Christianity 201

March 7, 2019

Compelling Minds

by Clarke Dixon

Can a thinking person be a Christian? Can a Christian be a thinking person?
Is thinking discouraged within Christianity?

First, there is a lot of thinking going on in the Bible. We often find the Psalmists in deep thought:

“I remember the days of old, I think about all your deeds, I meditate on the works of your hands.” Psalms 143:5 (NRSV emphasis added)
“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” Psalms 145:5 (NRSV emphasis added)

There is a whole portion of the Bible known as “Wisdom Literature” which is devoted to some deep thinking. We find wisdom applied to life in Proverbs and deep contemplation in Ecclesiastes:

I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13 applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven . . . Ecclesiastes 1:12-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

Thinking continues into the the New Testament:

As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. Acts 17:2-4 (NIV emphasis added)

Paul spent up to three years in Arabia following his conversion. Some Bible scholars believe this time was devoted to thinking through the results of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. With his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament, the startling revelation of the living Jesus would have given him a lot to think about.

Second, there is a rich tradition of thinking throughout the history of Christianity. Some great thinkers throughout history include Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, and Descartes to name a few. There are many great Christian thinkers in theology, but also every other field of study besides including science, literature, and philosophy.

So yes, a thinking person can be a Christian, and a Christian can be, in fact ought to be, a thinking person.

There is more we can say about Christianity and thought . . .

Christianity gives a good account for the reason we can freely think for ourselves. If there is nothing supernatural, if there is only matter and the physical, then the brain operates just like a machine, and therefore none of our thinking is free thinking. Rather, our thoughts are like the falling of dominoes. Or, to use another example, they are like the weather. We might experience a “random” gust of wind. However, a gust of wind is never random. The air is simply following the laws of physics and under the circumstances, the gust had to blow the way it did. If there is no God, then the same is true of our thinking. Every thought, though seemingly random, had to happen as it did. If this is the case, how can we hold people accountable for anything? However, we intuitively know that we have free-will. Christianity accounts for this experience of freewill for our minds are more than mere machines. Ironically, the atheist “free thinker” will have difficulty accounting for free-will under a purely naturalistic worldview.

Christianity gives a good account for the reason we can reason in the first place. How do we get from a brain to a mind? How do we get from physical matter to conscious thought? The brain and the mind interact, but they are different. Lee Strobel, in his book “The Case for the Creator” gives the example from Sam Parnia of the brain being like a television set. The TV is necessary for the watching of a movie or show, but the signal carrying the show is quite a separate thing. Should the TV be damaged, it will be hard for the signal to get through properly, but the signal is still a separate entity. So too with our brains. A physical problem with the brain will affect how the mind is expressed, yet they are not one and the same thing. In fact, there is no good theory as to how the two work together.

How did the brain give rise to consciousness in the first place? Strobel goes on to quote J.P. Moreland on this question

Here’s the point: you can’t get something from nothing . . . It’s as simple as that. If there were no God, then the history of the entire universe, up until the appearance of living creatures, would be a history of dead matter with no consciousness. You would not have any thoughts, beliefs, feelings, sensations, free actions, choices, or purposes. There would be simply one physical event after another physical event, behaving according to the laws of physics and chemistry. . . . How, then, do you get something totally different – conscious, living, thinking, feeling, believing creatures – from materials that don’t have that? That’s getting something from nothing! And that’s the main problem.

However, there is no problem accounting for the rise of consciousness in the Christian worldview. Continuing to quote Moreland:

. . . .you see, the Christian worldview begins with thought and feeling and belief and desire and choice. That is, God is conscious. God has thoughts. He has beliefs, he has desires, he has awareness, he’s alive, he acts with purpose. We start there. And because we start with the mind of God, we don’t have a problem with explaining the origin of our mind.

Strobel also references Phillip Johnson: “you either have ‘in the beginning were the particles,’ or ‘in the beginning was the Logos,’ which means ‘divine mind.’” If part of that sounds familiar, that is because “logos” is the Greek word for “word”;

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:1-3 (NIV)

When we consider the evidence of consciousness and free minds we can infer an intelligent, conscious and free agent as the Creator. Christianity fits that inference very well. Our minds are yet another compelling facet of Christianity.

Can a Christian be a thinking person and a thinking person be a Christian? Thinking is encouraged for every Christian. In fact thinking points to the One Who thought us up in the first place!


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

August 23, 2018

The Good Sense of a Witness and 1st Peter 3:15

by Clarke Dixon

Editor’s Note: Clarke is away this week. This post was taken from the large number available at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, which includes many which have never been published here at C201.

