Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Part 10

[This post is the second dealing with chapter four, “Why There is Almost Certainly No God.” To read the first post, go here.]

Some “creationists,” Dawkins says, argue for the existence of God based on the “gaps.” That is, when there is a gap in the fossil record or in some other sphere of knowledge pertaining to evolution, and when there is no other explanation for that gap, they employ God to fill the gap. Dawkins argues that such an argument is faulty because further scientific research often fills in a supposed “gap.” I agree with Dawkins who agrees with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s belief that Christians ought not reach conclusions about God based on such gaps: “What worries thoughtful theologians like Bonhoeffer is that gaps shrink as science advances, and God is threatened with having nothing to do and nowhere to hide” (p. 125). What worries Dawkins, on the other hand, is his belief that when religious people see mystery they want the mystery to remain whereas when scientists see mystery they want to get to work to attain the knowledge that will solve the mystery and fill the gap.

What worries me is the assumption that such is in fact how believers regard mystery. I agree that it is faulty reasoning for someone to detect a gap in the evolutionary evidence and to say automatically that one must posit God in order to fill the gap. I, and many other Christians think the same way, want scientists to proceed full steam ahead in their efforts to advance knowledge as much as they can. And I and many other Christians would never think to assume that every presently unanswerable question can be answered by just saying “God.” I would maintain, however, that were we able to leap ahead in time to a point when all scientific progress that can be made had been made and when all knowledge that it is humanly possible to attain had been attained (were such possible), there would still be mystery. Then, I maintain, it would be appropriate to name that mystery “God.” And I say that because it seems to me that there is a point beyond which we cannot know.

I do not know what that point is. I think that we should push and push to expand our knowledge and that we should never accept “I don’t know” as an answer when it comes to questions about the physical universe. I do not know if we would know that we had reached the point beyond which we cannot know when we reached it. But I do believe that there is such a point. Dawkins, who possesses what seems to be an ultimate faith placed in human reasoning, would not accept that. But I, who place my ultimate faith in God, do.

No thinking Christian is content to say “That is a mystery so just chalk it up to God and leave it alone.” But many thinking Christians say, “There is at the source of everything a mystery that we cannot get past and that mystery is God.” We would go even farther and say, “And that Mystery has chosen to reveal himself in nature and in history and in Scripture and most fully in his Son Jesus Christ.” But then, we accept the knowledge that comes through revelation, which Dawkins does not accept.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Symbol

Sabbath Blog #27

If you come to worship at The Hill Baptist Church today, this is what you will see. The church's steeple is sitting on the sidewalk in front of the sanctuary. That's because we've been fighting a roof leak for years. In an effort to repair it, the steeple was taken down with a crane so that the decking beneath the steeple could be repaired. Hopefully that will take care of the problem. If all goes well, the steeple will be lifted back into place early this week.

That steeple sitting on the sidewalk has become something of a symbol for me.

Our God is an incarnational God. Amazingly, God came to us in human form in the person of Jesus Christ. Having come in human form, he lived a servant life and died a sacrificial death and experienced a triumphant resurrection. But it all started with the Son of God leaving his heavenly place and entering this world of human woe, joy, toil, pain, love, hurt, and fear.

Too often the Church, like the steeple on the top of the building, tries to stay above it all; it settles for remaining aloof from what's going on in out in the world. As a friend of mine said, too many preachers are trying to answer questions that no one is asking.

There is a part of me that would like to leave the steeple on the ground. There, it could symbolize for us the fact that the Church is the Church only when we are out there in the world. We can try to answer the questions that are actually being asked when we get out there where the questions are. We are called to incarnational ministry. We are called to be out there among the fears and joys that are taking place all around us. We are called to do what our Lord did: live servant lives and give ourselves up for the sake of God and for the sake of others. On the other side of it all there will be resurrection, but for now, there is ministry, love, compassion, and grace.

Oh, we will put the steeple back where it belongs. But I hope we'll remember those few days that is sat on sidewalk so that we can be reminded that the Church is the Church only when the Church is out in the world.

Friday, July 27, 2007

To Brevard Childs, With Gratitude

Many people have had a powerful formative influence on me. I have written of some of them in this space, including Champ Ruffin and Howard Giddens. There are others of whom I will write in the future, such as Bill Coleman, William Key, and Page Kelley. I shared a personal relationship with all of those men; they were at various times my mentors and teachers.

But there are many other people who have influenced and guided me whom I never met or whom I met only briefly at a conference. Their impact on me has come through their writings. Some of them I have read so much that I feel like I know them even though they wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a lineup. That list is long: Walter Brueggemann, Barbara Brown Taylor, Frederick Buechner, Eugene Peterson, and Brennan Manning come immediately to mind.

Another person who belongs on that list is Brevard S. Childs. His books have followed me around for a long time. I first encountered him during a summer in the mid-1980s when I was a Ph.D. student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was assigned to be the grader for a summer course on the Book of Exodus that was being taught by visiting professor John I Durham, who was then teaching at Southeastern Seminary. Durham was at the time working on his volume on Exodus that appeared in the Word Biblical Commentary. On the first day of class he told me that he really didn’t need a grader because he wanted to grade the papers himself but that I was welcome to sit in on the class. I did, and it was a remarkable experience. The textbook that he used was Brevard Childs’ commentary on Exodus that is a part of the Old Testament Library series. As an experiment in the interpretation of a biblical book in its canonical context, including its use as the Scripture of the Church, it was breathtaking.

My next encounter with Childs came as I prepared to take the comprehensive exams that had to be passed before I could move on to the dissertation writing stage. Dr. John D. W. Watts, my Old Testament Literature professor, required me to compare and contrast the approaches taken by two very different Old Testament introductions: that of Otto Eissfeldt and that of Brevard Childs. Childs’ work was entitled Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Childs’ emphasis in that work was that the canonical shaping of the Old Testament was to be taken seriously. While the historical critical study of Scripture was important, and while Childs certainly knew his way around that field, he said that the Old Testament has finally come down to us as Scripture. That is, it has been shaped by the faith communities that produced and preserved it. Thus, that theological shaping becomes very important in its interpretation. Childs’ ideas were sometimes controversial but they were nonetheless influential on a generation of Old Testament scholars, including me.

My third encounter with Childs came when I was teaching Old Testament at Belmont University. I was attempting to develop a new Old Testament Theology course and I didn’t know what I was doing. So, I decided that I should select the very best textbook that I could find to help me through it. I chose Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments by Brevard Childs. It was a very challenging book but I figured that, since the course was a Senior level one, the students should be able to handle it. And they did pretty well with it. But, as they say, timing is everything. Several members of the class had just completed an elective course on Contemporary Theology offered by the then Dean of the School of Religion, Steve Simpler. In that course they discussed, among other things, Liberation Theology and Feminist Theology. Childs, with his emphasis on taking the Bible seriously as the Scripture of the Church, asked some good questions about the approaches of some of those modern theologians. Some of my students who had become enamored of those modern theologies overreacted to his questions. Some of my more conservative students overreached in claiming Childs as an ally in their battle against feminism. I took two things away from the experience. One, I needed to learn that sometime I had to take better control of a class (I let some of the discussions get out of hand). Two, it was very possible to take the Bible seriously as the Scripture of the Church while at the same time taking people’s personal experiences with appropriate seriousness as well.

Brevard Childs died on June 23, 2007, at the age of 83. I wanted to say publicly how important his writings have been to me. To read an excellent obituary, go here.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thursdays with Luke #10

The Temptations of Jesus

Luke 4:1-13

From this text we learn some very important truths about Jesus. Specifically, we learn some truths about the kind of Messiah he was going to be and the kind of Messiah he is. Notice first of all the presence of the Holy Spirit with Jesus. We saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him in his baptism (3:22). In the next passage we will be told that he was “filled with the power of the Spirit” as he began his teaching ministry (4:14). In the temptation narrative we are told that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” (v. 1) and that it was the Spirit that led him into the wilderness where his temptation took place. I believe that Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness are meant to remind us of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness. One reason for that conclusion is the fact that all of Jesus’ Scripture quotations come from Deuteronomy which is set at the end of Israel’s wandering period. Luke is trying to tell us that this was a very formative period for Jesus and that it was a necessary period for him. The Spirit was with him to help him through.

Notice second that Jesus answered the temptations of Satan with the word of God. We should have no doubt that Jesus was very conversant with his Bible, which was our Old Testament. For every temptation Jesus was able to quote Scripture in response. We may rightly assume that as the living Word Jesus had a very dynamic relationship with the Scriptures. Please note that the devil was also able to quote Scripture (vv. 10-11). Even the true word can be used for wrong purposes. Jesus used one of the weapons that he had ready at hand: the Bible.

Notice third that Jesus was tempted in ways that, had he given in, would have completely and negatively altered his ministry. There is a sense in which all of the things that the devil tried to get Jesus to do would, had he done them, have worked. He could have turned the stones into bread and he could have done good things with that bread. He could have fed himself and he could have fed others. In the second temptation Satan was sort of telling the truth and sort of lying, as he often does. It is true that he has a certain amount of authority in the world. It is not true, though, that his authority is ultimate. But no doubt if Jesus had acknowledged the devil’s authority he could have thrown a lot of support Jesus’ way. It would have been an impressive feat for Jesus to be spared from death had he thrown himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. But Jesus would do none of those things even though to do so would have provided short cuts that would have won him much more acclaim in the short term than the hard way of obedience that led to a cross did. But he had to go that hard way. Jesus could not have been God’s Messiah otherwise. In so doing he defeated the devil who has remained defeated ever since.

