Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Evangelical Mind

2016 will definitely be one for the books. We are currently in what may be the craziest election cycle in the United States’ history. Campaign season can be fun or stressful for a lot of reasons, but I am always particularly interested in how the American evangelical community responds to candidate choices. Evangelicals traditionally have had conservative leanings in this country. There is, of course, no harm in this fact. Many churches in recent years have done a fairly decent job at emphasizing the arbitrariness of political leanings in evangelical orthodoxy. But this election cycle has caused my stomach to churn in unsettling ways.

 

I would like to believe that churches are becoming more neutral on political leanings, but this is not so. Due to the unfortunate nature of our divisive two-party system, we are left with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The evangelical response to Trump and his candidacy has been peculiar, to say the least. I could only hope and pray that Trump’s candidacy would be the knock-out hit to the unabashed evangelical devotion to the Republican Party, but this is not what has been observed. Multiple evangelical leaders across this country, many of them with big names and big churches, have, without question, endorsed Trump. And this is not an endorsement based off of the lesser of two evils, but rather these leaders genuinely think that Trump is a good moral agent who should be leading this country, with one pastor in particular calling Ch

 

ristians who do not vote for Trump “fools.” This only damages the evangelical mind by re-enforcing the false historical conception that America somehow used to be “great” and “Christian” and “blessed by God” and the Donald Trump, with his right-wing prowess, will successfully return America back to the good old days. We have officially uncovered a truth about many evangelical Christians that many others have suspected all along: To worship Jesus is to worship Western conservatism.

 

If these pastors and leaders cared to line up biblical morality with Trump morality, they would find that they go together, as Simon Cowell says, like vanilla ice cream and sausage: They don’t. But there is another side to this coin. There are many Christians, not just liberal, but conservative who have given a great deal of backlash to these leaders. Many evangelicals think Trump is a morally bankrupt agent and that Christians should not support him at all. There has been a strange mix of opinions amongst the evangelical community. Is this good? Well sure. It causes the church to wrestle with itself and its convictions. However, my ultimate concern for evangelical Christians has nothing to do with whether pastors are endorsing Trump or opposing him. My concern lies with the abrasive nature of their leanings. We bank on or against Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, or whoever. We care so deeply about who our president will be. Americanism has a nasty way of pulling us back into its false religion of exceptionalism, a concept that is unfortunately praised by many Christians. Let’s face it; many Christians do a much better job of worshipping America rather than Jesus.

 

What I have discussed thus far is just a symptom of the bigger issue. The big issue is this: Christian hope has been staunchly misdirected. We all hope America will get better, and we hope for a good president. But this is just a cheap replacement for real hope. Christians can be unnecessarily pessimistic people. We often buy into doomsday theories and fear that anything going wrong in our country is a sign that we are “turning away from God” and hope we are nearing the end of days so Christ will return. I am convinced that for evangelicals, this negative sense of hope has bred in us a longing not for God and His control over His creation, but for America and its leadership. So many Christians are too fatalistic in thinking that things have to get much worse before they can get better that hope in God and His providence has become meaningless. We desire hope in things that we can see with the naked eye and things that we can control, and refuse to let God maintain control.

 

I am not at all indicating that taking pride in America and loving our country is a bad thing. But this is important: American exceptionalism and Biblical Christianity are antithetical to one another. Our hope lies in Jesus Christ and his ability not to save the world later, but to continue saving the world at present. Christ’s physical resurrection rendered the old order useless and gave us hope for our present age as well as our future.

 

Ryan Ellington Edit: Besides, this world is not our home.

The Sin of Excessiveness

pizza and beer

One of the greatest evils in our world is abusing the creation God has given us. To commit “evil” can be seen as abusing something that was intended to be good.   For instance, sex, something that has always been God’s good intention, is certainly abused more frequently and maliciously in our contemporary culture. Alcohol is a wonderful substance that has even been included in the holy Christian communion, but there are certainly ways to abuse that. I bring these two examples up first to describe what I believe most Christians view as “the great evils.” People who have sex in the wrong contexts are creating a much more cultural evil than others. “Drinking and partying”, as it is often referred to by youth in the Bible belt, is one of the worst high school crimes a person can commit from the vantage point of a youth group student.

 

“Alcohol and sex, the two greatest evils.” This can be and often is phrased as a joke to describe a certain sect of Christianity that most modern evangelicals do not wish to associate with. But if we can joke about it and act as though it is just a fundamentalist ghost of our evangelical past, why do we still handle it with a nasty attitude? Many Christians, although they recognize that it is not actually sinful to drink alcohol or participate in sex in the proper contexts, still get very negative intuitions when the words are spoken. I have had many, many Christians tell me that it is wrong for a Christian to drink alcohol simply because it will “ruin your witness” or something like that. The problem is it is only Christians who actually seem to be concerned about this, not anyone else. I care nothing about being a witness to other Christians, and if a non-Christian were ever to tell me that drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco was offending to them, I would immediately drop the activity so as to not ruin my witness. I have yet to hear a non-Christian say this. And I am not harshly condemning those Christians who make this claim, because I have been there myself. But the root has nothing to do with alcohol, cigarettes, or sex, but this infectious idea that certain activities are permissible for the Christian to do and certain ones are not. The whole “smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol will ruin your witness” is a modern fad that is influenced by theological dualism, not biblical Christianity.

