Ask Nathan Rittenhouse (March 4-8, 2019)

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM,

Nathan Rittenhouse, a man with a fantastic beard but an even better sense of humor, is available to answer your questions this week!

You may have heard his sonorous voice on the Thinking Out Loud podcast or seen him at an RZIM event. Either way, you can be confident in hearing a respectful, kind, heartfelt, and rigorously Biblical reply to your questions.

Please do ask your sincere questions - it will create an opportunity for all of us to learn with you.


Nathan Rittenhouse RZIM biography:
Nathan Rittenhouse is an Itinerant Speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He was 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 M.Div. 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.

Nathan spent the last three years traveling and speaking in universities throughout New England, and is currently focusing on the Mid-Atlantic region.

(Luna) #2

I saw that science was an interest so I’m gonna ask some science questions lol

When people talk about the age of the universe/earth and fossil records do these things contradict parts of the creation account? Is there actual proof or are they all just theories?

Also are there books I can read to gain a better understanding of the science behind the creation account?

(Michael Wong) #4

Hi Nathan, do you think the moral argument for God’s existence is bulletproof? Can you point me to some resources about it? Any advice on using this argument with laymen?


(Lou Hablas) #5

Nathan, those of us at RZIM are fortunate to know a bit more about you that your bio fails to include. My question, only partially tongue-in-cheek, is this:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

I’ve read some evolutionist and creationist thoughts on this question, but I look forward to reading the answer you hatch. And perhaps questions like this are totally irrelevant, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this aspect too. Thank you in advance for your time!


Hello Nathan I know that the earliest new testament book was written some twenty five years after the death of Jesus, and others started about 45-50 years. I want you to help me with how long it took for the Qur’an to be compiled and please don’t forget to point me to your source because the few google searches I have done seek to suggest that it was not even up to 3 years after the death of Mohammed that the quran was compiled but I read Nabeel’s Seeking Allah Finding Jesus and in it it was started that it took over 200 years before the quran was compiled after the death of Mohammed.

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(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #7

Hello Nathan! Love the podcast!!

I asked this question to Cameron McAllister when it was his turn to answer questions, so I’ll ask you the same thing.

Which Christian books/authors besides the Bible have impacted your walk with Christ the most? (Theology/ apologetics)

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #8

I have another question to ask you and I’d really appreciate your thoughts on the issue.

Now, I do not know where you stand on the issue of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will (whether you are a Calvinist or subject to Arminianism; I myself am an agnostic on the topic) but I I wanted to put a twist on the standard question one gets when this is brought up. If the T in the Calvinist TULIP suggests that we are all so totally depraved that we can’t come to God on our own, what part does Satan play? Doesn’t our sinful nature then mean that the devil really doesn’t need to do anything? I understand he played a major part in the Fall in Genesis, and so I guess that means he does do something to us, even if we are unaware. What I’m asking, though, is how to understand what the devil actually does in our daily lives when we are apparently so depraved by ourselves already that the devil is out of a job, sort of speak. Satan pushed the first domino at the Fall, then sat back and enjoyed watching us fall down the stairs from then on.

I have no clue if what I’m asking is too trivial or not (because the devil still does things today as Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:8). I have read C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, which was fantastic and I certainly related to.

(Lisa) #10

Hi Nathan I really find your topics and input on thinking out loud very provocative in a way that usually gets me thinking as well which is really great. My questions are really more on our social engagement with certain issues?

In our current culture I think we’ve developed a number of ways to engage everything that’s happening to the best of our ability, social media posts, memes, stand-up comedy, harshtags etcs. Stuff we can circulate it on social media, have a laugh about it before moving on to the next topic, I find. My question addresses memes specifically I guess, is this way of dealing with issues a helpful coping mechanism for our society or it just minimises some really important issues and allows us to move on quicker than we actually should. For example recently a famous “prophet” did a live miracle which just looked sad and fake, I found myself also participating in the circulation of the jokes which were mocking the whole event, though I would draw the line when it became about Jesus. As a christian should I even be participating in such jokes or it doesn’t glorify God in any way or give a good testimony about what I believe in?

