In a blog that I published here last week, on May 7, I linked to an article by pastor and blogger Tim Challies. His blog argued that Pope Francis was not a Christian. I debated for days with myself about responding to this sadly uninformed post. To be completely honest I do not like to engage with this kind of Internet “yellow” journalism. I honestly believe that the claim of Tim Challies is so preposterous that it is virtually unworthy of a response, yet after a few days I changed my mind. Why? Simply put, I feel that someone who has a personal history with a mindset like that of Tim Challies should attempt to help non-theologically trained readers grasp a very different evangelical perspective on Catholicism, one that does not promote the “Reformation Wars” of the last five hundred years. My perspective is that Challies’ arguments are so profoundly flawed that any careful reader of the sources, and of the stories that come from real Christians who live in the present, will readily alter genuinely open minds. The kinds of arguments Challies
Author Steven Garber wrote one of those rare modern books that I have read twice. Some years ago I developed an answer that I cleverly gave to folks who, upon seeing my immense library (before I sold nearly 15,000 books over the last few years), would gasp at my floor-to-ceiling library shelves and ask me, “Have you read all of these?” I calmly answered, “I’ve read some of them twice.” This was true. Hoping I could read them all was only a pipe dream but unless pressed hard I did not admit to that until I gave up reading them all in my late 50s and realized I should break up the Armstrong collection sooner than later.
Steven Garber’s book, The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (IVP), was one of those books that I actually did read twice. It is a truly magnificent book. I recommend it to everyone who reads this blog.
Steven Garber taught for many years on Capitol Hill in the American Studies Program and then became scholar-in-residence for the Council of Christian
The word dialogue is very important to me, and my view of truth, at least in terms of the way Christians live with one another, and with non-Christians, in the modern age. What do I mean by dialogue? Could it be that the very idea behind this word is deeply flawed, as some cultural and religious conservatives maintain?
Back in 1971 I was in the candidate process for the assistant pastoral role in a church near Wheaton, where I had begun graduate theological studies in mission and theology. The senior pastor preached a sermon one Sunday that fatally finished my intent to work with him. The title of his sermon is one I shall never forget: “Dogma or Dialogue?” He made the case, rather poorly I thought, that dialogue was always the enemy of Christian dogma and true belief. I could not tell you why he was wrong, at that time, but I knew that he was. I began a journey to figure out why I thought that he was wrong. I was only a twenty-one year old
In the light of various posts last week regarding the “Strange Fire” conference hosted by John MacArthur, and the response to it by Mark Driscoll who stood outside the event giving away copies of his book to people attending the conference, I posted several blogs (written by others) regarding these events on my own Facebook page. I did so with a minimum of personal comment. I confess that I am conflicted about posting these kinds of items, much less passing along my comments on them. Why?
First, I am reminded to consider what the Apostle Paul says about love. When I do this I am always forced to hit “pause” and slow down. Here are his memorable words (1 Corinthians 13:4–7) in case you’ve forgotten:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (NRSV).
It is safe to say that I enjoyed Nathan Schneider’s wonderful book, God in Proof, as much as any work on apologetics I’ve ever read. If I teach the subject again the future I will require my students to read this narrative of one young man’s search for proof of God.
In the final two pages Schneider writes:
The idea of God, after it first became lodged in me, and once I even partly entertained it, began to take on a life of its own. This process started through other people, but the idea transcended even them. As Anselm replied to Gaunilo, there’s something special about the one most perfect idea, something that applies to no other. You might be able to grasp a humbler notion enough to refute it. But this necessary and infinite being is more elusive, while being also more fully present, than anything else we know. No refutation can suffice. It’s to big. Its possibilities never stop exceeding what we might happen to rule out. This God exceeds what we think about it,
I think the most intriguing aspect of God in Proof, by Nathan Schneider, is his personal story. Schneider describes his early quest for proof of God as it relates to the separation of his parents. He says of this sad moment: “That night my world bifurcated” (15). Schneider kept a journal during his teen years (that is amazing enough to me) and writes of going to a local Baptist church with a friend. He wrote in his journal: “I felt like we had just entered hostile territory” (15, italics are all his). He adds that God was a question he stayed clear of at first but he was haunted by reading of The Brothers Karamazov. The Russian classic caused him to remember the monk Zosima speaking of his love for God. He was more than intrigued.
He provides one of the best descriptions of millennials that I have read when he writes:
I wrote about having the feeling of “skin hurting”– when I felt like there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make my life bearable again.
Anyone who has spent any time at all reading the proofs, both for and against belief in the existence of God, knows the essential arguments. They can be enumerated, in one form or another, as follows:
It proves helpful, at least for the non-academic reader, to state what these proofs are in rather simple ways. I will also give at least one reason why opponents find the argument(s) not convincing.
The cosmological argument “relates to the existence of the universe” (250). This argument starts with cause. The cause of the universe must be (a) God beyond the universe. This argument can be refuted by those who reject it in numerous ways. For example, “The universe is unexplainable without God, so it is simpler not to believe in God’s existence” (250). In the end the argument comes down to this: It is better to believe in something, or Someone, than nothing!
The dialectical argument relates to the processes by which we reflect on the place of meaning. The consequences, for example, of not believing are so drastic that one has no
Books by professional philosophers, and Christian apologists who argue for God and basic faith, are legion. But Nathan Schneider’s God in Proof is neither an argument for God or against him, at least in the normal way we think about this question. This is an honest account of a young man who became a Christian under most unlikely circumstances and then sought to find evidence to support his conversion. The end result has been a journey, an interesting and important one to the way I understand the questions and the millennial generation both.
Yesterday I gave you an account of Nathan Schneider’s initial experience that drove him to seek for theistic proofs. It is, to say the least, a strange and wonderful sort of story. Listen again to him as he describes what he did after he had this enlightening encounter:
I didn’t tell anyone about this strange, problematic unsatisfying thought then, not would I know what to say if I had. But the germ of a proof was in me, where, treasure-like–a blueprint for my own
Rarely do I read a book that is so odd, and yet so completely fascinating, as Nathan Schneider’s new God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013). Schneider, a very inquisitive and bright young man (b. 1984), comes from a truly millennial experience. His parents are divorced and they left him with a background that created a “multiple choice” paradigm when it came to religion. His mom was/is a spiritual seeker who had/has no interest in Jewish or Christian views of God. His dad is just disinterested.
Schneider’s account is a moving, enjoyable and an intensely interesting tour of the history of arguments for and against the existence of God. His journey, rooted in his broken childhood, led him to “step out [one November] into what sun remained in the day, [seeking] for a proof for the existence of God” (ix). Here is how he describes the beginning of a journey that, so it seems to me, has only just begun:
I was a freshman in