Pure Actuality (or, Why the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” Isn’t God)

Note: this is the fourth post in a series on  the existence of God. Since it builds on the previous posts, please carefully read them before you read this one:

In this series of posts I am laying out the case for God’s existence. This case is taking shape in two phases. In the first phase, I began with the observation that whatever exists does so either because it depends on something else to exist or it doesn’t depend on something else to exist. We can see many things that do depend on other things to exist (like me, for instance!). But those things which depend on something else to exist cannot ultimately be accounted for by other things that also depend on something else to exist – that just shifts the question to another dependent reality. Therefore, there must be some ultimate reality that doesn’t depend on anything else to exist (a contingent being) but rather exists independently (a necessary being).

But what is it? That’s the second phase of this argument. And in the previous post I suggested that whatever it is that possesses existence independently, it must be eternal and immaterial. It is eternal since it doesn’t rely on anything else to come into existence and isn’t dependent on something else to keep from going out of existence. And it is immaterial because anything that is made up of particles of matter depends on those particles for its existence and also depends on something to put those pieces together.

Besides its eternity and immateriality, is there anything else we can deduce about this ultimate ground of all reality? I think so. But first, I want to take a little detour to ancient Greece, and listen in on the hot debate of the day. And that debate was about…

…whether things can change.


You heard me.

I know that this sounds incredibly strange, but one of the burning issues in ancient Greek philosophy was whether things can change. You are probably thinking, who could possibly deny that things can change? We can watch it happen! For instance, you can take a cup of ice out into the hot Florida sun and watch it melt. Of course change happens!

Well, not so fast. We all agree that sometimes our senses can deceive us, right? And we all agree that whatever we may think we see, if it defies the laws of logic, then our eyes must be playing tricks on us, right?

Then if that is the case, let’s think about a basic principle of logic: from nothing, nothing comes. We all know that you can’t get something from nothing. That is as foundational a principle of logic as there is.

Let’s reconsider that melting ice. Ice is a solid. It is not liquid. But you say that some liquid came from that which is not liquid. That sounds an awful lot like getting something (liquid) from nothing (no liquid)! This was the sort of argument an ancient philosopher named Parmenides made. And there is obviously something wrong with the argument – but what, exactly?

It was Aristotle who dissected the problem with the argument. Aristotle agreed that you can’t get something from nothing. But where Parmenides went wrong was in assuming that the liquid came from nothing. True, the ice cube is actually a solid. But Aristotle pointed out that there is another aspect to the ice cube – what it potentially is. Now, this potential isn’t unlimited. The ice cube doesn’t have the potential to become a cow or a tree. But it does possess the potential to become a liquid. All that is needed is something to make this potential become actual (like the heat of the sun). So, Parmenides was incorrect in thinking that change violated the logical premise that you can’t get something from nothing. Change occurs because a potential feature becomes an actual reality.

What we describe as “change” is – in the technical terminology of Aristotle – the actualization of a potential. (Side note: when I first explained these concepts to my congregation, I was afraid that the fancy sounding jargon would confuse people. But these fears were relieved when one of the older men complained to me after Bible study that “I’m in a hurry to get home, but I can’t actualize my wife’s potential to leave!”).

Just to make sure these concepts are clear, here are some more examples. What are the potentials of a steer? Here are a couple: a nice pair of boots or a ribeye steak. How about the potentials of a piece of lumber? Part of a desk or a house, to name two. All that is needed is something or someone to actualize these potentials, like a leatherworker or butcher in the case of the steer, or a woodworker or carpenter in the case of the lumber.

In general, we can say that change is the actualization of a potential. And since coming into existence is just a specific sort of change (the change from non-existence to existence), this means that the question of how things come to exist can also be defined in terms of potentials being actualized. Anything that depends on something else to exist (anything that is contingent, in other words) is something that requires the actualization of potentials.

An oak tree depends on the actualization of an acorn’s potential in order to exist. A butterfly depends on the actualization of a caterpillar’s potential in order to exist. A cup of coffee depends on the actualization of a coffee bean’s potential in order to exist. You get the idea, right?

