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.

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?

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Genesis 2-3: Adam and Original Sin

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I wrote a post a while back on Adam and the significance of his character in biblical history. In this post, I want to go a little bit deeper into who Adam is. I was reading a book a while back entitled Four Views on the Historical Adam. To some, a book like this may be crazy. Many may see Adam as a necessary being for the Bible to function properly as a whole. However, I would make the claim otherwise. One of the contributors to this book, Denis Lamoureux, argued for a non-historical Adam. In the book, he makes a very profound statement:

 

“Adam [and Eve] never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”

 

Now, I am unwilling to make this much of a profound statement. Why? Because I am unsure if I agree with the first part of it. Now, let me phrase it how I would:

 

“Adam [and Eve] may have never existed, but regardless of whether they did or not, this has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity.”

 

Now, do I think Adam existed? I would argue that the question is completely irrelevant. It’s not a question I’m even willing to answer. The reason why is because the truth of Adam’s function does not hinge on his historicity.

 

In my last post on Genesis 1, I wrote about the purpose of the creation story was not to give an account of material origins, but rather an account of functional origins. Carry that over into Genesis 2. Now, the focus in this chapter is on humanity. God creates man for the purpose of giving him a function. The Hebrew word, “man”, literally means “Adam.” (This just happens to be a strange coincidence that the Hebrew word for “man” is also an english name.) I would propose that Adam is simply a representation of mankind as a whole. The function of Genesis 2 is to give man a purpose on this earth. God created us to thrive on this earth in perfect harmony with his creation, but, as Genesis 3 points out, we messed up and sinned against God. The focus is not a woman eating from a tree because a snake told her to. The focus is on the fact that humankind is sinful and we disobeyed God.

 

Now, I’m often asked how we can reconcile original sin and the human soul with evolutionary history. Again, I don’t feel it’s worth answering. The reason why is because adding evolutionary history into the mix literally does nothing to our understanding of the emergence of the human soul or original sin. Evolution is telling a story. It’s telling a material story of how we arrived here. The narrative in Genesis 2-3 is simply telling us that man is created in the image of God, and that we fell. The difference here is that one is a scientific truth, while the other remains a theological one. Evolutionary history cannot answer questions about God’s image being in human beings. Nor can it tell us about how human beings fell away from God. That is left up to a whole different set of issues.

 

So, in a nutshell, what is Genesis 2-3 trying to tell us? God created man in His image. He gave mankind a set of commands to follow and, as long as man stayed within those commands, they could live in His creation free from the effects of sin. Man sinned against God by breaking these commands and turning our back on Him, we fell away from His grace, and now we are forced to live in a world infected with sin. The purpose of Genesis 2-3 is actually very simple. It is just overcomplicated if you take a scientific approach to it.

Genesis 1

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If I were to ask you what a computer is, what would you say?  For most people, a computer is a machine that you can use to surf the internet, type papers, play games, etc.  Suppose the computer was just a machine, with no purpose at all.  It didn’t work or anything, it was just a useless machine.  Would you call that a computer?  The reason why we call it a computer is because it has a certain function, one that gives a purpose to the machine.  This analogy ties in to the Genesis account of creation.  After the Enlightenment era, a much different way of viewing the world began to rise.  This view consisted of a much more materialistic worldview, and it definitely had an impact on how Scripture was being interpreted.  Biblical literalism started to become a major part of hermeneutics and the original meaning of certain biblical texts was ignored.  In this post, I will not try to answer the question of whether the creation account is “literal”, “metaphorical”, “mythical”, etc.  To do so would be a major oversimplification.  In this post, I will attempt to be answer the question “what does Genesis 1 mean?”

 

First of all, I will emphasize why it is very important to interpret this text properly.  We live in an age of science, and one may find it difficult to reconcile current mainstream scientific ideas with the biblical creation account.  Geology is a major field that has wrecked post-Enlightenment literalism.  There are two ideas that are withheld in the field of biology:  Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism.  Catastrophism is the idea that Noah’s flood created the geologic layers and even the fossil record that we see today.  It wasn’t until about 200 years ago that this was found to be very problematic.  Uniformitarianism quickly replaced catastrophism in the current scientific paradigm.  This is the idea that slow, gradual processes brought about the fossil record and the geologic layers over millions of years.  The main reason why this view has succeeded is because it’s testable.  Catastrophism is based off of radical assumptions that cannot be tested and have no scientific basis to them.  Uniformitarianism, on the other hand, can be tested and the evidence shows very little geomorphological change in the earth around the time of the flood.  This is a huge problem for the catastrophist, and on top of that, Darwinian evolution has dominated the field of biology.  These two factors go directly against post-Enlightenment literalism.  So, how do we interpret the creation account?  The truth is that the language of Genesis 1-11 is unapologetically folklore in its face-value reading.  However, I won’t focus on that too much.  I’ll start by discussing Genesis 1.

