Ask Logan Gates (July 9-13, 2018)

logangates

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

This week, @Logan_Gates is available to answer your questions about apologetics and evangelism! He’s trilingual and apparently loves to surf in Toronto - that sounds like a very cold sport! You can see some of the topics he regularly addresses in his bio, below.

Please reply to this post with your heartfelt apologetic and evangelistic questions.

Carson

Logan Gates bio:

Logan Gates is an Itinerant Speaker with RZIM Canada. He earned a master’s degree in theology at the University of Oxford alongside two years of study at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. Logan’s passion is to help others encounter God by exploring the big questions in life.

Topics he often tackles include “Why believe anything?”, “Jesus: man, myth, or more?”, “Why would a loving God judge me?,” and “Finding unity in a culture of division.” Logan also speaks Spanish and French and has spoken at universities and churches both in Canada and abroad. He lives in Toronto where he loves to surf, drink tea, and cook with his lovely new bride, Samantha.


(Carson Weitnauer) #2

Hi Logan, to get the conversation started, what has surfing in Toronto taught you about the experience of suffering? :slight_smile: On a more serious note, I have recently met a number of people who are deeply grieved by the idea that a loved one will be in hell for eternity. (See also this discussion: Joy in heaven). How do you make sense of this idea? How ought the doctrine of hell affect the reality of Christian hope?


(Carson Weitnauer) #3

Hi Logan, can you share with us some of the wisdom from your talk, “Finding unity in a culture of division”? It seems that in the United States, where I am based, the nation is becoming increasingly polarized - the divisions seem more intense, more widespread, and more antagonistic. What is a way forward for followers of Jesus? Are there opportunities here for us to share our faith?


(Bill) #4

What about the first idea in your list? “Why believe anything?”

Bill


(Logan Gates) #5

Hi Carson,

Thanks for the introduction. I do think the issue of division is pressing today, and one that virtually everyone can connect with. It’s a great topic of conversation that opens doors for talking about the Gospel.

A poignant example of our division that comes to mind was after the tragic shooting at the country music concert in Las Vegas last fall. As terrible as the shooting was, what was further upsetting was some of the commentary that followed. Shortly after the shooting a vice president at a major media company wrote on her Facebook page that she “wasn’t even sympathetic” to the victims, because she reasoned, most country music fans are Republicans, most Republicans are against gun control, and so in a way they had it coming to them. She was, as might be imagined, fired from her job, but I think this says something deeply troubling about the state of our culture. She was the graduate of two Ivy League universities. How could someone who was the product of our finest institutions carry such hardness of heart towards those on the other side of the political aisle?

I think as followers of Jesus there is something profound and desperately needed that we can speak into this context. For a start, Christians have something to say about human dignity. With evolution seen as the only game in town, many have a sense that “what it means to be human” is that we simply find ourselves at the end of a chain of purposeless events that created our species. We might not like to put it so bluntly, but to believe in a world without God is to have a view of humanity like Voltaire’s, who saw us as “tormented atoms in a bed of mud.” But when it comes to sitting across the table from someone you deeply dislike or even someone who has hurt you, it doesn’t help you love them if you recall the fact that, at the end of the day, the person across the table is just “tormented atoms in a bed of mud.” That doesn’t conjure up the “warm fuzzies” in your heart towards them, to say the least. What atheism would say, if you’re wanting to see the dignity in your enemy, is that you need to stop thinking about what’s really true about them – instead try to focus on the dignity that society has conferred on them – don’t think about the cold hard facts.

Christianity sees humans made in the image of God, with a value worth the Son of God laying down his life for. What Christianity would say then, is that when we’re struggling to see the dignity of our enemies, our problem is not, to use a turn of phrase from Tim Keller, that we’re thinking too much about what’s real, but that we’re not thinking enough. (So much for Christianity being about turning your brain off!) . Only the Judeo-Christian worldview offers us a rational, coherent foundation for human dignity – even dignity for our enemies.

I also think Christianity offers a nuanced understanding of sin – that we’re all sinful, instead of the “sinners” being on any one side of an issue – as well as a understanding of the self that fosters humility – that we are all, in Luther’s words, simul justus et peccator, at the same time sinful yet justified, which gives us no place for boast apart from the cross of Christ.

