Friday, October 21, 2011

When God is Silent

There are, it seems, three basic categories of human experience with a silent God. First, there are those who experience God's silence and find evidence that there is really no God (or god, or gods) at all. In an interview, when Richard Dawkins was asked what he would tell God if he met him at judgment in the afterlife, he quoted Bertrand Russell (I believe) who, when asked the same question, said, "Sir, why did you work so hard to hide yourself?" (close paraphrase). God's silence is proof he doesn't exist.

Second there are those who simply don't see a need to care about whether God exists. They are content with his silence and see no need to question it or make inference. God's silence just means he doesn't talk.

Third, there are those who see God as alive, who have experienced something that can only be categorized as a God who, as when he spoke and light shined forth in the darkness in explosive creation, also spoke to their entire being an explosive life-giving light. There is created then a dependence, to one degree or another, on this life-creating God. As a child with a parent learns to be dependent on them for every step of life. Then at some point, they cry out ... and no one answers. And then day after day there is no answer and the weeks turn into months. God is silent. Why?

We have recently come out of a long stretch of time (almost 3 years) where it felt like God was just silent. We look for direction one way or the other and there is no answer. We know and hold onto some certainties about direction in life that God had brought us to 5 years ago or so, and yet nothing happens; no progress ... just ... waiting. Sometimes prayer and reading his word almost seem too much because such faithfulness doesn't seem to get anywhere and results in more frustration just from the resulting silence. Then one day, a glimmer of light shone through the clouds and not only did God act, but life became a whirlwind. God showed up in such a decisive way that it seemed like he had his arms around our shoulders. (Though, not like life just turned hunky-dory.)

In reflection, there are a few decisive shifts in our perspective; life-lessons if you will. First, it is very easy to get attached to the notion that such suffering should somehow be alleviated by our faithfulness to God. But he promises no such thing. All such things are according to his will and timing. We are to simply be faithful.

On the flip-side, it's easy for the idea to be embedded somewhere that some sin of ours caused such silence. That we are somehow responsible to some degree. While this may always be true on some broad level, it is dangerous to attach some tit-for-tat notion to God's dealings with man. Sometimes you can be a generally righteous person and you get the short end of the stick (read Job); and vice-a-versa. But God doesn't owe us a thing. And while we may know that in our own personal theology, living it daily isn't easy.

With this in mind, it is imperative during such times to eschew self-deprecation as if God isn't helping you because there is some insidious sin that is rearing it's head that makes God turn away from meeting your petitions. Sometimes God's accomplishing his purposes for your life has nothing to do with you (so to speak) so stop trivializing him and putting him in a box. He's bigger than that!

I think more often we simply need to be taught. God is silent because he is making and shaping us into new people. And turning our thoughts to this we should praise his silence, knowing that he has made and considered us worthy to suffer for his glory and our transformation, that he should work with us to change us and use us rather than simply abandon us.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Do Your Economic Duty: Get Married, Stay Married, and Have Kids!

A new report "co-sponsored by six international institutions and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia" indicates that the “long-term fortunes of the modern economy rise and fall with the family” (HT: Tom Gilson per The Washington Times). A PDF of the study can be downloaded here. The report, entitled "The Sustainable Demographic Dividend, What Do Marriage and Fertility Have to Do with the Economy?", give four conclusions from the analysis:
  1. Children raised in intact, married families are more likely to acquire the human and social capital they need to become well-adjusted, productive workers.
  2. Men who get and stay married work harder, work smarter, and earn more money than their unmarried peers.
  3. Nations wishing to enjoy robust long-term economic growth and viable welfare states must maintain sustainable fertility rates of at least two children per woman.
  4. Key sectors of the modern economy—from household products to insurance to groceries—are more likely to profit when men and women marry and have children.
The report analyzes various population statistics in major world countries across various continents in tandem with marriage, cohabitation, and divorce statistics, religious and social marriage values statistics and trends, and demographic spending statistics. While such a study is not deductively conclusive (and indeed cannot be!) the analysis appears very compelling; and indeed the burden of proof is placed on those who'd disagree. The statistical information is cast broad enough and the results are stark enough that the logical correlations follow naturally.

