Ask Nathan Rittenhouse (February 3-7, 2020)

Hello, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM friends!

This week we are excited to welcome to the Connect Q&A forum itinerant speaker, writer, and the other half of the Thinking Out Loud podcast duo, @Nathan_Rittenhouse!

Nathan graduated from Bridgewater College in Virginia with a double major in physics and philosophy and religion, and a minor in mathematics before attending the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. He holds an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Nathan has interests in topics of science and religion, church history, and systematic theology. He grew up in an active church and Christian family and developed an enthusiasm for Christ that has intensified with his academic studies. As a student, Nathan refreshed his mind by running track and cross-country and continues to enjoy a variety of outdoor activities with his wife and kids.

If you have a question you’d like to ask Nathan, do reply on the thread below. Happy asking!

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Hi @Nathan_Rittenhouse, thanks for taking time to help answer our questions.
What is your take on the Edwards v. Aguillard Case? How do the decisions from this case affect the present-day understanding of science and religion? How can we as Christians deal with issues arising from this case?

Hello Charles, I think it is always a good idea to look to history to see how where we find ourselves may be conditioned by decisions that were made in the past, so I appreciate your question. My thinking is that the right decision was ultimately made there for both legal and religious reasons. The original language in this case was using “Creation” language. When you use ‘creation’ language you are implying a creator, which does fall into the realm of religion. From a Christian perspective I would rather see science fit into a conversation about God, than try to fit God into a conversation about science. One of these is clearly bigger than the other! Perhaps the course that needs to be added in high schools is Philosophy of Science! The fall out from *Edwards v. Aguillard was that the creationist community switched its language to “Intelligent Design,” to make it a little less religious sounding, although that was later ruled to be a religious term too. It is interesting that the Christian Philosopher Charles Taylor is critical of Christian Apologetics in this category. He argues that once you make the ‘creator’ into a vague ‘intelligent designer’ that no one really knows who we are talking about and the term is easily replaceable with ‘science’ - which is just another vague causative term. I think there is a little bit of merit to this. When I speak of creation, I’m not talking about any old random God. I’m speaking about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, creator of all things who has made Himself known to us in the person of Jesus Christ by whom all things were created (Col. 1:15ff). In other words, in order to fit “God” into science classes we sort of needed to ‘water down’ who He is to try to slip Him into science classes to the point that the idea really wasn’t clear. So I think the way that we handle it is by embracing the critique. When someone says, isn’t creation really a religious rather than a scientific idea, we should say, “Absolutely!” I don’t want a God shoe-horned into science, I’m talking about a specific Living God who makes sense of all aspects of reality, science just being one of them. I can’t answer for the specific conversations that you find yourself in, but I think the way forward is to be clear about what we mean, and to not fall into the trap of assuming that science answers everything. Everything answers to God, not the other way around. Just because ‘God’ isn’t a scientific idea, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true, it just highlights that the boundaries of truth that are illuminated by science don’t cover all of reality. The limitations are on science, though it is amazingly helpful at some things, not on God. In reality the entirety of our education from History to Math to Physical Education makes much more sense if there is a God. Biology text books aren’t the only place where God matters. Thanks for a good question. I hope that line of thought stirs your thinking in helpful ways. Blessings ~ Nathan

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Nathan,

I was most excited, when I received the notification from Kathleen that you would be graciously, “in the hot seat” this week, thank you for giving of your time.

I have enjoyed your podcast, “Thinking Out Loud”, and even though it takes me a moment to track with you, :thinking: I get there eventually and I do feel somewhat smarter after I figure out what the podcast was talking about. :laughing:

The statement you made on the Mr Rogers episode, “Rejoicing in the fruit w/o looking at the root”, was to me, simple, direct, and one of my favorites.

I am humbled to be an instructor for the RZIM High School apologetics pilot program and last week one of my students posed this question after watching John Lennox’s lecture on Creation & Design.

Gabby stated, “How do you see ones soul, what is a souls’s purpose and does your spirit or soul go to heaven?”
She then asked why Jesus called His coming agonizing journey, a cup?
in Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me–nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Thank you in advance for looking into these honest questions from young Gabby’s heart.

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Welcome @Nathan_Rittenhouse! you and @Cameron_McAllister love it! #Winning! Nathan though Physic, Math & Philosophy at the tertiary level at the same time?!? Amazing brain power sir!