 

Verse 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

I have often been accused of claiming that this verse is true, but the other parts of the Genesis account are mythical.  At best, that is a perversion of the text and in no way do I advocate it.  Context is everything and, like I said before, Genesis is an account of functional ontology rather than material.  That being said, the word “beginning” is translated in Hebrew as bara.  This is giving the creation account a function from the very beginning.  It is used in the context simply to give a functional beginning for the rest of the creation account.

 

Verse 2

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

 

In Hebrew, “formless” means tohu and “empty” means bohu.  Again, both of these words mean simply something that is “unproductive.”  This is giving function to the text.  What’s interesting is Genesis 1 is the only text in the Bible where the words “formless” and “empty” are used in the context of not being material properties.  It is important to note that in this context, these words do not mean something that lacks material, rather it simply means that nothing was happening.

 

Day 1:  Verses 3-5

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”

The ancients didn’t really have a clear concept of what “light” was.  This is important because it helps us to understand what the ancient function of light was.  Now, look at verse 5.  Notice how God calls the light “day.”  This is interesting, because the Hebrews had two distinct words for “day” and “light.”  So why not use them?  What the writer of Genesis was doing was using a rhetorical device called “metonymy.”  The Hebrews would have understood the text as a “period of light” as opposed to just “light.”  Essentially, it would make more sense for the text to say “God called the period of light “day,” and the period of darkness He called “night.”  This makes more sense because it takes care of the “light being day” issue and it gives a condition to “light,” which is how the Hebrews would have better understood it.  Not only that, but many people wonder why God would have created light before the sun.  If “light” is established as a period of time, as opposed to a material object, there is no contradiction between God creating light before the sun.  It just makes more sense.

 

Day 2:  Verses 6-8

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”  So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so.  God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

Many people thought that the modern science of evolutionary theory and the age of the earth contradicted the literal reading of Genesis 1.  This is true, but so should this.  The ancient hebrews thought there was a vault, or firmament (a solid dome) in the sky that held up the waters above the earth.  This is drastically problematic for the biblical literalist, because nobody believes this.  Man has traveled to the moon and our technology has gone even further.  To put it simply; the firmament does not exist.  However, the ancients thought it did.  This was part of their model of the universe, one that is 3-tier.

 

Day 3:  Verses 9-13

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”  And it was so.  God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.”  And God saw that it was good.  Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”  And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

What’s interesting about day 3 is that it does not describe God actually creating anything.  He gives the land responsibility to produce vegetation.  This clearly shows function over anything else, because God is establishing a creative order for how plants and vegetation are supposed to work.  It is not a material creation, it is a functional description.

 

Day 4:  Verses 14-19

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years,  and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.  God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.  God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth,  to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Again, more problems with the firmament.  The ancients thought that the stars and other celestial bodies were in the firmament, but, as we now know, the firmament does not exist.  The function focuses on the terminology of the “greater light” and the “lesser light” established times.  This is not God “creating,” but “establishing.”

 

Day 5:  Verses 20-23

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”  So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.  God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”  And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

Fairly simple.  The function here is to establish the roles of living creatures, and one of their primary functions is to reproduce.

 

Day 6:  Verses 24-31

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.  God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Again, establishing more function for creatures.  God then proceeds to instill His Image within mankind.  This is the most important functional aspect of the creation account because it establishes man’s role, which is the most important thing God has created.

