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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Small Glitch

Hi Everyone --

I forgot that today is Sean McDowell's blog tour. I'll continue with yesterday's entry tomorrow :-)

Book Review: Apologetics for a New Generation by Sean McDowell

After my own fabulous book tour with First Wild Card in February, I decided to join. Here is my first book review with this organization.



It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Apologetics for a New Generation

Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Sean McDowellis a popular speaker at schools, churches, and conferences nationwide. He is the author of Ethix: Being Bold in a Whatever World and the co–author of Understanding Intelligent Design and Evidence for the Resurrection.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (March 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736925201
ISBN-13: 978-0736925204

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Introduction:

Apologetics for a New Generation

by Sean McDowell

The voice on the other end of the phone was familiar, but the question took me by complete surprise. “You teach your students to defend their faith, right?” asked John, a close friend of mine. “Tell me, how do you know Christianity is true?” John and I have had a special relationship for more than a decade, but this was the first time he had shown any real interest in spiritual matters. And he not only wanted to talk about God, he wanted an apologetic for the faith—he wanted proof, reason, and evidence before he would consider believing. John later told me his interest in God was piqued when his younger brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 16 years old. His younger brother has since had surgery and experienced complete recovery. In John’s own words, this experience “woke him up to his own mortality.”

A few weeks after our phone conversation, John was heading back to school in northern California, so we decided to meet for a chat over coffee. As we sat down at the Starbucks across from the historic San Juan Capistrano Mission, John jumped right in. “I’m scientific minded, so I need some evidence for the existence of God and the accuracy of the Bible. What can you show me?” For the next hour and a half we discussed some of the standard arguments for the existence of God, the historical evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the basis for the reliability of the Bible. I did my best to answer his questions, trying to show that Christianity is rationally compelling and provides the most satisfying solution to the deepest longings of the heart. John didn’t become a Christian at this point, but he confessed that he was very close and just needed more time to weigh the cost of his decision.

When I reflected on this discussion, comments I have heard over the past decade by young leaders came rushing to my mind:

“We live in a postmodern era, so apologetics is not important anymore.”

“Young people no longer care about reasons for the existence of the Christian God. What matters is telling your narrative and being authentic.”

“New generations today no longer need ‘evidence that demands a verdict’ or a ‘case for Christ.’”

“Conversion is about the heart, not the intellect.”

Of course, these statements are oversimplifications. Still, we must ask, is scientific proof an important part of faith? Do we live in an era in which people still have questions that demand a truth-related response? Is John the exception, the norm, or somewhere in between? If we are going to be effective in reaching a new generation of young people, few questions, it would seem, are more pressing and important than these.

Postmodernism

In the early 1990s, interest in postmodernism exploded in the church. Bestselling books and popular conferences featured seminars about doing ministry in a postmodern world. People disagreed about exactly what is meant by “postmodernism”—and they still do!—but many agreed that the world was leaving the modern era behind and wading into the unknown waters of the postmodern matrix.

According to many, postmodernism marks the most important cultural shift of the past 500 years, upending our theology, philosophy, epistemology (how we know things), and church practice. Some compare postmodernism to an earthquake that has overturned all the foundations of Western culture. Thus, to be relevant in ministry today, we must shed our modern tendencies and embrace the postmodern shift. According to many postmoderns, this shift includes replacing a propositional approach to the gospel with a primarily relational methodology.

To be honest, for the past 15 years I have wrestled profoundly with this so-called postmodern shift, reading books about postmodernism, attending conferences, and engaging in endless conversations with both Christians and non-Christians about the state of culture today. As much as the next guy, I want my life and ministry to be biblically grounded and culturally relevant. If the world is really undergoing a profound shift, I want to embrace it!

The world is certainly changing fast. Advancements in technology, transportation, and communication are taking place at an unprecedented rate. But what does this really mean for ministry today? Certainly, as postmoderns like to emphasize, story, image, and community are critical components. But does it follow that we downplay reason, evidence, and apologetics? Absolutely not! In fact, as the contributors to this book all agree, apologetics is more important than ever before.

Postmodern ideas do influence the worldview of youth today, but their thinking is most deeply influenced by our predominantly modern, secular culture. This can be seen most clearly by comparing the way they think about religion and ethics with the way they think about science. Youth are significantly relativistic when it comes to ethics, values, and religion, but they are not relativistic about science, mathematics, and technology. This is because they have grown up in a secular culture that deems science as the superior means of attaining knowledge about the world. In Kingdom Triangle, philosopher J.P. Moreland writes, “Scientific knowledge is taken to be so vastly superior that its claims always trump the claims made by other disciplines.” Religion and morals, on the other hand, are considered matters of personal preference and taste over which the individual is autonomous. This is why, if you’ve had a discussion with a younger person, you’ve probably heard her say, “That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me,” “Who are you to judge?” or “If that’s what they choose, whatever.” This is not because of their postmodern sentiments, but because their thinking has been profoundly shaped by their modernist and secular culture.

Popular writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins have written bestselling books attacking the scientific, historic, and philosophical credibility of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Their writings have wreaked havoc on many unprepared Christians. This has taken place while many inside the church have neglected the need to be able to defend the faith intellectually. Christians today are regularly being challenged to set forth the reasons for their hope. And with the ubiquity of the Internet, difficult questions seem to be arising now more than ever before. As professor David Berlinski writes in The Devil’s Delusion: “The question that all religious believers now face: Show me the evidence.”

I am convinced that C.S. Lewis was right: The question is not really if we will defend the Christian faith, but if we will defend it well. Whether we like it or not, we are all apologists of a sort.

The Apologetics Renaissance

During research for The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel was told by a well-known and respected theologian that no one would read his book. Lee was informed, “People don’t care about historical evidence for Jesus anymore. They’re more persuaded by experience and community than facts and reason.” Disappointed and frustrated, Lee returned home and told his wife that his efforts were seemingly in vain. Yet according to Lee, the largest group of readers who became Christians through his book has been 16- to 24-year-olds!

Philosopher William Lane Craig’s 2008 cover story for Christianity Today, “God Is Not Dead Yet: How Current Philosophers Argue for His Existence,” is a sign of things to come. Craig ties the awakening of apologetics to the renaissance in Christian philosophy that has taken place over the past 40 years. Science is more open to the existence of a Designer than at any time in recent memory (thanks to the intelligent design movement), and biblical criticism has embarked on a renewed quest for the historical Jesus consonant with the portrait of Jesus found in the Gospels.

The apologetics awakening can also be seen in the number of apologetics conferences that have sprouted up in churches all over the country. Tens of thousands of people are trained at apologetics events through efforts of various church denominations and organizations, such as Biola University, Southern Evangelical Seminary, Focus on the Family, and more. Resources on apologetics have also exploded in the past few years. This is good news because America and the church continue to become more and more secular. Those who describe themselves as “religious nonaffiliated” have increased from 5 to 7 percent in the 1970s to 17 percent in 2006.

Why Apologetics Matters

To say that apologetics is critical for ministry today is not to say that we just continue business as usual. That would be foolish. Our world is changing, and it is changing rapidly. More change has happened since 1900 than in all prior recorded history. And more change will occur in the next 20 years than the entire last century. But God does not change (Malachi 3), and neither does human nature. We are thoughtful and rational beings who respond to evidence. People have questions, and we are responsible to provide helpful answers. Of course, we certainly don’t have all the answers, and when we do provide solid answers, many choose not to follow the evidence for personal or moral reasons. But that hardly changes the fact that we are rational, personal beings who bear the image of God.

People often confuse apologetics with apologizing for the faith, but the Greek word apologia refers to a legal defense. Thus, apologetics involves giving a defense for the Christian faith. First Peter 3:15 says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and respect.” Jude encouraged his hearers to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). The biblical evidence is clear: All Christians are to be trained in apologetics, which is an integral part of discipleship. This involves learning how to respond to common objections raised against the Christian faith and also how to positively commend the gospel to a particular audience.

We have certainly made mistakes in the way we have defended our beliefs in the past (as chapters in this book will illustrate), but this hardly means we should abandon apologetics altogether. Rather, we ought to learn from the past and adjust accordingly. Beyond the biblical mandate, apologetics is vitally important today for two reasons.

