Free Will and Free Won’t

Science suggests that the decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision.


Do we have free will? Modern materialists say, no. This is what I learned watching an episode in a series on science that was hosted by Stephen Hawking on Public Broadcast Television.

Hawking explained the experiments that informed this view. In the experiment, the subjects were told to choose to push a button and to note the time on the clock at which the decision was made. At the same time, the subject’s brain waves were being monitored for activity. Over and over again, the brain waves were measured showing that the uptick in brain waves happened before the subject was conscious of the actual decision being made to take the action.

The experiment demonstrated the following sequence: (1) a brain signal occurs about 550 milliseconds prior to the finger’s moving; (2) the subject has an awareness of his decision to move his finger about 200 milliseconds prior to his finger’s moving; (3) the person’s finger moves.

This was interpreted as evidence by Hawking that we don’t have free will. The decisions we make are actually prompted by brain activity before we are conscious of making the decision. The conclusion is that we are responding to some prior stimuli and only think that we are making independent decisions. Hawking concluded, therefore, that we are determined, as everything is, by natural laws in an endless stream of cause and effect.

But wait, there is more. The scientist who conducted these experiments, Benjamin Libet, actually came to the opposite conclusions. And lest you think this is only an interesting experiment with no practical application, I find some interesting applications to our struggles with sin.

Continue reading “Free Will and Free Won’t”

Herod, Mikvehs and the Religion Disconnect

Religion is often disconnected from the spiritual reality of the existence of God and who God is as revealed in Scripture.

Ruins of King Herod’s fortified palace Machaeros, Jordan, Middle East.

A recent article on the discovery in 2016 of the mikveh uncovered at the site of King Herod’s palace at Machaerus on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea in modern Jordan got me thinking about a theme I have been contemplating for some time.[1] That theme is the disconnection between religious ritual and spiritual reality.

21st Century people might call that “disconnect” hypocrisy in the process of dismissing all religions and spiritual truth. That modern tendency to discount all religion in that way, and especially Christianity, reflects a lack of understanding that bothers me when I hear it. The recent discovery reminds why I feel this way.

Digging into the history of King Herod, the palace at Machaerus and the mikveh that was recently discovered there sheds some light on the subject and reminds me that there is much more than meets the modern eye. And, in some fundamental ways, nothing has really changed from then to now, and yet everything has changed at the same time.

Before we get into the meat of the matter, I should explain that a mikveh is a small pool or bath used in ritual purification. Thus, the discovery of a mikveh in King Herod’s palace indicates that the royal inhabitants engaged in the Hebrew purification ritual that was instructed in the Old Testament (the Torah).[2]

Of course, the instructions in the Torah were traditionally understood as religious in nature, though the ritual cleansing in mivka’ot (plural of mikveh) might be seen through the lens of modern science as good hygiene. The purification rite that were instructed would have inhibited the spread of contagious diseases and infection. But for them, with no understanding of modern hygiene, health and medicine, these practices were purely religious in nature.

With that in mind, what then is the significance of the discovery? How does it shed light on the disconnect between religious practice and spiritual reality? What is the nuance that modern people often miss in discounting everything they lump together as “religion”?

Continue reading “Herod, Mikvehs and the Religion Disconnect”

What Jesus Thinks of Doubters

In light of the recent announcements of Christian leaders struggling with doubt, what does Jesus think of doubters?


Following the announcement of Joshua Harris that he no longer considers himself a Christian, and Marty Sampson, who says he is loosing his faith, the Christian world has exploded with conversation about doubt and doubters. So much angst. Some of the comments have been harsh with criticism.

These kinds of announcements tend to rock a world that may look shaky to begin with from the the outside. Maybe even from the inside.

These guys may not be household names, (I didn’t know either name until a few weeks ago), but they represent some influence in 21st Century Christianity in the United States (Harris) and beyond (Sampson). Joshua Harris wrote a book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye (1997), that defined the dating culture (or lack thereof) for a generation of young Christians. Marty Sampson was a worship leader and songwriter for one of the most prolific and visible (if not controversial) Christian churches, Hillsong.