In short, when I speak on this topic I try to convey that the Christian faith alone offers a foundation for dignity, a nuanced view of what our real problem is, and a basis for true humility. I think with how often division is featured in the news, we have so many opportunities to ask our non-believing friends and family what they think is behind that division, and whether there is a way forward – these are questions the Christian faith offers unparalleled answers to.

If we have time later this week I’d like to share an interesting conversation I had along these lines just last week, on one of our most divisive Canadian issues – relations with the First Nations community.


(Ashish Money) #6

Hi Logan, I am bothered with a thought that came to my mind about Joy in Heaven. How can we have everlasting joy in the presence of Jesus, if one of our beloved is not with us, because of the choices that he/she has made in his life?


(Carson Weitnauer) #7

Hi Logan, thank you for this thoughtful answer. I hadn’t heard the Voltaire quote before, but I’ll borrow it! “Tormented atoms in a bed of mud” is quite a visceral image! How curious that atoms are tormented! And that this bundle of atoms called Voltaire used such emotional, imaginative language!

I’d be delighted to hear more about the conversation you had along these lines last week. :slight_smile:


(Bethany Bredeson) #8

Hi Logan,

I have a question that is very close to my heart. I’m an educated painter, and I might paint professionally someday soon. I’m facing a quandary with Christian morals when it comes to painting and displaying nude figure work. I attended a college where I would have been expelled had my paintings been shown on campus. Even for study, no model was allowed to be fully nude. I was wondering if you could help me understand how Christianity might view either the clothed painted portrait or the nude portrait.

Respectfully,
Bethany


(Logan Gates) #9

Hi Carson,

I’m glad to share the conversation, just as an example of how I recently found myself talking about cultural division with a non-believer, and how it provided a surprisingly natural way for talking about the Gospel.

As I mentioned above, one of the most divisive issues we wrestle with north of the border is relations with the indigenous community. Last week I was talking to non-believer who lives in a part of Canada with a large First Nations population. Over the course of our conversation it became clear she was one of a not-insignificant number of Canadians who feel certain resentment towards the indigenous community. She criticized their alcohol and drug abuse, and preemptively pushed back against the notion that she personally had anything to do with injustice they had faced in years past. She felt indigenous groups were “never satisfied” with the apologies and government assistance they received. I could sense she felt division between “us and them.”

As I thought (and prayed!) about how to respond, it came to mind to first simply lament the reality of the division itself and the injustices that originally brought it about. I reflected about how sad it was that deep injustice, like the forced removal of indigenous children from their families to be placed in “residential schools” (a practice which didn’t stop until the 1990s), had lasting, terrible consequences that we still see today. I talked about how injustice and “sin” have a way of driving a wedge between us, and she agreed heartily.

The conversation turned to what could be a way forward in this divisive situation. I wish I could say I had a solution to offer. I do not.

But I thought I’d share a story that arrested my attention a few months ago. I was reading the writing of a theologian at Yale named Miroslav Volf. Volf hails from the Balkans, a beautiful but complicated part of the world, with deep divisions of race and religion exacerbated by nearly a thousand years of cyclical violence, the latest of dating from the late 1990s. Volf argued peace could only come to his homeland through a belief in the final judgment of God. What he meant was this: at the heart of each violent outbreak was one group’s effort to “get even” for the wrongs they had suffered in years past. Each side wanted justice. But the only solution, Volf argued, would be to “insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God” – to lay down the need to exact revenge by trusting that one day God Himself, who sees all, would enact perfect justice. Volf wasn’t calling for his country to not care about justice in the meantime, but to lay down the recourse to violence in its pursuit. This, of course, would be no easy charge for family who had lost a loved one to violence in the Balkans; it would mean “absorbing the blow” of the injustice, not denying the injustice itself, but refusing to react vengefully to reach a justice of their own accord.

