As humans we naturally seek the truth. Even those who believe that there is not truth sought for truth in that statement. We cannot help it; we must know.
The academic world has sought to remove all truth and meaning from life. Even those who cling to believing in objective truth usually believe in some disembodied cosmic Truth defined by nothing and established by no one. No wonder many find cause to believe that truth can change: nobody is monitoring it. This kind of truth is dark and impersonal, with no one to trust and no one to hold us accountable when we stray.
Humans have an inherent need for connection with others. We know that people cannot function in isolation: we need relationship. We may search for true statements but even success here never leads us to a personal relationship. One cannot have a relationship with impersonal Truth. One cannot have a solid relationship with anyone if there is no truth – for what would you discuss and how could you trust them?
We want to know the truth and we want to know the way. We cannot seem to breathe within a life characterized by uncertainty, it is no life at all. That is why Jesus’ statement that He is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6) may not be so offensive after all. I need a person to follow, to believe in, and to make my life new. This is why C.S. Lewis wrote in Surprised By Joy: “I thought I was coming to a place; I did not know I was coming to a person.”
May those who pursue something in which to believe find the only one in whom we can have faith.
The gospel message is not weak but its messengers all too often are and it is a very difficult thing when apologetics must turn into apologizing.
In an incident that has become rather commonplace in the U.S. a public school has covered up a school prayer displayed in the school auditorium after a controversy brought about by an atheist group and particularly by student Jessica Ahlquist (see “Student Faces Town’s Wrath in Protest Against a Prayer” at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/27/us/rhode-island-city-enraged-over-school-prayer-lawsuit.html ) The prayer has been covered pending a decision. But the local – and many non-local – Christians have lashed out at Miss Ahlquist with an inexcusable vitriol. They have attacked her verbally and even threatened her safety to the point that the police now protect her at school.
What is always key to know about many atheists is that while they have rejected the belief in a soul they still have a soul and it can feel pain. Many tell stories of rejecting a belief in God after some very difficult event in their lives. Jessica Ahlquist became an atheist at the age of ten when her mother became rather ill. She said that the public prayer in her school made her feel marginalized as an atheist. However a Christian might feel about the legitimacy of an atheist’s response to life’s hurts is nowhere near as important as how the Christian’s life responds to the hurting atheist. When someone rejects their idea of God because of pain we have such a powerful opportunity to be used as the God of all comfort reveals His true self to the searcher. The hurting heart is where apologetics becomes personal and the gospel proves itself powerful.
But when self-styled Christians behave as if they didn’t believe in the God of the Bible either evangelism breaks down. When Christians become more concerned that they are “suffering” for their beliefs and respond by making someone suffer for theirs they have lost all ground in the conversation. 1 Peter 4:14-15 says “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” We should be happy when we are persecuted (and while we do not know the meaning of the word in the U.S. that is a topic for another time) and yet we become the persecutor. And why should Jesica Ahlquist want to give her life to the God these people claim to hold so dear? May the Lord undo their work so she can find the true God.
We do not need to be taught to think but we do need to learn to think well. To think critically is among the greatest mental abilities which God has given man but many people are unprepared to do so. Many Christians fear entering into dialogue with unbelievers who seem more intelligent or better educated than themselves and many are greatly uncomfortable with anyone questioning the teachings of the Bible.
It is imperative that we as Christians learn to think critically. When we are faced with statements we should ask some basic questions such as, “Is this true?”, “Is this the right question for them to be asking?”, “What are they assuming when they say this?”, and “Does this match up with or contradict other things this person has said?” Apologist Michael Ramsden said in an address that “Apologetics is not just about having answers to other people’s questions; it’s also about having questions to other people’s answers, or even having questions of the questions themselves.” We do not have to be the most educated or most intelligent people in the room in order to meet a well-versed unbeliever on their turf, we can instead ask questions of and make observations about the turf itself.
So what is critical thinking? Critical thinking is like putting weight on a structure to see of it collapses. If the structure is a house of cards then I certainly do not want to put my confidence in it. If it is a worthy structure then it should be able to handle my challenges. Critical thinking is different from criticism. Criticism assumes there must be something wrong and looks only for faults. Critical thinking looks for something that can stand up to challenges and is worthy of trust.