Strengthening Believers

Apologetics training can offer significant benefits in the personal life of Christians. For one thing, knowing why you believe what you believe and experiencing it in your life and relationships will give you renewed confidence in sharing your faith. I have the privilege of speaking to thousands of young people every year. Inevitably, whenever I speak on topics such as moral relativism, the case for intelligent design, or evidences for the resurrection, I get e-mails and comments on my Facebook page from students who were strengthened in their faith. One recently wrote, “I was at the [youth event] this past weekend and absolutely loved it! All the information was so helpful, but I connected the most with yours. All the scientific proof of Christianity and a Creator just absolutely amazes me!”

Training in apologetics also provides an anchor during trials and difficulties. Emotions only take us so far, and then we need something more solid. Presently, most teens who enter adulthood claiming to be Christians will walk away from the church and put their emotional commitment to Christ on the shelf within ten years. A young person may walk away from God for many reasons, but one significant reason is intellectual doubt. According to the National Study of Youth and Religion, the most common answer nonreligious teens offered for why they left their faith was intellectual skepticism. This is why David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, writes in his book unChristian, “We are learning that one of the primary reasons that ministry to teenagers fails to produce a lasting faith is because they are not being taught to think.”

The church is failing young people today. From the moment Christian students first arrive on campus, their faith is assaulted on all sides by fellow students and teachers alike. According to a ground-breaking 2006 study by professors from Harvard and George Mason universities, the percentage of agnostics and atheists teaching at American colleges is three times greater than in the general population. More than 50 percent of college professors believe the Bible is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts.” Students are routinely taught that Darwinian evolution is the substitute creator, that the Bible is unreliable, that Jesus was like any other religious figure, and that any Christian who thinks differently is at best old-fashioned and at worst intolerant, bigoted, and hateful. These ideas are perpetrated in the classroom through reason, logic, and evidence. The church must teach students to counter these trends.

This was exactly the experience of Alison Thomas, a recent seminary grad who is now a speaker for Ravi Zacharias Ministries (and the author of the chapter “Apologetics and Race”). As a college freshman, her faith was immediately attacked from every direction. Combine the intellectual challenges with the lack of nutrition, sleep, and Christian mentors, and according to Alison, it was a recipe for disaster: “I almost abandoned my faith in college because I was not sure if the difficult questions people asked me about Christianity had satisfying answers.” Alison is absolutely convinced that had she been prepared for the attack on her faith, she could have been spared much doubt, sin, and heartache. Her story could be multiplied thousands of times, but unfortunately, too often with different results.

Reaching the Lost

The apostles of Christ ministered in a pluralistic culture. They regularly reasoned with both Jews and pagans, trying to persuade them of the truth of Christianity. They appealed to fulfilled prophecy, Jesus’ miracles, evidence for creation, and proofs for the resurrection. Acts 17:2-3 says, “And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.’ ” Some were persuaded as a result of Paul’s efforts.

According to pastor Tim Keller, this is similar to the method we should adopt today. Keller is the avant-garde pastor of Redeemed Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and the author of The Reason for God, an apologetics book which has soared atop the New York Times bestselling nonfiction list. In an interview for Christianity Today, Keller responded to the claim that rationality is unimportant for evangelism: “Christians are saying that the rational isn’t part of evangelism. The fact is, people are rational. They do have questions. You have to answer those questions. Don’t get the impression that I think that the rational aspect takes you all the way there. But there’s too much emphasis on just the personal now.” Tim is right: Evangelism today must be both relational and rational.

Greg Stier agrees: “Any claims concerning the death of apologetics have been greatly exaggerated…Those who believe apologetics aren’t important for evangelizing postmoderns have misdiagnosed this generation as purely relational; these young people are rational, too.” According to Greg, this generation of young people is more open to spiritual truth than any generation in recent history. (See my brief interview with him on page 124.)

Does this mean young people are walking around with deep spiritual questions at the forefront of their minds? Not necessarily. But it does mean that many young people are open to spiritual truth when motivated in the right way. The problem is not with apologetics but with our failure to motivate people. Much ministry today is focused on meeting a felt need, but the real difficulty is to take a genuine need and make it felt. If done in the context of a relationship, apologetics can be one effective means of accomplishing this. For thoughts on how to motivate young people in this regard see the chapter “Making Apologetics Come Alive in Youth Ministry” by Alex McFarland.

In my experience, people who criticize apologetics have often had one or two unsuccessful attempts and written off the entire enterprise. Rather, we need to put apologetics into perspective. Considering that a minority of people who hear the gospel choose to become followers of Christ in the first place, we shouldn’t be surprised that many people are unmoved by reason and evidence. It’s unrealistic to expect most people to respond positively to apologetics, just as it is unrealistic to expect most people to respond to a presentation of the gospel. The road is narrow in both cases (Matthew 7:14).

If only a few people will respond, why bother? For one thing, those who respond to apologetics often become people of significant influence who are deeply committed to the faith. This has certainly been the case in the life of my father, Josh McDowell. He became a believer as a pre-law student while trying to refute the evidence for Christ. I’m deeply humbled by the number of doctors, professors, politicians, lawyers, and other influential professionals who have come to Christ through his speaking and writing. He has spoken to more young people than anyone in history, and his books have been printed in millions of copies and translated all over the world. Honestly, I can hardly speak anywhere without someone from the audience sharing how instrumental he was in his or her coming to Christ. I’m proud to be his son.


Apologetics for a New Generation

Apologetics is advancing like never before, and a few characteristics mark effective apologetics for a new generation.

The New Apologetics Is Missional

There is a lot of talk right now about being missional, that is, getting out of our safe Christian enclaves and reaching people on their turf. This mind-set must characterize apologetics for a new generation. Each spring Brett Kunkle and I take a group of high school students to the University of California at Berkeley to interact with leading atheists from northern California. We invite various speakers to challenge our students and then to participate in a lively period of questions and answers. The guests always comment that our students treat them kindly, ask good questions, and are different from stereotypical Christians. This is because, in our preparatory training, we emphasize the importance of defending our beliefs with gentleness and respect, as Peter admonishes (1 Peter 3:15).

In Western culture today, Christians are often criticized for being exclusive, closed-minded, and intolerant. Missional apologetics is one way to help shatter this myth firsthand. Interestingly, one of the atheistic presenters from Berkeley spent 45 minutes arguing that the skeptical way of life is the most open-minded and the least dogmatic. I kindly pointed out that it was us—Christians!—who were willing to come up to their turf and give them a platform to present their ideas.

This is not the only perception of Christians that can be softened by missional apologetics. In his book unChristian, David Kinnaman paints a sobering view of how Christians are viewed by those outside the faith. For example, nearly half of young non-Christians have a negative view of evangelicals. Six common perceptions characterize how young outsiders view Christians: hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental. To help overcome these perceptions, says Kinnaman, Christians must build meaningful, genuine relationships with non-Christians and live out their faith consistently. It is in the context of a loving relationship, says Dan Kimball in his chapter, “A New Kind of Apologist,” that we most effectively reach the lost today.

The New Apologetics Influences How We Live

Though I do not agree with his philosophy of pragmatism, one insight of William James has practical importance for apologetics training today. James said that when considering any idea, we should always ask, what difference does it make? If it makes no existential difference to the way we live whether it is true or false, then according to James, we should not bother with it. When training in apologetics, we must regularly ask, so what? How does belief in the historical resurrection of Jesus affect my relationship to myself, to others, and to God? How does belief in creation influence my view of the environment? How does the Incarnation affect my self-image?

Much of the criticism today is not with apologetics per se but with our failure to connect apologetics to the way we live. Some of this criticism is deserved. If we don’t apply the truth to our relationship with God and others, what’s the point? Brian McLaren, a leading voice in the Emergent church, is right: Having right answers that don’t lead us to better love God and our neighbors are more or less worthless.

A remarkable number of outspoken critics of Christianity have backgrounds of personal disappointment with Christians and the church. Pastor Tim Keller explains how our personal experience influences our evaluation of the evidence for Christianity:

We all bring to issues intellectual predispositions based on our experiences. If you have known many wise, loving, kind, and insightful Christians over the years, and if you have seen churches that are devout in belief yet civic-minded and generous, you will find the intellectual case for Christianity more plausible. If, on the other hand, the preponderance of your experience is with nominal Christians (who bear the name but don’t practice) or with self-righteous fanatics, then the arguments for Christianity will have to be extremely strong for you to concede that they have any cogency at all.

