Sunday, September 30, 2012

Radical Inclusiveness, False Teachers and False Prophets

If Scripture is the Word of God, we are not free to interpret it in any way that might feel right to us. Peter warned:

  • That no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Had prophecy originated with man, we would be free to interpret according to our own whims. However, since prophesy came from God, we are constrained to interpret it according to His intent. Jesus denounced the Pharisees because they consistently failed to properly interpret Scripture (Matthew 22:29), but taught it as if they had. Through their teaching, they had “taken away the key to knowledge” (Luke 11:52) that would have unlocked the door to salvation. And they were culpable for this! They weren’t making honest and innocent interpretive mistakes.

Many pastors and teachers of Scripture are also taking “away the key to knowledge,” causing others to stumble in their pursuit of truth. I just heard one pastor teaching about Eldad and Medad who “prophesied in the camp” (Numbers 11:26-29). However, Joshua, Moses’ assistant unjustifiably protested, “Moses, my lord, stop them!" However, Moses corrected Joshua:

  • “I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" (Num. 26:29)
The pastor surmised that Eldad and Medad hadn’t been included in the in-crowd and concluded that Moses was dishing out a lesson in the radical inclusiveness of any lifestyle, even in regards to the ministry.

However, this interpretation is entirely unwarranted. The two men had been “listed among the elders” and “the Spirit also rested on them.” Besides, Joshua’s protest focused on the fact that they were “prophesying in the camp" and not where the others were prophesying. It seemed to have nothing to do with their being outsiders.

Even worse, the pastor’s reasoning went like this:

  • If Moses refused to judge Eldad and Medad, we shouldn’t judge others. If he didn’t prevent them from ministering, we shouldn’t prevent others from ministering. 
However, such an interpretation is Scripturally impossible! Scripture is filled with many examples of judging and excluding:

  • Jesus’ teachings on eternal punishment. (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:9; Matthew 23:15; Matthew 23:33; Mark 9:43; Mark 9:45; Mark 9:47; Luke 12:5)
  • The many OT denunciations of false prophets. (Jeremiah 23:17-18, 31; 14:14; 5:31; 29:31; Zeph. 3:4; Micah 3:11; Isaiah 28:7; Ezekiel 13:2, 4, 10; 14:9; 22:28)
  • The many NT denunciations of churches that either allowed sin or false teachers in their midst (Rev. 2:14, 20).
  • Teachings on church discipline. (1 Cor. 5:5-6; Mat. 18:15-20)
  • The qualifications for elders and deacons. (Titus 1; 1 Tim. 3)
Clearly, the Bible isn’t teaching in favor of the radical inclusiveness of any lifestyle. Consequently, the pastor’s preaching cannot be the result of an honest mistake. This pastor of many years couldn’t have been ignorant of these verses and hundreds more like them.

Jesus judged! He warned us to beware of false teachers. (This does not pertain to immature Christians!):

  • "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-16)
Jesus counsels that we should “recognize them” by their fruit. This is especially true regarding the fruit of their teaching. If they have “taken away the key to knowledge” (Luke 11:52), the church must be warned of this. However, many well-meaning Christians feel that we shouldn’t judge in this matter.

However, this pastor who taught radical inclusiveness, even in the face of unrepented sin, has “taken away the key to knowledge” in favor of a false but comforting hope. In this, he is following in the steps of the false prophets:

  • “They [the false prophets] keep saying to those who despise me, 'The Lord says: You will have peace.' And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, 'No harm will come to you.' But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word?...The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart…I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.” (Jeremiah 23:17-22)
Preaching peace in the place of repentance is murder. The false prophets and pastors should instead “have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.” However, their minds have been co-opted by a false understanding of love, which equates love with indulgence.

We cannot twist Scripture so that it will agree with our philosophy of life. Peter had warned that when we culpably and knowingly twist Scripture, we are preparing for our own funeral:

  • He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)
If “destruction” is at stake, must we not warn, even cry out, even when we are accused of spreading “hate?” We are not free to interpret Scripture and to speak of God according to our whims. God was angry with Job’s three friends because they did not speak “of Me what was right” (Job 42:7-8).

My prayer is that I might always interpret Scripture correctly. It is His Word, and He deserves no less. It is also an act of love.

Creation, Jonah and Turning the Bible into Allegory

Is it important to know whether or not the Bible as historical? One respondent correctly pointed out, “Parts of Scripture are history--other parts are not.” So then, how can we determine the historical from the non-historical? Well, if we take the Bible seriously, we try to determine how the Bible regards these “parts.” We compare Scripture with Scripture.

This same respondent, took the position that we shouldn’t regard the Book of Jonah as historical. However, it seems obvious that Jesus took it and used it as history:

  • He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:39-41)
Consequently, Jonah should not be taken as parabolic (non-historical) for several reasons:

  1. Jesus doesn’t say, “According to the tale, Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish.” Instead, He speaks as if this actually happened.
  1. Jesus then states “so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” If the “Book of Jonah” is no more than a parable and Jesus knew this to be the case, then He is affirming, “In the same way that Jonah was fictitiously in the whale, I too will be fictitiously buried for three days. However, this could not have been His meaning.
  1. Jesus warned Israel that “Nineveh will stand up at the judgment” of them. However, if all knew that Jonah was simply parabolic, they would have scorned Jesus: “As it is fiction that Nineveh repented, so too is it fiction that Nineveh ‘will stand in judgment.’”
However, there was no such retort, as appropriate as this retort would have been had Jonah been regarded as a mere allegory or parable.

