Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Our lives are full of questions. Some are fun to think about, some are hard to spend any time thinking about at all. Life is real and anyone who genuinely desires to live it is going to have to face some of the hard questions of life if they ever want to be who God has created them to be.
The message last Sunday at KC Life Church was centered around the question “What if?”. Nothing more, nothing less, no pretext or predetermined course, just simply asking the question “what if?” about anything and/or everything in our lives. In the middle of the message I had members of our church community text me their “what if’s?”. I didn’t know what to expect, but I after the first few I knew what I was reading.
I lost my job?
We lost our home?
I stopped feeling God’s love?
Life wasn’t like a box of chocolates?
My father got saved?
What if I don’t have a “what if?”?
I had someone genuinely care about me?
My husband got a better job?
I was a better example?
Everyone gave freely to the body of Christ as they do with their favorite sports team?
My family were whole and could be what we were designed to be?
I’m not too scared?
I am not enough to make up for what was lost?
I never get married?
Everyone at the church had a job that blessed their lives?
All my children were in church?
I don’t find my way?
God loved us so much that He would die for us?
These are the beginning lines of modern day psalms. Many of the psalms from the Bible begin in a dark and anxious place. They are written out of questions and concerns, but always end up with God showing His faithfulness and pouring His love and mercy into our lives. Life is real, the questions we ask, the fears we face and the blessings that God puts in our lives should not be forgotten. So what is your What if? How does your Psalm begin? You may not know the ending yet, because it probably hasn’t been written, but that’s ok. You start it, let God finish it.
As an addition : In my message I casually mentioned the fact that we had fed 50 homeless people last week and raised the question “What if we could feed 500?”. Well, it only took God 4 days to answer that one. On Thursday of that same week we were presented with an opportunity to feed 500 homeless people…God is faithful.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Atheists Ask Lee
As I mentioned in last month’s newsletter, Hemant Mehta, the “friendly atheist” who gained notoriety by selling his soul on e-bay, asked me if I would answer questions submitted by his atheist friends. I said I’d be glad to. The initial questions dealt heavily with me and my writing; others focus on interesting philosophical, scientific, and historical issues. Here are my answers to the first two inquiries that were submitted.
What is your own background with atheism? What caused you to become a Christian? Is there a difference between your former atheism and the "New Atheism" of today? In other words, how hard-core of an atheist were you?
My commitment to atheism essentially came in three steps. The first was when I was in junior high school and began asking Christians uncomfortable questions, like, “How can there be a loving God with so much suffering in the world?” And, “How can Jesus be the only way to God?” Rather than engage with me, they basically told me to keep my questions to myself. I quickly concluded that the reason they didn't want to discuss these matters was because there were no good answers from the Christian perspective.
The second step came when I began studying neo-Darwinism in high school. I was particularly struck by Stanley Miller's 1959 experiment in which he recreated what he thought was the original atmosphere of the primitive Earth, shot electricity through it to simulate lightning, and discovered the creation of some amino acids, the building blocks of life. I naively concluded that Miller had proven that life could have emerged in a purely naturalistic way. To me, that meant God was out of a job!
I started considering myself an atheist in high school, but the third step that cemented my position came when I took a college course on the historical Jesus. The professor, who relied in 19 th century German paradigms, convinced me that there was essentially nothing in the New Testament that could be trusted.
Along the way, I read a lot of atheistic literature, which served to deepen my commitment to spiritual skepticism and give me a more systematic basis for my atheistic convictions. I was especially captivated by Bertrand Russell's book Why I am Not a Christian and Antony Flew's The Presumption of Atheism. And I was quite sympathetic to many of the church/state issues raised by atheists.
However, in the interest of total disclosure, let me add that my problems with faith were not solely intellectual. I had a vested interest in the non-existence of God because I was living a rather immoral lifestyle and did not want to be held accountable for my behavior. To me, atheism opened up a world of hedonism that I knew wouldn't be acceptable to God if he existed.
(Let me be clear: I'm not saying that all atheists are hedonists. I'm just saying that, for me, atheism cleared the way for me to live a self-indulgent, me-first, narcissistic life. And to be honest, to this day I can't figure out why atheists would choose any other path, although I know many do.)
Was I “hard-core”? I'm not sure how to define that. I was recently contacted by a woman who had been an acquaintance of mine in high school. She said she was “the good Catholic girl” and reminded me how I used to taunt and belittle her because of her faith. So I guess I was more aggressive at a young age than I remember!
At the same time, though, I didn't have the kind of scorched-earth militancy I see in some of the “New Atheists” you referenced. While a lot of the issues they raise are the same ones that vexed me, I was not on a mission to wipe all faith from the face of the planet. I was happy to peacefully coexist with Christians and people from other belief systems.
How did I become a Christian? My wife's conversion to Christianity (which deeply troubled me at first) resulted in a lot of positive changes in her attitudes and behavior, which I found winsome and intriguing. She invited me to a church, where I heard the Gospel explained in a way I could understand it. While I didn't believe it, I realized that if it were true, it would have big implications for my life. So I decided to use my journalism experience and legal expertise (at the time, I was legal editor of The Chicago Tribune ) to investigate whether there was any credibility to Christianity or any other faith system.
For nearly two years, I investigated science, philosophy, and history. I read literature (both pro and con), quizzed experts, and studied archaeology. On November 8, 1981, alone in my room, I took a yellow legal pad and began summarizing the evidence I had encountered. In light of the scientific evidence that points toward a Creator and the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I came to the conclusion that it would have required more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to become a Christian.
