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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Post Game

The election has been over for a week. (It seems so much longer than that.) Almost everyone who blogs or broadcasts has had his shot at analyzing what the election means for America except me. So, here's my take.

This election reflected change in American values and culture - in other words, worldview. Washington and several other states made marijuana and same-sex marriage legal. Looking deeper, the election revealed an increasing desire for the government to come to the rescue of minorities and disadvantaged people and an increasing divide between the haves and those who see themselves as the have-nots.

That might be characterized by a growing self-centeredness.

For Christians, because the media painted Christians as far right obstructionists, the general population of America are seeing Christians as out of touch, at best, and dangerous, at worst. One candidate in Washington called the views of her opponent, a man who held conservative moral values, as terrifying for the people of Washington.

If we consider one issue at a time, there was good news for America. We endorsed medical care for those who have been excluded from the insurance system in the past. That is good, though the unintended consequences may prove to be more costly than we would like.

Legalizing marijuana may reduce illegal drug traffic and bring more money into the state coffers. However, I doubt that it will result in any real reduction in the illegal drug trade. Money, not drugs, is what drives that trade. Drug cartels and gangs will find another product to push, and I doubt that will be apples.

The will of Americans implied in the election to find a equitable solution to the flood of undocumented aliens is encouraging. It makes no sense to hold millions of people hostage by fear of deportation. But we are far from a solution, and I doubt that the administration will make any more progress in the next four years than they made in the last. We need more than good will. We need action.

But taken all together, these and the leaning of the Democratic party, increasingly the party of choice for more and more Americans, toward solving all our problems by redistribution of money from the rich to the poor is worrying. I know that redistribution seems equitable. The rich can afford to pay more taxes. But that is not the point. The point is that more and more people believe someone else should take care of them.

The genius of America was self-reliance and personal responsibility. That was the result of a Judeo-Christian worldview that guided the fathers of our republic. In the New England colonies, the poor in the community were cared for by people who opened their pockets and homes. They did so voluntarily because as Christians they cared for those who were in need.

Moving from voluntary caring by the many to conscription (is that too strong?) from the few bodes ill for our culture.

In the background of all of this are the moral issues, some of which were decided by the voters and some of which are implied by the voice of the electorate. One is same-sex marriage. Again, to many in our changing culture, that seemed like an issue of concern only to those directly involved. Love is love, and no one should stand in the way. But really, the focus for the advocates was themselves with little regard for the institution of marriage and its value to society.

The other moral issue is the reproduction rights of women. No vote was taken on this issue, to my knowledge. But voting for Democratic candidates and against Republican was generally regarded as a vote for women's rights and against meddling. Sadly, concern for the rights of the unborn was brushed aside in favor of others' rights. Let's be clear. That is a concern, in most instances, for the convenience of one and a lack of concern for the life of the other. That is worrying for the future of our society.

The outcome of all this, I fear, will be a weakening of the glue that has held us together. We have chosen self-interest and selfishness over the good of our society. We may have sown the wind. Will we reap the whirlwind?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Beyond the Garden of Eden

Previously I suggested that there is adequate evidence, both archaeological and literary, to conclude that the Garden of Eden was a real place. But the question remains: Is the narrative in the Bible in Genesis 3 merely a myth or legend, founded perhaps in some racial memory, and no different from the myths of the Ancient Near East (ANE)? Perhaps it is even derived from those earlier myths? That is what some researchers conclude.

I would take issue. There are two good reasons to think that the Bible's narrative is not only different but far more significant than the ANE myths. First, if you read the ANE myths side by side with the Bible's narrative you'll find that they are very different in tone and style. The ANE myths are peopled (if that is the right word) with fantasy gods who are not unlike the people who created the myths. They fight. They lust after each other. And they are wholly unbelievable to our minds. Like every myth these attempt to provide an answer to the the human condition. But they fail.

On the other hand, the Bible narrative, is sober and reserved. There is only one God. This God is not capricious. He is holy and just. And he relates to human beings compassionately. He is wholly unlike the gods of the ANE.

The Genesis narrative is, of course, a literary work. It is not a text book or newspaper report, and it should not be read so. It is full of metaphors and symbolism.