The great philosopher Frederick Nietzsche once commented that Christians have no joy. No wonder he found the evidence for God unconvincing. The sad part about his observation is that Christians, of all people, have the best reason to be joyful. If Christ has not risen, says Paul, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32). But if Christ has risen—and the evidence for this is compelling—then even though we go through pain and difficulty in this life, we will share eternity with Him. Christians joyfully living out their faith in the power of the Holy Spirit provide one of the most powerful apologetics at our disposal.

The New Apologetics Is Humble

I failed miserably to act humbly a few years ago when getting my hair cut in Breckenridge, Colorado. The hairdresser noticed I was carrying a copy of The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Leslie Newbigin. So she asked, “Are you a Christian? If so, how can you explain all the evil in the world?” I proceeded to give her a ten-minute lecture about the origin of evil, the nature of free will, and the Christian solution. My reasons were solid, but I lacked humility and sensitivity in my demeanor. I had a slick answer to her every question, but I missed the fact that her needs went beyond the intellect to her heart. Eventually she started crying—not because she became a Christian but because she was so offended by my callousness. To be honest, it was a bit unsettling having a hairdresser, who held sharp scissors in her hand, crying and lecturing me while cutting my hair. But the point was well taken.

In retrospect, I should have first asked her some questions to try and understand why evil was such a pressing issue in her life. What pain had she experienced that caused her to question the goodness of God? Sometimes questions are primarily intellectual, but more often than not they stem from a deeper longing of the heart.

From the beginning, Christian apologists have exemplified the importance of humility in presenting our defense of the faith. There is a reason why 1 Peter 3:15 begins with “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” and ends with “gentleness and respect.” Before presenting a case for the Christian faith, one must first submit to the lordship of Christ. The heart of the apologist is the basis of all apologetic training. People still don’t care how much you know if they don’t know you care. The only way we can truly demonstrate the love of Christ to people is by first having our hearts humbled by God. When our hearts are not right, we can do more harm than good.

As you will see throughout this book, these are not the only factors characterizing the emerging apologetics awakening. The rest of the chapters in this book will spur you to think creatively about how apologetics fits into the many critical components of effective ministry today. Authors will tackle issues such as race, gender, media, homosexuality, Jesus, brain research, culture, youth, spiritual formation, and more—all with an eye on how we can effectively minister to new generations today.

Conclusion

In the fall of 2007, Christianity Today International and Zondervan partnered to conduct attitudinal and behavioral research of American Christians. Leadership Journal discussed the findings with leading pastors and religious experts to ascertain implications for ministry today. Three critical issues emerged:

The local church is no longer considered the only outlet for spiritual growth.
Churches must develop relational and community-oriented outreach.
Lay people have to be better equipped to be God’s ambassadors [apologists].
The third point on this list took me by surprise, not because I disagree with it, but because it’s refreshing to hear leaders emphasize the renewed need for apologetics. In the article, Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland church in Longwood, Florida, said, “We need to preach with apologetics in mind, with a rational explanation and defense of the Christian faith in mind.” One of the best ways to counter biblical illiteracy, claims Hunter, is to equip active Christians as teachers, ambassadors, and apologists. Yes! Ministry today certainly includes much more than presenting a case for our hope, but this is one critical piece we must not neglect. The time has never been greater for a renewed focus on apologetics.

You may be wondering what happened to John, my friend I mentioned at the beginning of the chapter. He has not become a Christian yet, but he is still inching along. We continue to have good discussions about God and the meaning of life. I trust and pray that someday he will choose to follow Jesus. Had my youth pastor, parents, and teachers not trained me in apologetics, I couldn’t have helped him at all. You and I can’t be ambassadors without having answers to tough questions. So I’ve assembled this team of (mostly) young apologists to help you develop a biblical and culturally relevant approach for reaching this new generation. Let’s go!


Chapter One:

A Different Kind of Apologist

by Dan Kimball

Apologetics is desperately needed more than ever in our emerging culture. But I believe that a different kind of apologist may be needed.

I realize that some may disagree with me. I hear fairly often from some church leaders that emerging generations are not interested in apologetics: “In our postmodern world there isn’t interest in rational explanations regarding spiritual issues.” “We don’t need logically presented defenses or offenses of the faith.” These kinds of statements always confuse me. The reason is simple: In my dialogue and relationships with non-Christian and Christian young people for more than 18 years, I am not finding less interest in apologetics, but actually more interest. The more we are living in an increasingly post-Christian and pluralistic culture, the more we need apologetics because people are asking more and more questions. We desperately need to be ready to answer the tough questions of today’s emerging generations.

This increased interest and need for apologetics in our emerging culture fits very nicely with one of the classical and well-known Bible passages on apologetics:

But in your hearts set apart 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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16 niv).

Over the past couple of years I have heard apologists emphasize “gentleness and respect,” which is an absolutely wonderful shift. Some Christians who are drawn to apologetics can have temperaments which may not always come out with gentleness and respect as they engage non-Christians. But this passage includes something else that, oddly, we don’t hear much about. Yet it is critical for our discussion of apologetics for new generations.

People Can’t Ask If They Don’t Know Us

The passage in 1 Peter 3 says “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Let me ask you, have you ever been standing on the street or in line at the supermarket and had a stranger walk up to you and say, “Excuse me. Can you tell me the reason for the hope that you have?”

That doesn’t happen, because strangers do not generally walk up to people they don’t know and ask questions like this. Strangers also don’t know the other person, so they wouldn’t be able to know if someone has hope or not. So how does someone know and trust Christians well enough to see the hope that they have and trust and respect them enough to ask them about it?

This is the biggest missing component in many of our approaches to apologetics today. It is one of the biggest shifts we are seeing with emerging generations. Apologetics is still needed today, but the apologist isn’t necessarily trusted in our culture today. In the 1960s and 1970s, many younger people left the church because they (rightly) felt the church was often irrelevant. The critical questions that younger generations had at that time were not being answered. The music and various approaches to preaching and worship were becoming outdated and not speaking to new generations at that time. So when churches revamped their approaches to worship and preaching and developed clear answers for some of the questions people had, many people (even if they weren’t Christian) became interested.

The culture still had a general respect for Christianity. So it was easier to communicate and also have a voice that folks would listen to. For those who grew up in a church but walked away, answers to their critical questions were extremely valuable. But today, Christians and the church aren’t trusted like they were. Before, we were hoping to see people return to the church. Today, many have never been part of a church in the first place.

Times have changed. But the Spirit of God is still alive and active. People will always be created with questions about life, meaning, purpose, and God. Apologetics are still important today for new generations, but our approach must change.

Hanging Out with the Wrong People

In my early days as a Christian, I constantly read books on apologetics so I could share with my non-Christian friends about my newfound hope. My friends were concerned that I was following a religion and reading a book (the Bible) that they felt was written by primitive, ancient, and uneducated people. So this challenge kept me studying to respond to their concerns. The more I read and studied, the more my confidence in Christianity grew.

I eventually joined a large, wonderful church and made some friendships with others who also liked apologetics. We spent hours talking about theology, reasons why we could trust the Bible, and ways to respond to common objections such as the problem of evil. I bought almost every apologetics book available and attended many apologetics conferences. I loved having Christian friends whom I could talk to about apologetics, but something slowly dawned on me: I wasn’t really talking to any non-Christians anymore about apologetics. I realized that I was hanging out all the time with Christians who loved discussing apologetics and the tough questions about the faith. But I wasn’t spending time with the non-Christians who were asking these tough questions.

As I began exploring this further, I discovered that many people who like apologetics primarily socialize with other like-minded people. Certain temperaments and personalities cause some Christians to become more interested in apologetics than others, and they connect with each other. Having community with other Christians who share common interests such as apologetics is a wonderful thing. But I realized that my Christian friends and I weren’t using apologetics to engage non-Christians. We were only talking with each other.

