FAITH in a SECULAR SOCIETY By Anthony Bakerdjian
C.S. LEWIS: A LIFE IN REVIEW By Andy Bannister
By Danielle DuRant
in the lap of By Rick Manafo
GOD ARE YOU THERE? By Nathan Betts
theCIRCLEof R IGHTS By Andy Bannister
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RZIM Canada exists to reach people for Christ through showing the credibility and beauty of the Gospel. We therefore seek to address the heartfelt concerns and intellectual objections to Christianity from both seekers and skeptics alike, so that people can have an unobstructed view of Christ.
DR. RAVI ZACHARIAS
FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT
DR. ANDY BANNISTER CANADIAN DIRECTOR LEAD APOLOGIST
NATHAN BETTS APOLOGIST
OFFICE MANAGER firstname.lastname@example.org
PROGRAM DIRECTOR APOLOGIST email@example.com
BRITTANY LAWRENCE OPERATIONS AND EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
From university open forums to TV and radio debates, from seminars to conferences to church events, through speaking, writing, print and online, the RZIM Canada team works across the country (and further afield) to help the thinker believe and the believer think.
HELPING THINKERS BELIEVE AND BELIEVERS THINK
Why not consider inviting RZIM Canada to partner with you in helping you reach your community or train and equip your group to articulate the Good News of Christ with clarity, conviction and compassion in a world of competing ideas? We’d love to discuss ways we could serve you — drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office on 416-385-9199.
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table of contents
A WORD FROM ANDY By Andy Bannister
ATHEISM IN THE LAP OF LUXURY By Rick Manafo
A LEARNED CRAFT
GOD ARE YOU THERE?
By Danielle DuRant
By Nathan Betts
FAITH IN A SECULAR SOCIETY
THE CIRCLE OF RIGHTS By Andy Bannister
By Anthony Bakerdjian
By Andy Bannister
By Ravi Zacharias
C.S. LEWIS: A LIFE IN REVIEW
THE REAL FACE OF ATHEISM (EXCERPT)
inCONTEXT Magazine is a communication vehicle of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Canadian Director | Dr. Andy Bannister | email@example.com Editor | Rick Manafo | firstname.lastname@example.org Graphic Design | Aaron Holbrough | email@example.com Cover Illustration | Adam Holbrough Print | Turnhill Graphics Mailing Address: Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Suite 315 | 50 Gervais Drive, Toronto, Ontario M3C 1Z3, Canada
Telephone: (416) 385-9199 Toll Free (Canada): (800) 803-3829 Fax: (416) 385-9155 Web: rzim.ca | Twitter: @rzimcanada
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A WORD FROM ANDY A friend of mine recently completed his degree in biology at one of Canada’s leading universities. He told me the story of how, on the very first day of lectures, his professor had walked into the auditorium and begun with a question: ‘Who here believes in God?’ Peer pressure being what it is, only a few brave souls raised a hand. The professor fixed the class with an icy stare and stated: “By the end of this semester, none of you will believe in God. Only fools believe in God.” It’s hard to escape the fact that the so called “New Atheism”—marked not by new arguments but by a new level of rhetoric and polemic—seems to be everywhere, from university lecture halls to the pages of our newspapers. The movement popularised by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and others has found a toehold in our culture. The New Atheists are popping up in the best seller lists, writing angry newspaper columns, appearing on chat shows, posting on YouTube, debating at universities. Financially, the world may be in a credit crunch, but atheism seems to be a growth industry and Christians can sometimes find this unnerving. Given RZIM’s remit to “help the thinker believe and the believer think”, we thought we would dedicate this issue of inContext Magazine to the theme of atheism and unbelief, with the aim of helping Christians think through fresh ways to engage with atheist and skeptical friends—whilst, at the same time, providing some perspectives that those reading these pages through outsider’s eyes may find thought provoking. For it is vital that we remember that many of our atheist friends are still searching—simply because denying God ultimately doesn’t answer life’s deepest questions, but merely leaves the questions still echoing. As journalist James Wood wrote in a recent essay: I have a friend, an analytic philosopher and convinced atheist, who told me that she sometimes wakes in the middle of the night, anxiously turning over a series of ultimate questions: “How can it be that this world is the result of an accidental big bang? How could there be no design, no metaphysical purpose? Can it be that every life — beginning with my own, my husband’s, my child’s, and spreading outward — is cosmically irrelevant?” In the current intellectual climate, atheists are not supposed to have such thoughts.1
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My hope for this edition of inContext Magazine is it does two things. First, that it shows the importance of asking searching questions of our atheist friends. Atheism is, like Christianity, a worldview and thus our atheist friends need to give evidence to defend it (and any other beliefs they hold). But, second, it is vital that we respond to our atheist friends with love and compassion. A recent survey of hundreds of skeptics in North America published in The Atlantic Magazine revealed how many of them were, at heart, not atheists because of arguments, but because of bad experiences with the Church. If our skeptical friends do not see that our actions match our words, they will dismiss the gospel and become cynical.2 If you find the ideas and articles in the magazine stimulating, please do consider passing it on to friends and neighbours. And if you’d like to dig deeper, stay atop what RZIM is doing in various places across the country. You might also be interested in the RZIM Canada Summer School that takes place next July in Vancouver — more info at www.rzim.ca/summerschool. We have an amazing line up of speakers, including Ravi Zacharias and John Lennox. John famously debated the world’s leading atheist, Richard Dawkins, on three occasions and even hostile journalists concluded his character as well as his arguments were a powerful witness.3 Please continue to pray for RZIM, here in Canada and globally. We have a busy schedule ahead of us, with speaking engagements in front of audiences both friendly and skeptical across Canada and further afield this next year. But however eloquent our words and clever our arguments, skeptics will be moved and Christians empowered only if God’s Spirit goes ahead of us. We live in challenging times but, as C. S. Lewis would have put it, Aslan is on the move. Thanks for your prayers and for your support.
Dr. Andy Bannister Canadian Director and Lead Apologist James Wood, ‘Is That All There Is? Secularism and Its Discontents’, The New Yorker (15 August 2011). 2 Larry Taunton, ‘Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity’, The Atlantic, 6 June 2013 (available online at: www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/listening-toyoung-atheists-lessons-for-a-stronger-christianity/276584/) 3 One of their first debates can be viewed, free, online at www.fixed-point.org/index.php/video/35-full-length/164-thedawkins-lennox-debate 1
if He ordered genocide in the Old Testament?” “Why should I believe in a God who sees my suffering and doesn’t answer my prayer?” As such, I would suggest that many people, including those within the church, are wrestling with the fundamental character and nature of God, with questions concerning his goodness and trustworthiness. 2
CRAFT By Danielle DuRant
I attempted to suppress my stunned disbelief with a question: “What do you mean?” I listened as a dear Christian friend of more than 25 years shared with me that she was considering moving in a direction that was a reversal of what she had long held true and what the Scriptures clearly proscribe. Over the days that followed I tried to refrain from continually pointing her to numerous Bible passages that would challenge her intentions—after all, she knew them well. Rather, I spoke about God’s compassion in our brokenness and the Holy Spirit’s transformative work in our lives, and encouraged her to talk with a counselor who could help unravel her deep and knotted burden. Sadly, a few months later, she chose to leave her church home and move in the direction she expressed.