From this text we also learn some very important things about ourselves if we accept the fact that our life and ministry should be modeled after that of Jesus.

First, we can trust the Holy Spirit. He may lead us into difficult places but they are places that we need to be. The times of stress and trial may be the greatest opportunities for growth that we ever have. Lean on his power and trust his guidance.

Second, immerse your life in the Scriptures. Read, study, learn, meditate. Listen to what God is saying to you through his word. Let your life be permeated with the teachings of God’s word and also with the spirit of that word. Be ready. Your Bible is your sword and the presence of the word in your heart is a great source of defense.

Third, watch for the subtleties of Satan. As Fred Craddock said, “It is important to keep in mind that a real temptation beckons us to do that about which much good can be said” (Luke, p. 56). Temptation for us may not so much be to do bad as it is to try to do good in the wrong way. The end never justifies the means if the means are not true to the character of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Fourth, rest assured that if you try to live in the ways that God has called you to live you will face temptation and the temptations will be very much to the point. Satan knows the points at which your faithfulness may make you vulnerable. When the illusionist David Blaine was well into his effort to go without food for 44 days while suspended in a box beside the Thames River in London, people taunted him by throwing food at him. Someone even used a remote control helicopter to dangle a hamburger in front of him! They tempted him at his very point of weakness: his hunger.

Satan tempted Jesus at the points where he thought Jesus might be vulnerable. We can count on it happening to us, too. Do things the ways that God wants them done, live as God wants you to live, be who God is calling you to be, and Satan will make the other ways look as appealing as possible. When it happens, rely on the Spirit and the Word. You’ll make it through.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

On Champ Ruffin’s 86th birthday

My father, Champ Ruffin, was born on July 25, 1921, in Yatesville, Georgia. He graduated from Yatesville High School, which doesn’t exist anymore, and spent his entire career working at Thomaston Mills, which doesn’t exist anymore. He built and nurtured a home that included his wife Sara and his son Mike, but that home doesn’t exist anymore, either.

And yet he left quite a legacy. To this day his faith and commitment are legendary among the folks with whom he worshiped. To this day his work ethic lives on in those who were influenced by him. To this day his commitment to home and family lives on in the home and family that my wife and I have built and nurtured.

He died in 1979, just four years after his wife and my mother died. I was eleven months out of college, eleven months married, and three months away from leaving for seminary. I knew everything but I of course actually knew nothing. Somewhere along the way I matured to the point that I finally knew what the questions were that I should ask him. But I couldn’t. And I can’t. In a way that’s ok because I understood him well enough to have a pretty good idea what advice he would give me on most subjects. But in a way it’s not ok because conversations with him wouldn’t be so much about the advice as about the conversation itself and about the relationship that the conversation assumed.

There are some men in my church who were born in 1921. I like talking to them because it helps me to imagine what my father might have looked like had he stayed with us. It makes me smile.

Here’s to you, Daddy, on your 86th birthday. You were a good father. You would have been a good grandfather. Thanks for the memories, but more importantly, thanks for the legacy.

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Part Nine

Dawkins can’t be faulted for failing to give some of his chapters provocative titles. Chapter Four is a case in point: “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.”

In this chapter Dawkins is dealing with the “argument from improbability” (p. 113). If I understand him correctly, Dawkins says that there is a high statistical improbability that the life forms that now exist got that way by chance. “Creationists,” as he seems to like to call all Christians who believe that God stands behind creation, whether those Christians reject evolution or not, conclude from that improbability that those life forms must have been designed by a designer that we call God. Dawkins argues that Darwinian natural selection offers a better explanation for the development of those life forms because it factors in accumulation: bit by bit, step by step, natural selection brought about the changes that culminated in life as we know it. “Creationists,” Dawkins maintains, cannot understand this because they do not understand natural selection (which is not a big surprise, since, as Dawkins thinks he so ably proved in chapter three, folks who believe in God are not very bright).

I humbly admit that I do not understand natural selection. With the help of some suggested reading from a friend who is a professor of biology at Augusta State University, I am attempting to learn, though. Hopefully I can come back to that subject in a future post.

Dawkins believes that the argument from improbability effectively proves that there is no God. The reasoning goes something like this: if there is a high statistical improbability that life developed without a designer, then that supposed designer is itself even more improbable. Dawkins says, “Design is not a real alternative at all because it raises an even bigger problem than it solves: who designed the designer?” (p. 121). He believes that to be an unanswerable question. He no doubt could not live with my answer: no one designed the designer because the designer has always been. “That cannot be,” the atheist would respond. “Why not?” I would answer. Why does that make less sense than some unexplained and (so far) unexplainable singularity that somehow brought something out of nothing?

Dawkins points out that “creationists” like to try to find things in nature that are “irreducibly complex” and then to argue from those that evolutionary theory is false. When something is deemed irreducibly complex, Dawkins says, it is always found, upon further investigation, not to be so in fact. Still, in a surprising admission, he says, “We on the science side must not be too dogmatically confident. Maybe there is something out there in nature that really does preclude, by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of Mount Improbable” (pp. 124-125). If such a thing were to be found, he says, it would destroy Darwinian natural selection. Dawkins believes that the claims of believers about God, especially since he would have to be irreducibly complex, destroys intelligent design. That’s because we cannot say who designed the designer.

Here Dawkins completely misses the important point. I think that he misses it because, according to his way of thinking, the complex must develop from the simple and the simple cannot develop from the complex. Were there a God, from Dawkins’ perspective, God would have had to evolve. But, believers for the most part assume that God has always been what God is and thus he is irreducibly complex. I’m not sure that process theologians would agree with that, but most Christians certainly do. And that, from our perspective, is part of what makes God God. Even if it is true that in biology life must develop from the simple to the complex, why must that be true of God? And if it is not true of God, why does that negate God? Dawkins gets nowhere near answering those questions.

Dawkins does say one thing in this chapter that I almost agree with: “Perhaps you need to be steeped in natural selection, immersed in it, swim about in it, before you can truly appreciate its power” (p. 117). If you substitute the words “faith in Jesus” for “natural selection,” I can agree with every word he says. Perhaps, to paraphrase some of Dawkins’ earlier words, we cannot expect someone who has been immersed in natural selection to be open to faith in Christ, since that person has clearly been brainwashed!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Part 8

[Note: I took some time off from this discussion last week. To read my previous posts on Chapter Three, “Arguments for God’s Existence,” go here, here, and here. I conclude my dialogue with Chapter Three in this post.]

Dawkins treats “The Argument from Admired Religious Scientists” as another category of argument for God’s existence that is to be shot down. Shockingly, from Dawkins’ perspective, some scientists do believe in God. Dawkins thinks that most of those scientists who admit to a belief in God actually only believe in the sense that what one can’t understand or what one hasn’t yet discovered one can choose to call “God.” Studies have shown, he points out, that very few eminent scientists believe in a personal God.

Dawkins gets downright snobby in this section. He asks the question whether there is “any evidence that, in the population at large, atheists are likely to be drawn from among the better educated and more intelligent” (p. 102). He then goes on to cite studies that seem to indicate that such is the case. (Now, at times Dawkins throws in claims that he is trying to be funny; unfortunately, he throws in no such claim in this section.) It’s an interesting argument, really. First, point out that there are some believing scientists, even a few (Polkinghorne in England, Collins in America, for example) who are well-known and respected. Second, point out that such believing scientists make up a small percentage of the larger population of scientists. Third, claim that atheists tend to be drawn from the better educated and more intelligent segments of society, implying that religious people are really just not very bright. I would try to make a counter-claim that Dawkins has only proven that folks of his ilk are drawn from the more arrogant segments of society, but I’ve known too many arrogant religious folks to make that one stick.

Let’s be fair. Dawkins values what he values. He values science, logic, proof, intelligence, and education. Given his values, and given his inability to consider the possibility of faith, he may really have nowhere else to go. It is interesting, though, that he really has no counter to the faith stance of the believing scientists whom he mocks. Granted, such scientists have made the leap of faith and have come to believe in the God whom they cannot see but whose presence they sense in the wonders of nature and in the stirrings of their hearts. But, as we will see in the next chapter, Dawkins is just as capable of making just as big a leap of faith when it comes to certain “theories” or “probabilities.” If we can grant that God is love and that he revealed himself most fully in the self-giving, other-embracing love of his Son Jesus, I’d rather leap into those arms than into those of a logical probability.

I think that Dawkins reveals something in this section that may just be the true dividing line between him and those who think like he does and me and those who think like I do. He says that he asked Jim Watson, founder of the Human Genome Project, if he knew any religious scientists. He approvingly quotes Watson’s response: “Virtually none. Occasionally I meet them, and I’m a bit embarrassed [laughs] because, you know, I can’t believe anyone accepts truth by revelation” (p. 99). So there you go. Some of us believe in truth that has been revealed by God. I and others would say that God has revealed his truth in nature, in history, in the Bible, and most fully in Jesus Christ. Dawkins and his camp will have none of it. And there lies the great divide.

