Is Your Faith Unbelievable?

The New Year is upon us and with it comes the inevitable New Year’s resolution. I actually look forward to this inevitability. While I’m sure many consider making these resolutions to be cliche or overly optimistic, I personally find it healthy, necessary, and even enjoyable. More on making resolutions for 2018 later.

One of my resolutions for 2017 and for 2018 has been and will be to read more books. I read pretty slow and have always been of the mindset that I’ll just watch the movie instead when it comes to books. Trouble is, not many movies hit the theaters that are concerned with how one can be a better youth minister, Christ follower, man of God, and husband. (If you know of any, let me know!) Now that I think of it, Chris Pratt portraying a youth minister who has to teach his youth to protect themselves from Satan, Thanos, or dinosaurs could be pretty cool…

 

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Something I’ve always been interested in since my days of being a teenager in a youth group is apologetics. “Apologetics” is just a word describing the reasoning through arguments and writings for a belief. I was interested in apologetics specifically about Christianity. The spiritual and emotional reasons for my faith in Christianity came pretty easily for me, even in my Christian infancy. But I tended to neglect the intellectual reasoning for Christianity as I grew into my faith. Why? Probably because I was fearful somewhere deep down that Christianity couldn’t hold up to the definitive, cold, hard facts of science. I also wasn’t even sure if my faith made complete sense on a philosophical level. My confidence for my faith to hold up against questions of science and philosophy has since grown thanks to my professors at Oklahoma Christian University and the few books I’ve visited on the subject. However, my curiosity to keep exploring these intellectual faith questions lingered and I wanted to keep exploring the arguments brought against Christianity as well as those for it.

Then I found “Unbelievable?”. A podcast put on by Premier Christian Radio in the UK hosted by Justin Brierley. I shouldn’t say I found it. My father and eldest brother had both been listening to it before me and encouraged me to give it a try. I’m not normally a podcast guy. My commute to work isn’t very long and I figured if there was a podcast really worth listening to they’d probably just make a movie out of it. Eventually I gave in on a day that I was travelling into Fort Worth and gave Justin’s show a listen. Let me briefly give you an idea of what the format of “Unbelievable?” is like.

Justin typically invites two individuals on his show who are both scholars, authors, and/or reputable professionals in their fields to argue opposing positions on topics of faith. Sometimes the topic will concern a theological issue the two individuals disagree on. However, the show is more known for its debates between believers and atheists. Their website describes it this way, “Unbelievable? engages in fundamental questions on Christianity with the intention to openly discuss different opinions between Christians and non-believers.” – www.premierchristianradio.com/Shows/Saturday/Unbelievable

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Certainly, this wasn’t a new idea. But what Unbelievable? brings to the table is a refreshing conversational dynamic that usually has a friendly tone of mutual respect (but certainly not always!). It’s this dynamic that drew me to this program. At times I lose myself to the idea that because I believe, conversations with nonbelievers is destined to be full of conflict and name-calling; unfruitful to even initiate. Unbelievable? has shown me that friendly conversations between believers and nonbelievers is possible and really should happen more!

Justin does a fantastic job as a, for the most part, neutral moderator for these conversations. He enforces fairness in giving equal time to all sides and always encourages his guests to be respectful to each other. More than this, he often takes up the cause of the listener in that he will summarize his understanding of what has been said and ask questions or ask the guests to unpack anything that might be uncommon knowledge.  The conversational dynamic, mutual respect, and impressive quality/caliber of his guests makes this apologetics debate program stand out (especially in comparison to the frustrating YouTube clips I sometimes catch of people angrily debating in an attempt to “own” the opposition). Justin’s podcast has been a delightful source for exercising my grey matter on the questions I have about my faith as it relates to science and philosophy in the face of atheistic arguments.

The reason for today’s post (I know, 5 years later) is that I recently read Justin Brierley’s book, aptly titled, “Unbelievable?”. This book comes at Justin’s 10 year mark of hosting Unbelievable? and it is great! Why is it great? Because I said so! No, but really, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Justin takes his 10 year experience of hearing some of the most educated, intelligent, and respected atheists and theists hash out the existence of God and faith itself. Not many people have that kind of resume (CV) and even fewer have written on that experience in such accessible fashion.

