Let’s Go to Theology Class: Be Still and Know

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

The following is from my class in Spiritual Formation in pursuit of my M.A. in Theological Studies.

Select one of the following tools of worship and practice it: Silence, Walk, Pray, or Write. Post a reflection of what you got out of this experience. Stay focused on the uniqueness, spiritual value, and biblical fidelity of the experience rather than on the deep, remedial, or personal work God may have done through the experience.

Silence. A hard proposition for someone with a type-A racing brain that wants to know everything right now. I am not, however, driven by the notion that the more recent the information I learn, the better informed I am. So, when I choose to “study” and then sit and contemplate, I am not “memorizing” data; rather, I am experiencing a meeting of the mind and the heart. I was told many times in the past that I needed to get God out of my head and into my heart. One of my prior pastors said, “I don’t think you have a heart for God.” I did not take kindly to that suggestion at all.

Amazingly, I understand these comments today. I was reading for the “mind” of it and not the “heart” of it. I was accumulating information. It took about a year of struggling with this issue to see the difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. There is no devotional quality to cramming my brain full of personal, genealogical, historical, and cultural information about Jesus of Nazareth. Christ is central to Christianity. He is, as noted brilliantly by C.S. Lewis, “mere Christianity.” As you can see by my comments, I do a lot of “thinking.” Analyzing and digesting. But this is not divine reading. Moreover, it does not lead to “silence.”

I spent three hours last night worshiping God. It started with watching YouTube videos of Hillsong United, Kari Jobe, Bryan and Katie Torwalt. I began singing along. I was awash with emotions: peace was chief among them, followed by gratitude, joy, contentment, and wonder. I ended up on my living room floor, face down, praying the words of the songs: I am Not Alone. Holy Spirit. Let the Heavens Open. Initially, the silence was in me. My mind simply gave the joystick over to my heart and said nothing. I just sang along and worshiped.

I did not know holiness, or sacrifice, or mercy. These godly attributes were swimming in and through me. God was so close. Jesus was so, personal. I listened to Kari and the band worship Christ for over ten minutes in a live performance, then hit MUTE. I poured out my heart to God. I thanked the Holy Spirit for helping me think about what I think about; to pay attention to my comments, especially about others. I asked Him to continue granting me discernment to be aware of the fleshly desires and evil spirits attempting to attach themselves to me: the spirit of pharmacia; the spirit of lust and pornography; the spirit of pride; the spirit of anger and resentment. My heart was praying. My joy and contentment were unbelievable. My sense of God’s complete forgiveness was crystal, and my usual “default” mode of 90-miles-an-hour changed. I thanked God for the call on my life; for delivering me from 40 years of bondage to addiction to alcohol, to drugs, to pornography—to fleshy living. I told Him, “I am yours.” And vowed to serve Him, acknowledge Him, and glorify Him by how I live, what I say, how I love, how I forgive.

Then, I just lay there, on the floor of my living room, face down, in silence. I focused on my breathing, slowing it, experiencing it. I imagined Jesus breathing, living, eating, sleeping. I imagined Him teaching, healing, gathering disciples. I imagined Him suffering, bleeding, stumbling. I saw Him dutifully walking to Calvary. Afraid, yet not afraid. I saw Him being nailed down, and then hoisted high. I could not move. I dared not speak.

There was nothing to say. No “thank you” would do. No words were necessary. But this is what is needed. This silence. This quintessential contemplation of God’s unconditional love. Edwards writes, “The kind of religion that God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless ‘wouldings’—those weak inclinations that lack convictions—that raise us but a little above indifference ” (1). For me, I cannot be fervent in of heart, praying without ceasing, without looking heavenward for the “vertical orientation” we lost when Adam and Even decided to eat the forbidden fruit and look inward for purpose, origin, the meaning of good and evil. Holy fear and affection were sacrificed that day in the name of pride and self-centeredness. Human will was exercised in a decisive and lasting manner. No longer could man walk with God in the cool of the day, in complete fellowship, listening with the heart and not the ear. Silence was lost. Peace was lost. Life became complicated. Unfair. Troublesome. Hard. Our friends started dying of heroin overdoses. Our parents got sick. Our bodies began to break down from toil. 

We stopped stopping. We stopped being silent. We stopped listening.


(1) Johnathan Edwards, “Engagement of the Heart,” in Devotional Classics (New York: HarperOne, 1990, 2005), 19.

An Autumn Prayer

Trees make a tunnel,
red and orange foliage,
branches arched over roads.

Headlights cut haze,
that crawls across streets
leaves give themselves to wind,

dance and tumble in decay.
This warmth reminds me
of mid-May, when crocuses

reach up like tiny fingers.
I study the sky, the widening
blue canvas pushing out gray.

I want to raise my hands, reach
towards sunlight. Foolish, maybe,
to whisper a prayer to prolong

the warmth, and stretch these days
before winter’s howls and gusts,
when I will wake and clench bed sheets,

the way I squeeze the steering wheel now,
driving through mid-morning fog.

©2018 Brian Fanelli

https://brianfanelli.com/

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Church, Holy Scripture, and Canon

The following lesson is from the fourth week of my course in Hermeneutics in pursuit of my M.A. in Theological Studies at Colorado Christian University.

What is the proper dogmatic relationship between the church and the canon of Holy Scripture? With reference to Webster (2003, 42–67) in particular, respond by addressing what it means for the church to be the “hearing church,” specifically as it relates to the authority of Scripture in the church and the canonization of Scripture.

Webster calls Holy Scripture “an element in the drama of God’s redeeming and communicative self-giving” (1). God’s chief activity as concerning the church is revelation, sanctification, and inspiration. Yet, we must remember to consider God’s triune nature. Who reveals? Is it the Father? Who sanctifies? Is it Jesus Christ? Who inspires? Is it the Holy Spirit?