By the way, Dawkins reveals his very condescending attitude toward believing scientists in this section. On p. 99, Dawkins refers to three scientists involved in the study of the human genome. He refers to the Christian Francis Collins simply as “administrative head of the American branch of the official Human Genome Project” which he says in a footnote is “not to be confused with the unofficial human genome project, led by that brilliant (and non-religious) ‘buccaneer’ of science, Craig Venter.” He also refers to Jim Watson, quoted in the paragraph above, as the “founding genius of the Human Genome Project.” From Dawkins’ point of view, one apparently cannot be a Christian and “brilliant” or a “genius” at the same time; such designations are reserved for atheists, who, after all, come from the more intelligent and better educated segments of society!

Most “intelligent” and “educated” folks that I know have the good sense to maintain an open mind.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Parenting through Education

(A sermon based on Exodus 13:11-16 & Joshua 4:1-7)

One way in which we teach our children is by doing things that prompt their questions. This is especially true when it comes to teaching our children about our faith and about the ways in which we live out our faith. When we perform Christian acts, we provide a tremendous avenue through which we can teach our children of our faith. We can then move from that point to do the actual teaching. In other words, these “opportunities for education” enable us to move our children forward by directing their attention backward.

The two events of which we have read make this point clearly. The first is set within the context of the great Exodus event. To understand it, let us project forward a bit. The date is two hundred years after the Exodus. A sheep has given birth to her first lamb. The father of the family says to his son, “Come, we must make a sacrifice to God.” So father and son go out, take the lamb, and sacrifice it to God. The son wonders about the wisdom of this act because the flock cannot grow if all the lambs are sacrificed. So he asks his father, “Why do we sacrifice the lambs?” His father replies, “We do not sacrifice all of the lambs. We only sacrifice the first-born of any animal. In fact, I made a sacrifice on the say you were born.” “But you did not sacrifice me; I’m still here,” says his son. The father smiles. “No, of course not. To sacrifice a human being would be a terrible thing. When you were born, I sacrificed a lamb in your place. We call that ‘redeeming.’” “I see,” the boy said. “But why do we bother to make these sacrifices? Why is sacrificing the first-born so important?” “I’m glad you asked that, son. Here, sit down. You’ve heard me talk about the Exodus, the time when the Lord brought us out of Egypt. Well, on the night before we left, Pharaoh was still refusing to let us go. So, the death angel came and every first-born of the Egyptians, both human and cattle, died. But the death angel passed over our homes. That is why we observe Passover and it is why I sacrifice all the first-born of the flock. But it also why I redeemed you, my son.”

You see, the religious observance created an opportunity for teaching. To do a religious thing like sacrificing the first-born created a situation in which the father could explain to his son what God had done and how important God was to the family. Notice, though, that a few important things are assumed.

First, it is assumed that faith will be acted out. In Exodus 13, this observance is given as a command. It was to be carried out when the Hebrews came to live in Canaan. So the assumption is that the people will observe the appropriate religious observances. Do we faithfully carry out our religious observances?

Second, it is assumed that communication is present. It is assumed that the child will feel free to ask about religious things. How good is communication in our homes? Can our children ask us what they want and need to ask us?

Third, it is assumed that parents know and respond. It would have been pretty useless for the child to ask “What does this mean?” if his parent did not know. It would not be very beneficial if the parent had an answer that was incorrect, would it? You see, parents need not only to participate in Christian observances with their children but also to know why, to know what they mean. And then they must be willing to respond willingly. Are we learning what it means to be a Christian and are we sharing that with our children?

The second event about which we have read this morning teaches the same things. It is set within the context of the conquest of Canaan. In a sort of repeat of the crossing of the Sea, the people of Israel had crossed the Jordan River in order to enter Canaan. As the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant had put their feet into the water, the river had parted so that the people crossed on dry land. Then twelve men, one from each tribe of Israel, had each taken a stone from the river bed. With those stones a monument was built to the occasion. Joshua stated the purpose of the monument: “This may be a sign among you, when your children ask in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial for ever” (Joshua 4:6-7).

Again, the same things are assumed: that the memorial will be present, that the children will ask, and that the parents will respond properly. But note what the gist of their response was to be: the memorial was present because God had saved them. The Hebrews sacrificed the first-born animals because God had spared them when the Egyptian first-born had died. They had a pile of rocks beside the Jordan because God parted the river and allowed them to go across. They did what they did in acting out their faith because God had saved them.

Is there anything greater that we can teach our children? Is there anything more important than showing them what great things God has done for us? You know, we do what we love; we are involved in what is important to us. If we like to fish our children see us fishing and we like it when they ask us to teach them how. If we sew our children see us sewing and we like it when they ask us to teach them how. Have our children asked us how to be a Christian? Are the opportunities created?

Now, you might ask, “How can we live our faith so as to create teaching opportunities for our children?”

First, by participating in the memorials

We need to do those worshipful things that will prompt the questions of our children.

Church memorials. We should participate in worship. “Daddy, why do we go to church?” is a better question to hear from our children than “Daddy, are we going to church today?” Our regular participation in worship gives us opportunity to tell our children that we worship God because he has saved us.

We should participate in stewardship. The picture is still vivid in my memory of how every pay period my father would sit down a write a check for his tithe. Somewhere along the line I asked why he did that and he explained to me that God had given him life and had in Christ given him new life so 10% of his income was the very least he could give in return. What opportunity for teaching does our stewardship provide?

We should participate in the ordinances. As the Hebrews observed the Passover, we observe the Lord’s Supper. As they passed through the Jordan River, we pass through the waters of baptism. Our participation in the ordinances gives us opportunity to tell our children that we love God because he has saved us.

Home memorials. We should participate in Bible study. Judging from what reading material our children see in our hands most often, are they more likely to ask “What’s on TV tonight?”, “Just how do you catch the biggest bass?”, “What are the ten best ways to decorate your home for spring?”, “Just what is that Paris Hilton up to now?” or “Will you read me the story about Jesus walking on the water again?”

We should participate in prayer. We talk a lot to folks who mean a lot to us. We need to engage and involve our children in regular times of prayer.

Second, by being memorials

I am really creating a false dichotomy here. Our church involvement is certainly part of our being Christians and of living Christian lives. What I mean, though, by being a memorial to what God has done through Christ in us, is to exemplify Christian attitudes and actions in our daily lives. Then our children can ask, “Why do you act that way?” And we can answer, “Because Jesus lives in my heart.”

For example:
Someone hurts us and we show compassion rather than anger;
A tragedy befalls us and we show faith rather than bitterness;
A moral choice confronts us and we choose good over expediency;
Someone needs help and we gladly give it.

Are we “living memorials” to what God has done in Christ?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Good Day Fishing

(Sabbath Blog #26)

I went fishing yesterday.

I tell people that I like to fish, but you can’t tell it by the frequency—make that infrequency—of my visits to the fishing hole.

But I did go yesterday with Steve and Blande, two members of our church, to a very nice pond. We had a good day fishing—not a great day, but a good day. We kept seventeen fish, fifteen bream and two bass.

The day put me in mind of some other fishing trips.

There was the trip my parents and I made to Lake George in Florida when I was a young boy. We and a bunch of other people accompanied Preacher Bill, my boyhood pastor, on his annual fishing vacation. We caught a lot of fish that week. But the memory that has stayed with me is not a particularly pleasant one. It was just before sundown and my father, my Uncle Dock, and I were out in a boat. We had come across a trot line (a long cord with hooks dangling from it) and Uncle Dock was fooling around with it for some reason. Daddy gunned the motor, not knowing that Uncle Dock was still holding the trot line. I knew something was up when Dock came running past me in the boat. One of the hooks had become embedded in his hand. Someone had to cut it out with a pocket knife. I watched. You don’t forget things like that.

There was the time that my father and I returned to Lake George with Preacher Bill. My mother had died just a couple of weeks before. The fish weren’t biting and Daddy was very sad. We went home a day early.

There were the trips I made to the irrigation ponds in Calhoun County, Georgia, with my father-in-law. Mr. Johnson was a master at fishing those ponds. They had been formed by damming up some streams but they had not been cleaned out. So, all of the trees and brush were still in them. Mr. Johnson always caught fish. I always caught limbs. He stopped taking me after a while.

There was the trip that Joshua and I made to fish for speckled perch (or “crappie,” the unappetizing name given them by most folks in Georgia) in a canal outside Adel, Georgia, with Virgil, a retired attorney and fine man. Joshua was just a preschooler. We caught a few and then someone landed one that somehow ended up floundering about in Joshua’s face. He cried a little bit. Virgil said we had to go because Joshua was so unnerved. We actually had to go because Virgil was so unnerved!

There was the trip that I made with Steve to Santee Cooper in South Carolina to fish for catfish. Now, that was the way to fish. We had a guide who found the fish, who baited our hooks, and who made the casts. All we had to do was to reel in the fish. He even cleaned them for us. We caught several cats in the 15-20 pound range and I landed one that weighted 47 pounds. Somewhere I have a picture with that big fish hanging beside me; it looked like a small shark.

