Today’s interview is with Jim Wallace of PleaseConvinceMe.com and host of the PleaseConvinceMe Podcast. As a cold case detective, Jim brings a unique perspective to his approach to apologetics and a very down-to-earth logical style. In this interview, Jim talks about his approach to the evidence (inference to the best explanation), Tactics and apologetics, debate vs. dialogue, pitfalls to apologists, and more.
Jim’s background as an Catholic-raised atheist, and cold-case detective
Jim believed in the progress of science to answer all the unresolved questions
How did Jim become an atheist?
Why didn’t Jim respond to Christians witnessing to him without evidence?
What approach worked to start him thinking about becoming a Christian?
What did Jim do to grow as a Christian?
How did Jim’s police training help him to investigate Christianity?
What investigative approach is used in his police work?
Does “abductive reasoning” also work for investigating Christianity?
What sort of activities did Jim get involved in in his community?
How Jim’s experience as a youth pastor convinced him of the value of apologetics
How young people learn best by training for engagement with opponents
How Jim takes his youth on mission trips to UC Berkeley to engage the students
Is it possible to run an apologetics ministry part-time while keeping a day job?
Do you have to be an expert in order to have an apologetics ministry?
What books would Jim recommend to beginning apologists?
How the popular apologist can have an even bigger impact than the scholar
How the tactical approach is different for debates and conversations
Jim’s advice for Christians who are interested in learning apologetics
How Christian apologist need to make sure they remain humble and open-minded
How your audience determines how much you need to know from study
Jim’s reason for becoming an atheist, (his mother was excluded from the Catholic church after her divorce), is one I have heard before. Without saying anything about the Catholic church’s policy. I like the way he eventually came back to Christianity. No big emotional crisis, just taking a sober second look at the evidence by himself, and talking with his Christian friends. I’m impressed with the way he has such a productive ministry, as well.
Looking to get apologetics into your church? (There’s a podcast about that.) To get started sometimes all it takes is an idea and the vision to make something happen, even if it is small. In Jonathan Morrow’s book Think Christianly (interview here) he lists 21 ways for your church to engage at the intersection of faith and culture. Are you ready to look at just seven of them and think about how you might be able to incorporate them into your own church?
Here are the first two to wet your whistle:
Briefly mention current events relevant to faith and culture and include a reference to an article or blog for further exploration.
Sponsor a debate on the existence of God. Consider partnering with another church to sponsor a live event, or you can show a recent one on a DVD. This will provide opportunities for conversations to occur.
I left this comment on the post:
I like #1! Wooohooo! I have long trumpeted the value of linking what goes on in church with the real world. Not just apologetics and evidence, but current events.
Here is a story showing how linking math to current events interests young people in math.
“When families chat about societal issues, they often create simple mathematical models of the events,” says Ming Ming Chiu, a professor of learning and instruction at UB’s Graduate School of Education with extensive experience studying how children from different cultures and countries learn. “Unlike casual chats, these chats about societal issues can both show the real-life value of mathematics to motivate students and improve their number sense.”
The findings, published in the current issue of Social Forces, an international journal of sociology, was the first international study on how conversations among family members affect students’ mathematical aptitude and performance in school. Chiu’s findings were based on data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; its Program for International Student Assessment collected almost 110,000 science test scores and questionnaires from 15-year-olds from 41 countries, including 3,846 from the U.S.
If it works for math, it should work for Christianity, too. I think so.
That’s one of the reasons why I cover current events relevant to Christianity.
I think that sponsoring Brian Auten would also be a good way to have an impact. He does great work posting all those debates, apologist interviews, lectures and book reviews. I’m sure that he could use the support!
Recent post-secondary graduates recruited by the federal public service appear to become more disengaged and less ambitious the longer they’re in their jobs.
That’s a key conclusion of a new study that provides an intriguing window into perceptions of government employment by new public service hires and potential recruits. The study, recently posted to a government website, was done for the Public Service Commission by EKOS Research Associates.
It involved online surveys with two groups of people hired through the government’s Post-Secondary Recruitment Program (PSR), as well as recent hires recruited through other methods and “potential recruits” — mostly university graduates under age 35.
As part of the study, EKOS re-interviewed 219 PSR recruits who were surveyed in an earlier phase of the study in 2009. It found some “troubling shifts” in their attitudes.
