Riding the Coattails of the Morning Sun

Like a knob-kneed colt
with wild mane flying
I galloped carefree through my youth.
Muddy potholes and thorny hedges
were no obstacles but welcome challenges.
Sparks bounced off my radiant body
as I rode on the coattails of the morning sun.

Now I sit by candlelight,
a crocheted comforter around my shoulders,
recalling old wrongs and shortcomings
as well as the delicate beauties of my life
—and tell stories.

©2017 Ute Carson

Retrieved from: http://www.longshotisland.com/2017/02/08/momentary-poems/

Unbreakable Fragility

By Tim McGee

The more I discover you,
the less I can  ignore—
or claim ignorance of what you ask.

You say to “Follow my commands”

You call me to meekness,
living in humility;
to die to myself—
so as to become holy, perfect.

You say to “Love one another”

You offer more than commands.
You lived among us,
showed us your way—
revealing to us that love is sacrifice.

You say to “Be strong and courageous”

True strength comes when I let go. 
Against the fragility of a shattered ego—
no weapon can prosper.

Never Lose Your Desire to be Sanctified

By Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.T.S.

GOD’S ULTIMATE AIM FOR believers is to be sanctified and grow in holiness. The Hebrew (qdš) and Greek (hagias-) roots are applied to any person, place, occasion, or object “set apart from” common, secular use onto some divine power. Under the Old Covenant, persons and things devoted to God’s use had to be ritually cleaned, not merely set apart by taboo, decree, or tribal caste. “Fitness” for use becomes increasingly moral. Consider, “You shall be holy to me; for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Lev. 20:26, NRSV). Peter wrote, “But as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Israel is inherently holy, separated by God from “the peoples” to be His own. Yet Israel had to become holy, by obedience, fit for the privilege allotted them” (1).

I have wondered whether God uses exile to set His people apart for further sanctification. The Jews were set free from slavery under Pharaoh only to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Leviticus tells of two ideas of sanctification. The first is that which relates to ceremonial laws (purification). The other is sanctification itself. In this idea, two factors are important: sanctification is called “the way” if it is related to ceremonial laws (e.g., blood sacrifice as a type of purification); and, sanctification is a “progressive work” as it is related to obedience to God’s commands.

Christians are set apart for God’s use. The community of believers is called by Paul as “…those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). The true church of God is comprised of all who are sanctified in Christ, called to be saints, and who call upon Him as God incarnate; who acknowledge Him as their Lord (2). It is through this relationship that believers obtain pardoning mercy, sanctifying grace, and the comforting peace of God. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). This use of “peace” refers to the Hebrew shalom, a rich blessing that includes peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. The Greek eirēnēn means peace, prosperity, rest, quietness. Christ was saying “peace I let go [aphiēmi] to you,” signifying to leave with, send out, or permit.

Sanctify Me Lord!

To be sanctified by the Lord requires a desire to be set apart for His purpose. This is not synonymous with salvation or redemption; rather, it is an inevitable consequence of the same. Sanctification is a critical part of Christian doctrine, the roots of which began when God sanctified the sabbath as a day of rest and continued with the priesthood as outlined in Leviticus. The Hebrew word for sanctification is qâdash, meaning to separate from a profane to a sacred use. Sanctification in the New Testament is from the word hagiazo as used in John 17:16-17, where Jesus said to the Father, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth” (emphasis mine). Progressive revelation of sanctification throughout Scripture allows for a clearer understanding of God’s desire for believers under the Old and the New Covenants to come out from the world and be set apart for His glory.

Under the Old Covenant, God consecrated the places where He dwelt. God was unable to occupy any space or dwell among His people without first setting the place apart as holy. This concept is easier to grasp when holy or sanctified is compared to its opposite: profane or defiled. This is evident in Exodus 3:4-5 where God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. He summoned Moses to Him, instructing Moses to remove his sandals because he was standing on ground that had been sanctified and declared holy. Similarly, God cannot come and dwell in us until we have been sanctified. God is holy and separate from nature and from people. He can only be approached through mediation and sacrifice. It is through Christ that both have been established. Although Israel was corporately holy (set apart from other nations and peoples for a divine task), in order for them to be fit for what they had been called to do (provide the bloodline through which the Messiah would come) they had to deepen their holiness through obedience.

R.E.O. White compares sanctification and justification, stating sanctification means “…keeping oneself unspotted,” but he adds that this is not simply self-discipline. Attempting to obtain complete obedience through self-discipline is an impossible task. It is impossible to perform the will of God without being led, called, or sanctified by God. White believes sanctification is “chiefly the outflow of overflowing life within the soul, the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit in all manner of Christian graces” (Eph. 5:22-23). Justification, however, which White calls the privileged status of acceptance, is acquired by only one means: the cross (3). Sanctification under the New Covenant is not a matter of once-and-done; rather, it is an ongoing process of conformity to Christ, which is achieved through the Holy Spirit. Although New Testament Christians cannot hope to achieve sinless perfection, we are instructed to cleanse (remove) ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness (2 Cor. 7:1). This is considered repentance (“turning away from”), which is the first step in sanctification (setting one’s self apart from the world) under the New Covenant. Our “fitness” for God’s purpose becomes increasingly moral.

The Difference

Justification, on the other hand, is a one-time act performed by God which declares the believer “not guilty,” and is based solely on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary. Sanctification occurs on a continuum and includes past, present, and future. Isaiah 50:8 confirms the vindicating aspect of justification (“he who vindicates me is near”). On closer examination, one finds that justification through faith is the foundation upon which Christianity is established as a religion of grace and forgiveness through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone. Paul informs us of this truth: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live(Rom. 1:17).

