Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Jonathan McLatchie: advice to young aspiring apologists

Lots of good advice from someone who I think is the most promising Christian apologist aged 25 and under.

About the writer:

Jonathan has been a Christian since 1996, having had the privilege of being raised in a Christian home. He has become interested in Christian apologetics over the last 4 or 5 years. He holds an honors degree in Forensic Biology, and a Masters (M.Res) degree in Evolutionary Biology. He is a proponent of the scientific theory of intelligent design (ID), about which he has written extensively on Evolution News & Views and Uncommon Descent, in addition to being involved with the Centre for Intelligent Design UK. He is also a contributor to various apologetics websites, including CrossExamined.org, AllAboutGod.com, and GotQuestions.org. He has participated in a number of summer internships: those have been with the Discovery Institute in Seattle, with AllAboutGod in Colorado Springs, and with Frank Turek in Charlotte. He is also a graduate of the CrossExamined Instructor Academy (CIA) and the Discovery Institute’s student summer seminar program. Outside of his academic interests, he is also a tournament chess player, with a FIDE (International Chess Federation) rating of 1855.

The post lists 13 lessons, here is one:

Lesson 1: Be Careful How Early You Enter into the Public Arena

It’s perfectly natural that, when you have a new idea, you want to share it with the world. Over the last decade or so, there has been an explosion in the popularity of online blogging, which has given people the ability to spread ideas and information quickly. This has its obvious advantages, but it also has some significant risk factors and draw-backs, especially for young people. Among these is the fact that what you publish publicly on the internet is effectively public material forever.

Why might that be a risk-factor for young people? When you’re young, your views and ideas are still in the process of crystallising. Being less wedded to a given paradigm than those of the older generation means you are more likely to revise your position or change your mind on certain issues. I, for one, have seen an evolution in my own views and arguments over the past five years. Your arguments also become more refined and sophisticated over time as you learn from the experience of defending them and conversing with people who are better acquainted with a given field than you are. You also become increasingly better informed as you read more and more about a subject. Imagine the frustration, then, when someone Googles your name, and the first hit is to an article you wrote some four or five years ago, articulating views or argumentation which you would no longer defend. You may well have expressed your current views and better refined arguments elsewhere, but that is not necessarily the first thing people will see. Things you said years ago can come back to haunt you for years. So, exercise caution!

A second danger here is that some areas relating to apologetics present particular risk factor when seeking employment in certain professions. For example, in the academic environment in which we currently find ourselves, being overtly public about your views on biological design may land you in seriously hot water when it comes to building a career in that field. The modern formulation of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection has become so entrenched in modern academia that people do not want to put their own careers in jeopardy by being associated with someone who has public affiliations to intelligent design. Similarly, as we have seen with increasing frequency, public criticism of same-sex marriage may land you in hot water in certain career paths.

My advice would thus be to give careful consideration to how early you enter into the public arena to express your views. Think about allowing them to crystallise first. Otherwise, a pseudonym or alias may be a relatively safe option.

It’s true for any profession, as this week’s Brendan Eich story proved. I really recommend that younger Christians consider using an alias when writing on controversial topics. You do not want people to search for your name and find Christian views that are no longer popular in the culture as a whole. People do screen you for “fit” with a company. And Christian conservatives do not fit with many companies. Just ask Mozilla. Even giving a donation is now enough to get you labeled.

Sometimes the consequences for speaking out under your real name can be even worse than not getting a job, or getting fired. Some countries have Human Rights Commissions, which are tribunals where groups favored by the left can sue conservative and/or Christian persons for offending them with speech. And if you write about Islam under your real name, you might get a visit from some angry extremists. These are all things to consider before you write under your own name.

Filed under: Mentoring, , ,

Pastor Matt discusses his past experiences as an atheist – part 2

Here’s another post from Pastor Matt that I think offers some more helpful insight into how we should approach young people with Christianity. The point of this post is that relationships matter.