You get past your anxiety, step out of your comfort zone and share your faith with someone. Then come the objections: “But how can you know that you are right and everyone else is wrong? But doesn’t science show that we don’t need a Creator? Aren’t the stories in the Bible just myths? How can you be sure the Bible is reliable?” and on and on we could go (and on and on some do!). So now what?

There are two roads open before us in the face of objections:

  1. Say something like, “don’t overthink it, just believe.”
  2. Say something like, “Good question, one I have thought about too, can I share with you some thoughts on that?” or “Good question, one I have not thought about before, perhaps you will allow me some time to think that through”

What would the New Testament apostles do in the face of objections, would they discourage thinking, or encourage it? The following passage gives us a good indication of what they did:

Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (Acts 17:2,3 NET)

There are quite a number of similar passages where Paul ’explains and demonstrates’ the truths of the Jesus and his Kingdom. There is one Greek word behind ’explains and demonstrates’ which according to standard lexicons could be translated with ’discuss, contend, argue, address, reason with.’ We do not get the impression that Paul or any of the other apostles would say anything like “do not think about it, just believe.” Instead they helped people think it through, they appealed to good sense. To the Jewish audience they would argue from the Scriptures (the Old Testament at this point), that the resurrection of Jesus makes good sense. To the Gentile audience they would argue that the Jewish hope and the resurrection of Jesus make good sense, far better sense in fact than pagan myths or Gentile philosophies. When the apostles proclaimed the Gospel, they appealed to good sense.

But doesn’t the Bible teach us to be leary of worldly wisdom, so ought we not to be careful in appealing to ’good sense’. We might quote Colossians 2:8 with this objection: “Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ”(Colossians 2:8 NET). However, this verse and others like it refer more to philosophical systems that could be named and were popular at the time, such as Stoicism, Hedonism, Epicureanism,and the like. It is not referring to logic and reason which are gifts of God, indeed part of what it means to be created in his image. That two plus two equals four is true for the atheist, the Buddhist, the Muslim, and the Christian alike, it is a logical statement without reference to any system of thought. In our day the Christian will want to be wary of naturalism, existentialism, communism, and many other isms, but we will always want to appeal to good sense, using the Godly gifts of logic and reason. In fact the Bible teaches us to appeal to good sense:

But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you. (1 Peter 3:15, 16 NET)

Being ready with an answer means being ready to share why it makes sense to you to hold the Christian hope. Are we ready to share the reason we are Christians?

We should note here that saying something like “I am a Christian because my parents were Christians and their parents were Christians, and so on” will do nothing to help someone come to faith in Jesus. This is not being a witness to what is true about Jesus, it is being a witness to what is true about your family. If we were brought up in the Christian faith, can we go further and explain why we have chosen to accept and affirm the tradition handed down to us? I once heard a story about a woman who in cooking her first turkey put the turkey in the sink and put the dish rack upside down over it. Her mother asked why she did that and with the response “because you always did,” said “don’t be silly dear, you don’t have a cat.” A tradition can begin for a reason, but when the reason for its existence vanishes does it make sense to carry the tradition into our generation?

It has made sense for me to carry faith in Christ into my generation and endeavour to pass it on to the next. I can point to the experience of Christ in my life, I can point to looking more deeply into Christianity through the lenses of ethics, history, literature, science and so forth. Whatever angle I have come at it, it has always ended up making sense. I have thought it through and am happy when I can help others think it through too.

When you witness to someone and the objections to Christianity start flying, are you ready to walk with them on a thoughtful path? They are worth the effort! To do so just makes sense.

December 6, 2016

Giving Your Testimony Isn’t Sharing Your Faith

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This blog post was recommended and comes from ThinkApologetics.com: Responding to Critics, Seekers and Doubters. The author is Eric Chabot. There’s much to see at this site, so click the title, read the article there and then take some time to look around.

“But Can’t I Just Share My Testimony?”

Over the years I have had plenty of Christians ask me about how to go about sharing their faith with others. They always ask whether they should just go ahead and share their personal testimony. In this argument, many people say their religious beliefs have been tried and tested out in the reality of life. Thus, they think their beliefs correspond to reality because they do make a difference. In other words, “Christianity works because it is true!”There is nothing wrong with this. But allow me to offer a few suggestions:

Pragmatism has been one of the most prominent philosophies within American culture over the first quarter of the twentieth century. John Dewey was at the forefront of pragmatism within the educational system. For the pragmatist, an idea is said to be true if it “works” or brings desired results. Pragmatism is not as interested if the idea is objectively true, but simply if an idea leads to expedient or practical results.

