Is It Okay to Question Beliefs?

Over the years, I have talked with a number of people who have been told in response to their questioning about God, “You just don’t have enough faith,” or “You just need to read your Bible.” Some were given such a response in their childhood years; others, in their teenage to young adult years. In every situation described, the result was damaging to the person’s belief in God. I don’t know the mind of the responder, nor the reason why such a response would be given. However, I can say that Christians should thoughtfully engage with questions about doubt. 

In Paul Copan’s book, “A Little Book for New Philosophers,” he cites several reasons as to why we should engage. Let’s look at a couple reasons.

  1. Doubting is common to the human experience. 

God knows his creation. He is not caught off guard by our questioning, even of his own actions. Copan explains that there are instances of humans questioning God’s seeming silence on the issue of evil in the world (Psalm 13, 73). We even see humans questioning his harsh actions; for example, King David’s anger with God when God struck Uzzah dead for steadying the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:1-10). The Scriptures do not gloss over human doubt, nor treat it with contempt. In the Scriptures there is much “comfort, guidance and direction for doubting saints.”[1] As Jude 22 expresses, “Have mercy on those who doubt.”

  1. Doubts need to be processed, not suppressed.

“Insofar as we are able, doubts should be expressed, sorted out and addressed—and this should be done in Christian community.” Copan describes that we need “godly, thoughtful, and seasoned Christians—philosophers included—to assist us and help strengthen our trust in God along the way.”[2]

Ignoring our doubts, or just getting on with life—in hopes the doubts will work themselves out—can be damaging to our knowledge of God, and therefore to our trust of him. When we doubt God’s existence, we cannot reasonably trust him (Hebrews 11:6). I have found that doubts typically do not just go away. Rather, doubts tend to linger mysteriously in the human mind, affecting many aspects of our life in ways we may not overtly comprehend. So we need to bring our thoughts about God out into the open with those who can aptly and graciously engage those thoughts. 

Therefore, “yes,” it is okay to question beliefs. In reading through the Scriptures, in context, we see that God allows us to wrestle with him in our questioning and even invites us to reason with him. He wants us to use the gift of rationality that he has given to human beings. He is aware that gift will produce difficult questions.

We will look at two more reasons from Paul Copan’s book in our next Questioning blog post.

You can pick up a copy of Copan’s short book, “A Little Book for New Philosophers,” here.

 

[1] Paul Copan. A Little Book for New Philosophers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 105.

[2] Ibid., 106.

Mary Jo to be Featured on Iron Sharpens Iron Radio Program

Tomorrow (Thursday, April 13th, 2017) Mary Jo will be a guest on the Iron Sharpens Iron radio program with Chris Arnzen. The show will be live from 4:00-6:00 p.m. EST.

The first hour she will be discussing her personal testimony of abandoning atheism and embracing Jesus Christ and His Gospel, and the second hour she will talk about apologetics in women’s ministry.

If you can’t tune in live, we will post the link to the program after it airs!

Consider Summit Ministries This Summer

Do current trends in society set your teeth on edge? Do you fear for the changes yet to come in the lifetime of your kids? Can I make a recommendation? If you have a 16-21 year old that you know and love, send them to Summit Ministries.

For over 50 years, thousands of families have trusted Summit. Graduates have gone on to be leaders in every facet of society. The Summit 12-day course (in CO, TN, & CA) prepares young adults to stand for truth and gives them opportunities to think deeply about subjects like gender issues, sanctity of life, biblical economics and more.

Now is the time to invest in preparing mature, thoughtful, and focused young leaders. I think Summit is key. That’s why I’m honored to be on their Board of Reference.

Find out more and register your young leader by 5pm MTN on March 31st to receive early-bird discount of $200 off.  Receive an additional $200 off their conferences in California and Tennessee! www.summit.org/student

Responding: When People Call You Judgmental

How do you respond when people call you judgmental?

I first ask, “What do you mean by that?” I want to discover how the person understands his or her own use of the term “judgmental.” I also want to know what they found to be a “judgmental” statement on my behalf.

In the logic course I teach at Houston Baptist University, our text is broken up into the three acts of the mind: understanding, judgment and reasoning. Notice the second act of the mind, judgment. A judgment is when we put two concepts in relation to one another. Typically a judgment is a declarative sentence. For example, “The professor’s 10:30 a.m. logic class is the class with the highest grade average of all the professor’s classes.” This declarative sentence has told the reader something about the professor’s 10:30 a.m. logic class. A judgment has been made in this statement. Does that make the author of the statement a judgmental person? No.

