So When Was The Last Time You Checked Your Unstated Assumptions?

You know what I mean; assumptions like if a person is a Harvard graduate, he or she must be smart. Or anybody who becomes a plumber or a carpenter isn’t likely to be reading philosophy at night. Or Texas really is God’s country.

OK, maybe not that last one about the Lone Star State, but here’s another one that is clearly among the most important influences on American public life these days: Modern science has liberated us from the shackles of beliefs and values based on ancient myths.

There are multiple variations on the theme but what they all come down to, more or less, is the unstated assumption that “science” is the only path to truth. Anything that claimed to be truth prior to, oh say, 1900 is almost prima facie considered by the current generation to be wrong or worse.

I would bet next month’s paycheck — assuming I get one! — that if you asked 100 randomly selected congressional aides about this, the vast majority of them would quickly agree with that proposition.

A closely related proposition and one that also has profound influence on the way issues are analyzed on Capitol Hill is the idea that there are “facts” and there are “opinions,” and public policy ought always be based solely on the former, not the latter. Stuff like faith and patriotism are mere opinions.

So, think about this: To be “true” in the scientific sense, according to this assumption, something must be observable, repeatable and measurable. That being the case, it must also be concrete, material. That means it cannot be non-material, or, to put it bluntly and in layman’s terms, there ain’t no such thing as the “supernatural” or “spiritual.”

So much then for the fundamental claim on which the entire Christian faith rests – the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, the Son of God. Given the science assumption, Jesus may have been a great teacher, an itinerant preacher with a real knack for turning a phrase or maybe just a lunatic, but what He couldn’t be is dead, buried and then alive again on the third day.

Normally at this point, I would launch into a discussion of the many apologetical “proofs” for the veracity of the Resurrection claim. But there’s another way to go at this issue and that is to examine the historicity of the claim.

Brit N.T. Wright — a former university lecturer/turned bishop, delivered a lecture some years ago in which he made an extremely persuasive case for the proposition that:

The Christian claim was from the beginning that the question of Jesus’ resurrection was a question, not of the internal mental and spiritual states of his followers a few days after his crucifixion, but about something that had happened in the real, public world, leaving not only an empty tomb, but a broken loaf at Emmaus and footprints in the sand by the lake among its physical mementoes, and leaving his followers with a lot of explaining to do but with a transformed worldview which is only explicable on the assumption that something really did happen, even though it stretched their existing worldviews to breaking point. More of that anon.

What we now have to do is to examine this early Christian claim more thoroughly, to ask what can be said about it historically, and to enquire, more particularly, what sort of ‘knowing’ or ‘believing’ we are talking about when we ask whether ‘a scientist’ can ‘believe’ that which, it seems, ‘the resurrection’ actually refers to.

I could give you the link to the text version of Wright’s lecture, but it’s so much better to watch and listen to him deliver “in person” via this video:

Thanks, by the way, to Wintery Knight for bringing this superb lecture to my attention so that I can share it with all my friends and future friends on Capitol Hill. Wintery Knight notes of Wright that he “has taught at Cambridge University, Oxford University, Duke University, McGill University, and lectured on dozens of prestigious campuses around the world. He’s published 40 books.”

In other words, Wright is somebody to whom we would be wise to pay attention. That is not to say I agree with everything he says because I don’t. But his point about thinking historically is an important one, especially if you happen to work in a job in an institution in which making history is an everyday occurrence.

Do You Really Believe What You Say You Believe?

That headline above poses one of the most important questions anyone can ever ask themselves. Unfortunately, it’s too often one of the last questions all of us ask of ourselves.

The question has a particular relevance for people working on the Hill. At the surface level, everybody in Congress, working for Congress, reporting on Congress, seeking to influence Congress and trying to get to Congress has beliefs, or at least claims to believe certain things.

But whatever you profess to believe, can you have absolute certainty that what you say you believe is what you actually believe? And how do you know the difference between the one and the other?

Believe it or not (did you catch the pun?), I’m not referring to the professed political, religious or ideological beliefs that shape appearances, what you seem to be or what you want the world to think you are. What I am talking about are the beliefs at the core of your being that actually define who you are and determine what you do.

Why is this such an important question for congressional aides? It’s not simply that aides by definition work for somebody else and thus are routinely called on to defend, explain, conceal, justify or rationalize away what “the boss” says or does. It’s important because such a fixation can make it even more difficult than it normally is to ask ourselves the headlined question.

Allow me to illustrate with an example from my own life and years on the Hill. Alcoholism runs in my family, a fact I was grimly aware of from a very early age. I saw what it can do, physically and emotionally, to people and families, the misery, pain, and emptiness. And I vowed early in my life to “never be that way.”

But then I came to Washington, D.C. and to the Hill. Booze was and is today quite prevalent. It’s not for nothing that Washington, D.C. routinely ranks among the top cities in America for per-capita alcohol consumption. A lot of people working on the Hill are only a few years past boozy campus cultures, which makes this a peculiarly relevant example.