Theological study can be complicated in any given religion, but Christian theology challenges us to grasp and interact with the Godhead. This can be a confusing proposition. In fact, I do not believe this would be possible without the framework of systematic theology, a universal set of doctrines, the community of believers, and the tools of hermeneutics and exegesis.

A “speaking God” requires a “hearing church.” The church is God’s intended audience and active participant. When considering the community of believers and the Bible, the concept of a “hearing church” becomes clearer. One step further, and we also see the church as “spiritually visible” and “apostolic.” It has been said unless we believe we will not understand. And we cannot hear without our hearts being cleansed (2). These various elements of Christian theology are clues to God’s heart and intensions, but also to His immanence.

Scripture has innate authority in the church. The “creature” of the divine Word is the church body. A link is established between the Doctrine of God’s Word and the Doctrine of Ecclesiology. These two precedents are critical for establishing the authority of God’s Word. They are necessary for the church’s action of canonization. With the church as creature, and Holy Scripture as God’s special revelation, “creature” and “hearing church” are synonymous. Webster tells us Christian theology is properly undertaken by the speaking and hearing church. Fowl identifies the vital element of Scripture, and how it fits God’s nature and place. He is quick to state, “…how and what Christians think about Scripture will influence the ways in which Christians might interpret Scripture theologically” (3).

Revisiting Webster’s idea, revelation is God’s divine presence. Scripture—God’s special revelation—contains God’s theology, which has but one preoccupation: God and everything else in His created universe. Everything that exists is His and nothing exists that is not His. Webster says, “…gospel is not just the ‘theme’ or ‘matter’ of theology as if the gospel were one more topic” (4). Gospel brings theology into existence. Faith before knowledge. Kapic believes “…true theology is inevitably lived theology” (5).

Theology is what Webster calls an irreducibly positive science. He adds, “It is reason directed to an object in a place… the church is assembled by the Word and for the Word” (6). There simply is no theology—at least a dynamic or living theology—without the hearing church.


  • (1) John Webster, Holy Scripture (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 42.
  • (2) Kelly M. Kapic, A Little Book for New Theologians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 53.
  • (3) Stephen E. Fowl, Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2009), 1.
  • (4) Webster, Ibid., 123.
  • (5) Kapic, Ibid., 42
  • (6) Ibid., 124.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Character of Holy Scripture

The following is from Hermeneutics, my current class at Colorado Christian University, in pursuit of my master’s degree in theological studies.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

How are the Christian doctrines of revelation and Scripture to be distinguished from one another, and what is the proper nature of their relationship? Additionally, where should discussion of these two distinct but related doctrines (revelation and Scripture, sometimes grouped together under “bibliology”) be located regarding systematic treatments of Christian theology?

I believe the doctrine of Holy Scripture is a type of “revelation” from God, as established by Christian doctrine. Fowl indicates, “…how and what Christians think about Scripture will influence the ways in which Christians might interpret Scripture theologically” (1). Webster believes referring to the Bible as Holy Scripture might provide “…an account of what Holy Scripture is in the saving economy of God’s loving and regenerative self-communication” (2) I would suggest that this is an appropriate determination given Scripture’s function of providing a written revelation of God’s communicable and incommunicable nature; His character regarding anger and wrath, forgiveness, unconditional love; and the manifestation of Jesus Christ, His Son and His ultimate plan of redemption. Not only is Scripture God’s special revelation, it is also a rendering of Jesus as the Word of God.

Naturally, the most profound and accurate depiction of God’s nature is contained in the Holy Scriptures. Augustine correctly stated that the rules for how Christians interpret Scripture are well-enough established throughout church history and can properly be passed on to those who have undertaken the study thereof. These so-called rules allow those who would teach the Holy Scriptures to do so “without pride or jealousy” (3) Because the Holy Scriptures are indeed a “revelation” of the Godhead, it is paramount that the sharing and teaching of them be devoid (to whatever extent possible) of human boastfulness.

According to Grudem, the established doctrines of Christianity include the Doctrine of the Word of God, including the canon of Scripture and its four characteristics (authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency) and the Doctrine of God under which we find the how, what, and why of God’s plans and attributes. God’s special revelation (which is distinct from general revelation) refers to His words addressed to specific peoples and nations, the words of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, and the many words spoken by Jesus Christ. Webster, on speaking about the authority of Holy Scripture, indicates “…the texts of the Christian canon are normative for the speech, thought, and practice of the church, because these texts mediate God’s self-revelation” (4). Holy Scripture serves the key functions of providing the history of God’s chosen people and the theology of God.

The Christian doctrines of Revelation and Scripture share a unique and necessary relationship, with each referring to the other. The eight essential doctrines of Christianity include Holy Scripture, God, Christology, the Holy Spirit, Man, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology. It is no coincidence that each of these doctrines are found within the Holy Scriptures. It is only by its clarity over the centuries that Scripture has permeated Christian tradition and “…has the capacity to address and transform the human being, and to offer a reliable guide to human action” (5).

Stewart believes there is a difference between Revelation and Divine Inspiration. Revelation is God’s disclosure of Truth—that which we would not otherwise know. For example, consider Peter’s acknowledgement of Jesus as the Christ; the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16). Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (16:17, NRSV). Stewart notes, “Divine inspiration, on the other hand, refers to the recording of God’s truth.” (6). Webster reminds us, “Holy Scripture is not a single or simple entity” (7).  It is a set of texts (66 books) of divine origin and is used by the church in a systematic manner. He believes adding Holy to “Scripture” highlights their origin, function and end in divine self-communication.

I believe the Doctrine of the Word of God (to include Holy Scripture) must be clearly established as related to but separate from God’s Revelation. This is especially important given the distinct difference between God’s special revelation (Holy Scripture) and His general revelation (through creation to all people generally). It seems important, however, that these doctrines should compliment one another in our studies and in our sharing of God’s Holy Scripture. Accordingly, I believe the Doctrine of the Word of God and the Doctrine of Revelation should remain separate “doctrines” as noted in systematic theology.

