Tuesday, January 24, 2006

C.S. Lewis: The godfather of layman apologists

These days C.S. Lewis is better known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Those who are fond of his children's stories (equally enjoyable to adults) will find that Lewis has much more to offer than weaving tales of fantasy and adventure.

I was first introduced to C.S. Lewis by a friend's recommendation of his book Mere Christianity. What I found interesting about Lewis after the first reading was the intense intellectual workout he can put you through, but at the same time making you enjoy it. I think the reason for that is that you cannot read Lewis without being impressed by his natural ability to marry reason and imagination.

Visit this nicely done fan blog dedicated to Lewis, a daily updated site featuring snippets from his vast body of works. Since Lewis is someone you'll find yourself going back to over and over again, I've put this link on the navigation panel to the left under the heading "Blogs I Read".

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

The importance of the mind in Christian living

J.P. Moreland first gained recognition when in a debate with renowned atheist Kai Nielsen, he displayed an uncanny ability to connect with the audience in arguing for the existence of God. This turned into a book, Does God Exist?, co-authored with Nielsen. Dr. Moreland has since become a well-known name in Christian apologetics, speaking and debating at colleges and universities throughout the United States.

In this audio clip, Moreland addresses an assembly of Christians in Texas A&M University on the importance of the mind in Christian living. Listen or download.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

More than personal: A case for an intellectual life in the Church (2)

...continued from part 1

Do you notice that oftentimes when we are asked by a non-believer why we became a Christian, we proceed to detail to them our struggles before we became a Christian, then our encounter with Christ and the changes that followed after accepting Him as our Lord and Savior? Do you notice that instead of giving reasons why we are followers of Christ, all we did was telling them the story of how we became Christians? No matter how impressive, personal experiences – contrary to common belief among most modern Christians – are not the reason for believing in the credibility of Christianity. Statements like "I believe in Christ because such and such a thing happened to me" are not valid reasons for believing. Noticeable spiritual experiences can be the results of believing aright (or they can be mistaken as such when we believe amiss). And the right reason for believing in Christianity, just as the right reason for believing in anything, is because we have come to find out that it is true. Or in other words, Christianity or rather Christ Himself can only be believed in after we are convinced that what Christ claimed to be so are in fact so.

Now the hard work lies in being convinced of that conclusion, which by the way isn't impossible work – in fact far from it. But nonetheless emotional reactions only come after we understand the truth of Christianity, or they may not. No matter what we should never believe because believing brings about favorable feelings – feelings upon which we judge the validity of our beliefs. When that happens, we are in fact projecting a corporate image to the world that is consistent with our mistaken belief that the process of coming to faith is all the reason we need to be and to remain a Christian. Do we still wonder why the world at large finds Christianity something left to be desired? If we were to attempt an answer beyond our personal experiences, which by the way varies from one individual to another, are we in the position to give it? Christians, though passionate and well-intentioned, cannot connect with a world that demands to know why we believe what we believe because we have disengaged our minds in loving God when it matters to Him that we have a sound, intellectual case to present to the world.

Apostle Peter encouraged Christians of his time to always be ready to give intelligent answers to unbelievers regarding their faith (1 Peter 3:15). Apostle Paul clearly appealed to reason in his testimony before the judgment throne of Felix the governor (Acts 24:10-21). Augustine urged us to "think in believing and believe in thinking." These saints seem unanimous in believing that the mind is of the utmost importance in our walk with Christ. But look around and what do we see? Christians throwing around spiritual-sounding catchphrases like "just believe" or "don't judge." The sad reality being the unspoken parts of those statements. When we utter things like just believe, we usually mean it to be a dismissive statement that really says don't ask too much, you're making me look bad with those questions. When we say don't judge, we're most likely really saying don't judge me, lest I judge you back. We find ourselves easily disengaging our minds in our walk with Jesus when the Lord Himself commanded us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." What looks like spiritual maturity for most of us is really just intellectual apathy in disguise. It's no coincidence that we're living in an information-overloaded age. We have too much information available at our fingertips we have lost the ability to examine ideas and think critically on important issues like beliefs and truth claims. Something has definitely and seriously gone wrong in the Church's thinking life.

It is not my intention to profess to lecture my fellow followers of Christ on how to engage the mind in their faith. I am learning that myself every day. But what I want to do here, over the course of future postings, is to bring to your attention thoughts of great writers and teachers who have the knowledge on such a topic. Much more importantly, these are great men who consistently practice what they preach. Do not take my words for it that what these men teach are consistent with God's Word. By all means find out for yourself.