And there have been others. The saying is sure: “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”

But yesterday was a good day. It was good because it was a day for catching fish, for enjoying friends, and for cherishing memories.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The New Baptist Covenant and the Main Thing

We just finished a week of Vacation Bible School at The Hill Baptist Church. Each year, in addition to the children’s classes, we have an adult class that I teach. This year we talked about Baptist history. I had a good time studying our heritage again and sharing it with about forty members of our church. At the commencement last night, I told them that I would dare say they know more about Baptists than 98% of the Baptists in America do. That is probably hyperbole, but there is some truth to it. (By the way, the books that were most helpful to me were Baptist Heritage by Leon McBeth, Baptist Ways by Bill Leonard, and Not a Silent People by Walter Shurden.)

We all know the old adage that “Baptists multiply by dividing.” I’ve seen that happen myself. Two churches in my home community are there because my home church split twice. The church that I presently serve as pastor did the “one church, two locations” thing for a few years; we are now “two churches, two locations.”

Baptist history certainly bears out the adage. The Triennial Convention became the Northern and Southern Baptist Conventions. The Northern Convention begat the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches and the Conservative Baptists of America. Out of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A. came the National Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Convention. There are at least five Primitive Baptist groups in the United States. Recently, the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship have emerged from the SBC. And so on.

In his book God’s Last and Only Hope, Bill Leonard wrote of the way in which the SBC remained pretty much unified for decades despite many ongoing internal tensions. He said, “Denominationalists called on Southern Baptists to look beyond their considerably diverse liturgical, educational, historical, even theological differences to the united tasks of evangelization and Christianization” (p. 31). He went on to say,
Southern Baptist denominationalism prevailed…enabling the convention to avoid a major schism longer than anyone might have expected. It was a Grand Compromise, constructed by individuals who sought to bring some unity of purpose to a sometimes unruly constituency wary of any threat to local church autonomy and individual freedom (p. 31).
For a long time, then, people in the SBC were able to put their common purposes in missions and evangelism ahead of their theological and cultural differences. The Grand Compromise held as long as Southern Baptists kept the main thing the main thing. Once, though, we started valuing our differences more than our common purposes, all bets were off.

When the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant takes place in early 2008, we will be undertaking another Grand Compromise. Over twenty diverse Baptist groups will gather to talk about the possibilities that exist to bring Christ’s message of grace, love, and hope to bear on a broken and hurting nation and world. Now, we are not talking about the merging of organizations. We are, however, talking about the merging of purpose—can we value our common calling more than we value whatever issues separate us? I believe and hope that we can. I am excited by the possibility. I am looking forward to being with brothers and sisters whose agenda is to find common ground in the doing of ministry rather to find areas of disagreement over fine points of theology.

God just might do something magnificent through this effort if we show that we can keep the main thing the main thing!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thursdays with Luke #10

The Baptism and Ancestry of Jesus

Luke 3:21-38

Here we read of Jesus’ baptism and of his family lineage. We might get a sense of commonality with Jesus in our reading of this text. After all, most if not all of us have been baptized and we all have a family tree. Still, we are of course interested in the uniqueness of Jesus’ experience and his life, since he is our Savior and Lord. In this text, then, we will find inspiration both in what is unique about Jesus’ experience and in the extended meaning of that experience for our lives.

Empowerment comes in the context of prayer. Among the synoptic gospels only Luke tells us that Jesus was praying after his baptism when the events described occurred. As he prayed he had a revelatory experience. The experience was a confirming event for Jesus; he heard the kind of words that a child always wants and needs to hear: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” We learn at least two things from those words.

First, we learn about privilege and responsibility. As Fred Craddock pointed out, this statement “combines Ps. 2:7, used at the coronation of Israel’s king as son of God, and Isa. 42:1, a description of the servant of God. The two texts join sovereignty and service” (Luke, p. 51). Jesus knew both the privilege that came with being the Son of God and the responsibility that came with being his servant. Being a Christian is both a privilege and a responsibility. We are privileged to be saved but we have a responsibility to serve.

Second, we learn about grace and affirmation. I heard someone say that the Father said these words before Jesus had begun his earthly ministry; in a sense he had not done anything yet. He was loved by his Father because of who he was not because of what he had done. We need to embrace that truth in our own lives. To be sure, much was expected of Jesus. Much is expected of us. But God loves us before we do anything. That is wonderful to know.

The words are encouraging not only for what they affirm but also because they underscore his identity and point toward his mission. Jesus also experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit upon him. The Spirit had always been involved in the life of Jesus, but the picture here is one of empowerment. Jesus is going to need the power of God to face what he is going to face and to do what he is going to do.

So it is with us. We cannot believe that the Holy Spirit will lead us only into easy places and only down paths that lead to easy victory. The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan. Then Jesus will go back to Galilee to begin his ministry and he will do so “filled with the power of the Spirit” (4:14). Ultimately that ministry will lead him to crucifixion and resurrection. The Spirit leads us in the right way but that doesn’t mean it will be the easy way. That reality just underscores our need for the Spirit’s power in our lives.

Prayer is very important for Luke and it was important for Jesus. It was important for the early church, too. It is no coincidence that the disciples were at prayer when the Holy Spirit fell upon them at Pentecost. How actively are we at prayer? Are we living in communion with God so that we can have access to the ministry-enabling power that he wants to pour into our lives? The attitude and stance of prayer make us open to the leadership and power of the Spirit.

Ministry is universal in its scope. The genealogy given here is interesting. It is different than the one offered by Matthew, but genealogies in ancient literature were more interested in making a point than in giving a literal ancestry. Matthew’s treatment only went back to Abraham, thus stressing the Jewish roots of Jesus. Luke’s treatment, on the other hand, goes all the way back to Adam. He certainly treats the Jewish roots as well, but he goes all the way back to the beginning of humankind. It is Luke’s way of telling us two things that he tells us over and over in various ways: Jesus’ ministry is to be seen against the backdrop of all that God has always been doing and it is to be seen as a ministry to everyone.

Should not our ministry emulate that of Jesus? Then we need to understand that what God is doing through us in the here and now is a part of what he has always been doing. What he is up to through us is a part of what he has always been up to and a part of what he will always be up to until Jesus comes back. And we need to affirm and to live out the fact that ministry is real ministry only if it knows no bounds and accepts no limitations in regards to those to whom it is offered. The ministry of a Christian church that is modeling its ministry after that of our Lord will be a ministry offered to all who need it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Read Josh Ruffin's Articles in this Week's Metro Spirit

Josh Ruffin has written an article about a recent Extreme Fight Night in Augusta. He also has an article about the music group Beneath the Sky and a review of the new CD Golden Pollen by Savath and Savalas.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On Being Ecumenical Baptists

No, that's not an oxymoron!

Scott Rushing has written an outstanding essay on that topic on his blog Retrieving the Christian Tradition.

You can read it here and I hope you will.

Welcome to God’s House

Here at The Hill Baptist Church we are experiencing a positive convergence of events this week.

First, we are having Vacation Bible School. That’s always a lot of fun. It’s good to have a lot of children running around the place, studying the Bible, making crafts, playing games, and learning about Jesus. We also have an adult class that I teach. This year we’re studying Baptist history. They seem to be enjoying it. No, really.

Second, we are taking our turn as hosts for the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN). This is a ministry to homeless families. Specifically, IHN takes in families with children who need housing and works with them to help them become self-sufficient and to get them into housing of their own. While the families are in transition, churches take turn housing them. Here in Augusta over twenty churches of several denominations participate in this excellent ministry.

I said that we are experiencing a positive convergence of events. It has been great to have the children who are staying with us participate in our Vacation Bible School.

Last night, the class of which one of our guest children is a member was getting ready to come back inside after their recreation time. That little boy said, “I can go in anytime I want to because I’m living here this week. I’m staying at God’s house. He wants me to.”

And amen.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Dinner with Jesus

(A Communion Meditation based on Matthew 9:10-13)

Whom would you invite to have dinner in your house? Most of us would not invite someone with a bad reputation or someone who committed obvious sin. Most of us would not invite someone who was an outcast from society, whose presence in our home would make our friends and neighbors look upon us with suspicion. Moreover, we usually want to be comfortable with our dinner guests, so we do not invite someone who has great need and who will wonder if we will do something to meet that need. We probably would not eat in the homes of such people, either.

In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were outcasts. They collaborated with the hated Roman occupiers and were seen as traitors to Israel. They were often cheats and criminals. They were not admired by the Romans, either, so they had no friends except for those who were like they were.

So it is amazing that one day Jesus called one of those tax collectors to be his disciple. His name was Matthew. Matthew immediately invited Jesus to his house for a meal. And Jesus went. Matthew invited many of his friends and cohorts to join in the meal. They were other tax collectors and “sinners.” It was natural that Matthew would invite those folks because he wanted them to know this person who had accepted him, called him, and changed his life.