It seems obvious that Jesus regarded the Book of Jonah as history. If we are followers of Jesus, then we are constrained to also be followers of His thinking and reasoning. He regarded Scripture as the undefiled Word of God (Matthew 5:16-18) and submitted to it in all regards. Quoting Deuteronomy 8, He responded to Satan:

  • “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4)
This means that we too must live by “every word” and to understand them as Jesus did. If He regarded the first several chapters of Genesis as history – and we find that the Apostles also regarded these chapters as history – then we too are constrained to regard them as history.

Jesus based His teaching on marriage and divorce on the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2:

  • "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' [Gen. 1:26-27] and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' [Gen. 2:24]? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." (Matthew 19:4-6)
Jesus’ entire argument is based upon the history of God’s work, that:

  • He created them,
  • He made them one flesh,
  • And “joined [them] together.”
If God had only figuratively (not historically) created and joined them, then we would have every right actually divorce as long as we don’t figuratively divorce. Therefore, one who is contemplating divorce could reason that, “I’ll divorce my wife, but I’ll remain married to her figuratively, in my heart.” Of course, this is absurd, but this is because a non-historical understanding of Jesus’ words is also absurd. Instead, Jesus’ clear intent was to demonstrate that divorce is wrong and that the Pharisees were wrong for justifying divorce.

Jesus built His case on the common understanding that Genesis is history. If Genesis hadn’t been widely regarded as history, the Pharisees could easily have retorted, “Well, God didn’t actually join them together, so we are not prohibited from actually divorcing our wives!” in which case, Jesus’ argument would have completely collapsed.

This is not to deny that Genesis 1 and 2 are difficult to interpret. However, if we start with the conclusion that these chapters are not history – and also that the New Testament’s interpretation of them shouldn’t guide our interpretation (Scripture interpreting Scripture) - then we consequently reject our most important interpretive guidelines and constraints. Operating with this “freedom,” the door is opened to just about any interpretation we’d like to paste on Genesis.

Perhaps the “God” of Genesis is a blind, impersonal force – gravity, according to Stephen Hawking? Perhaps instead, he is the universal consciousness – Eastern monism? Or perhaps he’s naturalism anthropomorphized. If we refuse to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, anything is possible, and if any interpretation is possible, we are left in utter confusion and our faith is for naught.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Death, Life, Afterlife, Atheism and the Meaning of Life


Often the best way to disagree with our opponents is to agree with them – to build bridges of communication by first sharing common perspectives. Philip Appleman, an atheist, wrote:

  • Most of us need to be much tougher-minded than we are, more resolute in rejecting the bribes of the afterlife. Once definitely done with our adolescent longing for the Absolute, we would find this world valuable after all, and poignantly valuable precisely because it is not eternal. Doomed to extinction, our loves, our work, our friendships, our tastes are all painfully precious. We look about us…and discover that we are beautiful because we are mortal, priceless because we are so rare in the universe and so fleeting. Whatever we are, whatever we make of ourselves: that is all we will ever have –and that, in its profound simplicity, is the meaning of life. (Pique, Sept. 2012)
Of course, we can find much to disagree with in this statement. However, we can find areas of agreement, especially in the thoughts I’ve italicized.

This might sound strange to you, but death is a gift. It may be a painful reality, but we need it, at least for now. For one thing, an appreciation of the temporary nature of our lives provides an incentive to gain wisdom, as the Psalmist claims:

  • Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)
If instead, our lives were indestructible, we would have little reason to gain wisdom. Who would need wisdom about health matters? However, our lives are very limited, and therefore, we can’t take them for granted.

I like to remind myself of this fact. I do this by walking in cemeteries and reading the inscriptions on the stones. They remind me that my own life is very temporary, and even more, that my relationships are merely a temporary gift. This fact urges me to cherish my dear wife for the short time she has been entrusted to me and to keep the brief irritations in their proper, insignificant context.

We’ve all seen the tears, relief and joy when a loved one is miraculously pulled alive out of the rubble of a killer-earthquake. Nothing is more precious than their reunion with the loved one! All hurts and resentments are forgiven and forgotten.

It is therefore no wonder that the Psalmist prays:

  • Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. (Psalm 39:4-7)
Death and the prospect of death not only restore us to sanity – a proper appreciation of our lives and relationships - it also restores our primary relationship. If we are indestructible, there is little to hope for. Drought, disease and thirst can’t touch us. However, as the Psalmist is reminded that he is a mere “breath,” he is forced to look hopefully towards God. Only God is an adequate source of hope. Even if a man “heaps up wealth” during his short sojourn, it is utterly meaningless.

Once we build our bridge of communication through sharing areas of agreement, we can begin to use it to probe the disagreements. In contrast to our Biblical perspective, Appleman asserts:

  • Whatever we are, whatever we make of ourselves: that is all we will ever have –and that, in its profound simplicity, is the meaning of life.
However, how can we can we find hope and consolation in such a “meaning” – “Whatever we are, whatever we make of ourselves? Instead of producing hope, it lays an extra burden on our backs to produce and accomplish - but for what? We can even argue that an accomplishment-based identity is socially counterproductive. Emphasis on our differing levels of accomplishment separates people into classes, breeding arrogance, isolation and stratification rather than community.

This of course brings additional problems. If we derive our ultimate value from our job or our children, what happens to us when they depart? Won’t this create an unhealthy dependency?

Appleman also insists that we are “priceless because we are so rare in the universe.” Although rareness can drive up the price of oil, what makes us a priceless commodity? Rarity can’t do it! The bubonic plague is rare, but this does not make it priceless.