Even we who may seek to hold fast to what we cognitively affirm—that God is sovereign and good—sometimes struggle to make sense of our emotions when we encounter a difficult passage of Scripture or an experience such as betrayal or loss that challenges our view of an all-loving and powerful God. Indeed, consider bewildered Job under the scourge of suffering, or Joseph or John the Baptist languishing in prison, or faithful but barren Elizabeth and Zechariah, and countless others in the pages of Scripture who strained to discern God’s presence and purpose. So how do we who identify ourselves as Christians help others see the hope of the gospel and persevere in hope ourselves in a world where the biblical view of a loving and good God is constantly challenged? A Deeper Question
I have had the privilege of working with Ravi Zacharias for over twenty years. If my experience with my friend and the emails and letters we receive are any reflection of the wider evangelical culture, there has been a noticeable shift in the questions raised by those who would identify themselves as Christians. Less than ten years ago, the predominant questions were, if you will, intramural ones: “What is your view of predestination?” “Which version of the Bible is most accurate?” “What is the unpardonable sin?”
As we seek to address tough questions, Ravi Zacharias has observed that it is critical to understand there is often a deeper question behind the one being posed. Hence, we must listen carefully to hear and respond to the actual question raised. He recalls how a young couple came to him after a speaking engagement in a church and asked how God could allow suffering and evil. As he began to offer a reply, he noticed that the woman was holding a child with a severe physical deformity. He surmised that the couple’s theological inquiry masked a deeper existential struggle and so he set aside the standard arguments of theodicy to consider the pain and confusion they were experiencing.
More recently, however, many questions resemble ones we usually receive from skeptics or seekers at university engagements: “How can God be morally good
This is not to suggest that many people do not wrestle with the philosophical arguments for the problem of evil or God’s
“I’m happy,” she told me—and how does one counter that?1
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existence, but rather, that we need to take time to listen to our questioners so that we might truly hear their concerns. Sometimes, as with my longtime friend, we might even ask, “What do you mean?” In apologetics, this approach uses the law of identity, which involves identifying unspoken assumptions and presuppositions. This law states that everything that exists has a specific nature; for example, “A = A” or “A sheep is a sheep” (and not a cow). Thus, if someone remarks, “Sure, I believe in Jesus,” we rely upon the law of identity when we ask the person to tell us more about who this Jesus is. Is this the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament or The DaVinci Code? Or, we might follow up by asking the person to tell us what he or she means by “believe.” Does the individual’s understanding of belief amount to reasoned confidence or “blind” faith?3 A common misperception is that science involves facts and evidence, whereas religious belief is based on myth, feelings, or a wish-fulfillment for a benevolent God. And yet, science is unable to answer basic metaphysical questions such as “Why are we here?” or “Why is there something rather than nothing?” And atheism itself can be seen as a wish-fulfillment for no God and no absolute foundation for morality. In such conversations, we may discover that “belief in Jesus” may be radically different from what the Bible presents. Thus, it is critical to listen carefully to those we seek to engage so that we might hear their underlying questions and unspoken assumptions. The art of listening and responding to questions is a learned craft honed with humility, patience, and careful study. As my colleague Alister McGrath writes, “Apologetics is not a set of techniques for winning people to Christ. It is not a set of argumentative templates designed to win debates. It is a willingness to work with God in helping people discover and turn to his glory.”4 Learning To See Like those we encounter who struggle with questions, sometimes our own unsettled questions and unexamined assumptions can cloud our hope in God and our confidence in the gospel. When relationships fail, health deteriorates, or vocations are lost, our understanding of God can be tested to the core when we, as philosopher Esther Lightcap Meek suggests, “labor under the misimpression that we see what we see, that seeing is believing, that either I see it or I don’t.”5 The evidence for God’s existence and Christ’s uniqueness looks quite clear to me in light of the historical Scriptures, the pattern of the universe, and conflicting worldviews. But there are times when I have questioned God’s goodness because I perceived Him to be unresponsive and unmoved by my troubled heart. Studying the Scriptures didn’t lead me to this misperception; rather, my experience of loss did.
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And when our view of God is misguided, doubt eclipses hope and we may be tempted to take the seemingly “happy road” rather than trust in his sovereign but unforeseen plan. Yes, God is consistent and faithful to his Word, but He is not predictable. If He were, there would be no place for grace or mercy.6 He sends rain to the just and unjust. He rewards a prostitute’s shrewd deceit with a secure place in the Promised Land, while barring his prophet Moses from it because of a rash act of rage.7 In such places of doubt and discouragement, we need the fellowship of other believers to help us see what we cannot see, to pray when we cannot pray, and to hope when we struggle
“The art of listening and responding to questions is a learned craft honed with humility, patience, and careful study.” to hope. As Meek contends, “Sometimes, apart from someone else’s insistence and guidance, we don’t even get it right about the thoughts in our own head. We need to be taught how to see.”8 I ran a trail half-marathon recently. I have competed at this distance and longer on roads but never on the trail, so the first couple of miles I was careful to note every root and rock as I tried to run fast. By the third mile, I felt at ease dodging obstacles and began to settle into a competitive pace. I turned a corner and descended a hill with a massive rock just below its crest, and Wham! Suddenly, I was sailing headlong and my splayed body hit the ground. I had seen the rock but somehow its presence didn’t prompt me to alter my stride. With
ten miles left to the finish, my throbbing, bloody knee suddenly sharpened my focus for the rest of the race. Like listening, seeing is a learned craft. For example, experienced trail runners can fly down a hill with seeming ease, nimbly dodging small and large obstacles on their path. Their bodies have a heightened sense of proprioception (literally, “one’s own perception”), which is the ability to orient to an environment with limited visual clues. “The special balance that is so key to trail running is … proprioception,” writes elite endurance runner Adam Chase. “Proprioception comes through muscle, joint, tendon, and inner ear sensory nerve terminals that respond to and adjust posture and positioning through stimuli originating from within the body. When trail runners complain that they are bad at running down rocky or otherwise sketchy descents, it is usually a testament to the fact that they need to work on their proprioceptive abilities.”9 Trail running is an art that requires keen awareness and practice. Likewise, the prophet Daniel and the apostle Paul overcame obstacles in their pagan, foreign environments by a resolute focus on a sovereign God who alone “changes times and seasons” and “reveals deep and hidden things” (Daniel 2:21-22). Both were given the gift of vision, but they were “taught how to see” through persistent prayer, a community of friends, and a humble understanding that all wisdom and ability come from God. “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” wrote Paul, “in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19a). A Gift to All This hope to which God has called us is a “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). Like any living substance, hope must be nurtured and exercised for it to grow. Isaiah tells us that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Hope can expand even as we endure trials, for “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
Like the fine art of listening and seeing, I am discovering that persevering in hope is a learned craft. This is not to suggest it is something we must earn. No, hope is a gift to all who call upon God. Yet just as an Olympic sprinter gifted with speed must sharpen her skills consistently to succeed, so our hope matures when we “run in the path of [God’s] commands” and “feed on his faithfulness.”10 “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis observes that we must be taught both to recognize and to exercise hope: Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at
“Like any living substance, hope must be nurtured and exercised for it to grow.” earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, inCONTEXT Magazine | VOL. 2
open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilization as long as civilization is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more. Most of us find it very difficult to want “Heaven” at all—except in so far as “Heaven” means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole edu-
God’s Word, for it is the one true and trustworthy reflection of who God is and who we are becoming. Here we are exhorted and comforted, chastened and encouraged by the One who loves us and can speak into our lives like no other. Here we can bring our longings, fears, and questions before his throne of grace and let the light of Jesus’s presence shine into every dark and confusing place in our lives, “for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows every-
“Like the ability to listen and to see—hope grows as we sit before the mirror of God’s Word, for it is the one true and trustworthy reflection of who God is and who we are becoming.” cation tends to fix our minds on this world. Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognize it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.11
thing.”12 This is the hope of the gospel. And God promises that all “who hope in him will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:23).
Danielle DuRant is director of research and writing at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, GA.