Addendum

I believe God’s revelation includes Scripture, the words of the Old Testament Prophets and New Testament Apostles, every word spoken by Jesus during His life and ministry here on earth, and words inspired by God that come from pastors, elders, evangelists, teachers, and fellow believers. I also belief God can reveal Himself through any situation or through the words and actions of any person. All Scripture is revelation, but not all revelation is Scripture. God’s general revelation is comprised of His creation. By its splendid uniqueness, revelation showcases God’s “intelligent” design. God’s special revelation refers to His words addressed to specific peoples and nations, the words of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, and the many words spoken by Jesus Christ. For the most part, His special revelation is covered by Scripture.

Footnotes

(1) Stephen E. Fowl, Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Eugene: Cascade, 2009), 1.

(2) John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 2.

(3) Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Teaching (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, 2008), 5.

(4) John Webster, “Authority of Scripture” in the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005),724.

(5) John Yocum, “Clarity of Scripture,” in the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, Ibid., 727.

(6) Don Stewart, “Is There a Difference Between Revelation and Divine Inspiration?” Blue Letter Bible, July 18, 2018, Web. July 23, 2020. URL https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/stewart_don/faq/bible-authoritative-word/question9-revelation-and-divine-inspiration.cfm

(7) Webster, Holy Scripture, Ibid., 5.

 

Misuse of Prescription Drugs: A Research Study

nida-banner-science-of-abuse-and-addiction

From the Website of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
Dr. Lora, Volkow, Executive Director
June 2020

Misuse of prescription drugs means taking a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed; taking someone else’s prescription, even if for a legitimate medical complaint such as pain; or taking a medication to feel euphoria (i.e., to get high). The term non-medical use of prescription drugs also refers to these categories of misuse. The three classes of medication most commonly misused are:

  • opioids—usually prescribed to treat pain
  • central nervous system [CNS] depressants (this category includes tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics)—used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders
  • stimulants—most often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Prescription drug misuse can have serious medical consequences. Increases in prescription drug misuse over the last 15 years are reflected in increased emergency room visits, overdose deaths associated with prescription drugs, and treatment admissions for prescription drug use disorders, the most severe form of which is an addiction. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999.

Misuse of prescription opioids, CNS depressants, and stimulants is a serious public health problem in the United States. Although most people take prescription medications responsibly, in 2017, an estimated 18 million people (more than 6 percent of those aged 12 and older) have misused such medications at least once in the past year. According to results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 2 million Americans misused prescription pain relievers for the first time within the past year, which averages to approximately 5,480 initiates per day. Additionally, more than one million misused prescription stimulants, 1.5 million misused tranquilizers, and 271,000 misused sedatives for the first time.

The reasons for the high prevalence of prescription drug misuse vary by age, gender, and other factors, but likely include ease of access. The number of prescriptions for some of these medications has increased dramatically since the early 1990s. Moreover, misinformation about the addictive properties of prescription opioids and the perception that prescription drugs are less harmful than illicit drugs are other possible contributors to the problem. Although misuse of prescription drugs affects many Americans, certain populations such as youth and older adults may be at particular risk.

Adolescents and Young Adults

Misuse of prescription drugs is highest among young adults ages 18 to 25, with 14.4 percent reporting non-medical use in the past year. Among youth ages 12 to 17, 4.9 percent reported past-year non-medical use of prescription medications.

After alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco, prescription drugs (taken non-medically) are among the most commonly used drugs by 12th graders. NIDA’s Monitoring the Future survey of substance use and attitudes in teens found that about 6 percent of high school seniors reported past-year non-medical use of the prescription stimulant Adderall® in 2017, and 2 percent reported misusing the opioid pain reliever Vicodin®.

Although past-year non-medical use of CNS depressants has remained fairly stable among 12th graders since 2012, use of prescription opioids has declined sharply. For example, past-year non-medical use of Vicodin among 12th graders was reported by 9.6 percent in 2002 and declined to 2.0 percent in 2017. Non-medical use of Adderall® increased between 2009 and 2013, but has been decreasing through 2017. When asked how they obtained prescription stimulants for non-medical use, around 60 percent of the adolescents and young adults surveyed said they either bought or received the drugs from a friend or relative.

Youth who misuse prescription medications are also more likely to report use of other drugs. Multiple studies have revealed associations between prescription drug misuse and higher rates of cigarette smoking; heavy episodic drinking; and marijuana, cocaine, and other illicit drug use among U.S. adolescents, young adults, and college students. In the case of prescription opioids, receiving a legitimate prescription for these drugs during adolescence is also associated with a greater risk of future opioid misuse, particularly in young adults who have little to no history of drug use.

Older Adults

More than 80 percent of older patients (ages 57 to 85 years) use at least one prescription medication on a daily basis, with more than 50 percent taking more than five medications or supplements daily. This can potentially lead to health issues resulting from unintentionally using a prescription medication in a manner other than how it was prescribed, or from intentional non-medical use. The high rates of multiple (co-morbid) chronic illnesses in older populations, age-related changes in drug metabolism, and the potential for drug interactions make medication (and other substance) misuse more dangerous in older people than in younger populations. Further, a large percentage of older adults also use over-the-counter medicines and dietary and herbal supplements, which could compound any adverse health consequences resulting from non-medical use of prescription drugs.

Find Help Near You

The following can help you find substance abuse or other mental health services in your area: www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment. If you are in an emergency situation, people at this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: 1-800-273-TALK. Or click on: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. A step by step guide on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member on the Treatment page.

Narcotics Anonymous National Hotline: 1(877) 276-6883.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Apologetics Interview

After some delay, I am able to share my final paper in “Apologetics” as part of my master’s in theological studies at Colorado Christian University. Instructions were to interview someone who was an atheist or skeptic regarding Christianity. I hope you will find this paper beneficial. I really enjoyed doing this assignment.