It was also natural that the puritanical Pharisees would criticize what was going on. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” they asked his disciples. You see, Jesus was breaking ceremonial laws by eating with “unclean” persons. Besides, it could only hurt his reputation to dine with such riff-raff.

Listen to Jesus’ reply: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

If Jesus was here in the flesh today, with whom would he eat? Would he eat with those self-righteous ones who believe that they are better than anyone else? Would he eat with those who put “purity” above the needs of people? Would he eat with those whose circle is so small as to include only those of like biased mindset? Perhaps he would; he did sometimes eat with such folks when he was walking the earth. But he can’t help such folks because they don’t believe that they need any help.

Jesus would definitely eat with those who are sinners and who know it. He would dine with those whom he could help because they have no illusions about their condition. He would go to the homes of the alcoholics and drug addicts who wallow in their despair. He would go to the homes of the AIDS patients who feel helpless and hopeless. He would go to the homes of the poor who are outcast because of their economic state or to the homes of those who are outcast because of their minority status.

But would he come here? Would he come here, to this church, at this time, to eat with us? Now, this no longer a hypothetical question, for we have come here to eat the Lord’s Supper. We are assuming that he is here. We are assuming that he is present with us as we eat the bread and drink the cup. But is he? He is if we recognize ourselves for what we are: sinners. If we still see ourselves as in need of his presence, he is here. If we still see ourselves as in need of repentance, he is here. If we still see ourselves as people who are falling short and who fail him all too often, he is here. Is he here for us? As we prepare to come to the table of the Lord, let us ask ourselves: are we among those poor, needy, outcast sinners with whom Jesus gladly sits at table?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

About Baseball's All-Star Game

(Sabbath Blog #25)

I have loved the Major League Baseball All-Star Game since I was a child.

I was ten years old on Tuesday evening, July 22, 1969, when I walked two houses up the street to Dee Hunter’s grandparents’ house to watch the All-Star Game with him. We had been planning and looking forward to that evening for weeks. You can imagine our disappointment when the game was rained out before a pitch could be thrown. It was rescheduled for the following afternoon. Luckily, since we were elementary school students, we were able to watch the game anyway.

The first All-Star Game from which I actually remember a play is the one from the following year, 1970. The game went into extra innings. Again, since I was an elementary school student out for summer vacation, I was able to stay up late to watch it. The play I remember from that game is the one that everybody remembers: Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse at the plate to score the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning.

I have always looked forward to the All-Star Game. It has always provided a good opportunity to watch the game’s finest players having a good time on a national stage. It’s especially fun to see how excited the younger or first-time all-stars get about being on the same field with some of their idols.

Lately, though, I haven’t been enjoying the game as much. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s part of my own personal middle-age crazy; maybe I’m wondering why some things that I know really don’t matter all that much ever mattered all that much to me anyway. Or maybe there’s something wrong with the game.

Once when I was a teenager MAD Magazine (do kids still read MAD? Goodness, I hope so!) published an article on ways that the game of baseball could be improved. They suggested, among other things, that iron baseballs be used and that the batters should be allowed to keep their bats with them as they ran the bases—and use them in whatever ways they saw fit. Now, I’m not suggesting anything that radical. Nonetheless, I would like to offer a few suggestions on how the Major League Baseball All-Star Game could be improved.

First, stop letting fans elect the starting players. They get it right a lot of the time but for the most part the process is simply a popularity process. I’m sure that every team does what my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, does, and that is to push their players. The official web site of the Braves for weeks encouraged fans to vote for the Braves players who were on the ballot, although very few of them deserved to be in the game. Another problem is that the ballots are set before the season starts. Who knows what rookie or unexpected player is going to have a breakout season? Rico Carty, who played left field for the Braves in the late 1960s, missed the entire 1968 season with tuberculosis and was understandably left off the ballot in 1969. He did play in 1969, though, and he played well; he would end up winning the National League batting title that year. To the fans’ credit, they elected Carty to the starting line-up on a write-in vote. But how often is something like that going to happen? I understand the argument that it is a fans’ game and the fans should have input into who plays. But I say that real fans want to see the most deserving players on the field.

Second, stop trying to make the game count in any kind of significant way. Since 2003, the game has determined which league’s representative in the World Series would have home field advantage, meaning that that league’s team would host a game 7 if one was necessary. I will say what many, many others have said: the All-Star Game is an exhibition. Exhibitions should not count. One of the things that I always liked about the All-Star game was that it was a more laid-back kind of experience. I could watch it and, while I always root for the National League, I really didn’t have to care who won. It was a game to celebrate great individual accomplishments and to watch great players do great things. To try to make more of it than it that is, in my humble opinion, silly.

Third, stop having the Home Run Derby. It’s boring.

Fourth, stop playing one national All-Star Game and replace it with regional All-Star Games that would be played at minor league stadiums around the country. Imagine the kind of fan interest that could be generated if a National League Eastern Division All-Star Game was played at Lake Olmstead Stadium in Augusta, Georgia. And imagine furthermore the good will that could be generated if 25% of the tickets were purchased and set aside for children from the community. Who would pay for those tickets? How about the players in the Eastern Division who are making more than $10 million per year? Again, imagine the good will that would be created. All of these regional games could be televised on ESPN, ESPN2, FOX, or TBS, so money would be made for baseball.

So, there are four suggestions to improve the All-Star Game. If you have one, I’d love to hear it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Good Point

A blog has been started this week that attempts to discredit folks involved with the Celebration of the New Baptist Convenant that will be held in Atlanta in early 2008.

My friend, colleague, and former student Philip Meade has posted an excellent essay on his blog The Beast's Lair that addresses the negative approach taken by that blog. Philip's words are especially helpful because he himself has expressed some reservations about the Celebration, but he has expressed them in the right way.

I encourage you to read his article.

In fact, I encourage you to visit his blog regularly. He always has something interesting to say. There is a permanent link to it at the bottom of this blog.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Reaction and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Part 7

I am still responding to chapter 3 which is entitled “Arguments for God’s Existence.”

Dawkins deals very briefly with the argument from Scripture because he sees no need to take it seriously at all. For Dawkins, the New Testament Gospels’ witness to Jesus is to be dismissed because of the historical contradictions contained in them. Dawkins contrasts “sophisticated Christians” who are at least aware of those problems with “unsophisticated Christians” who take the accounts literally. While I am uncomfortable with his choice of adjectives, I must grant some validity to what he is saying. I do not like thinking of myself as “sophisticated” (or as “progressive” or “enlightened” or as “educated” or as “modern”—clearly, I would have been uncomfortable with any adjective that Dawkins chose in this context!) but I have, along with many, many others, read a few books, gone to a few classes, and, most importantly, read the Gospels pretty closely. The fact is that they do disagree in their details. The facts are that they tell the same stories in different ways, that they offer differing timelines, and that they give the sayings of Jesus in different versions.

What does one do with such evidence? Well, one could say that in the original autographs of the Gospels those contradictions did not exist, but that is a specious argument. After all, we have no autographs. Also, the Gospels are clearly documents that have a complex history of development; at what point in their development would the status of “original” be achieved? Would one ascribe inerrancy to an “ur-Gospel” such as the supposed early “ur-Mark” which the other Synoptists may have used as a source? The bottom line is that we have to deal with the Gospels that we have.

And the writers of the Gospels that we have did not abide by the modern standards of “historicity” or “verifiability” or “accuracy” that we expect in writings today. The Gospels should be treated as what they are—kerygmatic interpretations of the life and teachings of Jesus with the intent of producing faith in the Christ whom they proclaim. To be fair, Dawkins is aware of something like that. He notes that the Gospel writers wanted to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and that is certainly right. I used to talk about that in my Old Testament classes at Belmont University when we would come to the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, which is, in its original context, clearly a prophecy for Isaiah’s own time that had to do with the impending birth of someone, probably a son of the king or, less likely, a son of Isaiah. The Gospel of Matthew says that the birth of Jesus fulfilled that prophecy. I would tell my classes that the Gospel writers operated out of the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah and that they went to their Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures, to help them understand what that meant. In so doing, they were operating out of a tradition that saw prophecies as dynamic and thus being capable of bearing developing and expanding meanings.

People of faith, whether they are “sophisticated” or not, have the privilege of coming to the Scriptures with the conviction that they are inspired and thus authoritative for our faith. They are “infallible” in that they unfailingly tell us what we need to know to be saved and to live as disciples of Christ. Dawkins cannot understand how someone can recognize and accept the Bible as it actually presents itself and not as some “tablet written with the finger of God and dropped out of heaven” sort of thing and still view it as inspired and authoritative. I suppose I have to fall back on another kind of argument that Dawkins rejects, the argument from personal experience. When it comes to the things that matter most—my relationship with God, my understanding of myself, my efforts to deal with life and with death and with life after death—it hasn’t let me down yet.

Oh, and let’s imagine what Dawkins would say if it could be proven scientifically that everything word in the Bible was literally and historically true. What would he say? He would say, I think, and I’m basing it on the kinds of things he says in his book, that to believe in the God revealed in the Bible is still to submit to a delusion because such a God simply can’t exist.