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Justin starts his first chapter by addressing exactly what his experience entails as host of this apologetics debate program and what Unbelievable? is. Furthermore, he addresses the need we have as Christians to create better conversations with nonbelievers beginning the chapter with a perfectly suited quote from Joseph Joubert, “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.”

While I certainly agree that more conversations need to happen between believers and nonbelievers, it is the remainder of this book that has intrigued me and benefited me the most. Justin methodically and deftly lays out the main questions posited by atheists about theism and gives his personal response to each one informed by his 10 years of conversing with and reading the works of some of the smartest believers living today.

  • Does God make sense of human existence?
  • Does God make sense of human value?
  • Does God make sense of human purpose?
  • Was Jesus an actual historical person?
  • Did the Resurrection actually occur?
  • How can an all powerful God be all good in the midst of suffering?

*He also recounts a short conversation he has with former atheist Jesus, Richard Dawkins. In that section he also gives a brief history of where atheism is today given the New Atheism, or “Atheism 2.0”, movement.*

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(Just a Joke! 🙂

Hearing these familiar arguments fleshed out from his unique perspective and following his conclusions on how God does make sense in all of these questions was educational and reassuring. Nothing has fundamentally changed about my belief in God. Faith remains a sightless assurance; something I can’t definitively prove to the nonbeliever but that still makes sense. But the questions about my faith I’ve tried in the past in vain to quell on my own are now helpful instead of harmful. Questions about faith, even the unanswered ones, are not scary. They are liberating. They create space for conversation between believers and nonbelievers. Studying these questions have even taught me some of the unhealthy arguments Christians sometimes utilize to point to God, such as the “God of the gaps” argument.

If you have found yourself, like me, sometimes in an aura of doubt and fear concerning the questions you’ve tried hard to ignore that seemingly oppose your faith, then I encourage you to address those questions head on. Search the scriptures, read a book, listen to a podcast, talk to a nonbeliever, even bring those questions to God in prayer. Yes, you need to be weary of the validity and academic integrity of some sources. Yes, some of the questions you have may not be completely satisfied. But remember… “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” Decide to grow your faith by asking questions instead of stunting it with ignorance and fear.

In conclusion, I HIGHLY recommend the Unbelievable? podcast as well as the book.

Have you read other books or heard other podcasts that also address questions of God ad faith? I’d love to hear about them! Comment or post below to share sources that have helped you with questions you’ve had about your own faith.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” – 1 Peter 3:15

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STAR WARS: The Last Jedi – Was it Awful? (spoiler-free review)

It’s finally here! Episode VIII of the Star Wars cinematic saga, The Last Jedi. If you haven’t yet seen this movie, you are in the right place. This review will not give away any critical details or plot points for The Last Jedi. Rather, this review should give you an idea of where to place your expectations going into the movie. If you have already seen the film, I can’t wait to discuss with you the spoiler details about this movie. There is certainly much to discuss. Feel free to message me and let me know your thoughts. PLEASE DO NOT comment with any spoilers for those who have not yet had the opportunity to see The Last Jedi.

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Rewind to two years ago in December, there was an enormous amount of hype for the first installment in the newest trilogy of the Star Wars saga, Episode VII, The Force Awakens. Hopes were astronomically high for this movie to help heal the wounds dealt by the prequel trilogy, recapture the magic of the original trilogy, and convince a completely new generation that Star Wars is indeed something special. A daunting task that would inevitably not leave everyone happy. While many complain that J.J. Abrams (director of The Force Awakens) was guilty of rehashing too many similar themes from episode IV, A New Hope, it’s my humble opinion that he did a stellar job and did indeed recapture the magic of Star Wars with exciting new characters and familiar old ones.

While the hype for the long awaited installment that kicked off this latest Star Wars trilogy could not be matched by this film, there was still much anticipation for TLJ, especially concerning questions posed in TFA that we craved answers to. So much so that fan theories were flying left and right as to the true identity of Snoke and the parentage of our main protagonist, Rey. Fast forward two years…

I was fortunate enough to see this film opening night with my amazing wife who dressed like a storm trooper to match my Darth Vader attire. Nerd goals right?