Ultimately, hope— like the ability to listen and to see—grows as we sit before the mirror of
This question is intended merely to be rhetorical. There are several approaches one might use as a follow-up depending on the person’s struggle and faith commitment. 2 In his conversations with Christians wrestling with doubt, philosophy professor Gary Habermas has observed a similar trend. See his chapter “Evil, the Resurrection and the Example of Jesus” in God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain, eds. Chad V. Meister, Norman Geisler, and James K. Dew (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 163-174. 3 For a fuller discussion of reasonable belief and so-called blind faith, see chapters 3 and 4 of Alex McLellan’s A Jigsaw Guide to Making Sense of the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012). 4 Alister E. McGrath, Mere Apologetics: How To Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2012), 41. 5 Esther Lightcap Meek, Longing To Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2003), 99. 6 I am indebted to Roslyn Harden Scott, Ph.D., for this insight. 7 Of course, a close reading of Joshua 2 and Numbers 20 reveals that Rahab’s act of deception (risking her life to harbor the spies) was precipitated by her faith in the God of the Israelites, whereas Moses’s display of anger grew out of his lack of trust in God. Hebrews 11:31 commends Rahab for her faith and James 2:25, for her works (faith in action). 8 Meek, 99, emphasis added. 9 Adam Chase, “On the Trail …Core Strength” (November 1, 2003), accessed on February 19, 2013 at www.runnersworld.com/trail-runningtraining/trail-core-strength. 10 See Psalm 119:32 and 37:3 (NASB). 11 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1960), 118-119, emphasis added. 12 1 John 3:20. 1
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FAITH IN A SECULAR SOCIETY:
God at Work in La Belle Province By Anthony Bakerdjian
Is there space for faith in a secular society? How do we as Christians navigate the challenges of proclaiming Christianity in a pluralistic culture? Does secularism mean freedom of religion or freedom from religion? As the prevalence of these questions increases, it has become all the more important for Christians to develop a credible and compelling response regarding the place for faith in Canadian society. Recently, there has been a lot of attention in the news surrounding the Quebec Soccer Federation’s (QSF) decision to ban Sikh children from participating in competitive soccer teams because their turbans were deemed unsafe attire for soccer matches. Along with a public outcry from the Sikh community, the QSF’s decision was denounced by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and Fédération International de Football Association (FIFA); resulting in the suspension of the QSF until it reversed the turban ban. This is just one example of an increasing tension between public expressions of faith and secularism, a tension that has clear implications for Christians desiring to live out their faith in the public square. According to 2011 Canadian census data recently released by Statistics Canada, Canadian society is steadily moving away from the Christian religion. In 1991, 83% of Canadians were affiliated with Christianity, but fast-forward to 2011 and we see that number drop to 67.3%.1 In Quebec this trend is even more pronounced and resembles a pattern found in European countries of very low church attendance.2
Stained glass from Notre Dame Basillica, Montreal
Given these circumstances, RZIM Canada has developed a strategic initiative to reach out to the people of Quebec, beginning in the city of Montreal. Shortly after moving to Montreal, I began working with the RZIM Canada team and one of my first tasks was assisting with an event at McGill University called, “Does Spirituality Matter?” featuring Ravi Zacharias, Tanya Walker from RZIM Europe and Andy Bannister. From that I became involved in other outreach events. I’ve also been helping to coordinate RZIM Canada’s social media presence as well as beginning to identify and connect with key local ministry leaders and campus workers. It’s been extremely encouraging to see how many Montreal leaders are coming around to support our outreach endeavours.
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Joining the Public Conversation about Faith and Secularism I recently attended a conference called Bridging the Secular Divide Conference at McGill University in order to build bridges with key leaders from other faith communities as well as other Christians interested in engaging in this important conversation. The focus of the conference was, “What is the place of faith in secular society?” Topics discussed included the state of secularism in Canada, religion and the media, religious pluralism, and what we mean when we talk about secularism and pluralism. One theme woven throughout each seminar was a conception of secularism as a space not devoid of religious perspectives but as providing a public space for people of faith to engage with each other and with society in general. There was an affirmation that this public space is distinctly pluralistic, meaning, no particular view has priority over another. Of course, this declaration raises the questions: exactly what kind of pluralism are we dealing with here and how we should engage in this pluralistic conversation. In other words, how do we inhabit this secular and pluralistic space without disallowing the voice of religion and of faith at the table? This is a very different view of “secularism” and one that Christians can operate within—a view that says the Christian voice is as welcome at the table as any other. If we believe that the Christian worldview is true, then we should believe and trust God that its uniqueness will stand out. The Hon. Bill Blaikie and Dr. Daniel Weinstock delivered a poignant moment as they discussed the task of bridging the divide between secular society and people of faith. Drawing on Miroslav Volf’s book A Public Faith, Mr. Blaikie argued that within our current context two groups are going to be disappointed: those who want a completely secular society without religion and those who hope for a return to Christendom. Further, he stated that the clear implications of Christians speaking for justice in the name of Jesus (even from a minority position) means that if Jesus is Lord then there can-
not be another.3 This moment stood out to me because just as the early Church’s bold declaration of “Jesus is Lord” meant that Caesar was not, today this same claim requires that there can be no other Lord––no other ultimate authority to whom we commit our trust, love and obedience. Moreover, it is this claim that provides the very impetus for peaceful, respectful and loving engagement with people of other faiths and philosophies with whom we do not agree. So why does this matter? Well, if we lose sight of this central proclamation of the Christian faith then we lose the very power by which we are enabled to engage peacefully in the pubic sphere. Therefore, the apologetic task before us––to engage in this conversation faithfully, confidently, intelligently, and graciously–– is central to our proclamation of the good news that Jesus is Lord. God is on the move in the vibrant city of Montreal, just as He is across Canada as a whole. These are challenging times, but also times of great opportunity. We hope to continue building on the momentum gained in Montreal. There is a lot to be thankful for. We appreciate your prayers and support as we seek to build bridges with those who are searching here in La Belle Province. Anthony Bakerdjian studied at University of Toronto and has a Master of Christian Studies from Regent College in Vancouver. His interest in evangelism, Christian Apologetics, and student ministry led him to study at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University. Anthony resides in Montreal with his wife Desirée, where he works part-time for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Canada as well as working with youth at Rosemount Bible Church. He has spoken to various campus and church groups on matters of faith and cultural engagement and is committed to seeing youth and young adults embody an integrated life of faith.
