Tag Archives: Apologetics

Portraits of Christians – Robert Boyle

The_Shannon_Portrait_of_the_Hon_Robert_Boyle-smallDid you enjoy chemistry or hate it in school? Personally I liked it in high school, although I didn’t learn how fun it could be until college.  But then I had a college prof who did things like demonstrate the usefulness of balancing chemical equations by having the class calculate what the optimum ratio of oxygen to methane was to make a desktop cannon shoot a rubber stopper the farthest. Let me tell you, seeing the professor accidentally shoot out one of the lecture hall windows really reinforced in my mind the power of chemistry! But even if you didn’t have cool profs that helped students learn to love that rigorous science, we all still owe many of our modern conveniences to that field of study. And for that, we can thank Robert Boyle, the “Father of Modern Chemistry”. But his contributions weren’t just to chemistry. In fact, if you’ve ever gone scuba diving, used an air pump or a compressor to air up a tire, or used a refrigerator, air conditioner, or heat pump (all compressor-driven), you’ve taken advantage of Boyle’s Law – that the pressure exerted by a gas is inversely proportional to it’s volume.

So who was this Robert Boyle? He lived from 1627 to 1691. In 1663, he was elected a Founder Fellow of the Royal Society in England, one of the first societies dedicated to the advancement of scientific knowledge. He was well-read in a variety of areas of science that would later become their own specialties, as well as literature and philosophy. He was a scientist’s scientist: notorious in his devotion to experimental verification and the scientific method, and “addicted to natural philosophy” as science was then called. And yet, he was also a devout Anglican who wrote multiple apologetics books defending the faith of Christianity. What’s that? Yes, the “Father of Chemistry” also wrote treatises like “Considerations on the Reconcileableness of Reason and Religion”, “The Christian Virtuoso”, “Treatises on the High Veneration Man’s Intellect Owes God”, and “Some Considerations Touching the Style of Holy Scriptures”. He was especially opposed to atheism, and his final will had instructions for the endowment of a series of lectures to be delivered each year in defense of the Christian faith. The Boyle Lectures proceeded from 1692 until the 1930’s and were recently revived in 2004. He believed that all humans are of one race descended from Adam & Eve (as the Bible teaches). He heavily funded missionary work and translation work, personally financing the  Irish translation of the entire Bible. As a director of the East India Company, he used his position to sponsor (at his own personal cost) Bible translations into Malayan and Arabic to help the natives of any lands the trading company visited find the truth of God. This is a good reminder of how God calls us to be about His business whatever our business happens to be. We cannot compartmentalize our faith and separate it from our “business life” as some today would have us believe. He undertook to learn not only the more common classical languages of Greek and Hebrew for reading the New and Old Testaments in their original languages, but also Syriac (Aramaic) and even Chaldean (to read passages in the book of Daniel).

He distinguished himself as a layman with his appetite for theology, and was recommended to enter the ministry. And yet, he turned it down. Why? “He knew that the irreligious fortified themselves against all that was said by the clergy with this—that it was their trade, and that they were paid for it. He hoped, therefore, that he might have the more influence, the less he shared in the patrimony of the church.” [1] There’s a lesson here for Christians today. Skeptics still use this same objection today (although I can’t help but notice that it doesn’t stop them from buying cars from salesmen paid to sell them, but I digress). If you are a Christian, you have an opportunity to go places your pastor will never get to go, to talk to people that would tune out your pastor, to be an “ambassador for Christ”[] with no “profit motive” to question. We all have some amazing opportunities to partake in the work of God’s kingdom. Would that we seized the chance to minister to others in our own vocations like Boyle did!

Robert Boyle took great pains to make the case that not only do you not have to check your brain at the door to be a Christian, but also that being a Christian actually makes you a better philosopher and scientist. Atheists have attempted in the last century to latch onto science as their own domain, one foreign to Christians. Yet, the study of God’s creation really only makes sense when you recognize the Author of it (or, even more basically, that it does have an author). In fact, atheist scientists must stand on the shoulders of Christian giants of science to make their observations. See you next time as we look at another portrait of one of these giants!


[1] Henry Rogers, introductory essay (p. xvi) to “Sacred Classics: or, The Cabinet Library of Divinity”, Vol. 28, edited by Cattermole & Stebbing, London, 1835.

