Sell or Tell?

I’m not much of a TV watcher, really.  That’s not an indictment on what’s on TV; not that I’m smug in saying that I don’t like what’s on TV, more that I just get easily bored as I seem to have less and less in common with much of what is popular these days.   (I’m even falling into the old-guy mode of calling “celebrities” by the wrong names and confusing one with the other.) That being said, I was flipping through the channels and after watching the History Channel actually airing a show about HISTORY, I landed on one of my guilty pleasures.. the informercials.

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I’m fascinated in a train-wreck sort of way by these things! They’re just so obnoxiously, garishly WONDERFUL!  Too loud, too tacky, and such obvious, scripted knockoffs of one another…And then I started to think.. about how the two shows and their deliveries were complete, polar opposites. And, as always, this led me to think about the gospel, and the church..and how this fits.  And it does… perfectly.

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See, the guy on the History channel was passionate, but he was stating facts. Real, historical events. Facts. He didn’t feel any great need (and frankly, I would have been skeptical) if he had been over-the-top in trying to “sell” me on the history of the events he was describing. They happened, and he was simply telling me why it happened, what it meant, and why I should care.  He was trying to TELL me something.

On the other hand, the infomercial guy was also stating facts, but he was over-the-top in his embellishment because, well, he was trying to convince me and SELL me something.

And then it hit me.. this is the state of the church today.

There are two types of men standing behind the pulpit (or sitting on a stool behind the plexiglass stand) these days.  Sell or Tell?

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One view is that the role of the Pastor is to proclaim the real, historic, news of the gospel. That Jesus Christ, very God of very God, begotten not made, the second person of the trinity.. in order to save men from sin, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.. lived a sinless life, died an atoning death, was buried, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty making intercession for us, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

The men who proclaim that truth and who believe that preaching the very written words of God are both sufficient and *effective* as promised by God to be used to turn men to faith in Christ… these men sound an awful lot like the guy on the History Channel.  Since God has ordained that the means He would use to awaken His people to faith is the simple, spoken words of scripture, their faith is in that promise, and faith in the proclamation of scripture.  The call here is for people to BELIEVE… so they TELL!

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On the other hand, there are those who believe the role of the Pastor is “life change”, who   “cast vision”, in an attempt to “live missionally” as they have a “coversation” about faith in “community”.  Since the goal here is to create a vision, convince people of its worth, and call them to join it (with both funding and effort) this isn’t a simple proclamation. This isn’t telling people what happened, it’s SELLING.  And like any sales organization, you need a vision and a spokesman. In this case it’s not simply enough to state the facts so that people believe, you need to convince and call people to action! It’s not just something to believe in faith, but something to DO… so you SELL!

I know it’s going to be very easy to mischaracterize this as “cold/dead knowledge” vs. “passion and excitement”.  Or “intellectual ascent” vs. “living faith”.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, BOTH the Historian and the Informercial guy were extremely passionate.  The difference is in what they based their faith in; the reality of the event, or the skill in the speaker to sell a vision.

As a test, I’d like you to find videos of several well known Pastors. Ask yourself if this isn’t true….

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The more “SELLISH” (Sham-wow, “infomercialish”) the speaker is, the less he is actually speaking about the birth, life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ and the more likely he is to be selling you something. (A vision, a program, a “new” way to solve your problems/get what you want, a “secret of the bible”, a push for cash, or a call for free labor.) Is he preaching about Jesus, or about himself, his church and his programs?

The more “TELLISH” (History Channel Guy) the speaker is, the more likely he is to be actually proclaiming the gospel of faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sin.

So, does the speaker sound more like the infomercial guys or the History Channel guy?  Does he sound more like the TV News Anchor, or the commercials following him?

And can I make one last challenge for your consideration?

What does God, in scripture, define as the role of the Pastor.

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Feeding the sheep by preaching the word.*

“[Jesus] answered, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 3:14–4:4)

In other words, feeding the sheep. The sheep. The sheep. The SHEEP! (Get it? Not the goats. There is absolutely no biblical grounds for saying that the church “isn’t for us, it’s for the lost.”  That’s not Jesus. That comes from guys who are trying to sell you stuff.

And what are they to feed the sheep?

The word of God.

So next time you listen to a sermon, receive a flyer/marketing card, watch a commercial or see a billboard, ask yourself.  What are they selling and who are they telling you about? How hard to you have to look past the marketing of people, programs, and products to find Jesus?