My friend thought the idea interesting, but asked how it would apply to the Canadian situation. It took me a moment to collect my thoughts, and I wanted to be sensitive, but I ventured this: When it comes to the indigenous community in Canada, all must agree they are a group that has suffered deep injustice (at times, unspeakable injustice). But while non-indigenous Canadians might not put it this way, I suspect some of them have a sense they’ve been treated unjustly too; my friend felt she was falsely accused for perpetrating atrocities from years past, and that she needed to speak up for herself. But this kind of self-justifying brings little good in public conversations with the indigenous community – it can feel like a further injustice, catalyzing new cycles of bitterness. In light of Volf’s comments, I wondered whether those of us who are non-indigenous might need to give up our desire to “self-justify” when we feel we’ve been wrongly attacked (whether we have been or not). Volf would say we need to “absorb the blow,” acknowledging any legitimate prejudice we have, understanding why the indigenous community might react the way it has, and leaving ultimate justice to God. It’s not to lay aside our concern for justice in our society today (and cave to a “culture of victimhood”), but it is to give up our own personal need to be seen as “in the right.”

I shared with my friend that, to do this, we’d need a strong sense of identity – we’d need to know that we already were “justified” in some way, so we didn’t need to be “justified” in the eyes of everyone else. I shared that Christianity offers that very thing, justification before God – not based on our good lives, but wholly on Jesus’ death on our behalf. He absorbed the ultimate blow for us. This message can make us into people who don’t need to have the last word, people who can be “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9), as Jesus intended his followers to be.

As so often happens, our conversation was cut off, but as we parted she looked me in the eye with smile and said she really enjoyed talking. It was powerful to talk about something we both agreed really mattered – the division in our culture – and to reflect on how the start of an answer might come from a place we wouldn’t expect, from God, and the personal relationship he offers us through repentance and faith in what he has done for us on the cross.


(Logan Gates) #10

@Ashishraj Thank you for this question – it’s one I myself have been wrestling with this week, as we’ve just had a death in the family. I’m going to give it some more thought but will get back to you by the end of the week.

@Bethany Thanks also for your question – it’s also one that I’d like to spend some more time thinking about – I’ll offer some thoughts tomorrow or Friday!

Logan


(Logan Gates) #11

Hi Bill,

I’ve found the topic “Why believe anything?” is one that is resonating on university campuses. For many people, belief is something that seems 1) irrational and 2) optional, and as a result belief can be a bit of a curiosity. I find non-believers often come to a talk on this topic thinking, “I know belief works for some people – I wonder what reasons they give for making that a part of their life,” a bit like a hobby.

Recently as I’ve spoken on the topic, I’ve used Jesus’ parable of the good shepherd in John 10 to try to challenge those assumptions head on –

  1. I want to make the point that, ultimately, the only reason to believe anything is because it’s true. Jesus begins much of his teaching (and this parable in particular) with the words “Truly, truly I say to you” (10:1). Jesus is claiming to be stating things the way they really are. There might be many benefits to believing Christianity – it can provide a system of ethics (Jordan Peterson might see it this way), a caring community, etc., but at the end of the day truth is the only thing that really matters. Who would want to dedicate their life to a lie, no matter how noble? I think it was Tim Keller who astutely pointed out that if someone becomes a Christian for any reason other than being convinced it’s true, there’s a good chance they’ll walk away from their faith when the going gets tough, or when God asks them to change something in their life. But if they’re a Christian because they believe Christianity is true, that’s not something you can walk away from – it’s the basis of faith that can “go the distance.”

  2. I also want to challenge the notion that “belief” refers to whether we go to a place of worship on the weekend. It was Reinhold Niebuhr who argued that, in today’s world, our understanding of “religion” has become far too shallow. For Niebuhr, “religion” refers to where we find “confidence in the meaningfulness of human existence,” and as a result it’s something that “is assumed in every healthy life.” We are all religious – it’s part of our human wiring – we all find meaning in our lives in something. At the popular level, I continue to find David Foster Wallace’s words deeply provocative on this, especially since he speaks as an agnostic. In his Kenyon College graduation address in 2005 he said, “There is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” When I speak on this from the parable of the good shepherd, I like to point out that when Jesus describes what the sheep can follow – he offers an either/or – either the good shepherd OR the hired hand (John 10:11-12). There is no neutral ground. Jesus is saying that we all follow something.

But. Jesus is also saying that not all we follow treats us the same. What reveals the difference between the good shepherd and the hired hand is the presence of the “wolves.” When the wolves come, the hired hand flees and the good shepherd stays. Jesus here is saying something about life – there are such things as wolves. There are things that happen that have the capacity to destroy us. The question is, “Will what we’re following, what we’re ‘worshipping’ stay with us when the wolves come?”