I discuss this in They Like Jesus but Not the Church, where I included this diagram, which lays out a typical pattern: The longer we are Christians, the less we socialize with non-Christians. We may work with non-Christians or have neighbors who are non-Christians. But the types of conversations we have and the trust that we build changes dramatically when we actually befriend and socialize with those outside the faith.

The danger is that we don’t do this on purpose. It happens unintentionally. But because we have limited time and we enjoy hanging out with others who think like us, we can remove ourselves from the very ones we are sent by Jesus to be salt and light to (Matthew 5). As the Spirit molds us to be more like Jesus, the majority of people who benefit from our growth are already Christians. We are salt and light to each other, not to the world. The more skilled in apologetics we get, the fewer people we know who actually need it.

You may resist hearing this, and I hope I am wrong about you. But let me ask you a question or three:

Think about discussions you have had about apologetics with people in the past six months. How many have been with Christians, and how many have been with those who aren’t Christians yet?
Let me make this more direct and personal:

Who are your non-Christian friends?
When was the last time you went out to a movie or dinner or simply hung out with a non-Christian? If people are to trust us in order to ask us for the hope we have, we must spend time with them and build relationships. The typical answers I get from Christians quite honestly scare me. Again, I hope I am wrong about you. Do you intentionally place yourself in situations or groups where you will be likely to meet new people? For me, music often provides an open door. So whether I’m with the manager of a coffee house I frequent or the members of local bands, I try to have the mind-set of a missionary and meet new people. This sounds so elementary and I almost feel silly having to type this out. But this leads to a deeper question:

Who are you praying for regularly that is not a Christian?
Our prayers represent our hearts. What we pray for shows us what we are thinking about and valuing. When the unsaved become more than faces in the crowd, when they include people we know and care for, we can’t help but pray for them. And we must remember: We can be prepared with apologetic arguments, but the Spirit does the persuading. Are you regularly praying for some non-Christian friends?

Again, I feel almost embarrassed asking this. But when I started realizing that I had fallen into this trap, I wondered if I was alone. As I began asking other Christians about this, many seemed to be like me. I even asked an author of apologetics books to tell me about his recent conversations with non-Christians that included apologetics. But he couldn’t remember any recent examples. He was talking only to Christians! This isn’t bad, but it raises an important question: How do we know the questions emerging generations outside the church are asking if we are only talking with Christians?

I recently talked with a person who teaches apologetics to young people. As we talked, he shared how interested youth are in apologetics (and I fully agree). I asked about the types of questions he is hearing, and I was surprised that his experience seemed quite different from mine. I was working with non-Christian youth at that time, but he was speaking primarily with Christian youth at Christian schools and youth groups. Nothing is wrong with teaching Christian youth how to have confidence in their faith through apologetics. This is an important task we need to be doing today in our churches. But if we are focusing our energy and time listening mainly to Christians, how do we know what the questions non-Christian youth or young adults have? This brings me to my next point.

Providing Answers Before Listening to Questions

The effective apologist to emerging generations will be a good listener. Most of us have been good talkers. We Christians often do the talking and expect others to listen. But in our emerging culture, effective communication involves dialogue. Being quiet and asking questions may not be easy for some folks, but those are critical skills we need to develop in order to reach new generations.

A 20-year-old Hindu became friends with someone in our church. Eventually she began coming to our worship gatherings. I got to meet with her at a coffee house, and because I was sincerely curious, I politely asked her some questions. How did she become a Hindu? What is Hinduism to her? What does she find most beneficial in her life about it? She eagerly told me stories that helped me understand her journey and her specific beliefs. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t interrupt her or jump in to correct her when I felt she was saying things that may have been inconsistent. I didn’t interrupt and tell her that there cannot be hundreds of gods, that there is only one true God. I simply asked questions and listened carefully.

Eventually, she asked me about the differences between Christianity and Hinduism. I gently and respectfully tried to compare her story and what she said with the story of Jesus and the narrative of the Bible. But I didn’t try to discredit her beliefs or show why what I believed was true. She asked me about the origins of Christianity, and I was able to draw a timeline on a napkin that included creation, the Garden of Eden, and the fall. I explained that people eventually began worshipping other gods or goddesses, not the original one God. I then walked her through a basic world religions timeline I had memorized and explained where Hinduism fit in that timeline. It truly was a dialogue, as I would stop and see if she had any input or comments.

I didn’t show her why I felt Hinduism was wrong; rather, I let our discussion speak for itself. The differences between Christianity and Hinduism became obvious. A few weeks later, she told me in a worship gathering that she had left Hinduism and chosen to follow Jesus. My talk with her was not the turning point. She had many conversations with other Christian friends in our church. They knew her beliefs, loved her, invited her into community, and lived out the hope they have. She could see it and experience it, and eventually she wanted to know the reason for the hope in her friends. I definitely needed to be ready with apologetics when I met with her. But the reason she even met with me was that we built trust first. Trust was built with some of her Christian friends. Trust was built during conversations I had with her when she came to our worship gatherings. Eventually, this trust led to her being open to dialogue specifically about her Hindu faith and to ask questions. First she was valued as a person and listened to, and then came the questions about the hope we have. Let me ask you a few questions about this:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate yourself as a listener in conversations about faith?
What are some of the questions you have been asked as a result of building trust and listening? Would anyone have asked those questions if you didn’t build trust and listen first?
Stockpiling Ammunition or Building Trust

I recently heard of someone who was taking church groups on the street to walk up to total strangers and strike up conversations and then use apologetics with them. I respect the passion to reach lost people, but I was saddened by the methodology. The leader chose this area because it was highly populated with homosexuals. From my perspective, this is almost the opposite of the methodology that is effective with new generations. We may have our apologetics gun loaded, but we haven’t built trust. We haven’t gained a voice in their lives, so they don’t trust us enough to listen to us. Walking up to total strangers and asking them questions about very personal things immediately puts them on the defense. The discussion begins in a semi-confrontational way. This reinforces some of the stereotypes of Christians we need to break. Non-Christians are often open to discussing personal beliefs about religion and worldviews, but this normally occurs in the context of trust and friendship.

I recently met a guy in his twenties who was working at a coffee house. I did my usual thing: I selected one place to frequent and eventually got to know those who work there. We eventually started talking about all kinds of things, mainly music at first. Eventually I told him I was a pastor at a church and began asking his opinion on things. I asked about his impressions of church and Christianity. I shared that I knew about Christians’ bad reputation and that I wanted to know how he felt about that. This wasn’t the first thing we talked about, and we had begun to build a friendship, so he was happy to talk to me about this. One of his main issues was that the Christians he met knew nothing about other religions, but they would tell him he should be a Christian. His concern was that Christians were naive about anything but what they believed, and he didn’t respect that.

As I listened, I didn’t try to butt in and comment when he would say something I disagreed with. Instead, I listened, asked clarifying questions, took notes, and thanked him for each opinion. I asked him what he believed and why he believed what he did. And then the inevitable happened—he asked me what I believed.

Knowing his beliefs, I was able to construct an apologetic that catered to his story and specific points of connection. As with so many people, the issue of pluralism and world religions was a major point of tension that he felt Christians are blind about. Eventually our conversation moved to the resurrection of Jesus, which he saw as a myth. I used the classical Josh McDowell resurrection apologetics, explaining various theories of the stolen body and why they fell apart upon scrutiny. I shared about the guards at the tomb and how they would defend the sealed tomb. I was ready (thanks to Josh McDowell), and my friend was absolutely fascinated by that. I could tell he had never heard this before, and as we ended our time together, he thanked me. I didn’t press him for a response.

The following week I went back to the coffee house, and he told me that he now believed in the resurrection. He had been totally unaware that there are actually good reasons to believe it is true. Over the weekend he got a copy of the Bible to read the resurrection story and had no idea it was repeated in each of the Gospels. This is why I am convinced that regardless of how postmodern emerging generations may be, they receive apologetic arguments when trust is built. Of course, it is the Holy Spirit who does the work in someone’s heart—not clever arguments. But God still uses apologetics in our emerging culture.

