GCI Weekly Update
Grace Communion International Weekly Update
From the President

The ultimate philosophical question

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

joeandtammyWe’ve all had children ask us questions like, “Where do babies come from?” And there are the incessant “Why?” questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” The desire to know, simply for the sake of knowing, is what separates humans from animals. As C.S. Lewis observed, “We are inclined to ask, inasmuch as we must ask, because there is an answer.”

As a young child with an active curiosity, I asked my father (who was headed out the door to work) what has been called the ultimate philosophical question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He hurriedly replied, “I don’t have time to answer; go ask your mother.” I did and she replied, “God created it all.” I then asked her, “So where did God come from?” She replied, “He did not come from anywhere—he’s always existed and has always been alive. God is other-worldly.”

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In the Beginning by Victor Victori
(used with permission via Wikimedia Commons)

At the time, I didn’t understand what she meant by “other-worldly,” but now in my mid-60s, I think I do. My mother was teaching me that God is not physical. T.F. Torrance addressed this truth by saying (along with the early church), that “God is not a creature.” By this he meant that God is not part of his creation. He is not enclosed by creation like a planet is enclosed in physical space and time. God who transcends creation, cannot be known in creaturely ways. He can only be known in “godly” ways, and that knowledge comes to us only through his self-revelation, including what he tells us about himself as creator of the “something” that is material reality.

The simple fact is this: apart from God there is no adequate answer to the ultimate philosophical question. All things that exist (other than God himself who is self-existing) come from the creative action of God who brought all things into existence. Furthermore, what God has created is not divine—not an extension or emanation of the divine. God alone is un-created and divine.

How the creation came about is addressed in the historic Christian doctrine of God’s creating out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). This doctrine contrasts with the idea of creation out of eternal matter that preexisted alongside God (creatio ex materia), or creation out of an extension or emanation from the being of God (creatio ex deo). The Christian doctrine is not saying that something came from nothing—that would be nonsensical. Rather it is saying that creation came from God in a particular way. God did not use eternally preexisting “stuff” to create.

Science is unable to answer the fundamental philosophical question because discovering non-physical reality using the scientific method is a logical impossibility. As noted by the early church theologian Athanasius, things can only be known according to their nature and the scientific method is useful only for discovering physical causes of physical phenomena. Thus when scientists claim that the only things that exist are things discoverable by the scientific method, they are making a philosophical claim—what rightly would be referred to as “scientism.”

Because God who is un-created is not physical, concluding that everything that exists is detectable and thus knowable using the scientific method is wrong. But this fact does not prevent many scientists from making non-scientific assumptions, conveniently confining all existing things and all that is knowable to the limits of what their method is capable of discovering. Those who do so are using the limited results of their empirical methods to argue for what they are assuming philosophically. But no empirical experiment can confirm or disconfirm whether or not non-physical realities, such as un-created things (God), do exist or can be known by other non-scientific means, such as divine revelation. As T. F. Torrance reminds us, how we know (epistemology) does not determine what is (ontology). The reverse also is true: ontology (what is) determines epistemology (how we know).

Atheists and other skeptics frequently belittle the Christian answer to the ultimate philosophical question as an attempt to justify belief in God. Occasionally they try to debunk the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo by challenging Christians to explain the properties of “nothing” (of course, nothing has no physical properties!). One such atheist, Christopher Hitchens, when asked, “What came before the Big Bang?” replied, “I’d love to know!” I think that reply was sincere, though he died not knowing the answer to his question (I imagine he knows the answer now!).

Stenger

Victor Stenger

Atheist Victor Stenger defined nothing as a simple state without mass, energy, space, time, spin, bosons and fermions. He concluded that this state of nothing is an unstable system. But the question remains—How did we get from nothing to this unstable system called nothing? The question itself raises problems because it does not make rational sense. Nothing cannot be unstable since it comprises and encompasses not anything. There is nothing to be unstable in a state of nothing. I can’t refrain from chuckling as I hear such statements; but then my chuckling turns into sadness for those who spend their lives trying to deny the existence of God through such foolish reasoning, and for those who fall for such foolish reasoning.

In his book, The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe is Not Designed for Us, Stenger belittles as myth the idea that the universe is fine-tuned. However, other scientists disagree. [1] Stephen Hawking (also an atheist) wrote this in his book, A Brief History of Time:

The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron…. The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.

The evidence for fine-tuning raises the question, “What caused it?” Though some would answer “chance,” mathematician and astronomer Fred Hoyle noted in his book, Intelligent Universe that, “The chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids” can be compared to “a star system full of blind men solving Rubik’s Cube simultaneously.” This amazing statement came from a humanist who believed the universe always existed (without a creator) and has been constantly fine-tuning itself. Like other humanists and atheists, Hoyle resists the idea that the universe had a beginning because that would point to some sort of “beginner.” Hoyle mocked the idea of creation from nothing, by coining the term “the big bang.” Ironically, that term is now used for a mainstream theory explaining the origin of the universe.