Tools Without Knowledge

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/tools-1417865A couple of months ago, I stopped to help a driver on the side of the highway. It turned out to be a lady who had a flat tire. Asking if she had a spare, she said that she did, along with the tools to change it, but she just didn’t know how.  A few minutes later, I had her on her way, having also explained each step so she would know what to do in the future. This got me thinking.

Christians in America have more “tools” available to them than any other generation of Christians in history. The average American Christian has multiple Bibles in their home, often in different translations.[1] Many American churches offer book and/or video libraries for their congregations. Most churches will offer some level of training/discipleship/Bible study. It is mind-boggling how many free references are available online. Early Christians who risked their very lives for a chance to read and quickly copy down a partial manuscript of one of Paul’s letters would’ve fainted to see what we have available at our fingertips. Current Christians in repressive countries who face being executed or sent to labor camps for owning Scriptures would cry at the sight of 8 or 10 different Bibles gathering dust on the shelves of an American Christian’s home. I’ve been able to download (for ridiculously little money) entire reference libraries of Bible commentaries, systematic theology books, and collections of classic writings from the early church fathers to the puritan writers, all the way to the present. A person can carry an entire pastor’s library on their cell phone now. If I want to see what a particular Bible passage says in the original Hebrew or Greek, that is easily accomplished.[2] If I want to learn Greek to dig deeper, a basic understanding is also well within reach of the average person.[3] But “from everyone who has been given much, much will be required.”[4] We as Christians in America are really without excuse.

And yet, this is also the most Biblically illiterate generation of Americans. It is, in effect, like driving around in a mechanic’s truck, with enough tools on hand to completely overhaul the truck, and saying we’ll need to call for help to change the flat tire. Why is that? I think for the most part, we don’t ever make the time to learn what we believe or why we should believe it. A few years ago, I was living in blissful ignorance, content to believe in Christ for my salvation, but that was really the extent of it. I had started digging deeper into the Scriptures in high school, but had been lulled to an apathetic sleep after that. Then I went on a jobsite visit with an atheist colleague a few years ago. On the 3 hour drive back, he asked me something that had been bugging him:

“How can you call yourself a Christian and an engineer at the same time? Aren’t those kind of mutually exclusive?”

The question caught me off guard and shocked me out of my slumber. I answered at the time that I didn’t see how I could be an engineer – seeing the design in nature that far exceeds anything I would ever think up – and not be a Christian. But that answer was more based on intuition then. Since then, I started digging into the Bible, into cosmology, into genetics, into information theory, into philosophy, into logic, into epistemology, and anything else that relates to how we understand the world around us, one that I would say is God’s world. And if it’s God’s world, then there is no contradiction between science and Christianity, because God is the same consistent Author of both. Not that one needs to get into all of that to come to a saving faith in Christ, mind you; but it does confirm that every tool in the toolbox of life points to God the Creator of life. Whether we use the tools of science, or philosophy, or history, or theology, we keep coming back to God.

It’s been hard work reading and studying a diverse number of fields; I do have a “day job” as an engineer (that sometimes bleeds into the night and weekends as well). There are the typical chores of life to squeeze in as well – changing the oil in the car, home maintenance, and so on. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, for it has brought me closer to my God, for Jesus’s command to “love the Lord your God… with all your mind”[5] is like sweet honey to me. And I dare say it can be for you, too.

As J. Warner Wallace, former atheist cold-case homicide detective turned Christian case-maker, is fond of pointing out, the Bible tells us that some are called to be teachers and evangelists and whatnot[6], but all of us Christians are supposed to be able to give a reason for the hope that we have.[7] Can you?  Maybe it’s time to do a little self-evaluation. Is church something to endure once a week to “pay your dues”, or is it a chance to get some training that you can hopefully put into practice in the upcoming week?   Is your faith a warm, fuzzy, vague, feel-good, emotional crutch, or something you believe because it’s true? Is being a Christian simply “fire insurance” to get out of hell, or an exciting chance to serve under the King of all creation? As Chuck Colson said, “the church does not draw people in; it sends them out.” So choose today to learn to use the tools that God has put in your hands, and go out prepared for the opportunities He brings you!