John G. Stackhouse, “Religion in Canada: De-Christianization Continues Apace,” Sightings, July 18, 2013. Accessed July 27, 2013. www.bit.ly/12YcwPo Ibid. 3 He noted that “if Jesus is Lord, then capitalism isn’t, or the market isn’t…it means all kinds of things, if Jesus is Lord, and all the other idols of the age aren’t.” (Hon. Bill Blaikie and Dr. Daniel Weinstock, “Bridging the Secular Divid: A conversation” (Keynote Plenary at Bridging the Secular Divide: Religion and Public Discourse, Montreal, Quebec, May 27, 2013)) 1
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A LIFE in review
C. S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013 Reviewed by Andy Bannister
Clive Staples Lewis was a man with many faces: literary critic, apologist, poet, academic, theologian, broadcaster, lecturer and novelist. It was this latter aspect of Lewis I encountered first, as I discovered the Narnia books as a child and read and re-read them. Only later did I realise how theologically rich they were. Then as an older teenager, growing in my faith, I devoured Lewis’ other writings — The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity and Miracles, finding in them a voice that expressed the questions and issues I was wrestling with and that helped me find answers that were intellectually satisfying. In my early 20’s I then read Lewis’ work of fiction for adults, The Space Trilogy, finding it imaginatively rich and theologically deep. But what about C. S. Lewis the man? Since his death in 1963, the same day as John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley died, whose deaths overshadowed Lewis’ in the press, biographers have pored over the details of his life and most of the facts are well known. Born in the winter of 1898 to a wealthy Belfast family, the young C.S. Lewis loved the Irish landscape, speaking fondly in later life of his memories of its hills, woods, lakes and streams. He also learned early the love of books, his father
being an avid reader, and Lewis spent many a rainy day reading volume after volume and discovering how literature opens up the mind to new vistas. At age ten however, his idyllic childhood was coldly shattered when the mother to whom he had been absolutely devoted died of cancer. His father, unable to face life as a single parent, dispatched Lewis and his brother to boarding schools in England, places that Lewis detested with a passion. Stability returned to his life when, at sixteen, his father found him a private tutor under whose influence Lewis’ love of philosophy and classical literature flourished. In 1916, Lewis received a scholarship to Oxford University, but his studies were interrupted by the First World
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War. This experience left deep emotional scars as, like so many young men of his generation, Lewis saw close friends killed and maimed on the battlefields of Europe. Lewis himself was injured in the Battle of Arras and subsequently discharged from the army. Returning to Oxford, he lived in a home with the mother of a friend of his who had been killed in the war—a woman with whom he had a complicated relationship for many years to come. Following the completion of his studies, Lewis accepted a position as Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University. But while he was enjoying professional success, it was the inward spiritual journey that would by far have the greater impact. His journey to faith was a long one. Lewis’ close friends, G. K. Chesterton and J. R. R. Tolkien, were major influences. Tolkien and Lewis were both members of the famous literary group, “The Inklings”, that frequently met at various Oxford pubs, most notably the Eagle and Child, to discuss each other’s works.
been displayed on their mother’s Shakespearean calendar on the day she had died back in 1908. Given how well both the outline and the detail of Lewis’ life are known, why then do we need a new biography? Aside from the fact that 2013 is the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’ death prompting a renewed interest in him (Lewis is due to be honoured with a memorial stone at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey in London in November),
Lewis’ newfound faith found expression in his writings and he began to gain a reputation as a Christian apologist and thinker of note, so much so that in 1941 the BBC asked him to prepare a series of radio talks on the Christian faith. These were incredibly popular, projecting Lewis onto the national stage and eventually being published as Mere Christianity. His fame brought frowns, however, from the Oxford establishment who then turned against him, leading Lewis to eventually accept the Chair in Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University. Lewis lived most of his life as a bachelor. Then, at age 58, he shocked friends and colleagues by marrying American writer Joy Davidman. The relationship was initially one of convenience with Lewis agreeing to the marriage in order to enable Joy and her sons to live in England. But when Joy was diagnosed with cancer, Lewis suddenly realized that his feelings ran far deeper. “We soon learn to love what we know we must lose,” he wrote. Tragically Joy died after a four-year fight with the disease. Her death devastated Lewis, throwing him into emotional and spiritual turmoil. He eventually documented his journey through this darkest of personal times in the hauntingly honest book, A Grief Observed. C. S. Lewis died on November 22, 1963 at The Kilns, the home in Oxford he had lived in for over thirty years. A five minute walk from the house brings you to Holy Trinity Church, where a simple stone in the wooded graveyard bears the name of him and his brother, Warnie, along with a single inscription: “Men must endure their going hence”—the text that had
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there are several particular aspects to Alister McGrath’s new biography of Lewis that make it immensely valuable. First, McGrath had access to all of Lewis’ letters and private papers, something that had not been available to previous biographers. This offers McGrath greater entry into the private world of Lewis, a man who was very capable of erecting barriers between his public and private personas. It is through those letters and diary entries that McGrath is able to add some new pieces to the stock of information we have about Lewis: for example, he is able to demonstrate that the traditional date of Lewis’ conversion to Christianity is wrong, is able to show that the First World War was far more formative in Lewis’ life than we had previously thought, as well as shedding new light on Lewis’ somewhat complex relationships with women and with friends. One such dis-
covery is particularly touching and concerns Tolkien, whose friendship with Lewis had cooled over the years, more so on Tolkien’s side. Nevertheless, archives that were only opened in 2012 revealed that, in 1960, Lewis had written to the Nobel Prize Committee for Literature recommending that Tolkien receive the coveted prize, “in recognition of his now celebrated romantic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.” A second valuable aspect of McGrath’s biography is its overall approach. Rather than being primarily concerned simply with dates and events, McGrath sets out to try to map the development of Lewis’ religious thought. How precisely did he make the journey from atheism to Christianity and having done so, how did the Christian worldview then shape all of Lewis’ thinking? To answer these questions, McGrath undertook the task of reading the entirety of Lewis’ works in chronological order. He then offers a fascinating division of the biography, arguing that we understand Lewis best if we think of his life in terms of geographical periods: Ireland, England, France, Oxford, Narnia and Cambridge.
but a sinner saved by grace and like all Christians, a work in progress. C. S. Lewis: A Life also gives a helpful understanding of how Lewis grew into the public defender of Christianity that he is now remembered for being and how this journey was more complex than many imagine. For example, his conversion was no simple step from atheism to Christianity. It was a winding route from atheism to idealism, idealism to pantheism, pantheism to deism, deism to theism, and finally theism to Christianity. In fact it was during a journey to Whipsade Park Zoo that the final pieces of the jigsaw fell into place and he realised that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Lewis then took years to work through the implications of his conversion and only became a high profile public figure reluctantly. It was after a series of talks he gave to young aircrew at Royal Air Force bases during the Second World War that He discovered with a shock that his highly academic style of speaking might work in Oxford, but it didn’t connect with the common man, and so he had to adapt both his style and his language. Lewis had discovered a crucial aspect of apologetics: the need to “translate” theology and philosophy into the vernacular. Finally, McGrath’s biography offers a carefully argued understanding of how the different pieces of Lewis’ thought life fit together. This is especially helpful when it comes to the Narnia books, which some previous biographers have been tempted to sneer at and dismiss as clumsy allegories, or mere works for children. But McGrath is able to show that “allegory” is entirely the wrong category for understanding Narnia—rather Lewis saw these works
McGrath feels no need to canonize Lewis, and the result is a much richer portrait of a real individual, one who was not a saint but a sinner saved by grace and like all Christians, a work in progress. The result is a fascinating new take on a man that many of us would consider we know well. This is, on one level, a deeply humanizing biography— getting behind Lewis the ‘Defender’ of Christianity to Lewis the Individual, revealing in the process his childhood, his complex family and emotional relationships, the tensions with some of his friends, and also many of his accomplishments, especially in the academic sphere, that are not commonly discussed. McGrath also feels no need to shy away from controversy or to canonize Lewis, and the result is a much richer portrait of a real individual, one who was not a saint
as “supposals”: We know what the incarnation of Christ looks like here on earth (read the gospels!) but what would it look like if God became incarnate in a different form in a different world—in the case of Narnia as the lion, Aslan? McGrath also draws on recent scholarship from Cambridge academic, Michael Ward, whose book Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis shows how intricately crafted the imagery and thematic components are within the Narnia books. Far from being clumsy, they are extremely sophisticated, woven together around the imagery of the seven medieval planets—imagery that as a medieval scholar, Lewis knew well. Fifty years on from his death, then, how are we to judge Lewis? Certainly his influence today is arguably greater than ever. His books produce $6 million in sales each inCONTEXT Magazine | VOL. 2
year, the Narnia stories have been turned into Hollywood movies, and Lewis has proved tremendously influential within Evangelicalism, especially in North America, cited as an influence by everyone from Tim Keller to Ravi Zacharias. Thus McGrath answers the question of how we judge Lewis’ legacy: Lewis himself had no doubt about the identity of the judge, or the criterion to be used in such an assessment. For Lewis, the only reliable critic of a writer’s value is time, and the only reliable measure is the enjoyment that results from reading that writer’s works. As Lewis himself remarked, nobody is ultimately able to “suppress” an author who is “obstinately pleasurable”. Lewis has made the most difficult transition an author can hope to make—being read by more people a generation after his death than before it.1 Lewis himself recommended the reading of old books, since they give us an outsider’s perspective on our own age. Every culture has a particular outlook, seeing some things and missing others, and thus writers of another generation can sometimes help us “correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.” Lewis’ own writings now count as “old books” and his point is well made. Just the other day I was re-reading The Abolition of Man and was struck by its timeliness. In that book, first published in 1943, Lewis predicts a dystopian future in which traditional morality will have been “debunked” and the values of society controlled instead by a small elite who manipulate the masses through
science and psychology, “seeing through” any other system of morality. The result is that humankind becomes increasingly controlled by its whims and passions, which are no longer subject to any rational critique. The elite eventually become no longer recognizably human, the masses become robot-like, and thus man as man will have become abolished. The book is not an easy read, but its analysis holds even more true of our culture today than when Lewis wrote it over sixty years ago. One of my favorite Lewis quotes has always been this line, from a 1945 essay, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.’ Part of the reason for Lewis’ enduring legacy, I believe, is that he saw, with a clarity that few before or since have achieved, the implications if Christianity is true. That if the claims of Christ stand up, then that sheds light not just on theology but on every discipline and on every story, too. This also worked for Lewis in reverse, overflowing into his desire to write works that engaged mind and imagination, fiction and non-fiction, heart and head. I hope that C. S. Lewis: A Life encourages many people to consider Lewis’ life and impact afresh, to perhaps pull down old copies of Mere Christianity or the Narnia books from their shelves and read them once again, in the hope that our minds, imaginations and hearts may be stirred up, as we catch a glimpse, through their pages, of something wonderful, beautiful, eternal and true.