Not all scientists mock the idea that fine-tuning points to a creator. Physicist John Polkinghorne, a Christian, wrote this: “Anthropic fine-tuning is too remarkable to be dismissed as just a happy accident.” While the empirical evidence of the fine-tuning of the universe may not scientifically prove God’s existence, it surely points to the presence of God’s fingerprints all over the cosmos. Some scientists, despite being atheists, in honestly seeking truth, have found God. A great read on that topic is the book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? by John C. Lennox, professor of mathematics at Oxford.

It’s important to realize that our calling is not to compete or argue with atheists, but to trust God to work through mathematics, science, astronomy, and even cosmology to prompt them to seek him and find him in his self-revelation, which culminates in Jesus Christ. As Scripture indicates (Luke 10:22) and early church theologians stated, “Only God knows God; only God reveals God.”

Why do we believe in creatio ex nihilo? Because we believe in a God who is generative in his own Triune being. As Jesus teaches and as the New Testament bears witness, the Son is not created or made, but is eternally begotten of the Father in the Spirit. Why is there something rather than nothing? Because God is love and God is relationship among the triune Persons. The Father created through the Son in the Spirit in order to be in a living relationship of holy fellowship with his creation. Creation as well as redemption are acts of the Triune God that reflect or mirror in a limited (created) way the un-created dynamic inner life of the Trinity, which leads to the generation and regeneration of all created life. This life is a gift of grace in which we share for eternity through Jesus Christ.

Loving how science and theology fit together hand-in-glove,
Joseph Tkach

[1] Australian astrophysicist Luke Barnes refutes Stengler’s atheistic reasoning in a post on the Is There a God blog at www.is-there-a-god.info/blog/clues/the-fine-tuning-of-the-universe-stenger-vs-barnes/.

GCI News

Canadian conferences

Penticton, B.C., Canada, was the beautiful location for two inspiring conferences held around the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday in October.

Engage 2015

EngageTeens and young adults enthusiastically participated in Engage 2015. The 3-day conference included four sessions facilitated by Greg Williams, director of GCI-USA Church Administration and Development and co-creator of the GCI-USA Generations Ministries’ Journey With the Master program. The young people learned their relationship styles, considered their spiritual gifts, and learned how to better engage with God and others. Highlights of the weekend included zip-lining and a Thanksgiving banquet combined with the Thrive conference delegates.

Thrive

ThriveThrive conference participants enjoyed a week of inspiring worship, messages, fellowship and activities that included a Thanksgiving banquet with an update on GCI-USA hosted by Greg Williams and his wife Susan. Other events included a potluck dinner and activities on the historic S.S. Sicamous, a visit to the Summerland Sweets Factory and Winery, a garden tour, catered lunches, movie night and game night. A generous donation of about $2,000 was presented to the Penticton Food Bank as an expression of love for the community. Delegates were encouraged to thrive in their Christian journeys, not just survive.

Becoming community-focused

This update is from Dustin Lampe, lead pastor at Christ Fellowship Church, one of GCI’s Cincinnati, Ohio, metro area congregations. 

c-church viewNow that it’s fall, nature once again is entering a state of dormancy. But as that occurs, my congregation is coming alive as we take significant steps toward becoming truly community-focused. As we do, new relationships are blossoming! Twice in October we went knocking on doors within the neighborhoods surrounding our church building. Our goal was to meet people and invite them to upcoming community-oriented events at our church.

The first event, held the last two weeks in October, was a Pumpkin Patch. Members were out on our front lawn for eight hours each day selling pumpkins and hosting fall-themed children’s games, a cornstalk maze, and offering smores around a fire encircled with bales of hay as places to sit and talk. Though this event helped us raise funds for the second event, most importantly it gave us opportunity to share God’s love with the people who stopped by.

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The second event was a Harvest Festival held at our church facility on October 31. To the Pumpkin Patch set-up we added inflatables, a pony ride, live music, additional games, a lady on stilts making balloon animals, face painting, and lots of free food (including more of the smores cooked over the open fire). The festival was attended by hundreds of people. As a result, men, women and children are getting connected to Christ through our congregation, serving as his hands and feet. In this way we are following Christ’s call to create space within which mission and relationships happen. It’s a joy to see!

c-face paintingc-cooking smores

c-baloon ladyOur two outreach events with the associated time in the neighborhoods, gave our members opportunity to connect with people “outside the walls” of our church. Through these connections we’ve had opportunity to invite people to church, to welcome them in, and to offer them opportunities to embark on a pathway of discipleship that is all about encountering our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. In this way we’re putting “feet” to where our hearts and mouths are.