Among the more salient statistics are:
  • The average woman in a developed country bears just 1.66 children whereas 2.1 children per woman is required for a sustaining a population (note that the U.S. hovers at 2.0 children per woman). Accordingly, the number of children age 0–14 is 60.6 million less in the developed world today than it was in 1965.2 Primarily because of their dearth of children, developed countries face shrinking workforces even as they must meet the challenge of supporting rapidly growing elderly populations.
  • This means that though the world population is increasing, and is still projected to be 7 to 10 billion over the next 90 years, this is a different type of growth where the increase is from people over 60 instead of increased children. This means birth rates could start falling by the turn of the century.
  • In the 53 countries investigated, those that attend religious services less than once a month average 1.69 children and those that attend once a month or more average 2.21 children.
This last point is particularly interesting. The report gives 10 policies that are appropriate in an aging society. The tenth and last "appropriate policy" is "Respect the role of religion as a pronatal force."

In recognition of the contribution that religion makes to family life and fertility, governments should not persecute people of faith for holding or expressing views that are informed by religious tradition, including ones that buck progressive or nationalist sensibilities. Alas, such persecution is now common in some countries around the world, from Canada to China to France. Faith brings hope, and ultimately it is hope that replenishes the human race. (pg. 23)
The significance of this with respect to, say, Richard Dawkins and fellow neo-atheists should be evident. It seems "survival of the fittest" as a philosophical guiding principle is self-defeating.


Alongside the conclusions are 4 line of action that should undertaken to promote the family structure.
  1. Companies should use their cultural influence to get behind positive, family-friendly advertisements and public education campaigns.
  2. Countries should increase access to affordable health care and lifelong learning to strengthen the economic foundations of family life.
  3. Public policy should support marriage and responsible parenthood by, for instance, extending generous tax credits to parents with children in the home.
  4. Corporate and public policy should honor the work-family ideals of all women by giving families the flexibility to pursue their own preferences for juggling work and family.
If anything seems questionable about these recommendations one should note the context: this is about economic factors and geared towards businesses. However, one has to question the nature of suggested action. When is a study going to be done on the effectiveness of corporate policy and government law at changing value-systems? This doesn't mean it would have no effectiveness at change, but such has to already rest on a value-system shift. Indeed, one may argue that change could be affected in such ways -the report references such action during the Renaissance - but I'd argue that it becomes merely another step in the chaos, a fad with no lasting power. The economic motivator serves itself, not the family, and to do both is to be in unstable tension.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Genesis Tidbits

It's been a month since the last post, and life's been too crazy, but I thought I'd share some tidbits of verses (mostly Genesis) of one of the main theme strands in the Bible that I've been studying (I sense a doctoral thesis coming). Bet you can't guess what it is! 100 points if you guess on the first verse. 75 if on the second.

"Because you listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you ..." (Gen. 3.17)
"If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4.7)
Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. (Gen. 5.24)
Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. (Gen. 6.9)
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." So Abram went ... (Gen. 12.1-4a)
And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15.6)
And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. (Gen. 16.2b)
...the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly. (Gen. 17.1b-2)
The LORD said, "Shall I hide form Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him." (Gen. 18.17-19)
(the angel of the LORD) said, "By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore ... and in your offspring shall all the nations be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." (Gen. 22.16-18)
After reflection on these, consider:
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom. 3.28)
Was not Abraham justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? ... You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2.21, 24)


Update: Here's some more interesting ones.
For what reason was Abraham blessed? Was it not because he wrought righteousness and truth through faith? (1 Clement 31.2)
All these, therefore, were highly honored, and made great, not for their own sake , or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men ... (1 Clement 32.3-4)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How to do Marriage

Andy Naselli links to a talk given by Tim and Kathy Keller on the marriage relationship. I've not listened to the question and answer section, part 2 but I just finished part 1 and it is excellent. It's the most helpful stuff on marriage I've ever heard/read and I highly recommend it for anyone (anyone who's Christian that is, since that's the starting point). I wish I had heard it sooner in our marriage. If you have a spare hour or two, or can make one available, this is a definite must-listen.

The talk necessarily involves complementarian-egalitarian discussion. This is the best I've heard from complementarians as they do an excellent job defining, expounding, and qualifying the complementarian viewpoint of marriage roles, even to a compelling degree. Both complementarians and egalitarians would do well to listen.