I love comedy and value the need to laugh but I recently saw a clip by a favourite Christian comedian which I was later made to realise, bordered on mocking some events in the bible, should this be taken as just artist liberties to be enjoyed or it’s something to stay clear of as a Christian or does it just become a relative issue of conscience which then doesn’t really matter.

(Nathan Rittenhouse) #13

Hello Luna,

I think the thing that has been the most helpful for me as I have thought through these types of questions is to ask the question, “What question is this source really trying to answer?” Our thinking gets a bit blurry when we try to demand more from a source than that source claims to be giving. For example, using science to establish answers to questions about meaning and purpose is attempting to use science for more than it claims for itself. If we aren’t careful we can do the same thing to scripture which is primarily answering the “Who” and “Why” questions rather than the “How” questions. However, while it appears that Genesis is answering agency questions rather than mechanism questions, mechanisms do tell us something about the character and nature of the agent. The Bible gives us an order to the creation of our flora and fauna that does largely match what we know scientifically, but it leaves room for some variation when it comes to the time line. Augustine thought that God created everything all at once, which reminds us that Christians have been asking how these timelines fit together for a very long time. This isn’t a new question. In fact, The Fundamentals, a series of publications from the early 1900s where we get the term ‘Fundamentalism,’ states that there are at least four different ways to interpret the timeline of creation while still remaining faithful to scripture. John Lennox in books like “Seven Days that Divide the Earth” also points to the history of these questions.

Now, more to your point about contradictions, I like John Polkinghorn’s distinction in his essay (and later a book) A belief in God in an Age of Science between contradiction and paradox. With a contradiction we have pieces of information that certainly can’t fit together. With paradoxes we have things that we don’t understand how they fit together, but hopefully someday will (like how light travels). The take away here is that there are some things that we really don’t actually know and we hold those questions with open hands and excitement for our future discoveries. At the same time, when I read Genesis I am left with no uncertainty about who created the world (God), and who helped him (no one), and what He created out of (nothing), and the fact that He has big plans and purposes that He will take from a very good beginning to a very good conclusion! Let’s delight in what we do know, and grin about what we are yet to discover!

(Nathan Rittenhouse) #14

Hi Lou, I’m going to resist the urge to pack my response full of puns (which really do crack me up… man…). Anyway as you’ve likely seen in some of the discussions on this topic the definition of the egg really matters. Are we talking about an egg laid by a chicken or an egg with a chicken in it? For those not familiar with the argument with three minutes of time to kill, check out: The conclusion that the egg came first is based on the assumption (which is necessary from a naturalistic perspective) that new genetic information could only come from a pre-existing organism (proto-chicken). Since I am not operating from a totally naturalistic framework- believe that spirit precedes matter, and that we don’t live in a closed system as far as the introduction of new information and material into reality- I’m going with the chicken! Let there be birds and bees.

(Wade Holmberg) #16

Hi Nathan,

My names is Wade and I serve on our local church’s “Growth Groups” committee. We are currently planning a one time event meant to address the question - “Is Christianity Relevant Today?” We have thought through a number of options on both the direction to take this question and how to structure the event. Our goal is two fold: 1) to support our members as they seek to lovingly respond to neighbors and friends who increasingly see Christianity is irrelevant and 2) to provide a safe space in which both church members and seekers can ask honest questions about Christianity. It may prove overly ambitious to wrap all this into one event, but if that proves to be true our hope is to launch a more permanent and ongoing iteration of this group (something like a monthly “Ask Away”). I’m wondering if you’d be kind enough to provide some guidance? Namely, how you would structure such a time and how would you focus, or on what would you focus this first session? I work at Bethel University and have considered asking a few of our Seminary or University professors if they would attend and form a sort of round table to take questions. I have also considered soliciting questions ahead of time from the church at large as a way to gauge where to start the conversation. In all we are convinced this is a topic which we need to address but are also feeling a little overwhelmed. Any guidance/direction you or others at RZIM could provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks to you and all at RZIM for providing this space.


