The Limits of Science and the Transcendence of God

March 10, 2018 § Leave a comment

Since the Enlightenment, many have tried to position science and the Christian faith (or Theistic religion in general) as two mutually exclusive worldviews. Many thought, and still think today, that advancements in science have replaced our need for God or His miracles. How should Christians think about science? Are science and faith in God at odds?

Sometimes categories are just convenient ways of maligning one idea and exalting another. The truth is, science done scientifically is good and true just as teaching the Bible Biblically is good and true. Both can be distorted and misapplied. To understand both better, including their compatibility, we should first look at what both science and the Bible say about themselves.

GOD around nature

RESPECTING THE BOUNDARIES

How do we do science scientifically? Science is a systematic process by which we explore the natural universe through observation and experimentation. The Scientific Method pioneered by Sir Francis Bacon (a man of both science and Christian faith) in the 17th century, involves making observations, asking questions, forming a hypothesis, testing it through experimentation, and coming to a conclusion, or repeating and refining as necessary.

Can science explain God? No. Science can’t explain God because of its self-imposed limitation to inquiry about the natural and physical world. God falls in the category of supernatural, which means outside of nature. Science by definition is not qualified to examine God.

Can science explain science? No. It can’t provide an adequate explanation for itself  because the foundations of science are not scientific but philosophical. Science deals with how, not why. So when we ask why do science in the first place, we can’t offer scientific evidence or reasons to support it.

J. Warner Wallace, a Christian apologist and retired homicide detective, applies his investigative experience by following the evidence “outside the room”, as described in the premise of his book, ‘God’s Crime Scene’: “Can everything we see in the universe be explained solely from causes found within the natural realm, or is there evidence of an outside ‘intruder’? Is the universe a ‘scene’ that can be explained by natural ‘internal’ forces, or is an external ‘intruder’ a better explanation?”(1) Just as nature itself can’t explain nature, science, the limits of which is nature, points to something “outside the room.”

Can God explain science? Yes. God’s word in fact lays the foundations for scientific endeavor and the natural universe we explore with it. Among other realities, the Bible accounts for the origins of nature, the laws of nature, and the exploration of nature.

The origins of nature are explained in the Genesis creation account. When we observe our world and consider its possible beginnings, the evidence points “outside the room.” As the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Classical Theism presents: Everything that began to exist has a cause, and since the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause. Logically, the first cause of the universe must be uncaused, and the eternal, personal, all-powerful Creator God of the Bible is a sufficient cause.

The laws of nature broadly encompass physical/scientific laws (like gravity and uniformity), natural law (morality and human rights), and the basic rules that govern logic (like the law of non-contradiction). These are called “laws” because they are consistent and reliable observed patterns in nature (including human nature and how we think) that are not conceived or established by us, but thought to be inherent or transcendent. In other words, they come to us from “outside the room.” The Bible accounts for these laws with accounts of God establishing order and uniformity in nature (Genesis 8:22)(2), writing moral law on our hearts (Romans 2:15)(3) and creating us in His image as beings who also think morally and employ logic (Isaiah 1:18)(4).

The exploration of nature is a fundamental part of human flourishing since the beginning, or at least since God scattered the nations at Babel (Genesis 11). Our scientific endeavor is fueled by a hunger to expand our territory and a thirst for knowledge about ourselves and our world. But why do science? Why do we spend billions launching exploratory spacecraft and searching for signals from aliens on the outside chance that we might not be alone in the universe?(5)

We can deduce from Scripture that we are made to ultimately encounter God through scientific exploration. Paul, in Acts 17:24-27, told the intellectuals of his day: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and… gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”. And in Romans 1:20, Paul makes it clear that we are “without excuse” for atheism and ought to logically infer a Creator, as most do, by observing creation.(6)

TRANSCENDING THE BOUNDARIES

If we take science “outside the room” to assess the supernatural, we are giving it a scope and authority it is not meant to have. Granting science such ultimate authority is one of the tenets of a religion called Scientism.

While science can’t transcend the boundaries of nature and the physical universe, God is by nature transcendent. God is infinite and limitless in His presence, power, knowledge and love, so boundaries are nothing to Him.

