Interview with Roger of Faith Interface

I recently interviewed Brian of Apologetics 315 (here and here) and enjoyed hearing the insights of a fellow apologist and blogger.  Today, I talk with Roger of the very fine apologetics blog Faith Interface and get the scoop on his blog, background, and advice on doing apologetics.

* * * *

Please tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Roger and I live in Queensland, Australia. I have a day job as a health professional, but my real passion is the interface between science, philosophy and the Christian faith. This interest is quite broad, incorporating Christian theology, Christian apologetics, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion and classical philosophy. I’m also interested in comparative religions, church history, historical theology, history of philosophy and the psychology of belief. The discipline that I find seems to link all of these wide-ranging interests together is Christian apologetics.

How did you become interested in apologetics?

After being raised in the Uniting Church in Australia (a merger of Methodist, Presbyterian and congregational denominations), I recommitted myself to Christ at university. I struggled in the early days under the misconception that as a Christian, I somehow had to bypass my rational mind to experience Christ fully. I truly felt that to be a powerful Spirit-led Christian I needed to switch off my rational mind and ‘just believe’. I had been told that my rational mind was an impediment to “true spirituality” and that I needed to convert head knowledge to heart knowledge. After a while, I wondered why God would have created me with a rational, inquisitive mind if he only wanted me to throw it aside and pursue blind, unthinking faith. I gradually realised that my mind was not the impediment to faith that I had been told, and in fact was essential for my Christian faith to mature into one that was robust, defensible and satisfying. So I got to reading anything I could get my hands on, and then a few years ago got an iPod and started listening to a wide range of MP3 lectures available on the Net.

Like most Christians, I have contact with non-believers on a daily basis. Australia is quite a secular and rationalistic culture, so evangelical Christians are definitely in the minority. I must say though, that most non-believing Australians are of the “apathetic agnostic” type, rather than the aggressive and outspoken atheist species, so most non-Christians in Australia are quite content as long as your faith is a private, personal thing that you don’t try to exercise in the public domain. I accepted that for a while and it seemed to work for me – the quite, private, almost apologetic Christian (in the colloquial sense of the word ‘apologetic’!). This was epitomised by the “I’m a Christian, but please don’t hate me” approach. The problem with the private faith option is that non-believing associates then assume you are “one of them” and don’t quite understand when you don’t participate in common non-believer activities with the same amount of ease as they do. Soon however, I realised that the privatised Christian faith was insipid, impotent, compromised and dishonest. So I started to speak out, especially with work colleagues who tend to be more the intellectually-arrogant, university-graduate type of atheist. I realised after ongoing discussions that I really enjoyed apologetic discussions and came to realise that defending the Christian faith against straw man arguments, caricatures, wildly simplistic and inaccurate critiques and charges of “blind faith” and “irrationality” was not only enjoyable, but absolutely essential. I love defending the Christian faith!

What was your purpose in creating the Faith Interface site?  What kinds of feedback are you getting from both believers and unbelievers?

I decided to set up the blog in April of this year. I realised that all this reading, all this listening to lectures and all the knowledge gained through these enjoyable pursuits needed an outlet. I needed to put this to use for the glory of God and His Kingdom. My background in the sciences (particularly the biological sciences) and my other interests in Christian theology and philosophy gave me the idea to start a blog where the interface of science, philosophy and Christianity could be showcased and discussed. Hence “Faith Interface” was born. I think symbols are important, and I put quite some thought into the blog’s logo. The Faith Interface “triquetra” is an early Christian symbol (adopted from earlier pre-Christian symbols) made up of three overlapping “vesica pisci” (a type of ancient fish symbol) and represents the Holy Trinity – Father, Son & Holy Spirit. It sits within a triangle, representing God’s sovereignty over science, philosophy & theology. I think it turned out pretty cool and seemed to summarise what I was trying to achieve. At the advice of my blog designer, I started promoting the blog on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and, more recently, Circle Builder.