While a person may find my above example tedious, if not out right boring, it has immense value in today’s marketplace of ideas. Human beings are the kind of things that make judgments. We do it all the time. A judgment happens whenever we make a declarative statement. So in some sense, we are actually all judgmental people (which relates to one of the definitions of “judgmental”). Making judgments does not equal being judgmental…even when discussing a hot topic issue.

Mary Jo Sharp on Pearls of Wisdom

A few weeks ago, Mary Jo was privileged to be a guest on Katherine Barner’s radio program, Pearls of Wisdom. They discussed the importance of defending your faith.

Listen below and let us know what you think!

How C.S. Lewis Wrecked My American Christmas

I grew up dreaming of a white Christmas with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Christmas was about red, green and white. It was about lights on houses, displays in stores and snowy weather. Christmas was a time of stressful hurrying about to make the desserts, see the family, give to charity, wrap up school work, find the perfect presents and watch that newest movie on which I waited all year. It was about parties and friends and church musicals. Oh…and it was also about Jesus. As the slogan reminds me, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Of course “Jesus is the reason,” but there were also so many expectations this time of year. Specifically, and prominently, there were my expectations of the holidays. All of these things seem to stem from traditions to which I have clung from childhood to the present. I wanted to feel a certain way, and I was going to pursue that feeling at all costs.

Yet something unexpected happened this holiday season. I finished reading The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis and his writing interrupted my entire holiday mindset. What did he do? Let me share three ways Lewis wrecked my American Christmas.

1) Lewis made me aware that what I thought I had to do, or had to have, during the holidays was all a pretense; traditions taking the place of real contentment and joy.

Traditions, in of themselves, are not inherently bad, but I hadn’t realized how much I was clinging to American Christmas ideology and visions for my happiness[1] at this time of year. All of these traditions should serve as signposts pointing toward the source of the traditions. Instead, the signposts have been replacing the source of joy. Lewis’ writing helped me to reflect upon my abuse of the traditions in the place of the source. He helped me to understand my humanity in a fallen world. From what or whom, exactly, do humans derive their contentedness? Where can I find real joy? Would I even recognize real joy? Even the human vision of what is beautiful and good has become distorted. Christmas should be a reminder of the pure goodness, beauty and joy found in the nature of God; a momentary vision of restoration.

2) Lewis made me long for an advent that was deeper and more mysterious than my wish to have family, quiet and the perfect gifts.

Every year, I seem to slam into the holidays with my head spinning. I rarely get a moment to process the meaning of Christmas, of the Incarnation of God. This time of year is the time to pull back the curtain of American culture—the heavy veil of individualistic desire—and to gaze upon the real story, salvation history. What was God doing so many years ago? Why did He send the second person of the Trinity as incarnate on earth? How does this act make a difference in my life? Where do I fit into the story of God’s redemption on earth? What does His gift mean for those around me? These are the questions of the Christmas mystery. God gave us the perfect gift of Himself, in a way that we didn’t expect. Nothing else I can procure or produce at Christmastime comes close to the vision of God’s act of beauty and goodness: His gift of peace on earth and His goodwill towards men.

3) Lewis gave me a sense of longing for another world of which I’ve never felt before. Everything else fades before the desire welling up in me for the goodness of His presence.

While I won’t trash all my American Christmas traditions, I will definitely enter into the season with a bit more caution for how I view and participate in those traditions. If I must have anything other than the beauty and wonder of the Lord Jesus in order to fulfill my heart at this time of year (that pumpkin spice latte, family gathering, or pristinely decorated tree), I have made that thing an idol; no matter how innocuous the thing appears.

So perhaps Lewis didn’t wreck my American Christmas but rather salvaged it by reminding me of the source of joy. Therefore, I’ll sing those holiday songs, decorate with red, white, and green, grab that perfect gift for someone I love…and do all things as a reflection of the goodness of God’s redemptive act in human history. Let the love that God has for you affect all those around you. Be reminded that God came into darkness as glorious light. He broke into our kingdom with his own kingdom. This season we celebrate the goodness of God. We celebrate His love of the creation.

[1] Not to mention the problem of seeking happiness, which itself comes with so much cultural baggage.

2016 Confident Christianity Ministry Recap

As 2016 comes to a close, we’re reflecting on all the ministry opportunities Confident Christianity had this year.

We began the year with Mary Jo teaching a logic fast term class at Houston Baptist University. It was in that class that one of her students came up to her after the first day and said thank you for talking with him about his Islamic faith and his view of God. He had left Islam and become a Christian. He said he was now attending a local church.

MJ then took two trips out to California. One of those trips was for a conference sponsored by the Christian Apologetics Ministry, Reasons to Believe. At the conference, there was a wide array of apologetics topics from how to have good conversation to science and faith to MJ’s topic on the problem of evil.

