A Science and Faith Resource You Don’t Want to Miss

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J. Warner Wallace’s latest book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, is an exciting recent addition to the short list of science and faith books I regularly recommend to those desiring a strong, reader-friendly introduction to the issue of science and Christianity. It contains many of the same topics that are addressed in other scientific apologetics offerings, such as the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning argument, the origin of life, and the problems of consciousness, free will, and morality. However, this isn’t your average, dime-a-dozen pop apologetics book; far from it, in fact.

What makes this book unique (and incredibly entertaining, to boot) is how Wallace frames the entire discussion as a detective’s investigation into the question: Was the origin of the universe an “inside job,” or is the likely suspect something—or someoneGCS-Closing-Argument-Illustration-05-1024x874—outside of the “crime scene”? In other words, does the universe have a transcendent cause, and if so, who or what makes the list of likely suspects? The use of homicide case summaries as analogies for examining the scientific evidence related to cosmic and biological origins and helpful, appealing illustrations on nearly every page make this book as enjoyable as it is informative.

Wallace’s book is well researched; it presents the arguments in a comprehensible fashion and includes counter-arguments and relevant scientific and historical context for the supporting evidence. For example, in the opening chapter, he outlines the observational evidence for an ultimate beginning of the universe, including not only the better-known research of Edwin Hubble, but also the related work done by physicists and astronomers such as Vesto Slipher, Georges Lemaitre, Arno Penzias, and Robert Wilson. Readers without a science background need not be intimidated, though. The crime scene investigation parallels Wallace constructs aid the reader in understanding the significance of the scientific evidence for the over-arching argument. 

There are several other features of the book that are both fascinating and useful. For instance, there are “Expert Witness” sidebar profiles–short bio sketches of leading scholars in the different fields being explored, including some of their scholarly achievements, key arguments, and notable publications. Among others, Robert Pennock, Paul Churchland, Leonard Susskind, Paul Davies, and Roderick Chisholm are profiled. There are other sidebar boxes, such as  “A Tool for the Call-Out Bag,” which describe crime scene investigator techniques and how they are analogous to what scientific investigators do, and “Our  Emerging ‘Suspect’ Profile” boxes that sum up the accumulated evidence and preliminary conclusions as the chapters progress.

If you don’t already own a copy of God’s Crime Scene, I highly recommend it as an engaging and  worthwhile addition to your personal apologetics library. It would make a wonderful gift this Christmas season, particularly for college students, parents of teens, church leaders, and anyone in lay ministry who deals with questions pertaining to science and faith.

Check out the book trailer—->

God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace from J. Warner Wallace on Vimeo.


Avoiding Idolatry or What We May Learn From the Ancient Church

Some time ago, a Christian celebrity occupied the office next to my office at the university. This great lunch partner and friend awarded me a gift upon his departure — a Bible signed by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. They gave him the gift when his wife and he had appeared on their TV show. Upon hearing the story my daughter laughed and asked, “Who signs the Bible – is that idolatrous?” We talked about when one should and should not sign a Bible. My daughter laughed at me even more when I confessed I had for a time used the Bible to prop up my computer monitor to the correct height- irreverent by contrast. Recently I came across the word “idolatry” in Denys Turner’s beautiful book on Thomas Aquinas. I teach that religious language is rooted in analogy. I tell students that some language is metaphorically true, for example, “God is my rock.”  Literal language, more modestly, sees a connection between our words about people and our words about God.

Analogy falls between two mistaken approaches to language. A (1) univocal sense pictures our language is a perfect fit; words like “wise” apply directly to God without reservation. Thomas knew this approach would never work. It is indeed the case that my father is wise; but Thomas knew that God was wiser still.

Neither did Thomas tolerate the other mistaken approach – the (2) equivocal sense. In this approach, the words we use to speak about God have nothing to do with our human experience at all. Saying my father is wise would have no relationship at all to saying God is wise.

Thankfully, Thomas avoids the two extremes. The (1) univocal is over confident in human ability to capture God exhaustively. The (2) equivocal concludes that human experience and language is not related to God at all; our language thus provides no insight whatsoever. Thomas teaches that human analogues, like a wise father, really do help us understand something about God. Simple enough. We can speak meaningfully but not exhaustively about God.

Turner’s book artfully argues that Thomas was more concerned with what analogical language sought to protect (the mystery of God) than to articulate.  In other words, Thomas was happy to nail down that knowing my father was wise would help me understand that God was wise; he was even more concerned to remind me that there is a depth to God’s wisdom beyond my father’s – beyond what I could know.

Turner worries about modern folk’s God talk. Without the limits of analogy in mind, we may read the Scripture picturing God as one more actor among all the others. Taking God down to size has consequences; according to Turner, Thomas would declare it idolatry.

Herbert McCabe wrote long ago that Thomas was a mystic; he seems smarter with each passing day.