If you don't care about such stuff, that's ok because the majority of discussion is simple and profound practical talk about how to do marriage and I think it's incisive.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Strangers on the Earth

Lately, I've found myself under immense pressure. It is very difficult to satisfy the demands of the corporate machine, be at least a semi-decent father, and attempt to prepare for God's calling elsewhere all the while not being able to transition but stuck floating between the (intentionally) fading career and not being able to move ahead and then wondering if the effort is even worth it.

In such times I turn to Hebrews 11: 13-16:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland ... But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (ESV)
"Strangers and exiles on the earth" - Do you find yourself content with the wealth, comforts, and ideals that our country/society/culture (I live in the U.S.) offers? What about the constant distractions away from real life drawing us into dreamlands created by electronics? What about sports? - Many in this country live and die based on their team winning. Of course one hastens to add, though it should be obvious, that none of these things are intrinsically bad in and of themselves. But let's not kid ourselves. It is very easy to fall into their trappings and become enveloped by them.

Moreover, many of these things fall under and are created by those seeking power, greatness, and wealth at another's expense. Our culture, like all who achieve such great heights, is built on the backs of slaves. The south wasn't the only one with slaves. The industrial revolution was fueled by slaves. If you disagree, study for yourselves the inhumane treatment and the wages of many industry workers only sufficient to survive, many times from buying food/clothing from the industry owners. It's a practical equivalent to slavery.

The corporate world is in many ways not much better and what is better only came through turmoil and rebellion such that the people actually gained leverage. I've heard many times something like, "You the employee are our most valuable asset." Really? Of course that may be true but that's the problem. Asset is property, people as property is slavery. Even at this, often the employee is not treated as the most valuable property. In my experience this is common across corporate-world, in America at least.

So, I've found myself more and more the outcast, the one not understood ... life is hard ... stranger and exile on the earth.

"Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God..." NOT ASHAMED??? Whatever that is, it is too difficult to comprehend. The blessings in Christ Jesus are immense beyond measure or thought! Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Friday, July 15, 2011

John Goldingay on Male Headship

Over at Paul Adam's excellent blog, he recently posted on a no doubt good (though I haven't read it) essay by John Goldingay in his new book Key Questions about Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers. Paul quotes Goldingay:

At the beginning, God did make leadership part of the way the world was created. Leadership was going to be needed if the world was to be subdued and made into a place that worked by peace and order, and the agents made responsible for this leadership were the human beings God created (Gen 1:26-28). In the second creation story, likewise God planted a garden, formed a gardener, put him in the garden to “keep” it (literally, to “serve” it), and then provided him with a co-worker but did not tell Adam to exercise headship over Eve. In both stories, it was humanity as a whole that was commissioned to subdue the world and serve the garden. There was no leadership of one human being over others, only leadership of the world by humanity as a whole….
Or as Jesus put it, “from the beginning of creation” it was not so (Mark 10:6; cf. Matt 19:8). Jesus provides his disciples with a crucial hermeneutical clue for understanding the scriptures. From either Testament you can justify male headship or slavery or war because much of the Bible is written “because of your hardness of heart” (Mark 10:5). Jesus’ particular concern at this point is the legitimacy of divorce. There is no doubt that the scriptures allow it, yet divorce stands in tension with the way God created man and woman (Mark 10:6-9; cf. Gen 1-2). The scriptures are not simply a collection of visionary ideals, though they are that. They are also a collection of timely compromises. (p. 268)