Besides, if we are just another animal on the evolutionary gradient, we might be priceless to our children, but so is the cockroach to its children, at least until the children leave home and we become an elderly burden. What then makes us priceless in an unchanging, objective sense?

Our Declaration of Independence identified the source of our pricelessness:

  • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Our Founding Fathers understood that our value and rights couldn’t depend upon others, least of all government or society to bestow them. Our rights and value had to rest upon sturdier stuff – our unchanging and all-wise Creator. Only He could make our rights unalienable rights. If instead our rights and value were granted by government, they could just as easily be retracted by government.

Appleman needs to understand that our pricelessness can only be grounded in a priceless God. Lord, grant us the wisdom to be the light!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Atheists Reluctantly Acknowledge the Superiority of the Church

The contempt that atheists have for religion is well know. The Dictionary of Contemporary Mythology (DCM) contains a typical quip:

  • The difference between faith and insanity is that faith is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence, whereas insanity is the ability to hold firmly to a conclusion that is incompatible with the evidence. (Quoted from Pique: Newsletter of the Secular Humanist Society of New York, Sept 2012. All other quotes are taken from this newsletter.)
In other words, faith is insanity! Likewise, atheist Walter Balcerak writes, “As a secular humanist, I believe religions are mainly harmful delusions.” Surprisingly, he acknowledges that some good comes out of religion. Balcerak quotes the atheist professor of psychology, Jonathan Haidt:

  • According to Haidt, religion does more than unite people. He says studies indicate that religiously observant Americans “are more generous with their time and money, especially in helping the needy, and they are more active in community life.”
  • Research on 19th century communes demonstrates the cohesiveness of religious groups, he asserts, because they were much more likely to survive than secular ones. Of the 400 communes studied, 20 years after their founding only 6 percent of secular groups had survived, compared to 39 percent of religious groups.
The difference between the experience of the Secular and the Christian (I’m assuming that almost all of what are called “religious” are Christian) groups is profound. However, Balcerak and other atheists believe that secularism can merely borrow certain techniques from these Christian groups, like brushing your hair to the left instead of the right side. The secularist can easily implement this change, but it’s doubtful if this will favorably impact secular communities.

Atheist Sara Robinson goes even further:

  • There is simply no other organizational form that encourages people to share their time, energy, and resources so quickly, completely, or enduringly; or aligns so much conviction toward the same goal.
Most atheists seem to think that all they merely need to change the “organizational form” – a mere superficiality – and they will experience the same benefits. However, Robinson acknowledges that change will require more than a mere face-lift:

  • If you want to change the world, this is the kind of group – deeply bound by faith, trust, love, history, and a commitment to each other and to the world they envision that transcends life and death – that’s most likely to get it done. Religion is the best way going to get people to consecrate themselves, body and soul, to a larger cause; and to take on the kind of all-or-nothing risks that are often required to really change the world.
This is where Robinson parts company from the New Atheists. Consequently, the editor of Pique appends the article with a “solicitation”:

  • Okay, readers, now that you’re outraged, send your rebuttals – approvals? – to
Nevertheless, Robinson regards religion as a matter of “superstition,” and superstition is a matter of delusion, even “insanity,” according to DCM. We are therefore left to wonder how being insane and the deluded:

  • Is the best way going to get people to consecrate themselves, body and soul, to a larger cause; and to take on the kind of all-or-nothing risks that are often required to really change the world.
I hope you are able to see the disconnect.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Slow Death of a Gutless Religion – Secularism

Any criticism of the gay lifestyle is not tolerated by its proponents. They will seek to silence it, even at the cost of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech and of religion. One California marriage and family therapist, David Pickup, claims:

  • “From talking to gay activists, this is a programmed step toward the complete elimination of all types of reparation therapy [RT]” [to support gays who want to exit the gay lifestyle]. (Salvo, Issue 22, 34)
Pickup refers to the passage of California bill SB 1172, which prohibits juveniles from seeking professional counseling in order to deal with what they regard as a problem -same-sex attraction (SSA).

This bill violates every professional standard and constitutional guarantee. Ironically, there is nothing to prevent a hit-man from seeking professional counseling in order to help him continue undaunted with his profession. Why then has the California legislature turned its back on these standards? Why has it caved-in? Pressure!

Secular establishments fear gay activists. One leading activist wants to go much further than SB 1172. Wayne Besen writes:

  • With overwhelming evidence that reparative therapy is a fraud, legal organizations and legislative bodies are finally beginning to focus on cutting off the supply…Reparative therapists should be stripped of their college degrees, expelled from professional associations, and banned from practicing. (Salvo, 32)
Is RT a fraud? How can it be? While some RTs claim to reduce SSA, other RTs merely play a supportive role for those trying to cope with SSA. What’s so wrong with that, especially in light of the many negative costs - including suicide - endemic to the gay lifestyle,?

However, there is much objective evidence – not to mention the anecdotal evidences - that RT actually brings positive results:

  • There are two major studies most often cited to support the potential benefits of reparation therapy. One, originally published in book form in 2007, was conducted by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse. A follow-up to the study, which appeared in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy in 2011, concluded not only that it was possible to change one’s homosexual orientation, but also that psychological harm was unlikely to result from the effort.  (34)
The Robert Spitzer study was published in 2003 in the Archives of Sexual Behavior:

  • After studying efforts on 200 volunteers who had experienced predominantly homosexual attractions for many years before beginning therapy, Spitzer found that, for all subjects, “there was a marked reduction [of homosexual tendencies]…not only on the three measures of overt behavior and sexual orientation self-identification…but also on the seven variables assessing sexual orientation itself.” (34)
However, recently, Spitzer apologized to the gay community for his study. Why the retraction?