Excerpt:

When I was attending North Hollywood High in the fall of 1990, there was a kid in one of my classes who often followed me on my walk home to my apartment off of Magnolia Boulevard.  He did the Four Spiritual Laws and Roman Road presentation.  He spoke about he and his family’s faith in Jesus and wanted to know if I would come with them to church.  But he never asked a single question about me personally.  I always declined his invitations and eventually he moved on to someone else.

[...]Looking back, I had a very fuzzy understanding of the Gospel.  I (and I think many people who call themselves Christians) are what theologians call “semi-Pelagians.”  I believed anyone could come to the altar but if they wanted to continue to be welcomed in the pews, they had to clean up their act and do so almost overnight.  The culture of Christianity at large appeared to me to be that if you came to faith and continued to struggle with lust, a foul mouth or whatnot then there was just something wrong with you.  I felt the church was more about behavior modification than grace.

I needed someone who I knew loved me to sit down with me long before all of these problems arose, look me in the eye and tell me how easy and how difficult it is to be a Christian.  I needed someone cared for me to unpack 2 Corinthians 5:21 and point out that by being “in Christ” I would be judged by Christ’s perfect life instead of my own.  I needed to know that the faith is not about “keeping the rules” but about doing things and not doing certain things to show my love and gratitude to God for what He did for me.  I needed to be able to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in a way that always pointed to Jesus Christ.  I needed to understand that God has graciously given us the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, serving the poor, worship, etc. to help me grow.  I needed to hear that all Christians struggle with sin and will, to a certain degree, until they go to be with the Lord or He returns to be with us.

I needed good theology, good spiritual practices, good apologetics and good relationships.  I needed  knowledge and it needed to come from someone who I knew loved me even though I was thoroughly unlovable.  You can’t just leave this to the church staff because they do not have to time to meet with everyone and people with a chip on their shoulder about the church (like I had) feel like they are just doing it as part of their job.  All young people in the church, especially the “troubled kids” need this.  It is a lot of work but anyone’s eternity is worth it, isn’t it?

I think that I do my best work away from the blog when I take on atheists or new Christians or Christians who want to grow one on one and focus on them for long periods of time. Sometimes, it’s talking to them on Skype. Sometimes, it’s rewards for doing well in school or in their Christian lives. But all the best work is done one on one. That’s when you really get a chance to get to know people and to care about them.

I think the most important thing you can tell a young Christian is to focus less on mere following of the rules. I always ask them more about making a plan for their lives that achieves something amazing for God’s kingdom, while still not breaking any of the rules. The following the rules is not the key thing to focus on. The key thing here is your relationship with God. So you should find out what needs doing, and just do it. If it’s intelligent design research, then do it. If it’s finding early NT manuscripts, then do it. If it’s working for the ADF defending religious liberty at the Supreme Court, then do it. If it’s becoming a Christian professor at a secular university, then do it. If it’s debating an atheist cosmologist, then do it. If it’s promoting the free market system which alleviates poverty, then do it. If it’s protecting democratic countries from aggression by being a soldier, then do it. Stop making Christianity a dull prison, and start making it a blank canvas for a masterpiece.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Pastor Matt discusses his past experiences as an atheist – part 1

Don’t worry, he was an atheist then, and now he’s pastor Matt, thanks to God’s grace.

This post Pastor Matt talks about why he was once an atheist.

Excerpt:

I am sometimes asked, by both skeptics and believers alike, why I was once an atheist and what convinced me to become a Christian.  I will answer the latter in another post but let me deal with the former now.

I am a “PK” or “preacher’s kid.”  My father served as the founding pastor of the largest church in southern Ohio.  It is a non-denominational, evangelical congregation that grew very quickly.

As a PK, I was privy to a lot of “inside information” and it was not encouraging.  I learned men and women who sang hymns with passion and shouted “Amen!” with gusto during the sermon were cheating on their spouse or on their taxes.

By the time I was a teenager I understood why those who called themselves Christians lived secret lives–they wanted to believe but really didn’t.  I understood because I became one of them.

I was an active member of an ’80′s evangelical youth group.  So, I rocked out to Stryper, had comedian Pat Hurley tapes and volunteered for the children’s ministry, which consisted of videotaping episodes of Superbook and The Flying House for the kids.  However, I actually seriously doubted if God even existed.