The same is true for people, obviously. My existence depended on my mother and father. Each possessed the potential to create new life, but that potential had to be “actualized” (is that not the nerdiest euphemism for reproduction you’ve ever heard?!).

Let’s apply this new terminology to our previous argument. Remember, contingent beings depend on something else to exist. Using our new vocabulary, we can say that contingent beings rely on the actualization of potentials in order to exist. This gives us an additional reason to believe that contingent things cannot ultimately be accounted for by other contingent things. Since those things are also contingent, they also have potentials that must be actualized in order to exist, and so on….

That “and so on” is important. The only way to stop the “and so on…” is if there is something that doesn’t change from non-existence to existence, but simply is existence. Or, to use the fancier jargon, something that has no potentialities that need to be actualized, but just is fully and completely actual.

What can we say about something that is purely actual? Well, since it cannot – in principle – change, seeing that it has no potentialities to be actualized, we can say that this pure actuality is immutable. This word is easily misunderstood to mean something like “static, frozen, inert.” But that is not at all what immutability means in this line of reasoning. In fact, it means just the opposite. It means something so totally active that there is nothing that can be added to it to make it more dynamic. If you’ve ever seen This Is Spinal Tap, you probably remember Nigel’s amplifier, which doesn’t stop at 10 – it goes up to 11! Well, that which is purely actual doesn’t have another notch to go up – it is fully and maximally actual.

As one theologian puts it:

One should not be misled into thinking that God’s immutability is like the immutability of a rock only more so. What God and rocks appear to have in common is only the fact that they do not change.* The reason for their unchangeableness is for polar-opposite reasons…God is unchangeable not because he is inert or static like a rock, but for just the opposite reason. He is so dynamic, so active that no change can make him more active. (Thomas Weinandy, Does God Suffer? p. 124)

This concept of pure actuality (or immutability) rules out some of the candidates for that which is the necessary being behind all existence. For example, it eliminates any material proposal, like the Big Bang singularity or the theory of the multiverse. Whatever model of the Big Bang one accepts, it obviously pictures the actualization of a potential (the event was triggered). And if there is a multiverse, it would consist of a multitude of potentials being made actual. But behind either scenario there must be something that is Pure Actuality to cause that which is potential to become actual. Any proposal that puts forward particles of matter as the ultimate explanation of reality fails precisely because such particles still require something to actualize their potential to be more than mere particles. Whatever physics may ultimately reveal about the universe, it will not be able to sidestep Aristotle’s analysis of change – it will only illustrate the great philosopher’s insights.

The “Flying Spaghetti Monster”

And by now it should be clear why the clumsy attempt at humor known as the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” says far more about the ignorance of some atheists than it does the credulity of believers. If you’ve never heard of it, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a parody of God created by atheists to mock what they think is the arbitrary nature of theism. “If Christians can just make up a being with whatever attributes they desire, so can we,” seems to be the logic. Regardless of what you may think of the sort of arguments I have shared, surely it is clear that they are not arbitrary. They follow methodically from one point to the next. (And by the way, the Flying Spaghetti Monster cannot be the necessary being because it is made up of moving parts that are contingent. I would be happy to demonstrate this at an Olive Garden near you!)

In these posts we have covered a lot of ground, and there is more to come, but let’s pause a moment to take stock of the argument so far. It is overwhelming to reflect on what we have deduced about the ultimate source of all existence. We live in the world of the contingent, the temporal, the material, and the alterable. But that which grounds this experience must be necessary, eternal, immaterial, and immutable. Nothing in our immediate experience is like this. No wonder those who have contemplated this ultimate reality have been overcome with awe.

*When Dr. Weinandy says that rocks do not change, he doesn’t literally and absolutely mean that rocks are immutable. Since rocks are made up of particles, they do change – they just change very, very slowly under normal circumstances. In the broader passage I am quoting from he make this clear. He’s just using a simple illustration to contrast the (almost) unchanging nature of a rock with the vibrancy of that which is Pure Actuality.