Nature can’t logically create itself. God transcended nature, first, when He created it (Genesis 1:1). As Deism would suggest, God could have created the universe and then left us alone, but Colossians 1:17 puts Him “in all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (The so-dubbed “strong forces” that hold atomic particles together are interactions that physicists don’t fully understand). God could have left His creation to perish completely in their sin, but instead God loves us, cares for us, and is active in and author of our story.

This love led Him to absolutely transcend our world in the sending of His Son (John 3:16-17)(7). Jesus Christ was born in the flesh, living a perfectly sinless life as fully man, but died as an atonement for our sins, a payment He could only make if He was also fully God(8). After defeating sin and death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended back to the Father, leaving us His Holy Spirit.

Our sin cemented a barrier between man and God. Through Christ, God, who is no respecter of barriers, broke it down. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes (or transcends) to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6) If not for God’s transcendence into our world, especially through Christ, we could never realize transcendence into His—but that’s exactly what He offers through faith in Christ alone. Jesus is the only “Way” we can truly get “outside the room.”

SCIENCE AND FAITH

Some claim that “science says” this or that. But outside of the definition and parameters we’ve given it, does science itself actually say things? Or is it more accurate to say that science is a process by which scientists say things? Scientists are people with individual worldviews and the choice to either use science correctly or make it do things it’s not supposed to do when they say things.

Does “science say” that our universe created itself, or that life originated from non-living matter, was seeded on earth from another part of the universe, or diversified by natural and undirected processes over billions of years? Actually, people with Naturalistic or Materialistic worldviews come to such conclusions in the name of science (or Scientism)—without observation, without testing, and without the aid of actual science. They are starting with a certain assumption dictated by their worldview and working to prove it using science.

If we prop up science with worldview assumptions or take it outside its self-imposed limitations, we are anti-science. If we assume that God is only a conceptual crutch to explain natural phenomena until science replaces Him, we are anti-theology. People who consider themselves Christians should evaluate science on the basis of what science teaches about itself. Likewise, people who consider themselves scientifically minded should evaluate Christianity on the basis of what Christianity teaches about itself.

In another act of transcendence, God has given us His word, and the Bible understood Biblically does not contradict science understood scientifically, but instead supports and even explains science. When we see, do, and define both science and the Christian faith correctly and honestly, the two are in harmony.

1) God’s Crime Scene: a Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, by J. Warner Wallace, David C Cook, 2015, p. 23.
2) “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (NIV)
3) “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (NIV)
4) 
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lordthough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (ESV)
5) “The Cost of SETI: Infographic.”
Bad Astronomy, 1 May 2011, blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/01/the-cost-of-seti-infographic
6) “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (NIV)
7) “
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV)
8) My post:
“God and Man Collide: Why the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Matters” (https://godneighbor.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/god-and-man-collide-why-the-hypostatic-union-of-jesus-matters/)
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Jack Be Nimble: Thinking About The View, Worldview & Just Baking the Cake

July 14, 2017 § 2 Comments

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Toward the end of a bike trail in Colorado Springs, I came upon an unexpected hill. During the exhausting climb, I noticed two women had set up a table displaying free Jehovah’s Witness material partway up the hill. I took the opportunity to stop and have a wonderful, Gospel-centered conversation with them—in my head 2 minutes after I rode past. I have also had great evangelical encounters with various atheists and agnostics, unfortunately many more in my head than in real life.

I’m not an extrovert, so a witnessing encounter (and robust social engagement in general) is not always easy for me. I recently have defended the deity of Christ in real-life conversation with some JWs at my house, so I had no particular fear of the two ladies on the hill—I just wasn’t about to stop in the middle of a hill (note to evangelists in public parks: set up at the top), and on top of that I had been-there-done-that with Watchtower propaganda. Maybe I should have at least stopped and said hello.

Have you ever had great talks with non-believers about Jesus in your head after you part company? Whether it’s because of nerves, or fear of rejection, or lack of confidence in your own knowledge of your faith, I think it’s probably a pretty common thing to pass up on these opportunities.

