Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Neurosurgeon, Richard Dawkins, and Me -- Part 3

This is the third installment in this little series about my neurosurgeon friend recommending to me a book by Richard Dawkins (Part 1, Part 2). I am going to get ahead of myself just a bit with this particular post. There are other specific things that I will address most likely sometime next week concerning those who are trending toward atheism.

One of the chief reasons that I cannot buy into the concept of atheism is because of what I have been associated with for my entire life. I have been an eyewitness to the transforming power of the grace of God and the Gospel. My father-in-law started the church that I now pastor 43 years ago and over that course of time I have only been absent from it for 3 years when I was a kid because of a job transfer that my dad took in Niceville, Florida. Another three year absence occurred from 1989-1992 when I went to Texas Bible College in Houston, Texas. Other than these two times, I have been actively involved in our church.

So when Richard Dawkins gets on his podium to lecture about the fact that there is no God, I don’t get angry with him, I feel more of a profound sadness than any other emotion. It is simply for the fact that he has never been exposed to a side of “religion” that I grew up with.

This brings me to a short point today. If there is no God then how do you explain to me, logically, clearly, and rationally the power of transformation that I have witnessed in a whole lot of lives over the forty year history of our church? I have seen some of the dregs of society come into our church and God totally change them. I have witnessed marriages that were in shambles and family situations that were in total chaos come in and God step in and turn it around. We have former alcoholics, dopers, meth heads, down-and-outers, and up-and-outers experience God’s grace. They all walked away from lifestyles that were highly sinful and detrimental with hardly a backward look. I also have to tell you that there have been others who came in and did not make and slipped back out into horrific and painful situations. But I await Dawkins’ and anyone else’s explanation as to how these sorts of things take place.

One of my favorite stories to tell is how that my father-in-law went into a bar one Saturday and pulled someone out of the muck. Robert Redden was an alcoholic and a troubled man. For several Saturdays in a row, my father-in-law went by to try to get Robert to come to church on Sunday but he would never be there. One Saturday, he asked Pat (Robert’s wife) where he was and she told him the bar that he was at. So my father-in-law drove down to the bar and went in and sat down next to Robert while he was tanking up. Robert was stunned that a pastor would walk into a place like that and next thing you know, Robert is crying and pouring his heart out to my father-in-law. The next day Robert was in church with his wife and kids. God has worked incredibly through their lives over the years. Keep in mind, that there are many others in our congregation that the same thing has taken place in their lives.

We have had the gamut of people to come through over the years. Some of these folks were so scary that when I was praying for them, I had one hand on their head and the other on my billfold in my back pocket just in case they were pick-pocket artists! I have had people tell me, “You’re the last ditch effort for our marriage!” as if I were the one who could fix the problem. It is those moments that the sensible thing to do is let God begin to do His work in their lives. . . the God that Richard Dawkins says does not exist! Mr. Dawkins and my neurosurgeon friend are too late. . . I’ve already seen too much!

As earlier promised, I am going to pick back up with the academic side of the argument next week, but as a concluding point, I am attaching a video of the Atlanta West Pentecostal Church choir who won the Verizon Wireless “How Sweet the Sound” national choir competition. For them it was more than just a competition. . . It was God working through them because I have no doubt that there are some testimonies behind the faces that are in the choir. At the end, you will find yourself exposed to a small taste of what goes on in a lot of Pentecostal churches every Sunday night across the country. . .

God Bless and thanks for reading. . . .

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Neurosurgeon, Richard Dawkins, and Me -- Part 2

Picking up from yesterday’s post about Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on the Earth, I have had several e-mails asking me if I would recommend someone to read this book. I have two answers to that.

First, I would suggest that anyone who is not very well founded in Scripture or if they are questioning the authority of Scripture not to read it. What Dawkins is doing is preying on those who are on the fringe of the Church. Having done a bit of investigation on Dawkins, it is very important for us to note that he has a very strong influence among a younger set, generally college-aged crowd. YouTube has some various lectures that he has given and one that I watched was at Oklahoma University. Another lecture that I watched as given in Washington, D.C. to a large and somewhat rowdy group of old fat guys (like me) who fancied themselves as intellectuals.

