GCI Update

Hawking, science and atheism

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachThe movie The Theory of Everything tells the compelling story of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Though I respect his brilliance and the way he continues to work despite battling Lou Gehrig’s disease, it amuses me when Hawking and other scientists who are atheists claim to be smarter than and thus superior to people who hold to non-atheistic worldviews. The fact is, smart people are found everywhere (including in prison!) and intellectual ability certainly does not equate with superiority.

Stephen Hawking in Cambridge (Creative Commons attribution)
Stephen Hawking (Wikimedia Commons, creative commons attribution)

You’ve likely heard of Hawking’s best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, in which he seeks to explain the origin and future of the universe. A few years ago he wrote a sequel with Leonard Mlodinow titled The Grand Design, which asks, “Is the apparent ‘grand design’ of our universe evidence for a benevolent creator who set things in motion? Or does science offer another explanation?” Though the book does not break new scientific ground, it received a lot of attention because Hawking revealed his leaning toward atheism with sweeping statements like these: “Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing” and “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing…why the universe exists, why we exist.” Though thought-provoking, such statements don’t explain why there is something rather than nothing. Hawking and Mlodinow assume the existence of gravity and spontaneous creation, which then bring forth other things. This line of reasoning is like arguing that a preexisting process of carbonation brought forth Coke and Coors.

Though in times past Hawking would refer to God as “the embodiment of the laws of physics,” he now self-identifies as an atheist, saying, “There is no God” and “Religion believes in miracles, but they are not supported by science.” Being a world-class scientist, Hawking’s statements have credibility in the scientific community, but that should not blind us to his magical thinking when he refers to creation without a creator, law without a lawgiver, and grand design without a Grand Designer. When Hawking and others speak in such terms, they are making assumptions that lack scientific evidence. This is ironic when you consider that atheists often accuse Christians of believing in an imaginary God.

No scientific experiments can “prove” the assumptions that underlie Hawking’s atheistic thinking. Why? Because those assumptions have to do with realities outside the realm of science. It might interest you to know that Hawking’s mother, Isobel Hawking, pointed out the need to keep her son’s comments in perspective. In the book, Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind, she is quoted as saying this:

Not all the things Stephen says probably are to be taken as gospel truth. He’s a searcher, he is looking for things. And if sometimes he may talk nonsense, well, don’t we all? The point is, people must think, they must go on thinking, they must try to extend the boundaries of knowledge; yet they don’t sometimes even know where to start. You don’t know where the boundaries are, do you?

In the book God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? John C. Lennox, professor and emeritus fellow of mathematics at the University of Oxford notes that many of Hawking’s conclusions about origins are not only unproven—they are fundamentally unprovable. He is particularly critical of Hawking’s attempt to explain how something comes from nothing. One of Lennox’s concluding statements gave me a chuckle: “What all this goes to show is that nonsense remains nonsense, even when talked about by world-famous scientists.”

What should we do about scientists like Hawking who hold to atheistic positions? Let us pray for them, knowing that the Father, Son and Spirit continually are reaching out to all people (atheists included!) that they might come to know God and his unconditional love for them. Because I share God’s love for scientists and science, it brings me joy when brilliant scientists like Hawking come to know God and join in proclaiming the reality of God’s love and grace for all people.

Sharing the Grand Designer’s love,
Joseph Tkach

Baptisms in Africa

Early this month, we learned that a total of 33 people were baptized in GCI congregations in Liberia and Uganda. Those baptized included a 99 year old man and a 13 year old teenager. Below are photos of the baptism ceremonies: Liberia in the top row and Uganda in the bottom row. Our congratulations to all!

baptism composite

Union & ministry with Christ, part 7

Here is part 7 of an 8-part essay by Dr. Gary Deddo titled “The Christian life and our participation in Christ’s continuing ministry.”  To read other parts, click on a number: 1, 23, 4, 5, 6, 8. For all 8 parts combined in one article, click here.

Without Purse or Script by Liz Lemon Swindle (used with permission)

Recap of part 6

In part 6 we looked at how we ought to preach, teach and counsel others to participate in their union with Christ. The danger here is that we would highlight the commandments, simply telling people to do things for God because he said so. This leads to misrepresenting the character of God and to legalism, a wrong relationship with God. We always need to bring about the obedience of faith by showing the foundations for any call to obedience. And that foundation is built up from all the indicatives of grace that always form the basis of the obligations of grace. This time we’ll explore more of the antidote to legalism and the real meaning of grace.