While we (and I mean ‘I’) need to set aside fear and rely on the Spirit of God to help in such situations, the mental conversations later (often occurring in the shower, for some odd reason) can serve as valuable training ground for the next real-life opportunity.

Here’s another conversation you didn’t have, but Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop near Denver, CO, did have with hosts on The View recently. On the spot, Jack actually did a very good job of defending his much-maligned decision not to design and  create a wedding cake for a gay couple, a case that the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear. Jack says that everyone is welcome in his store, but he won’t make a cake for every event. He calmly and consistently defended the Biblical view of marriage and his Constitutional right to live out his faith in the public square. He was joined by his lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, who also does a great job of clarifying the case and its implications for every American.

Since we can learn from this conversation, imagine if you were in that hotseat surrounded by liberal talkshow hosts-turned-theologians, under the lights and cameras and studio audience cued to applaud after each progressive talking point. If you could freeze frame life for a few minutes to think about your answer (in lieu of thinking about it after the show), how would you respond to these questions?

Relax, you’re not in Jack’s spotlight, but one day you may be in a different one with your family, neighbor, boss, or a judge. Take some time to watch the segment yourself here. Below are the main questions thrown at Jack, and while his answers were good for on-the-spot responses, I’ll offer answers from an apologetic perspective, being safely out of the spotlight with plenty of time to process.

WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?

The theologian on the far right (her chair, not her political position) asked Jack: “If it violates your religious freedom to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple… do you then, when a straight couple comes in, do you ask them if they’ve had a child out of wedlock, if they’ve had premarital sex? Where do you draw the line, because those all could be deemed ‘sinful’ (she throws up her air quotes) to someone who’s religious as well.”

The only reason anyone talks about Jesus was because “sin” is a real thing and the whole reason He came. Jesus died to redeem us from sin by sacrificing Himself on the cross.

But the issue here is not the sins of the couple, but that Jack is being forced to in effect join in the artistic celebration of something against his religious beliefs and stamp his name on the entire project. The line is drawn exactly where he drew it. Jack’s concern is not over whether a couple is sinning in some way, but the consequences of compromising his beliefs by his participation in a same-sex wedding ceremony. If anything, the marriage of a man and woman who are already having sex has a redemptive aspect to it in that the couple would no longer be sinning sexually, and would be providing a stronger foundation for any child that resulted. But the reason Jack refused is because he objects to the event in question.

WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE?

The theologian in the chair to the left (our left) of the first theologian: “One thing that’s always confused me about this is that in the Bible it says many things if you read it, and I was raised in the church, and it says, you know, ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,’ but also says, ‘Don’t judge others.’ We’re not the final judgment. It also says ‘love thy neighbor.’ There are a lot of messages in there. How do you reconcile in your own spirituality, which ones to go with? Because in my mind, whether you believe it or not, and you should definitely not marry a man… but if someone else does, it’s not my place to judge them because God will…”

“The Bible says not to judge” is a frequent declaration by cherry-pickers. It’s found in Matthew 7:1-5: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NIV)

In context, Jesus is condemning hypocrisy (don’t point the finger of judgment at others if you’re doing the same thing yourself), not the discernment between right and wrong behavior. We know there is a correct way to judge, because Jesus tells a group of Pharisees in John 7:24 to “stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

So to the question, “How do you reconcile which message to ‘go with’?”, the answer is study. Approach the Bible as you would any other book you want to understand and practice sound exegesis rather than pulling bits of verses out of context. Read, rather than read into. When we do, well see that Jesus was both love and truth, and there is no contradiction between “judge rightly” and “love your neighbor.”

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?

The theologian to Jack’s right says, “I know that you’re a Christ-follower, and Jesus was even criticized by some of His followers for hanging out with the lowest of the low and the tax collectors and the sinners. Did you ever ask yourself, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Instead of denying them, do you think Jesus would have said, ‘I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway?’ Do you think that would have had a more powerful testimony?” To which the theologian on the far left adds with conviction, “Jesus would have baked the cake!”