Alister McGrath, C. S. Lewis: A Life (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2013) 378.
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in the lap of
By Rick Manafo Species tend to live or migrate in areas where their growth and advancement is more likely and secure than others. Some species and forms of plant life survive better in certain climates than others. The New Atheism, which we must admit is getting a little old now, has had the luxury of sinking its roots and spreading itself in the prosperous West. This brand of atheism has bred well in the halls of Western academia and other places of peace and prosperity and has asserted its disdain for God and religion to the gullible masses therein.
ments that have had Christian influence, with their attention to human value and rights, have afforded atheists (as well as holders of other worldviews) the freedom to express their opinions, even if those opinions express contempt for religion in general.
Atheism functions best within environments that are economically sound and that are able to fund its major advocates to write and rant at their good pleasure. Many of these environments have had a Christian presence in the past and often the residual effects from such a presence lurk on—they are places where the initial deposits of people of faith are still paying dividends. It’s notable how atheism doesn’t seem to fare as well or have the same traction in the Middle East and in the Third World.
The rhetoric of the New Atheists is sharp and witty, with an entertaining component to it. Incite-ful TV personalities like Bill Maher cleverly and regularly mock religion, pointing out its failures, calling it “ridiculous” to many sympathetic fans. Those fans cheer as he suggests replacing Bibles in hotel rooms with Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion.
Philosopher J.P. Moreland emphasizes that the West, that was shaped and influenced by the Christian worldview, is indebted to that worldview, and he adds, “the loan is past due.”1 Environ-
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Atheism has become fashionable. Atheists in the West have the resources, the platforms and the audiences by which and to which to propagate their message.
At the same time, people like Maher will draw upon and utilize the very things they mock and disagree with to make a point that serves their purpose. In a television debate, Maher once said that if Jesus were running the country everyone would have health-
care. What is he saying about Jesus? Whether it is true or not that everyone would have healthcare, Maher knows something about Jesus. He is able to draw on the teachings of Jesus because there’s something valuable from which to draw. Some New Atheists envision religion fading out of the picture—going the way of slavery, because they see religion in a similar light as slavery—as a horrible, repressive thing we’ve had to endure, but will eventually evolve or grow out of. After all, who would have imagined slavery not being in existence? It had been part of the fabric, even the backbone of some societies. But slavery didn’t just disappear did it? We must ask what was responsible for the dissolution of slavery and why. Which worldview ultimately promoted the God-given and equal value of all human beings—the one informed by Darwin or Dawkins or the Biblical one held by the likes of William Wilberforce and John Newton? What do we draw on to gain that sense of value? Is there something that ultimately guides us aside from our selfish genes? One with a naturalist worldview may use some scientific evidence. But what did we do before scientific methods took over how we see the world and condensed human existence into a formula? Are we not worth more—is our value not determined by more than what a Biology professor or someone in a lab coat tells us? If we’re not careful, the very people who are redefining what it means to be human may just redefine humanity out of existence. Our ears perk up when we hear a rattling in our cars or appliances. Why? Because it ought not to happen. It’s a sign that something has gone wrong—something is broken or loose or out of alignment. It was designed that way. The naturalist view, however, has nothing by which to gauge whether something is the way it should be. If it clangs … well it just does.
With no meaning or bearings outside of ‘dancing to our DNA’ and the ‘accidental collocation of atoms’ to base life upon, which is the premise of naturalistic indoctrination, what reason is there for a person to live a certain way or to live at all for that matter?2 The naturalist can report and describe how two young men set off bombs at the finish line of the major Marathon, but they cannot tell you why it ought not to have happened. To do that they must borrow from other worldviews. The beauty and irony of it is that God lends that worldview to them at a very low interest rate. When we were kids we didn’t appreciate being told by our parents, “just because.” And while their answers consist of lengthy equations and diatribes, at the end of the day, the atheist’s answer is still, “just because.” Just because you, Richard Dawkins, say so? Just because you, Daniel
“The New Atheism is best suited for the lap of luxury—a luxury ninety percent of the world does not share.“ Dennett, say so? Just because you, Sam Harris, consider all others who do not bow to your anthropocentric whims to be intellectually inferior? The evangelists of the New Atheism desire to be taken as unquestioned authorities even as they, with great delight, discredit other authorities. Disagreement is not really an option. The rabid atheist doesn’t work on the “true for you, not true for me” premise, but rather off the assertion that “only fools believe what you believe.” Our atheist friends, who are wedded to the worldview of materialism, the belief that all that matters is matter, often argue: “All else being equal, the simpler of two competing hypotheses should be preferred.”3 But one could retort, what is simpler than “In the beginning God created …?” Before there were complicated laboratories and powerful telescopes, the simplest story was preferred and is still preferred by many. Furthermore, the materialist dances around issues like conscience, acknowledgement and appreciation for beauty and sensory experiences. However, John Locke asserted it was God’s good pleasure to put them into this world because they make the world beautiful and pleasant.4 Simple? Indeed. The New Atheism is best suited for the lap of luxury—a luxury ninety percent of the world does not share. For a worldview that claims to deal with evidence and what is in front of them, atheists fail to deal with the brokenness around them. If they believe that religion is so evil, why do they not demonstrate in turn how their way usurps all others by bringing real and necessary relief to humankind—not just cerebral concoctions? As Alister McGrath put it so well: inCONTEXT Magazine | VOL. 2
“[Atheism has failed] to articulate a compelling, imaginative vision of a godless future that is capable of exciting people and making them want to gather together to celebrate and proclaim it.”5 You see, it may sound easy to write God off, but it’s not really quite so simple.