I'm not quite following Goldingay's hermeneutic here. He seems to be flattening "Scripture"  in his defense: 
"There is no doubt that the scriptures allow it, yet divorce stands in tension with the way God created man and woman ..." (emphasis mine)
Not quite. Rather, the Mosaic Law permitted exceptions as given to a spiritually unregenerated people ("hardness of heart"). As in Matthew 5, Jesus as "Lord of the Sabbath" (cf. Mt. 12) sets a new and higher law in contradistinction to the Mosaic law ("It has been said ... but I say ...") yet in continuity with it as being pointed to by it (Mt. 11:13). So I think it unfair to pit Dt. 24:1, quoted in Mt. 5:31 and referenced by the Pharisees in Mt. 19:7/Mk 10:4, against Gen. 1-2 since what Jesus is doing is simply restoring what was lost in the fall and never fully regained under the Mosaic Law.
Concerning leadership roles in Genesis 1-2, I've held a spectrum of convictions on this, varying as I understand Scripture better and better. I used to be a vigorous complimentarian, then slowly (over the course of 2 years of study) shifted to egalitarian (what I'd consider a very cautious one with a few distinct nuances and qualifications), and am currently partly egalitarian, partly complimentarian, wishing I had more time to sort out all the issues I'd like to sort out to understand it better.
After a taking the time recently to examine Gen. 1-3 under a microscope, I have to say I find Goldingay's thoughts quite distant from the text, though not entirely off. He demands too much of the narrative text for claiming God didn't tell Adam to exercise authority over Eve. Of course it doesn't. It's narrative! It can establish truths without God inserting his voice into the narrative.
But Goldingay's point partially stands because the lack of such force in the narrative should caution us against too quickly establishing male headship in the text. Yet the issue of male headship is not entirely lacking either:
1) Adam is created first and Eve then from Adam. This doesn't really have anything to do with primogenitor as many complementarians claim but does make a difference in the flow of the text.
2) This can be seen, especially, I think, in the Hebrew text from Genesis 2:5-17 even to vv. 18-23 in the use of the word Man, or adam in Hebrew. In 1:27 God creates adam (singular) to be "male and female". When you get to 2:5 and following there is no reason to take adam to be the male given everything prior. (Some have claimed that the fact that the man was not "working the ground" in 2:5 has to be a reference to the male half of adam but I think that's a stretch; though note 3:17-19) Different translations vary as to when they shift from translating adam as "man" to the proper name "Adam". But there's no cue to the reader until 2:22 that the adam is the male half when we read that the "woman" was taken from him. "Man" in 2:23 is the first time the Hebrew word for "man" appears that can also refer to "husband". 
The point of all of this is that everything purposed to "man" prior to woman's creation (the tree eating command, priestly role of man tending God's garden-temple, etc.) also holds for woman even though she was not yet created. The woman then being created from man is a "helper" for these tasks.

3) But this point didn't settle it for me until I read Gen. 3. The woman is the one to take of the fruit first - she sins first. She knew the eating-of-the-tree command applied to her too (v. 3). But God addresses the man/male first (v. 9) and, most significantly, places the onus of violating the command on Adam in 3:17ff, while Eve receives no such chiding.

4) So then, it seems to me that the narrative indicates that the male part of humanity seems to be representative of humanity in a way that the female half isn't. This means at minimum that there is "headship" of a sort, perhaps even if not defined in the typical complimentarian sense.

5) And I have to insert that I think there is little biblical backing to the idea of headship in Genesis 1-3 items like a) the naming of Eve by Adam, b) that Eve sinned primarily by not submitting to her husband, and other complimentarian arguments.
But I've slowly done something in this discussion: shift from talk of leadership to headship/representative. In all this I think leadership is a sticky word. Adam is never said to "exercise" anything over Eve yet a certain responsibility is placed on him that is lacking with Eve. I'm not really sure where to go from here except that I think that with Christ-submission any "leadership" so defined perhaps shifts to something we'd hardly recognize.

In any case, care does need to be taken on the egalitarian side because whether it's a part of creation or not, even the best Christian is severely fallen. And complimentarians need to take care because any leadership spoken of in Genesis 1-3, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, etc. is not required to be established by the man, but willingly submitted to by the woman.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homosexuality and Discourse Domains

Sometimes life just gets busy and tiring and then busy and tiring and then 2 months  3 months go by and no posts (not like I've been a very prolific blog writer anyways) ... and then somehow I got more traffic in the last month than any month prior (where did that come from). If you're a new visitor/reader, welcome!

Here in New York State, many Christians are all abuzz with the new law allowing homosexual marriages. This isn't an issue I keep track of very closely though obviously this is an issue that has affected many states in recent years. Recently, I've been involved in some conversations with people on this issue.

It is common among many (but certainly not all) Christian circles to get very worked up over homosexual issues and some I know who consider it, or at least act as if, it is THE paramount sin. And of course it's common to hear some vitriolic ranting - if you don't know what I'm talking about, well, just Google it. 

Yet there are other Christians who, rightly so, try to temper such talk by framing the discussion around the selfless and indiscriminate love that the gospel requires. I would readily side with the second group and would consider that those who call themselves Christians who display such talk would do well to consider how to better live their live in light of the gospel - its call to love all, and its corollary for understanding the depths of all our sins and how much grace has been shown to us. 