The interest in the blog internationally and the feedback has been very encouraging. I have interacted with a large number of other Christians through the blog and discussions have been stimulating. They have been very supportive and encouraging. The blog has a good following from non-believers as well and I have a number of regulars who post frequently on the blog and the networking pages. Most of the time, these non-believers are polite and respectful and we have had some excellent and stimulating exchanges. I’m fairly thick-skinned and so the occasional “ad hominem” attacks don’t worry me too much. I figure that if they bother to post and argue, that at least is better than being irrelevant and therefore ignored. I am amazed, though, how simplistic and fallacious some of the arguments put up against Christianity have been. I am not formally trained in apologetics, but there is rarely an argument that stumps me. If I have a particularly challenging question, I utilise a number of professional Christian scholars and apologists that I have met through networking sites. They are always happy to help out, time permitting.

What are the big apologetics-oriented questions people are asking about Christianity today?

I think questions come from two main quarters. Obviously the first type of person is the honest seeker who feels drawn to Christ but has some concerns, some intellectual barriers and/or some ethical questions that are preventing them from making a commitment. They a possibly hearing lots of things in the world about how belief in God and Christian faith in the 21st Century is absurd, irrational, puerile and immature. They may also be hearing that religion is dangerous and that Christianity has only brought misery to the world and should therefore be shunned. They may have heard that to become a Christian, they need to leave their intellect – their inquiring mind – at the front porch and enter the house of Christianity by “just having faith”. They may have met people who professed to be Christians, or at least regular church attenders, who have been rude, manipulative, self-centred and pretty much no different (or possibly worse) than non-believers they know. These honest seekers may need to hear about the rationality of belief in God, the historical reliability of Christian Scriptures, an accurate portrayal of Christian history, or maybe just correct Christian doctrine and that may answer their nagging questions, overcome barriers to faith and open the way for them to come to Christ in faith.

The other type of person is the committed Christian who has doubts in certain areas, feels set upon by non-believers to justify their faith, or are concerned about conspiracy theories commonly circulated in the popular media. They may have been raised or discipled in Christian traditions that shunned the intellect and therefore feel inadequate or unprepared to defend their faith in the face of opposition or criticism. These people probably have the same questions as the first group, but may just need confirmation of what they already know, more detail or a more accurate idea about the major issues.

In particular, in the face of postmodernist attacks on the concept of truth and epistemology, political correctness, religious pluralism and universalism, contemporary Christians may be finding themselves more commonly under fire if they confess to their belief in the exclusivity claims of Jesus and the historic Christian faith. I know that this is a common discussion point on Faith Interface.

In your view, what role does apologetics play in evangelism?  What advice do you have about using apologetics in sharing the gospel?

To me apologetics and evangelism are distinct, but closely interrelated disciplines. Sometimes the boundaries are blurred and the flow from apologetics to evangelism is often a smooth continuum. Personally, I’ve never seen myself as having an evangelistic gift, preferring the apologetic approach of defending the Christian faith, correcting misconceptions and highlighting the deficiencies of non-Christian worldviews. In many ways though, evangelism is part of apologetics and vice versa. It just depends on one’s personal emphasis and gifting, and therefore which end of the continuum one decides to jump into. I guess at the end of the day, all mature disciples of Christ are called to be evangelists in some way – be it small or large. It is the thrust of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20.

What is the apologetics “scene” like in Australia?  Do you think it’s much different than in the U.S.?

Well, in general I would say that, compared to the US, Christian apologetics in Australia is more of a decentralised cottage industry. We don’t have an academy of nationally or internationally renowned Christian Apologists as such. I think apologetics happens mainly at the grass roots level – in the lives of individual Christians, in local churches, in Bible colleges and occasionally in secular University campuses. But we don’t have the big-budget, big-name apologetics ministries of the US and Britain – I guess Australia is a numerically smaller country, a proudly secular nation and a different culture in many ways to the US.

