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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

becoming a christian

Robin Russell at the UM Portal describes an article from the Baptist Standard,
explaining step-by-step instructions on how to become a Christian. (Hat tip to John Meunier) After listing them, she asks,

And I wondered if a United Methodist were asked, "How do I become a Christian?" what would be the response?

A colleague here in the newsroom only half-jokingly commented: "Perhaps that's why we have problems with evangelism."

Any fresh responses out there beyond: "Um, come to church with me?"

Part of the difficulty, I think, is in the question itself. I'm reminded of the old joke, where a visitor to New York asks a local, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" The local, who happens to be a professional musician, replies, "Practice, practice, practice."

Christianity is not like building a bookshelf from a kit. You can't just follow a short set of step-by-step instructions -- Insert tab A "grace" into slot B "guilt," and you're done! No, Christianity is a transformation of the whole self, a journey that lasts a lifetime (and beyond).

And the roads that lead us there may be different for different people. For myself, it was a sense of loneliness, not the "lostness" the Baptist Standard requires, that paved the way for me to first experience God. And it was a mystical experience, not an intellectual understanding about Jesus' sacrifice, that started me along the journey.

I find the journey metaphor helpful in another way, too: If you're giving someone directions to get to your house, the first step is to find their starting point. "Go south on I-35 to the 119th Street exit," might get some people started on the right road, but it is likely to get other people completely lost.

Likewise, "How do I become a Christian?" is a highly subjective question. How they will get there is going to depend largely on where they are right now.

When the rich young ruler asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life, Jesus answered, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." To the thief on the cross, Jesus simply said, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."

So how do we answer someone who asks, "How do I become a Christian?" First, we get to know them, understand who they are and where they are. It is only as we build relationships with people that we can help them answer that question. Otherwise, we may unintentionally lead them away from where they need to go.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

a look at uncommon descent

I don't often blog about creation and evolution, though several bloggers that I read do. Henry Neufeld writes frequently on the subject. Michael Westmoreland-White is currently in the middle of a comprehensive series on the topic.

These bloggers are quick to note that they are not scientists, and though they both appear to be knowledgeable about scientific matters, they focus more on the theological side of the issue.

On the other hand, organizations like the Discovery Institute and the Creation Museum are quick to trot out lists of scientists who oppose evolution.

A closer look, though, reveals that virtually all of these scientists specialize in fields other than biology. (The same pattern holds for climate change skeptics and climatology, but that's another issue for another time.)

Consider this list of contributors to Uncommon Descent, the blog of Dr. William Dembski, Research Professor in Philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

  • William Dembski: Mathematician and Philosopher
  • Denyse O'Leary: Author
  • Barry Arrington: Accountant
  • Lee Bowman: Entrepreneur
  • Salvador Cordova: Consultant/Engineer
  • Crandaddy: "Philosopher-in-training"
  • DaveScot: Computer Engineer
  • Gil Dodgen: Software Engineer
  • Red: Graduate Student in "biophysical sciences"
  • Scott: Computer Programmer

There's not a biologist in the lot, with the possible exception of "Red", the graduate student in "biophysical sciences". Now if I were challenging the foundation of modern biology, I'd recognize that my biggest weakness is that I don't have a degree in biology, and I'd recruit a first-rate biologist to help develop and test an alternative. Dr. Dembski, on the other hand, has gathered a set of computer and engineering professionals, and blended them in almost equal measure with a group of non-scientists. Is it any wonder that leading biologists do not take this group seriously?

Digging a little deeper, we find just exactly why this group opposes evolution in the first place:

Materialistic ideology has subverted the study of biological and cosmological origins so that the actual content of these sciences has become corrupted. The problem, therefore, is not merely that science is being used illegitimately to promote a materialistic worldview, but that this worldview is actively undermining scientific inquiry, leading to incorrect and unsupported conclusions about biological and cosmological origins.

It's not that the science itself is bad. It's merely been corrupted by a "materialistic ideology", which undermines scientific inquiry. In other words, it's the philosophy, not the science, that Dembski is trying to overthrow.

Now it becomes clear. Philosophy is Dembski's specialty. He does not need to recruit an expert in the field.

But, if this is the route Dembski wishes to take, his task becomes much more difficult. His goal must be to find weaknesses not in evolutionary theory, but in the scientific method itself.

I am not a philosopher, but I am skeptical about his chances for success.

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