Clearly, for example, the serpent who tempts Eve is not a normal snake. He is a symbol for Satan, since the son who would be born some time in the future would crush his head while this symbolic serpent would strike the son's heal (Genesis 3:15). No real snake is in view here. Reading the story as if the serpent was a literal snake, or like some Creationists do, trying to explain the curse on the serpent as reducing a pre-fall walking on four feet serpent to a snake crawling in the dust snake, does nothing but divert the serious point of the story to a mere news story.

No, the narrative is best understood as a parable, maybe as an allegorical parable. Some blanch at that idea. (It should be noted that a parable does not need to be a fictional story. Jesus told many parables, some of which were clearly anchored in actual events. I am convinced that this parable is similar.) However, it is only as a parable that the real significance of the narrative becomes evident - and that significance is huge. This parable is nothing short of the gospel - told centuries before Jesus came into the world to be the sacrifice for our sin. And this is the second big difference from the ANE myths. They have no such enduring meaning.

Here's how the parable goes. Adam and Eve at the beginning of the parable lived in a garden created special for them by God. They were innocent, symbolized by their nakedness without shame. They had no experience of sin. Yet God had given them something that no other earthly creature had, the ability to make moral choices. In the garden were two trees. One was the tree of life. If they eat of it (the suggestion is that they must continue eating of it) they would live forever. The other was the infamous tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eating of that tree would result in death. Adam and Eve had a choice. Obey God or not.

You know the story. Eve disobeyed, falling for the serpent's lie that God had not told them the truth. She also was lured by the promise that the fruit was good to eat and would give her wisdom so that she would be like God. This a classic and thoroughly biblical description of temptation, though illustrated long before any theological attempt to understand temptation and sin. At its heart, all temptation is the desire to be free of God and be our own master. It was Lucifer's (Satan's) sin, as the Bible tells us.

As an aside, God's desire for Adam and Eve was friendship and love. (Love the LORD your God with all your heart, if you recall.) But love is not love unless it is freely given. To love truly requires that one have the ability to choose not to love. The test was necessary. If it had not been the trees it would have been something else. So the trees, real or not, are symbolic of man's moral choice.

When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they become aware of their guilt. That is symbolized by their being aware of their nakedness and attempting to cover their nakedness. Nakedness is a perfect symbol. To be naked is to be completely exposed. Nothing is hidden. If we have nothing to hide, nakedness is not an issue (as it was not before their sin).

But despite their sin, God came looking for them. We should ask why. The answer has to be that God desired them as friends; after all, the story describes God as coming to the garden in the cool of the day to walk with man. He could have ended the experiment right there. He could have started over. He did neither. He sought them out. And he sought them out, as we see later in the story, to forgive them. How like the gospel that is. Jesus came into the world to seek and to save the lost. Is it incredible coincidence that the two narratives of redemption match? Is it collusion by the New Testament writers? I doubt that. It is not coincidence. It is supernatural design.

When God called Adam and Eve out of hiding, he asked them if they had eaten of the forbidden fruit. His desire was to forgive them, but forgiveness must be received if it is to result in the restoration of the friendship. To be received the guilty one must agree that he has broken the fellowship by his sin. Denial keeps the relationship broken. This is a terribly perceptive part of the parable. Is there anything like it in ANE mythology? Not to my knowledge, but here it is in the biblical narrative. It is also crucial to the gospel in the New Testament. God offers forgiveness through Jesus, and he is faithful and just to forgive our sin IF we confess our sin (1 John 1:9).

God did forgive. That is the symbolism of clothing the couple with the skins of animals. Adam and Eve had attempted to cover their own guilt but with leaves. That would not be sufficient. Neither are our attempts at dealing with our sin by covering them up. That is foundational to the gospel in the New Testament. If we could cover our sin, we would not need a Savior.

Sin, forgiveness, and redemption. That is the message of Genesis 3. That is the message of the gospel in the New Testament. But there is one more thing. Consequences. In the Genesis narrative the consequences are pain in childbirth, struggle to earn the necessities of life, and death. Those remain with us, but the point is that forgiveness does not eliminate consequences - not then and not now. The New Testament says, "Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap." But we do not need the Bible to tell us that. We only need to look around. It is a law of life as much as the law of gravity. Still, it was a law illustrated with great literary skill in Genesis written in what we consider the very earliest days of human existence.

That is what makes the Garden of Eden narrative stand out from all others. It is truth. It is truth down deep. It probes the heart as the writer of Hebrews says the word of God will do. The ANE myths are stories and that alone. The Genesis account is God's word to us.