 

Let me be clear, I am not in any way, shape, or form saying Christians should start lighting up and drinking. Not in the least bit. But the real sin does not lie in participating in a certain activity because it is inherently evil. We cause non-believers to wonder why Christians are opposed to “certain things” when we purport this condemnation. It is unbiblical. I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to being judgmental of some of the things certain people do, such as partying or whatever. I am also just as guilty as committing the same sin. I am thankful that I have never had a personal problem with alcohol or the abuse of some substance, but I am committing the same sin nonetheless.

 

I have a problem with moderation. As someone who is emphatically impulsive and ADHD, I have a huge self-denial issue. For instance, I eat way too much. Yeah, gluttony is a real sin for me. I often will find pleasure in large amounts of pizza, donuts, oreos, fried chicken, etc. I also have an exercise problem (too much). Again, when I say I have a moderation problem, that includes everything. I tend to exercise way more than I should in a single period of time, sometimes for the purpose of relieving stress or finding comfort from my hectic schedule, or maybe because I ate one too many oreos. Is this bad? Not necessarily. Is it bad to find comfort and release in normal, healthy, day-to-day activities? No. My problem has little to do with what I am doing and much to do with how much I am doing it, and for what purpose. If I am feeling stressed out and anxious, I will either consume a large pizza to “stress eat” or go run 9 miles when my body really does not need it at the moment. Either way, I am looking for fulfillment in something that ultimately cannot supply it. I idolize it, and if I’m being honest, I idolize a lot of things. I am no different than the alcoholic or the cigarette addict who are looking for fulfillment from material products. Consumerism is a very American thing and can be hard to resist. But I find in the times where I need comfort and I look to the cross for fulfillment, I find a much greater satisfaction than when I seek it in food, exercise, watching TV, or something else. The real sin is not “doing something bad”, but “worshipping the creation rather than the Creator.” Idolatry is the real evil in all this. God has created us as creatures who are to enjoy the beautiful creation He has given us, but to find ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment in Him. A tendency toward excessiveness, which ultimately leads to idolatry, will crush this picture every time.

 

“Late modern society is principally concerned with purchasing things, in ever greater abundance and variety, and so has to strive to fabricate an ever greater number of desires to gratify, and to abolish as many limits and prohibitions upon desire as it can. Such a society is already implicitly atheist and so must slowly but relentlessly apply itself to the dissolution of transcendent values. It cannot allow ultimate goods to distract us from proximate goods. Our sacred writ is advertising, our piety is shopping, our highest devotion is private choice. God and the soul too often hinder the purely acquisitive longings upon which the market depends, and confront us with values that stand in stark rivalry to the only truly substantial value at the center of the social universe: the price tag.”

-David Bentley Hart

 

On Certainty

sin of cert

 

I recently read a fantastic book by Peter Enns called The Sin of Certainty. I will not lie, as skeptical as I was in reading this book, I was impressed and greatly satisfied with the result. I have a tendency, as do most Christians in the Western World, to intellectualize my faith. Enns hits on this hard. I want to discuss some of the spiritual insight I have gained in reflecting on some of these points.

 

Christianity is not rational. It can’t be because, post-Enlightenment Western civilization has significant epistemological differences from eras before. But why isn’t Christianity rational? There are plenty of reasons, and most of them do make sense, but we now have a very narrow view of what it means to “know.” Better yet, we have a very narrow view of the term “faith.” Faith and reason have been conflated in an almost unhealthy manner to form a false dichotomy between faith being a blind assertion with no evidential basis, or faith is essentially the same thing as reason when defined correctly. This epistemological debate stems from our ability to “know.” I would propose the Enlightenment era very much negatively affected how we should “know.” Reflecting on this, what should it mean to “know?”

 

For starters, science works off of repeatable empirical evidence. Due to principles such as falsification, science cannot make “proof” claims, just claims that are derived specifically from evidence. Likewise, history works off of evidence, but evidence that is not repeatable. Either way, it seems perfectly rational to accept both of these fields as legitimate. We do it all the time. To be rational is to base your beliefs on hard, physical evidence. I disagree. I do not mean I disagree that this is an invalid form of gaining knowledge, but knowledge cannot be reduced to these principles. Unfortunately, many contemporary western Christians have, without even realizing it, bought into this. Faith in God almost seems to be, at least in the apologetic sphere, working off of the same evidentialist-based principles as science and history. With the mass production of “defend the faith” books and apologetics seminars, we seem to be in a battle against some atheist agenda to overthrow religion with scientific or naturalistic evidence, while simultaneously using those same principles to either assume God’s existence can be reduced down to mere scientific principles, or that science simply does not hold up against supernatural creation.