Consider these questions:

When you are studying apologetics, does your heart break in compassion for the people you are preparing to talk to? Or are you stockpiling ammunition to show people they are wrong?
When you have used apologetics with those who aren’t Christians yet, do you find your tone being humble, broken, and compassionate, or is your tone argumentative and perhaps even arrogant (although you would not like to admit that)?
Critical Apologetics Issues

I know that most apologists are not arrogant, ammunition firing, non-listening people who don’t have any non-Christian friends and only talk to other Christians. But at the same time, a little hyperbole may raise up some ugly truth we perhaps need to admit. As I shared, I know I have been guilty of these very things. We must all examine ourselves and be brutally honest about it. Too much is at stake not to.

As statistics are showing, we are not doing a very good job of reaching new generations. Our reputation is suffering. But at the same time, I have so much optimism and hope. Apologetics is a critical factor in the evangelism of new generations. That is why I was thrilled to be part of this book.

If you are a leader in a church, I hope you are creating a natural culture in your church of teaching apologetics and training people how to respond to others when asked for the hope that they have. But again, how we train them to respond is just as important as the answers themselves. The attitudes and tone of voice we use as we teach reveal what we truly feel about those who aren’t Christians and their beliefs. Our hearts should be broken thinking of people who have developed false worldviews or religious beliefs and don’t know Jesus yet. How we teach people in our church to be “listeners” and build friendships is critical. Here are some of the key things we must be ready to answer today:

The inspiration and trustworthiness of the Bible. Everything comes back to why we trust the Bible and what it says about human sexuality, world religions…everything. Why the Bible is more credible than other world religious writings is critical.
Who is Jesus? Emerging generations are open to talking about Jesus but for the most part, they have an impression that He is more like Gandhi than a divine Savior. This gives us a wonderful opportunity to share why Jesus is unique and to provide an apologetic for His resurrection.
Human sexuality. We need to be well-versed in why we believe what we do about the covenant of marriage between a man and woman, about human sexuality, and about sexual ethics in general.
World religions. We must have an adequate understanding of the development and teachings of world religions. I don’t meet many younger people who are hard-core Buddhists, but many are empathetic to Buddhist teachings. Many pick and choose from different faiths. They are often surprised to see that many religions are mutually exclusive.
The Most Important Apologetic

As I close this chapter, I want to remind us that the ultimate apologetic is really Jesus in us. Are our lives demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5), such as gentleness, kindness, patience, and love? Are we being salt and light with our attitudes and actions toward people? Are our conversations filled with grace and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6)? Do our lives show that we are paying attention to the things Jesus would, including the marginalized, the oppressed, and the poor? People watch and listen. If they trust the messenger, perhaps they will be more open to listen.

We can have all the answers ready to give people who ask, but are they asking us? If not, perhaps we have not yet built the trust and relationship and respect that lead them to ask us for the hope we have. Maybe that’s where we need to start—with our hearts and lives. If we will, I can almost guarantee that others will ask us for the hope we have.

May God use us together on the mission of Jesus as we are wise as serpents but as innocent as doves. May God use our minds and hearts to bring the reason for the hope we have to others. And may God put others in our lives who will ask for the hope as they watch us live it out.


Dan Kimball is the author of several books, including They Like Jesus but Not the Church, and a member of the staff of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California.



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My Review: Apologetics for a New Generation by Sean McDowell

We live in a postmodern culture that can be strange to those holding to an ideal of *objective truth.* Religion seems to have been relegated to the arena of personal thoughts and feelings, something squishy that can be true for one person, but a contradictory idea may be true for someone else. All roads lead to God, we are told; the only sin is declaring that you are correct and others are not.

Sean McDowell has compiled a collection of essays and interviews with different experts in Christian apologetics to discuss how and why to reach those holding these postmodern views, mainly teenagers and young adults. It takes more than proof to reach this generation; it takes relationships, compassion, and a willingness to struggle with problems such as abortion, homosexuality, and race. G-d is relevant. Through a relationship with Him, the boundaries and guidelines that He gives ironically convey freedom whether you are a teenager or much older.

I've followed Sean McDowell's career for awhile, since he specializes in youth ministries and has written other books for this group as well -- this is an age group I sometimes work with also, and love tweaking their minds with foreign (to them) ideas that lead them to explore Christianity. Sean's keen understanding of this group has been quite enlightening! His current book doesn't disappoint.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Myers Briggs Personality Test

The Myers Briggs Personality Test is a well-known device used by many professionals. Not only is it helpful for self-analysis, but also for developing characters for a novel.

For today, analyze your personality! It's a free and quick link HERE. Then, type in your four letters in google and see what comes up.

This is a short entry today -- I'll talk more about this subject tomorrow.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Announcement: New Resource for Screenwriting

For all you writers, I thought you might be interested to learn of a new site: Christian-Movie.com. This site is dedicated to supporting those creating excellent films from a Christian world view.

A new email newsletter is ready to start. The first issue will focus on networking, the second on Online Marketing. All issues are geared toward the independent filmmaker.

For more information, and to subscribe to this free resource, please visit HERE

Christian-Movie.com promises not to use your email address for any purpose but the sending of IFiF, and you may unsubscribe at any time.

NOTE: I learned about this from Allie's inspyscreenwriters group; her blog is HERE

Friday, March 27, 2009

We All Make a Difference

I have been sad this week thinking of President Obama's accidental yet hurtful comment about bowling like the *Special Olympics.* I believe what has made our country great, stemming from the Christian foundation of our Founding Fathers, is that we have always valued the individual. We are not groups and classes and interest blocs; we are PEOPLE, each of infinite worth.

This is a story that you may have heard before. I couldn't verify its origins on snopes.com, although it is said to be a true story told by Barbara Glanz CSP. If anyone knows, please let me know and I'll post it!

Anyway, with President Obama's comment I couldn't help thinking of this story -- it is beautiful and reflects truth, whether true or not.

A few years ago, I was hired by a large supermarket chain to lead a customer service program to build customer loyalty. During my speech I said, "Every one of you can make a difference and create memories for your customers that will motivate them to come back.

"How?

"Put your personal signature on the job. Think about something you can do for your customer to make them feel special; a memory that will make them come back."

About a month after I had spoken, I received a telephone call from a 19 year old bagger named Johnny. He proudly informed me he was a Down Syndrome individual and told me his story.

"I liked what you talked about," he said, "but at first I didn't think I could do anything special for our customers. After all, I'm just a bagger. Then I had an idea! Every night after work, I'd come home and find a Thought for the Day. If I can't find a saying I like," he added, "I'll make one up."

When Johnny had a good Thought for the Day, his dad helped him set it up on the computer and print multiple copies. Johnny cut each quote and signed his name on the back. Then he'd bring them to work the next day.

Johnny said, "When I finished bagging someone's groceries, I put my thought for the day in their bag and say 'Thanks for shopping with us.'"

It touched me that this young man with a job that most people would say is not important had made it important by creating precious memories for all his customers.

A month later the store manager called me. "You won't believe what happened. When I was making my rounds today, I found Johnny's line was three times longer than anyone else's! It went all the way down the frozen food aisle. So I quickly announced, 'We need more cashiers; get more lanes open' as I tried to get people to change lanes. But no one would move. They said, 'no, it's OK, we want to be in Johnny's lane. We want his thought for the day.'

"It was a joy to watch Johnny delight the customers. I got a lump in my throat when one woman said, 'I used to shop at your store once a week, but now I come in every time I go by because I want to get Johnny's Thought for the Day.' "

A few months later the manager called me again.

"Johnny has transformed our store. Now, when the floral department has a broken flower or unused corsage, they find an elderly woman or little girl and pin it on her. Everyone's having a lot of fun creating memories. Our customers are talking about us, they're coming back, and they're bringing their friends."

*

Isn't that so cool?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oprah at the Gym

Yesterday on the circuit a woman (I'll call her Stacy) was raving about Oprah's spirituality, and how it so unifies people. I think she was excited by reading one of Oprah's new book club books, The Power of One by Eckhart Tolle. Stacy explained that we need to live each day in the moment (very wise), with the knowledge that God is within. Furthermore, the wisdom of many religions demonstrates that they all show different aspects of the same Truth-with-a-capital-"T".

Wow, this was heavy, especially coming in the middle of my leg presses!

I love philosophical issues, though. What fun to ponder these abstract concepts, and so my thoughts ran as I listened to this woman go on. I had a few questions for her. I asked if she could summarize the book's concepts for me since I hadn't read it. Hmm.