  • Others have reported that since the time Spitzer first published his study, he has suffered a professional fall from grace and has been vilified by friends, colleagues, and the gay community. Now elderly and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he has reassessed his findings, perhaps in hope of rehabilitating his reputation among homosexuals. (34)
However, according to Pickup, the Journal would not accept Spitzer’s retraction:

  • “The journal that had originally published his study refused to accept his retraction because he offered no new evidence…the findings are still the same.” (34)
Kudos to this journal, but many others are folding under the pressure. Just recently, the University of Texas caved-in and ordered an ethics investigation, at this instigation of gay activists, against their researcher, Mark Regnerus. His study had found that children of gay couples suffered disproportionately in comparison to those of heterosexual couples – a politically incorrect conclusion. Although UT cleared Regnerus of any wrongdoing, this unwarranted investigation provoked fear among others who might want to conduct research in this field.

The militancy and intolerance is intense. A UK homosexual journalist, Patrick Strudwick, wrote,

  • We want to root out therapists and psychiatrists who are practicing these [RT] techniques and ultimately bring an end to them through exposing them…The ultimate aim was to prevent religious groups from offering ‘counseling’ which aims to change sexual orientation.” (35)
Strudwick had targeted a Christian therapist of 20 years, dishonestly claiming that he wanted to overcome SSA. Meanwhile, he was secretly recording the sessions and sold the story to a newspaper and reported the Christian to the British Association for Counseling & Psychotherapy (BACP), which pulled her license, even though Strudwick wasn’t a real client. Evidently, the BACP had caved to the pressure of political correctness long ago.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) caved-in to pressure and declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Once again, the APA is caving - this time to pedophilia.      

  • In the first edition of the DSM-1 [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder – the bible of mental illness], published in 1952, the mental disorder of pedophilia was listed as a “sexual deviation.” DSM-II, published in 1968, maintained the classification. But in 1980, DSM-III listed pedophilia as a “paraphilia,” a new euphemism introduced therein for sexual deviations. This changed the psychiatric understanding of adult-child sex from something that is deviant to something that is different, shifting the sense of meaning toward moral neutrality. From this vantage point, child molestation could arguably be understood, at least as far as the DSM was concerned, as “just another sexual orientation.” Then, in 1994, the diagnostic criteria shifted such that a diagnosis of pedophilia hinged not on a perpetrator’s objective behavior, but on his subjective feelings about the behavior. (Salvo, Issue 22, 12)
This meant that child molestation can now be considered “normal” as long as the pedophile doesn’t feel badly about it. This now opens the door to “pedophilia… [as] an alternative sexuality.”

What will this mean in our society? If the journey to homosexual acceptance and promotion is any indication, it means several things. Talking against pedophilia could then be considered a “hate crime,” and many have lost their jobs and licenses because of this. Pedophiles could then not be discriminated against in hiring, whether as a teacher or a day-care worker. It might also mean that sensitivity training would be introduced into the schools to promote pedophilia as a legitimate sexual alternative. Parents might also loose their right to shield their children from pedophiles and pornographers.

  • The British television broadcaster Channel 4 has cancelled the screening of a controversial documentary about the history of Islam after the presenter [Tom Holland, author, Islam: The Untold Story] was threatened with physical violence.
This means that, even in the West, the activists are in control. Secularists have consistently enabled them to determine policy and procedure. It also means that we should only expect unbalanced news in certain areas. We will only hear the good about Islam. No one will risk saying otherwise. This can only breed cynicism and contempt for our secular gate-keepers and brainwashed, manipulated minds for the citizenry.

What happened to the Great Britain that resisted Hitler? What has happened to the secular West that it can no longer resist threats and the pressures, like a moribund body that can no longer resist any virus? Why have the “cave-ins” become endemic to the West? Why have so many decent people been intimidated into silence, according to their own admissions?

I think that this is revealing of a sickness deep within secularism’s bosom. Secularism lacks courage and vision. It has lost any understanding or appreciation of absolute moral principles, and, of course, is unwilling to sacrifice for its “principles.”

When secularism killed God and His promise of the final reward, secularism killed its own dignity. It condemned itself to bear the identity of a beast – just another animal on the evolutionary gradient. When secularism sold out for pleasure and the fleeting joys of sexuality, it pawned-off its very soul - its resources to stand against injustice and the courage to stand for truth. It has relativized itself away into gutlessness.

Darwin: The Fossil Evidence

In response to my recent essay on Evolution and the Fate of the Church, one Christian friend responded, “Asking intelligent people to ignore sound evidence of [evolution] is nonsense and damaging.”

Who’s ignoring the evidence?  Let’s just focus on the most critical area - the fossil record - and the testimony from leading evolutionists. If this most direct form of verification fails to provide evidence of gradual, inter-phyla evolution (macroevolution), the theory is seriously impaired. If I claim that I had made thousands of transactions with a certain bank, and the bank records every transaction, but my transactions cannot be found, it is safe to conclude that I hadn't made the alleged transactions. However, I could charge, "foul play." However, the evolutionist cannot claim "foul play" in regards to the fossil record. So we are back to the "transactions":

• “The impression that microevolution is limited in its scope is confirmed by the comments of Wesson and others to the effect that the fossil record gives no good examples of macroevolution.” (John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker, 110).

