I like my eschatology the way I like my fireworks—safe and sane.
— Kenneth Samples, “Lecture on End Times”
I like my eschatology the way I like my fireworks—safe and sane.
— Kenneth Samples, “Lecture on End Times”
One of the most important roles of a spiritual community is to give hope for the hurting.
— Dr. Ken Jung, “Giving Hope for the Hurting”1
Why would a good and all-powerful God allow evil and suffering to exist in the world? This tough question has troubled people throughout every era of history, but I believe the historic Christian worldview provides good answers. The central apologetics answer is that God brings about greater moral and spiritual goods through allowing incidents of evil, pain, and suffering. Yet I also think Christians have the power and ability to help ease people’s suffering and thus be the vehicles of God’s love and concern to the hurting. I’ve addressed the academic answers to the problem of evil. But this series is intended as a practical, pastoral response to the challenging problem of evil, pain, and suffering.
Lessons Learned from My Own Suffering
When I went through a life-threatening illness some 10 years ago I felt like I had been swept away in a powerful ocean current. Since my illness affected my brain (multiple abscessed brain lesions caused by a rare bacterial infection) my mental state and thinking were scattered and my basic equilibrium was off. Physically, emotionally, and intellectually I felt pulled and yanked in various directions. The experience turned my life and the life of my family upside down. I was left feeling at first numb and then overwhelmed.
I learned firsthand that people who are going through a severe crisis need to know that someone is protecting them and looking out for them. Let me touch upon four ways that helped ease my sense of vulnerability and risk during my illness.
I am well aware that many people do not have the kind of support that I had when facing one of my life’s greatest challenges. But I mention these four areas of care because in order to comfort those who are suffering effectively it is critical to help them to reestablish a genuine sense of security. When attempting to ease someone’s suffering it is wise and prudent to consider how you might contribute to this indispensable goal.
Ask yourself how you can help people in need—in big or small ways. These hurting people may be your direct family members, church friends, neighbors, or even strangers. Ask the Lord to use you in easing the suffering of others. Consider working with people at your church or volunteering at an organization that reaches out to the suffering.
Recently, when visiting a sick friend at a local Catholic hospital I was moved to see this verse on the lobby wall:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).
Upon reading that verse I asked God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ to use the Holy Spirit in helping me to be an agent of his peace and comfort.
For more about my illness and the life lessons that I learned through it in the context of the historic Christian worldview, see my book A World of Difference.
Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.
— Augustine, Tract. Ev Jo 29.6, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff (Peabody, MS: 1995), 184.
Our family has started a new tradition: end-of-the-school-year blowouts. A few weeks ago we left on the first day of summer vacation for the Grand Canyon.
None of us had ever seen this natural wonder so we were all very excited to go. Sure, we’d seen it in pictures and on The Brady Bunch (which surprisingly was part of our inspiration for the trip in the first place). But seeing the Grand Canyon with our own eyes was a totally different level of ah-mazing. Here is a selfie of my first glimpse of the canyon. This arresting spectacle brought my dear husband to tears with awe.
One motivation for our trip was that our teenage daughter is a rock hound. I think she might have enough rocks lingering in her room to build a small monument. She also has her very own pickax to split them open (while wearing safety glasses, of course). She had a great time at the canyon rock and fossil hunting.
After working at RTB for 15 years, I’ve heard a lot about the Grand Canyon, but mostly as it relates to young-earth creationists giving tours down the Colorado River. The canyon is frequently put forth as alleged evidence for a recent, global flood. Candidly speaking, however, I didn’t even have a firm grasp of the conventional explanation for how the canyon was formed.
Thankfully, the National Park Service offers an abundance of opportunities to learn and explore. For much of the canyon’s history, it was underwater. During that time many of the layers of strata were formed. What we see now is the remaining erosion after the ancient waters receded.
When I saw this, I just had to stand back in awe for a moment to take in the sheer majesty of the message of this display. The complexity of the canyon’s history is told in its rocks, its strata, and fossils.
Going to the Grand Canyon was sheer bliss as my family drank in all it had to offer. As we walked through the museums and read the explanatory plaques, I noticed that my kids kept checking in with me and inquiring whether it was OK to accept what they were learning. Finally, I made a blanket statement: “This is God’s creation. Let’s just focus on being curious.”