The ideas that Stacy was espousing sounded to me like Classical Pantheism: the belief that "God" is in everything, and that religions are essentially the same. It's certainly appealing to think that we all carry the Light within us, we are good, we make our own reality etc. etc. This seems to be a common message of many "spiritual" people who I talk with: that we can somehow tap into this god-power, live successfully and prosperously by "drawing" good things to ourselves, and help ourselves by helping others. We all must work out "God" our own way, and follow what we believe. No one's belief is wrong; all roads eventually lead to "God" (or whatever we wish to name it), that free-flowing energy force of light and love that permeates all things.

But...what if this is wrong? For example, as a scientist I was immersed in a different view: there is nothing but evolution and chance, and therefore what we do doesn't matter anyway since there is no God.

Alternatively, what if "God" does indeed exist but he is separate, a Super-Being who has already revealed himself? Surely the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) say as much, and for anyone who thinks otherwise I challenge you to actually read their writings (Old Testament, New Testament, Koran) rather than cherry-pick verses. Jesus, especially, is misquoted. He claimed to be God, yes, but the Holy, separate "I AM" omnipotent God. He did NOT believe others were God, and he was railroaded by the Jewish leaders to execution because of his claims to deity. Read the book of John.

Can all of these beliefs (God is a force, God doesn't exist, God is a separate Super-Being) all be true?

Religion is a notoriously "squishy" topic: after all, if we can't see God (Higher Power, Life Force, whatever), how can we know what the truth is? Even so, people often have very strong opinions about God. Many times these opinions stem from the person's upbringing, but not always. As I've studied religious systems, I've found that Christianity stands out for two reasons.

First is Christianity's notion of "grace." All other religious systems seem to say that you must do X, and/or avoid Y, in order to be acceptable to God (monotheistic) or to understand and join with the life force (pantheistic). Christianity is the only belief system that says we humans CANNOT become good enough to be united with God: God himself must build the bridge (Jesus) that allows us to cross over to Him.

Second, the historical evidence seems to document the existence of a real live miracle, the resurrection of Jesus. I took a year studying the circumstances surrounding Jesus' death with the goal of destroying the claims of Christianity. I was shocked at what I found. At the end, I reluctantly admitted defeat and became a Christian. I was very angry at first :-)

I don't watch Oprah's shows, but I have a great respect for her. I believe she is a genuinely good and kind person, and that if more people were like her, this world would surely be a better place. She has overcome great personal odds to become a successful and remarkable woman; more power to her. Still, I am uncomfortable with her pantheistic ideals. There is much room for respectful debate and the give and take of ideas over this issue. Truly, this question of "Who is God?" must be the most important one that anyone could ask.

**

These are issues that are challenging to address in just a few paragraphs. Wow, how did I dig myself in this deep starting from a visit to the gym? Oh well. As they say, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," so here am I my dear friends, foolishly yours.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An 8th Grade Education

I thought this was interesting, and wanted to pass it on for whatever it's worth.

*

1895 Eighth Grade Final Exam

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.

2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no Modifications.

3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.

4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb. Give Principal Parts of. lie, lay and run

5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.

6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.

7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

*

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.

2. A wagon box is 2 ft deep, 10 feet long! , and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?

3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1050lbs. for tare?

4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?

5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.

6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.

7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per meter?

8 Find bank discount on $300 for! 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.

9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?

10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

*

U. S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U. S. History is divided.

2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.

3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.

4. Show the territorial growth of the United States .

5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.

6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.

7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?

8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

*

Orthography (Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?

2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?

3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, sub vocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?

4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u! '.

5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.

6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.

7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup

8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.

9. Use the follow ing correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.

10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

*

Geography (Time, one hour)

1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?

2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?

3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?

4. Describe the mountains of North America.

5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall & Orinoco.

6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.

7. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.

8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same
latitude?

9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of
rivers.

10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

*

Also notice that the exam took five hours to complete.

Gives the saying 'he/she only had an 8th grade education' a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Evolution and the Moral Sense

CS Lewis describes a *Natural Law* of an intrinsic sense of right and wrong that penetrates all people, all cultures, in all times. Another name for this is *Conscience.* I wanted to quote a little from Lewis' book, Mere Christianity:

I know that some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behavior known to all men is unsound, because different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities.

But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own...for our present purpose I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to -- whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or every one. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired...

I go on to my next point...None of us are really keeping the Law of Nature...this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people. There may be all sorts of excuses for us. That time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money -- the one you have almost forgotten -- came when you were very hard-up. And what you promised to do for old So-and-so and have never done -- well, you never would have promised if you had known how frightfully busy you were going to be... I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it , there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm... The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently?...

These, then, are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.

*

I remember discussing Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene in tenth grade. Dawkins' thesis stated that altruistic behavior wasn't really altruistic: it allowed for the survival of the individual's genes even if not the individual himself. For example, a bird raising an alarm for a predator might result in his being eaten, but if nine cousins escaped (each containing 1/8th of the bird's genes), then it was a bargain because 9/8 of the warning individual's genes were preserved: the Gene was seen as the ruling principle.

This makes a certain kind of sense, but I can't help feeling that it falls a little short. For example, imagine I'm conversing with someone who tells me she believes that everyone should be free to decide his own standard of right and wrong -- situational ethics is another name for this. OK, thinks I, and then I grab her purse and start emptying it on the couch.

*What are you doing?" she asks in horror.

*Oh, I've just decided that it's all right for me to search through your things. I'd like a mint or stick of gum."

I think CS Lewis has hit on something true with his description of *Natural Law*. He goes on to suggest that this moral sense comes from a transcendent God who has placed this sense of right and wrong within each person. Well, whether God exists must be decided by each person, but it's certainly an intriguing argument. I believe a prayer that is always answered, if asked sincerely, is to ask God to reveal Himself to you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review: God and the New Atheism by John Haught



God and the New Atheism: A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens
John F. Haught

Westminster John Knox Press, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-664-23304-4

107 pages (124 pages including notes and references)

This book is a scholarly yet readable rebuttal to several recently-published mainstream books by prominent Darwinian scholars, and is written to the intelligent layperson. Dr. Haught is a Senior Fellow in Science and Religion at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, and was Chair and Professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown from 1970 to 2005. He is an international lecturer and has authored many books, particularly on topics evaluating Science, Evolution, and Religion. The books that Haught addresses: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins; The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris; and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens; are relatively recent popular books chosen as a representative description of the “new” atheism, that is, atheism as described for this generation.

Haught describes the parameters of Scientism, namely that only Nature exists, it is self-originating, and it can be understood only through rational inquiry. Furthermore, the “new” atheism also states that belief in God leads to many profound evils in the world, and therefore should be rejected on moral grounds. In his classroom Haught has assigned to his students many rationalist and atheist authors, including Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, Marx, and others. Interestingly, he finds the current crop of atheists to be not as rigorous and compelling as previous proponents.

Among Haught’s criticisms of the “new” atheism include:

*New Scientism must take nothing on faith, yet its precepts require faith. In other words, to state that only rational, objective, extrinsic evidence is valid is in itself a statement of faith. Can you PROVE that these criteria are the only valid ones?

*New Scientism describes only the worst and most superficial aspects of religion. The current authors do not seem to have a good grasp of the subtleties of thought and evidence that theologians present in their own expositions.

*New Scientism doesn’t allow for any ambiguity or layered religious interpretation. Religious texts such as the Bible are understood in only the most literal, one-dimensional sense.

*No good evolutionary explanation of the existence of morality or the penetration of religious belief across cultures is given; instead the arguments are circular and incomplete.

*Interestingly, the new atheists made quite vehement statements against the “evilness” of religion, an inclusion of an emotional component that weakened their arguments.

As I thought through the arguments in Haught’s book, I was struck by the idea that the authors of the critiqued books wanted “God” to behave in a particular manner, and to be able to be proven scientifically. Because God (in their view) doesn’t seem to follow their narrow prescriptions, the new atheists want to jettison the idea. If you can’t read and don’t want to believe me, I can’t “prove” to you that ink blotches on paper carry information; you don’t believe me, but that doesn’t make what I say untrue.

