A clergy friend and I were talking over coffee yesterday about how being in this line of work is something of a magnet for human pain. As soon as people find out you’re a pastor or a priest, they will often begin to rehearse their own private litany of suffering or their grievances against the church or their most recent existential crisis or whatever. Sometimes, this can lead to very rewarding and meaningful conversation. Sometimes, it can simply be overwhelming. Story after story of loss and crisis and doubt and health problems and “Where oh where is God in all this?!” What do you say, pastor? Sometimes I don’t really have anything to say, whether because there’s very little to say or because I’m tired or just not really in the mood to hear one more awful story, thank you very much. Sometimes I don’t really have any room on my agenda for anyone’s pain. Alas, human suffering seems to care very little about my schedule. Read more
Posts from the ‘Apologetics’ Category
I have always been interested in the reasons people have for accepting or rejecting the existence of God. It’s even more interesting to look at how people frame their own reasons for these decisions. So often, things are framed in stark terms of darkness and light, good and evil, obvious willful stupidity and luminous intellectual clarity, callous depravity and laudable moral sensitivity. This is true on both sides, of course. There are no shortage of eager atheists and Christians who understand and explain themselves and their decisions in these terms. As if no thinking, moral person could possibly come to any other conclusions about massive existential questions of God, meaning, truth, goodness, and beauty than the ones they happen to have arrived at!
Except things are a bit more ambiguous than that in the real world. Read more
I read the following words this morning on a Christian publication’s Facebook feed:
Easter is a notorious time for skeptics to launch attacks on Christianity. Christians should be ready to respond to skeptical arguments.
I confess that the way this is worded makes my skin crawl. “Calling all Christians, the skeptics are coming! Easter is nearly upon us, and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and defend the resurrection!” I’m sure Jesus would be so pleased.
Having (grouchily) said that, I have always taken the words of 1 Peter 3:15-16 very seriously: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” We tend to major on the “always be prepared” part and minor on the “with gentleness and respect” part, but that’s probably another blog post for another time.
At any rate, because Easter is a time where these questions tend to come up, and because the resurrection is the reason for the hope that I have, and NOT because I think Christians should be arming themselves for fiery combat with the skeptical hordes at the gate, I submit to you the following piece on the resurrection that was written by my brother Gil a few years back. It is important, in these lightly informed and noisy times, to at least make sure we know what we’re talking about when we defend or attack the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Read more
It’s Ash Wednesday, a day for sober reflection on, among other things, what it is to be a human being. And what better person to usher us into a conversation on this weighty and important matter than… Richard Dawkins. Wait, what? Richard Dawkins? As in the crusading evangelist for atheism? As in that famous biologist who holds any and all religious beliefs in utter contempt and never allows an opportunity to heap scorn upon supernatural belief to pass him by? As in the self-proclaimed champion of all things rational and scientific? That Richard Dawkins. Yes, that one. Read more
What if we just made God up?
The question came not from a despairing parishioner or a reader of my blog or an inquisitive university student at a trendy coffee shop. No, the question came from my twelve-year-old son at a sushi joint last weekend while drumming on the table with his chopsticks in between green tea and California rolls. Read more
Last week, I read Rob Bell’s latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God. It was, I don’t know, underwhelming? It wasn’t bad or heretical or even really very controversial, much as his promoters/publishers may have tried to ratchet the excitement level up by bringing up his views about homosexuality right before/around the book’s release. But it was kinda ho-hum. The book was pretty much exactly what we’ve come to expect from Rob Bell by now. A handful of interesting ideas, some good questions, an approach to God and faith that starts with human experience and then moves on to consider what, if anything, this or that human longing might point to, a bit of semi-vacuous, poetic language that dances around controversial issues, and a lot…
of weird formatting and spacing…
to make his words seem…
and fill up a book.
Last week, I found a message from a reader of this blog buried off in some dark corner of Facebook-land that I hadn’t noticed for at least a month. It was a message that was both encouraging on a personal level, as well as provocative in the best sense of the word. As it happens, the powers that be in Facebook have thus far prevented me from responding to this message. Every time I try to reply, I get a message telling me that I cannot do so due to some setting in one of our accounts (I don’t have an email address for the person who wrote to me, so I’m at the mercy of Facebook). Rather than wading through the labyrinth of Facebook’s privacy settings, I decided to do the only rational thing and simply write a blog post in response :). Read more
Our daughter belongs to a swim club, and swim clubs mean—hooray!—fundraising. Bingo, specifically. I have discovered that one of the (very few) benefits of spending five hours at the Bingo hall on a Thursday evening is the opportunity to catch up on a bit of reading (I was the “pay runner” last week, which meant that I basically sat around waiting for people to yell, “Bingo!” before springing enthusiastically into action). Last Thursday, I brought along a book that had regrettably slipped to the bottom of the veritable mountain of unread books on my desk—Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? Read more
So, this one has been making the rounds in the social media universe… Apparently, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has “defeated” the world’s leading atheist evangelist Richard Dawkins in a recent debate at Cambridge University. Quite handily, in fact—324 votes to 136. The resolution under discussion was “religion has no place in the 21st century.” Apparently it still does. Rowan Williams has saved the 21st century… or at least the day. We can all take a deep breath and relax. Religion will be around for a while.