The remarkable character of the Genesis narrative places it beyond the doing of men. It is not myth. It is not the attempt of men to explain life. It goes too deep for that. There is no comparison to ANE literature. It is too different from every other attempt made by man. It can only be God. So however close it is to the actual historical report of this event, the greater significance by far is in the meaning of the story.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Garden of Eden

Where was the Garden of Eden? The fascination with that question seems to be revived every few years as new evidence for the beginning of human civilization comes to light.

That there was a Garden of Eden seems confirmed by the many legends and myths sourced in the early era of human civilization. In fact, those legends are often the starting point for archaeologists. (Of course, the Bible's account in Genesis is included among the legends.) One archaeologist, David Rohl, has done extensive research in the literature of the Ancient Middle East (AME) and on the ground in northern Iran where he believes Eden was located. See "The Secret Garden", an article published in The Sunday Times in 1998. Rohl's argument is based on the fact that humans first developed agriculture in the general area of Mesopotamia or northern Iran some 12,000 years ago.(This is debated among scientists, of course, almost everything is. Some argue that agriculture began at almost the same time, 10,000 years ago in South America, Europe, Asia, and in Mesopotamian region - which would itself beg the question how could simultaneous development have happened.)

Rohl explored the region of northern Iran and found what he considered a place that would fit the description of the Eden in both the Bible and ancient Sumerian legends. His reasoning and conclusion are fascinating. But there are other candidates for Eden.

Archaeologist Juris Zarins, whose work on Eden is summarized by Dora Jane Hamblin in "Has the Garden of Eden been located at last?", places the Garden of Eden along the lower Euphrates River in about 6000 B.C. when the ocean levels were much lower. The area now is inundated by the Persian Gulf. Dr. Zarins' scientific work is impressive.

Both locations would account for the legends. The scientific work on the ground and the analysis of ancient literature in both cases affirm that there was such a place as Eden.

The Christian Creationist argument, interestingly, takes the position that the location of Eden cannot be found nor should we expect it to be. Noah's flood would have obliterated any remnant of the Garden of Eden under huge deposits of sediment laid down by the flood. Mark Looy's article, "Was the Garden of Eden Located in Iraq?" follows that argument. In his favor, there are huge sedimentary deposits under the Euphrates plain. Creationists would also argue that the oil deposits in the Middle East are the result of the inundation of the flood. There certainly are huge oil deposits.

I am not going to take sides to argue one position above the others. But I do find it intriguing that the legend of the Garden of Eden and the Genesis narrative is finding more and more support from archaeologists as being founded in real human history. Clearly, human civilization began in the Middle East. Agriculture began there. Many crops cultivated today were first cultivated there. Domestication of animals began there. A short time later (in archaeological terms)a remarkable explosion of technology happened among the Sumerians of the lower Mesopotamian region. Writing developed there. The earliest scientific inquiries are attributed to the Sumerians somewhere around 6000 years ago. This was a special place. Why?

I am inclined to think that this development was more than happen-chance. It was the product of humanity, a humanity whose history began at a moment in time some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago when Homo sapiens spiritus (Man wise spiritual), true man, appeared. I'd like to call him Adam. It seems only right.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mission and Missional

Reggie McNeal, one of the current gurus of the missional church movement, estimates that a Google search of the word missional will yield over a million hits. That's big folks! (Sarcasm intended)

Bigger, however, is the question of whether missional, as presently expressed by its proponents, is biblical - or wise. Let me consider each of those issues.

First, I need to be clear, Jesus gave the church the mission of making disciples in all the world (Matthew 20:19; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8 et al.). That commission is echoed in Paul's writings, for example II Corinthians 5 where Paul refers to himself (and by extension all believers) as ambassadors of God.

That commission was not new. The people of God (Israel in the Old Testament) have always had that mission. In the Old Testament Moses tells the reconstituted nation in Deuteronomy that the laws God had given them (and their living by those laws) would be an attraction to the surrounding nations who will ask where such good laws came from (Deuteronomy 4). More than that there was the provision and the expectation that some not of Israel would come and unite themselves with Israel, trusting in Yahweh as Israel did. Rahab, Ruth, Naaman and many others are examples of some who did. So mission is a basic default position of God's people, both in the Old Testament and the New. But is the present expression of it biblical? That is the question.

