Monthly Archives: September 2017

Did Luther Intend to Start The Reformation? (In Seven Minutes)

My bad” (??)

October 31, 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of when an obscure monk and theology academic, Martin Luther, nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, a spark that has set off a controversy ever since. But what do we do with this event? Do we “celebrate” it? Do we “mourn” it?

How we answer these questions, typically stems from a larger question: Did Martin Luther intend to start the Protestant Reformation? Gordon-Conwell church history professor, Ryan Reeves, explores this question, in the following seven-minute video.

Whatever we do with Luther’s motives behind the Reformation, what we should not do, is to ignore the Reformation. The Reformation is not just some event, located in the recesses of the past. The debates around Reformation define for Christians, even today, what we think about the Gospel, the Bible, and the Church.

I will be teaching an adult Bible class, this fall (2017), at the Williamsburg Community Chapel, 9:30 to 10:45 am, in Room 128, that explores these topics in greater detail. Please leave a comment in the comments section, if you want more information about the class.


Statements: A Reforming Catholic Confession

 

Now, here is a theological statement that I can really get excited about!!

Since the Reformation, many have accused Protestants of being a divisive folk, unable to agree on much of anything, thus undermining the unity of God’s Church throughout the world. On the eve of remembering the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, this is a charge that deserves some careful thought, before responding.

Yes, there are differences that can divide, but is there a core of fundamental beliefs that unites Protestants together? In there a “mere Protestantism,” recalling C.S. Lewis’ famous book, Mere Christianity?

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School theologian, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, says, “Yes!” In the following video, Vanhoozer explains that there is a core of common beliefs among Protestants. The Reforming Catholic Confession is a statement written that seeks to demonstrate that unified, shared core. Over 750 Christian leaders have already signed on, supporting this confession.

When I read the confession for myself, I wondered if this was even broader in scope than “just for Protestants.”  My hunch is that at least some of my Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends might even find agreement here as well. Read the Reforming Catholic Confession for yourself, and let me know what you think.

In general, I am always a bit cautious about “statements,” as they are rarely the final word on anything. At best, they are works in progress. But the Reforming Catholic Confession is the kind of statement that is really a great place to start. Tell your friends about it!

Can I get an “AMEN?!”


Statements: What Does Nashville Have to Do With Chicago?

On August 29, 2017, a group of evangelical leaders announced the signing of the Nashville Statement. If you have not heard of it, you should go and read it for yourself.

The Nashville Statement was crafted by the leadership of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), in response to recent cultural changes regarding the public acceptance of gay marriage and transgender identification. For those Christians who have felt that the evangelical church has not taken a firm enough stand against these cultural trends, this is a boldly direct statement that such Christians should spend some time carefully studying.

CBMW originally had its beginnings, in the 1980s, opposing the acceptance of women as elders and/or pastors, in churches, as well as affirming male-headship in the home. But now, with the Nashville Statementunder the leadership of Bible professor Denny Burk, CBMW has broadened its scope to “equip the church on the meaning of biblical sexuality.”

Why is it called the Nashville Statement? Well, because, like other Christian confessional documents, ranging from the Nicene Creed, to the Augsburg Confession, to the Westminster Confession, it was written in Nashville, Tennessee. It contains a listing of articles, made of various affirmations (“WE AFFIRM”) and denials (“WE DENY”), that seek to address a biblical approach to gender dysphoria and same-sex desire and behavior.

The written style of the Nashville Statement is therefore much like the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, drafted in Chicago, in the 1970s. Like the Chicago Statement, the Nashville Statement enjoys some of the same positive characteristics as well as suffering some of the same problems that these type of documents have.

As I have written about before, the Chicago Statement succeeded in defining a view of biblical authority, that many evangelical Christians could rally around and support, rightly affirming the Bible’s truthfulness. On the other hand, the Chicago Statement was unsuccessful in resolving a number of issues surrounding how the Bible is to be interpreted. Much of the challenge that has arisen, since the Chicago Statement’s signing, involves how terms, like inerrancy, that are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, are to be defined and applied in Christian hermeneutics.

The Nashville Statement carries much of the same properties, but within a different scope. The Nashville Statement is already gathering an impressive number of Christian leaders, across a wide set of backgrounds, who have publicly signed onto the document. It affirms the beliefs that Christians have held for 2000 years. In our sexually confused world, this is a big deal. I would not be surprised if the Nashville Statement becomes a unifying banner for many, if not most, conservative evangelicals.

