‘Finding God In The Waves: How I Lost My Faith And Found It Again Through Science’, by Mike McHargue

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Reviewed by Emma Higgs

In a time of extreme rationalism and extreme religion, with anti-religious sentiments at an all-time high and religious violence and bigotry often dominating our headlines, Mike McHargue’s Finding God in the Waves offers a timely, profound and fascinating discussion on the relationship between religion and science, faith and doubt.

Finding God in the Waves is first and foremost for those who feel trapped between faith and reason; those who desire some kind of faith or sense a deeper meaning to life, but feel unable to reconcile this with science and rational thought. It offers a lifeline to those who are struggling with doubt or mourning a loss of faith; providing satisfying, empirical evidence that faith in God is not a foolish superstition or a dangerous diversion from reality. Using evidence from studies into neuroscience and faith, Mike McHargue (AKA ‘Science Mike’) shows the positive effects faith and prayer in particular can have on people’s lives, and gives practical advice on how someone desiring faith can develop brain tissue to make them more likely to experience God. The book also gives valuable insight into both conservative evangelical Christianity and atheism, showing the goodness, authenticity and compassion within both sides that can so easily be overlooked in intellectual debate.3dbookshot

Mike tells his story of growing up as a Southern Baptist, suffering the devastating loss of his faith and spending two years as an undercover atheist (“the world’s least interesting secret agent”) within his beloved Baptist community. He is then profoundly impacted by a mystical experience on a beach, which sparks his gradual return to a form of faith that could withstand his own skepticism and sit comfortably within his extensive understanding of science.

Mike writes in an accessible, conversational style, combining his own incredible story with fascinating excursions into cosmology and neuroscience. His ability to communicate complex scientific theories in a compelling and comprehensible way is quite extraordinary; he provides detailed, scientifically credible explanations, whilst keeping me (a non-scientist with a short attention span) glued to the page. This is no mean feat. Mike is brutally honest and open in telling his story, and the account of his loss of faith cuts right to the heart of the fears and doubts experienced by many Christians. He is also hilarious – there are regular ‘laugh out loud’ moments, interspersed between the existential crises and the mind-blowing scientific insights.

The first half of the book is a compelling and heart-wrenching account of Mike’s experiences of finding, losing and finding faith. Starting with his days as an overweight science nerd talking to Jesus as he hid from bullies in the woods, he describes how his faith became his source of comfort and hope, and the foundation on which his whole world was built. When he is rocked by the news of his parents’ marriage break up, Mike seeks comfort and guidance from the Bible, “binge-reading” it four times through, desperately looking for answers and clarity “with the fervour of a man trapped in a well”. Instead, his faith unravels. He embarks on a truth-seeking mission which ultimately leads him to the devastating conclusion that there is no evidence of the existence of God. Mike describes the turmoil, anxiety and depression that comes with loss of faith, and the gradual process of coming to terms with reality without God. After two years as a closeted atheist, Mike has an experience on a beach in California which leaves him feeling like he had met with God. This marks the start of his gradual return to faith, but it is by no means a straight forward ‘happy ending’, and the faith he finds is very different from the one he had lost two years previously.

In the second half of the book, Mike takes us through the detailed reasoning behind his faith reconstruction. He never seeks to prove the existence of God, but rather seeks to show that the pursuit of faith is rational and healthy. He talks about finding God in cosmology, and about the effect that different forms of faith have on the brain. He provides practical steps that a skeptical person can take to develop faith and experience God without feeling like they have to abandon all rational thought. He discusses the meaning and significance of Jesus, the role of the church, and Biblical interpretation (a way of reading the Bible that doesn’t result in atheism). Underpinning Science Mike’s reasoning are a set of axioms about aspects of the Christian faith – self-evident statements that provide a foundation for faith to grow, and act as a barrier against skepticism and doubt. These have the potential to be profoundly helpful and significant for anyone wrestling with doubt and skepticism who is seeking to strengthen their faith.

This is one of those books that I shall be coming back to again and again. For me it’s been a game changer – simultaneously deeply unsettling and profoundly comforting. It has given me a way to move forward in my faith, to fully embrace science and rationalism whilst remaining open to the greater mysteries of reality, and the deeper meaning behind it all.

‘Finding God in the Waves’ by Mike McHargue was released on 13th Sept 2016.

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Images used with permission from publisher

What if the New Testament writers disagreed about one of the core beliefs of Christianity: the divinity of Jesus?

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This guest post was written by James Parsons.

Millions of dollars are spent every year on Christian Religious Studies for the sole purpose of learning the art of exegesis and hermeneutics. These are two fancy words that simply mean the analysing of scripture for proper interpretation and how to apply that interpretation. It’s big business for Christian institutions, and in most cases, it’s big trouble.

People skilled at exegesis and hermeneutics do not simply interpret the meaning of an author’s words. They also seek to harmonise two or more opposing, and sometimes contradicting points into a unified theological idea. That is what demonstrates the mastery of their craft.

This all started centuries ago with the Seven Ecumenical Church Councils, whose goal was to unify Christian beliefs. They set out to show that all scripture demonstrated ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’, while eliminating conclusions that demonstrated scripture saying ‘X’, ‘Y’, and ‘Z’. From this position, ‘heretic’ became a dirty word used to describe anyone who opposed these unified beliefs. And so, the process of unifying contradicting statements within the Bible as one singular acceptable expression became the most important part of Christian thought. And the more important it became, the more it became big business to teach exegesis, keeping people within one uniform belief system.