Essentially, I realized that to stay an atheist, I would have to believe that nothing produces everything; non-life produces life; randomness produces fine-tuning; chaos produces information; unconsciousness produces consciousness; and non-reason produces reason. Those leaps of faith were simply too big for me to take, especially in light of the affirmative case for God's existence and Jesus' resurrection (and, hence, his divinity). In other words, in my assessment the Christian worldview accounted for the totality of the evidence much better than the atheistic worldview.
Years later, I wrote three books that retraced and expanded upon my original journey. The Case for Faith examines the eight big objections to Christianity that bothered me all the way back to my junior high years. The Case for a Creator looks at the affirmative evidence for the existence of God from cosmology, physics, and other fields of science. And The Case for Christ recaps the historical evidence for Jesus, including his resurrection, through which he validated his claim of divinity. Those books, nearly a thousand pages in length, summarize the basis for my conclusions.
Having said all of this, I do believe strongly that despite our fundamental disagreements, it should be possible for atheists and theists to engage in constructive discussions instead of resorting to name-calling or the imputation of bad motives. While I now believe atheists are wrong in their conclusions, I'm confident that they still matter to God and therefore deserve respect. As a former spiritual skeptic myself, I can appreciate their viewpoint and I try to give due weight to their objections and arguments. I truly appreciate it when they are willing to engage in the same way.
You've essentially said before that you interviewed only Christian scholars/apologists in your books because you were asking questions in the shoes of a skeptic and you wanted to know the Christian explanation to certain questions. Weren't there many questions you may not have thought of that other skeptics could have asked? In other words, wouldn't it have been a wise move to take the Christian responses back to secular scholars who could've proposed counter-arguments you did not think of? Would it be problematic to your reading audience if your books had more diverse dialogue (multiple viewpoints)?
Thanks for your question and the opportunity to explain the methodology of The Case for Christ. As the subtitle indicates (“A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus”), this book is about my own spiritual journey. As I explained in the introduction, this book was my effort to retrace and expand upon my original investigation in print form. As I explained earlier, this original investigation included extensive research of all sides of these issues. For the book, I decided to ask Christian experts the questions that had stood between me and God, and I left it to the reader to decide whether their answers were reasonable and compelling.
When a scholar offered an answer to one of my questions, many times I would come back at him with my own further objections. Often, these follow-up questions were informed by my reading of skeptics through the years. Indeed, I had studied the writings of enough atheists and liberal scholars during my original investigation to know what they would most likely say in response to the scholar. If the skeptics had a good point, I would try to raise it; if I thought their responses to this particular issue were weak, or that the answer was pretty obvious, or that this exchange would take me into a side issue, I didn’t. Did I cover every possible objection? No, I didn’t, and I couldn’t. Naturally, there are good questions that didn’t get addressed. But keep in mind that The Case for Christ is merely an introductory work on this topic; each line of questioning could have gone on and on. Each chapter easily could be an entire book in itself. As it is, I was pushing the limits of a popular-level work; the mass market edition is about 400 pages in length.
I didn’t want to get into an endless loop of expert versus expert. After all, you can find a Ph.D. to say virtually anything. That’s why I didn’t just ask these scholars for their opinions; instead, I pressed them on why they believe what they believe. I challenged them to present facts and explanations that could be evaluated by the reader. As I said in the book’s conclusion:
…maybe questions still linger for you. Perhaps I didn’t address the objection that’s uppermost in your mind. Fair enough. However, I trust that the amount of information reported in these pages will at least have convinced you that it’s reasonable – in fact, imperative – to continue your investigation.
I went on to encourage readers to thoroughly and systematically pursue answers to whatever spiritual sticking point they have – in fact, to make this a front-burner issue in their life.
Of course, I could have used a different approach to the book. For instance, I could have used a debate format that would have featured multiple viewpoints, going back and forth between opposing experts. However, there already were (and today are more) books like this. For example, Christian scholar Gary Habermas and then-atheist Antony Flew published their 1985 debate on the resurrection (an encounter, by the way, that four of five judges from a wide spectrum of views and persuasions said Habermas won, with the remaining judge calling it a draw) and Christian J. P. Moreland and atheist Kai Nielsen published their debate on the existence of God in 1993.
I encourage Christians and skeptics to read or attend debates like these.
However, I wanted my book to deal with the pursuit of my own questions and concerns, believing that they reflect the basic issues most people have. In the end, I think I did cover the topics fairly well, considering how generally weak the critiques of the book have been.
By the way, I did interview a noted skeptic for my book The Case for Faith. I extensively quoted Canada’s most famous agnostic, Charles Templeton, author of Farewell to God, about why he abandoned his Christian faith and became a critic of Christianity. (As I described, Templeton broke into tears when he told me how much he missed Jesus. I still get chills when I listen to the recording of that exchange.)
Templeton ended up raising the very same objections to Christianity that originally took me down the path toward atheism. However, in the remainder of the book I confronted Christian scholars with these issues and in my view they offered rational and compelling answers. Again, I left it to each reader to come to his or her own conclusions. Obviously, each person is free to make up his or her own mind. Seems to me that’s fair.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
dun, dun, duuuuunnnnn....
Thursday, December 11, 2008
It was a physical journey.
It was an emotional journey.
It was a spiritual journey.
I think T.S. Eliot penned it very well in his poem "The Journey of the Magi"...
"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.