In sharing the gospel Christians often resort to sharing a personal testimony. God can and does use our testimony in a powerful way. In other words, by sharing our testimony, we want to show that faith in Jesus works; He is responsible for transforming the human heart. While it is true that Jesus changes lives, let me ask a relevant question: Have you ever tried to share your faith with someone and heard a response such as, “I do not see my need to believe in Jesus. I am happy the way I am.” These type of responses are becoming more common in our culture. Let us look into the Scriptures to see how both Peter and Paul shared the gospel:

“Peter said, Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him, I saw the Lord always in my presence; for he is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will live in hope; because you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow your holy one to undergo decay. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: the Lord said to my Lord, “sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. Therefore let all the houses of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah-this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We see in this text that the primary apologetic methodology that Peter discusses is Jesus’ death and resurrection” (Acts Ch 2: 22-38).

Paul said, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:1-17).

Just as Peter, Paul also appealed to Jesus’ death and resurrection as the foundation of the gospel.

As we observe how the gospel was presented by Peter and Paul, do they ever suggest that Jesus is just one of the many options that changes lives? After all, if people simply want to believe in something that makes them happy, a lie can work, but its effectiveness does not make it true; it is still false, even if the result is beneficial.

What we can learn from Peter’s sermon in Acts Ch 2: 22-38 and Paul’s creed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-17 is an issue of objective truth. We should explain to our friends and acquaintances that the reason we believe the gospel transforms lives is because the gospel is true. In other words, just because our faith “works” for us and has changed our life is not what makes the gospel true. Rather, the gospel is first and foremost true; this is the reason why Jesus brings radical transformation in our character and actions. Just as Peter and Paul, we should try to appeal to an objective case for the gospel and then rely on our testimony to strengthen our case.

In sharing our testimony, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of pragmatism. Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland adds some valuable insight into this issue:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.” (1)

Finally, as James Warner Wallace says:

If evidential verifiability is truly a Christian distinctive, shouldn’t it cause us to live differently than the adherents of other religious systems? Shouldn’t we, as Christians, be the one group who knows why their beliefs are true and the one group who is most willing to defend what they we believe? Shouldn’t we be the one group most interested in making the case for our metaphysical beliefs? Why then, are we often uninterested in the evidence? It’s time for us to allow the distinctly evidential nature of Christianity result in distinctly evidential believers. The nature of Christianity, rooted in the Resurrection, allows us the chance to investigate and defend its claims. As Christians, we ought to be uniquely thoughtful, reasonable and evidential in our beliefs, because verifiability is a Christian distinctive.

To read his article called Verifiability Is A Christian Distinctive- see here. 

August 2, 2014

Answers to Spiritual Issues

NIV Jer. 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Today’s blog post arrived in a question-marknewsletter from BibleGateway.com that I honestly don’t remember signing up for! As I read it, my first reaction was that it was something that would be of interest to new Christians, or people dealing with new Christians. But then I realized there are some principles here that apply to all of us, no matter what stage we’re at. The author is Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ.

 

Q. Can you offer any practical advice on how to seek answers to spiritual issues?

A. Despite my initial reluctance to seeking spiritual truth, I did do one thing right. I set three principles for myself at the beginning of my search – guidelines that helped me then and that I trust will help you now, whether you’re a skeptic or a Christian with questions.

1. Make the search a front-burner issue.

Finding answers is too important to approach casually or in sporadic snatches of time. I knew – and I hope you agree – that these are urgent matters. Jeremiah 29:13 encourages us to seek God and his truth “with all your heart.”

2. Keep an open mind and follow the evidence wherever it leads.

This principle had been drilled into me as a journalist, and it served me well in my spiritual journey. I had to strive for as much objectivity as I could muster, putting aside preconceived ideas and biases. Only then could meaningful answers be discerned. French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”

3. When the evidence is in, reach a verdict.

I knew these realities were far too important to ignore. If God is real, and if Jesus is who he claimed to be, then I would have to respond accordingly. Similarly, I hope you’ll decide up front that when you weigh the facts, you’ll allow the evidence to impact your own beliefs.

One more suggestion: Ask the God you may not be sure about to guide you. Just as Jesus honored the doubter who said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24), he will honor your sincere request.

If you’ll apply these principles and seek answers wholeheartedly, I’m confident you’ll discover – as I did – that Jesus was indeed right when he promised in Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

This excerpt is from my new book The Case for Christianity Answer Book, which offers to-the-point answers to 60 questions about faith. Use it to encourage and equip yourself, or give it to a friend, neighbor, or family member as a gift.


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