The changes God expects in us can only take place in the inner man, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The term “perfecting holiness” used in 2 Corinthians 7:1 is derived from the Greek epiteleô, which indicates further fulfilling or completion – bringing through to an end, finishing (see Gal. 3:3). Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (see Hebrews 12:1). Paul said, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint, until faith should be revealed (Gal. 3:23). Second Corinthians 7:1 refers to these promises. This correlates with Paul’s remark, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty'” (2 Cor. 6:16-18).

Concluding Remarks

Christians are set apart for God’s use. They are chosen, destined, and sanctified. The writer of Hebrews urges, “Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Paul wants us to understand that we are washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor. 6:11). White writes, “Sanctification is not merely justification’s completion (correlate or implicate); it is justifying faith at work. In the faith counted for righteousness, actual righteousness is born” (4). A believer is justified (deemed “acquitted”) when he or she accepts Christ as the Messiah; the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Sanctification, on the other hand, is the method by which God brings a believer into alignment with His will. Justification is the single act of God’s grace, whereby he pardons the believer’s sins and counts him or her righteous by assigning to them the righteousness of Christ without regard to works.

Romans 3:24 says we are justified freely by the grace of God made possible by the redemption that came through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Paul notes in verse 25 that this is accomplished with the shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross. This is mirrored in Hebrews 9:14-15. Jesus died as a ransom for the sins of mankind. Verse 22 reminds the reader that under the Law nearly everything had to be cleansed with blood, adding that there is no forgiveness without a blood sacrifice. It is therefore appropriate to conclude that God justifies the new believer at conversion, declaring him or her “acquitted.” Regarding sanctification, however, God calls the Christian to be “set aside,” no longer of this world, holy, sanctified, and called according to His purpose. Certainly, this is the very heart of the Gospel. It is through justification that the believer is considered righteous in God’s eyes. This imputing of the righteousness of Christ comes in an instant, at conversion.

Sanctification occurs over time, and includes past, present, and future. As God is holy and set apart from Creation, so too is the believer to be separate from the secular world. Because as Christians we are incapable of self-sanctification (unable to keep ourselves “unspotted”), it is imperative that we yield to the Holy Spirit and begin the work of maturing in the faith.


Footnotes
(1) R.O.E. White, “Sanctification,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd. ed., Daniel J. Treier, ed. (Grand Rapids, IL: Baker Academic, 2017), 770-71.

(2) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), 1095.
(3) White, Ibid., 771.
(4) Ibid.

“Counter-Intuitive Biblical Claims?”

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

John C. Lennox is a mathematician, bioethicist, Christian apologist, and author. He has written many books on religion and ethics and engaged in numerous public debates with atheists including Richard Dawkins. I have a copy of Can Science Explain Everything? wherein Lennox writes, “There is what we might call, for convenience, the ‘science’ side. They view themselves as the voice of reason. They believe they are working to roll back the tide of ignorance and superstition that has enslaved mankind since we crawled out of the primeval slime” (1). Lennox provides a summary of what these empiricists believe: Science is an unstoppable force for human development that will deliver answers to our many questions about the universe, and solve many if not all, of our human problems: disease, energy, pollution, poverty. At some stage in the future, science will be able to explain everything, and answer all our needs” (2).

Lennox states that the other extreme, the so-called “God side,” believes that God is behind everything there is and everything we are. They discount heredity, micro-evolution, weather, culture, education, and individual discoveries, focusing only on a wonderful mind behind literally everything in our beautiful world. To a large extent, this viewpoint muddies the water regarding evil and happenstance. (Please see my blog post “Why Can’t God Stop Evil?”) These two dichotomies have led to centuries of fighting and name-calling, papers, counter papers, debate, editorial license, and shortcuts. It also leads to harsh rhetoric, like what Physics Nobel Prize winner Stephen Weinberg said: “The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion. Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilisation [sic]” (3).

Lennox explains a valuable lesson he learned about a dark side to academia: “There are some scientists who set out with preconceived ideas, do not really wish to discuss evidence, and appear to be fixated not on the pursuit of truth but on propagating the notions that science and God do not mix and that those who believe in God are simply ignorant” (4). The history of modern science includes great Christian and theist pioneers like Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday and George Mendel. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator” (5). Thomas Nagel made it known that his atheism arose from a personal dislike of the idea of God. He said, “It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I am right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that” (6) [italics mine].

Lewis’s apologetic approach looks at a common human observation or experience that fits naturally within a Christian viewpoint. He said Christianity provides us with a bigger picture of reality that is intellectually sound. This stance certainly riles science. Alvin Plantinga, however, echoes Lewis in contending “…if there is deep concord between science and Christian or theistic belief, but deep conflict between science and naturalism then there is a science/religion (or science/quasi-religion) conflict, all right, but it isn’t between science and theistic religion; it’s between science and naturalism(7). J.P. Moreland responds to this dilemma as follows: “Scientism says that the hard sciences alone have the intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality. Everything else, especially ethics, theology, and philosophy is, at least according to scientism, based on private emotions, blind faith, or cultural upbringing” (8). It is important to note that science is not represented through scientism, and that scientism is philosophy, not science. (Please see my blog post “More on Scientism.”)

You may have heard it said that Western civilization has become a post-Christian culture. Alister McGrath takes it one step further: “…we live in a post-truth world in which we just make up our beliefs… we decide what we would like to be true, then live as if it were true” (9). His post-truth comment is a reference to moral relativism: the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others. Relativism, secularism, and pluralism have attempted to take a bite out of Christian theology and theism.