 

This is unfortunate, because when scientists such as Lyell, Wallace, Darwin, Einstein, and Hoyle start to say a bunch of weird stuff that later seems to make a lot of sense and renovate the scientific enterprise, Christian opposition to scientific principles (with an odd contortion of the same principles) seems to fall short. This is where a new (or rather, really old and forgotten) idea of “knowing” should come into play. All truth is God’s truth. This is a standard the Christian should live by. So, if science or history conflicts with your faith, it doesn’t actually conflict, but it should give you more insight into God’s creativity. This scientific way of viewing knowledge should be one part of the Christian’s worldview, but it seems that it is often the only part.

 

This sets us up to rely on our faith in God through our own knowledge and reason. The problem is things are always changing, and what seems rational at one moment may seem completely ridiculous the next. By doing this, we are confining God to our feeble understanding of who He is. The reality is that God is ultimate Being, and His ability to be grasped in its fullness is impossible. Faith, as Enns points out, must be much more about our Trust in God than our feeble arguments that we use to support his existence. Do not hear me saying that these apologetic arguments are not of great importance and do not have their place. They absolutely do and as a philosophy student, I affirm these. But the real issue lies in knowing God through trust. This is difficult to put into words, but it cannot be seen in the same rational light as the scientific method. It is an entirely different way of knowing, but knowing nonetheless. Even in times of doubt, we shouldn’t run away and ignore the fear of being wrong, but we should embrace doubt as a way of God showing us our limited knowledge, and trusting Him through those times of struggle anyway. Also, we should embrace being wrong, because you can’t gain knew knowledge until you admit you are wrong about something. This allows us to not put God in a box where He has to operate on our rules and conditions, and it lets us not lose faith when our “arguments” are proven to be unsound.

 

“Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”

-CS Lewis

How Should We Make Sense of Original Sin?

original-sin-apple

 

I came across a very interesting blog series written by Edward Feser about five years ago. Feser’s purpose in writing these posts was to discuss how a Catholic (his tradition) understanding of original sin does not conflict with modern biology. This is an issue I have been wrestling with for about three years now, and I wanted to write out where I am at this time.

 

To start, I believe there is a serious difficulty with one common understanding of original sin. Often times, it goes like this: God’s original creation was perfect in every way. Adam and Eve were perfect in every way, experiencing no pain and suffering. Eve ate an evil fruit. Because Eve could not control herself, every human being born afterward is damned to hell and we all have to bear the effect of sin. The problem is fairly evident, and the solution seems unsatisfactory. Many will say we cannot blame Eve because anybody else would have done the same thing. So we are to expect that God created a fatalistic world in which ANYBODY would have sinned without exception? Also, it seems as though Eve had a stronger degree of free will than any of us do, being able to avoid sin to a greater extent than we do given the perfect nature of her condition. I find this implausible, but I do not expect everybody else to share my personal sympathies. I do think it says something about God’s character if this is true. As a Christian of the protestant tradition, I do want to emphasize the ultimate authority of Scripture and its revelation, but I also believe strongly in church tradition and extra-biblical evidences to fuel the Bible’s reliable authority. If all truth really is God’s truth, I would expect traditional socio-historical understandings of Scripture to bear heavily on how they should be read today. For the purposes of this post, I will assume two factors that will not be discussed in further detail here: Modern physical anthropology and evolutionary genetics do play a part in our discussion of original sin, and human beings do have a distinct metaphysical nature that cannot be reduced down to pure biochemical make up.

 

To start, there seems to be a group who assumes there is no death prior to the first sin. On the surface, this seems to be what Genesis 3:3 is referring to. However, from a contextual standpoint, this does not work with physical death, as God tells Adam and Eve that they day they eat of the fruit they will surely die. They did not actually die the day the fruit was eaten, so it seems that the emphasis was on spiritual death. I do not mean to blow this point off as unimportant, nor do I mean to suggest there are not any legitimate arguments in support that the text is referring to physical death. I am simply pointing out what appears to be a more clear understanding of the word “death” given the events that follow God’s command. From a practical standpoint, this does not seem to work either. Some animals are carnivorous by nature (lions, tigers, etc.) and their livelihood depends on the meat of other animals. In fact, every living organism on earth depends on the death of other creatures for their survival. A world without any physical death at all seems to violate the innate survival methods God created organisms to have.

 