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So now that I’ve seen it and had a few days to digest it, take it all in, what can I say about this film? It was… different. Different in a good way? Absolutely! Different in a bad way. Without a doubt, yes. To be clear, I don’t mean different by way of a complete departure from the Star Wars universe that we know and love. It certainly feels like Star Wars. Everything from the AMAZING score with numerous call backs to the original trilogy to the cinematography made this movie feel like it definitely belongs in the Star Wars universe. However, there were elements that would make even some of the most amateur Star Wars fans scratch their heads and consider what Rian Johnson (director) was thinking. I’ll try to make a list of the pros and cons now that may be kind of vague to be sure I don’t get into spoiler territory.

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Cons: Cause I’m a bad news first kind of guy.

  1. Jokes – While there has been comedy injected to many of the Star Wars films, this one takes the cake for the most undeserved, unsettling, and unthematic attempt to solicit laughs. At times this seems because the joke seems to worldly (as in our present reality’s version of humor). For instance, think back to the previous installment, TFA, when Finn exclaims to BB-8. “Droid, please.” Other times the humor seems to be thoughtlessly thrown in amongst moments that were very serious or were pivotal points in the story. Just seemed irreverent at times. Not all of the jokes were off key, but the ones that were stuck out like a sore thumb.
  2. Irrelevant Plot Points – If you’ve seen this movie already, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There are adventures that some of our characters go off on that don’t affect the main story arc at all. They seem to be time fillers that are intended to show character arcs but instead end up feeling superfluous. At a run time of 2 hours and 33 minutes, this movie could have easily benefited from adhering to a more traditional 2 hour run time.
  3. New Characters – While I LOVED many of the new characters we were first introduced to in TFA (Rey, Kylo, Finn, Poe, even BB-8) there are more introduced in this movie that seemed completely unnecessary. Some because of the performances given. Others gave very convincing performances but didn’t seem to serve the story at all. Can’t say much more about that without getting into spoilers!
  4. Retroactive Plot Holes – Part of the curse of using different directors on these movies is that some plot points and questions that were emphasized in one installment may not be as important to the agenda of the next director. J.J. Abrams, and now Rian Johnson, have both introduced elements to Star Wars that make the sweaty nerds quote Han Solo, “That’s not how the force works!” Especially in TLJ there are some moments of force utilization that we have witnessed on screen before that make us ask, “Why wasn’t the force utilized similarly in these other scenarios in past Star Wars films?” While it’s really cool to see some of these new effects of the force, it does seem irreverence for the original trilogy and how the force is depicted in those movies is to blame.
  5. Ending – The very last scene is garbage.

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Pros: Enough negatives, on to the good stuff!

  1. Music/Sound Design – The aforementioned score is out of sight and a delight to enjoy in this film. John Williams can never die! There were so many callbacks to the original trilogy’s soundtracks that put a smile on my face every time I recognized one. At the same time, there’s new stuff that melds with the themes of original soundtracks beautifully. On top of that, the sound design for this movie was also quite astonishing. There were scenes that seemed liked all the air was sucked out of the room. So many scenes were served by such brilliant sound design. Once you see the movie I’m sure you’ll be able to pick out some of the scenes I’m referring to.
  2. Characters/Acting – Getting to catch back up some of the characters from the original trilogy and the new ones from TFA was just awesome. Mark Hamill’s performance is out of sight and Carrie Fisher is amazingly good! The dynamic between Rey and Luke, between Rey and Kylo, and between Kylo and Luke are all extremely well done and enjoyable to watch. So much more I could go on raving about in this category but I can’t without spoiling the movie!
  3. Cinematography – To the uninitiated, this is just a fancy word to talk about how a movie looks. This movie was gorgeous! Space battles in particular were just a nonstop thrill ride to watch. There were so many scenes that would make amazing posters or even better desktop wallpapers. There was one moment in particular that just left the entire audience breathless because not only of the weight of the moment story-wise but also just because of how that moment is depicted on the screen. Just incredible. Wisely, Rian Johnson did use practical effects were he could, following the example of J.J. Abrams who had learned rightly that a big problem with the prequels was the overuse of CGI. HOWEVER, there is an entire sequence that relies on CGI creatures in this movie that are distractedly unthematic and terrible looking. Aside from that sequence, the movie gets 5 stars from me in the area of cinematography.
  4. Unpredictable – There were certainly themes from Empire Strikes Back as well as other Star Wars movies. Even so, the movie is truly originally and one of the most delighting aspects of this movie was that there were moments where I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen and I was very wrong. Some of those moments made me angry but many of them were pleasant surprises and ultimately more satisfying than what I thought was going to happen.
  5. Ending –  Aside from the very last scene, the conclusion of this film actually seems genius to me. It doesn’t end on quite as much as a cliffhanger as TFA but it goes to a place that leaves me asking, “What is going to happen after all that?!” While it is definitely the 2nd movie in a trilogy it didn’t feel like a half or a third of a story. The ending seemed very fitting to the story told in The Last Jedi and I can’t wait to see Episode IX!