If you’d asked me the first day on my first Hill job about drinking, I would have quickly said I would never let that become a problem, I grew up in an alcoholic home, saw what it did to people, etc. etc.

But then over the months and years that followed, it became easier and easier to declare those things but then do quite the opposite. Places like the Tune Inn, Hawk N Dove (remember that one!?) and Bullfeathers became regular haunts.

“Pub grub” (self-explanatory) and “draft beer” (or bourbon, or whatever)  and “networking” (jobs, allies) and “targets of opportunity” (come on, you know what this one means) became life fixtures. It became the major rhythm of my life — work during the day, keep working in the night, plus partying.

It took a long time but eventually I learned that sooner or later decisions do indeed have consequences in life and not just for me. Today, I thank my Lord Jesus Christ for the blessings of sobriety and a generous measure of the courage required for the honest self-awareness that requires regularly asking myself the headlined question above. Would that I had asked it sooner.

The point I’m getting at is this: The way to know if you really do believe what you tell yourself and the world you believe is to look at your actions and ask yourself: Are these the actions of somebody who believes X?

Jesus had no patience for hypocrisy, especially among those in high places. The 23d chapter of the book of Matthew in the New Testament is the “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees” scene in which He directly addressed the issue of personal authenticity:

“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. ***For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called ‘rabbi’ by others …

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may be clean …

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also appear outwardly righteous to others , but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

But this isn’t simply a question of saying one thing and doing another. It’s why we all do that so often. It’s that “within you” (and me, and everybody else) that is the problem. Too often, we know what we should do, but we go right on doing the wrong thing. The Apostle Paul put it this way at Romans 7: 15 — “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

And why is that? It’s that thing none of us these days wants to acknowledge exists but which is nevertheless an ever-present reality And the solution is something many folks working on the Hill scoff at, choose to ignore or have never heard about.

Want to know more? Let me buy you a cup of coffee or a sparkling water or whatever at one of the Hill office complexes’ cafes or restaurants, and we’ll continue what could prove to be the most important discussion of your life. It changed mine in more ways than I can count, all of them for the good.

*** Go here for an explanation of phylacteries and fringes in Jewish culture, ancient and modern. 

 

 

Monday’s Biggest Issue: Are These The Five Best Natural Arguments for God?

Talk to enough people over many years and you begin to get a sense of what are the most persuasive arguments for the majority of people who are either just doubtful about whether God exists or who are outright skeptics.

Over at Reasons to Believe, Hugh Ross points to these five in his long experience:

* Origin of space, time, matter, and energy
* Origin of life
* Human exceptionalism
* Fine-tuning of the universe, Earth, and Earth’s life to make possible the existence and redemption of billions of humans
* Genesis 1’s predictive power to accurately describe, in chronological order, key events in Earth’s history leading to humans

At first glance, I was a bit taken aback by the reference to Genesis 1 as a natural argument. But here’s how Ross explains it:

“Genesis 1: Genesis 1:2 establishes the frame of reference for the six-day creation account as the surface of Earth’s waters, and it describes four initial conditions: ubiquitous darkness and water on Earth’s surface, no life, and unfit conditions for life.

“On day 1, Earth’s atmosphere becomes translucent (“let there be light”). On day 4, the atmosphere becomes transparent (“let there be lights in the expanse of the sky”). The Hebrew word for day, yom, has four literal definitions, one of which is a long, finite time period.

“That day 7 is not closed out by an “evening and morning” implies that the creation days are consecutive long time periods. Thus, Genesis 1 accurately predicted both the description, timing, and order of the events of creation. Resource: Navigating Genesis

Knowing that there are among HillFaith’s growing legion of readers both believers and skeptics, I’d be interested to hear responses from both camps. I think number 3 is especially persuasive. What think you?

Mark Tapscott is HillFaith’s editor, IT jockey, spiritual guide, chief bottle washer and overall Jack-of-All-Trades. Email him at mark.tapscott@gmail.com

Does Faith or Science Best Explain Morality?

That question in the headline above captures at many levels the essential debate that defines the post-modern era, especially as it relates to a host of social and other issues that regularly confront congressional aides, their bosses and the journalists that cover them.

There is an incredible wealth of material available now on the Internet on both sides of the question, but a debate hosted at Stony Brooke University by New York Apologetics in 2015 may be the most enjoyable, intellectually engaging and comprehensive presentation yet.

It’s a long program, so be prepared to do a lot of listening, thinking and learning from both men at the podium, Dr. Frank Turek of Cross-examined.org and Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine. Would that all public policy debates were as civil, enlightening and educational as this one:


 

Here’s The Impossible Task For Atheists

Logic in many respects is the point where the debate between Christian and atheist advocates reaches the decisive questions each must confront: How does something come from nothing if God doesn’t exist and how can either’s answer be demonstrated?

