Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Missional Investigations

Last week, I was helping my daughter understand how scientific experiments work. She was learning the difference between independent variables, dependent variables, and controlled variables in a scientific experiment. I admit that I had to relearn what I had long forgotten in order to help her with her 5th grade homework! What I do remember is that the main goal of any scientific experiment is to discover the truth, or what can be known, about the relations between members in the natural world. In that sense Science and Christianity, according to noted theoretical physicist and theologian John Pokinghorne, play different but complimentary roles. While science seeks to understand the relations between different members of the universe; faith seeks to understand why and for what purpose we or any other member of the universe exists at all. World-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking admits that, “Science may solve the problem of how the universe began, but it cannot answer the question: why does the universe bother to exist?”

The why's pile up quickly. Why, for instance, do human beings have an insatiable desire to live life with meaning? Why do human beings have a universal hunger to know God, or in some way to understand their existence? What is the purpose, if any, of suffering and why do we long to understand it? Why is it that nothing within this universe is able to satisfy our deepest desires and longings?

Jesus answers that question in a round about way when he tells his disciples to go out on their first missionary journey with the attitude of scientific investigators. I say this because Jesus asks them to Find out who is worthy (Matthew 10:11). To “find out” translates the Greek verb exetazo -- a very “scientific” word that means “to test thoroughly by questioning, enquiry, or searching.” The goal of this scientific inquiry, says Jesus, is to find out who is “receptive” (which is what is meant by “worthy” here) to the good news of the kingdom of God.

Here is where science and faith come in. On the one hand, finding out who is “receptive” is something that can be discerned through rational inquiry. Scientific inquiry, careful questioning, can tell us who is receptive and who is not – and Jesus explicitly tells us not to push ourselves on the unreceptive (see Matthew 10: 11-15). On the other hand, what we cannot learn through rational investigation is why a person is ultimately receptive at all. Why is it that a certain human being has this “God-hunger” inside them? Parental conditioning or exposure to religious teaching is not an adequate explanation. There have been many examples of former skeptics and even atheists, coming to a vital and living faith in God. Francis Collins, a former atheist, and Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute writes:

"I had always assumed that faith was based on purely emotional and irrational arguments, and was astounded to discover, initially in the writings of the Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis and subsequently from many other sources, that one could build a very strong case for the plausibility of the existence of God on purely rational grounds…But reason alone cannot prove the existence of God. Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind. You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required.
For me, that leap came in my 27th year, after a search [a.k.a. “hunger”] to learn more about God's character led me to the person of Jesus Christ. Here was a person with remarkably strong historical evidence of his life, who made astounding statements about loving your neighbor, and whose claims about being God's son seemed to demand a decision about whether he was deluded or the real thing. After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus."
For the complete CNN Interview, click on the link below: http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/03/collins.commentary/index.html

If Francis Collins did not come to God because of parental conditioning or other external factors, what can explain his receptivity? Jesus says that “No one can come to me unless the Father…draws him” (John 6:44). That is, our openness to God is truly a supernatural event…it comes from beyond the natural world; and cannot be adequately explained by anything within it. Our receptivity to God can be discovered through investigation, but the reason for that receptivity is, I would maintain, a flat-out miracle (In addition to Scripture, I would recommend for further reading, Diogenes Allen, Christian Belief in a Postmodern World; and John Polkinghorne, Belief in God in the Age of Science).

These are some of my thoughts; but what about yours? What do you think causes people to be “receptive” to Christ, or even to enter conversations about meaning, the purpose of life, forgiveness, the burden of guilt, the meaning of suffering or death?


Jim said...

Pastor Steve, comments from the Glendon Lifegroup:

Question 3: We all feel that it would be more impactful if we pass the peace of Christ to each other rather than simply greeting with a Hello during our greeting time.

Question 5: We concluded that the primary issue (according to Jesus) we humans must come to grip with is that we are condemneded if we have the opportunity to learn about Christ and we don't profess Him as our Savior. This is a difficult issue for most of us who have loved ones who are not Christians.

Thanks for the good questions this week.

Tiffany T said...

Thank you for this message. It is amazing to me how much the topic of God's existence came up in conversations I had this week with life-long friends who are atheist, agnostic and uncertain. It took a great deal of faith in God for me to view these conversations as part of God's greater plan and NOT as woefully inadequate explorations.

Steve Craig said...

Great comments! Jim et al, I'll definitely consider having the congregation "pass the peace of Christ" more often. The resistance of family members to the gospel is something I want to explore on Nov. 16th (Mission Division).

Tiffany, way to hang in there with your atheist/agnostic friends! It's quite possible that God is using you to soften their hearts!

Steve Craig said...

P.S. I've added a link to the complete Francis Collins CNN interview to this week's blog.

Irina said...

Our group pretty unanimously answered that we find friendship to be the most compelling way to share our faith. By listening to what someone has to say in a non-judgemental posture helps to open them to real dialogue. This is not a gimmick, but more of an outgrowth of the friendship. Of course some people, close friends, may not be receptive. But this is best understood in the context of relationship.
As far as "staying put" goes, we saw the wisdom of someone allowing the time to create a bond with that person(s). We saw it as Jesus' model of ministry in that He spent 3 1/2 years with the same people. We saw how it honors the person, too. Instead of looking for "greener pasture", you are committing to really get to know someone.

jcreif said...

Heyyyyyyy Steve just dropped in to see what was the topic of the day and I see that your discussing Judgement I want to mention that if you look in the Vines Exspository Dictionary that will give some understanding regarding judgement It always helps me when I have a question about something I don't undertand. Behave yourself Steve ha ha

your loooooong time Friend,
Kim Reif