People invited to talk about 'Elephant in the Room'

2014-04-05T00:15:00Z People invited to talk about 'Elephant in the Room'By SUSAN OLP solp@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Harvest Church has decided to address the “Elephant in the Room,” and the Billings church is doing it in a big way.

The Rev. Vern Streeter is preaching a series of sermons with that title, focusing on topics such as divine design, the problem of evil and suffering in the world and whether the Bible is reliable. This weekend Streeter will look at whether religion is the problem.

During the next week, the church is sponsoring two other events it hopes will draw a crowd interested in talking about topics that can be tough to tackle. Both events will feature faculty from Biola University in California.

The first event is a free forum on Thursday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Babcock Theatre, 2812 Second Ave. N., that is especially aimed at nonbelievers and seekers.

“It’s designed for the skeptic, the anti-theist, the atheist, the Gnostic, the seeker — anybody who considers themselves spiritual or is opposed to anything spiritual,” Streeter said. “It’s for anybody who would like to be intellectually honest and learn a little bit.”

The forum, with a question-and-answer format, is designed to focus on doubts about the existence of God. People planning to attend are invited to tweet questions in advance to #babcockelephant. Or they can bring their questions, and an open mic will allow them to challenge the speakers, Streeter said.

The forum will feature Craig Hazen, founder and director of the master’s degree program in Christian apologetics and Clay Jones, assistant professor of Christian apologetics.

“They’ll be very respectful, very kind and acknowledge the good question and acknowledge the place from which that question comes, which could be pain, intellectual opposition or confusion,” Streeter said.

He heard about one man, an atheist, who didn’t want to come to the event because he’s not interested in God unless God gives him empirical evidence that he exists.

“My response to him would be, ‘here we have two Ph.D.s, very learned successful guys, who believe in God and Jesus as their savior,’ ” Streeter said. “Wouldn’t you want to know if they came to that conclusion because of empirical evidence?”

If that’s not the case, he said, then why do these two “really smart, well-adjusted people” believe without it?

“My challenge is if you’re really pursuing the truth, wouldn’t you want to know where these guys are coming from?” Streeter said.

On Friday evening and Saturday morning, Hazen, Jones, Tim Muehlhoff, associate professor of communication, and John Bloom, professor of physics and academic chair of the master of arts program in science and religion, will speak at an apologetics conference that’s designed for Christians. The title of the event, which is being held at Harvest Church, 1235 Wicks Lane, is, “Reasonable Faith in an Uncertain World.”

A lot of people get confused about the term “apologetics,” Streeter said. It means “defense,” he said, in this case defense of Christianity.

The idea, Streeter said, is to equip believers to handle difficult questions and objections.

“All Christians have had somebody ask them a question they couldn’t answer very well, like questions about evil or evolution,” he said.

The conference, Streeter added, will give participants the ability to engage in knowledgeable conversations and provide them with responsible answers to their questions.

The conference is designed to help in two ways, Streeter said. It will boost people’s confidence in their belief in Christ, and will also give them tools to be able to talk with people who don’t believe in God.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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