From the outset, the fall narrative shows the creation to be imperfect. For one, the serpent is there. It is entirely feasible to assume physical death existed millions of years prior to the fall given demonic activity, which is clearly present in the Garden. The problem, however, is how do human beings who come afterward inherit this “original sin”? It would help to discuss what exactly happened to humanity upon this first sin. Human population geneticists have concluded that all of modern humanity descended from a group of about 10,000 individuals around 200,000 years ago. I feel uneasy to simply define a human being for the purposes of spirituality by mere biological classification. Homo sapiens, the classification to which modern humans belong, were what this group of 10,000 individuals belonged to. Let me be clear, what I am about to propose is a THOUGHT EXPERIMENT. I am in no way saying this IS what happened, but I am using this experiment to establish a basis for original sin that is more biblically sound than the doctrine is commonly understood, and one that is compatible with modern evolutionary genetics. Let’s assume these 10,000 individuals were human beings in a biological sense, but they had no distinct metaphysical nature. This would make humanity no ontologically distinct from other creatures. Let’s assume that God, for whatever reason, chose a pair of individuals from this group and instilled them with a new, immaterial, spiritual nature (call them Adam and Eve for simplicity sake). Has this pair experienced pain? Sure. They live in a world full of it. The difference is they have a special, spiritual connection to the glorified God with full and complete access to Him. Suppose God gave them a task and they failed (not eating a fruit, or at least the story is an allegory for this task). They failed because of the pressure of dark forces acting upon them, and so fell away from this perfect, glorified access to God. As a result, every one of their offspring will share the same nature. Assuming this, suppose that Adam and Eve in their distinct metaphysical nature reproduced at a much faster rate than other homo sapiens who did not share their same nature, and eventually, through reproduction with other homo sapiens the Adam and Eve lineage covered up the whole of the human species, resulting in every human thereafter being endowed with an immaterial nature. This is not to say evolutionary genetics will one day refute this claim, but as of now there is no reason to assume this cannot happen.

 

I believe the story is a bit richer than this, but it is a good illustration of how original sin can work in the context of modern biology without putting all the blame for every pain and strife that modern humanity experiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should Christians Meditate?

meditate

Meditation has been around for thousands of years. Early pagan belief systems emphasized the importance of meditation, and many large eastern religions still practice it today. Meditation is a big part of many people’s lives. It can be a way to achieve a higher level of consciousness, have a mystical experience, or it can be just a way to relieve stress and anxiety from a hard day at work. But there is a question raised for Christians in regards to this topic. Should Christians participate in meditation? Or maybe, is it a sin for Christians to participate in this practice. This, like many other topics, deserves a proper understanding of what exactly the subject is and what exactly is being achieved during the process.

 

What is Meditation?

 

There are a variety of different forms of meditation. We often picture someone sitting with their legs crossed and their palms facing upward on their knees, sometimes doing a chant or prayer of sorts. Meditation can be defined as simply deep thought on a particular subject, or it can be an ultra-spiritual practice. Either way, there are some careful steps that the Christian must take in order to meditate in a faithful way. There are, of course, better ways to meditate than others. For instance, John Piper’s form of mediation in which every verse in Scripture read ought to be extensively thought out and reflected upon is certainly a powerful, beneficial form of meditation for the Christian to practice. Not only that, but I think Christians SHOULD practice it. Deep thought and contemplation on Scripture will always be beneficial for the personal spiritual walk of the Christian.

 

What about other forms of meditation that require one to sit in silence, with their eyes closed, and reflect upon other things? Or better yet, what about the forms of meditation that are used to achieve a higher level of consciousness? Not all of these kinds of meditation are hyper-spiritual in nature. In fact, the ancient Buddhist meditation, Vipassana, has been shown to have very positive effects on brain chemistry, reducing anxiety and depression for many people. Even the atheist writer Sam Harris has written that he practices Vipassana himself. This practice has very similar qualities to a common form of Christian meditation known as Centering Prayer. This prayer allows one to sit in silence and focus upon God and essentially find rest in him. It is done by closing your eyes, blocking out all distractions and focusing on a particular word that describes God’s character, such as “Christ”, “Savior”, “Divine Love”, etc.

 

So, Should Christians Do It?

 

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with Centering Prayer or Christians pursuing some kind of meditation to enrich their spiritual lives. Many people who practice these forms of meditation say that they feel much closer to God and have more peace in their lives. It is very difficult to just give a black-and-white answer as to whether meditation is wrong for the Christian or not.  There is nothing unbiblical about it, so long as you do not invoke non-Christians spiritual practices into it.  If you are a Christian and choose to pursue meditation, I would keep three things in mind:

 

  1. Make sure the manner in which you meditate does not clash with Scripture. Matthew 6 gives a model for Christian prayer, and it also gives one specific prohibition in verses 7 and 8: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The word “babbling” is often translated as “chanting”. This does not mean we cannot pray the same thing over and over again. What it DOES mean is that we cannot chant with the intention of coercing God into meeting our every desire. This leads to my next point.
  2. Make sure that your meditation is not “you-centered.” We have this problem often enough with normal prayer, and we certainly don’t need it in some other form of meditation. Again, coercing God into meeting your desires is never a good thing. Also, Christians should never meditate in order to achieve some higher degree of consciousness. Make sure that what you are doing is not all about you, and not even primarily driven to relieve you of stress and anxiety (although it is not altogether wrong for this to have some motivation), but strive to honor God and further His Kingdom in everything you do. If you choose to do the Centering Prayer exercise, make sure your intention is to eliminate all distractions so your whole purpose is on God and your communication with Him. Never try to invoke some kind of higher mystical feeling.
  3. Finally, never allow meditation to replace other forms of prayer. Scripture models a healthy account of prayer that is simply communication with God, just like you would communicate with anyone else. Meditation should not take the place of this traditional form of prayer that Scripture speaks so highly of. Talk to God, ask Him for guidance, ask Him for forgiveness, and ask Him for a clean and pure heart every day.