 

This was just a simple overview of Genesis 1.  For the next post in this series, be watching Ryan Ellington’s blog = ryanwaitforitellington.wordpress.com

New Blog Series: A Deeper Meaning of Creation

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“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If you have grown up in an evangelical church, you have more than likely heard this verse many times. This is the very first verse of the Bible and the starting point for the book of Genesis. However, I would argue that the opening chapters of Genesis argue a much more profound and creative view of our creation than what is commonly believed in our post-Enlightenment Christian world. In this series, my friend Ryan Ellington and I will tackle some of the most difficult literature in the Bible, Genesis 1-11. This will be in in depth study of the purpose and the meaning of God’s creative order. Some of it will make the average reader uncomfortable, but I encourage all to bear with me through it as we explore the oldest and some of the most interesting literature in God’s Word.

 

Check out Ryan’s blog at ryanwaitforitellington.wordpress.com

The Conflict of Calvinism and Arminianism

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My very first post I ever wrote was in relation to Calvinism and Arminianism.  It wasn’t a very clear post (probably because it was my first one), so, after a lot of studying on this subject, I feel like I can dish out a more clear answer.  First, I am going to talk about the tenets of each of them, and describe the beliefs of each of them.

 

Calvinism

 

  1. Total depravity
  2. Unconditional election
  3. Limited atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Preservation for the saints.

 

Now, I have to say one thing about these points.  I cannot see how there is any free will at all, of any kind if you truly stick to these 5 points.  God chooses us according to the Calvinist view.  If you think we have some free will, then you are not a Calvinist.  If God unconditionally elects us and we are not able to resist it, then how could there be any say on our part?  There can’t be.  Is this unbiblical?  Well, I’ll address this issue later, when I talk about my own view.  However, I see Calvin as having a primary goal of showing God’s sovereignty.  This is a good thing.  The good motive behind Calvinism is the fact that God loves us enough to be actively involved in our lives and put forth an effort to save us.  So, to say it in short, Calvinism has many pros and cons.

 

Arminianism

 

  1. salvation (and condemnation on the day of judgment) was conditioned by the graciously enabled faith (or unbelief) of man;
  2. the Atonement, is qualitatively adequate for all men, “yet that no one actually enjoys [experiences] this forgiveness of sins, except the believer…” and thus is limited to only those who trust in Christ;
  3. “That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will,” and unaided by the Holy Spirit, no person is able to respond to God’s will;
  4. The (Christian) grace “of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of any good”, yet man may resist the Holy Spirit; and
  5. believers are able to resist sin through grace, and Christ will keep them from falling, but whether they are beyond the possibility of ultimately forsaking God or “becoming devoid of grace”, “must be more particularly determined.”

 

This is literally a direct contrast from Calvinism.  Jacobus Arminius wanted to show that God gave us the ability to choose him.  This is a good thing.  However, I will make the argument (and obviously Arminians will disagree with me) that you cannot claim that God is involved in our lives at all.  This troubles me, because it almost makes God out to be a deistic god.  I know, if you’re an Arminian you will disagree with me, but aside from point 3, this is the way I see it.

 

Where the conflict really lies.

 

Here’s the thing.  Aside from point 5 (which I think is a completely different issue), this is merely a perspective issue.  So, why do Christians get so bent out of shape with this issue?  I don’t know.  But I think it’s kind of ridiculous.  It simply doesn’t really matter.  At all.  The conflict lies in the fact that Christians do not know how to discuss important issues (yes, I am guilty of this as well).  If you think that one of these positions depends on your salvation or your overall view of God, I’m sorry, but you have greatly missed the entire purpose of Christianity.  Calvin and Arminius have unintentionally put a huge constraint on the Christian religion and it is greatly affecting the way we view our belief system.

 

So, what do I believe?

 

I do have to say that Calvinism and Arminianism are trying to achieve the same goal, and that is trying to get a proper perspective on how all of this works.  However, this cannot be put into 5 simple points.  The issue is much more simple, but at the same time, much more complex than that.  Regardless of what you believe, I personally think that every belief system:  Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, Libertarianism, etc. is flawed in some way because we simply cannot know the mind of God.  Is this a copout answer?  Maybe.  But I don’t think that’s always bad.  I think it is impossible to read the Bible and take it in its proper cultural context and see that God doesn’t choose His children.  God chooses us, and He chooses us unconditionally.  Why?  Because He loves us!  God is personally involved in our lives in every way.  However, what is the purpose of the Great Commission?  To reach the world for Christ.  So, is God driving us as robots to achieve His purpose?  I feel no inclination to believe that.  

 

“All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the LORD freewill offerings for all the work the LORD through Moses had commanded them to do.”