I’m again moved by David Foster Wallace’s words on this:

“The compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship… is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. Worship your body and beauty… and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

I think it was my colleague Cameron McAlister who pointed out to me that David Foster Wallace shared these words just months before his own suicide. He was speaking here not just theoretically, but tragically from the anguish of his own experience.

At this point I like to share my testimony about how I became a Christian, when “wolves” descended on my life and I began to realize that I had been placing my identity and sense of meaning in life on a foundation that could not sustain it. I was torn to shreds, and only then came face to face with what Jesus said was the real state of my heart – that I had been desperately finding my identity and meaning in anything but him, that I had rejected him, but for this reason he had died for me and gave me the chance of a new life in him, with him as the object of my identity, meaning, and worship – a shepherd who would stay with me come what may.

In short, I like this question “why believe anything?” because it allows us to dismantle some wrong assumptions about Christianity – especially the view that belief and religion is something that just “believers” have, instead of something that’s at the heart of all of our lives. I find, too, that it provides a great opportunity for us to ask our non-believing friends, “what would you say you find your meaning in – in Wallace’s terminology, what do you worship?” I think it’s open door for us to share our testimonies for how we’ve found this true personally.

I’d love to hear how you’ve maybe thought about this question of “why believe anything?”!


(Logan Gates) #12

Hello Ashish,

Thanks for your patience hearing back from me. I noticed on the “Joy in Heaven” thread that a couple others have chimed in with their thoughts, which are helpful. Here are some of mine.

As I said, this question has been weighing on me this week. My wife has just lost a relative, and we’re not as confident as we’d want to be about his faith. When I mentioned to her the question you raised, she identified with it right away.

You’re right that the contrast is arresting. If we just took Revelation 21-22, in the new heavens and the new earth we have both a description of a city with “no more mourning or crying” (21:4), as well as a city with people outside its walls (22:15). How can these realities hold together?

After thinking and praying about it much this week, I’m afraid I don’t know.

But here are a few thoughts I’ll offer nonetheless.

I do think it’s helpful to recall what Christians believe about hell in the first place. Part of what makes hell “hell” is the very absence of God, just as God’s presence is what makes heaven “heaven.” Why would God “create” such a place, it’s often asked. When I asked my fiancée to marry me, I couldn’t do it with a gun pointed at her, because that wouldn’t sustain a relationship of real love. Love has to be free. She has to have the chance to say “no.” If the Lord wants a relationship with us marked by real love that means He has to give us the chance to say “no” to Him. As CS Lewis put it, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ As Lewis frames it, in an enigmatic way, the reality of hell is the outworking of the love of God – love could never be real if it were not freely chosen.

We ask this question about loved ones in particular because, though we’re aware that Scripture tells us there will be many kept outside of heaven, it’s those we care about who grieve us most deeply. Because we love them, we cannot conceive of joy in heaven if they are outside. But of this, at least, I think we may be sure: God loves our loved ones far more than we do. If there were to be weeping in heaven, surely it would be our Lord’s weeping, for those whom He pursued at such a cost.

Michael Ramsden often says, “when you’re pushed to your limits, the real you comes out.” When I’m pushed to my limits – when I’m tired or stressed, often what comes out of me is not pretty – but Michael’s saying would mean that the person I am at my worst, is the person I really am. When Jesus is pushed to “his limits” what comes out of him is pure love. He asks God to forgive those even who are putting him to death. What that tells us is that God’s love (and his pursuit of rebels like us) is at the heart of His being, so that even if I struggle to understand how God could be loving and good when it comes to something like hell, from the cross I know that He is.

Even so, what does this mean for our joy in heaven, if our loved ones are outside? All I can venture, humbly, is along the lines of another CS Lewis quote: “There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious.” I wonder if the joy we will have in heaven, face to face with God, might be a joy of this kind – a joy tapered by a certain seriousness. When we read some of the greatest stories ever written, often there is tragedy in the midst of them, but when we come to the end what we experience is often a sort of sombre wonder. We put down the book with the feeling that we’ve just read something deeply good, but also deeply hard, and perhaps even sad. I wonder if our joy in God will be a joy of this kind – we will be enraptured by His glory, but His glory will be complex, and in the sombre outworkings of it perhaps we will feel a serious kind of joy – more aware than ever before of the perfect love of God, and yet sombre in light of its outworking in our broken, rebellious world.