Jack rightly responds that Jesus would not bake the cake. We don’t have to guess what Jesus would say and do when we can read what He said and did. We know Jesus’ view of marriage from Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6, where He affirms God’s design for marriage from Genesis 1:27: “‘Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.'” (Mat. 19:4-6) 

Supposing Jesus would have said, “I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway” assumes that love doesn’t mean we tell others the truth. We, made in God’s image, often try to remake Jesus in our own image and imagine God as love but not truth (at least the truth we find inconvenient). But as Jesus displayed, He is both. Jesus indeed did share a table with sinners, and as Jack proves, you can sit at a table with those who believe very differently without them hating or suing each other. But by compromising our beliefs and joining in the celebration of an event that defies God’s design for marriage, we are not loving anyone, but rather propagating a lie. That is actually hateful.

JUST BAKE THE CAKE!

The conversation turns from theological to legal at this point, with Kristen politely shooting down a slippery slope argument and clarifying that an assault on Jack’s religious liberty affects everyone regardless of their belief. But not before the theologian 2nd from the left puts this challenge to Jack: “Lower courts have found that you’ve discriminated against this couple, but you’re taking this fight to the Supreme Court. Why not just bake the cake?”

It’s always easier for those without a certain deeply held conviction to suggest those who do simply give it up when the going gets rough. But that’s not how Christianity has ever worked. Still, it’s an appropriate question to consider while we aren’t on the spot, can we compromise on this front while loving God and neighbor? Are we prepared to answer, while we can have the conversation safely in our heads, before we will eventually be asked, “Why not just bake the cake?

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…” (Hebrews 10:23)

Yes, Evil is a Problem (With a Solution)

January 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

video attempting to address the Problem of Evil(1) prompted a Facebook comment from an atheist I’ve encountered before. Below is a brief conversation that followed.

ATHEIST

He looks so proud of coming up with such a bad argument!

CHRISTIAN

Cheesy video, and maybe an unfair dig against hippie hairstyles, but a good illustration. Whether the problem is “too much” evil and suffering (as the barber complains) or any evil and suffering at all, neither is evidence against the God described in the Bible.

First, objective evil (the only kind worth complaining about) only makes sense in light of objective good, which doesn’t make sense on atheism. Second, a good God creating humans with freedom to choose could not prevent our sin (the root cause of the world’s evil and suffering) without preventing our freedom to choose, and nobody’s okay with that idea.

And even if the world’s evil and suffering were a tiny fraction of what it is, the barber would still complain(2). God’s plan of redemption in Jesus Christ includes making all things new, so one day evil and suffering will be gone. The days the barber chooses to spend complaining and disbelieving are days that a good God has graciously given him as more time to come to repentance and faith (2 Peter 3:9).

ATHEIST

You’re not going to be able to dismiss the Problem of Evil that easily…even the most prominent Christian apologists can[‘t] explain it away. As C.S. Lewis conceded, it’s the most powerful argument against the Christian god.

CHRISTIAN

The problem of evil is not “easy”. That’s why it’s a “problem.” But a problem is something to think about and work through, not to discard because it’s a problem (like this list of unsolved problems in all types of fields of study(3)).

There are no “easy” answers because we’re the ones who see and often experience evil and suffering. C.S. Lewis knew it wasn’t easy but knew the logic behind it was sound, that freedom to love requires the freedom to do evil, which he summarized very effectively in The Case for Christianity:

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”

Even though it makes perfect sense why there is such things wrong with the world, it’s a problem because we don’t know why “we” or why “they” suffer the particular way that they do. It’s personal, so of course we don’t like it. But it also makes sense that we wouldn’t be able to fully know the mind of God and His ultimate plan for eternal good that can involve our temporary pain (like the pain of surgery in light of a better life afterwards).

God has an answer in redeeming evil through His Son, because He is a personal God that knows and loves us, desiring to save us from what are in the end the consequences of our own sin.

Most arguments for atheism based on the problem of evil assume a God who is not personal (deism) and just doesn’t care to intervene, or that He is just plain mean. Neither fit the description of the God of the Bible.

Have a great day!

ATHEIST

I’ll counter with two words that have nothing to do with personal choice or ‘sin’: bacteria and earthquakes. Yet cause unmeasurable pain and suffering.