So what would happen if we threw away traditional exegesis and stopped trying to unify contradicting statements from different authors to match those preconceived Biblical teachings from the Church Councils? Instead, what if we learned to take each author as their own spiritual expression and away from the confines of doctrinal unity? How about we move away from this process of starting from an author we agree with, and projecting his thoughts onto another author who actually seems to disagree? In other words, let Paul say what he wants to say and let Mark speak for himself? How would that change our hermeneutics? Would the Bible lose it’s beauty and unity? Would it become less meaningful and more divisive within the community?

I believe this is best demonstrated with the following question:

Do all New Testament authors agree on the nature of Jesus’ divinity?

At the First Council of Nicaea, it was decreed that Jesus was a pre-existent, eternal divine being that became incarnate through the Virgin Mary. But do the authors of the New Testament speak in unity concerning this idea?

1. Pre-literary traditions: Jesus was adopted at the resurrection

Pre-literary traditions are statements in the Bible that scholars believe circulated before the Biblical writings themselves. For example, there are occasional writings from Paul where he seems to be quoting something. If this is correct, then what he is quoting pre-dates Paul’s writings. In the beginning of Romans, Paul writes: “…concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord…”. It’s possible that Paul is reciting an early Christian tradition that believes Jesus was the Messiah by way of King David, and became Son of God at the resurrection. One reason why this is believed to be a quote that pre-dates Paul is that it is inconsistent with Paul’s own view of Jesus as expressed elsewhere.

We see another pre-literary tradition in Acts 13 where the writer mentions that they are preaching a certain message from before the writings of this book: “And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers…He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You.'”

So, it appears that one of the earliest beliefs held by the first followers of Jesus was that he was adopted as God’s Son at the resurrection….NOT that he was eternally divine and became flesh.

2. Paul’s view: Jesus was an angel who humbled himself and was raised up by God

Paul’s views differed from the pre-literary tradition. This can be seen most clearly with the picture he lays out in the Philippians poem:

“Who, being in very form God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Paul thought Jesus pre-existed as a great angel before becoming human. Angels are described as God-like beings who live in the Heavenly realm of God. In Paul’s view, this is where Christ was presiding. As an angel, Christ did not desire equality with God. Instead, Christ – knowing the heart of God in humility – gave up his seated place in the Heavens and followed God’s example by humbling himself, becoming human to serve others, obedient even to the point of death. In recognition of Christ’s great humility, God raises Christ to the highest level and proclaims that Jesus is the name at which “every knee should bow.” In other words, God is so enamoured by the humility of Jesus that he gives him an equal share in his power.

3. Mark’s view: Jesus was adopted at his baptism

Mark is universally recognised as the earliest written Gospel. A large portion of the Christian tradition held the ‘adoption at resurrection’ view, but the author of Mark seems to think Jesus was adopted instead at his baptism. Scholars believe this is why Mark begins his Gospel at that event, with “immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: ‘You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.'”

4. Matthew and Luke’s View: Jesus didn’t exist until his conception

While Mark begins his Gospel with Jesus’ baptism, Matthew and Luke begin their Gospels with the Virgin Mary being told she is to give birth to a son. There is no evidence to suggest that they believed Jesus had always existed; rather that his existence began at the specific moment when God impregnated Mary. This, too, was an early view among Christians that circulated at the same time as the others; although it was only later written down.

5. John’s View of Jesus

The last Gospel written provides yet another view of the nature of Jesus’ divinity. The writer of the Gospel of John believed that Jesus had existed for eternity, and had spoken the universe into existence: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” The Gospel of John stretches the idea of Jesus far beyond any other thoughts circulating among Christians in the first 100-200 years.

Many great traditional Biblical scholars have used their skills in exegesis to merge these conflicting views into one coherent proclamation, to match the Council of Nicaea decree: that Jesus was a pre-existent divine being that became incarnate through the Virgin Mary. Great effort has been made to provide evidence of scriptural unity and coherence.

I think washing over the differences of opinion about Jesus’ divinity ruins the overarching hermeneutic teaching.

Despite our many differing opinions about specifically what it means to call Jesus the Son of God, we can still come together in unity. Not a forced unity, achieved by insisting that everyone keeps to the same Creed, and throwing out any ideas that do not fit. True unity means working together with one purpose despite differences of opinion. True unity is agreeing to love our enemy as well as our neighbour.

This seems to get lost in the church today whenever “correct doctrine” becomes more important than compassion and humility, as exemplified in the Philippians poem. We seem to lose sight of the goal of loving people despite our differences. We miss the fact that even people in the Bible disagreed about Jesus…and that’s OK. We lose the beauty of stories because we’re more concerned with tying up the contradictions than allowing each book and each author tell us their own story.

Correct doctrine is not the beginning and end of Christian living. We need to learn to accept the differences in people’s views – even views of who God is – and allow our love to unify us.

James Parsons

James Parsons lives in the Oklahoma City, OK area. He is a husband, a father and a Former Evangelical/Fundamentalist turned Christian Universalist. James has two accredited BA Degrees in Behavioural Science and Christian Theology from Mid-American Christian University. James’ current interests are in the early historical records within Christian literature and the philosophical positions that have grown from those perspectives.

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