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.

Jesus and the Pharisees

The Pharisees were known for standing on the street corner in sack cloth and ashes crying aloud to God so all who pass them by thought of them as righteous and devout.

Old Theology Book Spines

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

THEN SAID JESUS to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries (1) broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men” (Matt. 23:1-7, NRSV).

What is a Pharisee?

Pharisee PointingThe root meaning of the word “Pharisee is related to the Hebrew word perisayya, which means “separated.” They held themselves to be separate from and above priests and clerics. The office of Pharisee flourished during the latter part of the Second Temple period (BC 515-AD 70), and occupied the chair of Moses in the synagogue. Unfortunately, the standard rabbinic traditions have been shaped by polemics.

The Pharisaic movement’s origin is shrouded in mystery. According to Josephus (Ant. 13.288-300), the Pharisees first became a significant force in Jewish affairs during the reign of Hyrcanus I.  Essentially, they were a society of scholars who believed in resurrection, and in following legalistic traditions. But they often enforced regulations  outside the scope of Scripture, preferring instead to apply “the traditions of their fathers.” They believed Mosaic Law and the Torah established authority for the interpretation of Jewish Laws, which they enforced with a heavy hand. They used the Torah to enforce their own theology. The result was a total of 613 commandments, or “rules,” governing every aspect of Jewish life—how to dress properly, dietary laws, practices governing Temple procedures, rules for blood sacrifice, and more. The Pharisees were strongly committed to daily observance of the Law. Further, they believed in spirits and angels, the resurrection, and the Messiah’s coming.

Jesus in the Eyes of the Pharisees

Pharisaic opposition to Jesus is recorded in all four Gospel accounts. In Mark’s eyes, Jesus’ main adversaries in Galilee were the scribes, but, according to Matthew, they were the Pharisees. Luke said, “…the Pharisees began to press him hard, and to provoke him to speak of many things, lying in wait for him, to catch at something he might say” (Luke 11:53-54). Many  reacted to Jesus with hostility, chiefly the scribes and Pharisees. Luke 20:20 says, “So [the Pharisees] watched him, and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might take hold of what he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.”

John tells us of Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees took issue with Jesus telling the man, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk” on the Sabbath. Jesus defended his actions to the Pharisees by saying, “My Father is working still, and I am working” (John 5:17). This remark infuriated the Pharisees even more. Jesus had intimated that He was the Son of God! “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God” ( John 5:18).

Everywhere Jesus went, Jesus attracted huge crowds pressing in to listen to His every word and watch His every move. He was profoundly popular among the people. They loved Him. The Pharisees were jealous of Jesus insofar; they were far from popular given the heavy burdens they placed on the Jews. Jesus said His burden was light (see Matt. 11:28-30). The only thing the Jews felt from the Pharisees was judgment. Rather than lead the people, they looked only at their sins and faults. The Pharisees also hated Jesus because He exposed their hypocrisy. These church leaders had set a moral standard for the community that they did not necessarily adhere to, especially “to the letter.” These men sat in the highest places in the synagogue,  ornately dressed, expected nothing but honor and admiration.

The Pharisees feared Jesus, but would never admit it in public. Of main concern was the chance that Israel’s worship of Jesus as the Christ would bring the wrath of Yahweh down on their nation once again. They were quite concerned that authority over the Jews would be eliminated. Perhaps these new believers in Christ would ban together and revolt against the church. This would likely cause the Roman Empire to step in, using whatever means to bring the people back in line. Accordingly, the Pharisees plotted to arrest Jesus and remove Him from the community before He stirred up trouble.

The Pharisees in the Eyes of Jesus

Throughout His ministry, Jesus confronted the Pharisees in public, denouncing their hypocrisy, spiritual blindness, and oppressive ways. These “separate” men had been entrusted with the guardianship of the Torah, which was to be applied to everyday life. Instead, the Pharisees used the Torah to control and manipulate the people. Disregarding ethical considerations, and being devoid of mercy, they imposed an intolerable burden of legal observance upon the common people. Legal precepts invented by the Pharisees were proscribed to add excessive and oppressive laws and regulations to enslave the Jews. To this end, the Pharisees were always on alert for violations of even the simplest regulations.