Two clarifications

(1) I do not want you to get the wrong idea that I'm against Christians sharing their emotive spiritual experiences to the unbelieving world, nor do I think such experiences are illegitimate. I don't. What I am against is Christians sharing their personal experiences to unbelievers with the intention to convert based on the merits of the experience, which brings us to my case later.

(2) I'm by no means saying that the intellectual life is the only way of life and the only way to God or salvation. But I do believe, after consulting the Good Book and also minds greater than my own, that an obedient mind – indeed the exercising of the whole person's intellectual faculty – contributes an enormous part to knowing God aright. A distinction derserves to be made between the two. One might be saved by God without first knowing God (of course this statement has to be qualified), just as someone drowning could be saved by a total stranger standing on the bank without knowing the saver beforehand; that's the work of a saving grace, the act of a father giving his little child gifts without first asking for the child's full knowledge of him. But through sanctificating grace, we are asked to participate in our Heavenly Father's business by paying full mind to His real nature and His deepest concerns – not to satisfy the Father's sense of self-regard (for He has none) but to increase our full pontential as His own. This is an errand that cannot be completed without involving the mind in its full vigilance. And it is by so doing that we are enabled to be like Christ. Now on to my case.


Monday, January 09, 2006

More than personal: A case for an intellectual life in the Church (1)

Many people have this idea that the logical or intellectual approach to anything religious is just a clever way to win arguments and it's not a legitimate way for Christians to sway unbelievers to Christ.

In the very early days of my Christian walk, the longer I stayed a Christian the more I had to tell myself that witnessing for Christ is nothing more than just sharing my personal experience with Jesus, because that seemed to be what everyone else was doing. I didn't realize that by doing what everyone else did, I was putting myself in a vulnerable position where it can be said that my religion was a product of a kind of subjective belief that is of no relevance to others, therefore making my witnessing unnecessary and what’s worse, irrelevant. I find that once such an objection is raised, I no longer find my faith credible, let alone defensible, because my witness was based on experiences that are largely personal and therefore cannot be verified objectively.

With the help of teachers like C.S. Lewis, J.P. Moreland and many others, I realized later that something else was needed if I were to take my faith seriously and have an entrenched confidence that Christianity is believable universally, not just for me. We need a belief that is able to stand on its own regardless of our feelings or our vested interest in it. And to identify that diamond in the rough, we need some tools; something which is indispensable in the sharing and defense of the Gospel: a thinking mind.

A lot has gone wrong in people's ability to think critically about the important issues of life, and Christians are no exceptions. One of the most careless mistakes committed by Christians today is making the absence of a thinking life a prerequisite for faith. Join a local Bible study group and you will be convinced that an average Christian no longer holds the truth of God's Word on the level of objectivity. The message of the scriptures has become a subject of a person's opinion of how their experience has led them to believe what the Bible is trying to say to them. When difficult questions are raised by non-believers in our midst, we usually either meet them with a pat response or circumvent them by finding an easy way out of a ready answer. If on the other hand an objection is raised by someone in the family of believers, more often than not we would employ the "I don't want to judge and so shouldn't you" tactic to put people off genuine concerns to which we have no honest answers.

We the Church have lost our ability and courage to critically assess our faith before we eagerly offer it to the world. As a result we not only find that the world has more genuine objections to our faith than we are ready to handle, but that we are pushing our comrades, especially the young, to the frontline of fiercely competitive ideas armed with nothing more than an individual and separate sense of divine duty to convert nations. And when the world spearheads us with challenges (a lot of which are, not surprisingly, intellectual) and accusations of irrational and irrelevant faith, we wonder why our harvest is not more plentiful when our laborers are willing. Why then is the use of logical persuasions so important in our witness for Christ? What can an intellectual argument do that a personal, experiential account of faith cannot?

Two clarifications before I proceed to make my case, lest anyone take my lack of exactitude for certain false endorsements.

Continue to part 2...


Sunday, January 01, 2006

A New Year's resolution

To be honest I never caught on to the trend of making New Year's resolutions. Chiefly because I didn't believe in myself enough to believe in them.

But I've decided to make my first at the start of 2006. Not because I've finally found enough self-confidence or ambition to do it. But simply because, knowing the tasks that lie before me despite my lack of natural ability to accomplish them, I must begin immediately, however insignificant the effort might seem.

Thus are my goals for 2006:
  1. Support a child through financial sponsorship and prayers
  2. Visit a prison inmate through letters of encouragement and hope
  3. Advocate for truth by engaging a relativistic culture with conversations that count
The first two are pretty straightforward. The third goal, which is really conversational apologetics, requires some homework and training. Look out for more on each of the goals in future posts.