McGrath quotes Bertrand Russell: “In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt” (10). Russell believes people should study philosophy because it teaches us “how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed [sic] by hesitation” (11). The apologetic approach of C.S. Lewis serves to identify the common human experience, and then show how it fits, naturally and plausibly, within a Christian way of looking at things. Lewis believes the human sense of longing for something that is really real, truly significant, yet proves frustratingly difficult to satisfy, is a clue to humanity’s true fulfillment lying with God. I have heard this longing identified as “a hole in our soul.”

Lewis asks us to look into the Christian way of seeing things and to explore how things look when seen from its standpoint; as if to say try seeing things this way. Granted, worldviews and metanarratives (with all their preconceptions, biases, and presuppositions) can be compared to lenses. Lewis recommends finding out which view brings things into sharpest focus. Further, he notes in Mere Christianity that many people know a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, leading to emptiness and lack of fulfillment. I might add that this “God hunger” is worldwide regardless of culture or religion. For Lewis, there is a third viewpoint that sees earthly longings as a kind of copy, echo, or foreshadowing of our true homeland.

It is truly appropriate for science to be established through an evidence-based approach to theories. In order for these theories to stand, science must identify the evidence that needs to be interpreted, and then try (through the scientific method) to work out which theories are best able to explain empirical phenomena. Imagine the difficulty Einstein faced when proving his theoretical understanding of the photoelectric effect. He set out to establish whether light is made of particles or waves. This is a highly significant concept. Dawkins is rather suspicious of religious beliefs because they seem to involve a retreat from critical thinking and disengagement from evidence-based reasoning (12). Not surprisingly, Dawkins considers religious faith to be “…blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence” (12). Faith is not blind trust, for that would make it illogical.

How is apologetics a part of all this? Groothuis refers to Huntington in Christian Apologetics, who said, “What means the most to [people] is, in the final analysis, their worldview: that complex of concepts that explains and gives meaning to reality from where they stand: given their diverse ancestries, histories, institutions and religions” (13). James Sire defines worldview as “…a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being” (14).

For those who would blame God (or Christianity, or Islam) for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Gene Edward Veith, Jr. penned the following: “[Thomas C.] Oden saw postmodernism in a different light than I did. He saw it as a reversion to the sensibility of premodern times, marking the end of theological liberalism and making possible a return to Christian orthodoxy” (15). Veith said, “But immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I thought I was witnessing another of Oden’s milestones, a building’s demolition that marked the end of an era and the beginning of something new. Postmodernists believe that reality is a construction (of the mind, of the will, of the culture) rather than an objective truth. But those planes flying into those skyscrapers, taking everyone by surprise, were no mental constructions” (16). Veith notes that even as the dust was settling over lower Manhattan that fateful morning, he heard television broadcasts, readings in the press, and dozens of conversations that were decidedly non-postmodern. In considering the terrorists, their background and their ideology, no one sounded like a relativist. What the terrorists did was evil, people were saying. Veith remarked that not all cultures are equally valid after all. In fact, not all religions are equally beneficent.

Dawkins believes there is no room for faith in science. Evidence supposedly compels the drawing of a valid conclusion. “Science” resulting from the scientific method is decidedly true. Dawkins asks what is faith? He asks his readers if it is a state of mind that leads (“pushes” as he would argue) people to believe something (whatever it may be) regardless of a total lack of supporting evidence. McGrath, however, says, “The issue is that Dawkins here fails to make the critically important distinction between the total absence of supporting evidence” (17). McGrath argues that Dawkins seems to make an erroneous logical transition from “this cannot be proved” to “this is false.” Lack of empirical proof does not ipso facto conclude that something is untrue. Of course, science has established its reputation worldwide as an effective way of making sense of the universe for many reasons, including its skepticism about establishing truths beyond what can be observed. Otherwise, science would be a “faith” or religion.

Of course, as a Christian and a theology student, I do not see God as a physical object within the universe. This does not fit in with systematic theology. God is not a part of creation; rather, He has providence over creation. He is the originator, foundation, and grand cause of all things. Romans 4:17 says God called into existence the things that did not exist. Hebrews 11:3 states, “By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.” What this signifies is that God did not use any previously existing materials when He created the universe. There were such existing materials. God created the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing).

McGrath suggests that Christians think of God not as part of a painting or diagram, but rather as the canvas on which the picture is painted, or the frame in which it is set. This concept seems to me to miss the point. Instead, I see God as the painter (the “Grand Artist”), not the canvas. God is identified as Creator in the OT (Isa. 40:28; 42:5; 45:18) and NT (Mark 13:19; Rev. 10:6). Creation occurs by God’s Word (Gen. 1:3; John 1:1-3). Since God as Creator is the explanation for the existence of the world and humans, creation establishes our deepest, most essential relation to God (18). Creation speaks of God’s great power and wisdom, for He alone established energy, substance, movement, gravity, and all that mankind has discovered and categorized. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that Christ is “…upholding the universe by his word of power.”

Footnotes

(1) John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019), 9.
(2) Lennox, Ibid., 9-10.
(3) Weinberg, in Lennox, Ibid., 14.
(4) Lennox, Ibid., 16.
(5) C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 140.
(6) Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997), 130.
(7) Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion & Naturalism (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), x.
(8) J.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 23.
(9) Alister McGrath, Richard Dawkins, C.S. Lewis and the Meaning of Life (London, UK: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2019), 16.
(10) McGrath, Ibid., 17.
(11) Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (London, UK: Allen & Unwin, 1946), xiv.
(12) Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 2d ed. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1989), 198.
(13) Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 21.
(14) James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 5th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 20.
(15) Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Post Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 14.
(16) Veith, Ibid.
(17) McGrath, Ibid., 23.
(18) D.K. McKim, “Creation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 216.