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Roseann, thank you so much for investing in your High School students. You are making an investment there that will have a long-term impact in a lot of lives well into the future. There were a lot of seeds planted in my life at that age that later really blessed me. Cameron and I have a lot of fun recording Thinking Out Loud and it is fun to hear that others enjoy thinking along with us. Actually, the question that Gabby asked would make a good future podcast episode!

I don’t have what John Lennox said in that session in front of me, but let me offer a few broader thoughts and how we got there. In passages, like Psalm 1, scripture will use a phrase like, “and on his law he mediates day and night” to mean “all the time.” Other Psalms use phrases like the heavens declaring the glory of God, “Day and night…” they pour fourth speech. Sometimes scripture uses opposites,or extremes, or lists, to mean ‘all the time.’ We often refer to one thing by listing parts of it (I think technically it’s called a merism). The opposite of this is a synecdoche when a total thing is represented by one part of it. For example if someone looks at your car and says, “Hey, nice wheels!” They aren’t really just talking about your tires, they are talking about the whole car. Or if we say Jim is a jolly old soul, we mean all of Jim, not just a metaphysical reality. The other way, back to Merism, is to list parts to refer to an entire thing or idea. When Jesus says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, I don’t think he meant only love God with those four elements of your self, rather it is more in line with “Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me praise His holy name.” He is speaking about a fullness and a totality- all that is within me-all of me praise the Lord. The great thing about this is that we can individually ponder and speak about heart, soul, mind, strength, spirit on and on, as individual elements of humanity that can be studied, but to be fully human none of them by themselves is sufficient. The Christian doctrine of creation teaches that humans are an integrated whole unit, we aren’t intended to be divisible. We intuitively know that all of this is connected. If I’m feeling grumpy, a little exercise might perk me right up (emotions connected to body). If someone is depressed, that could be spiritual and it could be chemical. We believe in the power of prayer and in modern medicine. Being a fully integrated human allows us great insight into who we are, but also doesn’t allow us to quickly simplify and reduce humanity into neat categories. Now, as this relates to heaven, the biblical teaching of the physical resurrection is really important. Our whole selves (heart, soul, mind, strength+) will be renewed and will go to heaven. It is interesting that in Revelation 6:9 you see the souls of martyrs seemingly detached from their bodies in heaven. HOWEVER, they are crying out “How long Sovereign Lord…” So spiritually they are in the presence of God, but are still longing for the final justice and fullness of God’s total plan to come to fruition. They will be raised in the last day with physical bodies that are fully integrated into a unified whole in the way God intended. Sin and death separate, God unites and integrates. Satan kills, steals, and destroys. Christ came that we may have life and have it to the full. The New Testament translates the Greek word for Soul most often as soul, or life, or self. The term for spirit has an even wider range of meaning, from breath, to animating life force, to personality, to non-bodily being. That isn’t to say that important things can’t be said about each of these, but in order not to get too deep into the weeds, for the purpose of Gabby’s question we can say that A) there is some flexibility even with scripture about what these terms mean and B) the purpose of all parts of all of us is to glorify God, which is the example Jesus gives us C) to be a soulish creature is part of the beautiful complexity and integration of how God designed humanity (There are real spiritual creatures that don’t get to have bodies= not humans). As far as the part that will eternally reside in the unification of heaven and earth, the ultimate answer is “All of Gabby.” In the mean time we wait, and groan along with all creation (Ro 8) as we anticipate the redemption that God intends when he takes the fragments we have made of ourselves and our world and correctly orders them. In the past some philosophies have separated body and soul, in a soul/spiritual=good, body/physical=bad type system. As Christians, we dare not slip into that. God created a physical world, called it good, and though it is broken will one day physically restore it again. The physical resurrection of Jesus gives us this hope.
Feel free to ask a follow up question if this doesn’t address the heart of what she was asking.

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Jason, Welcome to the conversation! Some people catch butterflies. As Christians, we get to take every thought captive. The world is full of interesting things that remind us of the goodness of God.