At Worms, Luther famously said, “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.” Like Luther, I want to listen to and to be instructed by “plain reason.” But I am also “captive to the Word of God.” Somehow, those two have to work together. For Dawkins, only rationality matters. For me, there is more to it than that. I have found peace and meaning in a heart wide open, eyes wide open, mind wide open submission to Scripture as a gift from God.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Thursdays with Luke #9

The Ministry of John the Baptist

Luke 3:1-20

John was a prophet. We already know that because the earlier words of Gabriel and of John’s father Zechariah had made it clear. Now Luke introduces John as we would expect an OT prophet to be introduced. After setting John’s ministry in its historical context, Luke tells us that “the word of God came to John son of Zebedee.” John received the word as a prophet and he would share it as a prophet.

What was John’s ministry?

It was a ministry of preparation. That is, he was preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, John’s ministry would never fully focus on John. It would always push the spotlight over to the Messiah. Such is the way it should be for all of us, really. “Our” ministry is never really “ours” at all. Our lives, if they are being lived as they should, point to the Messiah and not to us.

John was preparing the way for a Messiah who would make salvation available to everyone. Luke used some words from the book of Isaiah to help explain what John was all about. Those words originally expressed the expectation that God would come to deliver his people from exile in Babylon. Now in Jesus God is preparing to come to call his people out of the world. The last line from the Isaiah quotation says, “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” What God was about to do would be evident to all. We learn as we go along through Luke-Acts that from Luke’s perspective it was also available to all. Pedigree and prestige did not matter. Thus John told the crowds that they could not count on their status as descendants of Abraham (v. 8). God could get children wherever he wanted them, and that’s what he was going to do.

John’s ministry was also a ministry of repentance. He was a real hell-fire and brimstone preacher. He was, as we know from the other gospel writers, quite something to behold as well. The medium and the content of his message were driven by the dynamics of his mission. John was called to turn the attention of people to the coming of the Messiah and to all that it entailed. And so he had to talk about judgment as a component of the Christ event. The fact is that people needed to change their ways and they still do. The basic act in repentance is a turning away from self and sin and a turning toward God. John used baptism to symbolize repentance, but he made it clear that he was only preparing the way for the one who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (v. 16). The Holy Spirit is the mark of the Christian and of the Church. Fire is a symbol of judgment. John’s message is still valid. People need to turn away from sin and toward God. Judgment is a reality for those who don’t.

John’s ministry was a ministry of changed lives. That is, he preached about a Messiah whose coming should prompt repentance that would lead to real change in people’s lives. Now, by definition repentance should lead to real change. What I like about John’s message here is that he made the call to repentance very specific to someone’s life circumstances. So to the crowds who asked what they should do, John told them to share with others. That is something that all followers of God are called to do. Human beings are by nature selfish. Salvation changes that; we become sharers rather than hoarders. When tax collectors asked him what they should do, John told them not to abuse their office by overcharging. So our salvation is to affect us in the particulars of our job. The motivation that most people have, “to be successful at any cost,” is changed into “to be successful in the right way by treating people the right way.” So we see that John’s preaching makes it clear that changed hearts lead to changed lives in very practical and very specific ways. Ask yourself, “Is my life in its particulars truly reflecting the salvation that I have experienced?”

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Part Six

This post is a continuation of my dialogue with chapter three which is entitled “Arguments for God’s Existence.” The first post on chapter three can be found immediately below this one.

When Dawkins turns to the argument from personal experience and the argument from Scripture he lands his punches a little closer to where I live. I say that because, while I do not put much stock in the classical arguments for the existence of God, I do put a lot of stock in the personal testimonies of people of faith, in my own experience, and in Scripture.

Dawkins completely discounts the testimony of anyone who claims to have had a vision of God or an angel or who claims to have heard the voice of God. He puts such people in the same category as those who think they have seen a pink elephant. If most of us, even people of faith, were to tell the truth about it, we would confess to our own skepticism at such claims. If someone came to me tomorrow and said, “I saw Jesus this morning and he told me to come see you,” I’d have my doubts. Let me be clear: I would not doubt that the good Lord led that person to come see me; what I would doubt is that he had literally “seen” Jesus. When someone claims to have seen the face of Jesus in a picture of a bowl of spaghetti, I doubt it. But if someone says that she has been praying about something and has had a strong sense of divine leadership to pursue a certain direction in life, I take that seriously. I’m not quite sure where the line lies for me between an irrational claim and a statement of sincere faith born out of legitimate experience, but such a line does exist.

And I don’t mean to say that Jesus could not appear to someone if he wanted to do so. It’s just that all the Christians that I’ve ever known who have their wits about them but who still possess what Dawkins would consider an irrational faith not only in the existence of God but in God’s personal intervention in their lives have not claimed such an experience. But they still have a strong sense of God’s presence. So do I.

I think that what Dawkins lacks is the ability to trust. Oh, I know he trusts in science and in logic and in verifiable facts. And, as I said in a earlier post, I’m not saying that religious claims should not be submitted to rigorous, even scientific examination. Still, your own brain and your own skill and your own cleverness will only get you so far. My personal experience, which Dawkins would judge irrational, is that, as I have lived my life out of a stance of as much trust as I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit (there I go again), I have sensed God’s help, direction, and presence. Somewhere along the way I took a leap of faith. Maybe I’m still in the air, but it’s worked so far.

I’ll respond on Friday to what Dawkins has to say about the argument from Scripture.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Part Five

Chapter Three of The God Delusion is entitled “Arguments for God’s Existence.”

In this chapter, Dawkins plays word games in order to refute the conclusions drawn by others who were also playing word games.

He spends a lot of space describing and then attempting to dismantle the arguments put forward by theologians and philosophers (Aquinas and Anselm, in particular) for the existence of God. It is not surprising that Dawkins scores some points here. I remember very clearly the required “Christian Philosophy” course that I took at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1981. One part of the course dealt with the classic arguments for the existence of God. I remember not being terribly impressed with them then and I’m not terribly impressed with them now. They are based on logic and they can therefore be refuted with logic. You just have to decide whose logic sounds more logical to you.

That being said, I must admit that the one notion behind Aquinas’ proofs for God’s existence that I cannot shake is that there must have been something or someone that preceded and caused physical creation and we call that something or someone “God.” Dawkins will have none of that, of course, and I partly can understand that. After all, there is no physical proof that there was anything or anyone prior to the physical existence of the universe. Dawkins says that we would do just as well to posit a big bang or some other kind of singularity. Still, I continue to wonder how something came from nothing unless God caused it to be. Someone who is committed to discounting any possibility of the existence of God would have to come up with some other explanation, but I have no idea what it would be. If there was a “big bang,” and there seems to be good evidence that there was, we still have to explain from where that concentrated matter that exploded in the big bang came, do we not?

Again, though, such arguments pit words against words and logic and against logic. Such exercises only take you so far.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Parenting Through Love

(A sermon based on Mark 12:28-33 and other texts)

[The first sermon in this series can be read here.]

How’s your love life? I’m not talking about romance. I’m focusing the question in these two ways: (1) How is your Christian love? and (2) How is your family love? We’re able to combine the two questions because we are addressing parenting in the context of a Christian family. The best family love is based on an already-present Christian love. That is because Christian love is the best kind there is. Why? To answer that, we will look at two general truths about Christian love.

First, Christian love is based on love of God. Once a scribe asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of all was. Jesus gave a double response: (1) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and (2) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Have we nearer neighbors that those who live in our home with us? Then, we should love our children with Christian love. But notice again this important emphasis: love of God comes first. Full love of human beings follows closely on its heels.

Second, Christian love is practical. Paul lists some characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Henry Drummond (The Greatest Thing in the World, pp. 24-25) has listed them using these words:
Good temper

Note that all of these are practical, down-to-earth things. Moreover, note that this great “love chapter” is part of a discussion by Paul of spiritual gifts. What Paul is thinking of is what will do the church the most practical good. He concludes that it is self-giving, self-denying love, which is the eternal, divine element in the church. Love is practical in that it gives us a code by which to live; it is practical in that it works.

Let us consider a few things to which love should lead and then consider how those consequences of love can be useful in parenting.

Love leads to sacrifice (John 15:12-13)

Jesus told his disciples that after he went away, his command to them was to love one another. Then he described the kind of love of which he spoke: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Such was the love that Jesus had for his friends, including us. As parents who are also Christians, do we love our children that way? You might say, “Given the choice, I would gladly give up my life for the life of my child.” But do we exhibit such a sacrificial attitude in our day-to-day dealings with our children?

For example, do we give sacrificially of our time to our children? The American author Nancy Friday has said, “Mothers may love their children, but they sometimes do not like them. The same woman who may be willing to put her body between her child and a runaway train will often resent the day-to-day sacrifice the child unknowingly demands of her time…and self-development” (Parents, May 1988, p. 87).

One day you will turn around and that three-year-old scamp you have at home now will be graduating from college. Trust me on that one. Or that high school junior of yours will be the middle-aged parent of your teen-aged grandchildren. Those thoughts are frightening enough, I hope, to make us realize that time is a precious commodity. Often we operate at one of two extremes: either we let our children dominate all of our time or we give them far too little time. Most often the latter is the case.

To love our children with Christian love is to give of ourselves to them and that includes giving our time. Spending quality and quantity time with our children lets them know how important they are to us. That requires effort. Let us note three typically difficult situations.