Faith, Hope and Poetry

When I tell people that I teach ‘Imaginative and Literary Apologetics’ I am often met with a non-plussed look.

Some people are simply unfamiliar with the term ‘Apologetics’. They presume it must have something to do with saying sorry for Christianity – when, of course, it actually means giving reasons why Christianity can be considered credible.

And those people who are familiar with the term ‘Apologetics’ often assume it has just one dimension: that it’s all about giving reasons for Christianity’s credibility by showing the rationality of its claims to truth. But ‘Apologetics’ means more than that, – and for good reason. To concentrate solely on the ‘truth claims’ of Christianity runs the risk of turning the faith into a mere system of thought, a set of reasonable propositions to which its adherents intellectually grant assent.

Of course, belief in Christianity does include assent to certain propositions, and those propositions need to be grappled with by our intellects working logically and rigorously. But Christianity is more than a set of propositions. It’s not just something that’s true, it’s also something that’s good and beautiful. There are moral and artistic dimensions to Christian faith as well as philosophical dimensions. If apologists are to show how Christianity is fully credible, it needs to be demonstrated as the answer to ethical needs and aesthetic desires as well as to intellectual enquiries.

These three dimensions – the ethical, the aesthetic, and the intellectual – can’t be treated in hermetically sealed compartments when it comes to Apologetics. Indeed, part of the credibility of the faith resides in the fact there is connection and overlap and interinanimation between these three areas; the Christian life is an organic and integral whole. However, for the sake of clarity we can usefully divide Apologetics into the rational, the moral, and the artistic. Continue reading

The Domino Effect of the Consequences of Sin

lightstock_66582_medium_user_2441408The devil tries his best to get us to think of the pleasure of the moment.  His preference is to keep us from even thinking about the future but, failing that, he tries to get us to envision an unrealistic view of the future.  I am reminded of a multivitamin that was very popular in Nigeria when I was growing up.  Everyone simply called it ‘multivite.’  The manufacturers of ‘multivite’ knew that the core of the tablet was very bitter, so they made sure they had a thin sugar coating around it.  You were tempted to think that it was a very sweet tablet, but that feeling was short-lived, for you soon realized that much of the tablet was actually very bitter.  That is what the devil does with sin.  The devil tries to get us to concentrate on the thin, sweet, momentary pleasure of sin that would very quickly give way to the long-lasting bitter consequences.

Adam and Eve found this out the hard way.  When the devil in the form of the serpent tempted Eve, Eve explained that God had commanded them not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that should they eat of it they would surely die.  The serpent would respond by saying, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).   In saying, “You will not surely die” the serpent was lying.  The serpent then got Eve to concentrate on the pleasure of the moment, saying, “Your eyes will be opened.”   Finally the serpent over-glamorized what would be the aftermath of the fall.  The serpent would say, “You will be like God knowing good and evil.”

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and, as a domino effect, there were some dire consequences for them as well as some dire consequences that went beyond them. Continue reading

A.O. Collins: Nick Perrin on the Gospels (Thurs, Oct 29)

The Department of Theology and the School of Christian Thought invite you to join us for the annual A.O. Collins Lecture series. Our lecture this week will be by:

Nicholas Perrin (Wheaton College)

“From Stories to Scriptures: When Did the Gospels Become Authoritative?”

Thursday, October 29, 2015 7:30 pm; Belin Chapel (Morris Cultural Arts Center)

For more details see: christianthought.hbu.edu/collinslectures

Mark your calendars for the Annual HBU Theology Conference (February 25-27, 2016): Ad Fontes, Ad Futura: Erasmus’ Bible and the Impact of Scripture” hbu.edu/theologyconference.

Love and Death in Ancient Rome

Last Monday I studied the Latin poem “ad Lesbiam” in class with Dr. Steven L. Jones. On first translating the poem, which fits within the familiar carpe diem motif, I thought it looked and sounded like it was written by a high-school boy. Here is the original Latin along with my translation of the poem:

Vivamus mea Lesbia, atque amemus,

rumoresque senum severiorum

omnes unius aestimemus assis!

soles occidere et redire possunt:

nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,

nox est perpetua una dormienda.

da mi basia mille, deinde centum,

dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,

deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum.

dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,

conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,

aut ne quis malus invidere possit,

cum tantum sciat esse basiorum.

[Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,

And let us consider all the rumors of severe old men

To be worth a penny!

Suns are able to rise and set:

When once our brief light dies,

Night must be a perpetual sleep.

Give me a thousand kisses, and then a hundred,

Then give another thousand, and a second hundred,

Then a thousand kisses more, then a hundred.

Then, when we will have made many thousands,

We will mix them up, lest we know,

Or lest any evil man is able to envy,

When he knows that there are so many kisses.]

