I became a Christian at 24 after a cancer diagnosis. I had been an atheist for 10 years but came to God in desperation. I left Capitol Hill (and politics altogether) to learn about Christianity. I attended what many believed was a conservative seminary but had slowly slipped into liberalism by the time I arrived in 1999. I was sold on “higher criticism” (or a skeptical approach to the historicity and inerrency of Scripture) and joined the then growing “Emergent Church” movement. Within a few years, I was where Rob Bell is now–a soft universalist with a condescending attitude toward conservatives. Yet, I was also spiritually dead and was struggling with depression. I was quickly headed back to the atheism I had thought I had left behind while praying for my life.
During this time of personal struggle, my wife and I were helping a small church in Charleston, West Virginia. When an elder learned my wife had a degree in micro-biology and had helped overseen a science program at Cornell, he asked her to meet with the youth group and answer their questions about science and the faith. In preparation, she picked up the book The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel (Zondervan 2005). She devoured the book and went on and on about wonderful it was and how I had to read it. I resisted as the cover struck me as “fundamentalist nonsense.” Yet, she persisted and it became clear that either I was going to read the book or spend a few nights on the couch!
I opened the book with a bad attitude. After all, my seminary professors had told me that “apologetics is dead!” and that “Generation-X and -Y desired experience not ‘answers.’” I was even more resistant when I saw the first few chapters take on evolution. I was convinced Genesis 1-11 was all myth, Darwin had been proven correct and that only nutters questioned it. But after reading Strobel’s interaction with Dr. Jonathan Wells and Dr. Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute, I realized I had no real counter argument to intelligent design.
The Case for a Creator is one of my favorite apologetics books. I have read it once, but I’ve listened to the audio version TEN TIMES. This book more than any other is the perfect introduction to science apologetics for beginners. I really recommend the audio book as a companion to the print version.
When I read this post by Pastor Matt, I felt that his faith was not just castles built in the sky. A lot of pastors basically start by assuming (without any evidence) that the Bible is correct in everything it says, and then they start lecturing everyone else about what the Bible says without ever having done a moment of investigation into the evidence for or against what they are preaching about. They’ve never read anyone who disagrees with them, and they don’t know how to explain what they believe to anyone outside the church walls. I have to tell you that this is one of the the most uncomfortable feelings to have when you are not yet a Christian. You are in a building filled with people who don’t know whether what they believe is true. You are being lectured by a man who typically has no idea how to show others that what he is talking about is true, except for appealing to feelings. I don’t know about you, but that really makes me uncomfortable. I trust people more when I know they are good at something practical, like mechanical engineering, medicine, automobile mechanics, weight-lifting, nutrition or cooking. When you read outside the Bible, it’s basically treating Christianity like it’s a real area of knowledge. That makes me interested, because it means we are talking about something real, not just a personal preference or a subjective experience or a community custom.
Pastor Matt is different. He’s read tons of stuff outside the Bible, and he’s not presupposing anything when he preaches about God and Jesus. He’s got informed beliefs about this stuff. He’s authentic. And you can see the strength of his convictions by looking at what he’s read. He talks about his faith like we might talk about our professions. We have convictions about what we do that creates value for others because we know how to do it. When a pastor reads a lot on logic, philosophy, history and science, then he is able to know whether what he says he believes is really true or not out there in the real world. When I listen to my pastor and look at our church book store, I get very disappointed. It makes me wonder why I can’t go to a church like Pastor Matt’s church. Wouldn’t that be great? I would really fly out of bed on Sunday morning if I thought “what is he going to teach on this morning, that I can use at work on Monday morning?” I am always interested in hearing what someone else knows. I am one of those people who is always asking the dentist, the doctor, the mechanic, and the food preparers “how did you do that?” I even got the recipe for the cilantro-lime rice that Chipotle makes by asking the woman who was making my burrito bowl. How did you do it? I want to know how you know.
I have a good friend of mine right now who is going through a tough time with her church. She keeps telling me that Sunday school is very emotional, and clearly designed to comfort people and make them feel “gooey” (her word). This is a woman who is on fire academically and is making tons of money in a summer job in her field. She just got a new scholarship, too. She keeps thinking that Sunday school is supposed to be the time to learn about difficult things and practical things. It’s causing her to really get bored with church and even to look for a new church. I think a lot of young people are tired of being entertained in church, and they would like to get their minds on some real knowledge about God and what he’s done in history and in nature. I’ll bet that Pastor Matt doesn’t have any problems packing his church with young people. Young people can tell when someone really knows what they are talking about, the same way that a dentist knows about teeth, or that a tax preparer knows about tax laws.