The importance these recruits attach to “key intrinsic job aspects” has declined over the past year, the study reports. The weight they give to the opportunity to be creative declined by nine percentage points from 2009 to 2010, it says, while the importance they attached to the prestige associated with their jobs fell by 10 points.
There were also smaller declines in the importance ascribed to meaningful work and opportunities for career advancement, while “more extrinsic issues” — such as attractive compensation and a good work-life balance — assumed greater significance.
“These findings suggest that PSR recruits become less ambitious/intrinsically motivated as they spend more time in the federal public service,” the study concludes.
Can people who are disengaged serve the public as well as private sector workers whose compensation and continued employment depends on their being engaged in their work? This is why we need to privatize as much as possible.
Back in high school, I was holy rollin’ like a 80-year-old on a Rascal. I knew for sure I was going into the ministry and was entirely prepared to spend the rest of my life in the service of God. Several things happened about which I would write a book (and might one day). The short version is, my church was populated with small-minded, bigots. The church split twice and once because of a situation I was involved in. A poor black woman living out of an old rusted mustang barely survived two lots down while the church sent money to missionaries in Honduras. By the time the church had sucked my soul from me and spit me out, I turned my back on it all.
Fast forward to now. I have two children and I live in Texas. They will be exposed to Christianity in some form. We visited many churches (and synagogues since they are technically Jewish) and nothing appealed to me. The primary problem I have is that traditional worship is a broken record, especially when handled by Southern Baptists. There is only so much of the same catch-phrases, slogans, and cliches I can take before I hit toxic cynicism. The other problem I have is with modern worship. There is only so much canned slides, unfamiliar songs, and slick (but only re-purposed traditional) sermons I stomach. Where others claim tradition, I claim “rut”. I was on the other side long enough to see all of these things as meaningless.
I kept myself at such a distance from religion for so long, that aplogetics is entirely new to me. Christian apologetics is a discipline (and I would argue a culture as well) within Christianity where Christians defend their faith through logic, reason, and even science. Yeah, I know, sounds crazy. But here’s the kicker:
In my entire life, not once have I ever seen or heard a Christian say these words: “I’m not afraid for anyone to question me about my faith. I have nothing to hide [intellectually].”
Keep in mind, growing up Southern Baptists means growing up knowing very little about your own faith and spending time around other people who are openly hostile to those who don’t believe the same way.
For me, I don’t know what I believe anymore. I feel burned by a long history of disappointments by my own faith. In a nutshell, God to me is very similar to my own father. He came around, did his business and is long gone. I don’t and probably will never believe God is much more than a designer who set up some sophisticated systems that still work today but has moved on to other interests. I frankly think it’s absurd to believe God takes the time to help somebody have the strength to make it through a job interview while somewhere else around the world a child is sold into a life of sex slavery. But I digress.
So my attendance at the conference is me intrigued by the kind of intellectual topics presented because that’s not the Christianity I know or see on TV.
He summarizes the conference and then ends with this:
So the conference was great. So great in fact it occurred to me if actual mainstream Christianity was like that instead of the feelings-based judgment frontal assault I grew up with, I might have never left the church. However, the conference seemed to be geared toward two types: believers (meaning Christians who want to defend their faith) and atheists, who comprise the main apologetics boogie man. “Atheist” was used constantly to refer to the kind of people they needed to stay prepared for.
As a guy who lost his faith long ago, I never doubted God’s existence. However, since I think he is a deadbeat dad, I have many questions and am looking for meaning without being convinced God is real. My struggle with faith has lasted me about 25 years. I would like to have seen a session on reconciling the Bible as a whole. For instance if Intelligent Design is really using science as I heard, how do they address the Adam and Eve question? I also would like someone like Dr. Moreland to discuss why he gets three angels and conversations with God directly when clearly God never bothered with me to begin with.
The premise on which they build many of their arguments is their belief. I don’t have that. So while I enjoyed the conference overall, I walked out of there with more questions. But isn’t that kind of the point? For the first time in over two decades, I felt mentally stimulated by a religious event. In that, I’m intrigued.
And what do we learn from this?