The Woes of the Pharisees is a list of criticisms by Jesus against scribes and Pharisees recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Here is what Jesus said,

“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you… you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others… you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places… you are like graves which are not seen, and men walk over them without knowing it… you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers… you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering” (Matt. 11:39-44, 46, 52).

Luke ends chapter twenty of his gospel with accusing the Pharisees of lying in wait to ensnare Jesus; they looked for statements made by Jesus that contradicted the Mosaic Law. Ironically, Jesus was sent to fulfill the Law, and He referred to Scripture in virtually every lesson He taught during His ministry. Jesus compared the Pharisees to tenants of a vineyard who wanted to kill the owner’s son in order to steal his inheritance (Matthew 21:38). Finally, knowing what the consequences would be, He declared that He was the Son of God. This was too much for the Pharisees to bear. How could this man be the Son of God, a man who broke their Sabbath laws and ate with sinners? To their minds it was inconceivable. “This is blasphemy!”

A shout out to Nicodemus who, although a Pharisee, earnestly sought out Christ during His earthly ministry, ultimately shared with Joseph of Arimathea the responsibility of burying Jesus’s body. (see John 3:1-21).

Jesus indeed had much to say about pretense of virtue by pious people, and how they wrongly condemn others for transgressing rules which they themselves did not follow. The message Jesus brought forth focused on faith in God and humility. He emphatically stated that religious rules and regulations cannot save man from the wages of sin. He taught that “rules” can be set aside to meet human need when necessary (Matt. 12:1-14). In essence, He said, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matt. 12:6). It has been said that the nearly-endless Jewish rules of conduct were extremely detailed. Rules about the Sabbath “…are as mountains hanging by a hair, for [teaching of] Scripture [thereon] is scanty and the rules many” (Tractate Hagiga: Synopsis of Subjects) (2).

Just after Jesus said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil [sic] them” (John 5:17), He added, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20). Matthew Henry writes, “No sinner partakes of Christ’s justifying righteousness till he repents of his evil deeds” (3). Christ’s righteousness, imputed to us by faith alone in Christ alone, is needed by every one that enters the kingdom of grace and glory.  Regeneration produces a thorough change in a man’s temper and conduct. Righteousness provides us with “right standing,” which wraps us in Christ and prepares us for sanctification and restoration.

Concluding Remarks

The Pharisees failed to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, the very foundation of our salvation. As a result, they could not accept the concept of putting on the righteousness of Jesus. Most Pharisees were likely “religious,” or even devout, in the Judaic beliefs. However, many were “in it” for power, recognition, privilege, and money. Jesus began attacking their hypocrisy at the start of His ministry, telling the Jewish people, “…observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:3). Given the disconnect between the Pharisees outward appearance and religious works and what was in their hearts, “Pharisee” took on a pejorative meaning that is synonymous with hypocrite.

These men of God were adamant that the spiritual life of the people should be centered in the Torah and the Synagogue. They claimed  authority over the Mosaic Law, and established an aristocracy of learning. Pharisaic influence was  went so far as to say that he who transgressed their words deserved death (Ber. 4a). There are some biblical scholars who believe the Pharisees saw their stronghold over Israel as one of protection; building a fence around the Law. Through this oppression that the foundation was laid for rabbinic law which piled statute upon statute until often the real purpose of the Law was lost.

When Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, His authority outweighed any authority wielded by the Pharisees. Initially, the Pharisees assumed that the belief of some of the crowd was due to ignorance. But the attention lavished upon Jesus tended to increase the hatred and jealousy of the church leaders. These emotions were at the root of their plot to kill the Messiah. Remarkably, the Pharisees knew nothing of their role in creating the perfect, spotless Lamb who would be sacrificed to satisfy the debt of mankind.

