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Atlanta, 18 November 2015

Good evening from downtown Atlanta! While Vicki and I live about 20 miles north of the city, for the next eight days I'm down in the city, joining 10,000 biblical scholars, philosophers, and other religious experts for my own "continuing education" period.

This may all sound terribly academic, but many of the classes are fascinating, faith-building, and relevant to my ministry. In case you happen to be in Atlanta and are interested in joining, the conferences are the annual meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, then EPS Apologetics Conference, and last the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, the largest conference (by far) I've ever attended. Sunday I'll attend a special communion service for several hundred professors, graduate students, and other scholars in our broader (Restoration) Movement.

Today is the conclusion of the Answering Skeptics series. First, a recap of the 28th lesson, and then some thoughts to help us to confidently stand for the truth. As one person put it, if we don't have the courage to stand for something, we'll fall for anything!
The Answering Skeptics series:
Hypocrisy, Scripture, Morality, Nonsense questions, God, Science, Suffering, Miracles, Christ, and Religion

Recap: 10 Misconceptions about religion  
  • Our modern world, especially in the industrialized regions, has a love/hate relationship with religion. People want to be perceived as spiritual -- in the sense of "deep," not drifting unthinkingly through life but rather being a person of insight.
  • Jesus also was great at answering questions, and hopefully we will all make a serious effort to emulate him.
  • Religion is not mere projection onto a heavenly canvas -- as though out of fear or unresolved feelings we created God. 
  • Although the word religion comes from a Latin term for binding, true religion brings freedom (slavery to righteousness), not slavery (bondage to sin, self, and the flesh).
  • It will not do to excuse ourselves from outreach with the belief that all the world has heard the word, or has access to a Bible. We need to go and tell them!

Answering Skeptics conclusion: Use your head!

A good number of non-Christians have the idea that faith requires you to flush your brain down the toilet. That intellect is the enemy of belief. This is well exemplified in the words of the modern world's most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins:

“If you have faith, it is [probably] the same faith as your parents and grandparents had… by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth… Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate the evidence."

The great Oxford biologist has wandered too far from his métier, as well as misrepresenting the faith he seems to be consumed with ridiculing. Two obvious mistakes demand rebuttal.

First, Dawkins has committed the genetic fallacy, in which one wrongly reasons that determining the origin of an idea invalidates the idea. True enough, if we're born in India there's an 80% chance we'll be Hindus. But still we decide to accept or reject the faith of our family or community. After all, there are plenty of Hindus who have sought the Lord (Christ, not Krishna) and found him!

Besides, such reasoning cuts both ways. If it explains the faith of the believer, it also explains the thinking of the non-believer. A man like Dawkins -- born in Britain during WW 2, educated in a climate of suspicion towards authority, disillusioned with his Anglican upbringing, and struggling in relationship commitments (marrying multiple times) -- is quite likely to be uncomfortable with biblical Christianity. Having now explained the conditions which gave rise to Dawkin's position, are we thereby right to dismiss it, with a knowing sweep of the hand? No, because an idea and its origin are not connected in the way Dawkins assumes. The truth of any idea stands independent of the context in which that truth is discovered.

Second, he is mistaken in believing that faith and intellect are incompatible. Thinking is biblical; Christ called us to love God with all our minds (Mark 12:30).

Faith is a decision to seek the One who is seeking us. It is saying yes to divine initiative. It is a response to evidence. Faith lays hold of truth not through bypassing reason, but by utilizing reason apprehend divine truth. Christians ought therefore to be better thinkers than non-believers -- or at least to highly value thinking, because the Lord expects it and by using the minds he gave us we honor him.

Turning the tables
Answering Skeptics has considered scores of objections and claims against faith, and striven to provide evenhanded answers. It's time to close the series with questions for non-believers. After all, Christians aren't the only ones called upon to defend their beliefs. Instead of answering skeptics, now it's time for skeptics to do some answering.

Questions for skeptics and seekers:
  • What do you believe in? Everyone believes in something; everybody has some way of looking at the world.
  • Have you bought into the world's thinking (consumerism, hedonism, narcissism, and so forth), or are you swimming against the current? How much resistance you experience is a good indicator of how independent a thinker you really are.
  • Do you have any idea how strong the evidence for Christianity is? Would you like to learn? What would it take to convince you? 
  • If you investigate the claims of Christ and they turn out to be true, will you follow Him? Would you be willing to become a missionary, or make some other inconvenient change in your lifestyle (John 7:17)? 
The answers to these questions reveal the heart -- whether we really are open-minded and seeking truth, or only want to be perceived as "seekers."

New book

At the bottom of my homepage there are four permanent links:
  • Strength in Weakness, a global ministry to those affected by same-sex attraction. I'm proud to be an Advisory Board member for this great work, headed up by my Canadian friends Guy & Cathy Hammond.
  • Covenant Eyes, an internet purity filter. You or someone you know might benefit by taking the proactive step of building accountability into your surfing. (A report of sites visited is sent to those you choose to be part of your life.)
  • Bible Gateway, a portal to scores of Bible translations in multiple languages. I use this one every day.
  • RETHINKING HELL, a website and ministry devoted to a biblical view of the ultimate destiny of the lost. (This is not the Catholic-Protestant doctrine of infinite torture.) This has major implications for the character of the God we serve.
Produced in connection with this ministry is a new volume, A Consuming Passion, in honor of Edward Fudge, the Christian scholar who has made the most persistent and persuasive case that those who don't know Christ will not exist forever. He reasoned -- and I agree and teach this -- that (1) the soul is not immortal (1 Tim 6:16), and (2) hell consumes those who go there. That is, at some point they cease to exist.

As I was one of the speakers at the first annual conference of Rethinking Hell, and because so many among my own church family now share this perspective, my chapter was included. 


In the next two weeks we will take up the divisive issue of homosexuality, and in particular how Christians should think and conduct themselves in our fast-changing world.

I'd also like to point out a new category of articles at the website: Leadership. At the website you and your friends can also sign up for the newsletter.

Yours in Him,
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