Theology

On Debating Dan Barker

by John Mark Reynolds on November 22, 2013

Originally posted at Wheatstone Writes. John Mark Reynolds is a Founder of Wheatstone Ministries. He blogs, advises, and speaks for Wheatstone regularly. Visit www.wheatstoneministries.com for more information.

I was excited to debate Dan Barker. Why? First, Barker’s story is very much like my own, but with a different conclusion. We had similar childhoods and followed a pathway into Christian ministry. Right about the time his first book came out, I was deciding whether to remain a Christian. [click to continue…]

Advice to My Son 4: The World Is Full of Magic

by Lou Markos on September 19, 2013

Ever since you were a boy, I’ve tried to convince you of one simple truth. The world is full of magic: you just have to have eyes to see it and ears to hear it. That’s why I spent so much time reading fairy tales to you and your sister. Fairy tales remind us that there is magic, deep magic, in every tree, every rock, every sunset, and especially every person.

Western religions have traditionally focused on the transcendence of God: God exists outside of time and space and is radically other than us or our world. Eastern religions, on the other hand, have put their focus on the immanence of God: God does not dwell outside the world but exists in and through it. [click to continue…]

The City Podcast: Mere Christianity in a Mythic Moment

by Timothy Motte on April 30, 2013

The City, a podcast of Houston Baptist University: Smart. Sane. Spiritual.

Featuring: Mary Jo Sharp, Dr. Holly Ordway, Cate MacDonald, and Dr. John Mark Reynolds

HBU is in a mythic moment.

There are many factors contributing to this, and that is why Dr. Reynolds brought in amazing apologetics professor Mary Jo Sharp to discuss it.

The melting pot nature of the city of Houston, and the mere Christian mission of HBU bring to light the ways in which Christians from vastly different denominations can work closely together while still maintaining their doctrinal distinctiveness.

Also, in this episode, you will find out which Lord of the Rings character Dr. Reynolds thinks President Sloan looks like.

Play

Email us at podcast@hbu.edu.

 

A to Z with C.S. Lewis: T is for Tao

by Lou Markos on April 18, 2013

Laozi and Kong Fuzi

Mere Christianity is Lewis’s best known and most complete work of apologetics.  In it he begins with a general argument for theism (the existence of God) and then expands that argument into a specific defense of the Christian gospel.  From there, he goes on to explain and support the central moral and theological principles of Christianity.

Although Lewis believed firmly in the authority of scripture, he knew that many of his modern readers did not share his belief.  Accordingly, Lewis carefully builds his apologetical arguments on common ground: on facts and observations about our world and ourselves that all people, regardless of their religious beliefs, can see, understand, and acknowledge.

That is why he begins Mere Christianity with an unexpected statement that seems, on the surface, to have little to do with a defense of the Christian faith.  Did you ever notice, Lewis writes, that when two people disagree about something, they argue about it rather than fight?  Though most of us likely did not notice this phenomenon before, the moment we read Lewis’s statement, the truth of it becomes apparent. Of course we argue instead of fight!

And that’s when Lewis hooks us.  Whether we realize it or not, two people cannot argue about something unless they agree (often unconsciously) to a fixed standard that transcends them both.  When we argue, we take that standard for granted and then make a case (sometimes rationally, sometimes irrationally) that our side of the argument better approximates that standard.

In a case where two former business partners are suing each other for fraud, neither party says: “yes, I swindled my partner, and I was right to do so.”  If he did, he would not be sent to jail; he would be sent to an asylum.  Now, one party might partially confess to fraud, but then he would follow the confession by offering mitigating circumstances to show that the “fraud” was actually justified.  In other words, he still holds to the accepted standard that fraud is wrong.

On the basis of our shared experience of such ethical debates, Lewis posits that a universal, cross-cultural moral code exists and is binding.  In The Abolition of Man, he gives that law code a name: the Tao.  Many Christians are confused by this: why should Lewis borrow a word from Taoism (a branch of Buddhism) to bolster his case for the Christian faith?  The answer is simple: to show that all people (east and west) recognize the Tao, even though they continually break it.

Many relativists will balk against Lewis’s assertion of the Tao, claiming that morality veers wildly from culture to culture and is a man-made (rather than a divinely-given) thing that alters from age to age.  But those same so-called relativists will quickly change their tune if someone robs them.  “It was wrong of you to do that,” they will say, and if the person who robbed them says, “in my culture it is OK for me to steal,” the relativist will not accept the excuse.

The fact is everyone knows the Tao exists, for whatever our own personal ideology, we expect other people to treat us in accordance with the Tao.  Indeed, if there were no Tao, then no court could have tried the Nazis or Saddam Hussein or the perpetrators of apartheid.  The Tao does exist, but if it exists, then it makes necessary a director of the Tao who transcends all times and cultures.  It requires, in short, a super-natural Creator who inscribed the Tao into our conscience.

Christmas at Baby Seal’s House

by John Mark Reynolds on December 17, 2011

My daughter Mary Kate discovered the Baby Seal god. Baby Seal is a fluffy, huggable, plush deity that mirrors all her opinions and gives her encouragement.

The Baby Seal god looks at a Holiday and says, “May all your dreams come true!”

The real God is not like Baby Seal in this regard. People had many dreams about the Messiah before He came and almost none of them came to pass at Bethlehem. People wanted to be freed from the Romans, but Jesus got killed by them. They wanted a Prince, but Jesus was born in a stable. They longed for bread and circuses, but He gave them His Body and a Cross.

