Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Creation, Science, and Faith

Several of us are having an interesting discussion about creation, science, evolution, faith, and other matters over on Martin Cothran's blog. You can navigate to and join in the discussion.

Martin often takes science to task for what he perceives as a level of arrogance and will defend Intelligent Design and Creationism (though he does not necessarily agree with those positions - Martin, I hope I'm not misrepresenting you on this).

My problem with those who defend Intelligent Design (that is, the science of Intelligent Design; I certainly agree that our universe was designed by God) and Young Earth Creationism is that it is science that is molded to fit a theological viewpoint. It's not good science to "back into" a scientific position because it fits with your theology.

Anyway, check out these posts, and I hope you find them interesting.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath

Continuing on with some book recommendations, this one is for The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath and his wife Joanna Collicutt McGrath. Having already recommended several books by McGrath, this one is a quick 100 pages that are well worth the read (this picture must be of the British edition - mine is slightly different).

I have not yet read The God Delusion, but judging by the quotes in McGrath's book it is a book full of poor reasoning and lacking in any evidence to back the core claims made by Dawkins. McGrath, who obviously admires Dawkins' gift for writing, is withering in his critique of Dawkins for his faulty reasoning and for writing little more than an anti-religious rant.

Although McGrath examines some of Dawkins' ideas in more detail in his book Dawkins God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life (see earlier post) this is probably a better place to start if you want an excellent response to The God Delusion.

As a relative newcomer to the writings of McGrath, I am more and more impressed by the quality of his writing and his theology. McGrath is a theologian of great importance and his books rank among the best works of theology. I rank him as an essential read.

Toby Mac at Ichthus Festival

One of my favorite events is the Ichthus Festival - four days of great Christian music in Wilmore, Kentucky. Ichthus is the oldest Christian music festival in the country, and always has a great line-up of artists. My favorite this year? Hands down - Toby Mac. I've seen Toby Mac a number of times (even back in the day of DC Talk) and he is always my favorite performer. If you're not familiar with him, he was one of the three founders of the late, great DC Talk, and performs a style of music that is a mixture of rock, funk, hip-hop, and rap. Normally, I'm not a big fan of hip-hop and rap, but there's something about the way Toby Mac does it that makes for a fantastic mix. In the middle of his show he does a great medley of old songs - Play That Funky Music, Love Roller Coaster, I'm Coming Up, and more.

I've seen a lot of artists - Christian and secular - and I always enjoy Toby Mac the most. The energy of his performance, the unbelievable talent of his band, and his ability to engage a crowd is simply amazing. Nobody should have to follow him, and this year Switchfoot had that difficult task. I like Switchfoot a lot, and they did a great job, but the contrast was pretty huge. Not to take anything away from Switchfoot, but Toby Mac is tough to beat. If you ever get the chance to see him, don't miss it.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

Continuing with some book recommendations, this one is for The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. Collins, like the authors in my previous two posts, is a former atheist and now serves as head of The Human Genome Project. This book is his attempt to bring together his belief in science and his belief in God.

Although Richard Dawkins only receives a few passing references, the presence of Dawkins is still heavy in this book. Collins spends a good deal of time speaking to those scientists, Dawkins being the most well-known, who claim that science necessarily leads to atheism.

At times Collins' book gets heavy on science (or maybe it's just me; I did pass biology by just one point) but careful reading will make sense of most of it. Interestingly, Collins has not become a hero to most conservative evangelicals, in spite of his travel to belief from atheism and his championing of faith in the face of science. It doesn't take long to find out why - Collins flatly rejects both Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design, claiming they are not only bad science but also bad theology.

Whether or not you agree with Collins on Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design - and I do - this book is highly recommended.

God: The Evidence - Patrick Glynn

I've been finishing up some books lately, and want to recommend some that I think are well worth your time. Preparing for my current sermon series, Confronting the Skeptics, I put together a stack of books as resources and have been working through them over the past weeks.

God the Evidence: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason In A Postsecular World by Patrick Glynn covers some of the same ground as the two Alister McGrath books mentioned in my previous post, although he goes in a few different directions. Like McGrath, Glynn is also a former atheist, and he opens his book with a very interesting story of the unraveling of his atheistic faith. Glynn spends time on the anthropic principle, psychology and medicine, and then on to what I found to be the most interesting section of the book - his discussion of Near Death Experiences as evidence of a human soul.