Many Questions Remain About Youth Substance Use Trends

December 15, 2020

The following is from the web blog of Dr. Nora Volkow, Executive Director of NIDA.

The results of the 2020 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of drug use and attitudes in middle and high school students were released today, with the encouraging news that the alarming rises in teen vaping both of nicotine and marijuana seen in prior years had leveled off, although use remained high. But as with so many other efforts in 2020, the MTF survey was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. And we are left at the end of this tumultuous year with many questions about how circumstances have affected youth, their substance use, and their mental health more generally.

The MTF survey is ordinarily conducted from February until May, with the results released later the same year. This year, schools closed in mid-March before the majority of the students could be surveyed, leaving the University of Michigan researchers who conduct the survey with a smaller-than-usual sample—11,821 students in 112 schools. Although only a quarter the size of the usual sample, it remained nationally representative and contained much valuable data.

Generally, the 2020 MTF showed continued low levels of most forms of substance use among teens, including very low levels of opioid use despite the devastating effects opioids have had on all older age groups including young adults. However, there are other indications that the evolving addiction and overdose crisis is directly affecting youth. For example, a study by CDC researchers just published in the Journal of Pediatrics shows increases in suspected nonfatal overdoses involving stimulants (a category that includes prescription stimulants, cocaine, and methamphetamine) in children and teens between 2016 and 2019. MTF shows decreases in use of prescription stimulants in 10th and 12th graders but a trend toward increased use among 8th graders. It will be important to closely monitor adolescent stimulant use in future MTF surveys.

The MTF data collected at the beginning of this year reflect a certain point of relative normality before the COVID-19 pandemic threw all our lives into upheaval, including the lives of teens. As we seek to understand adolescent substance use in this new reality, we look to research to answer many important questions on how the stresses of the pandemic may have affected substance use by teens. For example, it is important to investigate the consequences of social distancing and virtual classes on adolescent drug experimentation and use, since those are strongly influenced by peer pressure and group dynamics. NIDA has issued supplemental funds to existing grantees to help study the impact of the pandemic on adolescents’ risk of substance use; their access to prevention and treatment services; and the pandemic’s effects on families. Future research, including the results of next year’s MTF survey, can help us understand how school closures and lockdowns affected adolescent substance use.  

Although research has suggested that the pandemic’s stresses have increased many forms of substance use in adults, it remains to be seen whether reduced ability to interact with peers or other sources of drugs may be a mitigating factor in youth. There is already evidence that reduced commercial availability of vape products during the pandemic may be affecting teen vaping. Researchers at Stanford and University of California San Francisco captured self-reported vaping habits of 2,167 teen and young-adult e-cigarette users in May, two months after the national emergency was declared and after MTF stopped gathering data for the 2020 survey. Over half of the respondents reported changing their use of vaping products, with 68 percent of those reporting that they had reduced their use or quit. Inability to purchase the products was one reason cited.

2020 has posed many urgent questions for science. Finding out the different ways the pandemic and other stresses of the year have affected young people is a high priority. Adolescence is an important period of social and emotional development, and the pandemic has disrupted many of the processes that impact that development. NIDA research has pivoted to ensure we address this unique time in history as we pursue scientific solutions to the impacts of drug use and addiction across the lifespan.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Literature and Theology

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

This blog post is the last discussion in Topics in Theology at Colorado Christian University in pursuit of my Master’s in Theological Studies (M.T.S.) I will be starting a Master’s in Divinity (MDiv) at Denver Seminary in April 2021.

***

“I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” (C.S. Lewis)

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12, ESV).

One of my classmates made a statement this week that was more reminder than eureka! He said we are afforded “partial” vision in this physical world. Systematic theology, exegesis, and hermenuetics lead down the proverbial path of intersection between what we see and what exists. We presently have a somewhat cloudy and restricted understanding of love. The incarnation of Jesus Christ allows us to enter into a conversation about the story of redemption. God’s grace allows us to see and hear what we need to see and hear, when we need to see and hear it.

Specific to this process, Jesus helps us die to ourselves so that we can begin to live in agape love. It is amazing how opens the opportunity to become like Him; to emulate him in our actions and words. As an apologist, I must engage people “relationally,” which helps make them “spiritually” accessible. I am preparing for a relational-incarnational approach to apologetics. I must know Holy Scripture through a valid perspective, a sound rationale, and a fulfilling mode of being. So, how can we best present the Christian worldview in a manner that reaches beyond “canned” answers. Through relationship.

A Muslim acquaintance told me that Muslims will not listen to our thoughts on Chrisianity unless we first begin a relationship. Further, Nabeel Qureshi said in one of his lectures that Muslims come to America and are flooded with images of American’s overeating, touring the towns in expensive cars, attending movies and watching Rap videos that feature sex and partially-clad women, beaches filled with half-naked sunbathers. Muslim immigrants associate America’s behavior with Christianity.

I agree with C.S. Lewis’s perspective on the pitfalls of reductionist materialism. This term is generally an “identity theory” that says there is no independent, universal level of phenomena in the world, especially regarding morality. Reality is seen by many experts as mere neurochemical function; nothing exists over and above cognition. It is through reductionist materalism that we encounter the deficiency of our relational experiences. And it just might be the root cause of man’s failure to hold a consistent, universal sense of spirituality throughout his life.

