As we walked onto the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What have I gotten these students into?!?” I was nervous and scared for them. “What if this doesn’t go as planned?” So, began one of the most rewarding experiences of the students’ lives, not to mention my own. Even with the incredible risks involved, it turned out our trust in God was not misplaced.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. - 1 Peter 3:15
Within the first 15 minutes of arriving on Berkeley’s campus, we had sent the students out to share their faith. Equipped with surveys asking spiritual questions, these high school juniors and seniors were conversing with college undergraduates and graduates. They asked questions about the meaning of life, whether there is a God, and what is the ontological nature of morality. God blessed these students so mightily, helping them to recall their training, and giving them understanding and compassion beyond their years.
I remember thinking I would sit back and only pray for the students, being available if any of them needed help. This is not what God had in mind. I noticed a conversation between some of my students, our fearless leader Brett, and two picketers near me. God prompted me to enter this conversation. We spoke with these Berkeley students for over an hour. They were very caring and compassionate, but had never put much thought into many of their beliefs. We spent most of the time asking them questions, which led to many inconsistencies in their ideas, but the conversation never became less than friendly. They left with many new things to think about, and we left with a renewed confidence in our Lord.
Throughout the four-day trip, this basic story replayed itself repeatedly. Any time we spent time conversing with students/people we met on the campus or Telegraph Avenue, God showed himself to be faithful and completely reasonable.
Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD. - Leviticus 19:32
One highlight of the trip was the opportunity to meet in the home of Dr. Phillip Johnson, the “godfather” of the Intelligent Design movement. I cannot express the honor of being able to meet with this man in his own home. He shared with us his journey into ID, the problem of the information in DNA, the inherent philosophy of Darwinists, and how searching for answers has strengthened his faith. After conversing with us, he spent time signing books with the students and getting to know them. It was so heart-warming that this intellectual giant would spend time showing these students what a life well-lived looks like.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ - Colossians 3:8
While on the trip, we had three prominent atheists present their views on topics such as morality, evidence against the existence of God, and faith. It was so encouraging to hear from these “learned” men and realize God’s way makes more sense.
The first atheist to present to us was Richard Carrier, a prominent atheist from Internet Infidels, who has debated William Lane Craig on the resurrection. He was personable, fun, and very intelligent. He shared with us his ideas about morality, claiming morals are real objective things of the world, but that we do not need God as their basis. Instead, he claimed morals are really an arrangement of neurons and chemicals in our brain, a reaction to things around us, and necessary for the survival of the species. Brett and some of the students realized this explanation did not provide a basis for morality (ontology), but instead is only a claim about how we know about morals (epistemology). When pressed for a real concrete explanation for the existence of objective morals in the world without God, Carrier was woefully inadequate in any explanation, even reverting to relativism at one point.
The topic of evidence against the existence of God was presented to us by Mark Thomas. As opposed to Carrier, Thomas was brash and forceful, continually interrupting others. He spent a lot of time telling us stories about the way we evolved, or came to our religious beliefs. His basic point was that man was religious because we find the idea of a God who loves us to be comforting. We pointed out that while this might be true, it does not mean there isn’t a God. In fact, maybe the reason we find this comforting is that God has instilled in us a desire to be loved by him. Thomas’ evidence did not come close to being convincing.
Lastly, we met with David Fitzgerald of the San Francisco Atheists. He was the kind of man who makes it easy to realize that a winsome, likable person can easily slip their ideas past your defenses because your guard might be down. He spent a lot of time talking about faith. His idea of faith was that it is some kind of blind leap, which cannot be falsified no matter what evidence is brought to bear. We were able to explain to him that this is not the Biblical idea of faith. Brett explained that a Biblical view of faith is trusting in what we have good evidence to believe (I Cor. 15; Heb 11:1). This was a wholly new idea for Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald also mentioned he did not believe Jesus ever really existed. This was mind-blowing. Jesus is the most well attested historical figure of ancient history. Not only does the Bible speak of him, but many extra-biblical sources mention him as well (Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, etc.). It was very revealing to see how far some people will go to try and deny God.
Through all of these encounters, the reasonableness of the Christian worldview was evident. God was so good to help us understand where the ideas of these men were only “hollow and deceptive philosophy.”
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. – Colossians 3:12
We also had the opportunity to meet with SANE (Students for A Nonreligious Ethos, the student atheist group on Berkeley’s campus). We mingled with them, conversed, and generally just talked with them. It was clear they enjoyed having us to meet and talk with. Afterward we went to Thai food with them, where the conversations were deep and meaningful. I personally was able to converse with one girl for about an hour and a half about God, evolution, morals and free will. She was very surprised by many of my answers, and at one point said, “that is by far the best answer I have ever heard” about one of my arguments. I finished the evening sharing with her the Kalam Cosmological argument for the existence of God. She decided to give me her email address without my prompting. I look forward to continued interaction with her. I know she left the conversation with a new respect for Christians, and God.
The key to that night was we didn’t come across as arrogant, and we truly wanted to know their side of the issue. My students were very good at realizing the people they were talking to should be treated with respect and kindness. We were different from any other Christians they had encountered, and we truly enjoyed meeting with them.
Know that the Lord is God – Psalm 100:3
On Sunday, we experienced God’s beautiful creation in the morning, praising God and having devotions at a park. The view was incredible, as we were able to see the entire bay area. It brought tears to my eyes at several points.
God was so faithful to us. It was a very hard trip, but it was even more rewarding. Every student who went expressed how God had impacted their lives greatly, and they now have a desire to learn even more about Him and show others His love for the rest of their lives.
Thank you for your prayers and thoughts.
Comments from some of the students:
Berkeley mission trip was amazing and I learned so much! Gotta keep practicing and learning more so that we can keep defending the faith!—Hannah
The mission trip to Berkeley was an absolutely incredible experience. I learned how to better defend my faith and was encouraged that the Truth was able to stand up to the arguments of the secular world. I now have a passion to share my faith and God’s truth with other people—Sarah
This trip showed me that Christianity CAN stand up to the modern way of thinking—Jeremy
Berkeley was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It was an eye-opening experience, because I was able to see how God works when we put our trust in Him. I’d definitely do this again.—Lacey
Berkeley was a fantastic experience. I am more focused on what brings my life purpose.—Aubree
I cannot express in words how amazing the Berkeley trip was. It is mind blowing how incredible every single moment of that trip was. Just over the last 4 days I have changed and grown SO much in my views of Christianity. BY FAR the best trip I have ever been on and wishes with everything to still be there!!!—Elise
The Berkeley trip was an eye-opening and life-changing experience. God worked through all of the students and exposed us to the life outside the “Christian Bubble.” It boosted my confidence and brought me closer to God. I am so happy about the trip and cannot wait for next year—Kaitlan
The Berkeley trip was sublime. It was something that has changed my life and I would never trade the experience for anything.—Josh