• “The number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth, [should] be enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such graduated organic chain.” (Darwin, The Origin of Species)

• “The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as a trade secret of palaeontology…The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with the idea that they gradually evolved:

1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking pretty much the same as when they disappear…

2. Sudden appearance. In any local area a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and “fully formed.” (Stephen Jay Gould, 111)”

•  “We are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species, but the situation hasn’t changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin’s time.” (Palaeontologist David Raup, Field Museum of Natural History; Lennox, 111)

• : “We palaeontologists have said that the history of life supports [the story of gradual adaptive change] knowing all the while it does not.” (Niles Eldredge, American Museum of Natural History; 111)

•  ”I tried in vain to document examples of the kind of slow directional change we all thought ought to be there every since Darwin told us that natural selection should leave precisely such a tell-tale signal…I found instead that once species appear in the fossil record they tend not to change very much at all. Species remain imperturbably, implacably resistant to change as a matter of course – often for millions of years.” (Eldredge; 113)

• “All Paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt.” (S.J.Gould)

• “No real evolutionist…uses the fossil record as evidence in favor of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation.” (Mark Ridley)

•  “I will lay it on the line – there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.” His response when asked why he didn’t include anything about transitional forms in his book, Evolution: “If I knew any, I certainly would have included them.” (Dr. Colin Patterson, British Museum of Natural History)

• : “It is a mistake to believe that even one fossil species…can be demonstrated to have been ancestral to another.” (Dr. Gareth J. Nelson, American Museum of Natural History)

Many paleontologists now concede that we already have a pretty complete picture of the fossil record. New findings are merely repetitions of the prior findings. In other words, no big surprises are anticipated at this point. Forget finding the millions of "intermediate forms."  If the evolutionists themselves remain skeptical about the supporting fossil evidence, why should not the Christian also remain skeptical?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why We are Troubled by Darwin’s Inroads into the Church

Evolutionists are just as evangelistic about their faith as we are. And so it’s no surprise that they are trying to push their faith on Evangelicals. However, it is surprising that the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is joining in this effort. According to WORLD Magazine:

  • The NAE...”is in the final stages of formalizing an agreement to collaborate with the American Association for the Advancement of Science…on a project to build a better dialogue and understanding between the scientific and evangelical communities. The collaboration is part of a Templeton Foundation grant received by the AAAS.” (Sept 22, 2012, 12)
This means that the AAAs and the NAE want us to become theistic evolutionists (TEs, or CEs – Christian evolutionists). Clearly, building “a better dialogue and understanding” is not part of their true agenda. The NAE chief operating officer refused to talk with WORLD’s Marvin Olasky, who concluded that:

  • The clear goal of AAAS and Templeton is to bolster the “motivation, imagination, and capacity” of pastors who want to influence their congregations to accept evolution.
Well, why not also bolster the AAAS? Seems like a one-way street! But what is the problem with updating our Christian theory with a touch of scientific “advancement?”  There are many ways that marrying Jesus to Darwin undermines the Christian faith. Here are some of them.

This marriage unbiblically elevates evolution to the level of Scripture. Instead of Scripture critiquing all other truth claims (2 Cor. 10:4-5), evolution now stands in judgment over Scripture. Jesus had warned against serving two masters (Mat. 6:23-24) by showing how one of them would eventually get the boot. In all of my conversations with CEs, it has been apparent that the Bible got the boot. It was always coerced to conform to Darwin and not the other way around. Consequently, when science is allowed to trump Scripture, there is no end to the compromises that Scripture is forced to make.

Evolution introduces a competing and entirely alien worldview. The consistent message of Genesis, and the rest of the Scriptures, is that God had made everything “very good” and we screwed it all up, requiring a future Savior (Gen. 3:15) to bring about a “restoration” (Acts 3:21).

According to evolution, life was a dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest struggle from the beginning. Consequently, Adam and Eve screwed-up nothing, and sin and death had their origins from the inception of life, in contrast with Genesis 3.

As a result of this marriage, Jesus, the “second Adam,” has to be re-envisioned. He is no longer the Savior from the effects of the Fall – sin and death, the work of Adam – but the Savior from God’s “glorious” but bloody evolutionary plan.

There can be no “restoration,” because a restoration would be a restoration to our dog-eat-dog beginnings – not a very pleasant prospect.

This alien worldview also undermines morality in many ways. If the “survival-of-the-fittest” is God’s glorious plan to bring us onto the scene, then we can should regard this God-given methodology as normative – a model for our guidance. Consequently, who can blame Cain for killing the na├»ve and less well-adapted Abel! Besides, if there is no absolute distinction between us and the beasts, then there can be no absolute distinction between the way we treat man and beast.

Evolution disparages the Biblical accounts. In order to make room for Darwin, Scripture – at least the first several chapters of Genesis – have to be relegated to non-historical allegory. For instance, Genesis 1:30 states that God gave the birds and beasts green herbs to eat. However, this contradicts evolution’s insistence regarding the bloody struggle of the survival-of-the-fittest. Therefore, the CE dogmatically asserts that the Bible “isn’t a science or history text,” but a theology text - the way to find salvation.

Thus, evolution illegitimately separates theology from its necessary historical foundations. However, we cannot separate the theology of the cross from the history of the cross. To remove the historical fact that Christ died on the cross is to deny the Gospel – that Jesus died for our sins. No history, no theology!

We also find this inseparable relationship between history and theology in Genesis. Peter reasons that God means business about a future judgment. He cites His past (historical) judgments as evidence – the flood and Sodom (2 Peter 2:4-9). However, if these accounts were merely parabolic or allegorical, then we’d have no reason to believe that the future judgment is any more than an allegory. Clearly, this was not Peter’s intention.