First, the two-career family. When both parents work outside the home, it becomes difficult for them to muster the energy to play, with read to, or talk with the children. Such time must be scheduled, however. A decision may even need to be made to sacrifice material comforts in order to parent the children adequately. One spouse may need to consider a part-time career, for example.

Second, the single parent. A single parent may find herself working much overtime or working two jobs just to make ends meet. If children are younger, room must be made in the schedule for them. If they are older, sacrificial effort in contracting may be required. In other words, contract with your child for him/her to take on some of the home work load so that some extra time for togetherness can be made.

Third, the mother at home, father at work household. It is a mistake for such a father to let all the basic child-tending chores fall to the mother because “she has time and that’s her job.” With babies, for instance, where does real bonding and closeness develop? In the simple tasks that take time: the feeding, the bathing, the changing, the playing. Fathers, show your children you love them by taking the time to help them.

Love leads to action (1 John 3:18)

Personally, I like a home where the members freely express their love to one another. It is important that we say that we love each other, but Christian love is expressed finally in actions. John speaks here especially of meeting the needs of people as a way of expressing love. Remember that our children have many kinds of needs.

Spiritual needs. Do we show our children we love them by praying with them, by reading the Bible with them, and by coming to church with them? Are we willing to discuss their serious spiritual questions, as uncomfortable as they may make us?

Physical needs. I speak here not of just meeting their basic needs of food and shelter but of providing the best, most healthy environment possible for them.

Emotional needs. The psyche is a fragile thing and especially vulnerable is a child’s self-esteem. Are we aware that our children are always growing and changing and are we sensitive to their particular needs at each stage of their lives?

Love leads to accommodation (1 Corinthians 8:9, 12)

I mean this in the sense of adapting oneself to another’s way of looking at things. Now, you may wonder what these verses have to do with parenting. After all, Paul is addressing a particular issue and not one with which we deal today. In Corinth, much of the meat for sale had been offered as sacrifice to pagan idols. Some so-called “weak” Christians felt guilty about eating such meat while other so-called “strong” Christians had no such qualms. Paul expressly says that eating or not eating makes no difference. Liberty is a wonderful thing and Christ has set us free. But Paul lays down an important principle by which the behavior of a Christian should be controlled: “Take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (v. 9). He then makes specific application: “Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall” (v. 13).

So what have verses to do with parenting? Simply this: they provide us with a principle to govern our behavior in light of the presence of our children. Perhaps today, as in Paul’s day, there are issues the “sinfulness” of which we could debate. When deciding our participation in such activities, we must remember that others are watching us, not the least of whom are our children. So sometimes we must accommodate our ideas or our actions in order to protect and insure the spiritual and moral development of our children. You might object, “But I am a more mature Christian and therefore I have the right to make my decisions based on my liberty.” That’s true. But our liberty must be tempered by our love. Love thinks of the other, in this case our child, first.

Love leads to faithfulness (Romans 13:8-10)

Here Paul states that “love is the fulfilling of the law” (v. 10b). He says further that the commandments can be summed up in the sentence “Love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 9). Drummond has commented on these words:
Take any of the commandments. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” If a man love God, you will not require to tell him that. Love is the fulfilling of the law. “Take not his name in vain.” Would he ever dream of taking His name in vain if he loved him?....
And so, if he loved man, you would never think of telling him to honor his father and mother. He could not do anything else. It would be preposterous to tell him not to kill. You could only insult him if you suggested that he should not steal—how could he steal from those he loved?
(pp. 15-16)

I believe that we can say that love leads us to fulfill our covenant obligations toward God and toward our fellow human beings. It leads us to be faithful in our relationships.

Let us look at one example of how this truth applies to parenting. You might say, “I love my child—obviously, that means I would never kill him.” But remember that there are subtle ways of taking away a child’s life, at least that part of his life that we call self-esteem. We must stop and think before we say or do things to our children that might take away their healthy view of themselves. The Christian parent should never use words that will damage our children’s self-image. It is a skill, to be sure to shape and to protect the ego simultaneously. But we must be faithful to our children in not undermining their basic humanity.

Love leads to forgiveness (Ephesians 4:30-5:2)

How important these words are: “God in Christ has forgiven you” (4:32). And how challenging these words are: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (4:32). It is our privilege to receive forgiveness; it is our responsibility to offer it.

Here is an indisputable fact: our children will make mistakes. There are two kinds of very dangerous parents: (1) The kind who think that their children can do no wrong and (2) the kind who think that their children should do no wrong. Mark it down: they will do wrong. The only real variable is our reaction. What will we do when they do wrong? We will talk about discipline in another sermon. But remember: at the end must come forgiveness. Love accepts and embraces a child even after the wrong has been done and the judgment has been meted out. Forgiveness must be the final word when wrong is done.


In Christian parenting, love must be the final word. I close with these words from Kate Samperi, an Australian social worker: “Before becoming a mother I had a hundred theories on how to bring up children. Now I have seven children and only one theory: love them, especially when they least deserve to be loved” (Parents, May 1988, p. 6).

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Announcing a Book of Dr. Howard Giddens' Sermons

Dr. Howard Giddens is my mentor, teacher, and, for all intents and purposes since my real father, the late and much beloved Champ Ruffin, died in 1979, my father.

Dr. Giddens is one of the last of a breed of outstanding pastor-theologians. He received the B.A. and M.A. degrees from Mercer University and the Th.M. and Th.D. degrees from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served as pastor of the First Baptist Churches of West Point, Bainbridge, and Athens, Georgia. In 1967 he became a professor at Mercer. That was where I met him, during the summer before I began my freshman year in 1975. He has served as mentor and friend to countless numbers of students like me.

Dr. Giddens is now 95 years old and resides in a retirement home in Macon.

I am so pleased to announce the release of a book of some of Dr. Giddens greatest sermons. It was my privilege to compile and edit the collection. The book is entitled Why Be a Christian? The Sermons of Howard P. Giddens. It is available from Mercer University Press. (I have also posted a permanent link to the book's page on the Press's web site in the right hand column of the blog.) If you want to read some great sermons by a true preacher-scholar whose words reflect his deep love for the Lord, for the Church, for the Bible, and for people, I encourage you to acquire a copy.

They also make great gifts!

We had the privilege on Friday, July 6, of presenting Dr. Giddens with the first copy of the book. The photograph above is of that presentation. Those pictured are (standing, left to right) Dr. Marc Jolley, Publisher of MUP, me, and Dr. Edd Rowell, Senior Editor at MUP, and (seated) Dr. Giddens.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Pt. 4)

(I am still reflecting upon chapter two, “The God Hypothesis.” If you’re just now taking up this series of posts, I would suggest that you go back and read the previous three posts, dated June 19, July 3, and July 4. I would also suggest, and I should have said this before, that you read along with me in Dawkins’ book. It is well-written and, for people of faith, bound to be quite vexing.)

Dawkins talks about an experiment that was conducted on the effectiveness of prayer for hospitalized patients. The results were that there was no difference between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not and that those who knew they were being prayed for did worse than those who did not know. Dawkins is of course not surprised; one suspects that he would not have been surprised by different results as he would have simply had some rational explanation for that, too.

He quotes at length the Oxford theologian Richard Swinburne (and Dawkins is appalled that there is any such thing as an Oxford theologian) who makes a valiant effort at explaining just what role suffering might play in a universe that is ruled by a good God. Dawkins finds it “grotesque” (p. 64) that Swinburne could say that God just might be able to turn our suffering to some good purpose, such as the development of noble character. Dawkins has not yet in this book offered his take on the role of suffering in human life; perhaps he will later. I suspect that he will say something like this: all suffering has a biological basis and, given enough time, scientists will one day find a way to eradicate it all; in the meantime, we just need to buck up and take it. Dawkins would benefit greatly from having the Cross of Christ make an impression upon his thought processes.

I hate suffering. I hate that people suffer. I hate that I have church members with cancer, with Alzheimer’s, with Parkinson’s, and with heart disease. I hate that my mother died of breast cancer and my father of a massive heart attack. I hate that my daughter recently dealt with a serious blood clot. I want scientists to do all the research they can do in order to eradiate disease. Unlike many of my Christian friends, I believe, albeit uneasily, that the embryos that are formed by the efforts of infertile couples to conceive that are not otherwise going to be used should be employed in stem cell research. But I do believe that out of great suffering can come great good. I believe the Cross teaches that. I believe that those who trust in the God of the Cross experience that in their own lives.

Dawkins does not appreciate those scientists who try to make accommodations to religion; he thinks, and he may be right about this, that most who do so are motivated by their desire to navigate the political waters in America. Creationists and Intelligence Design proponents are loud. Dawkins says, “I have one thing in common with the creationists. Like me…they will have no truck with NOMA and its separate magisteria” (pp. 67-68). Indeed, creationists merge religion and science with religion always holding the majority position; if they have their way, science will still exist but it will be the servant of religion. That would, in my estimation, be bad for science, bad for truth, and an inappropriate application of the Bible. Dawkins and his ilk, on the other hand, do not want religion to be the servant of science. Dawkins wants religion to go away. Religion is to him superstition and it is to be eradicated.