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SELL or TELL?

Marc

 

* Chris Rosebrough at http://www.fightingforthefaith.com/ has done great work in this area.

Why I love Kermit Gosnell and the Boston Bombers (The Gospel is Offensive)

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Sometimes life is like the movies. Sometimes, in the midst of a culture where the “bad guy” is just someone who disagrees with our political view, or who cheers for an “evil” sports team (Like Manchester United) we actually see real “bad guys”.

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Since my last article, we’ve all been introduced to a few new bad guys:  Dr. Kermit Gosnell, whose barbarism is straight out of a horror movie, and the cowards who set off two bombs amidst crowds of civilians at the Boston Marathon.

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And, as I laid my head down last night, I did something that I do every night.  I prayed for every single “bad guy” that I heard about that day. I’ve done this for a few years and the media is diligent in ensuring that I hear about what seems to be an endless stream of evil.

I prayed for Kermit Gosnell.

I prayed for the those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombs.

I recently received hate mail over this issue asking “How could you?”.  So, here’s my response.

I pray for them because I love them.

(More accurately, I’m trying hard to love them because Jesus has told me to. I’d be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I fight hard not to *hate* them.  But, man, I’m trying!)

Love Your Enemies

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, andsends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-45, ESV)

But Marc, you don’t get it. These guys are EVIL! How can you love them? How are you OK with their horrific acts?  Come to think of it, why would Jesus want me to love or pray for  people like this? Does loving them mean that we are OK with them? Forgiving them?

Let me make it crystal clear: I’m absolutely NOT OK with what they did. As I pray for the “bad guys” I pray for their victims.  I also pray for those who are responsible for bringing them to justice, from the Law Enforcement Officers and Investigators to the Prosecutors and Judges.  And, if necessary, our brave men and women serving in the military.  I pray that the full weight of the government be brought down on the very people for whom I’m praying.

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“Love your enemies”

That sentence creates complete confusion and conflict in my human mind. Love… Enemies. The two are at complete odds. Love my neighbor Jesus? Yeah, I get that. Love an Enemy? That doesn’t work for me. They are my enemy because they’ve done something horrible or hurt me directly.  No, that won’t do. I can’t make it jive.  It forces me to work with one of the terms. Maybe the problem is with the “love” part, maybe it doesn’t mean real love, just forgiveness… or tolerance. But that doesn’t work based on how we see Jesus own example of sacrificial love and our call to love others as ourselves. Maybe the problem is enemy? Maybe I’m supposed to be OK with what they’ve done to become my enemy, or just explain it away. No.. that doesn’t work either.  How does this work?!?

Isn’t that contradictory? How can I love (or try to) and pray for them while praying that they are punished?

Because scripture has helped me understand 4 things:

1. Who GOD is.

2. Who WE are.

3. Who I am.

4. Who THEY are.

Who God is:

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In a word, sovereign. There wasn’t a single act or thought by either Gosnell or the bombers that escaped God’s eye.  So while we know that God didn’t stop it, we also know that justice will, ultimately, be done.  In God’s sovereignty, He has called Gosnell, the bomber, you and I to repent and believe on Christ for the forgiveness of sin, under which we are all guilty.  In His sovereignty, God has also called us in faith to love our enemies.  So, by faith I understand that I’m called simply to love my enemies and have faith that God’s justice is sure.

Who WE are:

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My human nature wants to divide the world into good guys and bad guys. I follow the rules. I don’t kill people. I’m a good guy, right?  Bad guys? Kermit Gosnell for sure. And the bombers? Absolutely.  The problem is that scripture makes it clear that I don’t get to compare others to myself and find myself not guilty. I’m forced to compare myself to the perfect holiness of God. I fail. I’m Guilty. So the “we” includes everybody. Me, you, Kermit Gosnell. All guilty, before the highest court, of the greatest crime.

Who I am:

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Forgiven. Though I’m guilty, and have done absolutely nothing which would deserve it, God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven me.  Being saved by grace through faith in Christ, I am now freed to see myself as a sinner forgiven by grace of sinning against a perfect, Holy God. As such, I am reasonably called to love and forgive others… no matter how “undeserving” they might be.  I love the undeserving because I was loved by one much greater than I, being even more undeserving.

