Friday, April 29, 2022

A Prayer from A. W. Tozer

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Apologetics: Christianity in the Court of Science

Flipping the Script: A Hard Look at the Narrative of Science’s Triumph over Christian Doctrine

There’s a series of popular myths out there that science has slowly, piece by piece, overturned Christian beliefs about science, the earth, and the universe. Two of the most common myths are:

1.) “Christians thought the earth was at the center of everything, so that the structure of the universe pointed to the significance of humanity. This Christian belief was proven false by the scientific discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo.”

2.) “Christians thought the biological uniqueness of the human form was a sign of its significance as being created ‘in the image of God,’ but most scientists now believe that Darwinian evolution has disproved any such biological significance in being human.”

The trouble with this narrative is that it just isn’t true:

1.) The central position of earth in the universe was never a tenet of Christian doctrine.

    - You won’t find it anywhere in the Bible—nothing more than poetic descriptions of the sun and moon circling the earth, which was not a scientific claim, but an observable phenomenon of the way we perceive day and night.

    - While most ancient and medieval people did believe that the sun, moon, and stars revolved around the earth, our planet was not seen as being especially significant because of that fact. Rather, the earth was seen as a kind of unglamorous base level of reality, and it was the heavens that were seen as perfect and as containing the ultimate meaning and destiny of all creation.

    - So while Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo (all Christians, by the way) did reset the cosmological assumptions of their age, there was no principle of Christian doctrine that was ever affected by not having the earth at the center of the universe.

    - Rather, the discovery that the universe is actually unthinkably vast compared to the earth is what you would expect to find, given what the Bible really says on the topic, and Christian theologians were predicting a universe that was infinite in scope before any of those astronomers came around (Nicholas of Cusa, 15th century).

2.) There are a lot of open questions about the validity of a purely naturalistic form of Darwinism, but to start with, the very premise of Argument #2 above is flawed: whether or not one were to accept evolution, it’s simply not the case that Christianity ever hinged the significance of human beings to their biological form.

    - To be made ‘in the image of God’ (and God, remember, is spirit, not a biological entity) does not simply refer to our body, but probably rather to the spiritual characteristics he has bestowed on us—rationality, morality, creativity, etc.

    - Even the earliest Christians often noted how similar we were in bodily form to the rest of animal creation. Basil of Caesarea (4th century) liked to point out this biological kinship, underscoring the point that according to Genesis 1, humans are created by God as part of the day of land-animal creation.

    - The Bible clearly points to our significance being our spiritual likeness to God, made in his image, endowed with “spiritual life” (zoe) and not just biological life (bios), and because we are the objects of his love—but not to any matters of biological form.

In fact, classical Christian doctrines have actually made several startling predictions about the universe that have been proven true by scientific measurement just within the past century.

1.) The universe had a beginning, and that beginning was a moment of “creation ex nihilo”

2.) Time itself came into being at the moment of creation

3.) The universe contains a fundamental openness to “free will”

4.) Every level of reality will display order, beauty, and complex design

Each of these used to be viewed with incredulous skepticism by most scientists, from the ancient Greeks up to the 20th century, but the overwhelming majority of scientists now accept them all.

- Most scientists who were skeptical of Christian doctrine thought it was a ridiculous idea to say that the universe had a beginning. It seemed much more natural to assume that it had always been there, in one form of another. But with the growing acceptance of the “big bang” theory, scientists became convinced that the Christian doctrine actually had the right sort of idea all along. (It’s worth pointing out that many Christian thinkers do not accept major portions of “big bang” cosmology, such as the long time frame postulated since its occurrence, but even so, there’s a certain irony in the fact that it destroyed scientists’ previous assumptions by suggesting that there was a moment when creation suddenly burst into existence, almost as if by the will of a Maker.) Cosmologists also now largely agree that the universe’s beginning came out of a “singularity” of some kind—a point occupying no space, but of infinite density, such that it becomes essentially a “creation out of nothing.”

- Scientists also now tend to believe the mind-bending realization that time did not exist before the universe’s beginning. Rather, following Einstein’s theories, space and time are bound up together in a single framework, and both sprang into existence together. Saint Augustine postulated this idea, taken from the Bible’s teaching about God’s eternal nature as being outside of time, all the way back in the 4th century.

