Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Photo of the Week

Behold Jehovah's royal hand a radiant crown display,
Whose gems with vivid luster shine, while stars and suns decay.
Now let a true ambition rise, and ardor fire our breast,
To reign in worlds above the skies, in heavenly glories dressed.

- from a hymn by Philip Doddridge

Monday, February 27, 2023

Quote of the Week

"Be humble, talk little, think and pray much."

- George Whitefield

Friday, February 24, 2023

A Prayer from Billy Graham

Lord, remind us today that You have shown us what is good in what You require of us; to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God. We ask that as a people, we may humble ourselves before You and seek Your will for our lives and for this great nation. Help us in our nation to work as never before to strengthen our families and to give our children hope and a moral foundation for the future. So may our desire be to serve You, and in so doing, serve one another. This we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Apologetics: The Argument from Miracles

- Miracles are historically attested by multiple biblical witnesses (as well as by many other Christian sources throughout history)--if our arguments for the historical reliability of scripture are sound, then that also applies to the miracles those texts report. To believe that miracle reports are unreliable because ancient people were particularly gullible is not only extremely prejudicial, but also ignores much of what we actually know of the cultural history of the biblical period.

- Jesus, of all ancient figures, was especially associated as being a miracle-worker (as attested even by sources outside the Bible, like the historian Josephus). The fact that Jesus was regarded as especially unique in this aspect strongly suggests that ancient people were not gullibly seeing "miracles" everywhere--they knew one when the saw it, and they saw them in Jesus.

- Skeptical arguments tend to reject the possibility of miracles on an a priori basis--that is, not on the grounds of evidence about miracles, but on the basis of a pre-existing philosophical belief system. In other words, such skeptics tend to reject miracles as an act of faith in their own philosophy, not on an evidentiary basis.

- Some skeptics claim miracles are impossible because the natural world is a closed system, and we've never seen anything that can manipulate the laws of nature or add energy to a system that doesn't come from some already-existing source. However, this ignores the fact that Christian theology (as well as classical philosophy) has always regarded God as outside the system, not within it like we are, and that as the author of that system, he has both the right and the ability to enact just those sorts of manipulations that skeptics deem impossible. 

- When skeptics are faced with clear evidence for a miracle, they tend to deny its validity by suggesting that there are other factors present in the situation which were unknown to us--perhaps the effects of an as-yet-unknown principle of science. Ironically, however, this is nothing but "science-in-the-gaps"--expressing a faith in unknown areas of science as an explanation, which is exactly what skeptics accuse Christians of doing when we suggest God as a possible explanation for inexplicable events (usually derisively referred to as "God-in-the-gaps").

- Miracles arise both because of who God is (see Ps. 77:13-14) and because of his mission in the world (see Acts 2:22, Heb. 2:3-4). Of all world religions, Christianity is the one that shows the greatest incidence of the miraculous, and by a very significant measure. Miraculous signs and wonders are part of the Christian announcement of the gospel message in new areas (as they were at the beginning), and so miracle reports still occur most frequently in those places around the world where the gospel is being introduced.

- Miracles still happen today and are often very well-documented. Listen to the sermon/lecture link above for some such stories, and for a comprehensive and scholarly selection of recent miracle reports with evidentiary documentation, see Craig Keener's book Miracles. 

- A quote from Rex Gardner, a medical doctor: "That God does heal in the late twentieth century should be accepted on the evidence of all these independently-verified medical case records. If you do not accept this, you should ask yourself what evidence you would be prepared to accept, and if the answer is 'none,' then you should at least admit that you have abandoned logical enquiry."

- But if God can and does do miracles, why don't they always happen when Christians pray for them? Why do so many prayers for healing go unanswered?
     - First, miracles are gifts of God, but sometimes his will leads in another direction than what we might hope for. We simply don't know the future, and we don't have a broad understanding of all the many factors involved--we can't see the whole picture like God can.
     - Second, having miracles on-demand would reduce God to a welfare system for handouts. It would not inspire real relationships of faith and love. God is still sovereign, and we are not. It is his prerogative to heal if he wills. When such healing occurs, it is a gift we accept with thanksgiving, and when it does not, we trust that he is still accomplishing what is most to his glory and our own good.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Photo of the Week

O Jesus, thou hast promised to all who follow thee
That where thou art in glory, there shall thy servant be.
And, Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my friend.

- from a hymn by John Ernest Bode

Monday, February 20, 2023

Quote of the Week

"We shall not grow weary of waiting upon God if we remember how long and how graciously He once waited for us."

- Charles Spurgeon

Friday, February 17, 2023

A Prayer from Francis of Assisi

May the burning and tender might of your love, 
I beseech you, O Lord, 
ravish my soul, 
and carry it far from all that is of this earth, 
that I may die for love of your love, 
as you deigned to die for love of my love. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Apologetics: The Problems of Evil and Pain

- Here's "the problem of evil" as a skeptic might put it: If God is truly all-powerful and all-good, then why does evil exist in the world? Why would God allow evil--and the pain it causes--to continue, when he has both the power and the desire to curtail it completely? In other words, does the pain and suffering of this world really match what we would expect to find if the Christian view of God were true?

