Sunday, April 23, 2017
I thought this week I would continue in the same spiritual direction as last week where I discussed the movie, The Case for Christ. The movie discusses a real life story of the spiritual journey of Lee Strobel from atheism to Christianity. This week I want to share thoughts from a book entitled: Jesus Among Secular Gods: The Counter Cultural Claims of Christ. The authors are Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale who are part of the RZIM team that speak often to university students concerning spiritual issues in a material world.
Their book speaks to the current secular mindset that is battling for the minds of people in the world. The secularists have been very successful in our school systems in mind numbing young people to think God is a figment of the imagination and that all life came to be by chance macro evolution. But is it based on truth or a leap of faith on the atheist standpoint? Ravi and Vince in their book clearly point out how the Secular Gods of this current age are based on faith. In my book, Living More Than OK, I point out in the spirituality chapter how the atheists are even starting churches to promote their views. This further reveals that they hold onto a belief system just as much as any other religion. We all are believers in something and I have admitted in my blog and book that I follow a belief in the Christian worldview. The book Jesus Among Secular Gods provides the Christian with ample evidence to believe that Jesus is superior to the Secular Gods.
Some of the “gods” of the atheists they showcase in the book are: Atheism, Scientism, Pluralism, Humanism, Relativism and Hedonism. Reading the book it helps to see that atheists carry differing emphasis just as many in other religions emphasize elements of their belief system. Atheism they point out is the denial of God’s existence. Rightly though, they present that belief is along a continuum of light agnosticism of those who admit they are unsure to what I think of as fundamentalist atheists who are obstinate and fully believe there is no God and that those who believe in God are the root of most of life’s problems. They have no proof that God does not exist yet act like they know for certain there is no God. This book provides a look into the belief system of atheism that helps to appreciate their beliefs along the spectrum of agnosticism to hard core atheism. What is also helpful about the book is that it compares the teaching of Jesus and the gospel to the various belief systems held by the atheists.
I will point to a few areas in the book that spoke to my thinking in hopes to encourage you in checking out this book no matter what spiritual journey you are on. One of my favorite chapters was on Scientism which shows how atheists place their faith in science. I have run into many people over the years who feel science has proven God does not exist. Looking at the facts there is no such proof. In my book, Living More Than OK, I point out that many of our great scientists in the past were of a Christian worldview – Kepler, Newton, and Pasteur to name a few. Vince in the chapter on Scientism discusses how science can be viewed as pointing to God. The rationale behind that is how the universe has a beginning, the universe is knowable, the universe is regular, and the universe is finely tuned for life.
For example just one thought to think about from their book is how did the whole universe begin in the first place? Vince presents 3 options: 1. God created the universe – this is what most Christians and other religions believe. 2. The entire universe popped into existence from nothing with no explanation – This is what most atheists believe. I call it the rabbit popping out of the magic hat in the sky. One moment you have vast empty space then bang- out pops a universe. Personally I believe it takes too much blind faith to believe that. 3. His last option is that the universe or series of universes have existed from eternity (pages 66 & 67). He then explores through the 3 options. Is there pure scientific proof for any of the options. I would say no - it boils down to a faith belief. Our worldviews on the beginning be they from an atheist or theist standpoint boils down to our personal belief.
The chapter on Scientism presents another issue that I have always felt moves me towards a belief in God. That is the section on “the universe is finely tuned for life”. The idea is also called the “anthropic coincidence” (of course I do not see it as a coincidence). When observing life on earth it looks like most everything was designed for the purpose of life on the earth. As Vince states, “If the Big Bang had been even the slightest bit weaker, gravity would have made the universe collapse back in on itself almost immediately, far too quickly for any form of life to develop” (p. 80). For myself the amazing beauty of creation and the complexity points to a creator God. If I go to a museum and see a beautiful statue I don’t shrug and think it came to be from happenstance. How much more is the complexity of the world around us. Just the other day, we were watching a hummingbird enjoying a red flower outside our kitchen. How did this amazing bird just pop into being by non-rational chaotic forces? Or in Springtime I am always amazed at the beauty of flowers. Why such variety and beauty of colors? It is like they were created to be enjoyed. Otherwise why didn’t just all plant life keep it simple with one or two colors? For myself, these are pointers to God.
Of course I said pointers to God. I did not say proof of God. Just as I say the atheist cannot prove there is no God I can’t say there is definite proof of God. God is so great why doesn’t He give us the proof? Don’t ask me -- ask God. Personally I think it goes back to faith. God is wanting us to have a faith relationship with him. As for atheism don’t believe the lie they try to foster that they are scientific and rational and Christians and other religions are ‘believers”. Atheists need just as much belief if not more for their belief in life with no God.
Reflection: Take some time to read Jesus Among Secular Gods by Ravi Zacharias & Vince Vitale – buy it or ask your local library to search it for you. Think through your belief system be it theistic or atheistic – why do you believe what you believe? Take some time to explore the wonders of creation around you. What is creation saying to you? Was this amazing wonder created by a Designer God or just popped into being like a rabbit popping out of a magician’s hat?
Monday, April 17, 2017
I remember reading Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Christ, back in the 1990s so I was surprised to see a movie out about the book. The book is about his spiritual journey from being an atheist to becoming a Christian. There were numerous interviews in it with Christian theologians and philosophers, therefor I wondered how that would come across on the movie screen. There are not many people who want to go to a movie just to see a bunch of interviews with religious scholars.
