Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wanted: Intelligently Designed Discussion

Richard Dawkins is an atheist who has written a best seller entitled The God Delusion. I was able to spend some time with him since he was in New York City on Tuesday. Specifically, I spent time listening to him take calls on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show and then spent time watching him interview with Bill O’Reilly in the evening on the fair and balanced Fox News Channel.

Dawkins likes to compare belief in God – any god – to the belief in fairies. He admits, if you listen closely, that he cannot actually be certain God does not exist; but he always adds that he is just as certain God does not exist as that fairies don’t exist. Fairies and God – same basic evidence available for each.

This is highly misleading and disingenuous. There is a vast difference between the evidence for believing in God and the evidence for fairies, unicorns, or Santa Claus. Serious scholars have embraced Christianity for a range of reasons and various types of evidence. There is a reason that thick books are written concerning the evidence for the existence of God and no one writes these books about Tinkerbell. There is a reason why scientists raise challenging (and therefore silenced) objections to traditional evolutionary theory and yet propose intelligent design rather than fairy magic.

Surely Dawkins knows this, but this serves a rhetorical purpose and gets folks like me worked up. But almost as disturbing as Dawkins’ smug assertions was that on the radio interview neither the host (one of my favorite interviewers) nor any caller effectively challenged these ridiculous statements equating God with characters in children’s pop-up books. For the record, I listened by podcast rather than live, so I couldn’t call in to say, “Ummm, no.”

Enter Bill O’Reilly.

For the record, I appreciate O’Reilly. I don’t watch him regularly, but I prefer him to many but not all of his mainstream counterparts. O’Reilly, a Roman Catholic, defended belief in God against Dawkins as best he could. But in my opinion O’Reilly sold the farm:

O’Reilly: It helps me as a person.
Dawkins: That’s different, if it helps you, great, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
O': Well, it’s true for me.
D: You mean true for you is different than true for anyone else?
O': Yes, absolutely.
D: Something has to be either true or not.
O': I cannot prove to you that Jesus is God. So that truth is mine and mine alone. But you cannot prove that he is not. So you have to stay in your little belief system and I—
D: You cannot prove that Zeus is not, you can’t prove that Apollo is not…
O': (Makes joke and changes subject.)

Once you say “it’s true for me” it’s all over. Dawkins is right: something is either true or not. That’s something we can agree on. (View video here.)

While I don’t expect atheists to convert to Christianity based on a radio call-in show, I would like to see Christianity represented well. There was a time, I think, when even those who agreed with Dawkins’ basic principles wouldn’t have accepted his caricature of the Christian faith. And there was a time when no one would have relied on the argument it’s true for me.

I know argument alone will not change someone’s core beliefs, something deeper is needed spark a transformation. Yet as a starting point, we need intelligently designed arguments. On both sides.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Baby Weighs In On Supreme Court Ruling

Found this here and thought it deserved a long overdue hearing...

Virginia Tech: What Has God Done?

Cheryl and I were traveling to Virginia this past Monday when news of the tragedy at Virginia Tech unfolded. We were not in the immediate area of Virginia Tech, but we did meet people who were personally touched by this tragedy. The family we stayed with knew a student whose life was taken that day; when paying for pancakes at IHOP, the cashier told us that her cousin was killed.

During times of tragedy like this, we begin to reflect on our deepest beliefs. We might even question our faith. This is especially true when the tragedy is so personal, and not just a violent image on the TV screen. And it doesn’t matter much how long we have been a Christian; an emotional impact is a jarring experience no matter how much knowledge we’ve gained over time.

I do not think it is wrong for such events to shake our faith. In fact, it is probably the appropriate response. By God’s grace, he often shields us from the horrible consequences and effects of sin. He shows us his goodness, generosity, and mercy daily in hundreds of ways. Even though we believe in the terrible effects and consequences of sin, these beliefs often remain somewhat intellectual – in the background. While the news offers daily reminders of violence, it is generally not so close to us; it remains, for most Americans, far away. That is, until tragedy strikes, or until a personal experience brings the reality of sin into full display.

If our life has been blessed with a degree of comfort, which would rightly be described as a display of God’s tremendous mercy, our faith is shaken by tragedies such as this precisely because God has been so good to us in the past.

Yet even though events like this may shake us up, they may also shake us free. They shake us free from false beliefs and false hope. On a national level, we are shaken free from the false hope that we can, by our own power, contain the effects of sin. Clearly we cannot. There is always a sad scramble to pin the blame on someone “higher up” who could have done something, anything, to prevent something like this… yet even if we could uncover such a person, the next tragedy will again reveal our inability to create a sin-free, violence-free world. In fact, that is exactly what has happened. Columbine, 9-11, Katrina, Iraq, Virginia Tech, and anything else that can be named… we cannot “fix” things up so well that we no longer need God.