- The Bible offers a number of answers to such questions, none of which might seem completely satisfying on their own, but when taken together they offer a comprehensive and hope-filled explanation of why Christians believe as they do, even in the face of great evil and suffering. To start with, the Bible offers an important opening qualification: namely, that we need to keep our own intellectual finitude in mind. This is one of the themes of the book of Job, which deals with the question of suffering. There are some things which we simply cannot fully know, partly because of our inherent limitations as finite creatures who are trying to understand the will of an infinite God, and partly because God in his wisdom has chosen not to disclose all the answers in full. Intellectual humility is always an important virtue, but perhaps nowhere more important than in questions of this kind. Beyond that initial qualification, however, the Bible offers at least four big answers to the problems of evil and pain:

1.) The Free Will Defense - God allows evil in the world because he is aiming toward a greater good. He loves his creatures enough to grant them free will, and this necessarily includes the possibility that we will choose evil rather than good, with all the attendant suffering that comes as the result of our sin. Essentially, the answer here is that God didn't make things this way, with all its pain and heartbreak--we did that through our own sin (see Rom. 1:28-32). God could have created a world without the possibility of suffering, but this would have resulted in little more than a race of automatons, not conscious beings capable of choosing for themselves.

2.) The Virtue Defense - God allows evil in the world because people can grow in virtue as a result of persevering through its effects. Certain virtues--patience, perseverance, mercy, etc.--are only possible in a world where evil exists. It would be impossible to fully develop those virtues in the absence of suffering (see Rom. 5:3-5). Thus, in order to grow his followers into a certain kind of person, God allows evil and is able to turn its effects toward good ends.

3.) Jesus - Up to this point, the arguments against the problem of evil might have seemed a little heartless, essentially saying that God allows evil because he wants to produce a certain kind of result. When we come to Jesus, however, the picture changes. In the cross of Christ, we see a God who cares about our suffering to such an extent that he has entered into it, taken it upon himself in a way that staggers our ability to comprehend. God is not impervious to our suffering; he has willingly stepped into the very center of our suffering so that we might experience all the depths of his love. Jesus is God's ultimate answer to our suffering and sin, and he represents an answer of boundless compassion and grace (see Rom. 5:6-8).

4.) Eschatology - The fourth and final answer is that we don't yet see the full picture. The story isn't over yet. You can't really judge a movie without having seen it to the end. What the Bible tells us is that there is more to come--wondrously more--and that, in the final light, all the questions of sin and pain and suffering will be answered to the fullest degree. The ending of the story will be one in which the nations will be healed, tears will be wiped away, and all our troubles here will seem like nothing in comparison with the glory that has been revealed. This answer isn't always a satisfying one when you're in the midst of tremendous pain--essentially saying, "We just don't know yet"--but that doesn't make it any less true, nor any less necessary when considering the question of the problem of evil.

- Finally, it's worth pointing out that one also has to consider the alternative. If the pain and evil of the world does not find its context in the truth of God, then what else are we left with? A universe where, at the deepest level, nothing matters, suffering is meaningless, and the anguish of this world cannot ever be healed or redeemed. If beauty is a mark of truth, as great thinkers through the ages have often held, then consider which worldview is able to answer the problem of evil in a more compellingly beautiful way. The answer is clear: Christianity holds up a vision of beauty, hope, and healing in answer to our pain; atheism does not, and it cannot.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Photo of the Week

Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;
Fairer than morning, lovelier than daylight,
Dawns the sweet consciousness I am with Thee.

- from a hymn by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Monday, February 13, 2023

Quote of the Week

"The ultimate test of our spirituality 
is the measure of our amazement 
at the grace of God."

- Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Friday, February 10, 2023

A Prayer from A. W. Tozer

Now, we trust Thee,
That Thou wouldst send us out
With a quiet, certain, sure gaze at the Light of the World,
Meekly disclaiming all self-righteousness,
Humbly denying ourselves,
Willingly taking the cross,
Sorry for all that is imperfect and wrong,
Glad for the blood that cleanses,
Grateful for the grace that pardons.
Blessed be Thy name.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Apologetics: The Argument from Human Experience

- One of the greatest evidences of Christianity's truth is its unrivalled power to transform lives, an attribute of the Christian faith that is open and observable from the apostle Paul in the first century to many millions of examples in our own day.

- Christianity is also likely to be true because it works. Faithful, churchgoing Christians have been shown, in study after study, to be far happier and more content than other demographics. They exceed other demographics in nearly every measure of social stability and wellbeing. For all our scientific advances, secularism has not yet been able to produce a system of living that comes anywhere close to the personal and social wellbeing produced by Christianity.

- Christianity is likely to be true because of its propensity to produce people of exceptionally high moral character. Apologetics debates between atheists and Christians often end up pointing fingers at which side has the worst characters and events (the Inquisition as representative of Christianity; Stalin and Pol Pot as representative of atheism), but this tactic is misinformed. Christianity actually predicts such results through its doctrine of human depravity. A more illuminating question is to ask which system of belief is better at producing moral exemplars, and for that, Christianity stands head and shoulders above secularism/atheism. As a school of love and virtue, Christianity exceeds rival positions by a long shot, as can be demonstrated by many historical case studies.

- If a system of belief produced a radical, unbelievable transformation in just one person's life, you might be tempted to count it as a fluke. But what if those unbelievable transformations kept happening, over and over again, hundreds or thousands of times in every generation, over the course of two thousand years? I think any rational observer would want to take that system of belief's truth-claims seriously.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Photo of the Week

In all my ways Thy hand I own,
Thy ruling Providence I see:
O help me still my course to run,
And still direct my path to Thee.

- from a hymn by Charles Wesley

Monday, February 06, 2023

Quote of the Week

"Everything is a grace because everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events - to the heart that loves, all is well."

- Therese of Lisieux

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Academic Update

Sorry for my delays in getting to my usual blog posts the past few weeks, friends. In addition to my new book coming out, I'm also in the final stages of writing my PhD dissertation. Today marks the completion of at least a draft copy of every chapter needed in the dissertation, so that's a big milestone. I have a couple months of editing before my defense later this spring, but I'll try to keep up with the blog as much as possible in the meantime.