Overall, I found this a challenging book and an interesting and cogent counterargument to widespread ideas of atheism in this culture.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Special Olympics

President Obama went on David Letterman's talk show on Thursday night (3/19/09). While there, without a teleprompter, he made a joke saying that he bowls like someone in the Special Olympics. He quickly apologized, and his apology seems to be accepted by the American media, at least, who talk about a slip of the tongue.

This remark made me sad. Yes, it's the kind of quick joke that many people might make and I don't read too much into it, but frankly I don't find it funny. When I was pregnant with my second child I had an abnormal alphafetoprotein scan early on that indicated a slightly higher risk of Down's Syndrome, but didn't get amniocentesis because a) I wasn't going to *terminate* anything, and b) there was a risk (odds quoted to me were 1/300, admittedly low but not zero) that it might cause the pregnancy to miscarry. I thought long and deep about the baby, and made my own the thought that a person is worthwhile simply because he is, not because of achievements or qualifications or anything else.

Our son was born perfectly healthy, and is currently a curious and active seventh grader. I don't know how he's able to eat as much as he does!

Still, there are many parents and children who do have challenged children. These children are greatly loved and wonderful, but they and their families face additional problems that those without them cannot imagine.

Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for vice president in the 2008 election, recently addressed the Special Olympics organization. This video is fabulous!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Natasha RIP



I don't know about you, but I'm always shocked when a vibrant celebrity dies unexpectedly. I shouldn't be, I know. It's strange that death SHOULD be such a shock.

Natasha Richardson was the oldest daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson, born in 1963 (just a little older than me). She was learning to ski on Monday, had a seemingly inconsequential tumble on a beginner slope, and two days later was dead. The autopsy showed an epidural hematoma, a bleed that puts pressure on the brain and may cause it to herniate, eventually leading to coma and death.

My only clear memory of Ms. Richardson was her role as Elizabeth James in the remake of The Parent Trap (1998) as the mom of spunky twins (played by a precocious Lindsey Lohan) who is reunited with their father. It was a cute movie. Ms. Richardson was an award-winning actress who acted both on stage and screen.

She was married to Liam Neeson, who played Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi Wan's mentor in the Star Wars series, among other roles. They had two boys, Micheal born in 1995, and Daniel born in 1996.

It's just sad. This life seems to last forever, but my friends, savor every moment. You don't know how long you may have.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Crichton's *Rule of 48*

Among the books I'm currently reading is Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, his first novel published in 1969. I'm about halfway through, and ran across this paragraph last night that I thought was interesting: The *Rule of 48*

For years it was stated that men had 48 chromosomes in their cells; there were pictures to prove it, and any number of careful studies. In 1953, a group of American researchers announced to the world that the human chromosome number was 46. Once more, there were pictures to prove it, and studies to confirm it. But these researchers also went back to reexamine the old pictures, and the old studies -- and found only 46 chromosomes, not 48.

I had to laugh -- this happened to me a long time ago while presenting data of my research. A seasoned professor started getting huffy with me during my talk, and insisted my data were wrong. (He had multi-grants along different lines, and my data threw a monkey wrench into his conclusions, but I didn't know that at the time!)

I realized then, and was reminded last night, that we -- all of us -- have to be very careful to understand the difference between what we *know* and what we THINK we know. There are so many details every day that the only way to make sense of them is to fold *how things work* into a world construct. I was flummoxed during that talk at the ardent emotion in this rational scientist, and decided then that even though I also have a construct, I must always be open and willing to examine my beliefs. In fact, thinking back, about a year later I started examining the events surrounding Jesus' death that led ultimately after a great deal of angst to my conversion. Hmm, all things do seem to work together, don't they?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Love Is

What is Love?

When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love...

Rebecca- age 8

*

When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.

Billy - age 4

*

Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.

Karl - age 5

*

Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.

Chrissy - age 6

*

Love is what makes you smile when you're tired.

Terri - age 4

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Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.

Danny - age 7

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Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that... They look gross when they kiss.

Emily - age 8

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Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.

Bobby - age 7

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If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.

Nikka - age 6

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Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.

Noelle - age 7

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Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.

Tommy - age 6

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During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn't scared anymore.

Cindy - age 8

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My mommy loves me more than anybody. You don't see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.

Clare - age 6

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Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.

Elaine-age 5

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Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.

Chris - age 7

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Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.

Mary Ann - age 4

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I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.

Lauren - age 4

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When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.

Karen - age 7

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Love is when Mommy sees Daddy on the toilet and she doesn't think it's gross.

Mark - age 6

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You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.

Jessica - age 8

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A four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old
gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, 'Nothing, I just helped him cry.'

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

In God We Trust?

Lynn Rush sent an email to me describing a poll NBC is running HERE. The question on the NBC site is:

Should the motto "In God We Trust" be removed from U.S. currency?

Yes. It's a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.

No. The motto has historical and patriotic significance and does nothing to establish a state religion.


The poll is running about 86% to keep the motto on the currency.

I found the wording of the question interesting, since the original introduction of the phrase was due to an uprising of Christian sentiment around the Civil War. I personally support this motto not because of historic or patriotic significance, but because of my own religious beliefs: I like to think that our country trusts in God. On the other hand, we do not have the same domination of Christianity in our country that we did 150 years ago. My God, the Lord Jesus Yeshua Ha'Maschiach, is not the same as, say, Buddha, the god-force, or (dare I say it) Allah.

This is an interesting conundrum -- can we of different faiths unify under *God*? What think you, my friends?

You can read an unbiased description of how the motto came to be used on our American money at the US Treasury Department site HERE.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Guitar




For my sixteenth birthday I asked for and received an Alvarez acoustic guitar made of cherry wood. I loved it. It's burnished a deep red-brown with a mother-of-pearl bird inlaid on the front, and it was very beautiful to my untutored eyes. It played like a dream.

I have another guitar, a classical guitar that's easier to play. I broke the tuning pin a long time ago when I'd strung it with steel strings (I know...)

My boy's been asking to learn guitar, so this past week I finally had the guitar repaired and restrung. This weekend we spent hours as he learned to play some chords.

The strings on the guitar are nylon, which means that since they were just put on they need to be tuned often until they stretch. I showed him how to tune the guitar, but don't think he quite has the hang of it yet; oh well. I gave him a chord progression to practice until he can do it quickly: C G Am Em F C F G

How fun it was for me to play the guitar again, after a good 15 years. My fingers are rusty and slow. I couldn't quite remember some songs; I'd spent hours working on elaborate patterns and fancy noteplay and they're now gone. The easy bar chords are still there, but the full ones are mushy now.

Time does march on.

My boy is encouraged, and asks me questions. It's nice to show someone what I had painstakingly mastered, such a long time ago. I tell him his sore fingers will callus up soon.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What Gender Do You Write In?

This is an amusing site that *predicts* the gender of an author. Try it! It's free, fast, and fun.

Gender Genie

Friday, March 13, 2009

Publishing: Writing the Fiction Synopsis Part Two

The fiction synopsis boils down an entire story into a few pages. You are never going to capture your story perfectly, but you can certainly give a good approximation.

Here are a few thoughts I have, in no particular order:

* No weird fonts, weird formating, or weird paper.

* Ragged right edge, header and page numbers at the top etc.

* Write in third person present tense.

* Yes, put in the ending! Include the whole plot, spoilers and all.

* You're writing what the story is about, not how it happens. Don't spend lots of time explaining a scene; just give the final point or twist to the story. (For example "Jody and Steve fight, and Jody decides to leave" rather than explaining that the fight occurs during Steve's parents' 50th wedding anniversary and she walks out after dumping a glass of champagne on his head).

* Focus on only the major twists of the story. You can skip the smaller events.

* Similarly, name only the major two or possibly three characters -- more are confusing.

* Don't tell the editor what he's going to think about the story: "This is a heart-rending story of the loss of a love..." "This novel has the inventiveness of Michael Crichton and the otherworldliness of Dean Koontz..." Save that for your endorsers.

* Edit your writing as you would your novel: eliminate adverbs, passive voice, modifiers, and so forth. Get the writing tight and beautiful.

* Once you have a 3-5 page synopsis, boil it to also make a one page synopsis. Some editors may like to see a longer 10 page synopsis so you might want to do one of these too, although I never needed one this long.