 

Why Our Opinions About Gay Marriage Don’t Matter That Much

Same-sex marriage has been the topic of discussion and debate this weekend. The SCOTUS ruling this weekend has left many with hope, but many questioning the moral landscape of our nation. I have had trouble figuring out how to address this issue to both others as well as myself. Personally, I find it hard to put my view on the matter into words, so I refer to my very good friend, Gunner Briscoe, who addressed the issue very properly on Facebook today:

“My reaction to today’s Supreme Court decision and, more specifically, the reactions to it:

The Church has long permitted divorce and turned a blind eye to it despite biblical prohibitions to it. It is nothing more than blatant hypocrisy to tolerate divorce yet decry same-sex unions as an affront to the sanctity of marriage. Treat the two equally or say nothing.

Let us rebuild the sanctity of marriage within the Church, and then try to influence the world on what marriage is and is not, as it stands evangelical divorce rate is as high, if not higher, than the surrounding divorce rate of the world.

Yes, in accordance with scripture and orthodox teachings of the Church, it is my position that a same-sex union is not a marriage. But I am a child of divorced parents. My younger brother was born out of wed-lock. So long as we tolerate these, we cannot stand against same-sex unions. Reform the Church, then influence the world.”

Amen. I truly could not have said it better myself. For those Christians who think that this law is going to contribute to the moral downgrade of our society, why are you not concerned about the US government allowing divorce and other sins that the bible strictly prohibits? My personal fear is not whether homosexuals do or do not get marital rights. My fear is that a great many Christians who oppose same-sex marriage are putting American exceptionalism and patriotism above the love and respect that Christ has commanded us to have for one another. With that view in mind, I really don’t care about the Supreme Court decision. It honestly is really of no concern to me.  I care only about what God has to say.  Many people pull the “love the sinner, hate the sin” card and then jump on these rants about how the American government is falling apart because gay people can now get married. That is not to say that people who are defending traditional marriage in America right now hate homosexuals. What it means is that we have to be careful, because I do believe that there is a degree of hypocrisy involved with the person who rallies against gay rights and turns a blind eye to issues of divorce, abortion, etc. (and yes, for some reason people are taking this more seriously than abortion right now) and people notice that.

With that being said, all of my moral authority stands on the Word of God. I believe that Scripture has made it very clear that homosexual behavior is sinful. That does not mean that homosexual orientation is, but the behavior is. I need to preface my next statement by saying that the authority of Scripture is not bound by only the things that Jesus has said. However, it is important to make the point that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, and the bible does not say anything at all about gay marriage. Jesus talked about many things, but above all he emphasized the command to love our Creator and His image bearers. If our rants against sin overtrump that, we are doing a disservice to God. This is something that I, along with every other Christian struggles to do daily. In the end, all of us (straight, gay, whatever) are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners. Keep the authority of Scripture the center of your life, and let the love of Christ bleed into the lives of everyone around you.

Our Modern Quest For Truth

Science continues to create theological problems that we have never been presented with before. This isn’t going to go away. We live in a scientific age where science is the dominant method for attaining truth.

Science is no conspiracy. While there is a degree of error, every scientific theory is under constant scrutiny and peer review. If someone were to find an alternative to, say, germ theory, they would instantly be famous. So how do Christians and other religious believers deal with our faith in light of such a science-dominated culture?

The Authority of Scripture

 

I recently had a dispute with a friend on Facebook. This individual (falsely) accused me of not accepting the authority of Scripture because of my views on Genesis 1-3. I have not doubt that this friend was well intentioned and was genuinely looking out for me as a fellow believer, but I think he missed the point. As Christians, our faith is centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anything that threatens those truths can rightly be seen as diminishing to the authority of Scripture. I do not see how one can say Genesis 1-3 affects that truth. This is not an issue of authority. It is an issue of interpretation. While an alternative to the literalism of Genesis 1-3 does present significant theological problems (death before the fall, historical Adam, etc.), none of them affect the authority of Scripture.

The History of Young Earth Creationism

While it is important to note that 7-day creationism was a view that some theologians had before the 20th century, it has not been, by any stretch, the dominant view. Ellen White, a Seventh Day Adventist in the 19th century, has been considered by many to have developed modern Young Earth Creationism. Later, Henry Morris and John Whitcomb wrote The Genesis Flood as a way to explain the fossil record. In 1925, we had the Scopes trial. Combine these three events together, and you have modern day Young Earth Creationism. Origen, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and many others saw the Genesis account of creation as having a very poetic nature to it and did not see the creation of the world as being bound by seven literal 24-hour days.

The problem is that Ken Ham and many others today have made a literal interpretation of Scripture as being the only way to properly understand the Bible as the authority of God. This is not true. In fact, in some ways, this it is the opposite. True authority comes from God, who inspired certain men to write the biblical texts, which are communicated through a specific cultural context. If we are to take the authority of Scripture seriously, we have to understand what exactly the author of any given text is saying. To just assume post-Enlightenment literalism does a disservice to Scripture. Literalism is a hermeneutic, just like any other, and it has to be defended on the same grounds.