Freethinker Sikivu Hutchison admits: “If mainstream freethought and humanism continue to reflect the narrow cultural interests of white elites who have disposable income to go to conferences then the secular movement is destined to remain marginal and insular.”7
Many of today’s more vocal atheists have been tagged as being “elitist” and “self-satisfied.” Richard Dawkins often refers to his cohorts as the ”educated elite” or “Brights.” Yet another atheist, Walker Bristol, president at Tufts Freethought Society, writes, “There is something toxic that permeates the [New Atheist] movement” that supports such stereotypes. He goes on:
Yet we are being shamed into living up to these upper-class ideas and propositions that come from people of privilege. But what of those in impoverished communities around the world. Are they invited simply to eat the scraps from the table of this white elite bunch? Black atheists often closet themselves in order not to be associated with the Ivy League venom.
Despite all their talk of building a better world and upholding diversity, contemporary atheism and humanism’s most prominent authors and leaders have been suspiciously silent on the topic of poverty. This limits the movement’s ability to achieve universal compassion, and renders it unattractive to those who don’t occupy a comfortable spot on the social hierarchy.6 Not only that, but because of the their reluc-
Lest anyone fall into the trap of self-righteousness, atheists are not the only ones who need to check themselves on this. This is something every worldview must guard against. There are elitists of every stripe. It is historically noted that not every scenario throughout the history of Christianity has been pretty or ideal. However, Christianity has not only survived but has thrived under adverse circumstances—sometimes the tougher the better, whether it be poverty, or persecution. In fact, those who hold to the theories and premises of evolution should consider
“Atheists love to point to the failings of the church, but in order for there to be failure, there needs to be a benchmark...” tance to work with faith groups, they kybosh many meaningful partnerships they could have in relieving pain and suffering in the world. This is just another way in which atheism, even as described by its major proponents, actually throws a world in despair into more of a deficit. But then when your faith (and atheism is certainly a faith) is about your own comfort, your own survival, your own outcome combined with unfounded meaning in life, can you expect anything else? Of course, there are always exceptions, but if an atheist has a compulsion (which begs the question, from where?) to serve in some humanitarian capacity, they ironically often end up doing it in conjunction with an organization that was birthed from a worldview that holds to a belief in God or at the very least a God-given value in humanity.
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the fact that Christianity has survived many environments, persecutions, formidable critics as well as its own internal failures. Atheists love to point to the failings of the church, but in order for there to be failure, there needs to be a benchmark and there seems to be an objective benchmark that even atheists reluctantly know exists. The Christian worldview often seems like it is backed into a corner. There are attacks and pokes and dismissive comments aimed at putting God and the Christian worldview out of its misery and freeing people from its bondage. However, that is a self-defeating exercise as it is that very good news of Jesus that actually sets people free from a self-induced, self-perpetuated bondage.
Yet, despite all the barbs of the New Atheism, there is something quite encouraging in all of this–namely that we all live under the common grace of God—the atheist too. Even those who reject or even deny God cannot exempt themselves from God’s goodness. God has enabled scientists to think and explore and has given them limitless observable subjects by which to occupy themselves. We are to celebrate their findings and encourage them to explore even more. Knowing this enables us to be genuinely kind and engaging with all people—even those who have contempt for what we believe. But let’s not let their message that is nurtured in the lap of luxury bring us to the foot of unyielding despair.
J.P. Morland, Kingdom Triangle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007) 38 Bertrand Russell, A Free Man’s Worship www.philosophicalsociety. com/archives/a%20free%20man’s%20worship.htm 3 Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness (Massachesetts: MIT Press) 18 4 Morland, 47 5 Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/march/21.36.html?start=3 6 Walker Bristol, The New Atheist Movement Should Care About Poverty www.huffingtonpost.com/walker-bristol/the-new-atheistmovement-poverty_b_2606959.html 7 Sikivu Hutchison, Prayer Warriors and Free Thinkers www.thenewhumanism.org/authors/sikivu-hutchinson/articles/ prayer-warriors-and-freethinkers 1 2
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God, Are You There? One Clue for God’s Existence and Why It Matters
By Nathan Betts
Years ago, I worked on the ground crew for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. One evening, before the baseball game had started, I was talking to one of my colleagues about God. I asked him what it would take for him to believe in God, and I have never forgotten his answer. Without hesitation, he responded, “If Carlos Delgado hits five homeruns in tonight’s ball game, I will believe that there is a God.” It should be noted here that if anybody on the Toronto Blue Jays could have hit five homeruns in one ball game it was Carlos Delgado. He was the face of the franchise! He was a true power hitter. But even Delgado had limits; he did not hit five homeruns that evening.
conversations I have had with people is that evidence does not seem to be the end goal of faith. In other words, people do want to see evidence for the existence of God, but this, in one sense, simply provides the opening for them to explore how God makes a difference in their life. Nearly every time I have given a talk on a university campus, inevitably someone asks the ‘so what?’ question. Students are interested in arguments and evidence for God but they want to know why it matters to them personally. Let me share with you one argument that, while not offering 100% proof, is nevertheless a strong piece of evidence that points toward God. It is called the moral argument.
My colleague’s light-hearted response is indicative of the way in which many express their desire for God. People, both believers and unbelievers, want to experience something that will erase any bit of suspicion around the existence or non-existence of God. Proof becomes the criteria by which one will believe in God. However, a point needs to be made regarding the nature of “proof”. Professor John Lennox has rightly noted that “evidence” is the word we should be using in this context. Proof, in the rigorous mathematical sense (e.g. 1+1=2), is not used in the real world—not even in the so-called “hard sciences”.1 Instead, we look for evidence, clues, signposts and hints to guide us in seeing how there is a God.
The Moral Argument: A Longing for Justice
Having said that, what I have found in the many
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There are different ways of stating the moral argument. The following is one of the more popular ways: 1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. 2) Objective moral values and duties do exist. 3) Therefore, God exists. It might be helpful to understand the terms being used. The word “objective” simply means something that exists outside of us—something that is independent of us. “Moral values” denotes calling something good or calling something bad. For instance, “It is good to help those
who are dying of malnutrition” or “it is bad to abuse children.” “Duties” pertain to obligatory actions. A couple of examples are, “I ought to stand up for the rights of minorities” or “I ought not cheat on my taxes.” In order to understand what the moral argument is claiming we need to first understand what it is stating and what it is not stating. In short, the argument asserts that “God is necessary for the objective reality of moral values and duties.2 The argument is not saying that one needs to believe in God in order to live a moral life. If God does not exist, says the argument, then there is simply no such thing as good or evil—and nobody can tell us we “ought” to do anything. Now, when I share this argument I sometimes hear my skeptical friends say something like this: “Nathan, you are painting far too simple a picture of morality! We do not need God in order to have moral values. Rather we simply derive our moral values from our culture—society determines what is good and what is bad.” That’s an important objection, to which I would respond: “What happens when cultures clash?” We need only look to the twentieth-century to see
“History has shown us that we need something, someone outside of us to give us moral values and duties.” what this looks like. At the Nuremburg war crimes trials, Nazi leaders were questioned about the heinous acts they committed. In their defense, many stated the following: Granted, our legal system is not the same as yours. Our fundamental values are not the same as yours—and we simply made our legal system reflect our own cultural values…we did not regard Jews as human beings on the same level as Aryans.3 These Nazi war criminals were defending themselves by saying that they were being punished because of a fundamental disagreement: “You look at us”, they argued, “and look at the Jews and say we are equal. But we believe that we are superior to Jews; Jews are not on the same level as us.” Thus, they claimed, they were simply living in accordance with their cultural values. The Nuremburg trials illustrated the extremities of what can happen when cultural values clash. When this happens how do we judge between them?