Exodus 35:29

Yes, this verse is old, but I think the concept is still relevant.  I think we have to come to a point where we realize that God and man have to meet at a certain point to where God stretches out His arms and we choose to jump into them.  This is the most beautiful way in which it can happen.  Are Calvinists and Arminians both trying to achieve this understanding?  I think so.  Are they achieving it on either side?  I don’t think so.  Are there unanswered questions?  Absolutely.  And that’s okay.

Genesis, The Problem of Adam, and the Function of Humanity

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Imagine just for a moment a restaurant being constructed from the ground up.  There would be many cycles that the restaurant would have to go through in order to become a fully formed building.  But, the question arises of when the restaurant actually becomes a “restaurant.”  Is it when the building is finished?  Is it when the sign is put up of the name of the restaurant?  No.  If these two things are true, then it is just a building with a name, not a restaurant.  It becomes a restaurant when a staff is hired, when a menu is made, and when food is served.  This gives the building a function, which then makes it a restaurant.  This is just a simple illustration of how the beginning account of Genesis works.  The purpose of the first few chapters is to give the world and humanity a functional, not a material scientific account of origins.  So, as I have described in my previous posts, the beginning of the Bible does not give us any indication over the age of the earth and how life arose.  The method to figuring those things out is not biblical, but scientific and historical.

 

So, moving on past the creation account, I want to investigate a character who has played a vital role in the Scriptures, Adam.  Now, I often feel as if we miss the point of who Adam is and what his role is.  First of all, the name “Adam” literally means “man” or “humanity.”  Many assume that Adam was the very first person who God created.  Now, we know that from research in fields such as archaeology and ancient DNA that Adam was most certainly not the very first person.  However, he is the first person that is mentioned in the Bible.  Adam is also by far the oldest character in the Bible, and there is a lot of mystery behind his existence.  So, a question arises as to whether Adam was even a real historical character or not.  But more importantly, does it matter if he was a real person or not?  I am not going to answer his historical validity because there is much debate over it, and I am reluctant to even take a stance on it.  My main concern is what Adam’s function is, and that is the real issue.  Adam plays a central role in the first three chapters of Genesis.  But, as I said above, the intention of Genesis is functional, not material.

 

So, what is Adam’s function?  First of all, whether a historical figure or a representation of humanity as a whole, Adam is given the role of living in harmony on the land, in God’s presence, and is told not to turn his back on God.  The biblical story is of him and his wife, Eve, who are living in the Garden of Eden exactly where God placed them.  They are told not to do one thing, and that is eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God tells them that the day that they do this they will surely die (emphasis on the “spiritual” death).  Now, of course Eve eats the fruit after the devil in the form of a serpent tells her to, but something I notice is that God blames Adam for this event.  Why?  Because Adam was not doing his job by taking care of his wife.  The first sin, from a literal standpoint, is not Eve eating the fruit, but Adam not doing his job as a husband.  Now, to me this event points to something beyond the text, and that is that God did not just want them to stay away from the fruit, but there are many other things that he did not want us to do, also.  But, if this is true, why so much emphasis on the tree?  Again, I don’t take a full on stance on all of this, but whether Adam, Eve, the serpent, and even the tree are real or not, it doesn’t at all change the function of this story.  God gave humanity the role of following him, and we screwed that up by turning our backs on him.  Adam doesn’t matter, humanity matters.  We are fallen, sinful creatures not because Adam is real, not because there was a talking snake, and not because of a literal tree with evil fruit, but because WE turned away from God as a whole.  This is the true function of the beginning stories of Genesis.  In a way, we are all a part of Adam, for he is the representation of a man who brought sin into the world, and we are keeping this cycle going by doing the same exact thing as he did.  This is the real problem of Adam.  Not that he screwed up and sinned, but that HUMANITY screwed up and sinned.  God gave us a function, and we failed to use it properly, and now we have to pay the deadly consequences.  People often accuse Adam of bringing sin into the world and messing it up for the rest of us, and these people are missing the point.  Adam, being a real person or not, is a symbol of who we are as a human race:  weak, fallen, and in need of a savior.

 

However, God gave us a new function.  When Jesus came down to die for our sins, He gave His life for us and became apart of our messed up function in order that we gain a new function, and that is to accept his perfect gift of eternal salvation.  And that is the true function of humanity.