 

[1] According to the 2014 State of the Bible survey by Barna, almost 9in 10 Americans own a Bible, and Americans (overall) average almost 5 Bibles per household.
[2] Check out www.biblehub.com for handy interlinear translations where you can read the the English Scriptures with the Hebrew or Greek above each line (like this).
[3] I recommend Basic Greek in 30 minutes a Day, by James Found (Bethany House, 2012), for a surprisingly effective way for the average person to learn a fair bit of Greek easily.
[4] Luke 12:48.
[5] Matthew 22:37.
[6] Ephesians 4:11.
[7] 1 Peter 3:15.

“For Such a Time as This….”

Claude_Vignon_1593-1670_E_before_A_1624
Esther before King Ahasuerus

The word “apologetics” refers to presenting evidence and making a reasoned defense of the Christian faith and comes from one of the Apostle Peter’s letters where he tells his readers to “…sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence….”[1] The word “defense” there is ἀπολογίαν (apologian), and refers to a verbal legal defense offered in court. Emotional pleas will not suffice in court. Rather, compelling evidence is required. J. Warner Wallace has pointed out the contrast between Paul’s statements that “some were called as evangelists, and some as teachers”, and so forth[2], and Peter’s statement here that we are all obligated to know not only what we believe, but also why we believe it, and be able to explain the truth to those who ask.

But today, I want to show the connection between this verse and a different one. The book of Esther tells of a young Jewish girl named Esther, who is picked by King Ahasuerus of the Medo-Persian empire to be queen. A decree is issued by one of the king’s advisers to have all of the Jews throughout the empire massacred, although it’s not known at that point that the queen is Jewish. Now, it was a death sentence for anyone, even the queen, to approach the king unsummoned unless he granted clemency. And so we come to this somber warning from her uncle Mordecai: “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther replied “thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”[3] I think we can take away 3 lessons from Mordecai ‘s warning, and a fourth from Esther’s response.

  1. There are many that will not listen to any preacher, but they they will listen to you. As Queen Esther had the ear of the king, you have the ear of people that might never step foot in a church, might scoff at any TV or radio sermon, and might be highly suspicious of those they consider “professional Christians” (i.e. preachers, missionaries). You as their friend/colleague/teammate have a bigger impact than you might imagine. You put a face to Christ that may be the only counter to the Christian stereotype they may have created in their mind.
  2. Preachers can’t go where you can go. For better or worse, we spend a lot of our time at our jobs. Even if a workplace isn’t hostile to Christianity, there’s still a job to do, and chatty visitors interfere with that. But you’re already at the right place when the right time hits to make the case for Christ. For me, it’s sometimes been talking to a colleague in the parking lot after we closed up for the day. Other times, it’s just been a simple question regarding a sarcastic remark of theirs, and it was enough to give them pause, and see a different perspective briefly. Preachers can’t be the needed light in every dark corner, but we can.
  3. If you don’t make the case, God will still accomplish His will, but there are consequences in our lives. Just as God didn’t need Esther, He can bring other people into someone’s life to deliver the message you could have, but that may mean years of unnecessary hardship in that person’s life. It also  won’t be the blessing in your life that it would’ve been, or contribute to your spiritual growth. On the contrary, repeatedly turning away from opportunity hardens our hearts against future occasions to serve God.
  4. Finally, know the cost on the front end, and be prepared to pay it. For Esther, it was possible death. For you, it may be ridicule or job loss. For Christians in other countries, it’s still sometimes  imprisonment, beatings, and even death.  But Jesus never told us it’d be an easy life; a rewarding life, a life of joy in spite of trials, a life of peace through storms, but not an “easy” life. But remember, even a long life on earth is vanishingly insignificant compared to eternity. Can we be so selfish as to rest in our assurance of an eternal home with Jesus while other people’s eternal lives are at stake?

We Christians have had an easy time of it in America for several generations. Most of us (myself included) have never had to sacrifice much to be a Christ-follower. I can’t say I look forward to persecution, but I also have to acknowledge that almost every book in the New Testament tells me to expect it… if I’m fully living out what I say I believe. But in trials God reveals incredible opportunities. And so I’m yet hopeful for those of us who live in such times such as these.


[1] 1 Peter 3:15, NASB
[2] Ephesians 4:11, NASB
[3] Esther 4:14-16, NASB