What I realized recently is that, while the hatred talk is prompted by political measures, the response as given above easily creeps into the political realm. Statements summarized along the lines of "Who are we to discriminate against homosexuals? We as Christians are to love them." Or, "Homosexuality is no greater sin than any other that we as Christians don't make a fuss about" (e.g. gossip, materialism, etc.). So then, I find  many times that people's judgments about political laws are being framed, positively or negatively, around how we deal with its sinfulness.

I think what's key here is recognition that the government does not exist to enact love but to exact justice and keep order; though, that's not entirely exclusive of acts of love/kindness. This is, in this life at least, an entirely different discourse domain than that of the Christian gospel; its deeply personal, indescriminate, and affectionate love; and the necessary imperative of love for those who live under it.

In discussing politics, I think for Christians the issue of homosexuality needs to be set in light of Genesis 1:26-27 and 2:18-24 where the fundamental building block of humanity, within God's goodness of creation, is based on the social construct of marriage being of one man and one woman and realizing the blessing of recreating and ordering life in that context. To deviate from that to the point of completely eliminating one-half of the construct and thereby effectively erasing the whole relationship is of the gravest level of sins, bringing chaos and destruction to society at one of its deepest levels (read also Romans 1:18-32 and the escalation of sins and God "giving them up to..."). Under this orientation, governments reach a still-deeper level of depravity to a considerable degree when permitting the extension of marriage to that beyond one woman and one man. This level is one rarely attained by the civilizations of the world throughout history and does not bode well for our country and not something to be taken so lightly as to be simply dismissed under the rubric of gospel love.

So, the issue of homosexual marriage should be straightforward. Should the government allow homosexual activity at all? That's a much more complex issue that's not addressed by the considerations above and won't be attempted here.

At the same time, those Christians who find themselves outraged at the government and tempted to slander homosexuals would do well to place themselves back under the gospel perspective and remember that even our most tolerable sins - or "respectable sins" as Jerry Bridges calls them - aren't really any better than homosexuality. (Is it materialism? Anger? Pride?) We personally are called to live in light of the one who loved us so much as to endure humiliation to the point of death and save us from the judgment due us for even our most respectable sins. So love your neighbor, no matter what his/her sexual "preference". And to those who are outraged and shocked that the government should reach such depths: What would you expect in a fallen country that's never been Christian and is less so now than ever before? There shouldn't be any surprises here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Rob Bell: No Hell?

There are, no doubt, quite a few Christians who have no idea who Rob Bell is. Thanks to his new book, Love Wins, and the controversy it's inflamed, that number is dwindling. I've not read the book, yet from what I've seen - given the controversy, there are so many quotes one can almost read the book without reading it - I'm not very impressed. I was almost as not-impressed by say Justin Taylor's and Kevin deYoung's and other's eagerness to get on the heresy declaration bandwagon, and poor biblical defense of doing so ... and lack of nuance/balance in their attacks ... especially given that they hadn't even yet read the book, that I felt tempted to get the book and write my own review. Thankfully, Tim Challies and Marty Duren (especially) have written excellent reviews.

For me, when defense-of-truth Scripture is pulled out of the back pocket in order to defend either machine-gun retaliation or the more subtle rapier-style retaliation and authoritatively slapping derogatory terms like Universalist or Heretic on a person, I am reminded of a couple of verses.

1) 2 Timothy 2:24-25 - "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone ... patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance to a knowledge of the truth ..." (ESV) Now, Rob Bell may or may not be an "opponent" but if he is so perceived as such as many have been quick to do, they have not followed Paul here.  And if he's not such an opponent, then such invectives are less justified given that he is then a true brother though perhaps (in this case certainly) misguided.

2) In tandem with this is the oft over-looked verse of James 3:17 - "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere." (ESV)

Open to reason.

Translated from the Greek eupeithes (a hapax in the NT), “in the first century implies goodwill and mutual understanding: it refers not to passive obedience but to an inclination to accept suggestions and conform to them willingly.” (TLNT, Spicq)

So we read in Epictetus (Arrian’s Discourses 3.12.13), in talking about the second of “three fields of study in which the man who is going to be good and excellent must first have been trained” (3.2.1), that “… the object is to be obedient to reason (eupeithes), not to choose or refuse at the wrong time, or the wrong place, or contrary to some other similar propriety.”