 

 

 

(1) A small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law.

(2) One of the tractates comprising the Moed, one of six orders of the Mishnah, a collection of Jewish traditions included in the Talmud.

(3) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Matthew Henry, 1997), 865.

 

 

Different

Fall leaves are dropping,
autumn arriving in typical
colors and smells.
A cool breeze hints
at winter. But not just yet. 

A lady sits on a front porch,
smiling, as she watches
a brilliant-red cardinal
clinging, calling out from
his perch. 

His persistence pays off
and a young female
swoops in, shy but determined.
The lady on the porch rocks
slowly, smiling.

She calls out to the
cardinals—Hello mom, hi Chaz,
and goes back to
waiting for her
expected guest. 

Memories prance
through her head,
retelling days of
swings and sleepovers, of the
sand and the ocean. 

Her guest arrives,
reaching for the
wooden rail.
The first step creaks.
The guest steps into view. 

He is old—well, getting old.
Older than before the
trouble started. Older but
born anew. Better
Different.

She looks in his direction
and their eyes meet. She
stays in her rocking chair
evaluating, determining, hopeful
that it’s truly different this time.

Hi mom, he says.
Hi son, she replies.

©2020 Steven Barto

Recovering

I’m all alone and feel I’m smothering.
It’s because of the addiction I’ve been covering.
Why does the chaos never cease?
All I need is just a little peace!
I feel so beaten down and weak-
Yet all day long it’s drugs I seek.

Today I’ll try a brand new scene.
It’s to my Heavenly Father I’ll lean.
I prayed so hard with all my heart.
I heard Him say, “You’ll have a fresh start.”
For now I’m held in His hand.
Life is a lot easier to understand.
I’m not alone and no longer smothering.
I’m just an addict truly recovering.

Ravi Zacharias (1946-2020)

We have a right to believe whatever we want, but not everything we believe is right” (Ravi Zacharias).

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

Ravi_Zacharias_250_291

I DISTINCTLY REMEMBER THE first time I heard Ravi Zacharias speak. Unfortunately, it was not “in person,” but that did not matter. His words were so captivating it was as if I were sitting in the front row. Learning of his organization, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (“RZIM”), I hoped to one day interview for a position on staff. I was leaning toward a ministry of apologetics before I began listening to Ravi, but I was so impressed by the clarity and passion with which he “defended the faith” that I decided to move headlong into that mission.

I was first introduced to apologetics in an undergraduate class at Colorado Christian University (“CCU”) in 2018. It was called World Views. I have been studying philosophy, psychology, comparative religion, and Christian theology for a number of years, but CCU is preparing me for a purposeful examination of these fascinating and vital disciplines. I learned that “worldview” means the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world and is the basis of our decisions and actions (1). James Sire issued a caveat: “A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of the world” (2).

I am totally convinced the Christian faith is the most coherent worldview around. Everyone, pantheist, atheist, skeptic, polytheist has to answer these questions: Where did I come from? What is life’s meaning? How do I define right from wrong? What happens to me when I die?—Ravi Zacharias.

Ravi suggested one role of apologetics is “seeing things God’s way.” The apologist must take what he or she has learned about the Christian faith (through a God’s eye view), then present it in a manner conducive to the intended audience. Paul said, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22, NRSV). If there is an intellectual (theoretical) barrier, start there. If there is a sensory (aesthetic) barrier, start there.

When sharing the gospel, I find it useful to start where there is common ground: In the beginning. It is better to open your Bible to Genesis 1 than John 3:16. One’s understanding of God must be rooted in origin, sovereignty, immanence, and aseity (“from self”) before the concept of “God in the flesh” and the crucifixion of Christ can be grasped.

