I Took a Poll; Here’s What I’ve Learned So Far

On Monday I posted an anonymous poll, asking people what they have found to be the greatest hurdles people today face in believing and embracing Christianity. I got a ton of responses! I’m still looking to get more input, so if you haven’t do so yet, please visit that poll and fill it out.

Shortly after I posted on Monday, as responses started rolling in, I added a second question to the poll, asking whether the person responding was a Christian or not. The reason was: I wanted to determine if there is a difference between the questions that Christians struggle with as opposed to people who aren’t Christians.

Here’s the data so far:

86% of responders were Christians
8% were decided not Christians
6% were undecided

27% of responders did not indicate if they were Christians or not.

Moral issues seem to be a bigger stumbling block to faith than empirical issues

Most people (71%) said that hypocrisy amongst Christians is a major hurdle to believing Christianity.

In fact, the majority responses, particularly by people who are not Christians, were that the biggest hurdles for them are not necessarily empirical issues – things which are either true or not, such as science, the veracity of the Bible or the “Christ myth”, but rather moral issues, such as hypocrisy, suffering, and Hell.

This aligns with what I wrote about last week, on the topic of whether studying science leads to atheism or not. (Read that series here)

Some of the write-in responses were very telling as well. One person responded that one of the reasons they struggle with accepting Christianity is because they feel it is regressive in its views of sexuality. Another person wrote that they struggle to embrace Christianity because they see Christian culture as encouraging abusive behavior.

This also aligns with the results of a 2007 Barna research project, in which they asked people why they rejected Christianity. None of the top six answers were evidential reasons. They majority rejected Christianity for moralistic reasons, including hypocrisy and being judgmental. In other words, the biggest problem people had with Christianity was the behavior of Christians themselves. On some level, they had determined that if Christianity produced these kinds of people, then there must be something wrong with Christianity.

A few things to consider regarding hypocrisy

Fake disciples: many people who attend church aren’t Christians

Jesus began his ministry with a call to repent. And yet, who was he talking to: religious people or heathens? Religious people. In other words: there are a lot of people who are religious outwardly, but they are not truly disciples of Jesus.

A poll taken several years ago showed that the lifestyle activities of people who claimed to be Christians were statistically the same as those of people claiming not to be Christians when it came to the following categories: gambling, visiting pornographic websites, taking something that didn’t belong to them, saying mean things behind someone’s back, consulting a medium or a psychic, having a physical fight or abusing someone, using illegal or nonprescription drugs, saying something to someone that’s not true, getting back at someone for something they did, and consuming enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk. The study also found that people who claimed to be Christians were less likely to those who did not claim to be Christians (68 percent vs. 79 percent).1

Many of these people are those who have adopted a cultural form of Christianity, but whether they have truly been converted in their hearts is another question altogether. Jesus’ most scathing words were for people in this camp – the one to which the Pharisees belonged. He called them “whitewashed tombs” – they look good on the outside, they were outwardly religious, but on the inside there was no life, only death. Check out Jesus’ critique of them in Matthew 23.

Jesus mentioned that there are many people who believe they are Christians, but in fact they are not. See Matthew 7:21-23

James (James 2:14-18) and John (1 John 2:4,9) both say that if a person says they have faith, but their actions contradict what they claim to believe, then there is a seriously possibility that they are not actually a Christian at all. James 2:19 points out that even demons believe that God exists, but that doesn’t make them Christians. Simply believing in the existence of God doesn’t make one a Christian, but believing the gospel and following Jesus.

High standards bring the junk to the surface

It’s not just the “fake disciples” in the church who are hypocrites though… I’m sure that I don’t always live up to the standards which I whole-heartedly affirm. But that’s the nature of standards: the higher the standard, the more incongruity it will bring to the surface. If you don’t have a standard, then you won’t fall short of it and you won’t contradict it. The higher the standard, the more you will fall short.

The gospel causes an upheaval in our lives and spurs on a process of revealing our shortcomings and hypocrisies – but what true disciples do is repent of those things, and seek to change those things by God’s grace at work within them.