Introduction

The primary reason for Christians to engage in apologetics is to better prepare them for giving a defense for their faith, and to do so with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet. 3:15, NRSV). Koukl, author of Tactics, believes proper defense of the gospel begins with a game plan. Apologetics consists of three primary elements: defending the truth; defeating false ideas; and destroying speculation raised against God. And yet, this is not done through a frontal attack. Rather, the prudent plan is to proceed as God’s ambassador.[1]

Groothuis believes Christian apologists should offer answers for skeptics and non-believers based on rational arguments. The apologist’s method of arguing for Christianity will unavoidably be rooted—at least to some degree—in his or her personality and style of argument. Groothuis advised that apologists are often met with belligerent response. Such vehemence stems from atheists’ and skeptics’ belief that Christianity is indefensible. In addition, non-believers build their objections on a mantra that simply says, “…religion rests on blind faith and not reason for so long that many even within the church have actually come to believe it.”[2]

R. C. Sproul states that believers are to answer all inquiries—even the abusive ones—with gentleness and meakness. Indeed, this describes the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. It is remarkable that many Christians today believe they should not participate in trying to “prove” the veracity of the gospel. Sadly, they base this assumption on their conclusion that faith and proof are incompatible. Additionally, as Sproul notes, an apologist may present a response to a non-believer that proves the argument for Christianity, but “[I]n their bias they refuse to be persuaded.”[3]

The Interview

This writer was able to secure an interview with Dale, a skeptic at best. When he agreed, he remarked, “You’re not going to like what I have to say, but sure, why not?” At times he shared rather determined and caustic comments about God and Christianity.

Regarding belief about God or an ultimate reality, Dale said,

God is a crutch. He doesn’t exist. I can’t see him and he hasn’t answered my prayers. I cried out to him hundreds of times while I bounced from house to house in the system.[4] He didn’t answer my prayers to stop my mom from abusing heroin. She died of a heroin overdose. What kind of God is that?

Dale was asked how he views humanity in general. He did not mince words: “People suck! I hate people. I’d rather live deep in the woods somewhere.” Dale added, “I can’t relate to the “essence” of people you asked me about.” This writer explained, stating, “Essence is basically the core nature of a person.” Dale does not believe humans are made in God’s image. He believes the basic problem concerning mankind is rampant evil. He noted recent violence in America over racism, and said, “There have been lots of wars, and people taking what others have… there is way too much selfishness and me first.”

When asked about Jesus Christ, Dale responded,

You believe in Jesus, so that’s your higher power, like it says in the 12 Steps. My higher power is not a specific god. I get my power from the universe. I don’t believe God is looking down on me and judging me. If he is, well then it sucks to be me, I guess. I see no evidence of God or Jesus. In fact, the opposite. Guys in jail, or people struggling with addiction, buy into Christianity and go to Bible study in the prison to look good. They “find Jesus” while in jail.” Christians are a bunch of hypocrites.

Given Dale’s harsh remark about hypocrisy in the Christian church, it was important to address duplicity. Decidedly, hypocrisy is partially responsible for keeping people from attending church services. This writer shared with Dale his struggle with hypocrisy over the years. One’s personal life and character have a direct effect on efforts to share the gospel. He addressed Dale’s concern about evil in the world, quoting Grudem: “We must never blame God for the evil men do. Secondary causes, such as the actions of human beings, bring evil upon others.”[5] He told Dale it is impossible for mankind to have free will to literally choose anything at any given moment and not expect wrong or evil choices to be made.

Dale’s hope for eternity, salvation, or redemption is vapid. He said there is nothing for him to “hope about.” He denied the existence of heaven and hell. When pressed, he said his spirit will leave his body when he dies and become (or return to) the ultimate spirit in the universe. He stated, “To me, that’s god or a higher power.” He believes in an unnamed higher power, as demonstrated by the beauty and magnitude of the universe.

Dale’s concluding remarks:

I don’t think our morals came from “up there somewhere.” Maybe Heaven and Hell are right here. I always thought American Indians had a clear idea of the grand spirit. Other religions too. If God exists, then he must be in everything. But thinking about evil, how can we work that in with God? I told you flat out when we started, belief in God is a crutch. And God has an evil side. It bugs the crap out of me that he punishes everyone for the sake of a few. You can’t tell me all those who drowned in the flood were bad people. So why be God if you’re doing evil. A loving God? Come on man.

In closing, this writer said,

I lived a life of complete disobedience. My own motives and desires fueled me. I had to come first, even at the other person’s expense. I got into booze and drugs, ending up in prison. I kept struggling for four decades with no concept of compassion or trustworthiness. Yet, inside I believed in ultimate truth and salvation. I decided to hit my knees and ask Jesus to renew my relationship with him and to forgive my rebellion.

Dale’s final rebuttal:

When I think about religion, I think of 9/11 right away. Religious fanatics. So, I’m on the fence. One thing the Bible got right about man is his deceitfulness.

Analysis

As is often seen in 12-step programs, Dale has a rather vague idea of spirituality. He reiterated his belief in an ultimate power somewhere in the universe but cannot provide a concrete description or identity of that power. He believes this power has “always been.” He said mankind would “…not need Jesus to die for sin if God just outlawed evil. I can’t believe in a benevolent God in the face of terrorism, murder, cancer, wars, rape. Why can’t God stop evil?”

A key criterion underlining this writer’s approach to evangelism and apologetics can be summed up by Colson and Pearcey: “As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to pursue science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.”[6] There is a bit of Christianity’s social mandate.

Chandler believes the purpose of Jesus’ ministry was “…to bring the kingdom of God to bear on the earth.”[7] He believes salvation includes a real world reconciliation. He says, “For the reconciliation enacted by the cross to be cosmic, then, it must encompass more than just our individual relationship with God.”[8] In other words, Christians are reconciled “to reconcile.”