When someone makes a statement we should take a hard look at it in order to find out if it holds up. Does it contradict itself (e.g. “There is no truth”)? Is it the right question to ask? Is something being assumed? One of the best questions to ask is “Why?” If you ask “Why?” enough times you will end up in areas which people have never considered before although they are the foundational assumptions behind one’s belief system.
This is why many are so uncomfortable with anyone questioning the Bible. They are willing to assume the truth of the Bible without having ever really thought about why. They say it is true but don’t seem confident that if someone questions its truth it will be able to stand up. If we really believe in the veracity of the Bible we should have a reason ready in obedience to the command in 1 Peter 3:15. If our children or friends question the truth of the Bible we should never say, “Thou shalt not ask!” Are we so afraid that the Bible will not prove itself to be reliable?
Among those who forbid anyone to ever question whether or not the Bible can be trusted we find yet another need for critical thinking – the very thing which they forbid. We should ask them if they believe implicitly in the Word without any reason. We might also ask if they have ever failed in their trust of the Lord. Have they ever worried about their finances? Have they ever doubted God’s love? A real unquestioning belief in the Bible would mean that we would never have the slightest trouble peacefully believing all that it says. It is here that the humble soul learns the apologetic of a life trusting in Christ. I am confident that we have all flagged in our trust of God and the Bible says we should have reasons for why we know Him to be trustworthy. May He continue to help us to both think and believe and allow others to do the same.
I realized awhile back that when I ask people how their walk with the Lord is going they will almost invariably respond by mentioning that they are not reading their Bible and praying often enough. It is so predictable that I’ve found that I can prepare topical lessons on reading the Bible and praying and then openly ask a group how each member’s walk with the Lord is going. Since the answers rarely vary I do not prepare the wrong material. I once asked a dear young man in high school who answered this way if he knew where it said in the Bible that you need to have a time to read and pray every day. He said he thought it was in Psalms.
Did you know that the Bible does not tell us to “do our devotions”? Nothing like that is in there. It does not say that good Christians get up early and “spend time with the Lord.” This might seem a dangerous thing to say but what is truly dangerous is teaching people to read and pray once a day in order to be ok.
A corollary to the question of amount of “devotions” is the common question of intentions. People who are not satisfied with the amount of time spent reading the Bible and praying often ask if they should wait until they feel like reading and praying or if that would in some way be fake and not as pleasing to God or fruitful for them.
The question of intentions leads us back from actions into the underlying state of our soul and that is always more important than how we feel or what we do. It is the reason why we feel and act as we do and it is at this level that the Bible discusses reading and praying.
David writes in Psalm 119:97: “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” David was a man who found himself often desperately in need of God’s wisdom and all day long he turned to the law which he knew well. He was also often up late at night and would meditate on the word and pray to God whether in love of His word or from pressing troubles (Ps. 6:6; 16:7; 17:3; 22:2; 32:4; 42:8; 63:6; 77:2,6). In his passion and trials David would turn to the Lord at any given time, night or day.
We see something very different in Daniel. Daniel was more disciplined and structured in his prayers than David. Daniel consistently prayed three times a day (Dan. 6:10).
So which one was doing their devotions incorrectly? Both sought out the Lord in a way that accorded with their personalities. The Lord does not command us anywhere to read a section of the Bible and pray once every morning so that we can feel like He’s not upset with our performance. The devotion part of “doing our devotions” is a life given over to the Lord and in desperate need of His presence. We cannot ever learn the Bible without living what it says and when we come to Him in His word in order to check an item off our to-do list we are failing to recognize our need for prayer and scripture.
You may have to commit to praying and reading until it becomes a desire. You may have to ask the Lord to reveal your need to you. You might experiment to find the time of day when you’re most able to focus yourself on the Lord. You might need to remind yourself that if you are getting to know God through His word and prayer you’re probably not doing it wrong. God will not love you more or less of you read and pray more or less so read and pray to find the God who loves and guides you anyway.