And here’s the good news: the message of the gospel is not about what we do, but about what God has done for us in Christ. For Christians though, it is really important to remember that other people care a lot about what we do and the attitudes we have as those who bear the name of Christ.

 

Reference:
David Kinnaman, and Gabe Lyons, unChristian, 46–47.

 

Poll: Common Hurdles to Believing Christianity

Starting the Sunday after Easter, we will be doing a series at White Fields called “The Trouble Is…”, in which we will be talking about and addressing common questions and objections that people have about Christianity.

You can help me by taking a second to fill out this quick anonymous poll to let me know what are some of the biggest hurdles to faith that you have experienced yourself or encountered in other people. Thanks!

(email subscribers can click here to access the poll)

Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist? – Part 3

In my previous two posts: Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist – Part 1 Part 2, we talked about how data shows that, contrary to the popular myth, studying science can actually build faith rather than undermine it, and that in reality everyone exercises faith when it comes to metaphysical matters.

The real question is: What is the content of my set of beliefs? And flowing from that: What is that content based on?

Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin wrote an article in which he admitted that he prefers naturalistic explanations for things because he has “a prior commitment…to materialism.”1

In other words, for Lewontin, his science isn’t driven by objective facts or reason, it is driven by an underlying philosophy. He approaches his scientific work with a faith position and a metaphysical belief, not the other way around.

Interestingly, in the field of philosophy, Alvin Platinga, considered one of the greatest living philosophers, is a theist who has so convincingly argued for the existence of God that it has changed the entire climate of academic philosophy, to the point where atheism, rather than belief in God, is now considered a “superstitious” belief.

Philosopher David Bentley Hart says of this,

“I do not regard true philosophical atheism as an intellectually valid or even cogent position; in fact, I see it as a fundamentally irrational view of reality, which can be sustained only by a tragic absence of curiosity or a fervently resolute will to believe the absurd,”2

I will leave you with this quote from one of my favorite authors, Oxford professor Alistair McGrath: “The idea that science and religion are in perpetual conflict is no longer taken seriously by any major historian of science.” He concludes by saying that the idea that “fact-based science” is “at war” with “faith-based religion” is “a myth.”3

 

References:
“Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books (January 9, 1997), 28., quoted in Clark, The Problem of God, (p. 31)
The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, (p. 16)
The Twilight of Atheism, (p. 87)

 

Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist? – Part 2

In my previous post, Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist – Part 1, I referred to studies which showed that, while there is a popular notion that studying science undermines faith in God, data would show that just the opposite is true.

One of the reasons for this is the recognition of the fact that science has its limits.

Mark Clark describes it this way in his book, The Problem of God:

Science has come to terms with the fact that nothing it deduces about reality can really disprove the existence of God. Why? Science studies the natural, physical world. But the existence of God is what is called a metaphysical question (the word meta is the Greek word meaning “after” or “beyond”). God is a being found beyond the physical world, thus the question of his existence is beyond what physics can evaluate.” (p. 38)

All of us employ faith. The great majority of people assume that when someone dies, they no longer suffer. But what proof do we have of that?

Clark relays a story told by a nurse:

One night the staff was discussing a patient who was on life support. In debating whether to take him off or not, one doctor said to another, “Well, at least we know if we do that he won’t be suffering anymore.” Everyone in the group nodded in agreement. But the nurse wondered to herself, How do you know this? That belief (the idea that the person would not be suffering anymore once he was dead) in and of itself is a metaphysical statement about what the afterlife is like. The group of doctors was speaking out of a faith position for which they had no proof. How did they know that this person wouldn’t be suffering more than he was now? They believed this wholeheartedly, but based on what evidence? It is a faith position. Everyone has one. (p. 31)

There are many things in this life that cannot be measured by the scientific method or tested in a laboratory, such as love or areas which pertain to what we call “providence,” i.e. the intangibles which dramatically affect our lives, but which we have no control over.