Christians are not simply “the recruited,” nor are they to merely be recruiting others. Certainly, the entirety of creation is out of sorts with the effects of sin. God expects Christians to participate individually and corporately in reversing the curse by setting things right. Christians are the eyes, ears, feet, and hands of the Body of Christ, and are commissioned to help bring about redemption and reconciliation.

Conclusion

Apologetics and personal evangelism are certainly intertwined, with personal testimony about faith in Jesus Christ being narrower than the broader discipline of apologetics. Regardless, it is not possible to genuinely engage in evangelism or apologetics while harboring an anti-Christian or hypocritical worldview. It is critical to ask one’s self, “How would I behave in the world if my outward actions matched what I claim to believe in my heart?” This question was a substantial factor in this writer’s change of orientation toward God and others. Once this has been established, the real work of evangelism and apologetics can begin. 

Footnotes

[1] Gregory Koukl, Tactics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 19-20.

[2] R.C. Sproul, Defending Your Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 8.

[3] Ibid., 18.

[4] Dale was a ward of local child services for 7 years.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, IL: Zondervan, 1994), 328.

[6] Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), xii.

[7] Matthew Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 136.

[8] Ibid., 143.

The Space to Write (Reprise)

Original Date of this Post was July 4, 2016

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I’ve been asked the question Where do you write? many times. Lately, I find space to write wherever I am. When I first noticed I had an ability to write, I gave it too much celebration. What I mean is I tended to make the whole process into ritual more than practice. I needed just the right chair, with exactly the right degree of lighting. I considered feng shui to be vital. Obviously, I had to stop writing and research the meaning of feng shui before I could get any work done! I was all about the atmosphere, man! I used the word conducive a lot. As in, The temperature of the room and the muffled noise of neighbors having sex were hardly conducive to an atmosphere of concentration.

Writing is process more than atmosphere. In her wonderful book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg brings together Zen meditation and writing, claiming the practice of writing is no different from other forms of Zen practice. Writing is a form of meditation. When we write, we create. We become one with The Great Creator. We’re made in His image. The best honor we can give to Him is to create as we were created.

Writers don’t simply read about writing and hope to wake up tomorrow able to write. Writers write. Certainly, eliminating distractions will foster longer periods of writing. It’s advisable to avoid Internet “research” while writing an initial draft. Background music might be helpful if you aren’t listening to songs you are likely to sing along to, or that take you back to that magical night when you went ice skating at the municipal rink with the homecoming queen, spinning round and round to “Kung Fu Fighting.” Television is a huge distraction. Oh, and consider making your writing space a phone free zone.

I spent some time in New York City in the mid 1990s. I was having lunch on the mezzanine level of the Paramount Hotel. My order was apparently making itself. So while waiting and waiting and waiting, I started people watching. I saw a rather wide swatch of society, from busboy to television executive. (I was working in the legal department at MTV Networks at the time.) I grabbed my journal and started writing. In this instance, the physical location I was in greatly contributed to what I wrote, complete with a comment about trickle-down economics running past my feet in a river of dirty dishwater from the kitchen. It seemed I blinked twice and my food was being served.

Typically, I can write wherever I am. I have been so overwhelmed with a story idea or a thought about how to handle a particularly troublesome spot in a rewrite while driving that I had to pull off to the side and grab my notebook. (I refuse to text and drive, and so should you!) I try to keep a pad and pen with me everywhere I go. I recently spent an hour sitting on a swing along the Susquehanna River in my home town working on a personal reflection piece about hatred in America. The space was very conducive, as I was able to recall having only one African American in my high school graduating class of 347 students in 1977. All I could think of was how out of place he must have felt in my small, 99.99% white town. Fast-forward to 2016, and I don’t see much progress vis-a-vis this evil thing called racism.

I have also written in a prison cell. In the dark. Lying on the floor, facing the bars, so I could grab some of the lighting from the tier. In fact, I did a lot of writing during that horrible experience. It is because of writing that I turned three years of incarceration into an oasis of discovery, spirituality and creativity. I was able to enroll in a two-year college program and start earning credits toward an undergraduate degree. Writing introduced me to inmates who were also writers. I had the privilege of reading a publication put together by inmates called “Notes From The Greystone Hotel,” which contained flash fiction, personal reflection, poetry and prose. It was then that I learned, at least for me, to write is to grow. (The State Correctional Institution at Rockview was nicknamed The Greystone Hotel.)

I write because I have to write. Space to write? If I’m serious about my craft and driven to get what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling out of my head, down my arms, and onto the journal page or laptop keyboard, then I will consider everywhere to be “The Space to Write.” Stephen King wrote Carrie on a card table in the laundry room of his house. I truly never know when an idea will grab me and refuse to let me go. I recently wrote a poem called “I wrote a Poem Once While Sleeping.” You can read it by clicking on the link: https://theaccidentalpoet.net/2015/09/18/i-wrote-a-poem-once-while-sleeping. I would love to hear what you think about it. Anyway, I look forward to reading other posts on The Space to Write.

Undeniable Evidence: Life is Designed

“Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20, NRSV).

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

DOUGLAS AXE WRITES “Of all the controversial ideas to come from modern science, none has brought more awkwardness than Darwin’s idea of evolution through natural selection” (1). Darwin defines natural selection as “the principle by which each slight variation [of a trait], if useful, is preserved” (2). Darwin is notoriously noted for failing to answer the question of origin itself. In particular, our origin. Ravi Zacharias (1946-2020) listed four questions everyone asks: (1) How did we get here? (2) What is the purpose of life? (3) How do we determine good and evil (morality)? and (4) Where are we going when we die?