The story of Christmas is little more than one enormous fiction. So I was grimly informed by an essay from a while back that I chanced upon today. Emmanuel, “God with us,” the “humble king” and all that—just pleasant illusions that we entertain ourselves with each year on our naively hopeful and recklessly irresponsible way to the mall to anesthetize our miserable selves with shopping and candy. Read more
Have you ever thought about how utterly weird the Christian message about Jesus is?
The hope of the world, Christians claim, is a crucified Jew who was born of a virgin over two thousand years ago, lived a very peculiar and provocative life, taught and modeled a bizarre mixture of love, compassion, and peace alongside jarring and bewildering words of judgment and warning, was executed by a predictable combination of religious and imperial power while simultaneously paying the price for human sin and absorbing the evil of the whole world, cheated death (so his followers say) by rising from the dead, and claimed, in this whole package, to be the fulfillment of the very old, strange story about a very strange group of people whose mode of relating to God scarcely resembles anything we would recognize or welcome today.
On top of all this, his rag-tag band of followers subsequently tramped all over the known world proclaiming that this Jesus was (presently) alive and well, thank you very much, that his kingdom was at hand, that his church was called to invite all people to follow him, and that he would one day return to as the judge and Lord of history with the keys to eternal life.
Um. Ok. Read more
I finished Marilynne Robinson’s excellent book When I Was a Child I Read Books over the course of a weekend trip to Edmonton. Amidst a wonderful collection of very stimulating essays, one in particular stood out, and I wanted to record a few of the more interesting passages here. The essay is called “The Human Spirit and the Good Society” and deals with the perennially contentious issue of human nature. What does it mean to be a human being? What, if anything is a human being for? What are our origins and our destiny? Amidst the many competing religious and secular narratives out there, and all of the possibilities these narratives open and close for us, where do we go to hear the truth about these vital questions? Which narratives do we trust to describe us to ourselves. Read more
One of the interesting things about participation in the wild world of social media and online interaction is the many and varied mediums through which feedback and conversation can take place. Blogs are synced with Facebook and Twitter and who knows what else, and feedback can (and does) arrive from any number of sources.
I believe the correct term for this—the usage of which would undoubtedly make me sound far smarter and more technologically savvy than I really am—is “multi-platform engagement.” I am only scratching the surface on these matters, having recently linked my blog to Facebook (and having thus far resisted the madness of Twitter), but it’s been very interesting to interact with the same content in multiple contexts. “Likes” and comments and “re-posts” and “pins” and “tweets” and “re-tweets” “+1’s” and before you know it my head is spinning. I remember the good old days back in 2007 when all I had to remember to check was if there were any comments on my blog. Read more
Over the last few months, one of our adult classes at church has been reading through Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. We’ve had some very interesting conversations, a few of which have revolved around the issue of what the Christian approach to pluralism ought to be. Is McLaren endorsing universalism? Relativism? Do all paths somehow lead to the same God? Is he advocating the abandoning of religious particularity in favour of a kind of fuzzy quasi-Christian humanism? These questions and others have animated some lively discussions about how we ought to live and think in our pluralistic context. Read more
Last night I attended the last of a three night lecture series hosted by a local church where my former professor, John Stackhouse, was speaking about the problem of evil. Of course, there is no “solution” to the mystery of evil and suffering—no rational explanation that explains what pain and waste and evil are doing in a world presided over by a good and merciful God. All theodicies leave holes. Read more
A fairly healthy number of my academic pursuits over the years have been devoted to some form or another of apologetics—a rational “defense” of the faith, whatever that might mean. Indeed, a quick glance at my blog archives yields a similar conclusion. So many words spent clarifying, unpacking, rephrasing, rehabilitating, or somehow defending God or belief in God or Christian practice in a post-Christian context. So many hours devoted to abstract ideas, theological constructs, “metanarratives,” worldviews, and “plausibility structures” within which to locate or give expression to Christian belief. So many pages about what I see to be the inadequacies of modern atheism. My attitude toward the general project of apologetics has undoubtedly changed and (hopefully) deepened over time, but I have always been inclined toward logic and reason and arguments and making some kind of rational sense of faith. Read more
I’ve been tracking the evolution of the blog Wondering Fair over the past year with great interest, not least because of the excellent writing and theological engagement with culture that it contains. I have appreciated the diversity of voices, the spectrums of issues raised, and the overall vision of a safe and interesting place to talk about the things that matter most to us. René has really done a great job in articulating and implementing a vision for constructive and stimulating conversation about faith, God, and truth in a post-Christian world that is often suspicious about these very things.
Not surprisingly, when I was asked to be a regular contributor to WF, I leaped at the opportunity. Read more
In the summer of 2006, I had just completed my first year at Regent College, and was looking for a few interesting summer courses to accelerate my degree. When I sat down to my first class with Prof. Alister McGrath on Christian Apologetics—a course that spent a lot of time on the ideas of Richard Dawkins—I had no idea that a few months later The God Delusion would hit the shelves, kick starting a half decade or so of fairly lively debate in the Western world on questions such as the existence of God, the role of religion in public life, and the nature of belief.
I also had no idea that a year later I would be getting very well-acquainted with Messrs. Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett, during my Masters thesis attempting to locate the phenomenon of the new atheism as a response to the problem of evil. Read more