Monday, December 26, 2016

My Post-Truth Post

Post-truth is the 2016 word of the year, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The acrimonious Brexit referendum result and the surprise Trump victory have both been attributed to post-truth debating tactics. Experts are surplus to requirements. Facts are secondary to emotions. Truth is relegated to backstage, if it makes an appearance at all.

The motto of the CIA is:  "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free". These are the words of Jesus, from John 8:32. If liberty is founded on truth, then can we be genuinely free in a post-truth world? Orwell's dystopian novels suggest not. Floundering post-truth politicians seem to reinforce Orwell's conclusion.

Christ promises freedom through truth. So how can we know the truth? Christ said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." [John 14:6] He is truth incarnate, quintessential truth. To know Him is to know the truth.

Therefore a post-truth society implies a post-Christ society. Indeed, many would recognise our culture as post-Christian. So how can we know Christ? How can we steer to the truth despite the prevailing winds of post-truth? I suppose the answer is the same as it ever was - by searching the scriptures. "Thy word is truth." [John 17:17]

Show me the truth concealed
Within Thy word;
And in Thy book revealed
I see Thee Lord. 

Earnest Christ-seekers (and all Christians should be included in this company) must scrutinize the Bible to learn of Christ. What an excellent resolution for the new year!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bigger than Brexit?

Bigger than Brexit?

Colossians 1:13-14 - NASB

13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

A new word has entered our vocabulary. ‘Brexit’ currently dominates newspaper headlines and personal conversations across the nation.The issue at stake is whether Britain should remain in the European Union, or leave it altogether. A referendum will be held in June to determine the outcome to this question. Depending on whether you listen to Barack Obama or Boris Johnson, you might be ‘in’ or ‘out’. There are elements of truth in the argument on both sides, which means it is difficult to reach a definitive decision.

In our Bible passage, we read about a more significant exit - a deliverance from the power of darkness. God is always linked with light in scripture: ‘God is light; in Him is no darkness at all’ (1 Jo 1.5). So darkness is anti-God. If God is good, then darkness is evil (Jo 3.19). If God is wise, then darkness is folly (Jo 1.5).

To remain in the domain of darkness is to be captivated by sin. We are addicted to wrong behaviour, and powerless to break free from it.  Without deliverance, we are prisoners. We are slaves to sin, facing God’s judgment, which results in ‘blackness of darkness for ever’ (Jude 13). This describes an eternity separated from God and His grace.

The good news of the Bible is that we can be delivered from the darkness and gain membership of a different spiritual society - the kingdom of God’s own Son. How? Because a man died on a cross. He was no ordinary man. The officer in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion said this of him, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’ (Matt 27. 54). Christ suffered for sins (1 Pet 3. 18). He soaked up all the wrong of a rebellious, God-despising world, so we can be freed from our sins if we repent and trust in Him.

To belong to this kingdom is to be in the light. The darkness is filled with hatred. The kingdom is filled with love. The darkness culminates in death. The kingdom results in life. The darkness leads to hell. The kingdom leads to heaven. This requires a choice - we must opt-in. Like the Brexit referendum - we need to take a side. To know deliverance from the darkness, we must trust in the risen Christ. The Amplified Bible paraphrases trust in Christ as ‘rely on and have confidence in Christ’.

The arguments in the Brexit debate generally centre on Security, Prosperity and Sovereignty. These same subjects come up with the transfer into God’s Kingdom. Once we turn to Christ and trust in Him, we are eternally secure. He says of those who believe in Him: ‘They shall never perish’ (Jo 10. 28). He gives us all the blessings of heaven: freedom, forgiveness, reconciliation, ‘every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ’ (Eph 1. 3). He frees us from slavery to sin and makes us God’s own children (Ro 8. 21). Which side are you on? Have you left the darkness? Have you come into the light?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

God and the Force: Star Wars Theology

There are commercial reasons for the release of the new Star Wars film to coincide with Christmas Holidays. However I think there is also a good opportunity for us to contrast the Biblical God with the Star Wars Force.

Superficially, one might consider the Force to be divine - an immanent, omnipotent concept. But the Christian understanding of God is very different.

God is Good

'The Lord is good' says Nahum. 'Jehovah, merciful and gracious ... abounding in goodness' says God to Moses. 'God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all' says John. In terms of morality, God is unambiguously good. 

The Force is different. While it can be channelled for good, it also has a Dark Side. So the Force appears to be morally ambivalent. Power without morality is a dangerous thing. 

God is Personal

God has attributes. He is Light and Love. He portrays his character as a shepherd, caring for us, as a potter, forming us, as a Father, loving us. Ultimately, God's character is revealed in human form - the Word made flesh - at Bethlehem when the Son of God comes into the world.

The Force never communicates, or conveys any personable characteristics. This mysticism, this lack of ability to be appreciated, makes the Force impersonal and abstract. It is not possible to have a meaningful relationship with a concept.

God is Available

God reaches out to us. He calls Moses with a burning bush, Elijah with a still, small voice, wise men with a wandering star. God is 'not far from every one of us', says Paul to the pagan philosophers at Athens. He is only a prayer away - as the dying thief found out at Calvary - Lord, remember me!