The present expression of missional places emphasis on going and on incarnational. In non-technical language, those mean being intentional about making disciples and to do so beyond the walls of the church building or her programs by living as well as speaking the good news that is the Gospel. All of that is good and biblical. And it is not new. (If you are interested this page is a good explanation of missional Friend of Missional)

Where missional departs from the biblical mandate in practice is in the neglect of the church for the mission of the church. (A careful reading of the page linked above suggests the "community" is crucial to the mission for the missional church, but it seems to me practice is otherwise.) Alan Hirsch, another guru of the movement, expressed it this way, "The mission has a church," (Defining Missional) in contrast to "The church has a mission."

Hirsch presents these two ideas as a dichotomy in which one is in contrast to the other. In the first, mission is logically prior to the church. That means mission is more important than the church, and the church is simply the current means by which God is calling people to himself. In the second, the church is logically prior to the mission. That means the church is primary and has a mission, perhaps one among several, that is secondary to the church. The latter idea expresses the present model which is much lamented in the missional church movement, the attractional church. In practice, however, the choice of the former over the latter has resulted in the neglect of the church in favor of the mission of the church.

I would suggest this is a false dichotomy. There is another option. That option is to recognize that the followers of Jesus are collectively his body (I Corinthians 12:27). Each has gifts and a calling to serve as a member of the body. Some of those gifts are designed to build up the body and some are designed to reach out to those outside the body. Together we are the body of Christ, and together by the exercise of our several gifts we are his witnesses in the world. That certainly seems to be the message of Ephesians 4-6.

The point is that the church is integral to the mission in the same way that Jesus was integral to the mission. Jesus was the incarnation of God in the world. All that he was and did was a picture of God's character and heart. The church as much as the individual members is the incarnation of Christ. The mission can not be carried out apart from the church. Let me say it more strongly. The mission can not be carried out apart from a healthy, Christ-like, spirit-filled church. That is the biblical model.

To prioritize the mission ahead of the church is to in some degree separate the witness of the body of Christ from the mission. No missional church proponent - except perhaps Hugh Halter in his book And - would say that, but in practice that is what happens too frequently.

Returning to my second objection to the missional church movement, that it is unwise. It is unwise to deemphasize the church because that is what every new believer becomes. It is where that new believer is taught the principles of following Jesus. It is where new believers are encouraged. It is where they are supported in prayer. It is where they see, as those outside the church can see as well, the greatest virtue of a follower of Jesus - the love we have for one another. It is where we express the absolutely foundational act of worship.

Try to be missional apart from the church. Deemphasize, fragment, or denigrate the place of the church in God's economy, neglect the church, neglect worship, love, service of one another and the mission fails. Perhaps it will not happen immediately. But it will happen, because "the mission has a church" turns God's priority on its head.

One final observation: The writings of Paul emphasize the witness of the life of Jesus in the church as the primary outreach of the church to the world. See 1 Thessalonians 1. The message of salvation rang out from them. How? By their repentance, conversion, pure worship, and hope in the return of Jesus. See 1 Corinthians 14. The church service (Ouch! A bad word to many missional proponents) was to be conducted in such a way that inquirers would clearly hear the message. You'll have to look closely for any admonition in Pauline literature to find mission prior to the church.

Please. Don't neglect the church. God loves the church, not because what the church might do but because of what the church is, the bride of his son, the people for whom Jesus died.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mission and the Church

The writer of Ecclesiastes was right: there is nothing new under the sun. The current focus (dare I say obsession) with the missional church is a case in point. But it is only the latest in a long line of new ideas or renewed ideas that I have seen come and go in the fifty years plus of Christianity I have personally experienced.

The first I can remember was prophecy. There was a time when it seemed every church was having special prophecy meetings or prophecy camps or prophecy seminars. Now, that was not all bad. There has always been an interest in what the future holds, and a lot of people came to the meetings curious and went away trusting the Lord as their Savior. But the interest eventually waned. Like the burned over district in the nineteenth century, the market became saturated.

There followed the church growth movement, the Jesus People and the new groups that derived from beach evangelism and various methods of personal evangelism such Evangelism Explosion and the Four Spiritual Laws of Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ. All of these, by the way, were used to bring many thousands to the Lord.

Then there was the mega-church movement and the small group movement and at the same time an emphasis in some circles on spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, and spiritual warfare. Again all of these permutations were effective in bringing people to the Lord.