I was struggling with the normal sins of a teenager and begged for help in prayer.  I also petitioned God on a regular basis to feel His presence but that didn’t happen either.

I eventually came to the conclusion that Christianity simply didn’t work.  I declared myself an atheist at age fifteen and remained an unbeliever for the next ten years.

I ran away from home at age fifteen as well eventually making my way to Hollywood.  During those days I partied like it was 1999 (until 1997) and like Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying decades before, I came to not even want God to be real because even the possibility interfered with my desire to create my own morality.

Christianity is not something where you just profess it and suddenly you are automatically perfect. You get the gift of eternal life immediately by faith in Christ, but becoming more like Christ takes time. It’s easier to act consistently with the teachings of Christ if you have spent the time studying, practicing and growing as a Christian. You shouldn’t expect perfect behavior on day one – that is crazy. You should expect that as your beliefs become more solid, then your outward actions will change naturally. And often what you hear at home and in the church is not the best for finding truth through investigation and debate.

It would be terrible to have to put out “good” actions when you never settled the questions of what is true and how are we going to apply what is true in our own decisions. Sometimes, I think that young Christians face too much pressure to appear to be perfect when no one has been willing to help them work through the grounding for the behaviors they are expected to display. And I think a lot of the behaviors they are expected to display are either not important or not Biblical. Behaving like a  Christian should be natural – it should proceed from free inquiry, not dogmatism.

Now I’m skipping a lot, but here is his advice for people who were in his situation:

I’ll get to my conversion later but keep in mind: (1) just because a person attends a church, even if they are a PK, that he or she truly comprehends the Gospel because I didn’t a full understanding; (2) pastors need to constantly remind their parishioners that sin is easy and living for Christ is difficult because believers are part of a cosmic struggle; (3) the spiritual disciplines are invaluable especially so for young people; and (4) there are many solid arguments for the existence of God and few for materialism and all Christians deserve to know them.

I’ve spent some time mentoring young Christians who had fallen away for some period of  time, and I always make a point of asking them why. Their answer is usually something like this: “I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t care because no one else cared.” The first thing to do with a person who is rebelling is to get in there and start to ask them questions and get involved in helping them to succeed in their lives. People do bad things because they feel that no one cares. So you better start caring for these young people, whether they are smart, dumb, pretty, ugly, poor, rich, popular, unpopular – it doesn’t matter. They all have souls, and they were all made to know God. Get in there and be real with them before they make a mess of their lives.

 

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Two mentoring posts from Amy Hall and Melissa Cain Travis

I found a couple of posts from two women apologists that I wanted to highlight for you today.

Amy Hall

Let’s start with Amy Hall, who blogs at Stand to Reason’s blog.

She found a quotation from Richard Wurmbrand, which I will reproduce in full.

But first, let’s see who he is (I had never heard of him).

Excerpt:

The founder of the Voice of the Martyrs, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, loved people. He and his wife, Sabina, had a great passion to lead others to Christ.

 

We have written about his courage as he stood alone among more than 1,000 leaders to denounce the control of Romanian communism. The communists had closed Sunday schools and oppressed the church. Pastor Wurmbrand resisted the communists’ control of the church and went underground. He held services for youth attending his church in front of the lion’s den at the Bucharest Zoo to prepare them for battle with the world. Pastor Wurmbrand led his little Lutheran congregation, composed of many Jewish converts, to the Bucharest train station to toss Russian Gospels into the windows of passing trains filled with invading Russian soldiers. The soldiers kept the Gospels. For many such acts of aggressive love, he and his wife both went to prison.

When Richard and Sabina began the work of VOM in October 1967 in America, some might think they would have been changed by living in an open, wealthy nation where everything could come easy for famous, gifted people. But their love, their burden — whether for helping those persecuted abroad or right next door — remained the same.

Pastor Wurmbrand woke up early in the morning with long lists of names of people. One by one, he would pray for them. He and Sabina fasted one day a week.

