Hardwired: An Interview with Jim Miller
Jim Miller has authored a fascinating book entitled Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know. He is a husband, father, pastor, and writer. He shepherds Glenkirk Church in the adrenaline-addicted world of Los Angeles, which he balances with prayer and good books. He holds degrees from U.C. Berkeley, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Fuller Theological Seminary.
Philip: You’ve spent a great deal of time as a pastor. What have you found to be the big question(s) that people are asking about our faith?
Jim: I wrote Hardwired after a mom caught me in tears on the church patio because her son had gone to college and left the faith. It’s a book for everyone who loves someone who has a big question standing between them and God.
Seeking people ask me a lot of concrete, nitty gritty questions – How can we know God is there? What’s the evidence? Will God actually change my life? What does God require of me? As much as I find philosophical theology fascinating, most people just want to know if God is for real.
Your book is entitled Hardwired. Where did the title come from?
It’s the current lingo surrounding the study of the brain and genetics. A number of evolutionary biologists are trying to reduce our instincts and impulses down to neurochemistry, meaning our deepest thoughts and feelings are nothing more than firings of the neurons in our brain. When it comes to faith, they want to say that religious instincts are just evolutionary accidents designed to help the species survive through principles like loving your neighbor. I co-opted that language to show that God himself has actually designed us, or hardwired us. The fact that we have deep impulses towards faith and worship are not an accident of evolution; rather, they’re part of an intentional design that calls us back to our creator. They’re not an accident – they’re a GPS.
How will this book equip the believer in their everyday conversations with those outside of the faith?
The most common response I hear in faith conversations is that people want to claim to be “agnostics.” They believe it’s a safe, neutral position to hold, so that, supposedly, God can’t hold anything against them if he turns out to be real in the end. One of the important things that Hardwired does is to show that agnosticism really isn’t a position that someone can have for long, and it shows the believer how to point that out to people. This is going to be indispensable for talking about faith in the next generation.
Also, there are small group discussion questions at the end of every chapter. I know of several groups that are going through the book together right now, and the discussion questions relieve a facilitator from having to come up with their own.
As a pastor, how do you roll the concepts of apologetics into your weekly messages and ministry?
Someone once took me to task for trying to rationally point people towards God. “Isn’t the Holy Spirit enough?” he asked. I replied, “Do missionaries have to learn a foreign language in order to do mission work in another country?” Reason is the language that unbelieving people use to talk about God. Apologetics is just that foreign language in which we need to translate Spirit-inspired belief.
Every message I preach is aimed at the lost person looking for God. My church exists to lead uncommitted people to Jesus, not to offer the familiar to the already committed so that they can be comfortable at church. Every week I think about what the first time guest is thinking and feeling, and I speak directly to that experience. Once I even had my staff walk from the parking lot into our worship center and talk through exactly what a new person would go through at every step along the way.
What are some of the other ways that church leaders can equip believers for defending their faith with grace and finesse?
A wise pastor once told me, “It’s hard to make Jesus and yourself look good at the same time.” Apologetics isn’t about proving how smart we are – it’s just another form of pointing towards Jesus. Philippians 2 paints a beautiful picture of humility that we ought to carry with us into every conversation. When someone comes at us full force with an angry protest about Christianity, sometimes the best we can do is acknowledge that part of their case that is most true. For instance, when someone tells me that they won’t go to church because Christians are a bunch of hypocrites, I never argue. I agree wholeheartedly, and then add, “which is simply one more reason we need a Savior.”
From your perspective, what are the two or three greatest issues we will need to answer as believers in the coming decade?
The forefront of Christian apologetics for the next decade is going to be the moral argument. There’s a chapter on this in Hardwired, and you can see the argument played out defensively in Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? and Baggett and Walls’ Good God. The reason the topic is so hot is because it’s the one place where atheists can’t have their cake and eat it too. If the world is sheerly matter, then moral behavior is reducible to neurobiology, and brain chemistry is reducible to the random flux of atoms. If this is the case, morality has no real foundation from which to obligate us. It’s simply a big prank evolution has played which the modern, enlightened person can simply abandon. Voltaire is credited with telling his guests not to talk about atheism in front of his servants for fear that they would steal the silver. I think a lot of atheists today realize that if they were to win the day philosophically, they’d have to hold onto their silver.
Have there been times in your own life when you questioned the truthfulness of the gospel, the Bible? What answered your questions?
Absolutely. I rationally abandoned the faith when I was on my way to college. I was sitting in the passenger seat of our Ford Taurus and my dad was driving me from our little town in southeast Texas to the crazed world of U.C. Berkeley where I had enrolled as a philosophy student. I remember thinking, “There’s an 18 year old in New Delhi who is off to his next stage of life, and he’s a Hindu because he grew up in a Hindu culture. And there’s a kid in Baghdad right now who is off to the next stage of his life, and he’s a Muslim because he grew up in a Muslim world. (I imagined them both in Ford Tauruses, for some reason.) And here I am a Christian because I grew up in a Christianized society. And that’s not a good reason to believe.” And right then and there I decided that if I didn’t have good reason to believe, I probably didn’t.
But I knew that if God was really there, that changed everything. And if God wasn’t there, that changed everything as well. So in my freshman year, I began reading the holy books of all the world’s religions – the Koran, the Baghavad Gita, the Book of Mormon, and more – asking only one question: “Can any of these be true?”
God called me back through a quiet whisper of prayer and through a small group Bible study of other college guys who were asking the same questions I was. I was inspired by the preaching of Earl Palmer and compelled by the debates of William Lane Craig. Ultimately, though, I had simply tried to run away from the Holy Spirit, which is a race that no one can win.