But looking back there was a sense that we the church were struggling to discover who we really were and how we were to be in the world. I think we are still struggling. I think the current outpouring of books and seminars on the missional church is a symptom of our malaise. It is motivated by the deep realization that the church is stagnant and we have lost our way. It is an attempt to find our way back to the original paradigm. But I am not convinced that the missional church movement is the cure.

The simple truth is that when we are a church in tune with God, we do not need to follow the latest movements or methods any more than the apostolic church needed a method (and despite protestations to the contrary, that is what missional appears to be, another good idea which will one day run its course). In my mind, what we should be exploring is what it is to BE (rather than do) the church. But that is another post.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Till Death Do Us Part

It now seems likely that voters in Washington State will have an initiative to consider this fall seeking to repeal the same sex marriage law. Should you approve it or reject it?

Most voters see the issue of same sex marriage as a basic human right; if it was not written into the Bill of Rights, it should have been. And today it just seems the right thing to do to make it law that no one should be discriminated against because sexual persuasion. Gays and lesbians should have the same right to marry as any other citizen. But wait. Let's consider marriage.

In all societies both primitive and modern (until very recent times) marriage has been recognized as a benefit to society. For that reason it has been protected by unwritten mores and written laws. What are the benefits? In a word, family. Family is the foundation of every society. Family is where the wisdom and values of a society and the skills necessary to be a functioning member of a society are passed to the next generation, not only by direct instruction but by the example and the role modeling of a father and mother. The institution of marriage and the family are vital to every society.

For that reason the institution of marriage is protected in every society. In modern nations there are laws designed to defend marriage, the partners within a marriage, and the family. There are often economic benefits provided to the family as part of that protection. These are benefits accorded to married couples and families because the institution has value to society.

Same sex marriages do not have the same value to society. Gay and lesbian couples can not model the kind of family that is fundamental to society, the relationship between a husband and wife. They can not pass those roles and values on to children, even if they include children by adoption. They model abnormal relationships that do not propagate the kind of families that benefit society.

Nevertheless, is marriage the right of any who wish to live together and enjoy the benefits of protection regardless of any value to society?

The thinking today is that marriage and the benefits that accrue are rights. To limit those rights is discrimination. But that is wrong. Marriage is not a right. Living as same sex couples (or as unmarried heterosexual couples) may be a right. Being able to visit a friend in the hospital may be a right. Protection from discrimination because of sexual orientation may be a right. Marriage is not. It is difficult to explain that to a generation that considers everything an entitlement, but marriage is not a right.

For that reason traditional marriage between a man and a woman and the protection of that institution needs to be reinstated in Washington. Don't be fooled by that argument that marriage is a right or that denying that "right" to same sex couples is discrimination. Vote to protect marriage.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why I Love the Church

It has become popular these days to hate the church, and that sentiment is not limited to the anti-theists. More and more I hear the same vitriol coming from Christians. That concerns me. But what concerns me more is what the Lord thinks of the church.

I am sure that Jesus is grieved when he looks out upon the church today, especially in America. It has lost its way. Some of us have substituted politics for prayer. Others have created great extravaganzas that seem like TV awards shows that elevate the most popular speakers and performers rather than Jesus. Others have withered to cliques or clubs of sour saints. Surely Jesus must be in tears. But.

But that is not the whole story. I also see churches who are vibrant and alive, who are reaching families with the message of Jesus, helping them become transformed through the word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the encouragement and fellowship of saints who are themselves on this journey. I see new churches being birthed who are reaching new generations of young people. I see believers struggling with the challenge of incarnational ministry to a fast changing culture - and succeeding. I see men and women giving themselves to serve the poor and defeated in our society and carrying the healing touch of Jesus to the far corners of the world.

I see churches who enjoy wonderful partnership in those acts of service and incredible joy in worship together. I see churches alive with the life of Jesus and being transformed into his image.

Most of all I see a people whom the Lord loves and for whom he has given his life. I see his tears, but I also see his joy in he outcome. And that is why I love the church; I love it because he does.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Adam and the Dinosaurs

One of my students asked me this week if the dinosaurs lived along with Adam and Eve. She did not know it, but her question drove to the heart of a division among Christians and a point of attack for skeptics of the Bible. It was a question that deserves an answer.