In the wake of his divorce, Joshua Harris publicly eschewed his faith in a recent announcement, stating that he is no longer a Christian. Not many weeks later, Marty Sampson, the Hillsong worship leader, made a similar announcement, saying that he was losing his faith. Since then he has clarified that he hasn’t walked away from the faith. He is simply struggling with doubt – something most Christians have experienced (even if we don’t like to talk about it).

The reactions have predictably poured in. When high profile Christians struggle with their faith, it’s the equivalent of an earthquake in a third world country. You just know there will be casualties. (The fact that we put so much faith in our leaders is another topic in itself!) Many of those reactions have been negative, even harsh.

That’s why I write. That’s why Mike and Debbie Licona have taken to the Internet in a video to discuss the issue. Mike has written, perhaps, the most significant work on the evidence of the resurrection – The Resurrection: A New Historiographical Approach. His mentor, Gary Habermas, revolutionized the way people think about the resurrection, even skeptics, by using the “minimal facts” that even skeptics will accept to make a compelling case for the resurrection.

And here’s the thing: the works that have come to define these men and the quality of their scholarship were born out of doubt. They were once doubters. Their doubts led them to dig deeper and get answers, even if those answers might unravel the faith that had come to define them. They stared doubt in the face and dared to seek truth, and their journeys led to their quintessential works.

Doubts are not necessarily a bad thing. Fear, I believe, is worse than doubt, and fear often exasperates the doubt and prevents the doubts from being resolved. When I survey the Scripture, I see admonitions against fear that suggest that fear, not doubt, is the antithesis to faith.

As for doubt, we shouldn’t be so reluctant or fearful. If our faith can’t hold up, it isn’t worth holding onto. If God is true, and I believe He is, we have nothing to fear. We can expose our doubts to the truth with assurance that they can be resolved.

Further, I think it’s important to consider that what Jesus thought about doubters. Jesus didn’t condemn doubters, He was patient with them. We don’t find him railing against doubters, we find him embracing them. Consider the observations along these lines by Mike Licona in the video below:



I have often thought about Thomas, (aka Doubting Thomas) in this context. He didn’t just doubt once after Jesus died, demanding to see his hands and side; Thomas was a doubter from the beginning. And that underscored to me that Jesus leaves Room for Doubters and Skeptics.

So the message is this: if you are doubting, be honest about it and seek answers. Jesus invites us to knock, and keep on knocking, to seek and keep on seeking, to ask and keep on asking. You might even read the book by Gary Habermas, The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God.

And to Christians who are not (presently) wrestling with doubt, remember the words of Jude: “Be merciful to those who doubt….” (verse 22) Jesus demonstrated that very attitude towards Thomas, who doubted from the beginning, to Peter, who denied Jesus three times when the chips were down, and toward us when we doubt.

Climate Change and the Gospel


Many Christians deny that climate change is happening, perhaps because many Christians distrust science. More accurately, perhaps, they distrust scientists, as a large number of scientists are atheists, especially some extremely vocal scientists who “preach” a form of scientism[1].

As Christians, though, we need to be careful here. We need to respect truth wherever we find it and wherever it leads. Without letting go of the revealed truth of God in Scripture, we need to recognize and acknowledge truth that science reveals – the truth of God’s creation.

We also need to recognize and understand the difference between science and scientists. Science, done right, reveals the truth of God’s creation. The scientists who do science are influenced by their own biases, assumptions and preconceptions, worldviews and individual perspectives, but that doesn’t mean that the results of the science they do can’t be trusted.

We have to separate out the science and the conclusions drawn by scientists from the science. Even there, those conclusions shouldn’t be discarded without consideration. Scientific conclusions (conclusions that naturally and inevitably follow from proven premises) should be distinguished from philosophical conclusions (extrapolations from the scientific conclusions that go beyond the bare facts and enter into philosophical territory).

What does that mean? A very extreme example might be the assertion by Neil deGrasse Tyson that science has replaced philosophy and made it irrelevant. He maintains that science tells us everything we need to know about reality. This very statement is a philosophical statement. (Hint: it’s not science.) Just because a scientist says something doesn’t make it true.