The Necessary Being

Last week I wrote a post in which I discussed whether it is possible to prove that God exists. To briefly review, I explained that since (according to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) God is the Creator of the universe rather than simply another object in the universe, God’s existence is not detectable by scientific means. But there is another avenue of evidence that it open to us. We can start with simple observations from our world, and using the principles of logic, put together a series of deductions that prove that God exists. I want to begin such a project with this post.

When my wife and I were selling our house in Tennessee, we signed a contract that stated that the purchase of the house was contingent on the buyers receiving final approval for a loan. What does “contingent” mean? It means that something depends on something else. In the case of our house, its sale depended on – was contingent on – the buyers’ loan approval. Something that is contingent doesn’t necessarily have to happen, a fact we painfully learned when our first contract fell through. So whether our house would sell was contingent and not necessary.

The argument that I am going to lay out begins with the obvious premise that for anything that exists, there are only two options. It is either contingent (and remember, that means it relies on something else for its existence) or it is necessary (meaning that it does not rely on something else for its existence). Those are the only two possibilities logically.

We can see many contingent things in our world, many things that depend on something else for their existence. You and I depend on parents for our existence, plants depend on seeds and sun for their existence, stars depend on dust and gas for their existence. All of these are examples of things that exist contingently.

But why does anything that is contingent exist at all?

Since they depend on something else for their existence, it is certainly possible that they would not have existed. That’s what makes them “contingent” in the first place, just as it was possible that our house would not be sold (and after eight months on the market it started to feel like it never would!). Many things that did not have to exist (people, plants, planets) nevertheless do exist.

So again, why does anything that is contingent exist at all?

It doesn’t answer the question to say that contingent things exist because of other things that also depend on something else for their existence, since that just leads to the same question – why do those things exist? If we explain the existence of one contingent thing by another contingent thing, we still haven’t answered the question of why it is that any contingent things exist. All we’ve done is shift the question from one contingent thing to another.

At this point, someone may suggest another answer: “Maybe there’s just an infinite number of contingent things!” Let’s grant for the sake of argument that this is the case. Does that suggestion really answer the question?

Think about the contract on our house again. Remember, it was contingent – it depended on our buyers getting approval for a loan. Let’s imagine that their bank (we’ll call it “Bank 1”) approves their loan application, but that the bank doesn’t have any money at all (which would be pretty weird in real life!). So, it will have to rely on another bank to provide it with money to loan out (in other words, whether it gets the money is contingent on another bank having it). So, Bank 1 contacts Bank 2 to borrow the money to give to the couple. But let’s imagine that Bank 2 has no money and must depend on another bank to obtain money for Bank 1. And so on…

If there are ten banks in town, one asking to borrow from another, but none of which has any money, will the couple receive a bank loan? Of course not. What about a hundred totally bankrupt banks trying to borrow from each other – will that solve the problem? Nope. What if there is an infinite number of banks that rely on another bank for money? Will that help matters? Of course not.

You see, the real issue is not whether the number of dependent banks is finite vs. infinite. The real issue is whether any bank actually has any money. The only way that the couple will receive a bank loan in my illustration is if there is a bank somewhere that doesn’t need to borrow the money, but simply has it. Or, to put it in the terminology we’ve been using, a bank that has money necessarily rather than contingently.

Here’s another simple illustration. I have a power strip on my desk that my computer relies on for power. But of course, that power strip does not inherently provide power – it has to be plugged in. Would plugging it in to another power strip do any good? No – because that power strip is also dependent on a source of electricity. What if I could string together ten power strips? Twenty? How about an endless line of power strips? Will I be able to turn my computer on? Obviously not. Power strips depend on a source of power in order to work, and without such a source, it would make no difference how many power strips I connected together.

And the same is true with regard to the question of why any contingent things exist. Contingent things must ultimately “borrow” existence from something that does not itself depend on anything for its existence, but simply has it. Something that exists necessarily rather than contingently. And that gives us our first building block in the case for the existence of God.

The only answer to the question of why any contingent things exist is that some necessary thing exists.