The difference of opinion among Christians has to do with how we understand the first three chapters of Genesis. Are we to understand those chapters as literal description or as metaphorical, as one parent recently asked me, or as myth, the usual word skeptics use?

What is at stake? For the Christians who believe the passage is literal description, the veracity of the Scripture is at stake. To reduce these chapters from literal to metaphorical opens the door to all kinds of free and "liberal" interpretations. Ultimately, that would destroy the Bible as God's word.

For the Christian who see the passage as not exactly literal and scientific, the agreement between written revelation and the revelation of the creation is at stake. To see these chapters, especially chapter one, as literal description denies what seems to be unmistakable evidence for an old earth and makes the Christian position that the Bible is God's word seem empty-headed.

Both the literal description folk and the less-than-literal-in-every-respect interpretation folk believe in the veracity and integrity of the Scripture as God's word.

For the skeptic who honestly does not believe in the supernatural origin of the Bible or in the Supernatural at all, his atheism is at stake. If there is truth in Genesis, then the Naturalism of the skeptic is threatened.

I don't presume to have a definitive answer. I would, however,suggest a perspective on the question that might provide Christians a bridge to common understanding and diffuse the issue raised by the skeptic.

I suggest that we understand Genesis as an explanation to a displaced and disoriented people, the Israelites at the time of the Exodus, of their origins as sons and daughters of God (see Luke 3:38) and their calling to be God's people and witnesses in the world.

The first chapter of Genesis is best understood as a polemic against the gods of the Egyptians and Canaanites at the time of the Exodus. It answers the question which god is God. The answer is that God who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth is the one and only God.

The second chapter explains the unique nature of man and his calling to rule over creation as God's agent.

The third chapter explains what went wrong and the consequences of disobedience and sin. It also reveals God's character is both righteous and forgiving, ultimately leading to the hope of what has been called the proto-gospel of Genesis 3:15: God will redeem the creation that has been damaged by sin.

No Christian I know of disputes these truths expressed in Genesis 1-3. The question is whether these chapters describe literally the events of creation and the circumstances of the fall. My personal conviction is that it does not matter theologically. The core truths are the things that matter. But beyond that, the literal interpretation seems designed to defend against a liberal attack on the Bible as God's word, an attack that is rather recent in view of the whole history of Christian interpretation, and is therefore not a historic Christian interpretation. That should be a caution.

Secondly, the literal interpretation seems to answer questions no one in Moses' time, for whom these words were written, would have raised. It answers scientific questions rather than theological questions. That should be a caution.

But maybe the problem really is the words we use. Metaphorical sounds too literary. Myth is definitely rejected because it suggests fiction. None of us Christians are willing to consider Genesis as fiction - and we do not need to - nor do we want to consider Genesis as merely a literary work. We expect truth, and we have every biblical support for considering Genesis as truth. Is there another option?

Yes. I think so. If we accept Genesis 1-3 as a parable, a story with a point, a story that may not be a literal description in every respect of a historical event but nevertheless be historically truth, would that solve the problem? We can understand that God created the cosmos; that God created the first man and woman unique with a spirit, enabling them to relate to God, and placed them in a garden paradise; that man disobeyed God and lost his place as well as his innocence, and that God has a plan to recover his lost creation.

That, I think, would be something all Christian can agree to. It also allows the possibility of a creation far older than the 10,000 years a literal description and a narrow interpretation of the genealogies allow.

Now, I must address one more fear. Doesn't an old earth allow for evolution? The answer is no. Evolution as a theory of how living things today evolved from a common ancestor is not supported by evidence and has no mechanism that can account for the changes that Evolutionists must have to show that the theory is correct. It does not matter how much time there has been. But that is another issue.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Do Atheists Understand?

I watched a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Alister McGrath last night. I found two things interesting. First, I was disappointed that McGrath did not engage the issues Hitchens raised. Not that McGrath did not present good responses to the topic of the debate, but it seems he missed an opportunity.

The second observation was that Hitchens seriously misunderstood some basic things about Christianity. One of those things was forgiveness and the cross of Christ.

Hitchens considered the sacrifice of the life of an innocent party (Jesus) for the wrongs someone else did to be perverted and inexplicable. The truth is far different.