The last seven lines sound a bit like the fantasy of a desperate boy seducing a girl whose parents are disapproving. But Dr. Jones asked his class to look past the apparently puerile aspects of the poem and consider the philosophical nature of lines 3-6. Indeed, these lines express a familiar pagan lament about the inability of man to participate in the eternal cycles of nature. We have but one “brief light,” and once the night comes, we must sleep forever. The paraphrastic construction of line six underscores the unavoidable necessity of the eternal sleep. Continue reading

Of Scapegoats and Jubilees: Reading Between the Lines in Luke 4:16-30

torah-readingIn Luke 4:16-30 we have a uniquely Lukan story. After his baptism by John, Jesus undergoes 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. He then returns to Galilee full of the Spirit and teaches in the synagogues. Luke 4:16-30 gives us one example of his teaching. In Luke, this sermon is programmatic. It sets the agenda for Jesus’ mission: the restoration of Israel, with a focus on the poor, the marginalized, and the outcast. Here, in his hometown Nazareth, Jesus appropriates the prophet’s words from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

A couple things in this text should be noted. First, the text, in Jesus’ mouth, points back to his own reception of the Spirit at his baptism. This is the divine empowerment which enables him to carry out his prophetic task. Second, the gospel (good news) that Jesus brings has a distinctively social and economic texture. The Israel Jesus addresses (his Nazareth audience is surely typical of the subsistence-level peasant population in Galilee) is viewed as one languishing in captivity. Under foreign domination (Rome) and a corrupt temple establishment, ancestral lands had been confiscated and once-free Israelites suffered in poverty as virtual debt-slaves. Many pious Israelites would have seen these woes as the outworking of the covenant curses (see Deuteronomy 28:15ff), brought on by Israel’s sins. The vision of salvation here is thus holistic, dealing not only with personal sins against God but with corporate sins involving systematic oppression. Continue reading

What does “We believe in God the Father mean?” or What did the early church know that we may need to re[dis]cover?

lightstock_146024_medium_user_870913Rowan Williams, wise and worrisome, reminds us that the earliest creeds begin with the notion of trust.  The early confessors were not typically facing a common question from our own day: whether or not to affirm there is god, whether some kind of generic god or gods exist?  The early Christians affirmed and embraced a mystery when they declared “we believe…”  They were declaring allegiance to a very peculiar version of God. They were publicly acknowledging they placed trust in this one and true God who has sent his Son on mission to reclaim the world; the same one and true God was now present in the world, being heard in the voice of the Spirit (Trinitarian from the get-go).  Don’t miss the mysterious direction of things. The Father had come our direction with the Son; now the Father was working (even wooing) within us to bring us his direction in the Spirit.

The early confessor was not saying (1) “I am affirming that there is a god.” This is what young modern evangelicals have in mind when they have seasons of doubt.  They also assume this is the question their non or post Christian friends have in mind in this secular age. It is an affirmation that is rooted in the domains of metaphysics (think, “what is real?”) and epistemology (think, “how do I know what is real?”). Continue reading

Being a (Creative) Christian Writer

lightstock_150776_medium_user_870913What does it mean to be a creative writer? As Christians, how can we use literature and the arts for apologetics – and use them well?

These rather open-ended questions have been embodied for me (and for my students) this fall, as I teach a brand-new course on “Creative Writing and Apologetics” for the online MA in Apologetics program at HBU – a course that’s now part of the regular offerings for our MAA! As I write, we’re half-way through the semester, and I couldn’t be happier with my students and with how the course is going.

Teaching this course began with encouraging my students to think carefully about questions like: What is a writer? What does it mean to be a Christian writer? What kind of adventure are we all going on?

My course is, deliberately, designed as an introductory course – for students who are just dipping their toes into the stream (come on in, the water’s fine!) as well as those who are confident and ready to go deeper, and also for those who don’t think of themselves as ‘creative writers’ at all, but who want to learn how better to appreciate literature and the imagination as a way of sharing the truth.

The question of “what does it mean to be a creative writer?” opens up a wide range of possibilities for the course. Writing is a highly varied art!

One of the things I’ve experienced as a writer, myself, is Continue reading

Should We Give to the Poor?

Should we give to the poor? Doesn’t it just reinforce their dependence upon others rather than becoming independent contributors to society? John Barclay gives a riveting explanation of why the early church gave, and gave so sacrificially:

In our Annual Theology Conference (hbu.edu/theologyconference) last spring, we had a number of lively speakers and papers about The Church in Early Christianity. One of our plenary speakers was John Barclay, an eminent NT scholar from Durham University. His lecture reveals the highest level of scholarship which is also accessible to non-specialists.

As explained last week, our next Theology Conference (hbu.edu/theologyconference) will be in February. Definitely plan to attend and to bring others.

Do also come hear our annual A.O. Collins lecture on Thursday, October 29:
Dr. Nicholas Perrin, “From Stories to Scriptures: When Did the Gospels Become Authoritative?”
Thursday, October 29, 7:30pm, Belin Chapel


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