“But wait a minute – where did that necessary thing come from?” Hopefully by now you see the problem with this objection. By definition, something that is necessary doesn’t “come from” anything. It doesn’t rely on something else for existence – it inherently possesses existence. So to ask, “Where did the necessary being get its existence” is like asking, “What is the name of the bachelor’s wife?” By definition, a bachelor doesn’t have a wife. And by definition, a necessary being doesn’t get existence from something else – it necessarily has existence.

A more substantive objection to the kind of argument I have laid out is that modern science has demonstrated how it is possible for the universe to come from nothing, thus there is no need for God or any other sort of necessary being to explain its existence. One atheist physicist (Lawrence Krauss) has even written a book called A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing. And yet, as you dive beneath the surface, it becomes clear that you cannot judge this book by its cover, since what Krauss describes as “nothing” is actually “a boiling brew of virtual particles that pop in and out of existence in a time so short we cannot see them directly” (page 153). Many scientists and philosophers (and people who can read) have pointed out to Krauss that this hardly qualifies as nothing, which he seems to grudgingly concede in the preface (pages xiv-xv). Nevertheless, in an interview in The Atlantic about the claims of his book, Krauss rationalizes:

“But if you can show how a set of physical mechanisms can bring about our universe, that itself is an amazing thing and it’s worth celebrating. I don’t ever claim to resolve that infinite regress of why-why-why-why-why.”

But you see the problem here, right? “A set of physical mechanisms” is not nothing. And Krauss doesn’t even purport to explain where such mechanisms come from. But it’s not really his fault. Science, by its very nature, can only show how one contingent thing leads to another contingent thing. It cannot explain why contingent things exist in the first place. Where Krauss should be faulted is in promising in the title (!) of his book that he will give such an answer when he knows he cannot. This reminds me of The Office episode in which Michael Scott has to admit that he cannot keep the promise he made to some elementary school children that he would pay for their college tuition when they graduated. As he prepares to face them now that they are seniors in high school, he eases his conscience with this rationalization: “I have made some empty promises in my life, but hands down that was the most generous.” I can imagine Krauss saying, “I’ve made some empty promises in my life, but hands down that title was the most audacious!”

The question of why any contingent things exist inevitably leads us to conclude that there must be some necessary thing that exists. But what is this necessary thing? Have we demonstrated that it must be God? No, not yet. It could be God, or it could be the universe, or maybe something else unknown to us. And we certainly haven’t demonstrated that it must be God as understood in Christianity. But this argument wasn’t designed to do any of those things. It was simply designed to show that some necessary thing exists, something that in principle does not rely on something else for its existence.

But that’s a good start, and in the next post, I promise (hopefully not in Michael Scott fashion!) to take us another step forward in showing why this necessary being must be God.


Proving God Exists

Is it possible to prove that God exists? That all depends on what is meant by the word prove.

If the question is whether it is possible to prove scientifically that God exists, then the answer is no. But that is not because belief in God is unreasonable or unsupported by evidence. It is because – by definition – God is not the sort of being whose existence is detectable by scientific investigation. The tools of science are well-suited to analyze those things that are part of the material world, things that can be put under a microscope or tested in a particle accelerator. Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) teaches that God is the creator of the universe, and as such, God exists outside of the material world. So in principle, God is not a fit subject for the empirical methods of science.

Since God’s existence cannot be proven scientifically, does that mean we are without any resources to establish his existence? This would be the case only if, as atheist author Dan Barker has asserted, “The scientific method is the only trustworthy means of obtaining knowledge” (Losing Faith in Faith, p. 133). Is science the only path to knowledge? There are two major problems with this assertion.

Here’s the first problem. If I asked Dan Barker how he came to know that “the scientific method is the only trustworthy means of obtaining knowledge,” what scientific evidence could he offer to support this contention? None. That’s because this assertion is not a scientific claim, but a philosophical claim. And since it is philosophical rather than scientific, the only way Barker could demonstrate that it is true is by using philosophical reasoning. But if he did this, then he would have to concede that the scientific method is not the only reliable means of obtaining knowledge, and that philosophical reasoning is also a valid path to truth. In other words, the only way Barker could defend his contention is by refuting it. So that’s the first problem with the view that the scientific method is the only reliable means of obtaining knowledge – it is a self-refuting claim.