Paul (1 Timothy 4:1) mentions a seducing spirit and it is my thoughts that this is what this book is based on. Dawkins is an outright atheist, but his tone in this book is not necessarily one of antagonism but more so the serpent trick that Eve encountered in Genesis 3. The serpent inserted doubt by asking a question, “Has God said?” and the question plagued her mind until she fell. Dawkins works the questions that attempts to do nothing more than create doubt. There are times that Dawkins is very antagonistic, in fact one of his earlier books The God Delusion takes that approach.

Secondly, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get down to the nitty gritty of apologetics. The reality of the fact is that you don’t need a lot of theology to discount Dawkins arguments. If you are a logical and critical thinker, you won’t even get through the preface before all sorts of questions begin to arise concerning Dawkins ideas about evolution and atheism. Frankly I enjoyed the challenge that Dawkins presented because it pushed me in a direction of study that I rarely go, the zone of apologetics. The majority of people to whom I preach, teach, and write to are either believers or they are leaning in that direction. Dawkins is an outright atheist but what was very scary to me was that some of the ideas that he was touting were embraced by some of the popular authors of our times, not just popular secular authors, but popular “Christian” authors. It is apparent that the fox is guarding the henhouse. 2010 needs to be a year of increased discernment. Discernment is very closely attached to loving God with your mind!

Dawkins begins his book by creating a scenario about Rome not existing and how that a teacher cannot even explore the intricacies of Roman society because he is too busy having to defend its existence. He moves from this concept and makes the comparison with evolution and how that teachers cannot even explore evolution because they are having to defend it against the creationists or intelligent design proponents.

Dawkins also threw in a blurb about atheism in his opening salvo. The first thing that struck me was what Paul wrote to the church at Rome.

Romans 3:3 KJV For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

Romans 3:3 NASB What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?

It does not matter what men think about God, He is still there! It does not matter if it is a 7th grade science teacher, a full-blown atheist like Dawkins or my friend, the neurosurgeon, the thoughts and intents of their heart has zero effect on whether or not God exists or does not exist. The sad thing is that they will face God when their lives are finished and have to give an explanation for how they spent their personal talents and gifting.

Another thing that struck me was a rising question that came to mind, “Do you know everything?” For an atheist to say there is no God, he has to know everything. It is very obvious to me that they do not know everything because we are still waiting on a number of cures for various diseases in the medical field. They do not know a solution for the economic problems that the world is currently embroiled in. They do not have answers to the plaguing problems of world peace. These three areas are just the tip of the iceberg for what they do not know. So if they cannot give answers to those social questions of the day then how in the world can they give a valid answer to a spiritual question?

Yet another question that came to mind was one of ethics and behavior. All men come with an innate and I believe God-given process of conscience which causes them to observe some form of moral law. Man basically knows that murder is wrong. He is also aware of various other degrees of behavior that is either right or wrong. From where did this come from if there is no God? The question of conscience has to be answered.

I shall continue this. . . .

Thanks for reading. . . . .


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Neurosurgeon, Richard Dawkins, and Me

A little over a month ago, my dad ended up needing a five vessel bypass via open heart surgery. Throughout the process, I spent a lot of time at the hospital that I have worked in off and on since 1985. I occasionally still work in the Radiology department and in some of the intensive care units but have not been full-time since January 2006. I discovered once again some of the advantages of being an insider when a family member is in need of health care although that may change after Obama has committed his “bailout.” My dad is now doing well and overall did remarkable throughout the affair.

On one of the days that I was spending with him, I left the hospital for a bit and returned after lunch. As I was getting into the elevator, I ran into a physician that I have known since the summer of ’92 or so. He is a kind-hearted soul and has always been very genial and I have never personally observed him demonstrate the messiah complex that most neurosurgeons seem to get equipped with when they are in medical school. Now before you send me a derogatory e-mail for being judgmental at least give me the consideration of allowing you to know that my point of reference is not just the two hospitals here in Dothan but St. Luke’s Episcopal/Texas Heart Institute and M. D. Anderson in Houston both of which were crawling with neurosurgeon’s. Generally neurosurgeon’s egos need a lot of room as in wide doors and tall ceilings to accommodate their antics. I would be wrong if I did not also add that I have noted some preachers who came into my airspace a time or two that would rival any neurosurgeons ego hands down. Funny what perceived self-importance does to us.