One night there was a great crash. Richard, now in his 70s, had fallen on the bathroom floor and fractured his skull. The next morning in his hospital room, he began to pull on his clothes to leave. The frantic nurses came in to tell him he could not get up. He said, “How can I sit in bed with only a little pain in my head when I am supposed to speak in Berlin where the people suffer much more than I do?” At the time, Berlin, Germany, was a walled-off city surrounded by the East German communist military. He flew to Germany.

After coming to America, Pastor Wurmbrand never owned a house or a car. Being older, he took driving lessons but was kindly told by the instructor that it would be better to save his money. On one of their trips flying overseas, he and Sabina would approach an airline counter with about 12 suitcases of clothes they had purchased at a used clothing store, clothes to be carried into communist Eastern Europe for persecuted Christians. The stunned airline agents crumbled under their heartfelt appeal and let them take the clothes.

When Richard and Sabina passed from earth, the house they lived in was sold and the funds used for international ministry. They had moved to an eternal house.

I know I am not as good as this man, but I do admire him. I’m grateful for his courage and focus.

Now let’s see what Amy quoted from Pastor Wurmbrand in her post.

Excerpt:

What shall we do about these tortures? Will we be able to bear them?… And here comes the great need for the role of preparation for suffering which must start now. It is too difficult to prepare yourself for it when the Communists have put you in prison.

I remember my last Confirmation class before I left Romania. I took a group of ten to fifteen boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to a church, but to the zoo. Before the cage of lions I told them, “Your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith. Know that you also will have to suffer. You will not be thrown before lions, but you will have to do with men who would be much worse than lions. Decide here and now if you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.” They had tears in their eyes when they said yes.

We have to make the preparation now, before we are imprisoned. In prison you lose everything. You are undressed and given a prisoner’s suit. No more nice furniture, nice carpets, or nice curtains. You do not have a wife any more and you do not have your children. You do not have your library and you never see a flower. Nothing of what makes life pleasant remains. Nobody resists who has not renounced the pleasures of life beforehand.

Then Amy has some very stirring, sober words for us, which you can read in her post. I recommend you click through and read her last four paragraphs. I liked what she had to say, but I also think that we should redouble our efforts to preserve the liberty we have in the face of attacks from the secular left. The communists in Romania were on the secular left, much the same as our own Democrat Party are today. Persecution does bring out the best in some, but I would prefer not to be persecuted, or to see others persecuted. Let’s try our best to keep our freedoms until there is no alternative left.

Melissa Cain Travis

The second post is from Melissa Cain Travis on her blog Hard Core Christianity. Melissa is a famous science apologist, lecturer at HBU, and author of apologetics books for children. Her post offers advice to apologists.

She writes:

A year or so into my grad school work, I tentatively assumed the role of public apologist. The landmark day was in the summer of 2010, when I instituted this blog to formally make myself available to both believers and non-believers struggling with questions about the alleged truths of Christianity. Not surprisingly, as I’ve worked to educate others, I have learned many valuable lessons on what to do and what not to do in apologetics ministry. For the benefit of apologists of all levels, I’d like to share a couple of important insights that may change the way you see and practice this discipline at the interpersonal level.

I’m going to tell you what your job is NOT.

Here’s one of the things your job is NOT:

You are not a spoon-feeder. I have found that many folks, abrasive atheists/agnostics in particular, aren’t willing to undertake serious research on their own. They’re armed with a hundred pop-atheism talking points that have long been answered, which goes to show they haven’t investigated the opposing viewpoint at all. Instead, they expect you to take a significant amount of time out of your schedule to distill your entire bank of knowledge on a topic into a few paragraphs and then relay it to them on social media or by email. If you do go to the effort, they often wave their hand at your response and change the subject. Don’t fall into this trap. Pay attention to verbal cues and the attitude of the individual to determine whether or not they are sincerely interested in your answers, give them a sentence or two to chew on and then direct them to a book, article, or lecture by a reputable scholar. If they come back at a later date, having studied the sources, further dialogue is warranted, so long as they maintain a respectful tone. If they simply dismiss your words and suggestions with poor logic, make snide comments about the scholars you recommend, or change the subject, cut off the conversation and stop wasting your time. Such a person is a distraction from ministry, not a legitimate beneficiary. Often, such persons will try to goad you into arguing with them further by questioning the depth or breadth of your knowledge or even your credentials. Don’t succumb to the temptation to defend yourself. Never forget that one of the strongest tactics of the Enemy is to keep you busy with futile business.