Those of us living in the West have the luxury of thinking that those statements come only from moral monsters or corrupt dictatorships. But the shocking news is that it was ordinary men who carried out the acts of violence at Auschwitz and other death camps. Acts like those confront the preconceived notion of humanity’s inherent goodness and progress. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, indeed up until the First and Second World Wars, it was widely thought that humanity was becoming increasingly morally advanced with the passage of time, but that too was exposed as a myth in the face of evil. The American chief prosecutor at Nuremburg, Robert H. Jackson, made the following remarks in his summation of the trials: It is common to think of our own time as standing at the apex of civilization, from which the deficiencies of preceding ages may patronizingly be viewed in the light of what is assumed to be ‘progress’…The reality is that in the long perspective of history the present century will not hold an admirable position, unless its second half is to redeem its first.4 History has shown us that we need something, someone outside of us to give us moral values and duties. When we dig below the surface of the moral bankruptcy we observe in our world, we soon realize that the pressing question we face is not whether we need help on the matter, but who can help. Is there anyone big enough to fix the problem? At some point in that conversation, God’s name will be raised and discussed. Then the most contentious issue will not be whether or not God is big enough to help; the question will be whether or not we are willing to let Him enter the situation. The moral argument is very helpful for pointing to the existence of God. But again, this simply provides an opening to a deeper question: If God is real, are we willing to invite Him into our lives? For many, the most challenging question is not whether God exists, but whether we want Him involved in our daily lives. Some are honest enough to concede this point and others are not. In many conversations of faith, attitudes masquerade as ideas and emotional commitments are disguised as intellectual honesty.5
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Therefore, we need to pay close attention to the context into which we offer our answers. There are questioners who are honestly seeking after God and there are also those who have decided before asking their questions that they do not want God, even if He does exist. So What?
Reaching and challenging those who shape the ideas of a culture with the credibility of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. ~Ravi Zacharias
After looking at the moral argument, I anticipate some who might ask, “So what? Why does this matter?” The reason why the moral argument matters is because it is not simply a theoretical argument for God’s existence. The moral argument has implications for the way we live. The acts of violence, evil and injustice that have been witnessed throughout history, and still go on today, are a real problem. But many have been deceived into thinking that this problem stems from cultures or societies. The Christian belief is that the deeper problem is found in the human heart. The late Russian novelist, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who spent eight years in a labour camp for criticizing Stalin once wrote, “The line separating good and evil passes, not through states, nor through classes, nor between political parties…but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.”6 The hideous problem of evil is within. The moral argument simply aids us in seeing that God is the only one big enough to help with that. For Christians, we must never forget that our arguments are pointers not just to bigger ideas, but to a person. Christ is not simply an idea to be understood but a person to be known. The call for Christians is to know the clues and signposts pointing to Christ and combine that knowledge with a life that goes deep in worship and deep in its grasp of God.
John C Lennox, Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists Are Missing the Target (Oxford: Lion, 2011), 190. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith : Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Crossway Books, 2008), 176. 3 Dallas Willard, A Place For Truth, Leading Thinkers Explore Life’s Hardest Questions, John Warwick Montgomery, Why Human Rights Are Impossible Without Religion. (Intervarsity Press, 2010), 264. 4 Hermann Göring, Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremburg, 14 November 1945—1 October 1946 (Nuremburg, 1947). (Quoted in John Warwick Montgomery, Why Human Rights Are Impossible Without Religion, Willard, A Place For Truth, 265.) 5 David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale University Press, 2010), 19. 6 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956 (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), 75. 1
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Have you ever struggled answering a tough question? We can help. RZIM Canada has developed the Engaging Culture Seminars, an exciting programme that offers practical tools and information that will help equip you to "give a reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15). Drawing on RZIM's decades of experience in settings such as university debates, business, arts and politics, we have developed a concise curriculum covering the following: * How to use simple techniques to turn ordinary conversations into spiritually meaningful discussions. * How to answer the difficult questions that Christians are often asked — everything from "why trust the Bible?" to "how can God allow evil?" * How to take a hostile question and turn it into an opportunity for deeper understanding of our listenerʼs inner doubts and then introduce them to Godʼs loving response. To learn more or to register for Engaging Culture, simply visit engagingculture.eventbrite.ca While Engaging Culture is based in Toronto, we are planning to take versions of it “on the road.” If you are interested in hosting Engaging Culture in your city, let us know. Weʼd love to partner with you in helping people get ready to share the good new of Christ.
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the circle of rights
By Andy Bannister Being British, I have a naturally mischievous streak and one of the things I occasionally enjoy is gently poking students with the sharpened end of a question to get a reaction. This can easily be done with the aid of a whiteboard and a marker. Draw a large circle on the whiteboard and say to the class something like: “This circle represents the entire set of genomes of every living thing on planet Earth. Everything is here, from whales to whelks, ants to antelopes, bacteria to bats, hippopotami to humans.” Now I ask the class a further question: “Raise your hand if you do not believe in human rights?” Rarely will a hand go up (peer pressure can be a wonderful thing). “Excellent!”—taking my marker and drawing a second, much smaller circle, within the bigger circle. “Now what those of you who believe in human rights are saying is that anybody who lives inside your smaller circle, whose genome is ‘human’, enjoys a special set of rights that inhabitants of the bigger circle do not. Agree?” Again, rarely will anyone protest. “Wonderful,” I enthuse, rubbing my hands together in anticipation of what is about to follow. “So here’s the problem. Along comes the white supremacist, armed with a marker of his own, and he draws a much tinier circle within your small circle and says, ‘No, only those who are white and European enjoy full rights, other races do not.’ See the problem? You have drawn
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a circle. He has drawn a circle. You have both drawn circles. So tell me: why is your circle acceptable (even laudable, as we give awards to people who defend human rights) but the circle drawn by the white supremacist is not?” Usually, there is a stunned silence at this point. “I’m glad you see the problem,” I continue brightly, “after all, even celebrity atheist Sam Harris, who has opined widely on ethics and human rights, recognises there is a major problem here. Let me quote you what he says.” I read: The problem is that whatever attribute we use to differentiate between humans and animals —intelligence, language use, moral sentiments, and so on—will equally differentiate between human beings themselves. If people are more important to us than orangutans because they can articulate their interests, why aren’t more articulate people more important still? And what about those poor men and woman with aphasia? It would seem that we have just excluded them from our moral community.1 Now at this point you may be fretting that I am being unfair on my poor cohort of students, that this is just some philosophical game designed to make them look foolish—far from it. This is crucially important, because human rights are a fundamental right. Upon them stands our entire framework of ethics, our legal system, and in-
ternational law. If human beings have inherent dignity and inalienable rights, then that means we cannot, for instance, treat people as means rather than ends, nor subject them to mistreatment or abuse, nor discriminate against them on the basis of gender, race, ability, or religion. If. That simple two-letter conjunction is crucial. Throughout history, there have been many examples of occasions where attempts have been made to narrow the circle, to exclude
How do we navigate through these exceedingly choppy waters? Well, things are simpler than they seem, in that there are only three choices. The first is to conclude that human rights simply do not exist. We live in a culture that is increasingly scientistic, where that which is “true” is determined by what we can test or prove in the laboratory. On such a view, there is no conceivable experiment of physics, chemistry or biology that could prove human rights—we may know which part of the human genome codes for hemoglobin, but which codes for inherent dignity? If you cannot quite stomach that de-
“There is no conceivable experiment of physics, chemistry or biology that could prove human rights. We may know which part of the human genome codes for hemoglobin, but which part codes for inherent dignity?” certain groups from the community of human rights. For example, in 1857 an African-American slave named Dred Scott sued his owner for his freedom. The case made it to the US Supreme Court who ruled against Scott, the Justices stating that: The question is simply this: can a negro whose ancestors were imported into this country and sold as slaves become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen, one of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution? … We think … not, and that they [Africans] are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.2 One reads a passage like that 150 years later and winces with embarrassment at how our ancestors behaved. Yet the problem remains: all the Justices did in that ruling was to draw a circle—simply a slightly smaller circle than the one that most of us today, when we talk about “human rights”, would draw. But they are circles nonetheless.