CHRISTIAN

Actually, they are linked to sin. After their disobedience, God told Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you.” (Gen. 3:17) and Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning” as a result of man’s sin and “waits eagerly” for redemption (Rom. 8:19-22). The corruptive effects of sin reach everywhere in nature, which God created “good” to begin with (Gen. 1:31). Ninety percent of all bacteria are still good, non-pathogenic and necessary, but some became harmful to humans after the Fall. Likewise, most earthquakes are still harmless and too small to be detected without sophisticated seismography, and they were likely a non-issue before a cursed creation. We shouldn’t expect to know why God allows certain things to happen and how He works natural disasters or disease for ultimate good. But how much less natural disaster or disease would satisfy? And how do we know God hasn’t prevented many more disasters and disease? It seems He’s kept harmful bacteria at a mere 10% and stabilized the earth’s crust sufficiently that most earthquakes are non-destructive.

ATHEIST

Well, I guess if you believe that all the problems in the world are the result of one bite of a fruit, then we are just going to have to disagree. There’s not much more I can say if you are just going to suspend reason like that.

CHRISTIAN

That is a pretty common sentiment among atheists, but atheism is the cause of that sentiment, not the result. If there is no God, the only law we can break is our own, and “small” sins are no big deal because the foundation for authority is relatively small. If I were to, say, tell a lie to an infant, there would be virtually no consequences for me. If I tell a lie to my older child, I may lose his trust. If I lie to my wife, I may lose her trust and get banished to the couch. If I lie to my boss, I may get fired. If I lie to the government, I could face fines or prison. If God exists, He is infinitely higher in authority than any power on earth. Even a “small” sin like eating of the one tree God commanded Adam and Eve not to, a decision actually rooted in pride, arrogance and disobedience, is severe when all sin is an offense against an infinite Creator who wrote moral law on our hearts (and without whom all moral assessment is arbitrary and meaningless anyway). It’s not about the size of the sin, but the sovereignty of who we are sinning against. Sin is sin to God, and “all have sinned and fall short.”

But thank you for the discussion, I always learn something and appreciate you taking the time. I hope you have a good week.

(Related post: Too Much Evil and Suffering in the World?)

1) http://www.yesheis.com/en/v/god-does-not-exist
2) https://godneighbor.wordpress.com/2014/12/05/too-much-evil-and-suffering-in-the-world/
3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_unsolved_problems

Why Pro-Life? Four Simple Reasons

January 23, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Why be pro-life? In the free booklet ’21 Days of Prayer for Life’ is a great summary of four reasons we can’t scripturally, scientifically, or logically deny that the unborn have life and value equal to that of you and me. Nor can we claim our nation’s founding principals leave any room for legalized abortion, which has polarized America more than ever 43 years after Roe v Wade.

1) The Bible affirms life: Scripture is clear that all humans have value because they are made in the image of God, the imago dei (Genesis 1:26-28; James 3:9)

2) Science affirms life: The science of embryology is clear that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings.

3) Logic affirms life: If humans only have value because of some characteristic (like size, intelligence, or stage of development) they possess in varying degrees, those with more of it have greater rights than those with less.

4) America’s founding documents affirm life: If pro-lifers are irrational and unconstitutional for grounding basic human rights in the concept of a transcendent creator, our important historical documents—all of which advanced our national understanding of equality—are irrational and unconstitutional as well.

These excellent pro-life apologetics are on pages 6 and 7 of this document from the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, authored by Scott Klusendorf and John Stonestreet. Read, pray and engage.

For more pro-life apologetics, check out this podcast from World News Group and Life Training Institute’s web site.

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God? (That He is vs. Who He is)

December 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

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From “Do Christians And Muslims Worship The Same God?” by NPR on December 20, 2015, this recent controversy is summarized:

“Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, decided to wear a headscarf during the Advent season as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims. In doing so, Hawkins quoted Pope Francis, saying that Christians and Muslims ‘worship the same God.'”