My daughter almost died as a baby. She was in a coma and we were given a grave prognosis; she was given little chance of survival, and if she were to survive, we were told she had a 90% chance of having cerebral palsy and lifelong disability. She then went on to have an incredible recovery (I’ve written more about that here: I Believe in Miracles; Here’s Why). The head doctor of the NICU later attended her first birthday party and told us that nothing had caused him to believe in God more than being a doctor, because although he can do things to help a person, there is nothing he can do to actually heal a person. As a doctor, he has realized that there are so many things which are outside of human control, and so many things in the physical world which are too complex and wonderful for one to reasonably believe that they came into existence randomly apart from the active work of an intelligent designer.

Faith, then, is not contrary to reason, and it is more and more recognized that contrary to the popular myth, science often results in building faith, rather than destroying it.

Click here to read Part 3!

Will Studying Science Make You an Atheist? – Part 1

In the movie Nacho Libre, the main character, Nacho, is a Christian who works at a church-run orphanage. At one point, he makes a friend named Esqueleto, and they have a conversation:

Nacho: I’m a little concerned right now. About… your salvation and stuff. How come you have not been baptized?
Esqueleto: Because I never got around to it, okay? I dunno why you always have to be judging me because I only believe in science.

Earlier in the film, Esqueleto declares: “I don’t believe in God. I believe in science.”

This reflects a common misconception: That faith in God is anti-rational and unreasonable, that science and belief in God are incompatible, and that you have to choose between being a person of faith or a person of science.

Richard Dawkins has said that “Faith is like a mental illness,” it is “the great cop-out, the excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.”1 Dawkins holds the view that Christianity, and faith in general, will eventually go the way of the Dodo bird and become extinct as time goes on.

Except…that is not what is happening. Just the opposite is happening actually – and as it turns out, it is as a result of people studying science more…

As Alex Rex Sandage, considered the greatest observational cosmologist of all time, has said: “It is my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science.”2

Lesslie Newbigin, the British theologian and social theorist, makes the claim that “statistically, the correlation between academic life and irreligion is much higher in the social sciences and the humanities than it is among the natural sciences—physics, chemistry, and biology. Atomic physicists are much more likely to believe in God than sociologists.”3

Is that true? Does studying science actually tend to lead people to believe in God rather than to become atheists? Studies would suggest the answer is: Yes.

There have been several recent studies on the topic of spirituality and higher education, including an an ongoing study at UCLA, another at the University of Michigan, and another by sociologists at the University of British Columbia which focused on the spirituality of professors.

The data from the former two studies was disseminated in an article titled “Studying science doesn’t make you an atheist… but studying literature does!”, which concluded with this quote from a University of Michigan researcher: ”Our results suggest that it is Postmodernism, not Science, that is the bête noir of religiosity.”

The University of Michigan study showed that those who studied and worked in scientific fields felt that science confirmed their beliefs about God rather than disrupted them.

…to be continued. Click here to read Part 2!

 

References:
1 The Nullifidian (December 1994)
2 Quoted in: Mark Clark. The Problem of God (p. 38).
3 Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (p.17).

How to Read the Bible When You’re Struggling or Depressed

In his book, Walking with God Through Pain and SufferingTimothy Keller quotes from John White’s book, The Masks of Melancholy, in which the author recalls a time in his life when he was seriously depressed, and he says that during that time,

“what saved my soul was a dry-as-dust grappling with Hosea’s prophecy. I spent weeks, morning by morning, making meticulous notes, checking historical allusions in the text, and slowly I began to sense the ground under my feet growing steadily firmer. I knew without any doubt that healing was springing from my struggle to grasp the meaning of the passage.

If sufferers have any ability to concentrate, they should do solid inductive Bible study rather than devotional reading, because in most depressed people devotional reading is stopped altogether or degenerated into something unhealthy and unhelpful.”

White knew that when you are despondent, an effort to read the Bible devotionally (looking for inspiration and uplift) is not the answer. Instead, he counsels that you should read the Bible for content. Get the truth out of the text. Remind yourself of who God is and who you are in Christ, and what He has done for you. 