In Plutarch (Moralia 26.E) we read: “A moment later his (Agamemnon’s) irritation becomes more acute, and his impulse is to draw his sword with intent to do murder; not rightly, either for honour or expediency. Again later repenting … this time rightly and honourably, because, although he could not altogether eradicate his anger, yet before doing anything irreparable he put it aside and checked it by making it obedient to his reason (eupeithes).”

In James, with the surrounding context the point is that “wisdom is open to reasons that are supplied; it is willing to be convinced, agrees to follow instructions, strives to be conciliatory.” (TLNT, Spicq)

None of this means we all just simply agree or accept any sort of ideas that come along as if we can/should never disagree. At issue is the willingness to set aside dogma long enough to understand what the other person is saying, to listen. Then if they are wrong, they are addressed in the areas they are wrong without regard to undue categorizations, which can create overblown division. We seem to have a hard time giving deference without undue worry of doctrinal compromise. Let’s strive for wisdom.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

D.A. Carson: How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?

D.A. Carson recently gave an excellent lecture/sermon (sermon-lecture?) on what the bible has to say on evil, suffering and God's goodness. If you have an hour, or even an hour and a half to watch the whole thing, it can be found here. He is definitely first-class when it comes to expositing the bible to old-Christians, young-Christians and non-Christians alike ... at the same time ... in my opinion.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hermeneutical Commitments

John Walton, in his commentary on Genesis, lays down some “commitments” he feels are necessary in approaching the bible, especially when concerns a dicey or heated topic – in this case the topic of gender roles.  He writes:

First, we must make some methodological commitments (italics his) lest we be guilty of dressing up our own desires so that they look like the Bible’s teaching (italics mine).

1.     We must allow the text to pursue its own agenda, not force it to pursue ours.
2.     We must be committed to the intention of the author rather than getting whatever mileage we can out of the words he used.
3.     We must resist overinterpreting the text in order to derive the angle we are seeking.
4.     We must be willing to have our minds changed by the text—that is at least part of the definition of submitting ourselves to the authority of the text (italics mine again).
5.     We must be willing to accept the inevitable disappointment if the text does not address or solve the questions we would like answers to.
Second, we must make some personal commitments (italics his) to one another as members of God’s family.

1.     We must be willing to preserve a godly perspective on the issue and accord Christian respect to those we disagree with, refusing to belittle, degrade, accuse, or insult them. Ad hominem arguments and other varieties of “negative campaigning” should be set aside.
2.     We must not allow our differences of opinion to overshadow and disrupt the effectiveness of ministry and our Christian witness.
3.     We must decry the arrogance that accompanies a feeling of self-righteousness and portrays others as somehow less godly because of the position they hold.
Third, we must be willing to make some values commitments (italics his) to take a stand against the distorted values of our society that often fuel the debate.

1.     We must determine that individual “rights” and the pursuit of them will not take precedence over more important values, as they have in our society at large.
2.     We must resist any desire to hoard or attain power, though our society and our fallenness drive us to pursue it above all else.
3.     We must constantly strive to divest ourselves of self, though we live in a “What about me?” world.
4.     We must accept that ministry is not to be considered a route to self-fulfillment; it is a service to God and his people.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No Answers in Genesis

Lest the bold title of this post be over-read and lead to serious misunderstanding, this is about using the bible to make scientific assertions, not about denying the truth-value of Genesis.

Over at Thinking Christian, Tom Gilson posted (awhile ago) some very good thoughts on putting the creation-evolution debate in perspective with regard to its necessity for Orthodoxy (to loosely paraphrase).  In essence, it’s ok to say we don’t know when we don’t know and it’s important to recognize when we don’t know.  Concerning this debate, it’s important for Christians to realize that the debates involved in evolution are much more complex and involve much more sophisticated analysis that most people know/understand – perhaps especially among those who feel the need to voice strong opinion.  To this I say, “Well put”.