Galileo Galilei

 

Not only did Galileo provide sufficient evidence for a heliocentric solar system, but he also set a precedent for a particular kind of hermeneutic. It was widely accepted, without question, that the heavenly bodies did revolve around the earth, and the earth was fixed and could not be moved (Psalm 93:1; 1 Chronicles 16:30). It would not be seen as very sophisticated in this day and age to make a claim that these verses are literal, scientific texts that ought to overpower our basic understanding of astronomy. Galileo was vehemently accused of heresy in the Catholic church, but he stuck to what he believed is right, and now we have a proper understanding of the astronomy of our own solar system. “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” We should listen to Scripture on the basis of how we are to be reconciled with Christ, not what the material world has to teach us.

Charles Darwin

 

Darwin was no Christian, but he did not see his theory and Christianity as being in conflict. He had many friends who were Christians, and none of them saw evolutionary theory as a threat to their faith. Darwin developed his theory based off of his own observations. It had nothing to do with his lack of belief in God. Asa Gray, a friend of Darwin’s who was a Christian, wrote him after he developed his theory and said that it actually helped him make better sense of his theology. Charles Kingsley, another theologian who was acquainted with Darwin, wrote “We knew of old that God was so wise that he could make all things; but, behold, He is so much wiser than even that, that he can make all things make themselves.” Charles Spurgeon, one of the most popular pastors of the 19th century, said in a sermon once that the notion of millions of years should not be a threat to biblical theology. YEC pastors and theologians were not widely known in the 19th century, and Darwin was seen as giving a rational method that God used to create.

Interpretation

The Bible is a very old book. It is easy to take it literally, and when any given literal statement contradicts objective reality to just assume it is literary or some sort of metaphor. People in the Ancient Near East really did think that the heart, intestines, and other body parts controlled intellect. People really did think hell was actually underneath the earth. People really did think there was a dome above the sky and the stars and other heavenly bodies were carved into it. This is ancient science, and nobody actually accepts it. Just because Ancient Near East writers had a false conception of what the cosmos actually looked like does not diminish the inspired theological truth of the Scriptures. The Bible is not a book to the universal truths of every field of study; it has a very specific message just like any other piece of literature.

The Quest For Truth

Literalism is easy. After all, if God wanted to convey truth to us through His Word, wouldn’t He make it easy to understand? Sadly, it is not that simple. Nobody, and I mean nobody, takes the whole bible literally (at least in the post-Enlightenment sense). Many only take the Bible literally when it doesn’t conflict with common sense or their prior convictions. This is not a consistent hermeneutic, however. Culture plays a huge part in how the Bible was written, and it plays a big part for us when we go about interpreting it. God speaks to cultures. There is not one objective way to speak to a human being, it is done differently depending on the understanding that person has about the nature of reality. In an age of science, where much of the data we acquire in the fields of biology, geology, physics, anthropology, etc. contradicts a literal reading of Scripture, we must be careful to take the Bible for what it is. The Bible is the Word of God, but it does not define every aspect of truth that can be discovered. God created the natural world, so it will not contradict His Word. Science and religion are not in conflict; they both point us toward truth.

When Scripture Gets Nasty: How to Read the Bible Today

I’m not going to lie, there are times when I really do not like reading the Bible. It’s not always the fun-loving book I want it to be. In fact, there are times when I am straight up uncomfortable with the Bible. When I wake up in the morning and open my Bible, I feel as though I am never prepared for what I am going to get. There are days where I feel total spiritual satisfaction after my morning devotional, there are times when I feel confused, times when I feel sad, and there are even times where I feel like I have wasted my time. There are messy stories in the Bible. There’s murder, destruction, rape, the slaughtering of entire people groups, the desolation of entire cities, people who are struck down by God, and many other things. I started to ask myself a few months back: Why is this stuff in the Bible?! Isn’t the Bible the inspired Word of God, which is supposed to help us gain knowledge and insight about Him? Why such a nasty book? Aren’t we supposed to grow spiritually from it? How should we make sense of the Bible?

The Bible is Not God’s Love Letter to Us

 

I was at a church camp several years ago and the speaker said something to me that I will never forget. He held up his Bible and asked, “Why would you not follow God if He wrote you such a massive love letter?” I think part of the problem Christians have with reading Scripture is that they are reading it through the lens of a false expectation. Let me make a bold statement: The Bible is not written TO us. It is, however, written FOR us. When you pick up the Bible, you have not just picked up a book, but an entire library of different genres that were written specifically to different cultures of different times. The Bible is an ancient document; so it would suit us well to read it like one. Not only is the above statement false, but it is also oversimplified. Instead of the Bible just being a love letter to us, it is a huge collection of documents that are all centered around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his eternal plan that IS full of love. The Bible is not a love letter, it is much more than that.

