say “I can’t even share a meal or stand the sight of you.”
But it’s exactly here that Christians have something unique to offer.
In my travels around the country, I see more and more that people—especially Christians—feel they have only one of two choices: to avoid important topics altogether, or to err on the side of not offending by compromising or burying the truth.
But that’s a false choice. The stakes of our cultural debates right now are too high. Too many today, including within the Church, seem to believe that truth and love are somehow incompatible: that if we speak the truth, we’re somehow being unloving.
But truth and love are not mutually exclusive concepts. Why? Because both are fully embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6). And, He is love incarnate (1 Jn 4:8).
Christians must ground our arguments, in both substance and in style, on the firm foundation of Scriptural truth.
First, Scripture is clear that each and every human being is made in the image of God and therefore has eternal dignity and value. As C. S. Lewis put it in “The Weight of Glory,” “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal . . .” And of course, we must treat every person with that kind of respect.
Second, we know that God’s established laws include the moral law as well. Though our capacity to fully comprehend and live out what is true and good is bent by the fall, what is true and good remains. As Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in a recent issue of First Things, “Truth exists, whether we like it or not. We don’t create truth; we find it, and we have no power to change it to our tastes. The truth may not make us comfortable, but it does make us free.”
Exactly. And that is what we want for every human being—to be free to become all that God created them to be. This is what should motivate us in our interactions with everyone—even those who will hate what we stand for.
This doesn’t mean our approach will always “work” in the sense of avoiding conflict or convincing those who see us as their enemies. But it’s the right thing to do. And so we must engage this moment with courage and conviction.