We also have to keep in mind that science has been reduced over the decades and centuries to mean something more limited than what it once meant. (Theology was once known as the Queen of the Sciences). Science is now limited in its definition to mean the study of the natural world and its material components and processes. Scientific method is limited to what can be proven by observation of the material world and its processes.

Science is a species of knowledge, but we sometimes conflate science with knowledge, thinking that science is the end-all and be-all of knowledge and that knowledge is only that which science reveals to us. As Christians, we don’t believe this. Philosophers don’t believe this. Artists, and poets and musicians don’t believe this. Many scientists don’t believe this as well.

But, I digress. I believe that the science for climate change is accurate – at least to some extent. To what extent, I am unable to conclude, as I don’t know the science well enough. But that the climate is changing is fact. It is changing, and we shouldn’t be ignorant of that fact.

It is also fact that we are contributing to that change. CO2 emissions, for example, have gone up dramatically since the industrial revolution. That is science that can’t (shouldn’t) be denied. It’s been substantially demonstrated in a multitude of ways.

To what extent has our activity contributed to the change? To what extent is our activity driving the change? To what extent can we reverse the change? Can we reverse climate change by our efforts? I think these are all open questions as I understand the state of the science.

As Christians, I think we need to be careful to respect the truth of science; otherwise we are guilty of denying and misrepresenting truth. We need to respect truth wherever it is found because our God is true, Jesus was truth personified. For that reason, also, we have no reason to be afraid of the truth.

Our approach should be appropriately nuanced on issues like climate change. How we deal with the truth and respond to it must be placed into context. There is a higher truth than climate change: God and His purposes that we learn from revealed truth found in Scripture.

For the Christian, the prospect of climate change does not appear as the ominous a threat it is for the non-believer. This is because we understand that the earth is passing away;[2] and God has promised a new heavens and a new earth.[3] In fact, Jesus warns us not to store up our treasures on earth where they are subject to rot, decay and destruction (sounds like the second law of thermodynamics), but to store them up in heaven.[4]

But we also need to be mindful that God made us stewards of the earth, and He expects us to be good stewards. Continue reading “Climate Change and the Gospel”

The Eternal Significance of the Mundane

We are either moving toward God or moving away from Him. We are never standing still.


Tim Keller, in preaching on the First Temptation of Christ, observed that the first temptation of Jesus by Satan in the desert was a mundane one: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3) Everyone needs food. In our modern day, we would say that people not only need food, they deserve it as fundamental right.

Surely, the Son of God deserves bread, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t just make a little bread out of a stone. Right?

This is how Satan comes at us: “You need it. It’s just a small thing. C’mon, you deserve it!”

In the story, Jesus had just fasted for forty (40) days, and the forty (40) days were over. Jesus was hungry – more like starving! (Luke 4:2) He had done what he set out to do; he fulfilled the commitment he made, and he was free to eat.

This is how Satan works on us. He gets us thinking about ourselves, our needs, and (if he can push us far enough) our rights. “You have a right to that bread! Take it!” It wouldn’t have seemed “wrong” for Jesus to have turned a stone into bread.

And this is the struggle: will we live our lives serving ourselves, doing what we want, going with the flow of our natural inclinations, fulfilling every personal need and desire, the captain of our own souls? Or will we consciously live our lives for God and others, letting God direct us, yielding our selves to the One who made us?

We tend to think of the big temptations, not realizing that Satan is always there trying to get us to feed from his hand.  His hand is always out, offering morsels and tidbits. We often feed from his hand without realizing it. We may go about our days unaware of the momentum of the movement of our hearts, feeding little by little on things that are moving us away, not toward, God.

CS Lewis says we are either moving toward God or moving away from Him. This happens every day, day after day, in all the hundreds and thousands of choices we make, reactions to circumstances and thoughts that we entertain.

The momentum of our lives is something we don’t often stop to consider. It often isn’t obvious to our conscious minds. We may not even be aware of all the little things that add up and feed that momentum in the direction we are going. We are highly aware of the momentous times in our lives, but we are largely unaware of the mundane times where real direction and momentum are sustained.