Who am I? I am God’s own, purchased by the blood of Christ. Yet, I live in this fallen world where I’m confronted with true evil. With “bad guys”. How do I call for their judgement without becoming self-righteous, while still keeping in view the grace that was extended to me and which I pray that is extended to these bad guys?  How do I pray for them to be punished, to the fullest extent of the law and still live out my call to love them? By understanding….

Who THEY are:

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Since we are all fallen in sin and unworthy of God’s saving grace, we can’t define “us” as the good guys and “them” as the bad guys. So, who are “they”?

They are those who God has charged with enforcing His justice in this fallen world.

Stick with me here, because it’s going to be a shift in thought for many of you.

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There are, in effect, Two Kingdoms. For ease of understanding we’ll call them Heavenly and Earthly.  The first thing to understand is that ALL men are part of the earthly kingdom, but God has called, bought, and set apart His people (Christians throughout the world) to a Heavenly kingdom.

The challenge?  Even though we are citizens of this Heavenly Kingdom, we live here, temporarily, in the Earthly Kingdom.  Where God once fed men directly from heaven via Manna,  he now feeds us through farmers and ranchers, butchers and bakers.  More to the point, where God once directly consumed men though fire and brimstone, God now uses earthly rulers and governments.  This is why the church doesn’t still stone people (that’s the role of the Earthly Kingdom) , and why we don’t open our pulpits as political platforms. (preaching is the role of the Heavenly Kingdom)

Get it?

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If we err on one side, we end up turning our back on the state of the world with a shrug since “We’re just passing through.”  This would be an error as we are called to love and serve our neighbor.  If we err in this way, we see the heinous acts of Gosnell and the bombers as not impacting us much since we’re just passing though.  Think of this as the priest and the Levite walking past the man on the road to Jerusalem in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

If we err on the opposite direction, we feel the need to theocratically run our nation, or we see America as a “Christian Nation” of covenant like that of ancient Israel. We see the USA as “God’s side”.  The problem with that view is that the heavenly kingdom crosses geographic lines. While I seek to be a good citizen and work for the good of my nation (and yes, VOTE), I realize that I have a greater eternal connection to my Christian brother in an “enemy” country than to many in my own country. If we confuse the two kingdoms, when confronted with evil, we see it as our job, personally, to rage against Gosnell and the bombers.  Think of this as someone murdering a Dr. working at an abortion clinic.

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Understanding that my primary role is that of a citizen of the Heavenly Kingdom frees me to my primary calling: To proclaim the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins to all men everywhere.

By understanding that God has put institutions and men in place to administer His justice here on earth frees me to allow them to work.

Both.

So, can a Christian both pray for and love Gosnell and the bombers and seek their justice?  I’ll raise the  stakes… I submit that a Christian could both pray for Gosnell and the bombers, and literally execute them if he were the prison employee tasked to do so.

In essence, fulfilling their duties in the Heavenly Kingdom by loving and praying for their neighbor or enemy, and fulfilling their duty (if tasked) on the Earthly Kingdom by doing their job as a Police Officer, Detective, Prosecutor, Judge, Juror, Prison Warden, or Executioner.

But, as someone completely outside of the justice system, my role is not to investigate, prosecute, imprison, punish, or execute them in word or deed. In fact, my role as defined in scripture above is to love them.  I’ll pray for them, their victims, and for those who God has put into power to carry out their vocations.

Both.

Loving Kermit Gosnell and the Boston Bombers is offensive. It’s over the top. It’s Gospel.

Marc

An Honest Response: “I love Jesus but hate Religion”

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“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians”

“I’m a Christ-follower, but I oppose organized religion.”

“I’m spiritual. I think Jesus was a great teacher, but the church needs to change.”

There are almost endless variants of this core message.. “I like Jesus. I hate Religion.”

The problem is that people who make this statement don’t really believe either point. It’s a logical slight of hand, but one in which the illusionists only fool themselves.

Let me explain.

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“I love Jesus”….

Slight of hand #1: You switched “Jesuses” on us. 

To say that you love Jesus means that you have to understand who Jesus actually claimed to be, His teachings, and His stated purpose.

Jesus claimed to be God. Not a teacher, not a prophet, not a good moral example. GOD. The actual creator of the universe.  You can’t run around claiming to be God and then just be seen as a “good teacher” or “moral example”.  If Jesus isn’t who He said He was, He was at best a charlatan, and at worst a psychopath.