Legalism

For every act of desired obedience, we must present and focus on the character of God manifest in Christ that corresponds to that imperative. That is because all obedience that gives glory to God must arise out of faith, hope and love for who God really is, both in himself and towards us. The apostle Paul says both at the beginning and the ending of Romans that his whole ministry is to bring about the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26). He explains that any obedience that does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

We often think that legalism is the problem of someone who is committed to consistent obedience who needs to be corrected by allowing for their inconsistent obedience! But really, legalism is obedience that does not arise out of faith, hope and love in the character of the gracious Lawgiver. Legalism is obedience without faith. James Torrance often reminded his students of Calvin’s concern to avoid legal repentance (repentance without trust in the gospel of grace), focusing instead on evangelical repentance (repentance in light of the grace and forgiveness of God that is offered to sinners out of God’s sheer goodness, righteousness and mercy).

It is a grave mistake to merely preach the commandments by addressing the will of the Christian and calling for volitional conformity to the standards of God. Concentration on the requirements of God or even the ideals of God may tempt hearers to a faithless obedience. It is even more dangerous to misrepresent the character of God by speaking as if God had two sides to his character, as if God was two-faced or double minded, first offering grace and then switching to a concern for moral and spiritual conformity to his will and threatening the withdrawal of his grace. Preaching this way communicates that although we are first saved by grace, we are really sanctified by works. It says the Christian life may have begun by grace but is essentially lived out in a conditional and contractual relationship with God. Under such guidance many, I think, see their lives under a great impossible burden.

I’ve known of some who wanted to be non-believers again so they could become Christians all over, experiencing afresh the grace of God. But such admonishment, undoubtedly concerned for faithful and consistent lives, obscures the truth and actuality of Christ’s gracious and unconditioned continuing ministry and our union with him. It regards Christ as at a distance, sending us out to do for him what he is unwilling or unable to do himself, becoming somehow dependent upon us. We end up communicating that, at least subsequent to our conversion, God can no longer be more faithful than we are!

Preaching the commandments apart from the promises of the unconditional and unconditioned grace of God is like putting people in a windowless room with the door shut and the lights off and telling them, “On the count of three start enjoying the sunset!” Few have such imaginative powers! But if we could take someone to the top of Sentinel Dome on the 3000-foot-high western-facing ridge of Yosemite Valley, just at sunset, all we would need to do is declare, “Watch!” and their joy would be irrepressible.

So in preaching, only the glory and the character of God can draw out of us a faith that leads to a faithful obedience. Otherwise, our sacrificial endeavors are most often driven not by faith, hope and love, but by guilt, fear and anxiety as we are thrown back upon ourselves and our own five loaves and two fishes while standing in front of 5,000 hungry souls. Only the presentation of the heart and character of God fully revealed in Jesus Christ can bring us to the point of faithful obedience. This is why all our preaching and teaching must take as its staring point the question of who this God is, not the questions of what should we do or how should we do it. However, this is often not the starting point for preaching, teaching and counseling in connection with living the Christian life. I think that contributes to the weaknesses of our churches and burnout in the Christian life and ministry. It will also erode any of the new initiatives intended to renew the church mentioned at the beginning of this essay.

Too much grace?

There is one further concern that I have seen James Torrance respond to on numerous occasions. Some professional theologians, pastors and laypersons fear that we can preach too much grace. They would counsel that we have to somehow counterbalance grace so as to prevent people from taking advantage of grace. But what are we going to preach and teach to substitute for and counterbalance what is perceived as over-generous grace? Will we offer some new means for us to condition God into being gracious? Or preach a stingy God or a God dependent on us? A God who cannot be more faithful than we are? If so, we will end up misrepresenting the true God of the Bible for all our good intentions to get people “doing things” for God.

Grace means no exceptions

The problem with such a project is that it assumes a very inaccurate view of grace. If it were somehow possible to preach too much grace, then it isn’t really grace that’s being preached! I think that our understanding of grace is unfortunately often quite insufficient. This is in large part due to the general, cultural understanding of grace. Grace is often taken to mean making an exception to the rule. So we have “grace periods,” and we say someone is gracious when they let us off the hook of responsibility. The grace of forgiveness can be taken to mean diminishing the seriousness of sin or pretending it never happened. But we cannot take our cues from these misguided understandings.

Following in the pathway of Torrance’s understanding, I contend that real grace makes absolutely no exceptions. If it did make exceptions, it would not be gracious! Grace provides everything needed, and by the Spirit transforms our hearts and minds to be more and more like Christ’s. Grace accepts us where we are as we repent and takes us to where he is going so we may be with him forever. Grace is God’s commitment to get us, in the end, where we belong, even at God’s own cost.

As James Torrance used to point out, the unconditional grace of God means the unconditional obligations of grace. But these are the obligations of being in a gracious relationship with God through Christ, not the conditions to get God to be gracious towards us. Presuming upon grace (as if it were some kind of commodity that God doles out) is not the same as living in and receiving grace. Living in fellowship and communion with God, in union with Christ, means going where he goes and doing what he’s doing, not going where he does not go and doing the kinds of things he is not doing or involved in. The obligations of grace are spelled out as imperatives, as commands, in the New Testament. Living according to these commands is the way we continue to receive daily God’s grace.