I think about these things in light of two recent announcements by two prominent (at least highly visible) men who were once Christians and now have renounced their faith. Marty Sampson, the Australian songwriter for the global megachurch, Hillsong, announced this week, “I’m genuinely losing my faith….”[1]

Just days before that, well-known Christian author, Joshua Harris, who championed purity and advocated that Christians shouldn’t date before marriage in a widely popular book, announced (on the heels of his own divorce), “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus…. I am not a Christian.”[2]

According to CS Lewis and Tim Keller, we are shifting – all the time. Our momentum is taking us toward God or away from God at any given moment and at every moment in our lives. We are never merely standing still.

Continue reading “The Eternal Significance of the Mundane”

Thoughts on Prayer, Circumstances and God’s Purposes

God uses the circumstances of our lives to change us and accomplish His purpose in us.


Many of us pray to God to change our circumstances. We pray for things that we want, sometimes things that really need. We pray according to our perspective, telling God what we want and need.

He knows, of course, what we want and what we need. He knows before we ask. He knows as the words are forming on our tongues and formulating in our minds.

Jesus told us to pray and ask God for our daily bread. Jesus told us to ask, seek, knock….

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

He even illustrated with a parable:

“And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:5-13)

We are expected to ask, supposed to ask, and ask persistently. And many, many people do ask God for things, but God doesn’t seem to answer. He doesn’t give us what we want, and sometimes He doesn’t even give us the things we desperately feel we need. Sometimes it seems He doesn’t answer at all.

It’s common to human experience to ask God to change our circumstances. When the circumstances don’t change, we are discouraged, depressed, frustrated and sometimes even angry. Many walk away from God as a result.

Atheists challenge me, “Prove to me that God answers prayers, and I will believe.” As if God was a kind of vending machine in the sky, or a barterer or maybe just a slot machine. Sometimes you win with God, and sometimes you don’t. Just keep trying.

But that’s not the right way to approach God. Jesus called Him Our Father. He is also the same God who formed the universe out of nothing. If you spend any time contemplating all that science informs us about the vastness, complexity and elegant, austere beauty of the creation, you begin to understand how great God must be… mind-boggling. He isn’t a “tame lion” as CS Lewis says.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Prayer, Circumstances and God’s Purposes”

Opening the Door to Forgiveness

The part of us that opens the door to forgive others opens the door to forgiveness.


I recently wrote about how our wounds provide a model for how we relate to God and understand Him, the hurts we receive from others. That post was inspired by Tim Keller who said, “The way we distribute mercy says a lot about how we relate to God.” Because God forgives us as we forgive others (Luke 11:4), our forgiveness is tied into how we see God, understand Him and relate to Him.

The two keys are 1) how we understand God’s love and 2) how we understand our own sinfulness. Both of these perspectives are measured best by the cross, by the example of God shedding all of His power and privilege to become human, and being found in human form, submitting Himself to His own plan by sacrificing Himself on the cross for our sake. (Phil. 2) We can understand our own sinfulness in relation to the cost of redemption – the life of God’s son (God in the flesh); and we can measure God’s love by the same standard.

God loved us to much that He gave His life, the human life He took on and sacrificed for us. By the same token, the extreme cost of the life of Jesus is the a measure of the depth of our sin. We have been forgiven much!

Our understanding of the greatness of God’s love for us, and the great depth of our sin, helps us in understanding why we need to forgive others. If God loved us so much, we are free to love and compelled to love others by the same measure. In more mundane terms, if our sin was so great that Christ had to die for us to redeem us, we can certainly forgive the lesser sins others have committed against us.

In fact, to bring this home, we can only be forgiven to the extent (by the measure) that we forgive others. Our forgiveness and our forgiveness toward others is inextricably linked. Perhaps this is because Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit) are one, and Jesus calls us to be one with them (Him). (John 17:21) We can’t be one with God if we harbor unforgiveness toward others!

In some sense, then, forgiveness is formulaic. Jesus has stated for us a kind of “law of forgiveness” kind of like a law of physics. He is telling us, “This is how it works.” How do we, then, go from intellectual ascent and academic understanding to real life? I like the way NT Wright puts it when he says that the bit (part) of us that opens the door to forgive others opens the door to forgiveness.

Continue reading “Opening the Door to Forgiveness”