A Christian Worldview

Amy Orr-Ewing said, “By its very nature the the postmodern worldview is difficult to define, and some would resist calling it such. It is an eclectic movement, originating in aesthetics, architecture, and philosophy. A postmodern perspective is skeptical of any grounded theoretical perspectives. It rejects the certainties of modernism and approaches art, science, literature, and philosophy with a pessimistic, disillusioned outlook.” (3). Postmodernists reject any clear meaning of truth, citing discontinuity, suspicion of motive, and an acceptance of logical incoherence. This pervasive worldview makes it hard to engage in evangelism and apologetics in today’s post-Christian culture. However, it is not necessary to understand and evaluate other worldviews in order to have a personal faith in the gospel.

According to data published by George Barna in 2002 “…just 9% of all born again adults and just 7% of Protestants possess a biblical worldview” (4). This study notes that only half of Protestant Pastors in America possess a biblical worldview. Ronald Nash defines biblical worldview as believing “…human beings and the universe in which they reside are the creation of God who has revealed himself in Scripture” (5).

“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man… If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the earth—the very thing that the whole story has been about.”—C.S. Lewis

A biblical worldview rests solely on the revelation of God to His creation, which is activated by the Holy Spirit to those who adopt it. A theistic worldview and a biblical worldview are not synonymous. Here’s the difference: the biblical view begins where the basic acceptance of God leaves off, compelling the Christian to seek God (“Yahweh”) through His written Word, and apply to everyday life what Scripture teaches.

Ravi’s Profession

Ravi Zacharias was indifferent to “all things religious” early in his life, and as a result had no “good options” for his misery and existential angst. He was born in southern India and raised in Delhi. He played a variety of sports growing up, including cricket and tennis. He focused too intently on sports and began failing his courses, leading to complete shame and despair. He attempted suicide by ingesting a cocktail of dangerous chemicals, but was found by someone who immediately sought medical attention. Lying in his hospital bed, he saw how empty his life was at seventeen years of age; essentially, he was at a loss regarding the purpose and meaning of his life. Someone brought a Bible to him and he began reading. He came upon John 14:19: “Because I live you will live also.” At that moment Ravi’s life became defined, and Jesus Christ transformed his life.

“You see, there is an intellectual side to life but also a side to life where deep needs are experienced. We falsely think that one side deals with truth and the other with fantasy. Both need the truth, and the elimination of one by the other is not the world in which God intends for us to live.”—Ravi Zacharias

Ravi’s biblical worldview was simple and elegant. He began with “what is truth?” His evangelism and apologetics were rooted in “helping the thinker believe and the believer think.” We tend to doubt what we cannot see. Ravi said, “Truth is generally measured in three ways: logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and and experiential relevance” (see above video). Also, “Truth that is not under-girded by love makes the truth obnoxious and the possessor of it repulsive.” Jesus plainly stated who He was with these critical remarks: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Ravi spoke many times on the impact of secularism and relativism in Western civilization, stating that the world’s religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations have lost their social significance. Pluralism by design features a competing number of worldviews to choose from with no one viewpoint being dominant, let alone “correct.” Moral relativism completely discounts universal and ontological points of reference for right and wrong. Instead, morality is seen as contingent upon any number of variables: cultural, historical, situational. Of paramount importance is that none of these worldviews is able to solve the sin problem. Ravi said, “The points of tension within secular worldviews are not merely peripheral. They are systemic. Indeed, they are foundational” (6).

“The problem is not only to win souls but to save minds. If you win the whole world and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover you have not won the world.”—Charles Malik

With Gratitude

I close my eyes and remember. I can hear a voice from my early teens, someone I’d come to admire: confident and moving. This voice was particularly compelling one a Sunday morning in 1972 when I got up from my seat in the pew and answered the call to come down front and accept Jesus Christ as my Messiah, my Lord and Master. I was thirteen. I can also remember sitting in my room on occasion listening to Billy Graham. Reverend Graham’s voice was compelling, bold. It rose above everyone in that auditorium, above every earthly concern. He asked the audience, “What’s wrong with the world?” 