In March, MJ and Roger went up to Canada for the “Faith Beyond Belief” conference. MJ spoke at the conference, at a Bible college, at a private Christian school, and on a Canadian television program.

Throughout the spring, CC was ministering in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. In the summer, MJ took two trips out to Colorado for Summit Ministries Worldview Camps and for a newer apologetics event in Manitou Springs called “Every Thought Captive.” At this event, she met a Sufi Muslim who came to hear her speak on Islam! She was also able to do some speaking in Sunday School classes at her home church on the subject of Islam.

When fall rolled around, MJ and Roger went back up to Canada for an event with Ravi Zacharias and Andy Bannister. The three apologists spoke in Vancouver and Victoria, with Andy and MJ speaking in Comox, as well. We had great turn-outs for each event and fielded a lot of one-on-one questions. We also had a special event to minister to local pastors in the Victoria area (Andy Bannister spoke). It was a special time of encouraging one another in ministry.

As the year wrapped up, MJ spoke in California once again, Georgia, and Nashville at the LifeWay Women’s Leadership Forum. She also attended the Evangelical Theological Society conference finishing her three-year stint as the first woman to serve on the Executive Committee of the Evangelical Philosophical Society (an organization established in 1974). MJ has also been teaching an online course with Houston Baptist University which will end in mid-December.

There are so many good things going on with Confident Christianity! We are planning much more for 2017 so stay tuned. If you’d like to invite Mary Jo to speak at an event, click here.

Discontent and Thankfulness

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been born in God’s thought, and then made by God is the dearest, grandest, and most precious thing in all thinking.” – David Elginbrod, George MacDonald, page 77

One of the most difficult aspects of the Thanksgiving season for me is one of the most fundamental reasons for giving thanks: that God has made me. photo-1456404823214-a69ef7a1fae5

I daily live with my past and my thoughts. These two cohorts work together in me to accuse and tear down, especially when I finally have a moment to breathe and to reflect. They build in me a remorse for life, a deep sadness over my own state of sinfulness, robbing me of the joy for which I was made. I imagine many have difficulty during the holidays. It is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, but the years have hardened us trampling the childlike wonder and trust. I often think, “This cannot be what God had in mind.”

Doctor Strange and the Lesson of Surrender (SPOILERS!)

It has been awhile since I’ve seen a movie in the theater. With the prices continuing to rise and the material often disappointing me on multiple levels, I haven’t been so interested in going; that is until I heard about Doctor Strange. Several of my Facebook friends have posted that the movie was directed by a Biola University alum, Scott Derrickson. As you’ve probably already guessed, he’s a Christian. As you may not have guessed, however, he’s a Christian who benedict_cumberbatch_as_doctor_strangedirects horror films. Now there’s a twist! He believes that the horror genre allows him to explore the questions about the supernatural, as well as good and evil, in a profound way. You can read more about his work on Doctor Strange in this great article, The Complex Faith of “Doctor Strange” Director Scott Derrickson.

I’m already a Benedict Cumberbatch fan from his work in the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes. When you add in that a fellow Biolan directed the film, I’ve got to go see it in the theater. While the film has great acting, CGI, effects and cinematography, what really caught my attention was the unapologetic handling of atheistic materialist philosophy, as well as of the “science is the only way to know truth” dogma. This film didn’t try to contextualize the Doctor Strange story with these current cultural ideas. Rather, in the movie, the main character discovers that his human knowledge, while at the top of his scientific field, is limited by his atheistic materialism. He discovers the power beyond human control to which humans must surrender if they really want to do great things. Human existence isn’t as much about gaining knowledge as it is about letting go of control and of egocentric self-preservation.

(HUGE SPOILERS forthcoming!)

In one stunning moment of the film, Doctor Strange must die over and over in order to live for something greater than himself. In the struggle against evil, he literally has to surrender the very life he’s trying so hard to restore so that he may truly live. It’s a powerful reflection of the words of Jesus calling us to deny ourselves, carry our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23-25). Whether this imagery was intentional or not, the scene carries a powerful depiction of self-denial and surrender. Strengthening this imagery is another poignant moment in which The Ancient One tells Doctor Strange that life is not “about you.” It’s a powerful lesson to live for the sake of others; that our lives should not be so focused on ourselves. Our current society stresses the autonomy of the individual as one of the greatest moral values. We’ve been on this path of subjectivism for some time, so it’s refreshing to see a film that overtly denies this culturally normalized view.

If you’ve ignored my spoiler alerts and read the article in full, I recommend seeing this film and discussing it with the family. While the content is too mature for young kids, preteens and up should be fine. The film will provide plenty of material to discuss within a Christian spiritual context; especially that of conforming of our lives to Christ.