We went to see the movie, The Case for Christ, on Easter Sunday and it turned out to be the highlight of the day. Instead of a dull series of interviews there was a driving narrative of his personal journey to disprove Christianity with the passion of a journalist seeking truth. In the narrative there is also a legal reporting case that goes on so the viewer can see the consistency of the drive Lee put into his journalistic work and the drive he put into his personal quest for spiritual truth.
In the movie there is a particular reason he was emphasizing Christianity that also explores personal relationships. That was another addition to the story that kept personal interest in the movie. The movie did not go into all the interviews included in the book. Instead the movie focused on a number of very important interviews that helped shape the change in his thinking.
In my book, Living More Than OK, I emphasize our worldviews and personal spiritual journeys are an important part of our lives. There are a number of religious faiths and each person travels their own journey. Mine has focused on Christianity. I never had an antagonism towards Christianity like Lee had but I have had my times of doubt. I believe it was C.S. Lewis or Francis Schaefer who points out that God does not make it so clear that we are forced to believe in him. Instead there is some room for doubt so that we may with our free will step out in faith towards God or away from Him.
I liked in the movie how it shows his one atheist friend who admits both sides- God believers and atheists need a leap of faith. I have always been upset with those who simply call Christians “believers”. Christians are guilty of the trap as well. “Believers” – what does that mean? Everyone believes in something. The leap of faith for the Christian is a leap into the arms of a loving God. The leap of faith of the atheist in my point of view, is a leap into random nothingness of chance chaos. The choice is a no brainer for me.
The movie reminded me of a debate I heard online between John Lennox, a mathematician/Christian apologist and an atheist at a European University.. The atheist argument brought out that Christianity is like a fairy tale believing in Santa. Mr. Lennox had a powerful thought in response. He reminded the audience that no one comes to believe in Santa Claus as an adult. Lee Strobel’s skeptical journey that led him to a rational faith in Christ began and ended when he was an adult. He used his professional skills as a journalist in his search so he was not caving to a fairy story.
There are many things that can be learned in the movie. It can help anyone of any religious faith system, (and I include atheism as a faith system), to understand the important of thinking through why they believe what they believe. Our differing faith beliefs shape our worldviews which shape how we live in this world so the Case For Christ can help in reflecting on that part of life. As you watch the movie listen for the line “you didn’t want to know the truth”. Think about how that line relates to more than just his interaction with that character in the movie.
Reflection: What faith tradition are you a part of – atheist, Judaism, Buddhist, Christian? Why do you follow this belief system? What are the factors that shaped your faith journey? Make it a point to see the movie The Case for Christ
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
A few weeks ago with my family, I saw the movie, The Shack. It is based on the fiction novel, The Shack, by William P. Young. I am glad to see it is still being shown in the local theater which means it has been receiving a steady stream of viewers. I have been busy doing some research for my PhD dissertation so have been away from the blog but recent events brought the movie back into my mind. Here is New Braunfels the news has been filled with the tragedy of a group of women senior citizens from local First Baptist Church. Coming home from a prayer retreat a bus with 14 senior citizens was hit by a young man in a pick-up truck killing all but one person. The truck driver survived as well. It turned out he was texting and ran into the mini bus. I could go off on texting suffice it to say “put your phone away when you drive!”.
A tragedy like that causes some to wonder why God allowed that to happen. A group of senior saints coming home from a prayer retreat die? Many of us often have events like that in our lives. The texting aspect of the story reminded me of a young college student I mention in my book, Living More Than OK. His dream was to be a welder to help his mom and brother. That dream was ended by a young girl driving paying more attention to her phone instead of Heath riding his bike across the street to his dorm. At first he was paralyzed and then due to poor healthcare he died much too early a couple years later. Where was God in that? I in my past have had life events where in my depression would hear myself say Why God? If honest -- most of us have had moments like that.
That honesty is one element of the story line I appreciated in watching The Shack. The story the author is telling in the movie reaches out to us whether presently in a time of doubt; or remembering times of doubt in life. It is an excellent movie to encourage those going through times of grief and spiritual doubt.
Another aspect of the movie I appreciated was thinking through who God is. That is one area where there was much Christian debate about the movie. At first I had some difficulty with it but then I remembered the book the movie is based on is a work of fiction. I have looked into the author’s blog and he does not equate his book on equal par with scripture. Considering that this movie is based on a work of fiction, I felt and those with me believed he provided a helpful look into the relational aspect of the Trinity. The Christian concept of the Trinity is difficult to fully explain and will be a mystery this side of heaven. Yet the story line does provide a glimpse into the relational aspect of the Godhead. That relationship carries on with the importance of God’s desire to reach out to fallen man with grace and mercy to live in a relational fashion with his creation of humankind.
After watching the movie the discussion revolved around how the messages from the story were better than we had expected. The Shack is a powerful story to help those who are seekers think through the possibility of having a relationship with God. As well it is an honest story that seeks to deal with some of the harsh pains and difficult situations we face this side of heaven with grief and questioning God. It is worth seeing but go with a friend so as to continue the discussion afterwards.
Reflection: Think through times of grief or difficulties in your life. What feelings and thoughts came to you? What brought you out of the depression or low feelings? What does it mean to you to be in a relationship with God?