Closer to home, Jesus bases His teachings on marriage on the historical events of Genesis 1 and 2:

  • "Haven't you read," he [Jesus] replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' [Genesis 1:26-27] and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' [Gen. 2:24]? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has [historically] joined together, let man not separate." (Matthew 19:4-6)
If God hadn’t actually created them and historically joined the two together, Jesus’ argument against divorce would be insupportable. (If God hadn’t historically joined them together, then there is no need to keep them together!) Therefore, if Genesis isn’t history, then Jesus was mistaken.

Many CEs deny that Adam and Eve were actually historical. However, if we deny their historicity, then we have to deny everything that the New Testament says about them. However, Paul also affirmed the historicity of the Genesis 3 account:

  • Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—(Romans 5:12)
Without any doubt, Paul made an historical claim and based a lot of other theology on the historical Adam (1 Tim. 2:14-16; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45).

The many genealogies also assert that Adam was an historical person. Besides, if Adam isn’t historical, then Cain and Abel aren’t historical, and Abraham and David aren’t historical – all the way up to Jesus. Consequently, if Adam wasn’t historical, the genealogies would lead us to believe that all of his so-named descendents are likewise unhistorical. Therefore, to compromise the first chapters of the Bible is to compromise everything else.

The CE worldview kills apologetics – the defense of the faith. Proofs build upon what is clear and generally accepted in order to prove what has been unclear and disputed. This also pertains to apologetics – theistic proofs and proofs that the Bible is actually God’s Word. Consequently, we start with what we can see and touch – the physical world (evidences of miracles, fulfilled prophecy, extra-Biblical testimony…) – and apply these areas of agreement to areas of disagreement. Jesus performed miracles and fulfilled prophecies to provide a foundation for our faith. However, the CE claims that the Bible is both mistaken and unconcerned about events in the physical world. This undercuts the possibility of any comprehensive proof.

The CE also disparages ID as science and proof. This too goes against the testimony of Scripture that we are “without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20) when we deny the physical evidence for the existence of God. Consequently, the CE worldview has limited the Christian faith to only subjective/personal appeals – “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)

The Bible provides no justification for the CE claim that the Bible is about the spiritual world, while evolution is about the physical. (They make this insupportable distinction in order to relieve any possible contradiction between Jesus and Darwin. After all, they deal with two entirely different realms, right?)

However, even evolutionists will admit that evolution knows no boundaries. The atheist Daniel Dennett refers to this theory as an “acid” that will corrode away all religious belief, and I think he is right! Indeed, evolution is now being evoked to explain everything – psychology, morality and even religion. Nothing is beyond its grasp.

When I raise these concerns with CEs, they tell me that, “we have to be humble about our interpretation of the Bible.” (If only they were as humble about evolution! Almost uniformly, they inform me that the Bible is marred by the ancient and errant beliefs of their time. But who cares about that anyway, since the Bible isn’t about the physical world but the spiritual!)

However, based upon my many dialogues with CEs, they seem to have become so “humble” about the Bible, that they no longer know what to believe, and sadly, it doesn’t seem to trouble them. In fact, they tend to exalt Biblical uncertainty and doubt as the virtues of the sensitive and thinking man. As a result, their worldview is almost inseparable from that of the educated West. How tragic!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Forgiving Yourself: A Virtue or a Vice?

Psychotherapists would have us learn to forgive ourselves. However, shouldn’t we instead seek forgiveness from the offended party? If you just robbed the local convenience store and beat up the clerk, self-forgiveness represents a refusal to acknowledge culpability, a denial of the obvious. Instead, you first have to be reconciled to the victim, as Jesus taught:

·        “If you are offering your gift at the altar [or are performing any spiritual exercise] and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

We cannot forgive ourselves until we deal with the circumstances of our guilt. Clearly, there are objective moral debts that first have to be paid. Certainly, the clerk would not be overjoyed to hear of the abuser’s self-forgiveness as long as the actual offense is ignored. In fact, the refusal to objectively deal with the offense just compounds it. It is no better than an adulterer taking a drug to assuage his guilt. Rather than silencing his conscience, he must listen to it!

This has been on my mind because I just heard a sermon ending with the benediction to “forgive yourself.” While I am sure that the pastor wasn’t talking about a self-forgiveness apart from taking responsibility for the sin, she seemed to be leaving an important ingredient from her equation.

I’m referring to God. When we transgress, we also transgress against the Law-Giver. Therefore, if self-forgiveness is both inappropriate and offensive when it ignores the offense and the offended, it also offends God.

I know that it sounds medieval, archaic and guilt-producing to suggest that God is also offended by our sins, but why shouldn’t He be? He is righteousness, and He is love. When we are victimized, we tend to look favorably upon a God who is equally disturbed by our victimization, One who suffers along with us. We want justice and also a God who promises justice in the form of punishment.

The imposition of justice brings peace and the possibility of reconciliation. I have heard of many cases where the victim lovingly reached out to the now convicted prisoner. However, I have never heard of a case where the rape victim reached out with love to the defendant who had beaten-the-rap. Instead, the victim is understandably left with the burning feeling that justice must first be done.

If we are created in the moral image of God (Eph. 4:23-24), then we shouldn’t expect that God lacks a moral compass, moral sentiments, and perhaps even a sense of moral outrage. Instead, the entire Bible confirms the fact that He is deeply offended by sin. If this is the case, what does this suggest about self-forgiveness? It suggests that exonerating ourselves without first checking in with God about our guilt-status is terribly offensive to Him.

Well, how can we first be reconciled to Him and forgiven? For one thing, we need to recognize the seriousness of the offense. A man who had an affair with a married woman cannot pay-off the aggrieved husband. Such a payment cannot compensate for the enormity of the offense. It fails to recognize its enormity and just compounds the insult.