Having said that, there are some excellent Australian apologetics ministries gaining international recognition – a shining example would be the Centre For Public Christianity (http://www.publicchristianity.com/index.html) – John Dickson and Greg Clarke from Sydney provide a fantastic multimedia apologetic ministry across a broad range of topics. Their multimedia resources are top class and I often utilise their material on Faith Interface.

The internet and the blogosphere make international apologetics possible for anyone, regardless of geographic origin. So it no longer matters if you live on a continent that sits on the underside of the globe. Hopefully “Faith Interface” will develop into a useful international apologetic resource, originating from down under, and contributing to the glory of God and His Kingdom.

What are your future plans for Faith Interface?  Are there any new directions or developments you can share?

I’m still in networking and “build readership phase” currently. The initial thoughts for the blog were to provide a forum for discussion of the interface of science, philosophy and the Christian faith. As time has worn on, the scope of the blog has widened to broader Christian apologetics discussion topics, discipleship, spiritual formation, ecclesiology – anything really. That’s the beauty of a blog really – you can post anything that comes to mind that might be of relevance and general interest. I’d like to work further on networking with other bloggers and increasing visitors to the blog (aren’t we all!).

After being inspired by the late Robert E. Webber’s book “Ancient-Future Time”, I’m soon embarking on a personal experimental pilgrimage into personal observance of the traditional Christian festivals of Advent, Epiphany and Lent (in addition to the usual Christmas and Easter). I have been finding myself getting frustrated by the lack of ceremony, lack of reverence and the directionless approach to discipleship and spiritual formation in the modern western expressions of evangelicalism (particularly in my Australian context). I’m going to experiment with following the historical Christian calendar a little more closely in 2009/2010 and allow the traditional progression of the Christian festivals to guide my devotion times and spiritual formation disciplines. I’m going to use the blog as a kind of diary of my experiences. Watch this space.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Bookmark and Share

Three Views on the Atonement

Michael Bird at Euangelion hosts three views on the question, “For whom did Christ die?” by

Paul Helm (Calvinist View)
Michael Jensen (Amyraldian View)
Ben Witherington (Arminian View)

Paul Helm goes first, followed by Jensen and Witherington, each writing about 300 words on their respective views.

According to Paul Helm (Highland Theological College):

‘Definite atonement’ is an improvement on ‘Limited atonement’, but neither phrase clearly captures and expresses the idea, which is not exclusively to do with the atonement. The view is that the Triune God ensures the salvation of men and women, boys and girls. He does not merely make possible their salvation, leaving it to the sinner to make up his own mind. Rather, whom he intends to save, he saves, through the distinct but inseparable work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Augustine puts it in his letter to Simplicianus in AD 396, God’s grace is effectual, effective, actually ensuring that those ordained to eternal life believe, secured by the golden chain of Romans 8.

What is at issue is an estimate of divine grace. The biblical basis for the view does not rest upon a single proof verse, or a few of these, (though verses such as John 6.37 and Acts 13.48 and of course Romans 8 28f should be borne in mind). Rather it is founded on the implications of Scripture’s overall witness to God’s powerful love, to the spiritual death of fallen mankind, and to the actual salvation of countless people.  (Continue)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Guest Blogger Joseph Porter on the Inevitability of Mystery

It’s my pleasure to welcome guest blogger Joseph Porter to Cloud of Witnesses.  Joseph is a rising sophomore at Harvard College and Features Editor of The Harvard Ichthus, an undergraduate Christian journal at Harvard. He blogs at The Fish Tank (the blog of The Harvard Ichthus) and Deus Decorus Est.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

What do the Atonement, the Incarnation, the Trinity, Christ’s marriage to the Church, and the Resurrection of the Dead have in common?

The obvious answer is that they are pretty important Christian concepts. The less obvious answer is that they are mysteries of the faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, Ephesians 5:31-32, and 1 Timothy 3:16, inter alia).