With that prelude, it was not too many decades ago that the creation-evolution debate was in full flame within the church.  Recently, it has rekindled due to some goings-on with Bruce Waltke and other high profile biblical, especially OT, scholars publicly admitting that evolutionary theory is not incompatible (note the logic of the negatives) with Genesis 1 (the incident is a little more complex but that seems to be the nub of it.)  This has recently created a flurry of re-affirmation of the “plain reading” of Genesis 1 in asserting a 6-day creation view as biblical (i.e. orthodox).

This is no small issue, often times creating considerable division between those who hold scripture as canonical for life, yet see little reason why science should be so wrong in their claims of origins (perhaps theistic evolution should be the answer), and those who plainly see that origins are clearly spelled out in scripture, are plainly contradicted by science, and therefore clearly denies God by denying Scripture.  These are by no means the extremes of the spectrum, but such disparity can often lead the first group to view the latter as perhaps somewhat fundamentalistic, and at least a little narrow minded in their approach to scripture.  Meanwhile the latter group often sees the former as compromising God’s word, as not truly or fully submitting to the authority of scripture, and perhaps being a bit too influenced by the liberal thought of academia.   Along the lines of Tom Gilson, I think this calls for checking both our judgmentalism and our too-small orthodoxy box at the door.  Of course some if not many fit the caricatures of each camp, but we suffer flawed thinking if we think that it’s necessarily the case.

At its best, what seems to be going on is a division between those who do not want the Christian faith compromised by assenting to a theory that really wants to explain away God and those who want to find some sort of allowance that science, though (generally) denying God, is objective enough to read some truth out of God’s “natural revelation”.  I think there is a way out of this dichotomy and room for parts of both.

First, some considerations towards the first group:

1) It almost invariably happens in the quest to understand Scripture that what Scripture asserts to be true and what’s incidental to the assertion (historical, cultural, etc.) are confused to some degree or another. Take as an example Job 38:4 and 6 which reflect the view common in its day picturing an actual foundation (pillars) holding up a flat disc called earth.  Now, it’s been well proven – not least by astronauts – that the earth is round and doesn’t have an actual foundation. I can’t help but chuckle picturing a conversation with someone back in the day explaining that the earth is not just round but actually just suspended in … hmmm … Nothingness? Blackness? Space? If you’ve seen The Emperor’s New Groove, in the words of Kronk: “Riiight.”   So, anyways, the understanding of the author used by the bible, picturing a flat earth or pillars holding up the earth, may be wrong but that doesn’t make the bible wrong in any real sense because the text isn’t asserting the fact but using the incidental cultural view to proclaim God’s sovereign majesty in creation. [Update: I changed this sentence slightly since my wife informed me that what I wrote isn’t quite what I meant.]    The earth still exists no matter what cultural viewpoint is standing on it … and God created it.

What’s happening is that the author is correctly proclaiming an attribute of God through an erroneous astrological viewpoint, which God didn’t see fit to correct.  The confusion between assertion and incident is natural when one simply doesn’t understand the world-view of the original author, something inevitable in finite and fallen humans.  This confusion is often decreased when considerable effort is made to understand the cultural-historical background(s) of the text, knowing that what the text means is more important than what the text means to me.  Likewise the confusion is increased when no care or thought is taken to understanding that there is an author before a reader.  When this happens, it’s easy to ask the wrong questions, questions foreign to the world of the author, and so get the wrong answers, making the bible affirm something it didn’t intend to affirm.  Examples of this abound throughout history. The peoples of the OT, for example, assumed slavery, so that if one tries one can find all sorts of Scripture references that “support” slavery. After all, even in the NT Paul in Ephesians 6:5 ff commands that slaves obey their masters, not run away, and masters are to treat their slave with goodwill, not threatening them.  If slavery is such a bad thing, why doesn’t Paul abolish it then and there? … Not too many would argue along these lines these days, but would probably sound quite ludicrous.  But cultural incidentals have been used also to affirm arranged marriages, inferiority of women, geocentrism, flat earth, etc., some of which were long standing dogmas of the church.  But the bible can, and often does, make profound theological assertions within a given cultural framework without asserting the cultural framework. Great care needs to be taken when using the bible to assert a cultural issue.

2) At the same time, when #1 above isn’t kept in view, it can be easy to take current cultural frameworks and agendas and transpose them back on the text.  The scientific inquiry of today is far removed from the cultural framework of Jesus’ day, let alone Genesis 1.  But when something comes along that threatens the theistic assertions of the church in the name of objective scientific inquiry, and there is little perspective of the actual cultural framework of, say, Genesis 1, then it can be easy to develop a counter-argument in the name of Scripture while being far from it.  The problem is that we’re still playing the scientific game and using non-scientific tools.  A new playing field is needed.