There is only one other man of God who has moved me like Billy Graham has: That man is Ravi Zacharias. Ravi opened the door to a deeper walk with Jesus. To a compassionate “living” theology. He took on the many isms of this world, graciously explaining where they miss the mark. He compared the “secular gods” (pluralism, naturalism, secularism, and moral relativism) to Christianity: the Way,  the Truth, and the Life. Ravi’s distinctive voice and emphatic apologetic pierced my heart. He confirmed God’s call on my life—evangelism and apologetics. 

I could not be more grateful to Ravi Zacharias and Billy Graham, mighty men of God, who came into my life. Each of these men impacted me at major crossroads. I must thank the living God for men such as these.

Suggested Additional Reading

The Holy Bible (New Revised Standard Version)
Beyond Opinion: Living the Truth We Believe, Ravi Zacharias
The End of Reason, Ravi Zacharias
Jesus Among Secular Gods, Ravi Zacharias
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Norman L. Geisler & Frank Turek
Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity, Nancy Pearcey
There is a God: How The World’s Most Notorius Atheist Changed His Mind, Antony Flew
The Universe Next Door, James Sire

Footnotes

(1) Phillips, Brown, and Stonestreet, Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, 2nd ed. (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Co., 2008), 8.
(2) James Sire, The World Next Door, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009),20.
(3) Amy Orr-Ewing, “Postmodern Challenges to the Bible,” in  Beyond Opinion: Living the Faith We Defend by Ravi Zacharias (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2008), 3.
(4) George Barna, “Only Half of Protestant Pastors Have a Biblical Worldview,” (Jan. 12, 2004), Barna Research. https://www.barna.com/research/only-half-of-protestant-pastors-have-a-biblical-worldview/
(5) Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), 47.
(6) Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Secular Gods (New York, NY: FaithWords, 2017), 6.

Morning Breaks (Reprise)

Morning breaks, tugging at me,
seeking me out, inviting me
into the light.
Groggy but aware,
I sit up and run my hand through my hair.
The sun is dazzling,
Slicing through the curtains and
Warming a patch of carpet
Next to the bed.

I look at the clock on the nightstand and grin.
I see I’ve beaten the alarm again;
Five minutes to spare. Good deal!
No squawking buzzer; instead a
Slow gentle return to awareness,
The last dreamy thoughts receding into
Their hiding place,
Content to wait patiently for me
Until I come back for them again,
Later tonight.
Every day should begin this way.

©2016 Steven Barto

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Creativity, Sub-Creation, Redemption, and Culture

The following summary is from the final week of my new class—Theological Aesthetics—in pursuit of my master’s degree in theology at Colorado Christian University.

Can the arts be understood as having any positive place in God’s continuing engagement with nature and history? How do you respond to the suggestion that they might make a “redemptive” contribution?

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

Art can reinforce our engagement with God, His creation, and church history. Religious art is useful for paying homage and for memorializing. Moreover, religious works of art can preserve and it can present. Thousands of works of art have been used over the centuries to depict events and doctrine, and have developed into a rich and long-lasting tradition in Christianity. Jacques Maritian said, art is “…where the maker of works especially becomes an imitator of God, where the virtue of art approaches the nobility of things absolute and self-sufficient, is in that family of arts which by itself alone constitutes a whole spiritual world, namely the fine arts” (1). Thomas Aquinas embraced beauty as a transcendent property of being.

Most of his life C.S. Lewis believed that aesthetic and intellectual endeavors were “very good for [their] own sake… good for the man” (2). Lewis says man has frequently shown an inordinate esteem (obsession, perhaps?) with culture. One benefit of preoccupation with aesthetics is that works of art are a “ready-made” outlet for promoting biblical truths. Certainly, illustrations must present doctrine accurately to serve as appropriate “visual text.” According to Michael Peterson, C.S. Lewis “…largely agreed with Platonic aesthetics in holding that higher truths must be conveyed symbolically in myths as because they cannot be conveyed literally” (3).