Click on through for the rest. The rest of the advice is just as good. The whole post is worth reading if you are finding yourself frustrated in your discussions.

I know several people who are just starting out in apologetics who keep spending time on people who are not interested in doing any serious studying.

Earlier this year, I was mentoring a young lady from Canada who was constantly focusing on discussing apologetics with atheists with no academic background. I kept giving her scientific papers and the like, and she would never give those to the atheists. She would just offer her opinions, and then her quarry would reply with a quote from some atheist comedian or a Youtube video and around and around it went. It was like she was afraid of offending them with complicated material. I think the best thing to do is to stand up atheists with peer-reviewed papers at the start and then let them rant at it with their opinions and leave them to it. People reading can tell the difference between Science Daily and the Daily Show. Don’t reply to any replies that are not related to the evidence. You’re wasting your time if you do. There is a lot of stand-up comedy in the world of atheism, and if that clowning around what people are impressed by, it’s best not to talk to them at all.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , ,

Courage under fire: Ronald Speirs and Easy Company at the Battle of Foy

I  try to occasionally post something that shows a particularly brave action from some time and place in military history. For example, I previously wrote about Medal of Honor winner Michael Murphy in 2011. Last year, his story was told more widely in the movie “Lone Survivor”, which I recommend to everyone. Today I want to highlight another hero: Ronald Speirs.

It is January 1945 and the famous “Screaming Eagles”, the 101st Airborne division, are about to turn the tide of the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne.

Let’s read about the Battle of Foy courtesy of a scenario description from the wargame “Flames of War”. (Note: LMG = light machine gun, in this case, a .30 caliber machine gun)

Excerpt:

E or ‘Easy’ Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, like the rest of the division, was ordered on to the attack on 9 January 1945 as part of a general offensive to drive back the Germans from Bastogne. In the following days the 506th Regiment, along with the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, cleared the forests around the town of Foy and pushed the Germans out. Their next objective was to take Foy to allow the 11th Armored Division to attack from Foy across the fields northeast towards Noville.

[...]At 0900 hours on 13 January Easy Company attacked along the western edge of Foy, along the road. The new year had brought heavy snow and the it blanketed the ground and had reduced temperatures to well below zero. 2nd Battalion commander, Captain Dick Winters, had two section of LMGs deployed on the edge of the woods facing Foy to give Easy Company covering fire while they crossed the 250 yards of open field between the forest and Foy’s buildings. There were just a few scattered trees and haystacks to give cover. As Easy Company advance the covering fire did its job, limiting the fire on the paratroopers to sporadic rifle shots. The approach on Foy made good pace under the cover of the LMG fire, but about 75 yards out from the edge of the village the skirmish line halted and the paratroopers hunkered down in the snow. Captain Winters stared in disbelief, wondering what was going on.

Lieutenant Dike, who was commanding Easy Company, had been overwhelmed with indecision. It became obvious to Winters that Dike didn’t know what he was doing, or had had a failure of confidence. His immediate impulse was to take command himself, but he noticed Lieutenant Ronald Speirs, a capable platoon commander from D Company, standing nearby. Winters ordered Speirs to take command of Easy Company and get the attack moving again. What Speirs did next amazed many of the paratroopers who witnessed it.

On receiving his orders from Winters, Speirs immediately ran at full speed down to where Dike and his HQ had taken cover behind a haystack and told Dike his orders, ‘I’m here to take over’. After quickly being told of the situation by the NCOs he ran off towards Foy. The men of Easy Company immediately followed. On reaching the outskirt buildings of Foy, Speirs immediately sought to link up with I Company of 3rd Battalion who, despite only having 25 men, were supporting the attack from the other flank of Foy. He set off running again, through the German lines, to find I Company’s commander. After consulting with its commander, Captain Gene Brown, he turned around and dashed back through Foy and the surprised Germans. Through all this the enemy fired on him with machine-guns, rifles and guns, but not a single shot hit its mark.