The relational-incarnational model of apologetics is necessarily built from the personal repentance, vulnerability, self-sacrifice and shared humanity of the apologist (evangelist). I cannot help but wonder if identity theory is at least a stepchild of identity politics—the strange twenty-first century political theory that has been consistently convincing individuals away from responsibility and care (agape love) for the “community,” and pushes stark individualism and relativism on us through any number of media. Identity politics tends to create the sense that we are, each of us, an island. Certainly, universal morality gets sacrificed in the name of autonomy.

Our failure to recognize personal biases, misconceptions, and presuppositions is alarming. The definition of “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” (1). My classmate said, “This is for me a central Christian theme about special revelation, the subjective nature of visions, and the intimacy of a God that leaves footprints in his wake for our discovery and salvation.”

C.S. Lewis was a gifted Christian author whose skills were extremely useful in sharing his conversion from theism to a relationship with Jesus Christ. Lewis shared his path to Christianity with the world in such a fashion that it was no mere incoherent mystery. Indeed, he expressed (in several of his works) that divine love is the ultimate life-giving mystery—God gives His Son over to sacrificial death to save the world. Many theologians tend to insist on having “the last word.” We need to forego imposing lables or categories on those with whom we speak about Christ. If not, we risk dismissing those who think and believe differently than we do.

Notes

(1) David N. Entwistle, Integrative Approach to Psychology and Christianity, 3rd ed. (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2015), 61.

It’s Christmastime!

December 18, 2020

This is the fourth year I’ve reblogged this original piece I wrote about what Christmastime was like growing up. I hope you enjoy it.

Wow, only seven days til Christmas Day. The year went so fast I almost forgot there were twelve months. Sometimes the days seem to run together. Partly because of the limited daylight. It’s typical for office workers this time of year to go to work in the dark in the morning and come home after work in the dark. Add to that all the rushing around as Christmastime draws near. Time slips without seeming to move the hands on the clock.

When I was young, time seemed to stand still on Christmas Eve. About six o’clock on WNEP 16 out of Scranton, PA, up-to-the-minute tracking of Santa Claus on radar would begin. It always felt like bedtime would never get here. And when it did, I would never be able to get to sleep. It’s Christmastime, I would think. Santa’s coming. If I go to bed. If I close my eyes and give in to slumber. Impossible, is what I used to think as I looked at the clock again and again, hoping it was time. Everything moves like a snail. Funny, but none of the adults seemed to notice this time problem. They would eat and drink and sing and dance around the living room, smiling and toasting one another. They were oblivious. But how is this possible, I would wonder? How can they be so calm?

Santa’s coming. Quick, everyone. Finish your merriment and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Clean up. Get a plate of cookies and a glass of milk ready for Santa. He’s coming! Straighten up the living room. Move those extra chairs out of the way. Santa needs to put my new bike there. Oh wow, this is taking so long. I can’t stand this. I really can’t. The excitement is causing me to nearly tremble. I have to pee, but I’m afraid to tell anyone. Maybe I can wait til I go upstairs to brush my teeth. It’s as though I think time will slow down even more than it has already. Oh, I have to go now! No waiting til bedtime. Well, what can I do? Nothing. I look at the clock. I don’t believe the hour hand has moved more than a half inch. You’ve got to be kidding me!

After what feels like half a week, it’s finally time to go to bed. I run up the staircase, nearly slipping and planting my face in the carpet at the top of the steps. I dash into the bathroom and head straight to the toilet bowl. I barely get my snaps open before the water works begin. Without having to be told, I grab my toothbrush and get brushing. I know Santa’s watching. I’ve known that for a long time. Have to listen. Have to be good. He is always checking. Sometimes twice. I’ve been nice. I’ve not been naughty. I finish up and sprint to my room to climb in my bed. I am thinking that maybe I should skip my prayers tonight and go straight to sleep. But wait, Santa will know if I don’t say my prayers. So I fold my hands and I get started. Short, but sweet. Done in ten seconds. I reach up and kiss my mom goodnight. She tucks me in and I squeeze my eyes shut real tight, hoping that will cause me to go right to sleep. It doesn’t. My heart is pounding. I can feel it in my ears and in the ends of my fingers. I can’t help but thinking, This is going to be a long night.

Believe it or not, before I know it I am opening my eyes. I look at my clock. It’s six o’clock. At first, I’m thinking the clock never even moved. That it’s still the same time it was when I looked at the living room clock. Then it comes to me. It’s morning. I can’t imagine what might be waiting for me downstairs. I scream out loud. I can’t help myself. I just can’t. Mom shows up at my door grinning from ear to ear. Dad is standing behind her. Good. It’s time. No more waiting.

I nearly tumble down the steps as dad calls out, Take it easy Sport. I am not even all the way down the steps when I see the handle bars. Yep! Handle bars atop a brand new shiny bike. The bike is surrounded by dozens of presents. I am speechless. I took at mom and dad, and then I go sit on my new bike. Mom already has her Instamatic up to her eye, taking my picture. Dad says, Well, what do you think? I just grin and lean in to the handle bars, pretending I’m flying down Race Street hill, leaving a trail of flames behind me. Then I remember, there are presents to open. Man, this is just fantastic. I dive in, ripping at the wrapping paper. Present after present, I am blown away. I stop for a brief moment and think, This was well worth the wait.