But there is a second problem with this notion. The methods of science take for granted more fundamental truths about reality. Here are just a few of them:

  • There is a world outside of and independent of our minds. (Not everyone accepts this. Some people believe that, kind of like the movie The Matrix, there is no actual world beyond their mind, that what they think is a world filled with other people, places, and events is merely an illusion. We need to take special care of those people, because if they go, we all go with them!)
  • There are laws of mathematics and logic that we can use to study the natural world. (These cannot be proven by science – they are assumed by science in order to make scientific analysis possible.)
  • There is order in nature which we can rationally perceive. (This is why we think we can do science in the first place.)

All of these fundamental assumptions are necessary for the practice of science, yet none of them is established by the scientific method. So if it was really true that “the scientific method is the only reliable means of obtaining knowledge,” then the scientific enterprise could never get started, since it could never – on its own – establish the rationale for why science can get to work in the first place.

So if we are not limited by scientific proof, what other means is available to us to prove that God exists? The classical arguments for the existence of God combine simple observations of the natural world with basic logical deductions to arrive at the conclusion that God exists. The basic form of this reasoning is very similar to what we learned in high school geometry class. Do you remember how geometric proofs work? You begin with a “given,” and then you work step by step, employing the basic laws of logic and mathematics to derive a conclusion.

The arguments for God’s existence put forth through the centuries by great thinkers like Aristotle and Avicenna and Aquinas work just like this. They begin with a given, some simple and obvious observation about reality (like, “some things change,” or “some contingent things exist”). And then they methodically apply the laws of logic to these basic observations to deduce the existence of God.

Next week I want to begin a series of posts that will demonstrate such an argument for the existence of God.



The Problem of Evil and Suffering for Atheism

The most powerful argument against belief in God is the problem of evil and suffering. Its basic form goes like this:

  • If God is all-powerful He could prevent evil and suffering.
  • If God is all-good He would prevent evil and suffering.
  • But evil and suffering exist.
  • Therefore an all-powerful and all-good God does not exist.

In a previous post I explained that while the existence of evil and suffering poses a puzzle for believers (one that my wife and I are dealing with as she faces Stage 4 cancer), this puzzle does not disprove God’s existence.  In this post I want to flip the argument around as a problem for atheists by focusing on the third premise: “But evil and suffering exist.” Continue reading

Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Legend?

The Entombment, by Rembrandt

This coming Sunday is a time of the year when even the nominally religious give homage to the resurrection of Jesus.  But if the polling data is correct, the percentage of Americans who believe in the claims of Christianity is rapidly shrinking. A common view of the resurrection is that it is a legend that developed over time among those who loved and revered Jesus. This is the view of Pentecostal preacher turned atheist Dan Barker:

There have been many reasons for doubting the claim [of the resurrection], but the consensus among critical scholars today appears to be that the story is a “legend.” During the 60-70 years it took for the Gospels to be composed, the original story went through a growth period that began with the unadorned idea that Jesus, like Grandma, had “died and gone to heaven” and ended with a fantastic narrative produced by a later generation of believers that included earthquakes, angels, an eclipse, a resuscitated corpse, and a spectacular bodily ascension into the clouds.

Is this the best explanation of the data? In this post I want to offer three reasons why the resurrection of Jesus is not in fact a legend. Continue reading

The Inerrancy of Scripture and the Basis of Our Faith

In the fall of 1990 I engaged in a televised debate with a professor from Eastern Kentucky University over the question of the inerrancy of Scripture. Is the Bible without error in all that it teaches? I defended the affirmative. My opponent was a Southern Baptist who was outraged by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s recent shift toward belief in inerrancy as an expectation for its faculty. I was invited to participate in the debate because I penned a letter to the editor in response to an op-ed piece of his in the Lexington Herald-Leader. I don’t think I realized at the time that my opponent, Dr. James Robert Miller, was the head of the philosophy and religion department at EKU. I wasn’t even finished with my master’s degree! But young and foolish as I was, when the host of the tv program told me he had tried to get twenty other people to represent the inerrancy view and they declined, I felt like I should do it. Besides, the show was going to air really early on Saturday morning, so I figured that if I blew it, no one would know!