It is clear we cannot find consensus regarding the big question of where we came from, but Axe says, “…we should all agree on the importance of finding the answer” (3). So, if we’re all similarly curious about the beginning of things, what could be the source of our disconnect when discussing origin? Scientists who deny the existence of God accuse creationists of placing God in the gaps of our scientific knowledge. However, this criticism cuts both ways. A functional atheist also can reach for pat explanations in the face of mystery. But for him, the explanation will never be God (4).

Bioinformation: The Code of Life

As a molecular biologist, Douglas Axe was interested in commonalities between genetic code and computer code. In software programs and in human languages, it is not uncommon to encounter non-functional sequences. Leisola and Witt remind us that random changes to a software program will degrade its meaning or function. They add, “[This] is why attempts to evolve meaningful sentences or functional software code through a truly neo-Darwinian process have failed” (5). Every bit of code (genetic or computer) is vital to the process, and cannot be changed by one letter (A, G, C, T) or number (0s and 1s). Axe took this concept further, focusing on proteins (enzyme proteins in this case) because they demand sequence specificity and a measurable chemical function.

What Axe discovered was the rarity of functional proteins needed for life. In reporting Axe’s findings, Leisola and Witt writes, “You can’t evolve fundamentally new and functional information through a blind process because there is just too much non-functional gibberish to wade through” (6). Axe found that the ratio of functional proteins to non-functional gibberish was 1 in 10 to the 77th power. That’s a 1 followed by 77 zeroes! Axe concluded that if all the life on Earth for billions of years was busily searching via random mutation for even one new protein in the cosmic-sized ocean of non-functional protein gibberish, it couldn’t find it. A new life form requires not one but many hundreds of new protein types along with lots of tricky epigenetic information.

We are familiar with JavaScript and Python, the most prevalent computer coding languages in the world today. Whether developers prefer Python with its indentation style or JavaScript’s curly braces, there would be no programs without coding. Software can sometimes contain a bug—an error, flaw or fault in the program that causes it to produce incorrect or unexpected results, or to behave in unintended ways. The process of debugging these errors uses formal techniques and tools to pinpoint the exact nature and location in the code where the bug has occurred. 

A binary code represents text, computer processor instructions, or other data using a two-symbol system of 0s and 1s from the binary number system. The code assigns a pattern of binary digits, also known as bits, to each character, instruction, etc. Human genetics also uses a coding system which allows for gene sequencing. The genetic code for living organisms is based upon a four-letter coding system that uses A, C, G, T (adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine), four nitrogenous bases containing an organism’s DNA information. Douglas Axe says the chemistry happening inside growing cells is “highly active and complex,” adding the amazing “elegance of the automatic decision-makers working on the molecular scale to keep the various chemicals of life at the right level” (7). Imagine if a coding bug were to occur in the genetic “programming” of a living organism. Depending on the variation, the results could be catastrophic.

Nothwithstanding the foregoing, “information” needs a source. Computer code simply cannot write itself from scratch. It needs a “programmer” who knows the coding language. The same is true of genetic code. The collection of biological data points on the molecular biology of cell structure, growth, development, differentiation, division and function is called bioinformation. Collection of biological data points requires simple to complex analysis of small, medium and large scale data describing cell structures and events. Walsh writes, “I am not a theologian with an intimate acquaintance with the Bible. I do know enough about science and religion, however, to know that science points the way to understanding God’s creation” (8). Walsh adds, “God is purposely in the shadows, but there is enough light for those who wish to see, and enough obscurity for those who do not” (9).

Darwin’s proposal that all of life can be pinpointed by natural selection on variation has been given full-reign in schools and universities throughout the world. Amazingly, this is allowed even though the basic mechanisms of life remained a complete mystery until a few decades ago. What have we learned? Life is a molecular phenomenon of remarkable intricacy. All life forms (including us) are comprised of molecules that “…act as the nuts and bolts, gears and pulleys, of biological systems” (10). Life forms come down to bio-molecules. Accordingly, “…we cannot rightly study the science of biochemistry, which studies those molecules, unless we examine the very foundation of life” (11).

Behe believes cells swim using machines, copy themselves with machinery, ingest food with machinery. He writes, “In short, highly sophisticated molecular machines control every cellular process. Thus the details of life are finely calibrated, and the machinery of life enormously complex” (12). Indeed, life forms take in and metabolize “fuel”via tiny combustion engines. Molecular machines raise questions not answered by Darwinism’s universal reach.

What About the Blood?

Blood behaves in a remarkable way.* You’ve notice that when a container of liquid springs a leak, the fluid drains out. No active process resists the flow. Eventually, the container is empty. But when a person suffers a cut it only bleeds for a short time before a clot stops the flow. The clot hardens, and the cut heals. Clotting is something most of us don’t think about. Biochemical analysis of this process has shown that blood clotting—also called coagulation—is a very complex system dependent on several key protein parts. Bleeding causes a “domino effect” in which a series of steps are set in motion. When your body detects a bleed, the clotting factors are switched on in a particular order, one after the other. Each factor activates the next until they form a clot. This is known as the coagulation cascade.

Coagulation is one of many “automatic” processes performed by our bodies. Clotting requires extreme precision. When a pressurized blood circulatory system is punctured, a clot must form quickly or the animal will bleed to death. If the blood congeals at the wrong time or place, the clot may block circulation as it does in heart attacks and strokes. A clot has to stop bleeding all along the length of the cut, sealing it completely. Remarkably, blood clotting has to be confined to the cut or the entire blood system might solidify, killing the animal. Consequently, the clotting of blood must be tightly controlled so that the clot forms only when and where it is required.

“Proteins are the machinery of living tissue that builds the structures and carries out the chemical reactions necessary for life… proteins carry out amazingly diverse functions.” —Michael Behe.

