MFPL retreat: From bench to keyboard

A photo of my opening slide by organiser Stephanie Bannister (@S_Bann).

Last week I was invited to speak about science communication at the MFPL retreat at Znojmo (CR). It was great to meet fans of the blog and chat with PhDs and postdocs about comics, cell/molecular biology (the MFPL does some really cool stuff), lab life and science careers.  Once again, I was struck by how rife with problems academic research is, and I hope that this little talk might spark some non-traditional, yet much-needed career paths.

Click here if you’d like to check out my 11-slide PowerPoint.

A 43-year lesson

(From an email I sent)

Last Sunday, pastor John MacArthur completed a 43-year preaching series through every single verse of the New Testament. He ended with what was the best exposition of Mark 16:9-20 I have ever heard in either Greek or English.

You can listen to his sermon here.

I could write lots about MacArthur and the impact that his teaching has had on me. I might not agree with all of his views, but his faithfulness, earnestness, humility and diligence in studying and preaching the Word of God has affected me beyond repair, and for that I am thankful. Suffice to say that God used him to make me understand Hebrews 4:12.

We are not all called to preach through the New Testament for 43 years. So what can we learn from a modern-day accomplishment like this? Is there anything we can take and apply to our own lives?

Some thoughts:

1. Time and energy invested in Christ is never wasted.

2. Retirement applies only to professions.

3. There is no useless age for Christians. We need wise, spiritual fathers and mothers as urgently as we need young hands and feet.

4. The Bible can speak for itself. Ultimately, we need only to proclaim it.

5. It’s never about quantity. It’s about God-pleasing quality.


Reading highlight of the week: Hugh Hefner will die alone.


Music with an impact: Taryn Leia Prescott’s “Songs of the Bride”

I am very picky when it comes to music, and even pickier when it comes to Christian music. The past few decades have delivered some lamentable samples of Christian musicians who either have never read the Bible or are terribly confused about what market they’re targeting.

But every once in a while, we’re blessed with some real gems. One example that I have really enjoyed recently is Taryn Leia Prescott‘s Songs of the Bride. Heartfelt, genuine and biblically deep, her lyrics draw heavily from the Psalms (there’s also a beautifully rendered hymn), with an unembarrassed honesty about the pain and passion of the Christian life. The music is simple and beautiful, and her voice artful and sweet. I have the joy of knowing Taryn and her husband Peter personally, and I know that they both mean and live every word in the album.

You can listen to all 7 songs here and purchase them for any price you want. There’s also an iTunes version here.

The Next Story

From an email I sent

I’ll start this with a quote:

Why expend effort in getting the Bible in my heart and mind, if I already have it in my pocket?

Thus writes Tim Challies in his latest book The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion (audiobook here).

This is not another Luddite urging us to smash our smartphones and go live in the woods. Challies is one of the most read (and sound) evangelical writers and bloggers, an editor, and an admitted technophile. And it’s because of his in-depth knowledge and understanding of our rapidly-changing digital era that he can offer some profound insights about its effect on us, our brains, our relationships, our communities and – above all – our Christian life.

It’s 2011, and there’s no going back. The way we live, learn, connect with other people and spend our leisure is increasingly invested with some form of technology. Trying to kick against the tide is pointless and – according to Challies – not necessarily biblical either.

Following an impressively researched introduction to the how and the when, The Next Story moves seamlessly into the actual effects that technology is having on us. As we are perennially one click or screen tap away from information overload, we would be very naive to think that such affluence has left us unaffected.

Our minds function differently: we’ve moved from the Print-mind to the Visual-mind. The Image rules supreme. Our actual brains are being physically re-wired to accommodate a new mode of function (it’s called long-term potentiation/depression – ask me if you’re interested). Consequently, our way of learning and thinking has changed. We don’t need to know any more – we just need to know how to find information. Our attention spans are severely reduced (notice the short paragraphs in this email? They actually train you for this).

Our daily routines centre around Facebook, Twitter, emails, text messages and other social networking formats, chewing into face-to-face time with each other. Online community is replacing real community, just as hard drives and servers are replacing brains. The Web is no longer a substitute for the mind – it has become a replacement for it.

And guess what? It’s been almost twenty years. There are people today who never knew a different world. People who have never written a letter, done research in a library or even read a whole book. People for whom interacting with others through a screen is the norm.

And yet, technology is a gift from God. He has blessed us with the ability to have a digital explosion. And there are many benefits in being able to do with Wikipedia in a second what used to take days and weeks before. In being able to keep up with loved ones despite the distance. Even crowd-sourcing is beneficial in certain contexts.

How are we then to live as Christians in this era? Obviously with a discerning approach to technology and with a clear understanding of what it’s doing to us. How can we use it to better the work of the Kingdom? Are we aware of how it’s changed the concept of privacy and of how others view us? How does it affect our brotherly fellowship? Is an online church a substitute or a replacement for a real one? What are we letting into our minds, our hearts and our souls? Are we multitasking or just “task-switching” all the time? Is our use of technology bringing us closer to God or creating/encouraging idolatry? Is it promoting a deep or a shallow Christian life?

Informative, convicting and encouraging, I recommend The Next Story wholeheartedly. And hey – it’s available on Kindle too.

Apologetics for the mind

Edited from an email I sent

It is undeniable that Christianity has made a tremendous intellectual impact during its two thousand-year history. As Christians throughout that time have tried to be faithful to both Matthew 28:16-20 and 1 Peter 3:15, they have engaged worldviews left, right and centre.

However, in recent decades, that apologetic mandate has been compromised or even denied. We can find many reasons for this (the advent of postmodernity, the flourishing of science, educational apathy, fideism, intellectual laziness etc) but we’d rather spend our energy reclaiming the rightful place biblical truth holds in the intellectual domain.

One aim of Christian apologetics is to demonstrate that the Christian worldview has intellectually valid and even superior explanatory power (notice the word “superior”. Every worldview offers explanations). In human words, it claims that the Bible holds all the real answers about the human condition, morality, the purpose of existence and other big questions we’re too busy to think about until it’s too late.

With all that, I’d like to recommend to you an entire free course in Apologetics by Philosophy Professor Douglas Groothuis. The course includes both lectures (MP3) and also lecture notes (HTML – can open with your browser or word processor). I liked how much time Groothuis devotes in putting apologetics into a biblical context, as well as occasionally sharing personal experiences from his own ministry. It’s material that goes both wide and narrow and even if you disagree with something, you will find it very helpful.