Jesus also made incredibly unique truth claims which were patently offensive (and blasphemous) in the first century, and remain patently offensive (and “intolerant”) in today’s post-modern culture.  Jesus said that He was God incarnate, the very creator of the universe entering into creation for a single purpose: To provide the exclusive way by which men could escape the just punishment for their sin and receive eternal life. The flip side of this truth claim is that anyone who did not believe this would be condemned.

One God. One name, alone, by which man may be saved.

Those are the truth claims of Jesus. To say that you love, respect, or follow Jesus while denying his claims of both deity and exclusivity is to love, respect, or follow a different Jesus. In short, “coexist Jesus” doesn’t exist. He’s a creation of your imagination.

You’ve swapped out the real Jesus with one of your own making. THAT is the Jesus you like.

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“I’m Spiritual”, “I hate religion” 

Slight of hand #2: You swapped religions on us.

The problem is that this generic “spiritualism” is a subjective, personalized experience.  Jesus didn’t come for that reason, He didn’t minister that way, and He didn’t establish His work on earth in this manner.

Jesus spoke, performed miracles, and made his truth claims publicly and objectively. He established the meeting together of His followers for teaching, edification, and public proclamation.  To meet together publicly and jointly confess our faith in a publicly, objectively crucified savior guards against creating and worshipping our “own personal Jesus.”

By holding to the objective, public statements of Jesus’ earthly ministry, by publicly receiving the objective elements of the Lord’s Supper, and by publicly and objectively being washed in baptism, we ultimately worship the historic, public, objective Jesus rather than a private, subjective “Jesus” of our own creation.

What this leads to, without fail, is not only replacing the real Jesus with one  of your own creation, but replacing the public, objective gospel of Jesus ministry with your own, alternative gospel.

Let’s work through that.

So, you dig Jesus. You think he had some great messages about loving the underdog, the poor, the disenfranchised. You think he was a great moral teacher. But the whole “God” thing? The whole “only way” thing? Not so much.  So what are you left with? “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So you replace Jesus stated purpose of coming to save people who do not, who cannot, love their neighbor as themselves with the very thing He said is impossible. Huh?

In closing, here’s the rub. Jesus taught and the church confesses that we have ALL failed and fallen short of this call to Love God with all our hearts and Love our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore, we believe and confess that it is only by grace through faith in Christ that we are forgiven.  That’s the christian faith. That’s the christian “church”, that’s our “religion”.

This “spiritualism”? Your “own path”? You’ve simply replaced the religion of Jesus with one of your own making.  And it ends up where ALL non-Christian religions end up; A religion of works and law rather than Jesus religion, a religion of grace.

So to be blunt, to be offensive, to be “intolerant”.. You either love the biblical Jesus and his biblical religion, or you love the  Jesus and religion you’ve replaced them with. To balk at either Jesus or His religion is to engage in a slight of hand. The problem here is that you aren’t fooling anyone but yourself.

Marc

While I can only touch on this important topic in the short-form media of a blog, here are two of the most viewed videos of the “Love Jesus, Hate Religion” argument and an absolutely fantastic response.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0p6lVdtGKI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbsadOQK_6A

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YXINEYdnkY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI15405WcLk

An Honest Response: Science and the Christian Student

I’m happy to introduce the first-ever guest article on Marc5Solas. As there had been a great deal of interaction on the science front, I wanted to reach out to scientists who are christians and ask what they would say if they had a room full of students.

It’s my honor this week to introduce Sarna Becker;  Stanford educated Scientist, Professor, Educator (and Division 1 athlete! Some people got all the good genes. The rest of us aren’t bitter. Really. 😉  ) The recent “Top 10” article hit close to home as Sarna is a Christian, a Scientist, and a parent. With that.. here’s Sarna!

 

For the past fourteen years, I have had the privilege of being an eclectic science teacher. I began as a lowly grad-assistant at a private university, moved to a Catholic prep school, taught night classes at a public community college, and now find myself at an international Christian high school in Ecuador. The courses have ranged from Bioethics to Physical Science, Biology to Biotechnology, Anatomy and Physiology to AP Chemistry. I love the diversity of students I have encountered. They are insightful, curious, and especially interested in the relationship between science and faith.

Christian students should find God’s beauty revealed throughout the natural world. Science majors should encounter the God of the universe so powerfully through their studies that they cannot deny the existence of something outside themselves. Unfortunately, many students of science find themselves in a quagmire: either they join the respected intellectual community and abandon their faith, or they compartmentalize faith as something separate from their academic lives. These are not the only options.