This trip reinforced to me how important it is to promote curiosity about creation in our children. Sometimes, as Christians, our persistent resistance to biological evolution can really zap the fun out of learning science. Kids pick up on their parents’ hesitation, even if it’s unspoken. However, when we can embrace the spirit of discovery, and leave behind the OEC vs. YEC or creation vs. evolution debates, it translates into empowering the next generation to be curious about God’s creation.
By Krista Bontrager
Krista Bontrager is the dean of online learning at Reasons to Believe. She is a teacher at heart and enjoys teaching the Bible to all ages. She has an MA in theology and another in Bible exposition from Talbot School of Theology.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
— The 39 Articles of the Church of England (a historic Anglican statement of faith written in 1571)
Over the Fourth of July holiday my family and I saw America, a new documentary from Dinesh D’Souza. The film, which sparked a lot of discussion among the members of my family, suggests that there are two basic views of the United States:
1. America the Oppressive Nation
2. America the Exceptional Nation
D’Souza begins the film with interviews of select and high profile people who hold the first view and connects it with some popular historical authors. He then interviews other people who critique the first view and, thus like him, affirm the second. D’Souza served in the Reagan administration and is, of course, a conservative Republican who is greatly critical of both President Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton.
Regardless of political perspectives, the real benefit of this movie is that it gives the viewer the opportunity to think “worldviewishly” and to engage in serious critical thinking about important historical, cultural, and political issues. The categories of race, gender, and class are constantly in the news and this movie allows these topics to be viewed from very different points of view (though clearly D’Souza’s film has a strong perspective, if not an agenda). One possible response to the film is to conclude that maybe the truth is found somewhere in the middle.
In my opinion, every high schooler and college-aged student in the United States should see America. It affords a great opportunity to ponder two very different prisms of America. Whatever your political persuasion, the movie is guaranteed to cause some irritation but also to make you think.
And it is always a good idea to ask yourself: “What is the best argument on the other side?” Truth is far too important for us to allow it to go untested!
For more worldview thinking on movies, check out these other reviews and articles.
Abduction is inference to the best explanation, a pattern of reasoning that occurs in such diverse places as medical diagnosis, scientific theory formation, accident investigation, language understanding, and jury deliberation.
— John R. and Susan G. Josephson, Abductive Inference (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), i.
I make no secret about my love for my country and its history. If you hang around Reflections long enough, you’ll see me address topics like World War II (in which my father fought) and the JFK assassination. But history can be a contentious subject these days, with many views—some reasonable, some decidedly not—vying for the chance to shape the way we see America’s past.
So, when RTB editor Maureen Moser asked me for advice on choosing a reliable history book, we thought we’d turn our discussion into an interview to share with you. Though we address American history specifically, the approach I recommend is applicable to any country’s history.
Ken, with so many options available, how do you go about evaluating a book to see if it’s a worthwhile investment of time and money?
Part of what makes choosing a history book challenging today is the prevailing influence of postmodernism and moral relativism. You have to be especially careful when selecting a book. Ask yourself, what is the worldview reflected by the author?
In light of potential uncertainty, I would suggest getting a recommendation. This could be the word of a trusted friend, an endorsement from a good historian, or even reviews from other readers posted on a site like Amazon. Do some homework before investing in a history book and be very selective in your choices.
How can you tell which historians honor the facts and the truth, regardless of their own biases, and which allow their worldview to color their portrayal of American history?
For me, because I watch the History Channel and have a degree in history, I’m familiar with some of the big-name authors. These people may have a particular bias—they may lean left or right politically, they may give more emphasis to the traditional or to the contemporary view of history—but if I think they practice fair-mindedness when they speak or write on a particular subject, then I’m okay with that.
To give you a specific example, I am, of course, very interested in the Kennedy assassination. I’ve seen many of the experts and witnesses interviewed. So, I know immediately if someone is an over-the-top conspiracy theorist. Even though that view differs from mine, I still want to read the most thoughtful conspiracy theory treatment of the assassination. I happened to find one in G. Robert Blakey’s work. He’s a thoughtful attorney who’s very careful with the JFK assassination—so even though he believes the Mafia killed the president, I read two of his books.
And I would do the same for any area of history. If I thought a World War II historian was fair-minded—even if he leaned in a direction that was different from my view—I’d still read his work.
How do you find a balance between a rose-colored view of American history and an overly negative view?
I think a good example of the tug-of-war between those two positions is how the founding fathers of our nation are portrayed. There are authors who would like to paint all of the founding fathers as rich, white slave owners who took advantage of people. Talk about painting with a broad brush!