The forgiveness transaction begins with an injury done to an innocent person by a responsible person. If my neighbor intentionally damages my car because he didn't like the fact that I had a new car and he had a old car, for example, I have been injured. I did nothing to deserve the injury. I was innocent. My neighbor is guilty. But now I have a choice. I can demand he pay for the damage, or I can forgive him and pay for the repair myself. Either of those two acts will set the wrong right. (I could also get revenge by damaging his car, but that solves nothing.)

If I forgive, I choose to bear the cost of the damage without requiring repayment, and I choose not to allow the injury or the cost to stand between me and my neighbor. I choose to regard him as a friend just as he had been in the past. There is clearly a cost, but I choose to bear it. It is not as simple as waving the hand and saying it doesn't matter, no harm done. There was harm done.

The forgiveness transaction is something that everyone who has ever forgiven anyone understands. It is what happens when a parent forgives a child for dropping and breaking a glass. It is what happens when someone forgives a drunk driver for killing a husband or wife. The two, of course, are quite different. In the first, the cost is small. Forgiveness is easy. In the second, the cost is huge. Forgiveness is very hard.

What Hitchens may not appreciate is the seriousness of the injury sin does and, of course, to whom, since as an atheist he does not believe in God. But in fact, sin does immeasurable damage. It resulted in the destruction of the perfect creation, and my sin, each sin, continues to destroy the perfection God purposed for creation. Every sin is equally destructive; it does not matter if it is small in comparison with other sins or large. All sin destroys. All sin is primarily against God.

The price to make right the injury is death and eternal separation from God and all good. As the responsible party, I can pay the price to make it right, though the cost is awful to contemplate. Or God can pay the cost and forgive. And that is what God did.

Jesus is God incarnated in a man, Jesus of Nazareth. In the man Christ Jesus, God suffered death. Jesus experienced separation from the Father. He experienced hell. His death was the price that I owed for my sin. That price set right the wrongs I have done. By bearing the cost himself, God forgives.

There is one more aspect to forgiveness. It is the restoration of relationship.

Even though I have forgiven my neighbor for damaging my car, our relationship is not restored until he admits the wrong he did and accepts my forgiveness. Denying responsibility prevents my neighbor from experiencing my forgiveness. So too, though God has forgiven my sin and has paid the price, I must admit my wrong and accept God's forgiveness if I am to enjoy the forgiveness God offers.

That requires that I humble myself. And that may be the sticking point for Hitchens. It may well be pride rather than misunderstanding that is the issue for him.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Are We Confused?

Things have changed. I remember when we dressed up when we went to church. I remember when Christians did not go to movies - except Disney films for children. I remember when Christians did not drink, not even wine. I remember when Jesus and God were words reserved for serious conversation and then used with respect and reverence. I remember when butt was considered crude and ass would get a kid's mouth washed out with soap. Need I go on?

How life has changed. Today in many evangelical congregations, anyone who wears a suit is either old or hopelessly old fashioned. Going to a film or having a personal DVD library of the latest Hollywood flicks (no matter PG-13 or R) raises no eyebrows. And BYOB is de jour at men's Bible studies. Need I speak of the decline in civility and increase in crudity in language - at least among men? OMG!

I suppose some of the change has been due to cultural change and the feeling that Christians must not close the doors to communicating with our culture. How can we expect a person who is not a Christian to be comfortable if he (or she) walks into our church dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans while we all look like we are dressed for a 1950s sunrise service? So we have rethought all those convictions and traditions. We've decided that they were less than genuine, were stuffy, and perhaps "holier than thou."

Of course, Don Miller and his Blue Like Jazz culture changer helped us with fresh ideas that seemed so liberating.

But it seems to me that we are now taking pride in, even flaunting, those marks of "liberation" without serious thought to whether it pleases our Lord. And isn't that the bottom line criteria?

Seriously, have we rejected or devalued or confused biblical holiness for the sake of cultural relevance?

I think we misunderstand Jesus. Yes, he ate with drinkers and sinners. But can you imagine Jesus using crude language, getting drunk, chilling out by listening to music or watching movies that celebrate sexual immorality, or getting a tattoo. Can you imagine Jesus using the name of his Father in anything but a totally reverent way? I can't. Yet, he did not seem to put off people who did. What was his secret? If I read the Bible correctly, it was his genuine holiness without being stuffy or judgmental.

That begs the question. What is genuine holiness without stuffiness? Whatever it is, we'd better figure it out or we will become irrelevant by becoming so like the world that they can see no distinction - except our theology. And they are not interested in empty theology.