Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Letter To Budding Christian Thinkers

Happiness is to discuss Worldviews with a bunch of curious, fun and smart young people at the D'Nous Academy camp and arrive home to a pair of suffocating bear hugs from my son and niece. The two-day training (5 & 6 Dec) is certainly one of the highlights of 2013 in my calendar.

I would like to write down something short and sweet (hopefully!) to interact with some great questions and comments from the students... so here goes!

Dear "DNA 2013" guys and gals,

Thanks very much for the encouraging words in your card! They mean a lot to me (and I'm not just saying it). It's a great motivation for any speaker/pastor/youth ministry worker to learn that others find something helpful and inspiring in their message.

Hope this will be an encouragement for you to continue on a journey of learning and discovery about how your faith relates to all of life...  These are some questions that I could not address earlier so here's a try at them now:

a) We have discussed about the fatal flaws in relativism. But believing that moral absolutes exist (i.e. human life has intrinsic dignity and worth) doesn't mean that it's easy for us to address some hard cases (biotechnology, euthanasia, abortion etc). If you would like to explore more, I am happy to recommend this example of how the theistic worldview is applied to the complex issue of abortion as an example.

Start with the Kairos magazine on Biotechnology that I distributed to get an overview. Then dive into those videos/notes by Scott Klusendorf and Scott Rae. It's not easy but then again, life is often complex also.

b) In every culture, you can always find similarities and differences between the Jesus story and non-Christian stories ("son of God" in Egyptian/Chinese/Jewish/Roman cultures). Question is: Did the Gospel writers copy from pagan myths?

Some biblical examples may help: The ancient people in Greece believe in a rational Logos (Word, Reason, Logic) that gives order and structure to the universe and human life. They also pray to many gods and in case they miss out someone, they also put up an altar to an 'unknown God'. When Jesus is revealed as who He is, the disciples point to these existing ideas in the pagan worldview and have a conversation with it:

"Yes, there must be some rational principle that created everything. This Logos you are talking about. That's true, but let me tell you something else: The Logos (Word) became flesh and dwell among us. His name is Jesus. He is the embodiment of that principle of rationality that you talk about. And He can relate to you as a person. And this unknown God you are talking about, let me share that He has made himself known now in Jesus... what you try to worship without knowing is actually the God who speaks and He has already come." You can read this in the Gospel of John and Book of Acts.

So they are 'borrowing' ideas from others' worldviews but re-shape them in a distinctly Christian worldview. It's not copy cat. It's like you are writing an assignment and quote from a text book somewhere to make your case. You will say how this book supports what you say and where you may disagree with it also.

Indeed, one may even say that Jesus is the real thing while all these pagan stories are the copies (shadows, signposts, clues) that point the way to Christ.

Same for the 'son of God'. Lots of human kings claimed divine relationship and authority. But they are all idols, fake copies of the real divine King (Jesus). At best, they express the hope for a perfect, divine and just king. When the true Son of God comes, this dream and longing is fulfilled and completed in Christ.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the Comments section here. Luv to hear what you think of this.

c) So many worldviews claim to be absolute/truth, how do you know which is true?

Here is a simple outline to help organize a possible way to answer why the Bible is inspired by God (and stay tuned to a blog post on the Bible that I'd do for IMU in January 2014.)

Many Christians would do it like this:
- The Gospels/Paul's epistles to Corinth/Rome are historically reliable documents. That's where the facts come in about how they are written early, eyewitness accounts, many copies of the text, etc.
(You haven't shown that it's God's authoritative word YET at this point)

- From this reliable account, we learn about Jesus (what He has done, that He claimed to be what the Torah/Psalms/Prophets says God will do and be for Israel). He also vindicated His claim to be God through the cross and empty tomb. All the other crucified (supposed) Messiahs were forgotten and quickly replaced. Why is Jesus so unique that His movement grew? The resurrection makes most sense of these historical clues and the spread of the Christian movement. This miracle vindicates His claim to be true.

- Therefore Jesus is who He claims to be and has authority over our lives. And we follow what He teaches us about the Scriptures i.e. that the OT is inspired by God, and He trained the NT disciples who will write down and interpret His work later. As a result, we believe the entire Scriptures to be inspired by God.

The above is an inductive method i.e. working from particular facts to come to conclusion (bottom up).

Another approach is deductive. You start with a broad hypothesis and apply it to the facts you observe (top down). You begin with a thought experiment that the Bible is what it claims to be. Take it at face value and then see how it makes sense of suffering, of the order in the universe, of the moral law in our hearts. Hey! If you start with the Bible, everything else starts to fall in place and makes more sense now. That's a characteristic you would find since it is really God's inspired word.

d) New heaven and new earth... Will the old one be destroyed?

When the Bible says the present earth and heaven will ‘pass away,’ it does not mean that they disappear or go out of existence. It does not mean that the old car is destroyed so we need to replace it with another one. What we mean is: the same car that was destroyed is now fixed, restored, transformed, upgraded and given a complete makeover into a brand new car.

We might say, ‘The caterpillar passes away, and the butterfly emerges.’ It means that there will be such a radical change that the present condition will pass away but there is also a real continuity, a real connection to the new heaven and new earth. 

Through fire, the present earth will be dissolved, refined, and purified to give rise to a future world that will be more substantial, more tangible and more solid than one we know. God did not create this material world only to abandon it. Rather, He will renew and rescue it. So Christians have every reason to care for the material world, to protect the ecosystem and to heal the sick and work for social equality and relieve the suffering of the poor and marginalized. Because our hope of eternal life is not to escape from the world. But to renew and transform it… In the meantime, while we wait for that day, we pray and work so that God’s will is done and His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. (For more details, check here)

e) There are lots of conspiracy theories out there about 'secret societies' and 'occult stuff'. I think the most relevant one to us in Malaysia is the fictional novel on "The Da Vinci Code" which a lot of our friends have read. The way I approach is that it's irrelevant who the Priory of Sion, Merovingian or Templar Knights are (so I don't spend time chasing shadows). All I need to show is the 'secret' that they are supposed to hide, oppress and defend is actually no secret at all.

It doesn't really matter what these "secret societies" are since we can be confident about the reliability of the Bible and who Jesus was (is). If you like to explore more, check this out

Keep on Loving Jesus with heart and mind