Well, I will try to be civil, but what I really want to do is rant against the postmodernism, irrationality, mysticism, pietism, relativism, inclusivism, universalism, hedonism, etc. that has got us to a point where something like 70% of young Christians who grow up in the church abandon it as soon as they go off to college. The church is a club that is run by people who want nothing to do with the honest questions of people who are less interested in feelings, intuitions, amusement and community and more interested in truth. And we are failing these honest questioners, because we are too busy having fun and feeling happy.
I have a very good idea of why the church is losing all of it’s young people. And we need a tea party revolution in the church to get people to come back.
So here’s my stand:
The church believes that belief in God’s existence is divorced from logic and evidence, but I believe that God’s existence is knowable, rational and supported by publicly-accessible evidence
The church thinks that people become Christians because they like Christianity, but I believe that people become Christians when they think Christianity is true
The church believes you can seek happiness without caring about the moral law, and their job is to make you feel accepted no matter what you do, but I believe that we need to set out clear moral boundaries and explain to people using non-Biblical evidence what damage is caused if those boundaries are broken
The church believes that reading the Bible and attending church as therapeutic, but I think that the Bible and church are for clarifying my obligations in my relationship with God and for setting out the broad goals that I will use when I develop my life plan to meet those goals by solving problems using my talents in the way that *I* think is most effective – and my plan doesn’t involve making you feel happy, by the way
The church thinks that the Christian life consists of singing, praying and not disagreeing with anyone or thinking that we are right about anything, but I think we should get off our duffs and start studying to think about how our Christian convictions apply to the world around us in every area of life, from politics to economics to foreign policy to marriage and parenting and beyond
The church believes that Christianity is true for them while other religions work for other people, but I believe that religions are assessed by whether they are true or not – and that other religions can be mistaken where they make false claims
The church believes that evangelism is done without using apologetics or focusing on truth, but I think we should all be prepared by watching debates, holding open forums, hosting speakers and conferences, and generally training ourselves to engage with the outside world in the realm of ideas
The church thinks Christianity is a faith tradition, but I think Christianity is a knowledge tradition
Anyway, check out these other posts for more snarky defiance.
Here’s a blog post from Reason to Stand. In it, Wes Widner examines some problems with the way churches operate today, and makes some recommendations for improvement.
In the first place, a hierarchical system where non-preachers are viewed as less spiritual, where the gift of preaching is exalted above all other gifts is plainly against many passages found in scripture including Jesus’s own admonition that his own disciples not follow the pattern of the world in setting up hierarchical “power over” systems.
Secondly I would point to the perpetual spiritual immaturity that is fostered and festering in most churches (particularly Southern Baptist and Methodist churches as those are the ones I have the most experience in). When people are told that rigorous study of the word of God is limited to an elite few “chosen” men the end result is a logical abdication of serious study on the part of the “average” churchgoer. This is one of the reasons I believe areas such as apologetics have historically had such a hard time making inroads into the local church because most pastors feel threatened by the prospect of their congregation actually being educated and able (empowered?) to ask serious questions. Sadly it doesn’t have to be like this and I’ll explain in my third line of reasoning below.
Finally, I believe that the system we’ve manufactured (sure, as early as 300AD, but early errors are still errors) and have come to accept as an unquestionable fact is harmful to the Body of Christ is because it leads directly to pastors either being burned out or becoming dictators (I believe in some cases merely for self-preservation). Nowhere in Scripture are we presented with a description of a man who is supposed to shoulder the load that we expect the average “professional” pastor to carry. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that one man in a local group of believers is in charge of visiting the sick, ministering to all the members, responsible for the bulk of spiritual instruction, etc.
J.P. Moreland also recommends having a team of pastors instead of just one main pastor in his book “Love Your God With All Your Mind”, or LYGWYM, for short.
I chose this post to link to because I’ve experienced the problems he talks about here personally. But I’ve also noticed some practices I liked while listening to sermons online. One thing I like about Mark Driscoll is that he gives the sermon then takes questions from the audience. I also like Wayne Grudem because he preaches in a normal voice and isn’t afraid to talk about politics and other serious issues. And I like it when William Lane Craig surveys all points of view on interesting topics when he teaches Sunday school.
And I have some ideas of my own, too. Speaking as a man, I learn better when things are presented to me as an overview of conflicting viewpoints. I get bored when only one point of view is presented. It makes me sleepy. I like to fight, so that would be my recommendation to improve church – more apologetics, more debates and more disagreements. And I think having events where the church hosts debates for the public to attend at the local university is also good.