The Bible is Not a Rulebook

This one is kind of a given, but it’s difficult to live out sometimes. I often have a hard time reading the Bible and not getting the impression that it is just I giant book full of rules and regulations that I have to follow or God is going to cut me down. This is not what God intended for His Word. We will always be a slave to something, be it our own desires or something else. Christ has given us the opportunity to be a slave to Him, and He calls this the only real, true freedom. Instead of viewing the Bible as a book of rules that we have to follow or we are dishonoring God, view it as a book full of freedom opportunities. God has not given to you what is the only way to live, but what is the BEST way to live.

I only bring up what the Bible isn’t because I believe it is spiritually unhealthy to go into Scripture reading with those two expectations.

The Bible IS a Story Book

 

The Bible is full of stories. I have always wondered why this is. Once I figured it out, it became a lot more meaningful to me. People love stories. Jesus often taught in parables in order to keep people focused. The Bible has so much messiness in it because that is reality. There is very little you can encounter that is not documented in some form in the Bible. Often times the best way to learn is through the story of the experience of someone else. This is crucial. The Bible is not something written directly to us, and it is not a list of rules either. It is a book of insight. It is a book of real people who are messy, broken, and trying to find their way back to God. I am convinced that this is the reason so many Christians find the Old Testament obsolete. Instead of asking, “What does this have to do with me?” ask, “What can I learn from the men and women in this story, who are on their own journey to finding God?” The Bible can be difficult to handle sometimes, but if we keep in mind that these harsh, sometimes crazy stories are all about the journeys of people who lived a long time ago, we can gain more insight about what God is actually trying to teach us through His Word.

Rethinking Modern Apologetics

I recently read Eric Metaxas’s article “Science Increasingly Makes the Case For God.” If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage it. Metaxas always has an interesting way of writing in a simplistic manner that the common layperson can understand. As it turns out, Old Testament scholar Peter Enns was not so thrilled with the conclusions Metaxas came to. I enjoy Enns’s writings (if you have not read The Bible Tells Me So, I highly recommend it), but I do have my fair share of disagreements with him. I found Enns’s response compelling, but I feel there is a greater issue at hand that is often unaddressed.

My Analysis of the Discussion

Metaxas simply reinstates the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. This is a more modern rendition of the teleological argument (argument from design). The physical constants of the universe have to be incredibly precise in order to bring about life on any given planet. To sum it up, the universe looks designed. Not only that, but the universe looks so incredibly designed that it could have ONLY come about by a designer, and there is no way that sheer chance could have formed the universe the way it is. Our existence is evidence of this. Metaxas is not an expert in this field, but he is certainly not the only one making such a claim. Theoretical physicist John Polkinghorne, and Christian philosopher Robin Collins have elaborated on such ideas. The teleological argument is a strong driving force in philosophy of religion, but Enns is not so fond of it.

In his response, Enns accuses Metaxas of possibly committing a God-of-the-gaps fallacy. This fallacy is committed when one assumes that just because modern science does not address a “gap” of knowledge of the physical world, we should assume God is the source of it. The problem with this fallacy is people who commit it set themselves up for failure when modern science does fill this gap (Galileo kicked God out of His home, Darwin put God out of a job, etc.). This is definitely a fallacy Christians should do their best to avoid. Enns asserts that we should recognize that God is the ground of being, that God is what makes existence itself possible. This is the Paul Tillich theory, that God is the philosophical Absolute, apart from which nothing can exist.

These discussions are healthy and Christians ought to be having them. I find most of natural theology compelling, and it is a topic of interest. Personally, I do not feel inclined to pick a side and decide whether Enns is right or Metaxas is right. It just doesn’t matter to me that much. Metaxas makes some good points, and he sites findings in modern theoretical physics that do present a big problem for the naturalist. At the same time, Enns makes a solid point that we should be careful to avoid God-of-the-gaps arguments, and there have been many times when properties in the physical world were assumed to be the result of divine intervention and later a natural cause was discovered. Both of them make good points. I think both of them are right in certain ways. They may both be wrong. Who knows? Who cares? The truth of the Christian faith runs much deeper.

 

Never Apologize For Good Apologetics

 

My purpose for analyzing the Metaxas/Enns discussion is it is a fairly recent example of modern apologetic discussion. Again, it is not a bad discussion to have. It becomes bad when we focus too much energy on it. I feel I have good reason to believe God exists and He knew humanity would encounter the scientific discoveries we have thus far and those we will continue to encounter. I also believe He knows that human inquiry about the natural world will change, continue to change, and cause certain arguments for God’s existence to not hold the same amount of weight they do at other time periods. My final “this I believe” statement is I believe God expects myself as well as all other Christians to adhere to Scripture as one of our primary methods of understanding who God is.

“He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”

Psalm 62:6 (NRSV)

Faith built on philosophical arguments and natural theology is shaky. It directly contradicts the verse above. One day it is clear that God exists, the next His tracks are covered by science. This tends to be the goal of many Christians, that intellects on “the other side” can be reached if we can just reason with them. This is bad apologetics. The arguments themselves are not bad, but the motivation behind them is harmful. Give up, Christian. It is not going to work in our reason-driven culture. Christians who are not philosophically driven like others do not possess an inferior faith than those who are. In order to live out a proper Christian life, one must do exactly that: live it out! This is ultimately the most useful Christian apologetic, your life. Use it unapologetically.