(Nathan Rittenhouse) #17

Thanks for a good question, Michael. I believe that the moral argument for the existence of God is a strong one, but doesn’t necessarily need to be bulletproof in order to be strong. People still shoot at things that are bulletproof, so there are no easy conversations here (see a million online critiques of the moral argument and the fact that almost every new atheist has written a book on it). Despite the hype, I believe there is a growing sentiment that some of our naturalistic assumptions about the foundation of morality are pretty shaky. I was just reading some critical reviews of which make that point. The only reason that I say that it isn’t bulletproof is that there are people who believe in the metaphysical existence and grounding of morals without believing in God- essentially a retro-Platonism. Even if you get to an agreement that morals actually exist, that doesn’t always lead to a belief in God. Now, how you can believe in a mind-independent grounding for actual morals without attributing that to some sort of greater being is fascinating to me, but the fact that it exists shows that the argument isn’t bulletproof. Andy Bannister recently said in a talk at the University of Alberta that he was recently on a talk show in the UK with a prominent Atheist who said that he was a neo-Platonist! Andy was so surprised he hardly knew what to say, which if you know Andy is truly amazing.

I like Tim Keller’s distinction between ‘proofs’ and ‘pointers.’ (Keller himself says that the moral argument isn’t watertight) The only proofs that are bulletproof are actual mathematical proofs. Unfortunately mathematical proofs don’t address important questions of meaning and morality. To try to answer shortly, I would say that the moral argument is a strong pointer to the existence of God and that grounding morality in God’s nature is the most coherent foundation for ethics if you have clarity in the revelation of God’s character (Jesus).

As far as resources go, William Lane Craig has some videos online that address this. For a deeper dive see The conclusion of this argument (which fits your question nicely) is:

“It seems clear that no version of the moral argument constitutes a “proof” of God’s existence. Each version contains premises that many reasonable thinkers reject. However, this does not mean the arguments have no force. One might think of each version of the argument as attempting to spell out the “cost” of rejecting the conclusion. Some philosophers will certainly be willing to pay the cost, and indeed have independent reasons for doing so. However, it would certainly be interesting and important if one became convinced that atheism required one to reject moral realism altogether, or to embrace an implausible account of how moral knowledge is acquired. For those who think that some version or versions of the arguments have force, the cumulative case for theistic belief may be raised by such arguments.”

That last sentence addresses the final part of your question about conversations with laymen, I believe that the moral argument is an excellent argument in a cumulative case for belief in God, but we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in one basket.

(Nathan Rittenhouse) #18

Hi Lisa, this is a good question and I have seen three versions of it in the last two weeks, including a specific one about memes in the Q&A after a talk by Michael Suderman at UVA. In fact, Cameron and I are just about to record a podcast on this topic! Your question is in good company.

When it comes to memes, their force is in more than the fact that a picture is worth a thousand words. A meme connects a line of thinking with a picture of something seemingly disconnected to really say a lot in a few words. It is the surprising nature of the association that forms the punch line that makes these so funny- and let’s be honest, many of them really are funny.

The part of your question that I really appreciated has to do with processing speed. Can a meme fully capture the nuances of an issue in a way that helps us really think, or are they funny just because they affirm beliefs and ideas that we already hold? I think that your intuition that hitting ‘share’ and moving on doesn’t do justice to fully engaging with most of the ideas that are shared through memes, is exactly right. I once asked a professor a question and he paused and said, “You know Nathan, you’ll probably need to slow down and think about that for about six years.” Six years! Are you kidding me? I want answers in six seconds. The fact is that he is right. As Christians we need to make sure we are seeing the big picture and taking in all the evidence that we can before making snap judgements.

Another good question would be, “Are we confident enough in our views to critically engage without joking?” Laughter helps us get around some of the tension we feel about disagreeing, so humor can actually be a way for us to hide on controversial topics, which isn’t good. In response to the point about the ‘prophet’ I think we should be able to address things head-on, if someone is acting outside the will of God and defaming His glory, then it is actually sad, not funny. Do you know the phrase, “I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry?” I think culturally we trend toward laughing when perhaps grief would be better. That sounds a little heavy, but mourning is as biblical a theme as joy.

