Saturday, May 23, 2015

May 23, 2015, column: Point of view changes

For his 2014 book, “Christianity on Trial,” Mark Lanier drew this map of his view of the world when he was a teenager in Lubbock in 1976. (InterVarsity Press)
May 23, 2015, column:

Point of view changes

By Mike Haynes
            In 1976, when Mark Lanier was about 16 years old, he lived on 16th Street in the Hub City, otherwise known as Lubbock. His house was somewhere between Toledo and Utica avenues.
            It was just a couple of miles from the Texas Tech School of Law on 19th Street, but more about that later.
            In a book he published in 2014, Lanier drew a simple map showing what the world looked like to him as a teenager. Mimicking a famous 1976 New Yorker magazine cover by Saul Steinberg called “View of the World from 9th Avenue,” Lanier doodled his Lubbock house with his high school, his church and Texas Tech University represented as prominent buildings.
            He included a large Jones Stadium with a Double T in its center, a strip of land labeled “cotton fields,” and beyond that, small buildings called “NYC” and “D.C.” and an oil derrick marked “Houston.”
            Then came the Atlantic Ocean, about the same size as the cotton fields, and past that, the map ended with small labels for England, Europe and Africa.
             As Steinberg had illustrated the restricted focus of Manhattan residents, Lanier recalled how limited his view of the world had been at age 16.
            The 2014 book is “Christianity on Trial,” and in a chapter titled “Who Is God?” Lanier – now a nationally known trial lawyer, a Sunday school teacher and founder of Lanier Theological Library in Houston – argues that many people who believe in Christianity early in life fall away because their view of God doesn’t keep up with their view of the world.
            Just as this 1984 Tech law graduate – who the National Trial Lawyers named 2015 Trial Lawyer of the Year – has learned much more about history, science and human relationships than he understood at age 16, so have most of us grown in sophistication and in our knowledge of life on this planet.
            Lanier says many of us allow our view of God to stay where it was when we were young:
            “…over time my early views of God seemed, in some ways, childish. … Had my relationship with and my understanding of God not grown, as my mind expanded I would have associated God simply with what seemed to be the na├»ve, limited ideas of youth.”
            Certainly, that concept reminds Christians of the New Testament writers who, in Hebrews 5:11-14 and I Corinthians 3:1-3, stressed the importance of believers advancing from milk to solid food.
            In his book, Lanier takes on key objections to Christianity’s validity as though he were cross-examining witnesses. In chapters about science, he shows how the order and stability of the universe support belief in an all-powerful God who set it all in motion.
            He quotes a Cambridge physicist turned Anglican priest to support the idea that the universe is finely calibrated for the purpose of supporting human life – with the inference that God is the creator of everything from 100 sextillion stars to every hair on our heads.
            Lanier says some counter that “…it’s not that the universe is perfectly calibrated for human life; it’s rather that life developed in this universe as it was calibrated.” But he says physicist-priest Sir John Polkinghorne rejects that theory as untestable and “incredibly lazy.”
            Lanier’s entire book attempts to show that no matter how sophisticated human minds become, the traditional Christian view of God is up to the intellectual challenge. His day job has gotten him written up in such publications as Forbes magazine and has allowed his family to give $6 million toward the Mark and Becky Lanier Professional Development Center, an addition to that Tech law building on Lubbock’s 19th Street.
            His church work makes him familiar to the editors of Christianity Today, a publication that takes the intellect seriously.
             As for his map-drawing skills, he probably should leave that to the professionals.