Yet God is the “highest up” we can go, and it is for this reason that we question our faith: why didn’t he do something?

That “why” question is not a bad one. If asked in humility, it might lead us to reflect afresh on exactly what God has done. He has sent his Son into this violent world. He has offered redemption from sin and eternal life. He has given his Holy Spirit to those who believe, in order that this new life may take root now. He has given His church as a community in which we can begin to experience the comfort and joy of a worshiping and healing community. And in each of our individual lives, he has done much more.

But there are indeed things God hasn’t done. He has not shielded our world from tragedy. He has not yet wiped the planet free of sin. To do this would wipe us out! Events like this actually confirm what the Bible affirms: we live in a sin-scarred world, yet one in which redemption may be found.

Nevertheless, it’s painfully difficult at times to accept at times what God hasn’t done. This is why my prayers go out to those who are hurting right now, whether through this national tragedy or through a more personal one. We can affirm and even enjoy together what God has done, even as we wait for what he will do.

It is my prayer that those whose faith is shaken through this latest tragedy will also find their faith deepened. And if we entrust ourselves to God, that will indeed happen – because God is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Communion With God

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4)

I’ve been preparing a sermon concerning communion with God, and specifically, the communion we have with God through the Scriptures.

I’ve noticed along the way that for a long while Christian thought has been chiefly concerned with the topic of communication from God, that is, the idea that the Bible truly is the word of God. Many books defend this notion from numerous angles. However, this important discussion nevertheless falls short. God does not merely want us to affirm that he has communicated to us; he wants to have communion with us.

We live in an age of communication. Telemarketers call our telephones, spammers fill our email boxes, endless commercials and radio and TV numb our senses. We shut out many of these attempts at communication… over the past three days I’ve probably deleted 300 emails (not fan mail, just plain old spam!). I responded to the spammer who claims he is trying to reach me with a million dollar inheritance with a few words about lying and about forgiveness, just to make this daily ritual a little more interesting. Lots of communication, but not much communion.

However, if a friend calls or writes, and if we give some time and thought to our conversation with them, we begin to achieve something deeper than mere communication. We might begin to experience communion: a deep sharing of ourselves, our thoughts, our experiences. This is what God is after as well.

If our Bibles gather dust in the basement, then we are viewing God’s word as just so much unused, unwanted or unnecessary communication. But if we slow down, read, listen we are experiencing more of what God has in mind: communion.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Gabfest or Deedfest?

The “Gabfest” is a political round table discussion with a youthful edge. The participants are John Dickerson, Emily Bazelon, and David Plotz. I enjoy it, perhaps because it makes me feel youthful. You can check it out at

Last week, prior to comparing Satan to a Roving political adviser, the following exchange occurred while discussing James Dobson’s endorsement(s) for president:

Emily Bazelon: This is always a tricky business, deciding who is a real Christian or Jew or Muslim. There are just so many different ways to measure someone’s faith…

John Dickerson: In my view of Christianity anyway, the most amazing people are the ones who do all these wonderful, humble acts of service and don’t tell anyone about it, and don’t go forcing it down other people’s throats.

Emily: I don’t think they run for president, John.

John: No, I guess not, and they don’t get to go on Dobson’s radio show either. But I like the idea of the humble, selfless servant, not the loud, going around picking winners and losers Christian, but you know, that’s just me.

This is just one example, of many, that remind me how important it is for Christians to demonstrate their faith through acts of genuine service to others. People who are often disinterested in hearing the gospel still like to see the gospel. People who don’t like Jesus’ words as recited by his followers may appreciate his actions as lived by his followers.

Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Both the words and deeds of the Christian faith are vital communication tools. The church must use both.

Further food for thought:

1. This is the reason Jesus is still such a popular cultural icon. People believe his actions represent something selfless and honorable, even if they don’t know, understand, or embrace what he actually said... and for that matter, the real meaning behind his "good deeds."

2. This is also why ministry through the church, and not merely parachurch ministry, is so important. Non-church ministries are sometimes teaching ministries, and sometimes serving ministries, but rarely both. They gain momentum by doing one thing well, yet a full orbed Christian witness requires more.

Note: There are parachurch ministries doing great work, and at their best they connect Christians from different backgrounds and display the Christian faith in that way too. It is only if they become a substitute for the local church that they can begin to work at cross purposes - seeking to display Christ and yet painting only a partial picture.

* * *

To hear the Gabfest discussions mentioned above, go to the website at and listen to the March 30 roundtable discussion. The discussions I mentioned are in the last 10 minutes.