Hopefully that wasn’t too much to take in. I do hope you’ll now go into The Last Jedi with some tempered expectation. There were moments that felt like a straight up gut punch for hardcore Star Wars fans… but… I had an absolute blast seeing this movie and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it when I see it again. It certainly has some problems I take issue with but is overall an exciting addition to the Star Wars saga.

Please comment below with your thoughts about The Last Jedi. Did you like it? Did you hate it? Whatever you do, don’t post any spoilers! Don’t be a nerf herder!

And for those of you who want to see The Last Jedi without having anything spoiled for you, you’ll probably want to go see it sooner rather than later!

Official SpeshAL Rating: Not Awful – 8 slices out of 10 from Pizza Planet

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Book Review AL: “MANVOTIONALS”

 

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Today is my father’s birthday. In honor of him, I want to write a quick review of a book I recently completed and utilized as a template for a curriculum in my class for our young men. This seems fitting not just because it’s my dad’s birthday and this book is about old school manliness (what boy doesn’t love to boast his own father’s manliness) but also because my dad could definitively beat up your dad.

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In all seriousness (don’t worry it won’t last), I greatly enjoyed this book, “Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the 7 Manly Virtues” by Brett and Kate McKay. The McKays started The Art of Manliness Blog and Youtube channel that feature Brett tackling a variety of skills and giving advice on current issues men face with an old school flavor. According to their website, artofmanliness.com,  the purpose of their blog, books, and videos is that…

“Many men today feel adrift and have lost the confidence, focus, skills, and virtues that men of the past embodied. In an increasingly androgynous society, modern men are confused about their role and what it means to be an honorable, well-rounded man… Ultimately, the Art of Manliness aims to encourage our readers to be better husbands, fathers, brothers, citizens — a new generation of great men.”

Let me promptly put up a disclaimer. This book is not anti-women or sexist somehow. Far from it! The book is written specifically for men but in the book the McKays remind us that all virtues are pursued by men and women. However, often when these virtues are attained they are expressed different ways in either sex. “Two different musical instruments, playing the exact same notes, will produce two different sounds.” (p3)

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The authors, Brett and Kate McKay are certainly people of faith. However, in most of their AoM content they intentionally leave out scripture. I tend to think this was with the intent to teach truths that are Biblical to a wider audience. This book is certainly one that has Biblical truths and virtues buried throughout and it took very little effort to use it for our young men’s Bible class on Sunday mornings with the benefit of apt scriptures.

I think what’s so great about AoM’s content and this book is that it brings to light an understanding of manliness that is not sextist, elitist, or juvenile but instead grounded in bedrock morals and virtues shared by many societies as well as the Bible. They aren’t locked into the superficial definitions of manliness but instead redeem the term “manliness” to take on the meaning your grandfather and his father assigned to it. The first chapter of this book seeks to elucidate the reader on this new understanding of manliness.