I find that troubling and I want to try to say why. I do think that Christians who want to impose a biblical worldview on the scientific enterprise are partly wrong. They are wrong if they want scientists to accept a literal interpretation of the creation narratives in the Bible. Such literalism is not the biblical worldview, anyway. The actual and thus enduring biblical worldview is that creation and everything that is a part of it actually, in some mysterious way that is in the mind and heart of God (in whom I still believe, even after reading two whole chapters of Dawkins’ book, which does not surprise him, since I was “brainwashed” from my childhood), means something. There is a purpose. And in that purpose there is grace and hope and love. Science needs that worldview because every field of endeavor needs that worldview. The fact that the Church has so often done such a lousy job of living it out does not make it any less true.

Dawkins tries to make the case that science may one day be able to reduce the level of agnosticism about the existence of God in the same way that it has, in his view, reduced it toward the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. He says, “Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine” (p. 72). For a scientist, that statement is quite a leap of faith. And, Dawkins here gives us some idea of just how shallow his brilliance is when he concludes that the ability to do amazing and even miraculous things makes someone “god-like.” Whether he can believe it or not, some of us look for more in God than the ability to do amazing stuff. We look for love. We look for a relationship. We look for hope. We look for purpose. And we have found it.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Thursdays with Luke #8

Jesus in the Temple

Luke 2:41-52

Jesus was special. After all, he was the Savior of the world, the Son of God, and the Messiah. Still, he was human, and as a human he is the only perfect follower of God who has ever lived. Therefore he offers us our best example in all things. The story of Jesus’ trip to the temple at age twelve provides us with some ways to think about our own discipleship and the discipleship of our children.

Jesus was born, he had a childhood, he became an adolescent, and then he grew into adulthood. He also grew up thoroughly Jewish. We have seen evidence of that earlier in Luke’s gospel, and we see more here. Recall that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and that he went with his parents to the temple on the occasion of his mother’s ritual purification. Now we see Jesus at the age appropriate for his bar mitzvah. He was at about the age that a boy was expected to begin to accept some of the responsibilities of manhood, including obedience to the law. The symbolism and the practices were very important.

We do similar things today. Many parents in our church bring their infant children before us to dedicate them to the Lord. In so doing they pledge themselves to be Christian parents and they ask God to use their children according to his will. We do so knowing full well that the time will come in the child’s life when she or he will have to make a personal commitment to the Lord. Some growing has to take place, but finally every person must make that commitment for himself. I think that it is very important that parents and their church realize the importance of commemorating such events, and our practices of parent/child dedication and believer’s baptism allow us to do just that.

Of course, every child has to grow physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and Jesus was no exception. Again, he was different and special, but we see some of the same phenomena operating in his life that occur in the life of many attentive young people. We also see some of the same parent/child dynamics that you will see in many loving Christian families. For example, we see Jesus coming to an increased awareness of who he was and what he was to be all about. For another, we see the tension that arises between parents and children as the child clarifies his place in life and the parents struggle with the need to protect and help on the one hand and the need to let go on the other. For another, we see the child having made a huge leap forward but still seeing the wisdom in listening to and learning from his parents for as long as possible and for as long as necessary.

We parents know what Mary and Joseph knew. We want our children to find their life in God and their way under God. We know like they knew that it’s good but it’s hard. We know that it’s worth it.

But there’s something else here we need to think about. It is best, I think, for us to follow a pattern something like I’ve described here. It is God’s intention that a person grow spiritually as they grow emotionally and physically. The ideal situation is for a person to be raised and nurtured by a family at home and at church so that she can learn and grow and be evolving spiritually even as she is evolving physically. The processes work well together. But every situation is not ideal. Some people grow up to adulthood in the chronological and physical senses but not in the emotional and spiritual senses. Their understanding does not progress as it should. Reasons abound and vary. But it is never too late. It is never too late to come into a faithful relationship with God that results in discipleship and obedience.

In an episode of the Dick van Dyke Show, comedy writer Buddy Sorrell, played by Morey Amsterdam, kept making excuses to leave work early or at odd times. Somehow Rob finds out that Buddy has been visiting his rabbi’s apartment at these odd times. He concludes that Buddy is misbehaving with the rabbi’s wife. As it turns out, he has been secretly taking instruction from his rabbi. It seems that Buddy had to start working as a child and never completed his bar mitzvah. That’s what he has been preparing to do, but he didn’t want anyone to know it. In the final segment of the episode, Buddy repeats the words, “Today I am a man.”

It’s never too late. What steps do you need to take in your life so that you can truly say that in the spiritual sense, today you are a woman or a man?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Article from On the Jericho Road at EthicsDaily.com

The "religious liberty lists" that I shared in my sermon last Sunday and that were posted here on July 2 appear today at EthicsDaily.com. I have a link to that website at the bottom of my blog; I encourage you to click over to it every day.

Reactions and Responses to The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Pt. 3)

This post is a continuation of my dialogue with chapter two, which is entitled “The God Hypothesis.”

Dawkins discusses agnosticism and in particular whether or not the question of the existence of God is unanswerable. There are two categories of agnosticism, he says. The first is TAP, or Temporary Agnosticism in Practice, which is validly and properly applied in scientific investigation. This kind of agnosticism is applicable when the question is answerable but there is not yet enough evidence to answer it. The second is PAP, or Permanent Agnosticism in Principle, which applies to questions that can never be answered because there will be enough evidence to answer the question because evidence is not relevant to the question. Too many people, Dawkins says, assign the question of God’s existence to the PAP category; he says that it should in fact be assigned to the TAP category because “Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability” (p. 48).

It seems to me that Dawkins makes an unsupportable statement here. If he means that “either God exists or he doesn’t” in a physical sense, then maybe if we never find any physical evidence of God then we could say that he probably doesn’t exist. Dawkins is prohibited by the limits of his science from entertaining the possibility that something exists that cannot be verified by the only kind of truth-seeking that matters to him: the kind that can be done through the scientific method. I would also note that to maintain that “we can say something pretty strong about the probability” is not a particularly bold statement from a man who makes lots of bold statements. Dawkins’ point is that to say that while the non-existence of God cannot be proven (because non-existence can never be proven), that does not mean that conclusions cannot be drawn about the probability of God’s existence. And from his perspective, the non-existence of God can be shown to be probable.

Dawkins then discusses NOMA, which stands for “non-overlapping magisteria.” This is a phrase coined by the late Stephen Jay Gould, who wrote about it in his book Rocks of Ages in which he said that according to the NOMA principle, "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)." Dawkins, predictably, rejects that distinction. Why should not science comment on matters of ultimate meaning and moral value? Moreover, what exactly is the realm of experience that theology is supposed to investigate? Dawkins basically dismisses theology as a valid field of study: “I am tempted to…wonder in what possible sense theologians can be said to have a province” (p. 56).

Again, given his convictions that only the physical is real and that only science can properly investigate that reality, he can hardly think otherwise of theology. And I would be the first to admit that much of what passes for theology is not much more than philosophical speculation dressed up with a lot of God-talk and that some of it passes over into flights of fancy. Still, I cannot help but think that Dawkins’ view of reality is most impoverished.

At the same time, I have some discomfort with Gould’s NOMA principle, although I have been known to say something like it. In discussions of Genesis, for example, I encourage people of faith not to press the text for scientific details that it does not intend to communicate and that it should not be asked to bear. The fact is that the writers of the Bible lived in a pre-scientific culture and write in a pre-scientific way. I say “Thank God” for that. I can read Genesis 1-2 and be amazed at its depth of understanding of the human condition and for the hope that those words provide for struggling humanity. I have tried to help people find a middle ground between utter respect for their Bibles and proper respect for the findings of science. And, I have said things like “Science may tell us how creation developed but the Bible tells us what creation means.” Actually, I still think that.

I also, think, thought, that there is overlap between the two magisteria. At the very least, those working in the two areas need to talk to one another learn from one another. One of my real fears as I read Dawkins’ book is that his kind of thinking, paired with the kind of thinking that we see in so many religious fundamentalists, will put the brakes on such conversation. He sees no valid place for theology. Too many Christians see no place for evolutionary theory. If the battle lines are drawn that way, how will we ever make progress?

Dawkins also says that religious folks would not be content with the NOMA principle if science made some discovery that could bolster their faith positions. For example, he asks, if DNA evidence was uncovered that proved that Jesus did in fact not have a biological father, would Christians say that the evidence didn’t matter because the realm of science had nothing to do with the realm of religion? He says they would be all over it and he is probably right about many of us. And, I think we would be wrong about taking such advantage of that kind of evidence unless we are going to accept everything else that science says. Frankly, I am not particularly moved by those expeditions to discover the remains of Noah’s Ark or by the hullabaloo over the supposed discovery of Jesus’ ossuary. Faith runs much deeper than that. I have such faith and don’t really understand why. It’s probably asking a lot to expect Dawkins to think I am anything but deluded. But I for one don’t need his science to validate my faith. So I will not trumpet its findings when it seems to do just that.

On Friday, I will conclude my dialogue with chapter two.

We will spend Thursday with Luke.