Wolterstorff says there is an inherent similarity worth noting between aesthetic and mystical contemplation. This is possible because the artist (like the mystic) turns away from the common everyday and gets caught in a rapture of contemplation (4). Max Weber warned “[when]…art becomes a cosmos of more and more consciously grasped independent values that exist in their own right [then] art takes over the function of a this-worldly salvation” (5). Art serves primarily, in this scenario, as salvation from the routine of everyday life. The artist must not achieve status of maker of the gods. Society must never become worshipers of the artist. If we fall into this trap, we tend to supplant the creation of art with the use of art, which often gives it purpose the artist did not intend.

Christoforo Landino was among the first to compare the artist (the creature as creator) to God the Creator. A work of art has no creative properties: it cannot bring into existence that which it depicts. At risk here is “artist as creator” becoming impious. Taken literally, the image of God as Creator can unwittingly become limited in our minds to only being able to create using preexisting space and material. Plato held the mistaken opinion that God was thusly limited, based on The Forms noted in Greek philosophy. We know God creates ex nihilo, i.e., “out of nothing. He created matter and time simultaneously and without limitation. We expect nothing less considering His aseity (i.e., “from self”), sovereignty, and immanence. He is the self-existing Creator of all that exists. There are no other gods (except what might “exist” in man’s mind through erroneous thinking). Everything created was created by God through the Word who became flesh.

We long to capture  God’s truth and beauty through art—painting, sculpture, crafts, drawings, visual arts, and architecture. These aspects of aesthetics are a proper discipline for such expression. We are made in God’s image. Our innate ability and desire to create is part of that image. Christian art holds an intrinsic redemptive quality in that it participates with the Creator to express His redemptive plan. Further, art serves as a means of illustrating God’s ongoing restoration? Religious works of art can contribute to bringing God’s creation back into harmony.

We are reconciled to the Father through the Son.  We have been delivered from darkness and grafted into the Kingdom of God (see Col. 1:13). We move into the light with God. As Matt Chandler puts it, “We stand as part of God’s restoring of all things, and we are brought into the missional witness to God’s restorative gospel, the body of Christ” (6). Chandler adds, “Thinking about gospel reconciliation in concentric circles, we are reconciled first to God in Christ, then to one another in covenant community, and third to what God is doing in the renewal of all creation” (7). Because art has the specific function of “bribing” us to pay attention, ensnaring us to “look, listen, and contemplate,” I believe we are reoriented by religious works of art toward something other than our empirical surroundings. Moreover, we are commanded to tame the world; subdue it, eliminate chaos, bring order and meaning to it, and place our mark on it. One way we can accomplish this is through aesthetics.

How does this relate to art making a redemptive contribution? First, we are to be responsible stewards of God’s creation. Second, we are to showcase what Christ has done to redeem and restore us. Third, we must promote redemption and restoration through our writings, drawings, paintings, sculpture, mosaics, collages, and ceramics. Nearly any artistic medium can be used to communicate our restoration. It is paramount that our illustrations (even our lifestyle) mirror God’s love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, wrath, judgment, peace, sovereignty, and almighty power. Further, we must promulgate the delight, joy, exaltation, rejoicing, and celebration we experience when we walk in the Spirit and are able to enter the presence of God.

As Wolterstorff states, “Our sensory delight can be a threat to one’s obedience to God. It can function as a distraction… worse, it can function as a surrogate God.” For a work of art to have a redemptive or restorative function, I believe it should show “the real real” behind the work (8). Christian art should express the convictions and concerns belonging to the world behind the art in a manner that accounts for the artist’s making the work. To function effectively as a Christian work of art it must adhere to established doctrine. 


(1) Jacques Maritian, “An Essay on Art,” In Art and Scholasticism (London: Sheed and Ward, 1934), 123-39.

(2) C.S. Lewis, in Essay Collection: Literature, Philosophy and Short Stories (London: HarperCollins, 1939/2000), 168.

(3) Michael L. Peterson, C.S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), 11.

(4) Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1980), 49.

(5) Ibid., 49.

(6) Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 143.

(7) Ibid., 144.

(8) Wolterstorff, 88.