Behe writes, “About 2 to 3 percent of the protein in blood plasma (the part that’s left after the red blood cells are removed) consists of a protein complex called fibrinogen. The name fibrinogen is easy to remember because the protein makes “fibers” that form the clot” (13). Fibrogen is a weapon waiting to be unleashed. Behe says, “Almost all of the other proteins involved in blood clotting control the timing and placement of the clot.” He notes that fibrogen is a composite of six protein chains, containing twin pairs of three different proteins. Fibrogen is a rod-shaped molecule, with two round bumps on each end of the rod and a single round bump in the middle. It sort-of looks like a set of barbells. Fibrogen typically floats around in the blood, waiting until a cut or injury causes bleeding. A protein called thrombin slices off several small pieced from two of the three pairs of protein chains in fibrogen. This produces fibrin. These molecules are “sticky,” allowing for a clot to form.

Concluding Remarks

Darwin stood out loud-and-proud in 1859. Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection—subtitled The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life—sold out in a matter of days. Then and now, philosophers have been trying to teach the story of origins without any reference to God. We have discovered that cells are far more complex and sophisticated than Darwin could have conceived of. How did mere chance produce this, when even human planning and engineering cannot? In fact, no laboratory has come close to replicating even a single human hair! He didn’t know about the type or quantity of information embedded within the cell. In fact, he assumed it would be very elementary, requiring only a few instructions to tell the cell how to function. Each human cell contains thousands of uniquely codified instructions that have to be translated, transported and reproduced. Today, we know these instructions are based in the human gene. Information is not made of matter—it has no mass, length or width—but it can be conveyed by matter. The origin of this “information” has not been explained by science. 

Darwin was aware of what is called the “Cambrian explosion”—fossils of a bewildering variety of complex life-forms appearing suddenly, without predecessors, in the same level of the fossil record. This obviously did not fit his evolutionary model of simple-to-complex life. Instead of a few related organisms appearing early in the fossil record as he hoped, there was an explosion of life—where the various main body types (called phyla) of living creatures seem to arise around the same time—in fact, 32 of the 33 phyla that we see today. Comparing this development to the progress of man’s inventions, it would be as if a toaster, a washing machine, a refrigerator, an air conditioner and a car suddenly came on the scene with no mechanical devices preceding them.

If macro evolution were a scientific reality, we should expect to see the many difficulties of Darwin’s theory solved by now. Moreover, we would hope evolutionists would have explained how many living creatures of varying complexity appear around the same time instead of slowly, through “intermediary” species, over millions of years. Incidentally, intermediary fossils have not been found. Madeline Nash says, “Creatures with teeth and tentacles and claws and jaws materialized with the suddenness of apparitions. In a burst of creativity like nothing before or since, nature appears to have sketched out the blueprints for virtually the whole of the animal kingdom. This explosion of biological diversity is described by scientists as biology’s Big Bang” (“When Life Exploded,” Time, Dec. 4, 1995, p. 68) (bold italics added). Douglas Axe believes biology such as this confirms our intuition that life is designed, and that a great amount of living organisms appeared suddenly and without intermediary stages of progression.

Footnotes

(1) Douglas Axe, Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life is Designed (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2016), 3.

(2) Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (London, UK: John Murray Publishing), 1859.

(3) Axe, 9.

(4) Leisola & Witt, Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2018), 11.

(5) Leisola & Witt, 39.

(6) Ibid., 40.

(7) Axe, Ibid., 14.

(8) Anthony Walsh, God, Science, and Society (Wilmington, DE: Vernon Press, 2020), x-xi.

(9) Ibid., 1.

(10) Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York, NY: Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2006), x.

(11) Ibid., x.

(12) Ibid., 5.

(13) Behe, Ibid., 79.

* My two paragraphs following the asterisk are derivative of Michael Behe, found on pages 11-12 of Darwin’s Black Box.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Arguments for God’s Existence

The following is from Apologetics, my most recent class at Colorado Christian University in pursuit of my master’s degree in theological studies.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

This Week’s Question: Assuming we believe in God,

  • Why spend time studying arguments for God’s existence?
  • Why not just go with the belief and move on?
  • What benefit could there be in spending time thinking through this belief and analyzing the evidence?

defending the faith

This week’s discussion prompt made me think of the importance of apologetics. Clearly, every religion has its own liturgies, doctrines, rites, practices, worldview, and history. Unfortunately, this can complicate theological study. The question this week is Why spend time studying arguments for God’s existence? I believe such studies are especially critical for those who wish to engage in sharing and defending the gospel. If we’re not prepared before going out the door to share the Good News, it will be more difficult to withstand the wiles of the devil. Today’s New Atheists constantly attack Christianity on multiple levels. The standard question, What caused the universe? is answered with a generic remark: Something.

The Teleological Argument (or “design argument”) states that God’s existence is evidenced by order and design in nature. The Anthropic Principle falls under the category of teleological. Factors associated with this Principle are: (i) constant oxygen level at 21% of the atmosphere; (ii) critical atmospheric transparency that permits just the right amount of solar radiation to reach earth’s atmosphere; (iii) moon-earth gravitational interaction at the precise level needed to maintain appropriate tide cycles and orbital changes; (iv) carbon dioxide level at the exact amount to avoid runaway greenhouse gases and to sustain plants and trees (earth’s lungs); and (v) a constant level of gravity needed to sustain life on earth. Christian doctrine regarding the existence of God is based upon more than faith, but we must be prepared in this pluralist post-Christian society to present “evidence that demands a verdict.” Anthony Flew writes, “A discussion about God’s existence should start with the presumption of atheism, that the onus of proof must lie with the theists” (1). Challenge accepted!

The Cosmological Argument states that things in nature depend on some other thing for their existence; e.g., dependency on God, who exists necessarily and independently from the cosmos. Interestingly, Richard Dawkins is in good company (so to speak). He and Lucretius hold the belief that it is not necessary to suggest or assume the existence of God as fact, or as truth to formulate a basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief as long as nature can be considered a self-explanatory entity (2). Hoover believes it’s difficult to believe in spontaneous creation of the universe given that the Second Law of Thermodynamics states “entropy is irreversible.” Our universe is admittedly expanding and will wind down at some unknown point in the future. Yet we often hear, “If God made the universe, who made God.” This is really an attack on the aseity of God—He exists in and of Himself, from Himself.