Merry Christmas to everyone. Stay safe. Be healthy. Be thankful. And above all else, be patient. Because sometimes the clock just doesn’t seem to move at all.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

© Steven Barto 2014

Rising Stimulant Deaths

From the Blog of Dr. Nora Volkow,
Executive Director
National Institute on Drug Addiction

November 12, 2020

Although we often talk about individual drugs and drug use disorders in isolation, the reality is that many people use drugs in combination and also die from them in combination. Although deaths from opioids continue to command the public’s attention, an alarming increase in deaths involving the stimulant drugs methamphetamine and cocaine are a stark illustration that we no longer face just an opioid crisis. We face a complex and ever-evolving addiction and overdose crisis characterized by shifting use and availability of different substances and use of multiple drugs (and drug classes) together.

Overdose deaths specifically from opioids began escalating two decades ago, after the introduction of potent new opioid pain relievers like OxyContin. But actually, drug overdose deaths have been increasing exponentially since at least 1980, with different substances (e.g., cocaine) driving this upward trend at different times. Overdose deaths involving methamphetamine started rising steeply in 2009, and provisional numbers from the CDC show they had increased 10-fold by 2019, to over 16,500. A similar number of people die every year from overdoses involving cocaine (16,196), which has increased nearly as precipitously over the same period.

Although stimulant use and use disorders fluctuate year to year, national surveys have suggested that use had not risen considerably over the period that overdoses from these drugs escalated, which means that the increases in mortality are likely due to people using these drugs in combination with opioids like heroin or fentanyl or using products that have been laced with fentanyl without their knowledge. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid (80 times more potent than morphine) that since 2013 has driven the steep rise in opioid overdoses.

During the last half of the 1980s, when cocaine surged in popularity, many overdoses occurred in people combining this drug with heroin. The recent rise in deaths from co-use of stimulants and opioids seems to reflect a similar phenomenon. According to a recent examination of barriers to syringe services programs published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, staff at some programs report that increasing numbers of individuals are injecting methamphetamine and opioids together. Some also report that individuals are switching from opioids to methamphetamine because they fear the unpredictability of opioid products that may contain fentanyl (even though methamphetamine may be laced with fentanyl too).

Much more research is needed on the co-use of stimulants and opioids as well as how their combination affects overdose risk. Unfortunately, death certificates do not always list the drugs involved, and when they do, they may not always be accurate about which drugs principally contributed to mortality, making it difficult to know exactly the role opioids and stimulants play in mortality when people deliberately or unknowingly take the two together.

Overdose is not the only danger. Persistent stimulant use can lead to cognitive problems as well as many other health issues (such as cardiac and pulmonary diseases). Injecting cocaine or methamphetamine using shared equipment can transmit infectious diseases like HIV or hepatitis B and C. Cocaine has been shown to suppress immune-cell function and promote replication of the HIV virus and its use may make individuals with HIV more susceptible to contracting hepatitis C. Similarly methamphetamine may worsen HIV progression and exacerbate cognitive problems from HIV.

Efforts to address stimulant use should be integrated with the initiatives already underway to address opioid addiction and opioid mortality. The complex reality of polysubstance use is already a research area that NIDA funds, but much more work is needed. The recognition that we face a drug addiction and overdose crisis, not just an opioid crisis, should guide research, prevention, and treatment efforts going forward.

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.

The Practical Application of Narrative Apologetics

Written by Steven Barto, BS Psy

STORIES OFFER APOLOGETIC possibilities that are more effective than approaches that rely on rhetorical argument. Certainly, this is because stories engage audiences that would otherwise choose to pass on logical discourse. C.S. Lewis believed a well-told story opens the imagination to new ways of thinking and believing. He believed this approach allows the Christian story to be put forth in its “real potency,” allowing it to sneak past the watchful eye of rationalism.

Christian apologetics has three crucial tasks. First, it must engage cultural objections to religious belief that dominate public discourse in today’s post-Christian society. Second, it must show the ways in which Christianity connects with the lives and concerns of everyday people. Third, it must present Christian beliefs in a way that contemporary culture can relate and understand. Using the medium of story to achieve these goals should be considered by all who engage in evangelism and apologetics in the twenty-first century.

With the proliferation of “non-religious” theories on origin, morality, purpose, and destiny, the early twenty-first century has presented Christianity with a challenge like no other. The evangelistic and apologetic approaches that worked well in the 1950s and 60s do not fit the culture of today. Postmodern writers are attempting to move public discourse forward in a way that uses the best insights of the past without being trapped by it. Postmodern theologians stress experience over reason, subjectivity over objectivity, spirituality over religion, images over words, outward over inward. Are these things good? Sure. But this orientation can be taken too far, leaving Holy Scripture in its wake. Over-stressing such thinking when sharing the gospel tends to lean more toward liberalism. Today, experience is valued more highly than reason, which causes truth to become relative. This often leads to heresy and dogma outside the scope of truth.

But please realize there is no need for Christian evangelists or apologists to panic over the rise of postmodernity. It certainly brings some real challenges, but the Christian faith possesses many resources for meeting such challenges. The faith was able to thrive during the first century, when Jewish leaders persecuted Jews who joined “the way” of Christ. Christianity continued to grow during the rule of the Roman Empire despite torture, beheading, and crucifixion. Certainly, the negative mood today toward theism in general, and Christianity in particular, requires Christians to alter their methods. It is important to connect with people where they’re at rather than telling them where they should be.