- Most scientists used to think that nature was essentially deterministic—that is, that it was governed completely by irrevocable laws that predicted with exactitude where every particle in the universe would be and how they would interact. Thus, there could be no “free will.” However, after the discovery of quantum mechanics, scientists now concede that indeterminacy is built into the fabric of the universe, to the point where now some even refer to the smallest particles as appearing to have “free will.”

- After Darwin’s theory came out, scientific researchers expected to find that complex order was an emergent property, developing out of simpler and simpler levels of order the further down you went, until, at the base level, you could prove that it emerged out of the chaos of pure random chance. But what they’ve actually discovered in the past century and a half turns out to be the opposite: the further down you go, you find more order built into the system, at just as high a level of complexity (this is true of genetics, molecular biology, particle physics, quantum physics, and every other discipline studying small-scale, underlying scientific realities).

Scientific theories are judged based on their predictive abilities. Given these four radically counterintuitive predictions (as well as the earlier-mentioned prediction of a vast universe rather than a small one), all of which are now generally agreed to be true, classic Christian doctrine as a scientific model has performed remarkably well.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Photo of the Week

Far out on the cold rugged mountains of sin, a
nd near to the brink of despair,
I wandered in sorrow and darkness alone, but Jesus came seeking me there.
O glory to Jesus, my Shepherd so dear, I’ll praise Him where’er I may be;
O glory to Jesus, I’ll sing of His love, and tell of His mercy to me.

- from a hymn by Fanny Crosby

Monday, April 25, 2022

Quote of the Week

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.”

- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Friday, April 22, 2022

Schedule Change for Blog

Just a note to my readers that I'm adjusting the schedule I've used on this blog for the past couple years. With my commitments to my PhD research and publishing books, I've found it more difficult to produce time-intensive content for my blog. I'll continue producing new material (like my Evangeliad installments) and material that rewards deep reading and thinking (like my apologetics series), but I'm going to shorten my schedule a bit and only post five days a week instead of six. (Observant readers will note that I've recently been failing to produce all six every week anyway.) The Monday through Thursday slots will remain unchanged, but I'll be combining my Friday and Saturday slots. This simply means that most Fridays will feature a classic prayer and a piece of art (of the sort previously featured on Saturdays), but will also offer occasional material of other kinds when it's available--essays, hymns, and so on. Having completed my set of video devotionals through Easter, I think I'll discontinue that series for now.

A brief update for my faithful readers on some other notes: my PhD is nearing completion, and so I hope to be able to defend my doctoral dissertation by the end of the calendar year. I'm also working on a new book project which is currently in the review/approval stages with a publishing house, and if it gets picked up, it would appear sometime in 2023. I may also have a few pieces running in Christian magazines and websites in the coming months, and I'll post those links as they become available. Thanks and blessings!

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Apologetics Series

Over the past couple years, I've been producing some apologetics material for my church, and with my Historical Theology series fully posted, I thought I'd start offering the apologetics pieces here. Apologetics is the defense of the faith, generally by making rational arguments from supporting disciplines like philosophy, history, and the physical sciences, as well as offering well-grounded explanations for Christian doctrines which have come under question by modern skeptics. These talks are sermons which were delivered in my church. Most come from Sunday morning services within the past year, but occasionally I will post a talk from a Sunday evening session or from a more informal weekday presentation (these latter two formats tend to address more technical aspects of apologetics issues). Whenever possible, I will offer an outline of study notes along with the audio lecture.
Christianity in the Court of Science (old series/evening service)

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Photo of the Week

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, O weary one, lay down your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place, and he has made me glad.

- from a hymn by Horatius Bonar

Monday, April 18, 2022

Quote of the Week

"What the witnesses of the Resurrection were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn."

- G. K. Chesterton

Friday, April 15, 2022

Monday, April 11, 2022

A Break from Blogging for Holy Week (Friday video excepted)

I'm taking a one-week break from blogging over Holy Week. I will, however, still produce my devotional video. It'll post on Friday as usual, but as it focuses on the lectionary readings for Sunday, it might be advisable to wait until Easter to use it.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Living Like a Saint

For our Thursday piece this week, I wanted to share this extended extract from the Romanian Orthodox theologian Dumitru Staniloae. It expresses, in terms that I find quite beautiful, the possibilities inherent in being formed into the image of Christ--of becoming what Staniloae calls, in the words of his tradition, a saint. I keep this quote near at hand, because I hold onto the (admittedly unlikely) hope that someday God might, by his grace, grow me into such a person as this. It's a rather high ideal, but a lovely one.