Is the real God mean and the Baby Seal god good?

If you think of your dreams, you will know that God is good and Baby Seal is wrong.

God knows your dreams and how they would turn out if they became reality. Whatever is good about them—and daydreaming can be pleasant—comes from their virtual reality. Made real, they would sometimes be good for us (those will come true anyways), but often would destroy us.

Visions of sugarplums dancing in one’s head are one thing, but too many actual sugarplums rot the teeth in one’s head.

We imagine in our dreams what might be and this is good in its creativity, but then we must ask if what might be good is good. Baby Seal never asks that question: he gives us the desires of our heart and so rots our heart. It is not wrong to dream, but it is wrong to fantasize as if all our imaginings should be.

This is not because God is like Scrooge, but because God is a good parent.

God wants to give us a better heart with higher desires that will make us fully human. God insists we gain liberty and grow up. Baby Seal god insists on nothing. God saves, Baby Seal placates.

This Christmas I can hope to get what I want or pray to get what I need. I might settle for a new Kindle, but God wants to give me a greater capacity for love. I might long for Madden 2012, but God wants me to long for goodness, truth, and beauty. When God gives small gifts, as He did with Madden 2011, it is because He knows I will enjoy it and it will be good for me. When God does not give me the “desires of my heart,” such as the starship I wanted as a child, it is because God knows that no twelve year-old should have a starship.

The better news is that some Christmas I will have been changed so that all I need is all I will want and then all my wishes will come true. God knows now I would settle for too little and so God transforms the dreams of my heart to something Walt Disney himself could not have imagined.

I gladly give up my dreams—Baby Seal can keep them—and look for His dreams for me. Baby Seal will only sate, but God makes merry.

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas

by John Mark Reynolds on December 11, 2011

This year I visited the house of Saint Nicholas.

It was in a hot town, nothing at all like the North Pole. There were no penguins, not even ice for my Diet Coke. My clearest memory was standing where the great pastor was buried and knowing his body had been stolen. Nicholas was no longer in the town he loved and no longer slept surrounded by his beloved people.

What was there was a powerful memory of a pastor so good to his congregation; he became the symbol of every good pastor. Nicholas cared so deeply for children, the weak, and the poor, that legends surrounded his actions. He stood so firmly for truth in confused times that he became a model of theological courage. Nicholas was not in Myra physically, but Myra was full of the memory of Nicholas.

Every good pastor is following in Nicholas’ steps. The medieval king had two bodies: his physical person and his sovereignty. The king could die as a person, but the Monarch never dies. The President might die, but then the President lives.

Santa has many bodies. Every pastor who loves the poor, defends orthodoxy, and serves the weak is Nicholas. Nicholas is dead, but Santa Claus lives!

In that sense, I grew up with Santa Claus, because my Dad was and is a very good parent and pastor. (Since my mother was the ideal pastor’s wife, she must be a very trim Mrs. Claus!)

My Dad and Mom did not mind if we played at Santa Claus, but every so often he would point out that the presents came from them and not Santa. “I am not giving the credit,” he chuckled, “to some fat man in a red suit.”

We knew Dad and Mom bought us thoughtful gifts, because they loved us. (The memories are good: a castle with knights, my Vic-20, my first watch, my own copy of the “Midnight Cry,” and my grandfather’s knife and tie rack.) They were Santa to us.

I watched Dad as he let folks move into our small parsonage and eat at our table for our time. Mom and Dad reached out to other people without any demand for a return. Dad may have been paid to preach, and he was an excellent preacher, but nobody paid him to answer the phone when it rang all the time.

I never saw my Dad lie. He sometimes did not want to help and would groan into action, but off to the hurting person’s home or hospital bed he would go. Dad never let me down, even when I shamed him. When I was at the bottom, Mom and Dad came and associated themselves with their prodigal son.

They were both Saint Nicholas to me.

They loved children not their own. They loved women in trouble. They loved their Church enough to pour out a lifetime of prayer and service to her. I honor them this holiday season every time I see that jolly man in a red suit or an image of the bishop of Myra in church.

Why not do the same for your pastor this Christmas?

Does he reach out and serve without being asked? Some pastors are well paid and work in large parishes, but most work for very little relative to their education. I know of times when Dad could hardly buy food for us, let alone treats. God always came through, but God often used people to help.

Can you help your pastor? Can you help his kids? Every time I saw Dad pray and some parishioner heard God and was used by God to meet the specific need that Dad was throwing up to God, my faith was strengthened. Many of our Christmas gifts were purchased by unexpected Christmas giftts from the faithful.

I remember the gifts that produced the gifts and feel very jolly.

I saw the Church work.

I know from friends that not everybody was blessed this way. There are bad pastors and foolish ones. My own life has fallen short of Dad’s integrity, especially when I was young, but most of us are blessed with giving couples who love us more than we deserve.

Saint Nicholas was not perfect and neither were my parents. Just as I hope for forgiveness for my (greater) sins, so I forgive those imperfections. There are, I know, millions of good men and women pouring out their lives for their own towns, their own Myra.

I saw people in the congregation used to answer my Dad and Mom’s prayers. Dad was like Nicholas, but his congregation was like the faithful in Myra that gave Nicholas the gold he used to bless the poor. I didn’t just know Mr. and Mrs. Claus, but all the elves in the workshop!

Can you give some little pastor’s kid the same blessing?

Saint Nicholas is in glory in the great cloud of witnesses. You honor him when you honor men like he was. Honor some Santa Claus.