Keller then suggests that the Psalms are particularly helpful, because, not only are they filled with teachings about God, but they are prayers which cover the entire range of human experience. They show us people processing their condition before God. They are praying about their situation instead of merely thinking about it. We see Psalmists praying their tears, their doubts, their fears, their griefs, as well as their hopelessness – as well as their joys and blessings.

One of the things we learn from the Psalms is the practice of “defying ourselves” instead of simply listening to and submitting to our own thoughts. Keller asks, “Have you realized that so much of the unhappiness in your life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”

In Psalms 42 and 43, the Psalmist shows us how he uses this important strategy when he is discouraged: he defies himself and reminds himself who God is, what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do. You may say to yourself, “It’s hopeless.” Defy yourself and answer back, “Well, that depends on what you were hoping in. Was that the right thing to put so much hope in?”

The Psalmist is defying himself, defying the devil and defying the whole world, by sending himself to God and determining to “praise Him still because He is my God.”

Read the Bible for content rather than inspiration. Fill your mind with the truth about God, and defy yourself when necessary.

Expositors Collective: Free Seminar for Young People with a Desire to Teach the Bible

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expositorscollective.com

I’m excited to be part of a new initiative called Expositors Collective, which is a free seminar for young people age 18-34 who have a desire and passion to teach and preach the Bible. Through this 2-day seminar, we also look forward to developing mentoring relationships that will continue beyond this one weekend.

I know that as a young person a seminar like this would have been very helpful. Topics will include: expository preaching, homiletics, Christ-centered preaching, and more.

Location: One Love Church, Thousand Oaks, CA – March 9-10, 2018.

The event is free, but spaces are limited. If you are interested in coming, or know someone else who would benefit from this, go to expositorscollective.com for more information and to sign up.

Over the past few days since this was first announced, I’ve had several people tell me that they would love to participate in a conference like this, but they are either outside of the age bracket, or aren’t able to travel to California at that time. For those in Colorado on the Front Range, we offer a class at White Fields School of Ministry called: Christocentricity, which covers many of the principles which will be taught at this seminar, and we are planning to start a “Preaching Lab” in the near future, which will also be very helpful for those who desire to develop skills in preaching and teaching the Holy Scriptures. Leave me a comment below or contact White Fields if either of those of are interest to you.

Why Go to Church If You Already Know It All? Here’s Why:

Hebrews 10:24-25 tells Christians to not neglect gathering together, but to seek all the more how we can stir each other up to love and good works.
I just taught that passage last Sunday (audio of that message here), and in my preparation I discovered that the phrase “stir up” essentially means to pester or annoy someone, to not leave them alone. I’m thankful for people who do that in my life.

A friend of mine had been politely pestering me to read James K.A. Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom” for about a year before I finally picked up a copy and started reading it earlier this month. I’m glad I did.

Smith’s basic premise is that all of us are constantly being shaped by “liturgies,” including (and primarily) “cultural liturgies.”

Liturgies, as he uses the term, are not confined or restricted to the order of service in a church worship service. Liturgies are, according to Smith’s use of the word, “rituals of ultimate concern that are formative of our identity—they both reflect what matters to us and shape what matters to us.” Liturgies, wherever they may be found, serve to shape us by forming affections within us.

Smith points out that such liturgies can be found throughout our culture, in places like malls, stadiums and universities, to name a few.

As Christians, it is important that we intentionally submit ourselves to the kinds of liturgies which will shape us into the kind of people we believe we ought to become, and which shape our affections in the right direction.

He points out that our nature as humans is such that we are not so much shaped by our worldviews as our worldviews are shaped by our practices, experiences and affections. Therefore, knowing this, it is important that we submit ourselves continually to the right kinds of “liturgies”.

Liturgies, he explains, “inculcate particular visions of ‘the good life’ through affective, precognitive means, and do so in a way that trumps other ritual formations. In short, they are the rituals that grab hold of our hearts and want nothing less than our love.”