What does it mean for God to become Man, or to be three Persons? The most honest response I can give is “I don’t know.” God gave us the Bible, a collection of texts concerning God’s pursuit of mankind and our various responses – not an instruction manual for formulating Christianity within the framework of twenty-first century analytic philosophy. Of course, every once in a while, we may sit down, scratch our heads, and figure out a theological question or two. More often, however, we are left with mysteries.

As a Christian, I confess that mysteries sometimes bother me. Why do I believe in Christianity if I cannot even understand it completely? Am I “copping out” intellectually? It certainly is easy to feel that way when good answers to important questions are elusive – or (for now) non-existent.

But mysteries, if you think about it, aren’t all that mysterious.

Shouldn’t we expect mysteries? Shouldn’t we expect it to be the case that we don’t understand everything perfectly? Shouldn’t we expect to be . . . human? After all, if mysteries did not exist, we would know everything. We would be omniscient – gods, even. But it is obviously not the case that we are omniscient or divine. For us, mysteries are inevitable.

We are embodied creatures whose understanding of the world is derived largely from our senses. How we think about things is fundamentally limited. We see, hear, smell, taste, and touch a four-dimensional world. That is it. We struggle in vain to imagine imagine anything but a four-dimensional world – even though our world may not even be four-dimensional. Even within the confines of my four-dimensional worldview, I can’t imagine the echolocation of dolphins or the sound-color synæsthesia of my friend Gio. Echolocation and synæsthesia are, in a sense, mysteries to me; I can ascertain certain facts about them (e.g., how they may correspond to certain neurological states of affairs in delphine brains), but little more. Obviously, that is hardly justification to deny their existence! But God is far more different from me than dolphins or synæsthetes. Thus, I should not only accept a mysterious God, but expect a mysterious God. A God Who is not mysterious – Who is somehow circumscribed by our impoverished imagination – is no God at all. Asking God to explain Himself fully would be like asking a dolphin to explain echolocation. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

Of course, this isn’t just true from a Christian perspective. The fact of the matter is that every belief system – including metaphysical naturalism – has mysteries. (Trust me, quantum mechanics is mysterious.) If someone tells you that his belief system has no mysteries, he is either God or a liar.

The difference between Christianity and some other belief systems (such as the New Atheism of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens) is that Christianity is operating with entities and substances that really should be mysterious. God may not exist, but if He does, we surely cannot understand Him completely. Belief in God is belief in the Transcendent – and the Transcendent is, well, transcendent. When God declares that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (cf. Isaiah 55:9), He is saying something rather obvious. How could God’s ways not be higher than our ways?

The real mystery, to me, is the current popularity of the idea that “Science” will someday answer all our questions – the idea that there someday will be no mysteries. Even if modern physics didn’t have the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, this much trust in human reason would still be woefully misplaced. After all, according to the scientists, we are glorified apes who arose from random processes and are ultimately no different from any other organism. If that is the case, what grounds can there be for idealizing our cognitive faculties? If anything, we should be astounded by the (relatively feeble) capacity for abstract thought we actually have. In a way, the most interesting thing about biology is biologists – organisms capable of studying themselves systematically. That minds arose from mindlessness – that truly is a miracle. (In fact, I have difficulty imagining that our current capacity for abstract thought could have developed without divine intervention. I am boggled when I think about the sheer brainpower that went into something like Gödel’s incompleteness theorems or Debussy’s Clair de lune. I concede that prehistoric Man probably benefitted from basic arithmetic – but whence the leap from multiplication tables to this?)

For me, reality ends up being much less mysterious with God than without Him. I may not entirely understand the Trinity (for example), but I see no reason why I should be able to understand it entirely. Moreover, I see no real rationale for believing that the conjunct of spatiotemporally bound matter and energy we call the “universe” could have come into being on its own. In the eyes of science, at any rate, the universe remains very much a mystery; as (agnostic) Robert Jastrow writes, “Science has proven that the universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks, what cause produced the effect? Who or what put the matter and energy in the universe? Was the universe created out of nothing, or was it gathered together out of pre-existing materials? And science cannot answer these questions.”

In the end, I must agree with Chesterton: “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]