If God loves His children more than the husband loves his wife – and He does - it is even more futile to attempt to buy-off God.  Meanwhile, forgiving yourself for the affair is an utter abomination in His eyes. No amount of self-adulation could possibly lift the weight of the offense.

On the other hand, if the aggrieved husband has also been unfaithful on several occasions, he might be easier to placate. However, God has never been unfaithful. He has birthed us, feed us, sustained us, and has planted His truths within us. He cannot be placated by any amount of gifts. (Even self-sacrifice is futile!) He made them all and is able to give Himself far greater gifts than we can.

Even our best offerings are “filthy rags,” the garments of adultery, before our perfect and all-sufficient God. In light of this, our only hope is in His mercy. Although we cannot buy-off God, He has bought-off our sins by paying the price for them on the cross. An adequate payment had to be made, and only He was able to make it.

Instead of crying out for mercy, any attempt at self-forgiveness or even restitution is a grave insult to Him and a minimization of our culpability. Instead, our God desires us to confront our guilt and to take full responsibility. And He has promised to aid us in this (Psalm 51:6).

If virtue and relational restoration are measured by an appreciation of the enormity of our sins, then Western society and secular psychotherapy have taken us in the wrong direction.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rescuing Hell: Defending the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment

Hell is a notoriously difficult doctrine to defend. For one thing, in order to defend a doctrine, we first have to know what we are defending. However, no one here has ever seen or experienced hell. At least, there is no convincing proof of this.

Although the nature of hell or eternal judgment is somewhat unclear, it’s reality or existence is Biblically beyond dispute. Interpretive difficulties abound. For instance, do we interpret “the lake of fire” (Rev. 21:8; 20:10; Mat. 13:42) literally or figuratively? Does God literally stoke the fires of hell for all eternity, as some pejoratively suggest? If we take this description literally, what then do we do with the teachings that claim that the unrepentant will be cast into “outer darkness” (Mat. 22:13)? It is apparent that at least one of these descriptions must be taken figuratively.

As Christians, we want to have a coherent faith. We therefore want to understand how this concept of “hell” or “eternal judgment” fits together with the other doctrines we believe about God – His love, justice, omniscience and omnipotence. We also want to know how to answer militant atheists, like Robert Ingersoll (1833-99), who routinely denigrate our faith. He had reasoned that:

·        Eternal punishment must be eternal cruelty…and I do not see how any man, unless he has the brain of an idiot, or the heart of a wild beast, can believe in eternal punishment.

The doctrine of “eternal punishment” is part of the broader “problem of pain, suffering, and a ‘vindictive’ God.” Even “Christians” condemn the Bible for it’s teachings of a punitive God. Christian evolutionist and former co-head of the Biologos Foundation, Karl Giberson, approvingly quotes the militant atheist, Richard Dawkins, that the:

·        [OT God is a] “tyrannical anthropomorphic deity” [and] “commanded the Jews to go on genocidal rampages”…But who believes in this [OT] deity any more, besides those same fundamentalists who think the earth is 10,000 years old? Modern theology has moved past this view of God. 

They often term God a “monster,” claiming that such a God lies beyond reason and morality. However, it is relatively easy to combat the Richard Dawkins of the world on this account. They commit the logical error of using God to disprove God. In essence, they claim that the God who sanctions eternal punishment fails to measure up to certain objective and absolute moral standards of love and justice. However, if there is no God, then there are can exist no objective and absolute moral standards by which to disqualify Him.

Consequently, when the atheist claims that the God of the Bible is “unjust,” I merely retort, “How can you accuse our God of violating an absolute standard of justice? You are a moral relativist and deny that there are any absolute moral standards.”

A minority of atheists will respond, “I do believe in absolute moral standards, and your God violates them.” I then can press them, “What are these ‘absolute moral standards’ based upon if you don’t acknowledge that there is anything that transcends this material universe?”

They cannot possibly identify an adequate moral foundation. Moral standards have to be absolute (above culture), unchanging, and universal. If the morals aren’t, then we are guilty of arrogance, arbitrariness, and judgmentalness when we judge with a merely subjective/personal standard. It would be like a math teacher grading students’ math exams with changing and subjective answers. The teacher could rightfully be accused of using an arbitrary and therefore unjust standard. To mark a student “wrong,” you need a perfectly right answer or standard. More laughably, it would be like a carpenter measuring a board with an elastic band.

Once the atheist rejects God, there can be no foundation for absolute moral judgments. Therefore, the thinking atheist might shift his attack. Instead, of claiming that God violates moral standards, he will argue that the God of the Bible violates the Bible’s own moral standards and its portrayal of God. His argument will then go something like this:

·        Premise #1: The Bible’s concept of “Hell” or “eternal punishment” is neither just nor merciful.

·        Premise #2: The Bible portrays God as just and merciful.

·        Conclusion:  The Bible’s revelation is contradictory and therefore shouldn’t be taken seriously.

This attack does an end-run around the atheists’ lack of an absolute standard by which to judge God. However, both of these premises are highly problematic.

Against Premise #1: According to the Bible, the punishment fits the crime. Jesus taught that there are many degrees of punishment:

·        "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:21-22)

For those who have more evidence, judgment will be less bearable than for those who had less evidence:

·        But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48)

I would ask the atheist, “What is unjust about the penalty fitting the crime? Or how does this teaching about punishment contradict God’s character?” He might respond that no God worth His salt would punish. However, this fails to show that there is a contradiction in Biblical revelation – the very thing that the atheist must demonstrate.