Though it’s been hard (but not impossible) work, we all would testify that it has been an unspeakable joy. Making changes in our outlook and habits can be scary and unfamiliar—such change requires making adjustments. But without a doubt, the change we’re experiencing at Christ Fellowship Church is beautiful to behold.

We want to thank the GCI ministers who traveled to Cincinnati to help with our Harvest Festival. Their participation was part of a GCI-USA Outside the Walls consulting event. Special thanks to Heber Ticas (national coordinator of GCI-USA Church Multiplication Ministries), who leads Outside the Walls consulting. He helped us capture a bigger vision and implement useful methods for community-focused mission. We plan to continue the momentum gained by hosting additional events throughout the coming year and beyond. Doing so will help us connect further with the community surrounding our church building. We look forward to joining Jesus who already is on mission there!

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Church Development

On becoming a great church

These days we hear a lot about how to become a “great church.” Of course, the definitions of “great” vary, but typically they have to do with growing to a large size. Though size matters, it’s not the “end-all and be-all” of greatness. In a Leadership Journal article titled, “Four Steps to Becoming a Great Church—Of Any Size,” Karl Vaters notes that becoming “great” as a church boils down to four doable steps that can be combined into this short sentence:

Do the basics wholeheartedly and consistently for a long time.

To learn what that looks like, click here.

For other articles focused on small-church ministry, see Vater’s Pivot blog at www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/

Prayer & Updates

John McKenna

Here’s an update on a previous request for prayer for John McKenna, professor at Grace Communion Seminary.

McKennaJohn’s wife Mickey reports that John is home after 18 days in the hospital. He is able to walk, though very weak. He will be having therapy four times a week over the next few weeks to help him regain his speech and improve his memory.

Mickey extends her gratitude for all the cards and calls, and asks for continued prayer for John and herself in this difficult time.

Card may be sent to:

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

Announcements

Ron Dick marries

Ron DickWe are pleased to announce the recent marriage of retired GCI pastor Ron Dick to Theresa Lorenz.

Ron and Theresa were introduced by long-time mutual friends, who were members in the Lexington, Kentucky, congregation where Ron pastored from 1991 until his retirement. Ron and Theresa honeymooned in the eastern Caribbean and will make their home in Sarasota, where Theresa’s son and grandchildren reside.

Congratulations Ron and Theresa!

Cards may be sent to:

Ron and Theresa Dick
63 Loren Drive
Sarasota, FL 34235

Ted Millhuff celebrates 80 years

MillhuffsTed Millhuff (pictured at right with his wife Lila), part of the pastoral team serving GCI’s Grace of God Fellowship church in Tucson, Arizona, recently celebrated his 80th birthday three times! The first was at his home with family from Seattle, along with friends in Ted’s neighborhood including some nearby church members. The second was at church, where Ted was honored with a potluck meal. The third time was on Ted’s actual birthday (October 27) when a celebration was held with friends at an area restaurant.

Ted says that his life has been “quite a journey” and the best part of growing older is “learning and knowing the Source we need to lean on to keep on keeping on!”

Happy birthday Ted (and many more!).

Cards may be sent to:

Ted Millhuff
38076 S. Silverwood Drive
Tucson, AZ  85739

Up Close & Personal

Cara Garrity

In August, a new cohort entered the GCI Intern Program (click here for details). We’re running a series here in “Up Close & Personal” to introduce you to some of these newest interns. This week we want you to meet Cara Garrity who is interning in Waltham, Massachusetts. 

CaraCara graduated from Tufts University in 2014 where she studied music and biopsychology. During her years at Tufts, she committed her life to God. Through her Christian fellowship there, God gave her a heart for his kingdom. Over the summers, she worked at a Christian camp for girls where her passion for ministry was confirmed.

After graduation from Tufts, Cara accepted a year-round position at the girls’ camp, putting on hold her plans to pursue a Master’s degree in music therapy. In the months following her decision, Cara became increasingly involved in her GCI home congregation, Grace Christian Church (GCC) in Waltham, Massacusetts. Sensing God leading her to serve her church in some way, she accepted the opportunity to participate in the GCI Intern Program.

Cara is now a pastoral intern at GCC, being mentored by the congregation’s lead pastor, Dishon Mills. She is helping the congregation develop a young adults’ community, where through fellowship, discipleship and service, young adults are helped to experience the kingdom of God and grow into their identity in Christ. Her vision is for a vibrant community of young adults who encourage and challenge each other in their walk with Jesus, contribute their gifts to GCC, seek to proclaim the gospel in all they do, and sacrificially serve the communities in which they live. Cara and Dishon believe this community will be a place of encounter and participation with and in Jesus Christ that the upcoming generation of postmodern young adults yearn for.

Alongside her work at GCC, Cara is working in campus ministry with the New Humanity Institute at Tufts University and Boston College. In these ways, she is growing in love and in an ability to develop leaders, preach, guide Scripture study, and support and encourage young adults.


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