I love to laugh and I love making my wife laugh. I actually don’t know anyone who would claim that they don’t enjoy laughing. The fact is though, that what we laugh at does say a lot about us. Perhaps that is the practical take away from your question. I don’t take myself too seriously and I live with really funny people and I hope you have a life like that too. I think as a result of your question, the question we need to be asking ourselves is, “Okay, why did I think that was funny?” Likely it will be harmless, but it is worth checking because the mockers, and slanders, and disrespectful won’t inherit the kingdom of God. May we never delight in others misfortune even if they are people with whom we disagree.

When it comes to Biblical comedy, as long as we aren’t mocking or trivializing the sacred, I personally think there is room for humor. Most of my life (and the platypus) is a testament to the fact that God has a sense of humor. I don’t think I’m really answering your question here on specifics as much as giving questions for us to ask to make sure that what our laughter reveals about us is that we are following Jesus and enjoying the surprises and the complexity of our Father’s world. There are enough hilarious and wholesome things in this world to smile about, that I my advice to you would be, “Laugh away.”

(Billie Corbett) #19

Brilliant response. Thank you, so much!

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(Shauna Cowden) #20

Hey Nathan!
I am trying to wrestle through a verse with a friend in 1 Timothy that I don’t quite understand myself. Would you be able to explain, or provide context, to 1 Timothy 2:15 that says “But women will be saved through childbearing…”. I’m not fully understanding what Paul means here.


(Billie Corbett) #21

Oh boy! I can hardly wait for the response to this one! :blush:

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(Lou Hablas) #23

@Nathan_Rittenhouse Nathan, just a quick note to say “Thank you!” for taking time to respond to my question and for your responses elsewhere in this “Ask…” thread. Eggsalent in every way! :slight_smile: During the UVA MW, I gained a significant appreciation for your intellect, wit, patience, and - most importantly - your desire to draw people closer to Him, and seeing it in action again here in Connect was refreshing and illuminating. Continued blessings upon you, your family, and your ministry through RZIM.

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(Nathan Rittenhouse) #24

Great question! Yes, as you’ve noted Google may not always show the greatest authorities on this topic. I would start with Keith Smalls book “Holy Books have a History)

(I’m not saying you need to get these from Amazon, I just used it for the pictures/links)

For a deeper dive I would suggest these two:

Keith Small:

Andy Bannister:

Unfortunately, they are a bit pricey because not many people are willing to really look into this. The fact is that the more we push into it, the more ambiguity we have even about Mohammed’s life. The short answer is that I don’t know anyone who isn’t a Muslim who believes in a three year window between Mohammed’s life and the complete Quran that we have today. I hope this gets you pointed in a helpful direction.

(Nathan Rittenhouse) #25

Good question. I’m currently reading Job to my kids, so I’m right in the thick of a bunch of these questions! Both Calvinist and Armenians see Satan as continuously active and continuing to “kill, steal, and destroy,” so I believe that both would say that there is destruction that happens in our lives that is beyond what humans generate. The devil is God’s devil, so he isn’t totally out of control, but then that leaves questions about God’s nature open to question, which then brings us back to your topic of how to see God’s sovereignty and creaturely (Satan is a creature) freedom at work in the world. If you haven’t yet, I would suggest a look at this book: It is a respectful dialogue that helps highlight some of the key differences that your question is pointing to. Personally, I have a compatibilist view of Divine sovereignty and creaturely freedom. Scripture doesn’t give us all the answers, but it does show us some of the limits (pun intended) of where we can go in our view of God. Satan’s work is about far more than preventing human salvation; that’s just a subset of his overall rebellion.

(Nathan Rittenhouse) #26

Hi Wade, Our experience is that if you do #2 well, #1 will automatically happen. When Church members can listen to someone articulate their faith in public in a winsome and faithful way, it really does encourage them to do the same. The event can also be the training. The biggest challenge is finding Christians who have non-Christian friends who are willing to invite them to an event. AND if you are really trying to invite the skeptic and the seeker in don’t start the meeting with singing to a God they don’t believe exists for 15 minutes first! Think through A) what is the purpose of the event and B) how do we structure ALL of it to make sure that we are reaching new people and not just speaking to the choir? (Which isn’t to say that some choir members couldn’t use a little help here) There is also a question of whether or not a church building is the best place to host this type of event. There are pros and cons to that. I have a whole boat load of thoughts on this that I would be happy to share, but perhaps this isn’t the best format. I’ll send you a message.