The Ontological Argument is a priori in nature—i.e., justifications, or arguments exist independently from experience. This is essentially the belief that God exists and has always existed independent of the presence of matter, time, energy, or empirical evidence. Anselm’s understanding of ontological proof of God’s existence is this: “If God is a being than which none greater [sic] can be thought and to exist in reality, and to exist in reality is greater than to exist in the understanding alone, then God must exist in reality, for if he existed in the understanding alone, he would not be a being than which non greater can be thought” (3) (italics mine). Anselm’s writing style is a bit cumbersome, but the depth of this conclusion is not lost.

I find all three arguments useful when doing evangelism or apologetics. Things in nature depend on God for their existence. This is the Cosmological Argument. I believe in the unadulterated existence of God absent physical proof. This is the Ontological Argument. There is none greater than God that can exist in reality. I also believe in universal (ontological) truth and morality. I do find teleology to be rather convincing and thoroughly amazing. I have a decent grasp on the theory of macro evolution and the many scientific holes in Darwin’s origin theory. (Actually, he provides no theory for the origin of matter, energy, or life.)

The mathematical probability regarding gravity, oxygen, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, moon-earth gravitational interaction, thermodynamics, general and special relativity, creation of matter and energy, and DNA (the information of biology) is mind-boggling. Genetics consists of a four-letter alphabet (A, C, G, T) that functions as “code” for every living thing in the same manner that there is a code (zeros and ones) for every computer. Laptops and the beings that use them both have a designer/coder.

Responses from Classmates

Steven,

I think you did a great job on this post, and you broke down the arguments very well. I enjoy the argument of Teleological because creation is always one of the most talked-about battles between Christians and atheists. I find it funny that people can believe all of these things just happened to work out perfectly for creation to exist, but they cannot believe God created it all. To me, it takes more faith to believe in the chance of evolution than it does to believe in a creator. In fact, I believe creation speaks to the fact that there is a Creator. I love the Psalmist who says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psa. 19:1, NLT). I find it impossible to look up at the stars and think anything but a Creator took the time to make [it]. What do you think proves creation the most?

Justin

My Reply to Justin

Thanks for your comments. I see the proof of God’s existence everywhere. Regarding the arguments for Creation and the existence of God, I have a difficult time choosing one over the other. The Teleological Argument says we can prove God’s existence through observation of the natural world—this is God’s general revelation. Teleology includes the Anthropic Principle, which is very compelling. It speaks of the unfathomable accuracy of several critical constants in the universe: (i) the oxygen level on earth is constant at 21% of the atmosphere, any deviation being cataclysmic; (ii) the degree of atmospheric transparency is constant, allowing the precise amount of solar radiation to get through, any deviation and we’d either cook to death or freeze to death; (iii) the moon-earth gravitational interaction is constant, at a degree of pull that allows for regulated tide cycles and a flawless and constant rotational period which permits regular climatic cycles; (iv) the carbon-dioxide level on earth is constant, allowing for just the right level of CO2 or we’d experience a runaway greenhouse effect—too high and we’d be subjected to enormous humidity and temperature that would be lethal, and if too low photosynthesis would not operate properly; and (v) gravity is constant, permitting the proper “pull” that keeps things on earth from floating into the air (if not into space) or to be “crushed” under tremendous pressure. It is noteworthy that if the gravitational force were altered by 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000001 percent, our sun would not exist, and neither would we (4).

The odds concerning random formation of life on earth will also blow you away. Donald Page (Princeton University) has calculated the odds against random development of proper cellular form and operation needed for life to develop at 1 out of 10,000,000,000124 which is a number that is unimaginable. Further, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe determined the odds for random formation of a single enzyme from amino acids on earth’s surface as 1 in 1020.  They add, “The trouble is there are about two thousand enzymes and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only 1 in (1020)20,000 or 1040,000, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup” (5).

I see tremendous value in the Cosmological Argument and the Ontological Argument. I love your question of what I think “proves creation the most.” The teleological school of thought says creation (the act and the end-product) can be proved by how precisely the universe is tuned. For it to be tuned at all, it must have a “tuner.” If these precise values imply design, then there must be a “designer.” I’ve answered a number of atheists and skeptics on my blog with these principles. I’ll say this: Before I brought out the “mathematical proof,” it seemed dialog with these skeptics was going nowhere.

I think the Ontological Argument is too rich in theology/philosophy to be the first arrow I’d pull out of my quiver. The Cosmological Argument is a great tool for preparing to do apologetics. Here’s my final thought on these “arguments” and “principles.” Each is quite valuable, but not every atheist or skeptic can go straight to these issues and come away believing. I think that’s because many of them are looking to not find the proof, so they look right past it. Again, though, whatever works. All we can do as Christians is plant a seed. God gives the increase. We must remember that not all soil has been prepared for the more “heady” arguments and principles of creation.

I hope this helps. Please look at the suggested reading list below.

Blessings!

Suggested Reading

The End of Reason, Ravi Zacharias
Foresight, Marcos Eberlin
Darwin’s Black Box, Michael Behe
Signature in the Cell, Stephen C. Meyer
Undeniable, Douglas Axe

Footnotes

(1) Anthony Flew, There is No God (New York: HarperOne), 2007.
(2) A.J. Hoover, “Arguments for the Existence of God,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 348.
(3) Leslie Allan, “Plantinga’s Ontological Argument”. <http://www.rationalrealm.com/philosophy/metaphysics/plantinga-ontological-argument.html&gt;
(4) Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 102.
(5) Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickremasinghe in Ravi Zacharias, The End of Reason: A Response to New Atheists (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 35.