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My best guess is the cup is a reference to the idea of drinking the cup of the Lord’s wrath in Isa 51:17,22 and Jer. 49:12. In Luke 22 I think Jesus is talking about the pain of being killed and taking on the punishment for the sin of the people. Interestingly, in Mt 20:20 he tells James and John that they also will drink from his cup, which in this case is suffering for the sake of the gospel, not the sins of the world. In Acts 12:2 and Rev 1:9 we see that they did in fact end up suffering for the cause of Christ. The cup language is using powerful Old Testament poetic imagery that connects the reality of what Christ went through to God’s broader plan that was put into motion long before. It would have been a comforting thought that even though what was about to happen was really going to hurt, it was for a bigger and grander purpose. I guess that is why the author of Hebrews could write, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” Encourage Gabby to keep exploring the small details of scripture. Words and ideas aren’t there by accident. When we ask good questions like this and run down these seeming rabbit trails the thicket often opens up into beautiful vistas of God’s character and nature.

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Nathan,

Can I say, with the utmost confidence, your answer did not disappoint. And WOW

You took a broad brush and painted your words wide, then came in, with detailed skilled strokes, and brought the artistry of clarity and focus to the heart of her question.

Not knowing from where Gabby’s heart was directing her question, you answered the inquiry as if it had several moving parts, that all had to be adjusted in order to form a complete picture.

Thank you, I cannot wait to share your response with the entire class tomorrow. I can foresee some life altering discussion coming from both replies you so graciously supplied.

Nathan,

You took the question of the cup and had the reader look beyond the object, which forced the questioner to go deeper.

This is quite important for these students to see there is so much depth to the Bible. It cannot just be read, although important, the Bible must be studied, pondered, meditated on and explored as a complete work. :open_book:

I appreciate you giving life to Gabby’s questions, the entirety of a class and beyond will benefit. :tulip:

Nathan, I also have a science background, and would like to take an academic step in faith while continuing to work (as an attorney).

Do you have any recommendations on how? Online MA? Audit local courses? Something else?

Hello Nathan,

I have been witnessing to a few individuals who say that Bible is not scientifically credible. Could you please advise the best way to refute their argument. What is the best way to show that the Holy Bib;e doesn’t contradict science?

Amen

Hey Nathan!!

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some of our questions! I seriously appreciate it.

So my question has to do with the “progressive Christian” views. Specifically the way they interpret the Old Testament.

I have a friend who says that MOST of the Old Testemant is not inspired by God. He says that it was written by people with different bias on past or even current events who “wrote their version of the story down.”

For example: If in a certain passage in the OT, God tells a king or Israel to go fight and kill a group of people his argument is that the writer of that scripture “used God and put words in his mouth” in order to seem like it was a justified war or justified situation. He told the people and therefore the readers God told him to do that but actually it was for his own self-interest.

He says this is the case because, “God has to look like Jesus and there are way too many passages and stories in the OT where God does not look like Jesus.”

He also claims that the Jews of the OT believed in multiple gods they just thought Yahweh was the greatest god. And for some reason he believes this proves the OT isn’t truly inspired and untrustworthy.

How would you respond to those two points?

I see this as a trend with a lot of my friends so I would love some insight or points to bring up in discussion. Thank you so much.

One of the great things about living in the 21st century is the amount of information that we have access to. One of the difficult things about living in the 21st century is the amount of information we have access to! I don’t have a specific link for you to follow, but my guess is that with an attorney’s mind and an interest in science you would really enjoy a philosophy of science course. Since you are working, I would look for an online course that you can audit. That way you can take a step rather than a leap, and it will likely bring you some clarity on the details of your interest. You can also work in reverse by asking yourself, “Do I need a degree in this, or do I just need the information?” If it is the later, I think the online world of lectures can be a big help. The other thing that I sometimes do is just search the internet for the syllabus of a course at a university just to find a good reading lists. You don’t get a degree or a credit for it, but you probably get at least 75% of the content of that course if you just do the assigned reading. If you are working as an attorney, you don’t need someone to hold your hand to help you know the meaning of what you read. You have the skill set, and the internet can point you in the right direction of sources to do a great deal of self teaching on your own schedule. Those are just my two cents. Happy learning!