Anyway, he struck up a conversation with me and wanted to know what was going on with my dad. He then spied a book I was holding and asked me what it was. Just so happens that I had been in a used bookstore and ran across a copy of Richard Dortch’s two books, Integrity and Secrets of the Heart. I had picked them up and re-read the account of Jim Bakker’s fall from grace with the PTL scam back in the late ‘80’s and it is still a little mind-boggling to read of the amounts of money that flows among the televangelists and how largely these folks were living. Dr. Becker had never heard of Dortch, which not many people outside of the religious world have, so I was not necessarily surprised. Then he asked me what PTL was and I told him it was “Praise the Lord” or “People That Love” whatever they chose to call it on that particular day during the broadcast.

With this he asked me, “Philip, do you read very much?” to which I replied, “Ahh, I usually read a couple of books a year.” Probably a huge understatement but one needs to be modest so I happened to be in the manner mode that day and flew under the radar with that answer. It was then that he told me that he had a book recommendation by one Richard Dawkins entitled The Greatest Show on the Earth. I have to confess that I had never even heard of Richard Dawkins but I told him that I would indeed see about it. So I wrote the author’s name down and determined that I would see about it because I am always in the hunt for new author’s and books. The reality of the fact is that I was in for an awakening.

Two days later after my dad had sufficiently recovered from his heart cath, I took off to Barnes and Noble for a little while to get out of the hospital. When I got there I was in for a big surprise! I hunted down Dawkins book and found out that he is one of the rising proponents of evolution and a big chief among what is being referred to as the New Atheists. He is somewhat of a free-thinker although very articulate in being able to explain some of his points.

As I read through The Greatest Show on the Earth, I remembered something about kind-hearted, soft-spoken, old fellow that I had forgotten—he is an atheist. Not a rabble-rousing, saber-rattling, street-marching type but one who on numerous occasions has documented in his progress notes that he would tell families that he was an atheist and if that was problematic for them, he would get another neurosurgeon for them to see. As a sidebar, I have sometimes asked good Christian folks if they would rather have an incompetent Christian surgeon or a vile-sinner but extremely competent surgeon. Just in case you are wondering about me, give me the vile-sinner but competent guy every day over the incompetent brother. Just because someone is saved doesn’t necessarily make them competent (insert your own smiley here).

As I read through Dawkins’ book, it came back to me that when I told the neurosurgeon about the Dortch/Bakker/PTL connection that he was attempting to subvert my thinking by recommending The Greatest Show etc. Indeed the book was provoking but the problem (or advantage) is that I have not been one of those “Christians” who just checked their brains in at the backdoor when I showed up to hear someone preach/teach or for that matter lecture in a college classroom. Everything goes through a filter and over the next few posts, I shall try to accommodate you with some of the things that come out of that very, very beneficial foray into Richard Dawkins’ world. For you see Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34) is still alive and well at this juncture in history and whether or not you are facing the philosophers on Mars Hill or the modern day Nimrods who are building their towers of Babel, there are solid answers for the loose threads they are attempting to unravel on the fringes.

Harry Blamire wrote The Christian Mind in 1963 and some of his words were very blunt but bracing as Os Guinness quotes in Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (subtitled: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What To Do About It): “We speak of ‘the modern mind’ and of ‘the scientific mind,’ using that word mind of a collectively accepted set of notions and attitudes. On the pattern of such usage I have posited a Christian Mind, chiefly for the purpose of showing it does not exist.” Blamire continued “There is no longer a Christian Mind. . . The Christian Mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness unmatched in Christian History.”

I would be foolish to propose a cold, clinical intellectual approach to theology because this can be deadening to one’s spiritual life. On the other hand, if somebody (or” somebodies”) does not get a grip on their Bibles and begin to love God with their mind (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; Acts 17:11; Romans 7:25; etc.) many are going to be swept away by the prevailing and shifting winds of doctrine flowing in our times. This shores up my encouragement for expository preaching which I did a series sometime back on the Barnabas Blog.

Since I have become acutely aware of the competition I have with twitter and Facebook, I am attempting valiantly not to be as verbose so I will pick up the Dawkins exercise in tomorrow’s post.

Thanks for reading. . . .


A Prayer Pouring Out of Psalm 119

--> I am presently preaching through the stanzas of Psalm 119 and it has been a spiritually enriching exercise.   Toda...