Salvation and Communion With God

 

I understand this line of thought may not seem very promising for some.   It is easy to want reason to be on your side when it comes to religious topics. Once again, apologetics and forming arguments are not bad things (they are useful methods under many circumstances). 1 Peter 3:15 does make it clear that we are to give reason for the faith we have. The whole purpose of this post comes down to two points:

  1. Apologetics are only a problem when we expect them to win someone over to Christ. God doesn’t save someone because they realize the universe is designed. He saves them when they recognize He is God. It doesn’t matter how they get there, as long as they do. I didn’t accept Christ because of an apologetic argument (I was only six), I did because I acknowledged who He is as the Son of God. Pure reason will not bring someone to recognize who exactly God is. He has to reveal that Himself. The Christian’s job is to recognize that God is powerful enough and, more importantly, WILLING enough to do this. Be ready to give a defense, but do not bet on that being the driving factor behind one’s salvation. Pray for them, do what you can, and ask for God’s ultimate revelation in their lives.
  2. If you are a Christian, be careful where you ground your faith. If you ground it in apologetics that are susceptible to change, you are standing on shaky ground. This is not to say that you will not have doubts. Plenty of those will present themselves. Be ready to resort to the knowledge that you have of who Christ is and what He has done in your life already, and be careful about using pure philosophy to ease those doubts.

The crucial job for Christians right now is for us to recognize our tendencies to fall into the trap that a reason-driven culture is pulling us into. God is not a puzzle to be solved. If He were, Christ would not have put such a high value on faith. Our primary calling is to recognize the one task Christ has given us: spread the Gospel. Whether that is through door-to-door evangelism or even some philosophical discussions, we are to do it. The ultimate turning point for one’s salvation is God’s intervention and revelation in their life.

Separating My Philosophy From My God

http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/why-phds-in-theology-commit-adultery

The above link is to a video of John Piper describing how knowing God on the PhD level in theology can be harmful to our faith in Him.  I found the video to be incredibly humbling and informative.  Is there something that a student of philosophy like myself is missing if I only know God on the academic level?

This has been a genuine struggle for me.  I have a difficult time separating my personal relationship with God from my studies about Him and who He is.  It is something that I am constantly working on in my personal life.  But I feel as though I’m not alone in this boat.  Don’t get me wrong, I love studying philosophy, religion, and biblical hermeneutics.  In fact, I plan to devote my career to it someday.  But the importance of discovering who God is on a relational level has to trump my knowledge of who God is on an academic level.  There are a few steps that I, and many others, have to continually work at in order to properly distinguish my relational faith in God from my academic knowledge of who he is.

Apologetics Can Be Harmful

I am NOT saying Christian apologetics is a bad field of study.  Again, I am devoting my life to studying a part of this.  The problem is that anybody who studies apologetics, philosophy, religion, etc. can easily fall into the trap of devoting every bit their identity in God to strict academic knowledge.  Our faith in God was meant to be much more than that.   As Piper said, “who cares about knowing God the way the Devil does?”  Anybody can study up and gain information about someone they’ve never met.  But knowing someone in this way does not give you any relational status with that person.  There is much more beauty and comfort that you have with an actual relationship with another person than if you just know details about them.

Apologetics can also be harmful when we claim to know indefinitely who God is.  This often occurs through philosophical arguments for the existence of God.  Philosophical arguments can be useful, but they are in no way the defining factor of who God is.  Placing your absolute faith in arguments that are constructed by human thinking can make God out to be something that He is not, and it can give you a false assumption that you know all about God.  The real danger in this is that it can be easy to make God out to be a high probability as opposed to the personal Savior of your soul.  The most humble thing that students of philosophy and theology can do is to recognize that the defining features of God are unknowable, and that mysterious side is the beauty that we ought to be chasing.

Coming to Faith

Most Christians do not come to faith in Christ because of a philosophical argument.  I know I certainly didn’t.  I accepted Christ at the age of six without having any knowledge of systematic theology or philosophical inquiry whatsoever.  Let’s face it, we all believe in certain things without having sufficient reason to do so; or we at least accept things without having enough knowledge to establish that belief.  An atheist may say that they find enough comfort in not knowing all of the mysteries of the universe without invoking a god.  I, on the other hand, find more comfort in invoking God in my worldview and not knowing all of the mysteries about Him.  Philosophical knowledge is useful, but it does not produce spiritual growth or relational comfort with God.

Allowance For Christ’s Intervention

Regardless of whether you are doing a devotional, studying theology, or just living out your everyday life, Jesus Christ must be a part of it.  Do not confine Christ to ten minutes of your morning, or just what you are studying in your Bible class.  Allowing Christ to be the center of everything you do throughout your day is key to being at peace with who God is.  Finding comfort in the fact that God wants to be a part of everything that is going on in your life is what allows you to pursue the mysterious aspects of God and come to terms with the plans that He has for your life.