Thursday, February 28, 2013

Some reaons why I believe the Gospel of Jesus is true

What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
That he lived, he taught, he died, he rose from the dead, and that he is coming again to judge the world...

Why do I believe it? Why would a well-educated scientist like me believe it is true?

Here are some of the main reasons. I don't think any single reason is particularly persuasive. However, for me when they are put together I find them compelling.
  • it transcends culture and background. through every age people with diverse backgrounds  (ethnicity, education, wealth, social status, ...) have had their lives transformed by believing the Gospel is true.
  • it transcends time and history. after two thousand years of change (scientific and technological advances, political changes, wars, philosophy, literature, music, ...) it is just as relevant and powerful.
  • it transforms societies as well as individuals. whether it is the scientific revolution, the drive to abolish slavery, starting hospitals and schools, overcoming caste, ...
  • the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Why did the disciples change from confused cowards to confident evangelists who were willing to die for their faith?
  • a coherent world view (it describes the nature of humanity, knowledge, ....)
  • the Bible answers the question: why does science work? the universe was created by a God who delights in order and truth, and made humans in his image.
  • the amazing coherence of the Bible and its beauty as literature.
  • the alternatives (atheism, postmodernism, religious liberalism, other religions, ...) are less compelling and raise greater problems and questions.
I would say this is the "rational" basis for my "faith" that the Gospel is true.

Monday, February 25, 2013

How are the New Atheists "fundamentalist"?

"Fundamentalist" is a loaded and mis-understood term. Several earlier posts considered the issue from several angles.
One caricature and criticism is that "fundamentalists" claim that no interpretation of scripture is necessary. There is only one correct reading of scripture, theirs. Anyone who disagrees is being ungodly.

This might be classified as the "no interpretation" interpretation.
In some ways this reminds me of the New Atheist [Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchins, Lawrence Krauss, ...] interpretation of science.

Science does not need interpretation. There is no need for a philosophy of science. It is "bleedingly obvious" that:
  • science is true
  • science is the only means to obtain truth
  • the only meaninful and important questions are those which science can answer
  • science provides a basis for ethics
  • science shows the universe has no purpose
  • science proves there is no god or creator
Anyone who denies these claims is just being irrational and unscientific and ignoring the evidence.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lending a helping hand?

How do you help someone who is in need?

I think this is not as easy as we sometimes assume.
There are several obstacles to effective and empowering help and aid.

1. The giver enjoys the process so much that that they will subconsciously keep the recipient in a needy state, rather than empowering them so they can become independent.

2. The recipient actually does not want the help they may actually need. For example, they enjoy the attention and lack of responsibility associated with being needy.

I think these issues can play out in a wide range of contexts: from trying to help an individual with an addiction problem to giving money to economically poor communities in the developing world.

None of these obstacles are an excuse from action and fumbling through finding solutions. Key ingredients are humility, listening, partnership, and patience.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I can have science and Jesus too!

I can have both!
On monday night, this was the classic line of John Dickson (from the Centre for Public Christianity) on the popular Australian TV show Q and A. Every monday night it features a panel who answer questions from the audience (both studio and external).
It was refreshing to hear from a Christian leader who saw no conflict between scientific knowledge and orthodox Christian belief.

Also on the panel was the New Atheist and astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss. He made grand claims for science, including that it provided a basis for ethics and showed that the universe has no purpose. To me these are philosophical claims which require interpreting scientific knowledge. Different people will (and do) interpret this knowledge differently. Krauss seems to ignore and deny this distinction between science and philosophy, claiming only his interpretation is "scientific" and "rational".

Some earlier posts also considered Krauss' grand philosophical claims about the Higgs boson and the beginning of the universe.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The novelty and power of gratitude

Being thankful should be a Christian virtue.
Thanking others for their service is a small act of kindness and appreciation.

I learnt of the novel Project:Gratitude of a Student Christian group in Singapore. The focus was pro-actively expressing thanks (through a variety of means, not just verbal) to the university service staff. This is particularly important and powerful because such staff are usually considered "invisible" or "second class citizens" at most universities.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is my Jesus a fantasy or reality?

Who do I think Jesus is and was? How about you?
Here is the challenge of N.T. Wright:
“Remember the slogan of Melanchthon in the sixteenth century: it isn’t enough to know that Jesus is a Savior; I must know that he is the Savior for me. I agree with Melanchthon, but I think we have to say it the other way round as well. We must today stress that it isn’t enough to believe that Jesus is “my Savior” or even “my Lord”; you must know who Jesus himself was and is. Without that, merely saying that we have Jesus “within our heart” or that we “have a sense that Jesus loves me” or whatever can easily turn into mere fantasy, wish fulfillment. That has happened before, and it will happen again, unless it is earthed in actual historical reality. 
In order to know that you’re not just making it up, not fooling yourself… you must be able to say that this Jesus, who we know in prayer, this Jesus we meet when we are ministering to the poorest of the poor, this Jesus we recognize in the breaking of the bread, this Jesus is the same Jesus who lived and taught and loved and died and rose again in the first century.
This is from Wright's response to a collection of essays about his work.
I thank Samuel Vaiphei for bringing this to my attention. It provides motivation for the North Delhi Evangelical Graduate Fellowship to do a five week study of Wright's book The Challenge of Jesus. I wish I could be a part of the study group.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Higgs boson on Darwin's birthday

Today the graduate fellowship in Delhi is having their annual event marking Charles Darwin's birthday. I am giving a short talk, "Higgs boson or "God particle"?"