A Christian response in the article:

“‘The question basically comes down to whether one can reject Jesus Christ as the Son and truly know God the Father,’ says Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. ‘And it’s Christ himself who answered that question, most classically in the Gospel of John, and he said that to reject the Son means that one does not know the Father.'” (John 6:46; 14:9; see also 1 John 2:22-23)

A Muslim response in the article:

“One theologian with knowledge of both Christian and Islamic doctrine is Hamza Yusuf, president of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., the first Muslim liberal arts college in the U.S. Born Mark Hanson, he was raised as a Christian and then converted to Islam. He quotes the Quran as saying that God is immeasurable, so to define God in some particular way is impossible. ‘God is much greater than anything we can imagine,’ Yusuf says. ‘The Muslims have a statement in our theology: Whatever you imagine God to be, God is other than that.‘”

Dr. Mohler’s response has to do with knowing God by identifying Jesus Christ the Son, which Islam denies. Yusuf explains that in Islam, one cannot really have a clear definition of God. And this I think is key to why the answer to the question as posed, “Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?”, has to be no. Christians, Muslims, and all human beings who are made in God’s image have an intuitive awareness of God. We all know He exists. We have an array of world religions because we’ve taken the general revelation of God and sought to define Him in various ways. But there’s a difference between recognizing God’s existence and worshipping Him.

Yusuf’s Muslim interpretation of the Qu’ran is not that God is “greater than” what we can imagine, but that He is “other than” what we imagine. There’s a distinction. We cannot fully comprehend the greatness of God, but the Bible assures us we can know Him (John 17:3). To say “to define God in some particular way is impossible” means knowing God is impossible, therefore worship is impossible. We cannot worship what we can’t know (though some have tried, like the Athenians in Acts 17).

Of course, Yusuf’s agnosticism about God (Allah) brings to light the Qur’an’s self-contradiction. The Qu’ran has 99 names for God, and you can’t name God 99 times without claiming to know perhaps 99 attributes of God. The description of God in the Bible differs greatly from the God of the Qur’an. They’re both Theistic in category, because we all recognize God exists, though some have suppressed this truth as Romans 1 explains. We know this without the Bible or the Qur’an. But in person, character and attributes, “God” is articulated very differently in both.

Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, argues that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, but that “the description of God is partly different.” I would argue that it is fundamentally different. God cannot be both trinitarian and not trinitarian at the same time; God cannot both have a Son and not have a Son; He either sent Jesus to die in our place or He did not. These are basic logical absurdities and therefore cannot be descriptions of the same God.

And as Dr. Mohler explains, Jesus was God in the flesh, and a non-negotiable in the Christian identity of God. The Bible describes a triune God who sought to redeem us from our sins and reveal Himself by sending His Son to offer Himself on our behalf. A God who isn’t this or didn’t do this is not the same God. In 2002, Baptist theologian Timothy George noted, “Apart from the Incarnation and the Trinity, it is possible to know that God is, but not who God is.” (Emphasis George’s)

Another voice from the NPR article:

“Amy Plantinga Pauw, a professor of Christian theology at Louisville Seminary, says Christians can have their own definition of God while still seeing commonality with Muslims and Jews. ‘To say that we worship the same God is not the same as insisting that we have an agreed and shared understanding of God,’ Pauw says.”

Pauw touches on the crux of the debate but perhaps doesn’t see that true worship requires an accurate understanding of God. We can see “commonality” with many belief systems. Christians do share a common general knowledge of God and should share a mutual love and respect for our Muslim neighbors as fellow image-bearers of the Creator, even though we disagree over who He is. This means we can have solidarity where our common interests lie, even where they extend from our unique theologies. But when it comes to worship, something we can’t truly do without knowing the object of our worship, Christians share no altar with Muslims.

Defending Your Faith: A Basic Course in Christian Apologetics

August 19, 2015 § 1 Comment

IDefending had the privilege of co-teaching an apologetics class at church, and below is about three and a half hours of audio from the course. It’s meant to be an introduction to Christian apologetics, defining the practice of defending Christianity, the role of faith, arguments for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, Creation and Flood debates, and the problem of evil. Teaching is not my strongest suit, but I think the material and the flow of the lessons turned out pretty well (and the friend I taught with, Mark Kline, is a rather gifted teacher). Use this if it fulfills a need, and feel free to download the corresponding PDF handouts and PowerPoint slides to look at while you listen. We may do something similar to this again in January, so any feedback would be appreciated.

