Category Archives: History

Constructing Newton’s Bridge

Isaac Newton, one of the most influential scientists who ever lived, also was a Christian theologian. He once said, “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” His quote resonates with me because bridges filled the landscape of my childhood.

I spent the first eighteen years of my life growing up in “The City of Bridges”. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, contains more bridges within its city limits than Venice, Italy, with the current number of bridges totaling nearly two thousand. Three major rivers come together at the Point, the location of Pittsburgh’s iconic fountain first built in 1974.  In addition to the presence of rivers, the steep hills and ravines around the city make bridges a necessity for transportation. The early European settlers of Pittsburgh quickly learned that they had to choose between living in isolation or finding creative ways to span the waters and valleys.

People cluster on one of two riverbanks in their approach to relating human reasoning to faith. The first approach, common in many Christian circles in my childhood and college years and persisting to this day, revolves around mistrust of the intellect. Acquiring knowledge, analyzing information, and questioning assumptions become suspect activities. Too much thinking means that you are not listening to your heart; you are out of touch with practical concerns; or you are not truly spiritual.

Many Christians find support for mistrusting the intellect in a variety of Biblical passages. All the way back in Eden, Eve’s temptation included a desire for wisdom and knowledge. In Proverbs 3:5, an often-quoted verse reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” In the New Testament in John 20:29, Jesus said to the doubting Apostle Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:27), the Apostle Paul explained, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

Clustered on the second riverbank, we find those who worship the life of the mind above all else. Human reasoning reigns supreme. The standard for judging truth becomes data collected through the human senses and processed by rational thought. Atheists and agnostics wield Occam’s razor to slice away the possibility of revelation, preferring explanations that avoid spirituality. While the 14th century Franciscan friar William of Ockham was right to suggest that a scientific model should avoid introducing more causes than necessary, the principle often is used to exclude from the possibility of existence everything not perceivable by the human senses. Occam’s razor is a sound approach to the practice of science, but when brandished too freely, justifies positivism. This philosophy persuades those dwell on this second riverbank to stop their search for spiritual truth when they reach the limits of human reasoning and empirical evidence.

Perhaps the two camps of settlers could survive adequately without venturing beyond the limits of their respective riverbanks. Yet I join Isaac Newton and the early settlers of Pittsburgh in the conviction that a richer life waits for those willing to construct a bridge.

Key Concepts to Tweet

  • “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” Isaac Newton  Buffer
  • People cluster on one of two riverbanks in their approach to relating human reasoning to faith.  Buffer
  • A richer life waits for those willing to construct a bridge.  Buffer

Three Great Easter Questions

While preparing for the Easter holiday, I began to think about the great questions contained in the Biblical account of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, celebrated by Christians on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. These questions quickly get to the heart of the Christian message and remain relevant even today.  How would you answer the following three questions?

1.    You are not one of his disciples, are you? (John 18:17)

A young girl asked the Apostle Peter this question as he was waiting outside the high priest’s courtyard after Jesus was arrested. Peter had enough courage to follow Jesus to the religious leader’s court when the other disciples simply stayed behind. Peter put his faith into action more than most, but in the end, not enough to keep from denying Jesus to a servant girl. Fear won the day over faith. Weakness triumphed over love and loyalty. The question of the servant girl echoes to this present moment. Everyone who learns about Jesus must decide, “Am I his disciple or not?”

2.    What is truth? (John 18:38)

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who sat in judgment at Jesus’ trial, asked Jesus this question. Of course, Pilate asked the same question that philosophers have been asking and attempting to answer for thousands of years. But Jesus was not another philosopher with a theory of truth. He claimed to be the truth (John 14:6). Pilate was asking the wrong question. The right question becomes, “Who is truth?”

3.    Why do you look for the living among the dead? (Luke 24:5)

Two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning asked this question to the women who had come to Jesus’ tomb to anoint the body with burial spices. The women came to pay respect to the dead, but they became the first witnesses to the central miracle of Christianity. Christianity is not about the sayings of a good moral teacher. Christianity goes beyond advice for living a successful human life. Christianity is about resurrection. Resurrection means hope beyond this lifetime, power beyond natural explanation, and love that lasts for eternity. A Christian settles for nothing less.

Key Concepts to Tweet

  • Jesus was not another philosopher with a theory of truth. He claimed to be the truth.  Buffer
  • Resurrection means hope beyond this lifetime, power beyond natural explanation, and love that lasts...  Buffer