What is the connection with Darwin?
Well the Higgs boson is another case of where in the media and popular culture the philosophical and theological significance of a scientific discovery is mis-understood and mis-represented.

A video of a longer version of the talk is here.
The Test of Faith paper on emergence and reductionism I refer is here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Distinctives of a Christian education

Much energy and paper has been spent attempting to define what a Christian education involves. The focus is usually on
-the content of the material that is taught and hopefully learnt
-the Christian beliefs of the teacher, parents, and/or students.

However, I think the focus instead should be on the attitude and motivations of the parties involved.
Today, the perspective of pagans (and mimicked by many Christians) is largely that education is a means to an end:
power, social status, and money.
There is little love or enjoyment of the subject matter.

In contrast, a Christian should love the subject matter: knowledge of the world the Tri-une God has created and sinful man struggles to understand and describe.
Furthermore, the motivation is to gain knowledge that can be used to serve others not to rule over them. Furthermore, that service may involve forsaking the power, social status, and money that may be in reach with completion of education.

I thank my South Asian friends, particularly Vinoth Ramachandra and Ian Payne, for helping me appreciate these points.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Science is not philosophy in Delhi

Today in Delhi it was great to meet a group of faculty and graduate students who are part of a local group of Union of Evangelical Students of India (UESI). I gave a talk Science and Jesus: conflict or coherence.
I was very impressed and challenged how this group aims to integrate being a follower of Jesus with academic studies and to be culturally authentic.

Coming alongside emergent Indian writers

This past week I was on leave from work and helped facilitate a workshop for emerging Indian theological writers. This was a completely new enterprise for me and for the participants.
It was a real privilege to get to know the participants and try to help them move forward in their writing. They had diverse backgrounds, experience, and goals.
One participants writes a weekly column in a secular non-English newspaper with a circulation of several hundred thousand. Another was starting out to write short devotionals. Another has already published two books. For some English is their second or third language.

Each received a copy of the excellent book, "Writing is an art you can learn," by Beulah Wood, and published by SAIACS press. [It costs 125 Rupees, approx. $2.50].
It is at a basic level and has many helpful exercises.
Just like John Grisham, Beulah emphasizes that writing is very hard work, even for the gifted and experienced.

Here is some of the material I used and covered.
First I had the participants complete a questionnaire about their publishing experience and plans.
I then gave them some feedback and got them to write a second iteration. I consider this process to be absolutely central.

Here are slides of some of the material which include some practical exercises.

I showed them how easy it is to set up a blog and discussed some reasons why I blog. I hope many participants will start blogging.

My work blog also has many entries about writing.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Seeing the faithfulness of God in Creation

Yesterday I gave a talk at the SAIACS chapel service, "Seeing the faithfulness of God in the Creation." (my notes are here).
It is my reflection, as both a Christian and a scientist, on Jeremiah 31:31-37 which discusses the New Covenant.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Compassion in Jesus name II

Last week my wife, son, and I had the privilege to visited a child development centre in Kerala, India that is run by Compassion. We met the child that we have sponsored for the last nine years. Seeing her home, her school, her church, and spending time with her family was a very rich and eye-opening experience.
We were very impressed by the quality of the staff at the centre, the energy and the enthusiasm of the 360 children at the centre, and the integrated nature of the program which cares for all aspects of the children's development.

It was embarrassing to us that people were so appreciative of our contribution. We are so affluent that the monthly sponsorship is a trivial amount of money (less than one dollar a day after the tax deduction). Yet it makes such a difference. In particular, it keeps children in school, rather than being sent to work after primary school.

A previous post described a visit to another Compassion project a few years ago.

The hope of the resurrection

This morning I was privileged to give the sermon at the English congregation of Radiant Life Church in Bangalore. This is an exciting ministry that was started by a SAIACS graduate, Dominic Hancock. The church is based in a poor community and also runs a school, a childrens home, and a vocational training for women. (A short video is below). For the past two weeks my son has been volunteering at the school and boys home.

I spoke from 1 Corinthians 15 about how followers of Jesus have hope not just of eternal life but also that their current labour and efforts for the Lord are not in vain (slides).

After church I had a lot of fun with some of the children doing the baking soda rocket science demonstration.