Malls, stadiums and universities are filled with “rhythms, rituals, and spaces which are loaded with meaning; and more specifically, they are loaded with a particular vision, a unique ‘understanding’ of what it means to be a happy, fulfilled, and flourishing person; in short, implicit in these liturgies is an understanding of what it means to be really human.”

It is important therefore, that we recognize the “religious” nature of cultural practices and institutions, and understand that they are not neutral and that participation in them shapes us in very real ways. We should be aware of this fact, and also decide what “liturgies” we want to participate in, in order to shape our affections in the right directions.

He states that this makes it all the more important that Christians focus on creating and practicing our own uniquely Christian liturgies – formative practices which shape us and develop our affections in a particular direction. Christian liturgies include church attendance and participation, reading the Bible and listening to sermons in weekly church services, praying and singing with others, taking communion, being part of a community group, etc. His goal in this is to help us “see the importance and centrality of Christian worship in ways that we perhaps haven’t heretofore.”

I think this is a very important realization: that the reason to participate in church is not only to learn things, but to take part in practices which shape our minds and hearts towards God and His ways. This is why you need church even if you already know “everything” 🙂

There are other reasons as well:

Statistics show that church attendance has a radical impact on families and on the success and health of marriages.

Catechesis Today

Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.”

A few years ago, Christianity Today published some statistics about the lack of knowledge of basic Christian doctrine amongst evangelicals. See: ‘Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies’.

This data was very eye-opening for me, and solidified my decision to introduce a Christian education program at White Fields which we now call School of Ministrybut which we eventually plan to build into something bigger that will reach beyond our church.

One of the reasons for the lack of knowledge of basic Christian doctrines among evangelicals is that although many evangelical churches have a strong focus on Bible-teaching, oftentimes that teaching is focused on personal application rather than explicit doctrinal instruction and core doctrines are assumed rather than explicitly taught.

It could be argued that if you teach expositionally through the Bible, then all major doctrines will eventually be addressed and taught and a systematic theology will naturally develop. I believe this is true, and it is why I take an expositional and verse-by-verse approach in teaching the Bible in our church. However, I do think that along with an expositional approach to biblical theology, a systematic approach is also important. A systematic approach is when you say, What does the Bible teach about ________?  If we’re honest, everyone has a functional systematic theology, although it may change or develop over time, and we employ that systematic theology whenever we approach the Bible expositionally.

For these reasons, we’ve started a foundations class at White Fields. I originally assumed that this class would be attended mostly by new believers and youth, but I’ve been surprised at the amount of interest from people who have been Christians and have been attending church for years, who feel like they need this instruction on the core Christian doctrines.

On a personal level, one thing we’ve started doing in our home with our kids is going through the New City Catechism.

I can already anticipate the question: “Catechism? Isn’t that a Catholic thing?” The answer is: No. The word catechism means “to teach orally”, and “throughout the history of the church, Christians have used catechisms—collections of questions and answers designed for memorization and recitation—to teach others the core doctrines of the faith. The New City Catechism is a modern-day resource aimed at reintroducing this ancient method of teaching to Christians today.”1

 

There are some great things about the New City Catechism that make it helpful:

  1. It has a free app for iPhone, iPad and Android, as well as a printed version which can be purchased
  2. It has 52 questions, designed to be memorized at one per week
  3. It has a children’s mode, which includes simplified answers and songs to help them learn what is being taught

Our kids enjoy doing it. We do it at the dinner table, and then throughout the week we’ll practice together. I would recommend it as a great tool for individuals and families. If nothing less, it is a way to get yourself or your family focused on, talking about and thinking about Biblical doctrine throughout the week.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter to Pastors

55 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter to fellow pastors from a jail cell in Birmingham, where he sat because of a non-violence “sit-in” protest. He wrote the letter mostly on pieces of toilet paper and scraps of newspaper.

Here are some excerpts of that message which every Christian would do well to read today.

“Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother.”

For the full text of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” click here.