Saying we have God’s grace and thinking there are no obligations at all, is saying there is grace but I don’t have to receive grace. Disobedience is not receiving grace and not living in our fellowship and communion with Christ. Disobedience presumes upon grace, and so amounts to actually rejecting grace!

John McKenna

McKennaPlease pray for Dr. John McKenna, GCI elder and Grace Communion Seminary board and faculty member. His wife Mickey McKenna told us that John had a stroke a few days ago. Thankfully she recognized the signs and immediately took John to the hospital. Rehabilitation has been prescribed as the next step in his recovery.

Card may be sent to:

Dr. John and Mickey McKenna
PO Box 3204
South Pasadena, CA 91031-6204

Death of Jeffrey Broadnax’s mother

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of Bettie Broadnax, wife of Earl Broadnax and mother of Jeffrey Broadnax, pastor of two GCI congregations in Ohio. Here is a note from Jeffrey:

Bettie Broadnax
Bettie Broadnax

My first love, Bettie Broadnax, transitioned from being one who can talk to me to being one who now will speak from within me. Thank you Father in Heaven for giving my siblings and me this gem of a woman to love us. I miss you already Mom. ~your Baby Boy

Cards may be sent to Earl and Jeffrey at the addresses below:

Earl Broadnax
1739 Northcutt St
Cincinnati, OH 45237

Jeffrey Broadnax
1211 Deerpath Court
Grove City, OH 43123-8750

Death of Linda Rex’s mother

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of Beverly Snuffer, mother of Linda Rex who pastors two GCI congregations in Tennessee. Here are excerpts from Beverly’s obituary:

Linda and Mom
Linda (at right) with her mother

Beverly I. Snuffer, 82, died at the home of her daughter and granddaughter. She was born in 1933 and married Garland W. Snuffer in 1957. Garland worked for many years in the radio production department of Worldwide Church of God. He died in 2008. Beverly spent many of her married years in California and in later years, after Gar’s retirement, in rural southeast Iowa living near her daughter. After Gar’s death, Beverly moved to Texas for a time where her younger son lived and most recently she lived with her daughter in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Beverly is survived by her sons Garland and Eric Snuffer, and her daughter Linda (Snuffer) Rex.

Cards may be sent to:

Linda Rex
6627 Longview Drive
Murfreesboro, TN 37129-8263

2016 GCI-USA Regional Conferences

Church Administration and Development is pleased to announce that in 2016, GCI will hold seven regional conferences in the United States. Here are the dates and locations:

  • February 19-21 in Ontario, California (Los Angeles area)
  • March 11-13 in Portland, Oregon
  • April 22-24 in Northbrook, Illinois (Chicago area)
  • May 20-22 in Morristown, New Jersey (New York City area)
  • June 24-26 in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • July 15-17 in Dallas, Texas
  • August 5-7 in Orlando, Florida

Pastors, as you and your leadership teams make plans and establish budgets for 2016, please factor in these conferences. Lead pastors and one member of each pastoral team are expected to attend as part of their continuing education. We also urge church treasurers and other finance committee members to attend—we will provide special content for them, including workshops on church finances (with updates on GCI and IRS financial regulations), opportunities to network with folks from the GCI treasurer’s office, and a reception honoring church treasurers. There also will be workshops for those involved in children’s ministry (more details to come).

Further information about conference content and registration will be made available later this year. The cost for registration and lodging will be comparable to the 2014 regional conferences.

Jaron Sanders

In August, a new cohort entered the GCI Intern Program (for details, click here). Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce you to some of these new interns. This week we want you to meet Jaron Sanders.

Jaron and Mike Swagerty

Following graduation from Bethune Cookman University in Florida, Jaron returned to his GCI home congregation in Sacramento, California, where he now is interning with Lead Pastor Mike Swagerty (pictured with Jaron at right). Here is Jaron’s testimony:

Though it took me a while to discover, I came to understand that, at the most basic level, our purpose as humans is to glorify God. It was such a relief to discover this—it freed me from beating myself over the head with “What am I supposed to do?” The answer is that I am supposed to trust and follow God—to walk in a manner pleasing to him. The details will come!

In college I studied mass communications with the intent of becoming a broadcast journalist, but it did not fulfill me. At the time, I was throwing myself into extra-curricular ministry activities, and found that this is what makes my heart beat! Eventually I realized that I was called to full-time ministry. I love seeing people experience the loving presence of Jesus.

Jaron is receiving free housing from Tim and Linda Wakeley (pictured with Jaron below), a generous couple in the Sacramento congregation.

Jaron with

Welcome to the GCI Intern Program, Jaron. Our prayers are with you. And Mike, Tim, Linda and the Sacramento congregation, thanks for all you are doing to support Jaron at this important time in his life and ministry with Christ.

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To learn more about the GCI Intern Program, click here.