Kevin Vanhoozer (1) suggests that postmodernity can be summarized in terms of four major tenets:

  1. Reason. The modern approach of reasoning by argument is viewed with suspicion by postmodern writers. Where modernity believed in a single universal reason, postmodernity holds that there are many different approaches to rationality. Postmoderns deny the notion of universality; reason is merely a context, a relative affair.
  2. Truth. Postmodernity is suspicious of the idea of truth because of the way in which it has been used to legitimize oppression, or give justification to vested interests. Postmoderns see truth as a compelling story told by persons in positions of power in order to force their way of seeing and organizing the natural and social world.
  3. History. Where modern writers tried to find universal patterns in history, postmodernity is “incredulous towards narratives that purport to recount universal history.” From the standpoint of Christian apologetics, this means any attempt to see universal significance in the narrative of Jesus Christ will be viewed with intense suspicion by some in today’s culture.
  4. Self. Postmodernity rejects any notion there is “one true way of recounting one’s own history” and thus concludes there is “no true way of narrating one’s own identity.” All ways of understanding the individual are open-ended and partial. Postmoderns decry universal answers to the question of human identity.

Alister McGrath said apologetics is not about inventing the rationality, imaginative power, or moral depths of the Christian faith. It is about pointing them out, and allowing people to see them clearly and appreciate them for what they are. He writes, “This means the apologist must be able and willing to develop a deep and informed appreciation of the Christian faith. Yet this is not enough: it is also important to develop an outsider perspective” (2). In other words, it is helpful to understand how the great themes of the Christian faith can be defended and explained to people who are not familiar with its vocabulary or practices. This “cultural” engagement involves establishing the Christian voice, conscience, and imagination within a culture so that Christianity is seen as true and satisfying.

A Theological Approach

J.R.R. Tolkien did not refer to Christianity specifically as a metanarrative, but he conveyed the same sentiment when he said Christianity is a story of a larger kind. He suggested that “myths” are ubiquitous, appealing primarily to the imagination and reasoning. Man relates naturally to story. No doubt, this is due in large part because man is created in the image of God (imago Dei), the Great Creator. Man possesses the unique ability to create stories that tend to reflect the divine nature of creation itself. Tolkien referred to this concept as “sub-creation” in his poem Mythopoeia. Accordingly, his theology of religion is grounded in Christianity’s metanarrative. Myth elicits a strong sense of wonder and imagination that fuels man’s longing for meaning. Myth contains deeper truths that otherwise might remain unspoken. Moreover, it creates intellectual and imaginative space for stories.

Tolkien’s position regarding myth persuaded C.S. Lewis to move from a general theism to Christianity itself. Lewis was finally able to see the Christian story as more than a set of doctrines or moral principles. Instead, he regarded it as a grand narrative that ultimately generated and supported such ideas and values. Lewis decided myths offer at least a gleam of divine truth. No longer did Lewis see Christianity as one myth among many, but as representing the fulfillment of all myths. What he called the true myth toward which all other myths merely point. In other words, Christianity tells the true story about humanity that makes sense of all other myths humanity tells about itself. As “dim dreams or premonitions” of the greater and fuller truth of the Christian gospel, Lewis believed the biblical narrative gives rise to a clear and complete vision or ontology of things. He said, “It is like watching something come gradually into focus.”

The writings of C.S. Lewis feature an invitation for his audience to decide if the story of Christianity rings true to life experience, and whether it weaved things together in a more coherent manner. He challenged his readers to consider whether they would like to enter into such a world. This approach is quite useful in apologetics and evangelism. He said we do not need to somehow rise above our “finite” mind in order to discover the “real world” of creation and redemption; rather, it has come to us through the incarnation.

Narrating the Incarnation

Jesus Christ is not merely the object of theological and doctrinal discussion. He is a person who is to be known and loved; to be understood and worshiped. This approach is refreshing given the usual debate regarding His deity and His humanity. Tertullian (A.D. 160-220) insisted upon the unity of the person of Christ while distinguishing the proper functions of His humanity and divinity. He essentially considered the incarnation to represent an amalgam (such as when two metals are fused together). Others during Tertullian’s time attempted to distinguish two beings in one person: saying that the Son is the flesh, the human being that is Jesus, while the Father is the spirit, or the God “part” of Christ. Of course, this approach served to divide rather than unite Father and Son.

The Word was not transformed into flesh, as this would imply destruction of what originally existed. Rather, the Word became clothed with flesh. Origen (A.D. 185-254) taught the necessity of a mediator between God and humanity, noting the respective importance of Christ’s divine and human natures in relation to His work. He wrote, “Therefore with this soul acting as a mediator between God and flesh (for it was not possible for the nature of God to be mingled with flesh without a mediator) there was born the God-man, that substance being the connecting link which could assume a body without denying its own nature” (3). Jesus had to be “without sin” in order for “God and man” to co-exist through the incarnation.

An integral element of Christian evangelism and apologetics is an effective explanation of the significance of Christ. Yet, words like “incarnation” are not well-received outside the theology of Christianity. It is important to accurately and faithfully translate theological terms into cultural dialects. For example, the apostle Paul views man’s condition regarding sin as spiritual slavery, from which mankind has been redeemed by Christ (see Gal. 4:5). For Paul, the analogy is not necessarily about moving from bondage to freedom; rather, it is about moving from the domain of fleshly servitude to the law to a new domain: that of belonging to God. Such concepts are heady and require an explanation that can be easily grasped. Narrative apologetics attempts to communicate the remarkable significance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ through telling stories.

The Gospel narratives (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) emphasize the transformative impact of Jesus upon those who believe in His ministry. God chose to enter into human habitation. The Word became flesh and lived among us (see John 1:14). God’s compassion for humanity is clearly expressed by the incarnation. Jesus taught us about our sinfulness, and provided the means by which we are able to rise above spiritual death. The narrative of Jesus Christ makes us want to turn our backs on the sinful past and embrace the gospel. The story itself does not save us. There is no incantation, memorization, or recitation that takes the place of redemption. What happened to Christ on the cross is the means by which we are saved. Faith in His sacrificial death can make us whole; allowing us to be healed by God’s grace. Not only does the incarnation help us understand the paramount importance of Jesus Christ, it also tells us something about the kind of God we love and worship as Christians. Yet, we must never misuse the grace of God.