The Force is only available to a select few - Jedi or Sith. General members of the Star Wars public are passed over - the power of the Force is unavailable to them. 'Who(so)ever' is a great evangelical word, entirely unknown in the Star Wars universe.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Christianity and Computer Science: a Compatibility Check

(based on a talk I am giving at Glasgow University Christian Union today)

Are Christianity and Computer Science compatible? Can a Christian happily study and work in the area of Computing without excessive theological gymnastics or veiled hypocrisy? I want to claim the answer is yes, for the following reasons...

First, I give an existence proof. There are some high profile Computer Scientists who openly talk about their Christian faith. These include two Turing Award winners: Donald Knuth and Fred Brooks - essential reading on any CS curriculum!

Next, I want to look at three concepts that are familiar to Computer Scientists, and discuss how each of these concepts has an analogy in Christianity. If something makes sense in a computing context, it should also be reasonable in other contexts too.

1. Right and Wrong

This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Boole, the father of symbolic logic.  In boolean logic, we codify true and false as absolute values and use logical operators to reason about truth.

Christianity (along with most religions) has a clearly defined framework of morality - right and wrong. This morality, which correlates strongly with human conscience, is very difficult to explain away with evolutionary biology.

2. Substitution

The notion of substitution is fundamental to the semantics of computing. For instance, term substitution is necessary for beta reduction in the lambda calculus. At higher levels, substitution is an essential part of shell scripting (e.g. sed) or programming (e.g. String.replace in Java).

Substitution is at the heart of the Christian faith. Martin Luther describes it as the "wonderful exchange" (admirabile commercium)- when sinners trust Christ and accept that He died in our place. Paul describes the crucifixion of Christ in these terms: "...made ... sin for us ... that we might made the righteousness of God in Him". [2 Cor 5:21].

3. Reboot

After an operating system software update (particularly one that involves shared libraries .dll or .so), users need to reboot their machines. This is a frequent source of annoyance. This procedure ensures that the old code is removed from the system and replaced by the updated version.

I suppose the Christian analogy is rebirth. Jesus told the premier theologian in Jerusalem: 'You must be born again'. [Jo 3:7]. This is much more significant than a reboot after a software patch---it's a whole new start to life - forgiven by God, trusting in Christ and living with the help of the Holy Spirit. [2 Cor 5:17].

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Salesperson or Scholar?

All Christians should be evangelists - sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others. I often wonder whether an evangelist is more like a salesperson or a scholar. I see these two as polar opposites: the salesperson is so sure of his/her product - s/he is both inwardly convinced and outwardly convincing, whereas the scholar is never certain - s/he is continually doubting, searching, striving...

Somehow, the evangelist needs to combine the best of both these personality types. Jesus' injunction to Thomas 'Be not faithless but believing' means we should be convinced of our message about the risen Christ. On the other hand, Paul's confession that he had 'not yet reached his goal' sounds much more like a careful, conscientious scholar than a cocksure salesman. Remarkably, this tallies with Bertrand Russell's view of wisdom and folly.

I guess Jesus himself is the perfect role-model for Christians - confident in meekness and meek in confidence [Matt. 5v5].

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Joker for Jesus

In 1 Cor. 4 v. 10, Paul identifies himself as a 'fool for Christ'. My dynamically equivalent translation is a 'joker for Jesus'. A more authentic transliteration would have Paul to be a 'moron for the Messiah'.

The reason for this description? Paul is not living for here and now, rather for the hereafter. An atheist's value system considers 'this life only', whereas Paul treats earthly life as a precursor to eternal life. In view of eternity's infinite time and the possibility of infinite bliss, Paul is prepared to resign current prestige and comforts. His reasoning seems to be an early form of Pascal's wager.

As a Christian today, my perspective should be aligned with Paul's. I too should be prepared to be a 'joker for Jesus'.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A coincidence of 50th anniversaries: C.S. Lewis, Doctor Who and JFK

This weekend sees a remarkable coinciding of 50th anniversary celebrations. On 22nd November 1963, C.S. Lewis and John F. Kennedy both died. Just one day later, the first episode of Doctor Who aired on BBC TV. I view JFK and Doctor Who as enduring legacies - one fact, the other fiction - iconic heroes of hope for all humanity. JFK is the world leader whose life was tragically cut short by assassination. Doctor Who is the stranger from another world whose life goes on for ever, thanks to the imaginative plot device of regeneration. Both these themes resonate with us - echoes of a fundamental mythos of dying and rising again, of heroic Saviourhood. This storyline transcends all culture and history.

I think C.S. Lewis would have approved. In his essay 'Myth Became Fact' [1] Lewis argues that "The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history." Jesus is literally the desire of all nations - whether or not they realize it. That desire is expressed in our contemporary admiration of shadows - both historical heroes like JFK and fictional heroes like Doctor Who.

To quote Lewis' 'Myth Became Fact' again, "We must not be nervous about parallels and Pagan Christs: they ought to be there - it would be a stumbling block if they weren't."