SESSION 1
• The what, why, who and how of apologetics
• The role of faith and reason
• The argument from reason for God’s existence
• The argument from morality for God’s existence
Listen: Creekside U – Defending Your Faith, Session 1
Download: Slides (PPS) • Handout (PDF)

SESSION 2
• What are the different forms of the Word of God?
• How do we know the Bible is God’s word?
• How did we get our Bible?
• Are there any errors in it?
Listen: Creekside U – Defending Your Faith, Session 2
Download: Slides (PPS) • Handout (PDF)

SESSION 3
• Are there ay errors in the Bible?
• God’s publishing process
– Manuscript evidence
– Archaeological evidence
– Prophetic evidence
– Statistical evidence
Listen: Creekside U – Defending Your Faith, Session 3
Download: Slides (PPS) • Handout (PDF)

SESSION 4
• How old is the Earth? How big was the Flood? How much does it matter?
• Too much evil and suffering in the world?
• Unanswered questions lead to atheism
Listen: Creekside U – Defending Your Faith, Session 4
Download: Slides (PPS) • Handout (PDF)

Big Questions Unanswered Leads to Atheism

August 10, 2015 § 2 Comments

iI love hearing Christian testimonies, but testimonies from those who have decided against a life of faith also have great value in Christian apologetics. ESPN published an interview with Arian Foster, running back for the Houston Texans, after he reluctantly admitted his atheism. He describes his struggle with his previous Muslim faith:

“Arian felt he was living a lie every time he knelt to pray. His prayers carried intensity only when he faced turmoil. If you can just get me out of this jam. It was meaningless and dishonest; he didn’t believe there was anything or anyone out there capable of helping him. He read the Bible and the Quran in search of evidence that would override his skepticism. The concept of an omnipotent being nagged at him. ‘Why is this relationship so one-sided? Why would a loving God create evil? Why would he allow eternal damnation?’ Foster felt like ‘a contestant in his game show.'”

Educated in Tennessee and employed by the NFL in Houston, Arian was immersed in the Bible Belt but at a critical time found himself without anyone to adequately answer his questions. Where were his Christian classmates who were “ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) to tell him the Biblical truth? Was there no one in his life that took 1 Peter 3:15 seriously to “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…”?

When Arian announced his atheism, his father told him to “go find your truth.” So Arian did just that, following the path to relativism: “I’m digging deeper into myself and my truth…”

Surrounded by at least nominal Christians, Foster’s “free-thinking” found mostly passive aggressive opposition from teammates until he met the son of a preacher Justin Forsett at training cap in 2012. “They began to discuss religion, and morals, and whether one can exist without the other. Every day, it seemed, Foster presented Forsett with a different question, a new challenge. In Forsett, Foster found a friendly adversary, someone who wouldn’t cower, who could back his beliefs with both Bible verses and actions.”

Justin Forsett says this about Foster: “Arian pushes me to be a better man and a better man of faith… He’s going to ask questions, tough questions, and I take that as a challenge. I have to be prepared to give a response at any given moment. If I don’t have a response, he’s going to push me to go get it.” 

(This faith-affirming quality of Christian apologetics benefits the Christian as well as anyone he’s trying to reach.)

Arian Foster says this about Forsett: “Here’s what I respect about him: Justin was never like, ‘Hey, man, you’re going to go to hell.’ He was like, ‘This is what I believe is the right way, and I’ll pray for you.’ I never feel arrogance or judgment. He never acted like he had something I don’t have. He said, ‘I would love for you to experience this,’ which is more divine than anything I’ve ever come across.”

Take time to read the full article (The Confession of Arian Foster by Tim Keown, ESPN Senior Writer) and consider: Are you pursuing friendships with unbelievers? Are you the “salt and light” in the life of someone who needs it? Christians responding to the call of apologetics should be the ones fielding the big questions, because Christianity has answers. When questions like these go unanswered, atheism often follows. Who’s Justin Forsett are you?

[Related post: Too Much Evil and Suffering in the World?]

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