I’m a journalist by training, not a philosopher and certainly not a mathematician, so I claim no such authority in this discussion. Being a journalist of an investigative bent and a man who has experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ, however, I love engaging in civil discussion with others about these ultimate issues.

And I will be sharing regularly here on HillFaith quotes, references, links to, excerpts and analyses by people, believers and non-believers, who I find have something worthwhile to contribute to our discussion.

My friend Chris Shannon posted this lengthy excerpt from Christian philosopher and theologian J.P. Moreland addressing the decisive questions posed above:

“…you can’t get something from nothing…It’s as simple as that.  If there were no God, then the history of the entire universe, up until the appearance of living creatures, would be a history of dead matter with no consciousness.
“You would not have any thoughts, beliefs, feelings, sensations, free actions, choices, or purposes. There would be simply one physical event after another physical event, behaving according to the laws of physics and chemistry …
“How then, do you get something totally different- conscious, living, thinking, feeling, believing creatures- from materials that don’t have that?  That’s getting something from nothing!  And that’s the main problem …
“However … if you begin with an infinite mind, then you can explain how finite minds could come into existence.  That makes sense.  What doesn’t make sense — and which many atheistic evolutionists are conceding — is the idea of getting a mind to squirt into existence by starting with brute, dead, mindless matter.”

This quote is from Lee Strobel’s interview with Moreland, who is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, can be found in its entirety in Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Creator.”  Strobel is a former journalist, so, yes, I am perhaps a bit partial to him!

And after you consume Moreland above, go to BigThink for an alternative approach to the question.

Now, Moreland has set the table for what should be a helpful discussion for all concerned with things like knowledge, truth and logic. Let it begin! And by the way, if you work on the Hill, where you come out on these matters has a great to deal to do with how you resolve many of the seemingly mundane daily issues with which you deal.

Mark Tapscott is HillFaith’s editor, IT jockey, spiritual guide, chief bottle washer and overall Jack-of-All-Trades. Email him at mark.tapscott@gmail.com

So What If Jesus Isn’t A Myth Like Santa Claus And The Easter Bunny?

Let’s stipulate — just for the purposes of honest discussion and open inquiry — that Jesus is not like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or Thor or … you get the drift. And if you are wondering why you should stipulate here, check this out:

By the way, the above illustration was produced by the Impact 360 Institute, a group of really sharp people who absolutely love training in intellectual discourse. I found it on The Poached Egg, a web site you just might find endlessly stimulating, challenging or upsetting (in the good sense of making you re-think your assumptions).

Mark Tapscott is HillFaith’s editor, IT jockey, spiritual guide, chief bottle washer and overall Jack-of-All-Trades. Email him at mark.tapscott@gmail.com

 

Jesus Didn’t Say He’s The Only Way?

Actually, He did say that, many times. So many times that it amazes me whenever somebody tells me — as I often hear — something along the lines of “But Jesus never claimed to be the only way to get to Heaven.”

I’m often tempted upon hearing those words to ask if He didn’t, why on Earth did He allow Himself to be nailed to a cross and left to die the most horrible of deaths? But that’s a topic for another post and another day.

Now, back to the question raised in the headline to this post!

Stand To Reason’s Alan Shlemon offers some quick thoughts by way of scripture and a recommendation for a useful compilation of more than 100 instances where Jesus made clear His claim to be the unique way to spend eternity in Heaven.

The verses Shlemon cites will be familiar to most anybody who has even lightly considered Jesus’s claims for Himself. There is John 14:6 where He says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Then there is Matthew 28:18-20 where He makes what is, a reasonable person will realize upon honest assessment, an amazing, comprehensive claim:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The compilation Shlemon suggests is by his colleague in Christian apologetics, Greg Koukl, called “Jesus, The Only Way.” There are 100 such verses and anybody who has pondered the question of their eternal destiny would profit from shelling out all of $2 to get their hands on Koukl’s little book.

Now, I offer one additional thought on this issue: Before this issue can be settled, it is first essential that the question of whether or not Jesus was resurrected on the third day after He was crucified be addressed.

Here’s why: If He was resurrected, everything He said about Himself must be true. If He wasn’t, then Christians who like me believe He was are in Paul’s words at I Corinthians 15: 17-19, “of all people most to be pitied” and our “faith is in vain” because we have gambled our eternal destiny on a myth, or worse, a liar or lunatic (HT: Josh McDowell).

Bottom line, then, is this: The truth or falsehood of the Resurrection is the key to the answer to every question you could ever have about Christ, including especially the one that prompted this post. And because all of your questions about Him are of crucial importance, you do well to start with the Resurrection.

Mark Tapscott is HillFaith’s editor, IT jockey, spiritual guide, chief bottle washer and overall Jack-of-All-Trades. Email him at mark.tapscott@gmail.com