3) When someone comes along who doesn’t see the scientific explanation as satisfactory and tries to correct the understanding of the text (especially because he/she places high value on it), tensions can arise because the major weapon is being removed from the arsenal.  And it seems a better understanding has come along, defended by some highly respected biblical scholars.  Genesis 1 is using imagery/symbolism common in its day to portray God creating the cosmos, with the earth at its center, to be his temple/dwelling place from which he orders the cosmos.  Whether or not the 6 (or 7) days are literal is a question that already strains the text.  The symbolism and structure was common in its day and had something much different to assert than a precise literal accounting of the order of creation, a scientific journal log of sorts. 

Now, it would take a good post or two to really defend the whole of Genesis 1, but a fair survey of the parallel literature of Genesis would find, for example, that 7’s abound to a degree that transcends the literal.  Its usage seems to usually concern something like “A full or complete cycle of time or effort sufficient for its due significance.”  So, for example, we read in the Epic of Gilgamesh that Enkidu has sex with a harlot 6 days and 7 nights – sufficient to tame him from his feral ways.  Afterwards he drinks 7 jars of beer – sufficient to become a man.  Gilgamesh himself builds an ark with 7 decks and completes it in 7 days.  The ark ran aground in 6 days and he releases a dove on the 7th.  When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh weeps for 6 days and 7 nights.  There are numerous other examples in Ancient Near East (ANE) literature where 7th day refers to the climax of a cataclysmic cosmic event or the completion of a temple dedication ritual.

It’s possible that the 7 days in Genesis are meant to be literal, but the above indicates that the point of the text lies far from the point.  That the text obviously means 7 days misses the point.  The author obviously speaks of 7 days in a literary sense inasmuch as he wants to portray his point.  What it appears the author wishes to portray is a vivid description of perfection and completeness with which God creates everything that exists.

In the end, perhaps it really is 7 literal days that Genesis 1 portrays. But the meaning intended to be conveyed lies so far from this that it’s hardly a point that should delineate orthodoxy.  One can be reasonably faithful to the text without taking 7 literal days.

All this hardly means things are dandy with the other perspective.  In my opinion science, though an important endeavor, is not all it’s cracked up to be.  I’ll leave this to another post.

[Update: Upon further reflection, I'd add that there's also no need to exclude a literal 7 days just because there is greater symbolism evident.It may very well be that a literal understanding actually establishes the symbolism. If God exists, then it's His world after all. We are hardly in a place to judge otherwise.]

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

More Global Warming Fiasco

Recently Dr. Hal Lewis, a prominent member of the American Physical Society (APS), resigned from his society membership.  You can read all about it here at the Telegraph.  Note his reason:

It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist.

Wow.  Those are strong words.  He goes on to explain that in the aftermath of ClimateGate, nothing was done by the APS.

The APS followed up with a response to his resignation letter here.

Dr. Lewis, and colleagues Dr. Roger Cohen and Dr. Will Happer, responded to/deconstructed their response here with an addendum by Dr. Cohen.

Now, the resignation of a high profile member, and support from a few colleagues, does not in and of itself indicate something wrong with the system they seek to separate from, though it is suggestive.  There are plenty of respectable quacks out there, let alone respectable people, who simply become disenchanted, causing an unjustifiable separation from something more flawed than previously realized.

However, the follow-up deconstruction by Dr. Lewis hints to me that here is a man who is acting fairly out of a relatively reasonable assessment of the situation and is reasonably justified in his criticism and denouncement.  I think this is just one of many instances of a pandemic in this country of corrupt political and economic entities who seek control and wealth by manipulation and scare tactics.  This calls for a mindset of critical realism instead of the naiveté so rampant in this country.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Blogging time has been hard to come by in the last few weeks given holidays, sickness, tiredness, and busy prep for leading a bible study on Genesis.  I’m hoping soon to do a couple of posts on the creation-evolution debate but in the meantime I read a very incisive quote while reading John Walton’s commentary on Genesis.  He quotes Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death:

When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.

Romans comes to mind … God help us.
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