Now with all that said, watch the two clips below, and pay close attention the faces of the men under Lieutenant Dike, and then later under Lieutenant Speirs. Pay close attention to how Speirs’ courage inspires the men under him to also be courageous. Especially First Sergeant Lipton, who later risks his own life to draw fire from a German sniper so that Shifty Powers can prevent any other troops from being killed by the sniper.

The two clips are from “Band of Brothers”, the episode entitled “The Breaking Point“. There is some coarse language, but no sexual language in it. Really, if you are squeamish, do not watch it. However, if you can handle it, then buy the whole DVD set. It will inspire you, and help you to do things that you didn’t think were possible. If you really want to understand the men of E Company, you can read a book by Stephen E. Ambrose called Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (New York, 1992).

Low resolution clip, includes briefing at the beginning

This video is lower resolution, but show Winters reflecting on how Lipton had asked him not to let Dike lead the attack the night before, and also Winters carefully explaining to Dike that the American attack has to keep moving or they will get pinned down by machine guns and zeroed-in by mortars and destroyed.

I like that one because it shows the briefing, but the next clip is in 720HD.

High resolution clip, does not include briefing

This is a higher resolution version that is only 8.5 minutes long, but doesn’t have the briefing.

If you listen closely when Speirs explains what everyone is going to do, you can here one of the NCOs say “thank God” as he pats the other on the back.

Leadership

To be a good military leader, you have to know many things. A knowledge of strategy and tactics, a knowledge of military history, the ability to see the battlefield, knowledge of your opponent, knowledge of weapons, and so on. But surely the greatest of these is courage. As Von Clausewitz says in his famous book “On War”, “War is the province of danger, and therefore courage above all things is the first quality of a warrior.” Nothing inspires troops like a commander who is willing to take on the same risks that he asks his troops to take.

Take a look at this article from the Ivey School of Business journal, which talks about the characteristics of Canadian generals in Afghanistan.

Excerpt:

A leader must be in front of subordinates.  This takes courage.  Leadership from the front encapsulates the adage, never ask a subordinate to do something that you, the leader, wouldn’t do.  In Afghanistan, the leader must not only be in front, but he or she must be seen to be in front.  Subordinates seek this reassurance from their leaders at all levels.  Though they may be tentative, leaders must demonstrate character and moral strength.  Their credibility is inextricably dependent on their ability to do so..  During his frequent visits to Afghanistan, former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Rick Hillier, made a point of visiting troops that were situated in some of the most IED-laden areas of the Canadian sector.  Through his demonstrated courage, he inspired leaders of all levels.  “If the CDS goes there, so can I” was the resulting mindset.  The current CDS, General Walt Natynczyk, has successfully continued this practice.

[...]All leaders need courage. It is the lynchpin of effective leadership.  No one respects a wimp who will buy in to any idea no matter how inane it might be.  Courage is having the strength of character to persist and hold on to ideas in the face of opposition.  Here, I’m not restricting my treatment of courage as it relates to fear.  It’s also about strength of character and devotion to causes and ideas.

As Christians, we have a leader who led by example. We all need to learn to not be so concerned with looking out for ourselves and our happiness first, but to instead be willing to take risks and sacrifice ourselves to do the right thing. We Christians should all be courageous, because we are led by a courageous leader.

That doesn’t necessarily mean going halfway across the world, it can mean reaching out to someone right there next to you who needs your help and support. Maybe that person has been running on an empty tank for a long time, but still trying to do the right thing. You never know when the opportunity to do something amazing will arise, but you won’t take it if you keep thinking of how you might get hurt. You have to reconcile yourself that you are not here to avoid every possible kind of suffering. It doesn’t mean that you take unnecessary risks, but it does mean not letting fear stop you from doing the right thing.

Now get out there and take that attack on in.

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