It's a fairly quick read, with some helpful information, and well worth your time. It's not a criticism, but I wouldn't say it's as essential as McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism, but then, not many books are. To me, anyone who has traveled the road from unbelief to belief is worth reading, and on that account alone, Glynn's book is important.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Alister McGrath - The Twilight of Atheism and Dawkins' God

Considering the amount of media attention given to Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion it is somewhat of a surprise that it took a while before someone published a book in response. Alister McGrath, like Dawkins a professor at Oxford University, has published Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life. McGrath, a former atheist, has quickly ascended to the top of the ladder as one of Christianity's leading apologists and one of the church's most popular theologians. He clearly relishes tearing into the debate over the existence of God and his passion for his subject is evident on most every page.

Of course, how one responds to McGrath's writings will depend on whether one agrees with him or not. Like just about everything else in the debate over the existence of God, where you end up depends on where you start. I find McGrath to be an extremely compelling writer who makes some incredibly insightful points; of course, I also share his faith and point of view so perhaps that's why he seems like a genius to me. Read some of his reviews on the web by unbelievers and you'll find them to be less than impressed, probably because they don't agree with much of anything he believes.

Regardless, McGrath is a writer of note who cannot be ignored, and if you are at all interested in the current debate over the question of God's existence, both of these books are incredibly helpful. Of the two, The Twilight of Atheism is my favorite and one I consider a modern classic that qualifies as an essential read. Dawkins' God is more technical, and if like me science was not your strong suit, there are parts to read more slowly. The first chapter, on a Darwinian view of the world and the fourth chapter, about Dawkins' strange idea of memes, are a little heavy on science. That being said, there is a lot of rich material in this book that pokes numerous holes in much of what Dawkins has to say about faith.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Too much time blogging?

In case you haven't noticed, I do not blog every day. I do check a few other weblogs a couple times a week, and in doing so I get the impression that some people may be spending WAY too much time reading and posting to blogs. Some of my ministerial brethren evidently have a lot of time on their hands, as they sometimes post several times a day and are regularly referencing the blogs they are reading. Here's my question - just how much time every day are some of you people spending online with blogs? And here's my next question - do you really think it is time well spent?

Obviously, I spend a little bit of time doing this, so I am not against it, but we should be realistic and understand that our blogs are not going to change the world and they are probably not being read by that many people. If you are spending more than an hour a day with weblogs, I'm going to say you are probably spending too much time online.

What do you think?

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Lack of Ministers for Rural and Small Churches

This is a piece I wrote late in the summer of 2006, and it's still a topic of huge importance to me. I do not believe the newer generation of ministers are as willing to serve smaller or rural churches and I would certainly like to hear from them about this topic -

Having just begun my sixteenth year of ministry at my church, I’ve been thinking about what is one of the great scandals of the American church – short pastoral tenures (as well as the short tenures of all church staff). The average pastoral tenure in our country, according to various estimates, ranges from eighteen months to about three years. How can we speak about faithfulness and commitment with any integrity when churches and pastors cannot remain faithful to one another? I fault both pastors and churches for this problem. Pastors know there is a career ladder that exists in ministry much the same as any profession. And there are issues of supporting a family; there are financial realities to life. But the Scriptures are clear about the calling of God when it comes to these matters. God did not talk to Moses about securing an adequate compensation package and he didn’t speak to Abraham about retirement benefits. Jesus didn’t tell Peter, Andrew, James and John to lease out their fishing business for a good price while they were following him or tell Matthew to get a good sale price on his tax-collecting business. He simply called them to follow him and they did, and greatly complicating their lives in the process. But churches, likewise, must remember what it means for a family to come into a community, oftentimes hundreds of miles away from any family. They need to understand that ministers have families who need their time and attention, especially when they have young children and face the difficult pressure of balancing family and ministry.

The reality is that it is simply too easy for a church and for a pastor to move on to the next person or the next place. The Scripture tells us the church is the body of Christ and his body should not be so easily pulled apart. We have, I fear, come to the point where we merely reflect our society’s propensity toward short-term relationships and the failure to enter into long-term commitments. It has become too easy to leave either church or pastor as a way of avoiding the hard work of growing together into a sense of oneness.

And further, what does it say that so few are willing to come to rural areas? Why are so few willing to enjoy any kind of tenure in a small town or rural area? I attended a meeting a few years ago and the leader of the meeting, during a break, told one of the participants I’ll never pastor another rural church. The person he was speaking to was in hearty agreement with him. I didn’t say anything, and I regret that I did not challenge them.

Most of Jesus’ ministry took place in rural areas. He spent time in Jerusalem, but it was in the small towns and rural areas that he spent most of his ministry. Today, many pastors understand that a large, urban or suburban church provides a platform that is far broader and more visible from which they can launch a more well-known public ministry. But we are called to be faithful to where we are called, and I fear that many can no longer allow themselves to hear the call to rural ministry.