Great question Irina, I think the starting point is to challenge the assumption that science is the measure of all truth. Does science really answer all of our questions? Science wonderfully tells us the way things are. It doesn’t tell us the way things should be, how to behave, what the meaning of life is, how to love someone, etc. Science is about the way the physical world is and how it works. Scripture address Why the world exists, what the point of it all is, how we should live and behave, and what our destiny will be. We can’t act like science can answer everything. On the other hand, we shouldn’t expect the Bible to answer everything either. The book on Numbers in the Bible doesn’t help me with online banking, because that isn’t the point of the book on Numbers. In the same way, the Bible isn’t trying to be a science text book, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t scientifically accurate, only that isn’t what it is trying to do. Science speaks to us about processes, the Bible speaks to us about purpose. On a practical note, we need to ask people for specific examples when they have an objection. It is easy to say, “The Bible is not scientifically credible” it is more difficult to back that up. Usually people then point to random lines from poetic literature in the Bible, and we can then ask if they sincerely believe that is what the Scriptures are trying to communicate there. A good organization that produces a lot of literature on your question is https://reasons.org. They also have a lot of videos online about specific questions and challenges. They would argue the opposite direction that the Bible gives science credibility! Also, here is a talk that I did a few years ago at Rice University on “Does Science Need God?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoWGVG2hzaE. I hope these get you pointed in the right direction. Thanks for a good question.

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Hi Cody, great question. Sometimes it is hard to formulate a response when we are put on the spot with a question or statement like that from a friend because it is wrong on so many levels that we don’t know where to start! Let’s first remind ourselves of the fact that the New Testament validates the Old Testament and Jesus himself said that it was all about him and pointed to him. It is one thing for a skeptic to take issue with the OT, but if you are claiming to be a Christian and you have issues with the OT, that means you have issues with Jesus. Your friend might know more about the OT and the way the Bible was put together than Jesus, but I wouldn’t bet on it. That’s not a good place to be. Secondly, go read Rev 19:11-21 (From the New Testament) about the return of Jesus and see if Jesus looks like God in the OT! Here is the thing, if someone reads the OT and misses out on the love, mercy, compassion, and graciousness of God, they aren’t reading the OT very well. On the other hand, if you read the NT and don’t see the holiness, wrath, and justice of God, you aren’t reading the NT very well. God does not change in his character and his nature between the testaments. What changes is the way that he uses people. In the OT when there was sin, he had his people strap on their swords and go sort it out. In the NT when there is sin, we don’t grab our swords because God says, “Vengeance is mine I will repay.” There is still justice, it is just that God handles it. We live in a time of great grace. The delay of justice is necessary for the reality of forgiveness. If God wiped us out as soon as we sinned, who would be alive? But because of his grace, he allows us the opportunity to repent and be forgiven through the life, death, resurrection, and teachings of Jesus. Justice delayed is not always justice denied. We can live lives of peace because we know that in the end a Holy and just God will make all things right.

A lot of OT passage do refer to other gods. Most of them are comparative; declaring YHWH to be greater. To say that a Corvette is faster than my minivan, doesn’t make an manual about the speed of a Corvette untrustworthy, in fact, it validates it. The second thing is it could be questioned whether or not the Israelites actually believe those gods existed. Well some of them did! Israel fell into idolatry many times. It would be weird for them to build altars, worship, and sacrifice to gods who they didn’t believe existed. The prophets of God on the other hand may not have believed they were real, but took no short cuts in highlighting that even if they were real they were inferior to God, so why worship them? The OT would only be untrustworthy by mentioning other gods if we lived in a world where no one believed in other gods. Lot’s of people believe in other gods! The OT makes more sense of the world we live in by acknowledging that than if it didn’t. I’ll stop the rambling now! Here is a link to a podcast my good friend Cameron and I did last year titled “Making Sense of the Old Testament.” You may find a helpful nugget in here: https://www.rzim.org/listen/thinking-out-loud/making-sense-of-the-old-testament Blessings as you have gracious conversations with your friend.

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Thank you so much, Nathan! I really appreciate it.

Fantastic info, thanks!
As much schooling as I’ve done, you’d think the syllabus route would have been obvious. Thanks!

Nathan,

From Gabby; :racehorse: “Thank you for taking the time to answer this difficult question that I have been pondering, your answer was full and complete.”

As the pilot apologetics class this is our collective question from Gabby’s initial question about the soul.

Are humans the only beings with souls, if yes, how in the Old Testament are animals able to be sacrificed for your sins. Relating to this, how do we know that anyone made it to heaven in the Old Testament.

Are animals a product of free will or do they act exactly as God made them. :eagle:

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