Now on the other side, there are historians who will paint all the founding fathers as Christians—and I know that’s not true. Jefferson, for example, was not a Christian. Likely some of these men held a more deistic view, though there were some bright, shining Christian examples.
So, from the two extreme perspectives, they’re either all bad because they didn’t get the issues of race, gender, and class “right” or virtually all the founding fathers were Christian. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. There’s bad and good in the founding fathers of our country. Though from my perspective, mostly good.
As a side note, I don’t really have a problem with a historian using race, gender, and class categories, although, as a Christian, I would prefer truth, goodness, and beauty. I’m not saying that race, gender, and class are unimportant—but I want to know that I’m getting a fair-minded perspective. I want to know that an author is aware of these two extreme views and that he or she is willing to let historical figures shine on their own merit.
I think of the HBO miniseries John Adams. It was, of course, based on a book. I thought there was some balance there. They addressed Adams’ positive qualities, while also dealing with the darker issues of that time. So, I don’t mind if a historian engages in some of the issues that are important today, as long as they address all sides of a story and strive to represent people in their historical contexts.
To give another example, when I was a kid, I read every WWII book I could get my hands on. And back then all these books attributed the cause of the war to evil men who wanted to rule the world. But years later, as I bought WWII books to read with my son, I noticed the causes of the war were grayer. These books had more of a postmodern view of the war. I think that reflects the zeitgeist of our time.
I don’t expect scholars to be perfect. I recognize that they’re going to have political biases. I recognize that they’re going to come from different schools of thought. But I think the really good books are those that make you feel like you’ve engaged the subject without being pushed in one direction. There should be no coercion of the reader to hold a particular view. Let me come to my own conclusions.
When it comes to history, an author needs to be a historian first, a commentator second. For history teachers, they need to be an educator first, an advocate second. The Internet is helpful for researching a particular historian to see if that person will provide “the straight scoop.”
Would you recommend going to original sources, such as letters and diaries?
Yes, absolutely, if you can get them. Some original sources are more available than others; some are more readable. Secondary sources may then help you think through the original source.
I will add that I also recommend reading an author who does think very differently from you. Try to find the best book “on the other side.” Ask, who is the most reasonable, who is the most fair-minded?
I’m not sure if we do enough of that. Naturally, we enjoy being around people who think like we do. It’s more comfortable that way. Yet what if we’re missing something? I like to hear perspectives from outside my own view—but they have to be reasonable.
Could you recommend a few trustworthy historians for people to look into?
I’ll recommend a few authors on specific historical topics. On WWII, I appreciate Stephen Ambrose and John Keegan. Concerning the assassination of President Kennedy, I recommend William Manchester and John K. Lattimer. With regard to America’s founding fathers, I like David McCullough, the author of John Adams.
God is always with us, a gracious and consoling presence on the journey of life, even as we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
— Alister E. McGrath, Surprised by Meaning (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2011), 6.
Guest article from Dr. Andrew Corbett, senior pastor at Legana Christian Church in Tasmania
Each Sunday I have something to say to my congregation about the defense of our faith. In fact, I must say something. For example, when Lawrence Krauss was featured in the Australian media for “proving (scientifically) that God did not exist” (see here and here). I had a pastoral duty to address Krauss’ claims before my church. Largely because of what I’ve learned from Reasons to Believe (RTB), I was able to describe Krauss’ assertions in understandable language to my congregation and help them recognize how unconvincing a case these claims were for atheism.
It can’t be left there, of course. Church leaders must continually point out the truthfulness of the Bible as supported by history, philosophy, biology, astronomy, mathematics, cosmology, and geology. Pastors don’t have to preach about these things—but they are wise to intentionally draw upon them to illustrate Scripture’s reliability, in order to reach an increasingly skeptical world.
Getting Equipped for Apologetics
Discovering RTB greatly aided my journey toward pastoral apologetics (see part 1 of this series). In my opinion, this ministry is also the premier apologetics training resource for busy pastors. The RTB scholar team gleans the latest scientific discoveries from the literature of various scientific disciplines and discusses the philosophical and theological concerns of the day—all in layman’s terms that even a pastor like me can understand. One of the most attractive features of RTB’s ministry is that they offer resources in so many formats—books, articles, videos, and podcasts—so that even a car trip can be turned into an apologetics classroom!