* Always check the guidelines of the places to which you're submitting, and follow them to the letter.

*

OK, now for getting ready to write the durn thing. First thing you might want to do is list all of the scenes in your book, so that you have a shorthand of the story flow.

I opened my synopsis with my trusty zinger highlighted at the top of the page: A small military team travels back in time to film the theft of Jesus' body from the tomb. This zinger implies a story question: WILL the team be able to film the theft?

Next, describe the ordinary world of the story and the change. Depending on the complexity of the backstory or the world, this may be short or long. For example, for Lever my first two paragraphs are:

The year is 2029. Following the reconstruction of the third Temple five years ago Israel has been torn apart by civil dissension and is about to be destroyed by external forces. The politically powerful Jewish Orthodoxy clashes with the sudden appearance of an underground of Messianic believers (Jews who accept Yeshua, Jesus, as their messiah). Meanwhile the moderates desperately try to hold the country on an even course since the Arab countries surrounding them have united into a new, more dangerous coalition.

The ultimate weapon, a time machine, is in final development. With the divisive growth of the believers an audacious goal has been formulated: a small military team of four must travel back to the time of Yeshua in 32 C.E. to prove that the resurrection was a hoax, thus allowing the moderates to shut down the believers in time to prevent national catastrophe. The team will have exactly 72 hours to film the theft of Yeshua’s body from the tomb and collect corroborating data such as star positions and films of Jerusalem.


Next, describe your main characters in a nutshell: who they are, what they want, and why they want it. For example, the next paragraph in my synopsis is this: (CAUTION: PLOT SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH!)

Benjamin Feinan, the experienced special forces soldier who will lead the mission, is secretly in love with his second in command Sara Levenson, a former American astronaut who left her country in undeserved disgrace. After the time throw to the first century he is stunned to hear her murmur “Yeshua Ha’Maschiach” (Jesus, Messiah) – a believer has infiltrated the mission. He confronts her but she denies she is a spy. Nevertheless the mission has been compromised.

OK, IT'S SAFE TO READ AGAIN

Now figure out the main plot points through the middle of the story and any emotional changes that may occur. Stick with only the main story and names of only two characters (or maybe three). Your subplots are fabulous, but will make this sleek document distracting and hard to follow.

I don't want to put any more of my synopsis down because it gives away too much of the story, but if you're interested, write to me and I'll be happy to send you a copy. My middle section takes five paragraphs, all the way to the final conflict.

The final conflict, resolution, and ending take one paragraph.

For the last paragraph, I like to give the theme of the story. For example, for Lever my last paragraph is: (SPOILER AGAIN!)

In this book during his mission, Benjamin grapples with his attraction to Sara, a believer, and in a larger context the nature of truth and miracles. A resurrection of Jesus is illogical in the extreme but is more difficult to refute than it would first appear. Yet Benjamin must refute the resurrection to prevent the believers from destroying his country.

*

OK, I hope this is helpful. The only way to write the synopsis is to write it, unfortunately, so just go for a first draft and polish from there.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Publishing: Writing the Fiction Synopsis Part One

The synopsis for the novelist is perhaps the most intimidating document to write as you prepare to submit your work. You need to boil your story down to a few well-thought-out paragraphs.

Again, I'm not an expert at this, although I've written synopses. For some writers these are even useful to write before you've started your story, to get a sense of where you might be going. If you haven't done one before, remember that this is a doable process: for example, my 3 page synopsis for Lever takes only 10 paragraphs and 1000 words.

An absolutely fabulous book for this topic, or even for general help in building a storyline, is Pam McCutcheon's Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A Step by Step Approach. This book is quite expensive on amazon, so I recommend if you get it to buy from the publisher HERE. The price is $18.95, a bit pricey, but well worth the investment. This book sits in my top writing books hall of fame along with five or so others.

OK, let's get started.

There is no way that you're going to be able to convey your entire complex novel in a few pages, so the first thing you have to do is pick out the MAIN OUTER story. This is what you'll be writing about.

McCutcheon identifies 5 important points of a story that you'll describe. They are:

A Ordinary World
B New Direction
C Change of Plans
D Black Moment
E Resolution and End

Star Wars as an example: (from McCutcheon's book)

Main Story: Luke's story

Ordinary World:

Luke is working on his uncle's boring farm on the "farthest planet from the center of the universe."

New Direction:

Luke's aunt and uncle are killed, Princess Leia calls for help, and Obi-Wan Kenobi urges Luke to follow in his father's footsteps and become a Jedi Knight.

A Change of Plans:

The good guys are captured by the Death Star.

The Black Moment:

Just as victory is imminent and Luke is about to make his pass to aim for the small two-meter target that will destroy the Death Star, he hears the warning bell as Darth Vader's missile locks onto his fighter.

The Resolution and End:

Han Solo shows up and sends Darth Vader's fighter spinning off into the void. Luke is then free to aim for the target and hits it. The Death Star explodes, the Rebel Alliance wins, and Luke and Han receive medals for their victory.

*

You may notice that McCutcheon's points line up quite nicely with the Story Posts of the Template:

ACT ONE

A Ordinary World
B Inciting
(argument)
(Door)

ACT TWO

(adaptation to new world)
C MIDPOINT)
(disintegration etc.)
(slide)

ACT THREE

(problem gets worse)
D Darkest Moment
E Help from Outside
E Climax
E Resolution

*

OK, that's enough for today.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

One Hundred Years

Driving home today, I heard Five for Fighting's "Hundred Years," one of my (many) favorite songs. I put the lyrics at the bottom of this entry. The song emphasizes how quickly life passes: 15 years old, 22, 33, 45, half time when you're finally wise, 67, and 99 when one more moment is all there is. The song keeps coming back to 15 when you still have time, when there's no better wish.

I couldn't help reflecting on the song's message. Life at 15 is full of potentials, but it becomes progressively confined as we (intentionally or not) chart our course through the years. Many things are possible but you can't have them all: Aiming for a grand goal means sacrifices of time, money, and other resources often including the sacrifices that others (e.g. a spouse, parent, child) also make for you. Or you make for them! And once you're on your way or have achieved the goal, it's that much harder to achieve a parallel goal. As we grow older our potentials increasingly become actualities: what is. We lose our physical abilities and our life's time even as we (hopefully) gain in knowledge, experience, wealth, and strong integrated connections to others.

We live in a world of limited resources, of edges and comparisons, where the concept of infinite potential can be understood only in a mathematical equation. Change in life is the only constant. I believe an important component of contentment in life is accepting what is, and assessing what truly might be. Yet, this is so difficult not to want what was, or what could have been if only...

"You pays your money, and you makes your choice." Does what we do now, in this world, matter? I believe so. As a wise friend of mine says, our seemingly inconsequential choices can create enormous ripples for ourselves and others, and not (if you believe this, as I do) only in this life. I've often heard old people comment on how quickly their lives have passed. They don't feel any different, although their bodies are feeble.

The soul doesn't age...

Some spinning thoughts as I listen to a song. Live wisely. Seize the day, my dear friends.

**

NOTE: I couldn't embed the video, but you can see it HERE

One Hundred Years
by Five for Fighting

I'm 15 for a moment
Caught in between 10 and 20
And I'm just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are

I'm 22 for a moment
She feels better than ever
And we're on fire
Making our way back from Mars

15 there's still time for you
Time to buy and time to lose
15, there's never a wish better than this
When you only got 100 years to live

I'm 33 for a moment
Still the man, but you see I'm a they
A kid on the way
A family on my mind

I'm 45 for a moment
The sea is high
And I'm heading into a crisis
Chasing the years of my life

15 there's still time for you
Time to buy, time to lose yourself
Within a morning star
15 I'm all right with you
15, there's never a wish better than this
When you only got 100 years to live

Half time goes by
Suddenly you're wise
Another blink of an eye
67 is gone
The sun is getting high
We're moving on...

I'm 99 for a moment
Time for just another moment
And I'm just dreaming
Counting the ways to where you are

15 there's still time for you
22 I feel her too
33 you're on your way
Every day's a new day...

15 there's still time for you
Time to buy and time to choose
Hey 15, there's never a wish better than this
When you only got 100 years to live