I think this question is one of those which must make us cling in faith to the goodness of God we see in the cross, and trust that if he was good and loving then, so He is and will remain in all things, world without end.


(Logan Gates) #13

Dear Bethany,

Thank you again for this question – I can tell it’s close to your heart. I must say, I am not an artist, but in preparing this answer I spoke with a friend involved in a wonderful organization called Imago. They actually select the art that rotates through the RZIM Canada office!

It was helpful speaking to him – and he said he would glad to personally connect you with artists who are mature believers who have given much thought to this (more than I have!). Nevertheless, here are some thoughts I’ve gathered:

It’s first important for us first to have a good “biblical theology of nakedness.” I think there should be at least two components:

  1. The goodness of the created order. God in Genesis 1:31 calls the human He has just created “very good.” And part of that goodness is the physical body. We are not just disembodied spirits that will eventually drift to heaven to float forever – we are embodied, and our eternal state will be embodied like Christ (the firstfruit, 1 Corinthians 15:23). We are not gnostics – our bodies are part of God’s “very good” creation of humanity.

  2. The Fall. After Adam and Eve take the fruit from the tree, they begin to feel shame about their bodies (Genesis 3:7). God gives them garments to wear (3:21). Throughout the Bible we see verses about modesty (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Corinthians 12:23, etc.). Our bodies are good, but also can be a source of shame. In our fallenness, we are also prone to lust.

How do these two aspects of our theology fit together on this question – is it appropriate to depict nudity in art? I want to appreciate that Christians have different views on this, all the while I lay out where I think I stand.

It’s interesting to consider the book of the Bible Song of Songs. There you have an artistic depiction (in poetry) of nakedness. One might object, that’s depicting intimacy within the covenant of marriage, in private. I certainly agree – but I’d note the depiction itself is public. Anyone can open the Bible to those pages and them. Now, I suppose those passages could be abused and lusted over, yet God has them in the Bible anyway. They are texts I think we should handle carefully – it’s probably not wise to do an expository study on the whole book for Sunday school kids. Yet, there they are, publicly part of God’s word. They glorify God.

What I think Song of Songs models for us, is that there is a positive way for Christians to artistically depict nakedness to convey a certain meaning. Song of Songs lays out the joys of married love. Other depictions of nakedness, I believe, can glorify God as a masterful Creator (think of Michaelangelo’s David) or can capture the dynamics of innocence/shame like in a depiction of Adam and Eve in the Fall. I think the abundance of Christian art across the centuries should give us pause before making a blanket declaration that all nakedness in art is sinful. A key question then is what is the meaning behind this piece of art, and does that meaning glorify God?

It also might be appropriate to give thought to how the artwork will be displayed – especially in light of our cultural diversity, with different standards of modesty. We should consider whether this would be a stumbling block. All things can be twisted for sin, but a billboard depicting nudity in Times Square might invite that more than a sculpture in a museum. While training in painting the human figure, I think Christians should always recall that the person they’re sketching is an individual person, made in God’s image – not merely a physical form.

It’s wonderful to see your heart to honour God in the way you go about your vocation. I’m so thankful you’re engaged in the arts. Part of the challenge discussing these sorts of questions among Christians is that we (Christians who aren’t artists) often don’t have a biblical, thought-through appreciation of art, and we’re wary of meaning that isn’t propositional. We need voices like yours to help us as believers have a healthier biblical view on some of these topics – and the arts world needs artists like you to make beautiful art that invite people to glorify God!

I hope that’s helpful as a start – let me know if you’d like to be in touch with some Christian artists who work with Imago and would be glad to speak further to you on this.


(Bethany Bredeson) #14

Hi Logan,

Thank you so much for your supportive words. I think it would really help me to discuss the topic further with other Christian artists. I would really appreciate your friend connecting me with other artists. Thank you for help.

-Bethany


(Carson Weitnauer) #16