As a Christian and a scientist, I aim to fully engage the intellectual and spiritual faculties of my students as they develop a cohesive understanding of scientific and religious truth. In doing so, I address three commonly held (and mistaken) presuppositions about science and faith.

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1. Faith is blind, and therefore unable to be challenged.

I tell my students that there is another word for blind faith: stupidity. This may seem like a harsh characterization, but there is an important point to be made. When the Bible says that faith is the “conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NASB), it speaking of God’s faithfulness to carry out His  future promises. It is not a statement of our power to imagine unseen things into existence, or believe things that are untrue because it makes us feel better. Christians believe Jesus Christ was physically resurrected from the dead, and is the first of those who will be raised from physical death to live with God for all eternity. This belief is not just personal; if it is not grounded in the historical and scientific reality of his Resurrection, we are still in our sins and most to be pitied. What does it mean for evidence supporting the Resurrection to not just be a matter of personal belief, but something in which a scientist, or a writer, or a Christian can place their confidence?  Evidence of this sort requires a willingness to consider supernatural events as real, just as the natural events we consider real. This is challenging for many, because they have been trained to believe that…

 

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2. Nature is all there is.

The statement on the Nature of Science according to the National Science Teachers Association reads, “Science, by definition, is limited to naturalistic methods and explanations and, as such, is precluded from using supernatural elements in the production of scientific knowledge.” I love science, and so philosophically I have no problem with this statement. However, if one is a truth-seeker, one must realize that the discoveries of science are limited by this definition. Most people don’t realize that naturalistic philosophy often takes a subtle but significant shift. If supernatural mechanisms cannot produce scientific knowledge, they become relegated to the realm of “not real” or “subjective.”

In college I had a conversation with a wonderful atheist biology professor about the theory of abiogenesis, which describes the chemical evolution from non-living molecules to the first primitive living cells. Most of the key steps in this theory have never been supported by science. In fact, current experimentation (Francesco Redi and Louis Pasteur for you scientists out there!) has provided evidence in contrast to this theory. I asked my professor, “How can this be considered a scientific theory if the scientific evidence doesn’t support it?” And his reply was, “Well, we may modify the theory, but it has to exist in some form, or we wouldn’t be here.”

My purpose is not to enter a Creation vs. Evolution argument with this example. Instead, I hope to demonstrate that your assumptions limit which conclusions you are willing to consider as “real.” My question for all budding scientists is whether you are open to evidence which points to mechanisms that are unpredictable, not replicable, and outside our naturalistic system, yet very real in the impact they have on our lives and existence. If one is not open to these ideas, they are living out the accusation most commonly made against people of faith:

 

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3. Religious people are closed-minded.

In John 3, a respected Jewish Pharisee named Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. He has a well-developed sense of how the world works, but Jesus has been challenging his foundational assumptions. In the cover of darkness, he asks Jesus his deepest questions. “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”

If you asked fetuses in the womb if there was life outside the warm, dark environment in which they live, most fetuses would probably say no. In fact, most of them would prefer not to be born, but instead be content to remain quite comfortable right where they are. There might be a few indicators of something outside their contained environment – muffled sounds, sudden jostling, or even a needle from the occasional amniocentesis. From our vantage point, we know that the day will come when the fetus doesn’t have a choice whether or not to be born. Eventually he will be forced into a world that is bigger and brighter than he ever could have imagined from the closed system of the womb.

Jesus uses this analogy to gently tell Nicodemus, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Nicodemus has had a closed view of the system in which he lives. Jesus is encouraging him to be open and to accept that there is a spiritual reality superseding the earthly things he has believed.

So the question I pose to students studying science is, “Are you open, or closed?” Do you pay attention to the muffled sounds, the sudden jostling, and the occasional needles in your life? You can choose to see all of these things as a product of your natural environment, or you can be open to consider that these are indicators of a reality much greater than the one created by your own experimentation.

In asking this question, I am not encouraging students to trade their material reality for an immaterial one. I am asking them to be intellectually honest truth-seekers by considering all the possibilities that their material reality elucidates for them. I love science, because it teaches me about the fantastical world brought into existence through the mind’s eye of God. My hope is that more Christians will become excellent scientists, that their faith will be strengthened, and that discoveries of the natural world will reveal the beauty of God’s truth to all who open their eyes to see it.