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Manliness used to mean that a person possessed and practiced a particular set of virtues. In their book, “Manvotionals”, the McKays construct an outline based on seven specific virtues that they believe make up a manly man: Manliness, Courage, Industry, Resolution, Self-Reliance, Discipline, and Honor. Certainly these are honorable virtues for men and women. In each chapter, the McKays start with their own synopsis of the virtue for that chapter. Then they take excerpts from essays, letters, poems, and articles from great men in history. From Theodore Roosevelt to Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Babington Macaulay to Walt Whitman, Aristotle to Mark Twain, this book is packed with amazing excerpts and quotes from classical authors and gung-ho US Presidents.  I’m not a well read man by any stretch of the imagination but I got the joy of feeling like one after reading this book. Poetry, Aesop’s Fables, letters from our founding fathers, even a couple chapters from the “Army Field Manual” from 1941, each of these were likely pieces of literature I dare to say I would hardly encounter on my own.  So much profound and straight-forward wisdom told in some of the most articulate and simplistic ways can be found in this book.

I’ll list some of my favorite quotes at the end of this post.

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As I read it, I started to imagine the advice that my father’s father would have given him about becoming a man; and his father before that. It does seem apparent to me that our definition of being a man has been greatly diluted over the past couple generations. I don’t mean to say that my father didn’t teach me what it meant to be a man, just the opposite. Dad made sure we always treated mom and all women with respect, that we worked hard when we gave our word to work, that I didn’t have to do what everyone else was doing, that slow obedience is a form of disobedience, and that Middleton men treat others with respect and honor.

However, culturally, the prolonging of adolescence has eroded some of these ideals and even staved off the point young boys actually come into manhood. I’d love to write something coherent (yeah right) one day about rights of passage and how our culture has suffered in lieu of a type of “manhood ceremony” in the vein of a bar mitzvah but with less presents and puberty. Within the introduction there a brief statement that captures exactly the sentiment what manhood is and what it isn’t: “There are two ways to define manhood. One way is to say that manhood is the opposite of womanhood. The other is to say that manhood is the opposite of childhood.” They definitively lean into the latter definition. Part of me is convinced that the much needed swing towards gender equality is starting to adversely affect the inherit goodness within these virtues of the manly man. “Mansplaining” seems to have given way to “manshaming”. But I digress, for this post I will stay on task.

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“Manvotionals” is certainly a great book for fathers to read with their sons. I would highly recommend this book for pastors looking for resources on how to preach on the expectations of a “godly man” and the duties therein that many men are abandoning in churches today (another post for another day). But highest of all, I would recommend this book to you, the young man who is thinking to himself that he might benefit from a clearer definition as to the type of man that he should be. Buy this book and read it. It will give you much needed direction.

In closing, I’ll just say that the book is good and that I certainly needed it as a reminder of the type of man my earthly father, as well as my Heavenly Father, have always taught me to be.

Thanks Dad. Happy Birthday.

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I thought I was only going to list five of these but I couldn’t whittle it down! Hundreds more in this book.

TOP TEN FAVORITE QUOTES

  1. “Living a life of virtuous excellence is harder than learning to tie a tie or start a fire, but no other pursuit will be as supremely rewarding.” – Brett and Kate McKay
  2. “We need the iron qualities that go with true manhood. We need the positive virtues of resolution, of courage, of indomitable will, of power to do without shrinking the rough work that must always be done.” – Theodore Roosevelt
  3. “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” – C.S. Lewis
  4. “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison
  5. “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” – Benjamin Franklin
  6. “There is not a man of average ability but could make a striking career if he could but will to do the best that is in him” – Arthur Brisbane
  7. “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  8. “No steam or gas ever drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined.” – Harry Emerson Fosdick
  9. “Do not consider anything for your interest which makes you break your word, quit your modesty, or inclines you to any practice which will not bear the light, or look the world in the face.” – Marcus Aurelius
  10. “In great matters men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small matters, as they are.” – Nicolas Chamfort

 

Thank you so much for reading! Are there any quotes or books on manliness or any of these manly virtues that you often turn to? What Bible verses often convict you to be a better man of God? Do you think manliness is indeed a lost art in today’s culture? Would love to hear your thoughts!