Anyone who has ever been introduced into a culture different from their own should take notice of all the things that make the two cultures unique: food, manners and customs, dress, values, and so on. We are able to view and evaluate our won culture best when we have something with which to compare it. It is certainly so necessary to be observant learners in the cultures in which we find ourselves when we travel and we often find that we can learn to look at things from a very different viewpoint and decide to try to adopt or not adopt some of the cultural values we’ve experienced.
However, there are so many people today who claim that morality is nothing more than a culturally constructed system particular to different communities. As the world becomes increasingly global and metropolitan in the constant mixing of cultures many young people have come to the conclusion that if not everyone in the world shares the same viewpoint on the things we might hold most dear and might not hold those things dear at all then morality – right and wrong – are objectively different for each culture. This is a very important assertion because it is saying that you and I only believe what we believe about right and wrong because our society told us to and that in the end there is no real standard of right and wrong. As the song says, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” and many would say “it’s moral somewhere.”
Are right and wrong just a matter of longitude and latitude? Whether or not this belief is internally consistent, that is, if it makes any sense, or not is certainly in need of examination. But so is the question of whether or not this belief in the cultural relativism of morality is something that its proponents truly believe in the first place.
In early December 2011 the Obama administration, particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her address to the UN in Geneva, called for countries around the world to protect the rights of homosexuality as basic human rights. Whether or not the category of rights is the proper category for this discussion as this presents a complicated moral and cultural issue in itself, is not within the scope of our purposes here. What this story should reveal is that while many believe that morality is cultural they would also see Clinton’s prescription to other cultures to adopt a certain value system as moral as well. How many who asked whether the Iraqis and Afghanis wanted the West to bring them democracy would not care whether or not they wanted the institutional acceptance of homosexuality?
If morality is cultural then anything can be morally accepted somewhere and one culture has no leg on which to stand when it tries to push its morality on another culture. But if it wants to make those prescriptions then it must admit that it does not truly believe in the cultural relativity of morality and seek to find what it is that it believes are the moral absolutes that span time and place. Perhaps the moral relativists are more absolutist than they see.
Our church’s high school youth director taught a devotion recently that caught me unawares and reminded me of the holy relationship between the Son and the Father and the relationship that Christ my mediator made for me.
He pointed out Jesus’ posture when He prayed: Jesus lifted His eyes to heaven. How different from our typical bowing of the head and closing the eyes. While I know that the more common posture is helpful when we do not want to be distracted by things and people around us it could also be linked to the posture of our hearts before God.
In Hebrews 4:16 we are instructed to come boldly before the throne of grace since Christ has made a path there for us. This, especially for the Hebrews to whom the letter was originally written, sounds almost heretical. Moses was commanded to remove his sandals before the Almighty’s presence. Is it really acceptable to approach the throne of God confidently?
We often speak of “being Jesus to people.” Before we attempt this let us ask ourselves if we truly believe in the grace of God. Do you realize that because of Jesus our High Priest we are able to be Jesus to others because we are first sons (like Jesus) to the Father? We stand now before Him as sons and daughters alongside the Firstborn and as fellow heirs with Christ. If it were not for His substitution our confidence would indeed be heretical and truly blasphemous, but because we wear His righteousness it is a beautiful promise in the Word.
Early this summer I walked to my bus stop at UC Riverside for the last time. It was the end of my last day of regular classes at college and it ended quietly, without any fanfare or triumph, and was really rather bittersweet. After years of acclimating to the classroom I was leaving and while I was certainly relieved I was not finished.
As I finished school at an older age than the typical graduate the Lord began to show me a need to enter college and young adult ministry in order to prepare students for what they will face in the secular classroom and to integrate them into a church where they will have the opportunity to grow through service and through being discipled by more mature believers. One’s young adult years are a crucial transition in which one must navigate everything from finances to faith and futures from new angles.
This blog is to serve as a resource for those who find themselves confused, questioning, seeking, or stagnating and who need to delve into the deeper meanings of things . . . or who just need a good recipe involving ramen noodles.
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