McGrath writes, “Christians must engage the dominant stories of our culture, either by telling a better story that shows the myriad other stories are inadequate or coherent, or through subversive storytelling in which they enter into a cultural narrative and retell its story in light of the Christian worldview” (4). Christianity tells a story about God, humanity, and the world that is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This story is hard to promote in Western culture where the notion of sin and the need for a savior is vehemently rejected. Today’s militant atheists strive to put the blame of global violence at the foot of the cross. Yet the history of the twentieth century (supposedly the most “enlightened” and open-minded in human history) featured extreme violence, oppression, and destructiveness outside the scope of “religious wars” or “jihad” that question the overall goodness of humanity.

Philosopher and historian R.G. Collingwood wrote, “The chief business of twentieth-century philosophy is to reckon with twentieth-century history” (5). Some argue that the best apologetics is a good systematic theology. Stephen Wellum says, “We cannot defend the faith (apologetics) without systematic theology” (6). Systematic theology is the exegetical discipline that seeks to grasp the entirety of Scripture as the unfolding of God’s plan from Genesis to Revelation. It is through systematic theology (from the patristic era until now) that doctrine is preserved and the message of sin and redemption is shared. McGrath shares Charles Taylor’s thoughts concerning how to best do apologetics in today’s post-Christian culture: “Taylor persuasively argues that there is a need to move away from the traditional believers-nonbelievers paradigm to a new seekers-dwellers paradigm” (7). Taylor recommends this approach because of numerous alternate beliefs found where modern secularism abounds.

As I’ve said elsewhere, the days of fire-and-brimstone preaching are past. Systematic theology and dogma may speak to the heart of the “dweller,” but a different approach is required for engaging with “seekers.” Essentially, the same fundamental concepts are featured in theology and apologetics; the difference between them is the manner in which these concepts are presented. It is far easier to reach a non-believer through an organized discussion about their doubts and counter-arguments than it is to say unless you believe, you are going to hell. We should not engage in apologetics until we fully know God (including the Godhead), know ourselves as redeemed creatures, made new through the blood of Christ, and plug in to the Body of Christ through a local church. Gathering together, we come to understand our gifts and our calling. We must know the gospel truth as an entire worldview over against the errors of the world.

Apologetics and Evangelism

Apologetics and the Great Commission are complementary. Jesus clearly said we are to go forth, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He has taught (Matt. 28:19-20). McGrath says apologetics allows for sustained engagement with others, answering questions raised, and showing how the Christian faith is able to provide meaningful answers, but evangelism moves in a different circle. Where apologetics aims to secure consent, evangelism aims to secure commitment (8). Apologetics aims to establish the plausibility of salvation in Christ. Evangelism is inviting someone to become a Christian. Apologetics involves clearing the ground for that invitation. McGrath believes evangelism is like offering someone bread; apologetics is persuading people there is bread to be had and that it is good.

McGrath says, “Apologetics can be likened to drawing curtains to one side so people can catch a glimpse of what lies beyond, or holding a diamond up to the light and allowing its facets to scintillate and sparkle in the sunlight” (9). It is about building bridges, allowing non-believers and skeptics to cross over from the worldview they already have, and to experience the Christian faith. But the task of an apologist is not simply to win arguments or to establish the “rationality” of Christianity. Instead, it is critical to establish “true God” as a God who may be relied upon. It is also important to share the passion, beauty, and mercy of God. C.S. Lewis was attracted to the gospel story because it offers meaning, not merely “propositional correctness.” He said, “Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning” (10).

For Lewis, belief in God was neither a distraction from life’s hardship, nor a psychological “band aid” for what causes us grief. Instead, discovering God involves discovering our “true self” and redirecting our lives toward that end. God is not a tangible object, but that does not mean He is not Him. He is, in fact, I am. Admittedly, when we first approach the gospel we do so with rational argument in mind. Lewis believed religious faith is grounded on rational norms that are not identical to those governing scientific theories. He wrote, “[The existence of God] is a speculative question as long as it is a question at all. But once it has been answered in the affirmative, you get quite a new situation… You are no longer faced with an argument which demands your assent, but with a Person who demands your confidence” (11).

NOTES

(1) Kevin Vanhoozer, “Theology and the Condition of Postmodernity, ” in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 73-75.

(2) Alister E. McGrath, Mere Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2012), 47.

(3) Origen, “On the Two Natures of Christ,” in The Christian Theology Reader, Ibid., 230.

(4) Alister E. McGrath, Narrative Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2019), 97

(5) R.G. Collingwood, An Autobiography (London: Oxford University Press, 1939), 70.

(6) Stephen Wellum, “4 Things You Can’t Do Without Systematic Discovery,” TGC (Dec. 26, 2017). URL: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/4-things-you-cant-do-systematic-theology/

(7) Charles Taylor, in Narrative Apologetics, Ibid., 99.

(8) McGrath, Mere Apologetics, Ibid., 22.

(9) Ibid., 127.

(10) C.S. Lewis, Rehabilitations and Other Essays (London, UK: Oxford University Press, 1939), 158.

(11) C.S. Lewis, Essay Collection: Faith, Christianity and the Church (London, UK: HarperCollins, 2000), 213-14.