By acquiring the skills and utilizing the appropriate resources, any pastor can be equipped in apologetics. When pastors take the time to do these things it helps to attract people in science-based professions to church and, better yet, encourages them to trust the God of the Bible. But perhaps even more urgently, it is pastors’ duty to be ready to help those in their charge who are struggling with resolvable doubts—resolvable if pastors use apologetics.
Inviting an apologist to be a guest speaker is a good way to introduce a congregation to apologetics. After Kenneth Samples visited our church in Tasmania for a weekend—where we held several apologetics events, including church services—many of our young people realized that Christianity was intellectually and philosophically rigorous. Two years later, when RTB biochemist Dr. Fazale (Fuz) Rana visited for a weekend, many of these young people invited their skeptical science buddies. Fuz rocked their worlds with evidence for a Creator from an examination of a biological cell. My congregants still talk about Fuz’s visit as a life-changing event.
This past spring RTB founder Dr. Hugh Ross was a guest at our church. He was able to build on the foundation laid by Ken and Fuz. We continue to receive reports of people who have come to faith in Christ from skeptical backgrounds and believers who can now see the concordance between faith in the God of the Bible and the scientific record.
The Necessity of Science-Savvy Pastors
When pastors commit to show their people how the glory of God can be seen in a biological cell or astronomy, they run the risk of alienating some people who have been taught that science is the enemy of the Christian faith. When my church announced Dr. Ross’ visit, it created quite a stir. Compatibility between science and the Bible is strongly rejected by some in the Christian community. But pastors should not shy away from wisely and winsomely pastoring with apologetics to show even the newest scientific discoveries give great weight to the gospel.
I recently interviewed the Reverend Dr. Gordon Moyes, Australia’s most renowned and successful preacher, for a documentary I’m producing on the life of F. W. Boreham. Dr. Moyes (now a retired leader of a church and its various ministries staffed by over 4,000 people) described Boreham as one of the greatest influences on his own life and ministry. When the main interview concluded, I asked Dr. Moyes what he would do if he were a young pastor starting out his ministry today. “Astrophysics and astronomy!” he said. “I would learn all I could about these disciplines because these are most exciting realms of science for any preacher today and they hold the greatest fascination of any of the sciences in the mind of the public!”
I returned home to Tasmania with these words ringing in my ears. I then picked up a volume written by Boreham himself, one of the most successful apologetics pastors of all time. Writing in 1938, Boreham states,
Truth can never be the enemy of truth. The truth that the astronomer discovers in the stars cannot be at variance with the truth that the geologist finds in the strata. The truth that breaks upon our vision in the twentieth century is in perfect harmony with the truth that was brought to light in the first century…For a long time the scientist interpreted Nature in one way, and the theologian interpreted the Bible in another. The inevitable discord led thoughtless people to suppose that, in some inexplicable way, a discrepancy existed between the natural and the religious view of things. Now everybody knows that the discrepancy—if indeed, there be one—is not between the things themselves, but between the faulty interpretations of those things. As those interpretations become more enlightened, more sympathetic and more intelligent, the gulf that divides them becomes small by degrees and beautifully less.1
The journey to becoming an apologetic pastor involves recognizing what Clement of Alexandria said in the Second Century, “All truth is God’s truth, wherever it might be found.” That is, the God who inspired, revealed, and uniquely authorized His Scriptures, is also the God who says in these Scriptures that the natural world reveals Him as its Creator.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19–20)
In other words, the natural world and our careful study of it can be trusted as a source of knowledge about the Creator-God. Because Scripture states that creation reveals a God who is the Creator of the universe, apologetic pastors can and should be open to the truths revealed and confirmed in the various disciplines of science, such as biology, astronomy, cosmology, and geology.
These are not the usual subjects taught at seminary. Fortunately, the RTB scholar team frequently discusses and writes about them in a manner and length ideal for pastors seeking to include apologetics in their preaching and effectively shepherd their people in an age of increasing skepticism toward biblical Christianity.
By Dr. Andrew Corbett
Dr. Andrew Corbett received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Cambridge Graduate School (USA), in 2001. He is the senior pastor of Legana Christian Church in Tasmania and president of ICI Theological College Australia.
Find out more about Ken’s visit to Dr. Corbett’s church in Legana, Tasmania, in these previous posts: “Apologetics Down Under, Part 1 and Part 2.” You can also listen to Ken interview Dr. Corbett on the Straight Thinking podcast.