gree of reductionism, you could take Michael Ruse’s route and conclude that things like rights, ethics, and morals are merely a useful fiction, a trick played on us by evolution. Ruse writes: [C]onsidered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, it [ethics, rights, etc.] is illusory. I appreciate that when somebody says ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’, they think they are referring above and beyond themselves … Nevertheless, to a Darwinian evolutionist it can be seen that such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, and has no being beyond or without this.3 A moment’s thought reveals this to be highly problematic: on this view, there is nothing actually wrong with murder, rape, or racism—rather our disquiet about them is purely a function of our desire to successfully reproduce and raise young. (There’s also the uncomfortable corollary that if rape or racism could be shown to aid survival and reproduction, presumably they become the ‘right’ thing to do). That way madness lies. What about the second option? Well, the second route is to acknowledge that human rights exist—that they just are. We cannot explain them, one simply has to take them as a given. Perhaps the Human Rights Fairy magically appears, immediately after a baby is born, waves her sparkly wand, and poof! The new infant now has inherent dignity and inalienable rights. This may sound like a caricature, but it is effectively the position inCONTEXT Magazine | VOL. 2
that most people in the West have adopted. They believe passionately in the idea of human rights, but have not the foggiest idea how to ground them. (So please don’t ask!) If the first option leads to madness, the second leads to peril. You see, we keenly desire to affirm sentiments such as Thomas Jefferson’s, enshrined in the US Constitution: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”—but we have no basis for them whatsoever. We have become, as C. S. Lewis put it in The Abolition of Man, “men without chests”, unable to connect our high ideals with our passions and instincts.4 Why is this perilous? For this reason: if human rights have no foundation, then it makes it all the easier for governments (as in the Dred Scott decision), majorities, experts, or specialists to begin determining who does and who does not have rights and what those rights are. But how do they choose and what criteria do they apply? Happiness (but whose?) Preservation of the species? (But why should humanity be preserved?) Posterity? (But who knows what future generations will make of us). Lewis writes: Every motive they act on becomes at once a petitio. It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao [the realm of absolute morals and values], they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.5 I said there were three options. To dismiss human rights as a fiction (useful or not), to see them as real but unexplainable—so what is the third? The third option is to consider where those who first articulated the idea of human rights grounded them. One of the earliest think-
ers to speak of rights was the seventeenth-century Jesuit priest, Francisco Suarez, whose 1610 essay On the Laws argued that human beings have rights because they have been endowed with them by their Creator, as the Bible makes clear time and again. If human beings are God’s special creation, if they are not mere collections of atoms, lumbering biological robots blindly following their DNA’s instructions to reproduce, then that gives an excellent grounding for human rights. Suarez’s essay influenced John Locke, who influenced Thomas Jefferson, who built this idea right into the heart of the US Constitution.6 And so, to return to my class of students, I leave them with this thought. If you wish to have human rights, if you want to be able to say that racism, or sexism, or any other injustice is wrong, you need to bring God back into the discussion. Don’t take my word for it, read atheist Friedrich Nietzsche: If you abandon the Christian faith, at the same time you are pulling the right to Christian morality out from under your feet. This morality is very far from self-evident: this point needs highlighting time and again … Christianity is a system, a synoptic and complete view of things. If you break off one of its principal concepts, the belief in God, then you shatter the whole thing: you have nothing necessary left between your fingers.7 How then do we hold onto human rights in the face of those who would deny them, governments who would restrict them, or experts who would redefine them away, abolishing humankind in the process? Only by rooting them firmly in the image of God in which each of us is made.8 As G. K. Chesterton once remarked, human beings are equal in the way that pennies are all alike: We may all be different (some pennies are bright, others are dull, some are old, some are new) but all are equally valuable because and only because each bears the image of the King.9
Sam Harris, The End of Faith (London: The Free Press, 2006) 177-178. Scott v. Sandford - 60 U.S. 393 (1856), available online at www.supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/60/393/case.html (accessed 26 July 2013). 3 Michael Ruse, The Darwinian Paradigm: Essays on its History, Philosophy and Religious Implications (London: Routledge, 1989) 268. 4 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperOne, 2001 ) 24-26. 5 Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 64. 6 See Robert J. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011). 7 Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ, Translated by Duncan Large (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) 45. 8 Genesis 1:26-27. 9 G.K. Chesterton, Collected Works Volume XV: Chesterton on Dickens (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989) 44. 1 2
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Ravi Zacharias has a unique way of communicating the truth of the gospel, particularly in the face of ardent disbelief. This is evidenced in his book The Real Face of Atheism. Here is an excerpt from the introduction: It is common for many in their spiritual journey to ponder the veracity of their beliefs. The realities of life, however, powerfully reinforce the viability of faith in God. Even atheists confess in their writings that they have pondered the possibility of theism. For some, it becomes a lingering concern. Others, through various processes of argumentation, feel protected and quite secure within their unbelief. Nevertheless, the jagged edges of reality keep cutting into their atheistic armour, rendering their philosophy very vulnerable. The existential undeniabilities of life find very few answers in a world that happened by accident. For those who are willing to seek earnestly the possibility of God’s existence, this book has been written. It has been said that, if one does not know the facts, argument is to no avail, and if one does know the facts, argument is unnecessary. Like all epigrams, this one also runs the risk of overgeneralization. But it does so while pointing out a vital truth. Facts are indispensible to justify belief. And that is where a solution to the problem begins. Christian communication is further impeded by the expectations of a world progressing at a staggering pace in every field of study. It seems as though to deal in spiritual matters, the Christian has to be an authority on every other subject, failing which, he is branded “escapist” or “unrealistic.” This, science, philosophy, psychology, history, and virtually every other discipline affects religion. In a sense, this ought not to be surprising, because spiritual truth deals with the essence of life. For the theist, all truth is God’s truth and truth cannot be in conflict with itself. The unpopularity of holding to convictions, coupled with the tall demand that one be able to touch on all pertinent subjects with authority, make it easy to see that any endeavor to write about atheism will be feeble. Hence I have accepted the caution of one of my professors, who said that many a book will never be written because the author wanted it to be the last word on the subject. Knowing full well that this is nether the first nor the last word on the subject, my sincere hope is that the reader will recognize the importance of a book on the existence of God and seek the answer that can satisfy the mind and soul. Nothing is valuable as the truth, and that is why Jesus said, “If the truth shall set you free, you shall be free, indeed.” May that freedom be found through these pages.
Other suggested Reading: Gunning for God by John Lennox
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Ravi Zacharias International Ministries Suite 315 | 50 Gervais Drive, Toronto, Ontario M3C 1Z3, Canada
COMING SOON FROM RZIM CANADA Burning Questions is a documentary that deals with some of the biggest questions and obstacles people have to the Christian faith. It is designed to be something you can watch with unbelieving friends to spark conversations, as well as an invaluable resource to help you think through tough questions about the Christian faith In it, Dr. Andy Bannister, Canadian Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, interviews Christian theologians as well as Islamic, atheist and other avid skeptics of Christianity. The year spent in production has been well worth it. Burning Questions is scheduled to be televised in the coming months and will prove to be an invaluable resource for those negotiating through those tough questions of faith.
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