Against Premise #1: We do not know enough about hell to indict our Lord for “injustice” or to prove that the Bible contradicts itself. There are too many interpretive uncertainties. While the atheists focus only the most egregious aspect of the teachings – eternal burning - this might be figurative and might only apply to the worst offenders. In fact, Jesus associated the “weeping…and gnashing of teeth” of hell with their own regrets in having eternally missed out on the blessings of the kingdom, rather than any proactive divine torture:

·        "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.” (Luke 13:28)

I would ask the atheist how this represents a Bible contradiction. Also, I think that we Evangelicals have been too quick to dismiss annihilationism as one possible form of eternal punishment – perhaps even the worst one. There is not a verse that actually rules out annihilation as one possible punishment out of many others! (Some Christians argue that we have an eternal soul, and therefore, it is indestructible, precluding any possibility of annihilation. However, this notion seems to be contradicted by numerous verses – 1 Tim. 6:16; 2 Tim 1:9-10; 1 Cor. 15:50-54).

Therefore, when the atheist rails against the injustice of God in sentencing unbelievers to eternal punishment, I ask them if their judgment would be any different if I would show them verses pointing to annihilation, and there are many. For instance:

·        “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

·        They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. (2 Thes. 1:9)

Perhaps these (and numerous other verses) are not teaching annihilationism, but the atheist must now answer whether he would consider this too as evidence of contradiction.

Of course, the atheist will retort, “If God is truly merciful, He would destroy no one.” However, we can simply respond, “Where in the Bible does it suggest that God must continue to be merciful towards those who continue to harden their hearts against Him?” Of course, God’s mercy makes no such guarantee! (Against Premise #2)

Against Premise #1: Although there will be a great and final judgment, it seems that before all else the damned are self-damned:

  • For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict [or “condemnation;” KJV; “judgment;” NASB, ESV]: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:17-19)
Jesus taught that He will not “condemn the world.” Instead, the unbeliever is “condemned already.” How did this take place? He condemned himself through his love of the darkness and rejection of the truth (“light”).  Besides, if they reject the light in this world, how much more will they reject God in the next, where His light will beam even more intensely! They will continue to reject the light and run from it. How does this represent the injustice of God? How does this contradict God’s revealed character?

Indeed, there is a lot of Biblical evidence that when we embrace darkness, we hate the light that exposes it. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, they hid from God, lied to Him and even blamed Him. Never once did they repent and ask for another chance. And when they were promised death and expelled from the presence of God, they seemed to gladly accept the verdict (Gen. 3) in order to be free from God’s searing light.

In Jesus’ parable, when the unrepentant rich man cried out to God from his place of torment, he never once asked to be brought to where God is. Instead, he simply asked that he might be given some relief in hell (Luke 16:19-31). Such is the hatred of the light!

There are many other verses that suggest that the unrepentant are self-condemned in their flight from the light (Isaiah 33:14-15; 2:20-22; Psalm 1:5; 15:1-2; 24:3; Deut 5:25; Deut. 5:25; Mal. 3:2). What then should we make of the great judgment if humanity is already self-condemned (Rev. 20:11)? Perhaps they will merely flee away, unable to stand before a righteous God in view of their unforgiven sins.

Indeed, for us, the great judgment will merely confirm what had already been established (1 Thess. 4:14-17; 1 John 3:2). Perhaps, also for the unbeliever, the judgment will merely rubber-stamp what has already become quite obvious.

Where then is the injustice? And how does this contradict the Bible’s claims about God? The atheist will then attempt to accuse God of lacking in mercy, “If God is all-powerful, then He could have changed everyone’s heart to love the light!” Once they do this, you can ask, “Why should God be merciful? According to you, there are no absolute standards, so why indict God for failing conform to your non-existent, non-objective standard?”

In addition to this, the atheists’ understanding of mercy isn’t the Bible’s understanding of mercy. Unlike justice, mercy can discriminate. The Bible never claims that God will be merciful to all in the end. (Against Premise #2). Therefore, there is no contradiction between hell and what the Bible claims about God.

Nevertheless, it does seem that, in the end, God will pour out His Spirit upon many people, and there will be a great salvation (Joel 2:28; Romans 11:15; Rev. 1:7; Mat. 24:30; Isaiah 66:22-23; Zech. 14:16-18)! Our God is indeed merciful!

Nevertheless, there is a hell and the prospect of landing there is a terror, as it should be:

  • The study, appearing in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE, found that criminal activity is lower in societies where people's religious beliefs contain a strong punitive component than in places where religious beliefs are more benevolent. A country where many more people believe in heaven than in hell, for example, is likely to have a much higher crime rate than one where these beliefs are about equal. The finding surfaced from a comprehensive analysis of 26 years of data involving 143,197 people in 67 countries. 
Perhaps we need a greater dose of hell. Perhaps we need to revisit Jonathan Edwards and his sermon – Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God. Nevertheless, this essay will certainly not relieve all of our dissonance and confusion on the subject. However, for some of us, it is sufficient to know that our Savior suffers along with us (Isaiah 63:9; Hebrews 4:15). Others are comforted in knowing that, in the end, He will reconcile all of the confusing elements. Indeed, our God has many secrets (Deut. 29:29), which He purposely keeps close to His breast. Consequently, we see only shadows (1 Cor. 13:9, 12).

Abraham saw only shadows when God asked him to go against everything he understood and to offer his promised son Isaac as a sacrifice. Our Lord also thrusts us into situations where understanding fails us, and we are forced to walk only by the light available in the “valley of the shadow of death.” However, we are able to find comfort knowing that He is at our side, and that, one day, we will see Him as He truly is.