"In the saint, there exists nothing that is trivial, nothing coarse, nothing base, nothing affected or fake, nothing insincere. In him is the culmination of delicacy, sensibility, transparency, purity, reverence, and attention before the mystery of his fellowmen […] The saint grasps the various conditions of the soul in others and avoids all that would upset them, although he does not avoid helping them overcome their weaknesses. He reads the least articulate need of others and fulfills it promptly, just as he reads their impurities also, however skillfully hidden, through the delicate power of his own purity, exercising upon them a purifying action. From the saint there continually radiates a spirit of self-giving and of sacrifice for the sake of all, with no concern for himself—a spirit that gives warmth to others and assures them that they are not alone. And yet there is no one more humble, more simple, less artificial, less theatrical or hypocritical, no one more natural in his behavior, accepting all that is truly human and creating an atmosphere that is pure and familiar. The saint has overcome any duality in himself […] He has overcome the struggle between soul and body, the divergence between good intentions and deeds that do not correspond to them, between deceptive appearance and hidden thoughts, between what claims to be the case and what is the case. He has become simple. Therefore, because he has surrendered himself entirely to God, that is why he can surrender himself entirely in communication with others. The saint always lends courage, and at times, through a humor marked by the same delicacy, he shrinks the delusions created by fears or pride or the passions. He smiles but does not laugh sarcastically, he is serious but not frightened, he finds value in the humblest persons, considering them to be great mysteries created by God and destined to eternal communion with him. Through humility the saint makes himself almost unobserved, but he appears when there is a need for consolation, for encouragement or help. For him no difficulty is insurmountable, because he believes firmly in the help of God, sought through prayer. He is the most human and humble of beings, yet at the same time of an appearance that is unusual and amazing, and gives rise in others to the sense of discovering in him, and in themselves too, what is truly human. He is a presence simultaneously most dear and, unintentionally, most impressive; the one who draws the most attention. For you he becomes the most intimate one of all, and the most understanding. You never feel more at ease than near him; yet at the same time he forces you into a corner and makes you see your moral inadequacies and failings. He overwhelms you with the simple greatness of his purity and with the warmth of his goodness and makes you ashamed of how far you have fallen away from what is truly human, of how far you have sunk in your impurity, artificiality, superficiality, and duplicity; for these appear in sharp relief in the comparisons you make unwillingly between yourself and him. He exercises no worldly power, he gives no harsh commands, but you feel in him an unyielding firmness in his convictions, his life, in the advice he gives. And so his opinion about what you should do, expressed by delicacy or a discreet look, becomes for you a command, and to fulfill that command, you find yourself capable of any effort or sacrifice. Whoever approaches a saint discovers in him the peak of goodness, purity, and spiritual power, covered over by the veil of humility. He is the illustration of the greatness and power of kenosis [Phil. 2:7]. From the saint there irradiates an imperturbable quiet or peace, and simultaneously a participation in the pain of others that reaches the point of tears. He is rooted in the loving and suffering stability of God’s incarnate Son Jesus, and rests in the eternity of the power and goodness of God."

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Photo of the Week

If placed beneath the northern pole,
Though winter reigns with rigor there; 
Christ's gracious beams would cheer my soul, 
And make a spring throughout the year.

- from Olney Hymns (John Newton & William Cowper)

Monday, April 04, 2022

Quote of the Week

"The sum of your sins does not surpass the magnitude of God's mercies. Your wounds are not beyond the healing skill of the great Physician."

- Cyril of Jerusalem

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Saturday Synaxis

As the daylight shines upon us, 
O Christ our God, the true Light, 
let luminous truths and bright thoughts shine within us, 
and do not let the darkness of passions hover over us, 
that mindfully we may praise you.
Hear our voices according to your great mercy, 
and deliver us, O Lord our God, through your compassion. 

- a traditional Coptic prayer

Friday, April 01, 2022