I was happy to defend inerrancy then, and I am glad to do so now. It is the view of Scripture implied by the testimony of Jesus in passages like John 10:35 – “Scripture cannot be broken.” Since Jesus is Lord, His word on the matter is authoritative. Continue reading

Scarlet Robe or Purple Robe (and Why It Doesn’t Matter)

Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers, Édouard Manet

Yesterday a good friend of mine forwarded along an article about an alleged discrepancy in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. The apparent contradiction has to do with the color of the robe the soldiers placed on Jesus while they were mocking Him.

Matthew’s account says:

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand (Matthew 27:27-29).

Mark’s gospel says:

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (15:16-18).

Finally, John’s account puts it like this:

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robeThey came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands (19:1-3).

The article that my friend forwarded to me explained this difference by proposing that the gospel writers were describing the same thing, but that perhaps in the sunlight the colors looked different to them. Maybe what seemed like more of a scarlet color to Matthew looked more like purple to Mark and John. My friend was not satisfied with this explanation, though, since the gospels give no indication that Matthew, Mark, and John all witnessed this event. So if this explanation doesn’t work, how should we approach this problem? Continue reading

Most To Be Pitied

Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is (Pascal, Pensées, #233)

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

Pascal’s wager is one of those rare ideas in philosophy that non-philosophers normal people instinctively intuit. I remember a conversation with a friend in high school who was wavering about the truth of Christianity in which I suggested a similar “wager.” If Christianity is true and you accept it, you gain an infinite blessing, but if it is false and you accept it, what have you lost? Only this brief life. At times, I even took this line of reasoning a step further – “if there is no God, living like a Christian is still the best way to enjoy a happy life.”

There is something to be said for this train of thought. It places the issue of eternity front and center, and it raises the contrast between finite consequences and infinite consequences. Anything that makes the people of our secular age contemplate life beyond this one has some value. And it is true that life in Christ brings many blessings in the here and now (Luke 18:29-30).

But I wonder about the legitimacy of this sort of wager.

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The “God of the Gaps” vs the God of the Bible

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. (…) There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. (…) Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation. —   William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)

The most famous example of the argument for God’s existence on the basis of design is Paley’s “watchmaker” illustration. The assumption of such an argument is that there are certain complex systems in the natural world that cannot be explained by natural means and therefore require a super-natural designer.

Critics of this argument have pointed out that just because a complex system may not be explicable on natural grounds at the present moment, that doesn’t mean such an explanation doesn’t exist. Future scientific inquiry may uncover one. In other words, the God of these sorts of design arguments is a “God-of-the-gaps,” a God whose work is limited to the gaps in our current scientific understanding of natural processes. As scientific understanding grows, the “gaps” shrink, and thus God Himself becomes irrelevant.

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Gird Up!

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13, King James Version).

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13, English Standard Version).

One of the classic movies of my high school years was The Karate Kid (what kid of the 80’s hasn’t done a crane kick pose?!). If you’ve never seen the movie, it’s the story of a young, scrawny kid named Daniel who moves to California and immediately runs afoul of a gang of bullies from a local karate dojo, “the Cobra Kai.” Just when it looks like Daniel is going to get throttled, an old man – Mr. Miyagi – rescues him by fending off the bullies with ease.

Miyagi takes Daniel under his wing to train him for a karate tournament so he can face the Cobra Kai on equal terms. The way he prepares Daniel is by imparting to him the ancient wisdom of the karate tradition, starting with rudimentary skills (“wax on, wax off”) and building from that to instill discipline and technique. He demands long hours of hard work from Daniel, but (spoiler alert!) it pays off in the end! While the bullies are bigger and more brutal, they are no match for Daniel’s newfound skills.

It seems to me that Christians in western society find themselves in a similar situation to Daniel in The Karate Kid.

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