Alas, the Nashville Statement has its difficulties. It uses terminology and language that some might find antiquated, offensive, or otherwise, difficult to define, such as “homosexual,” “divinely ordained differences between male and female” (Article 3 & 4), “homosexual or transgender self-conception” (Article 7), and “transgenderism” (Article 10). What does all of this mean?

For example, does the Nashville Statement mean that those who identify as gay and celibate persons can consider themselves as being fully Christian, or does it preclude such self-identification? I honestly do not know. As far as I can tell, many of the signers (and non-signers) of Nashville themselves are deeply divided on this.

There has been a firestorm of criticism from the progressive wing of Christianity, such as this counter-statement, Christians United: In Support of LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church.  However, there have also been a different set of criticisms from other conservative evangelicals.

From my perspective, I would not have written such a document in the same manner. While the Nashville Statement affirms central ideas that I would strongly endorse, like in defending a biblical concept of marriage, I doubt that it successfully casts a vision of how to reach out to an LGBT+ population, that remains either hidden in silence in, or already alienated from, evangelical churches.

This is a pastoral crisis in our churches, and it has been that way for years. A 2009 study shows that teenagers who struggle with same-sex desires, many of whom come from Christian families, who experience rejection from their families, are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide, than other teenagers. I personally know a number of folks who have left evangelical church communities, feeling that evangelical churches are not safe and supportive environments for addressing LGBT+ questions.

I pay close attention to the writings of Mark Yarhouse, professor of clinical psychology at Regent University, in Virginia Beach, who believes that the Nashville Statement lacks the type of nuanced, mature reflection necessary to address extremely difficult and complex questions surrounding gender dysphoria, that many Christians, and often even scientists and psychologists today, do not know that much about. I also agree strongly with the critique offered by theologian Preston Sprinkle, author of People To Be Loved. The Nashville Statement will be a rallying point for many Christians, in that it affirms an approach to biblical sexuality. But it offers very little in terms of how Christians can faithfully love and care for friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members who struggle with sexual and gender identity issues. As Preston Sprinkle puts it, the evangelical conversation in this area typically “has been profoundly impersonal and one-sided (lots of truth and very little grace).”

Will the Nashville Statement have the staying power of a Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, or even a Nicene Creed? I do not know. Either way, I do hope for something better in evangelical churches, a Christian vision that fosters a spiritual posture that enables Christians to be agents of healing, as opposed to having the reputation as being agents of condemnation.


Pray for Nabeel Qureshi

Nabeel Qureshi, a young Muslim turned Christian apologist, published his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounter Christianity

Nabeel Qureshi is a Christian apologist, from a Muslim background. Please pray for him.  Nabeel is dying of stomach cancer, and the immediate prognosis is not good.

Nabeel grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, having parents grounded in Ahmadiyah Islam. He became a follower of Jesus, after becoming friends with David Wood, an atheist turned Christian, while both were students at Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia. He wrote the best-selling Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, after pursuing a medical degree and advanced theological studies in Christian apologetics. Nabeel is a speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

Fellow Veracity blogger, John Paine, met Nabeel at an apologetics conference a few years ago, and John wrote a great series on Islam, based a lot on what John learned from Nabeel.

Nabeel’s critics from Islam believe that his stomach cancer is a sign of God’s judgment against him, for turning his back on Islam, and becoming a Christian.

Please pray that God might work a miracle, or otherwise, finish strong.

Nabeel had to have his stomach removed, several weeks ago. As the flood waters were rising outside of his home, in Houston, during Hurricane Harvey, he was rescued from his home and taken to the hospital, for further treatment. Sadly today, Nabeel released a video on YouTube, telling his supporters that he has been put on palliative care. Nabbed is married with one child. Nabeel Qureshi is 34 years old.

 


Perfect Solar Eclipses . . . (and the Wobbly Table of Young Earth Apologetics)

The Great American Eclipse of 2017 brought a few hundred, enthusiastic observers to a viewing party at the College of William and Mary. I really want to see a total solar eclipse, next time, in 2024!!

Living in Williamsburg, Virginia, I was given the privilege of seeing a partial solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, along with many other Americans. But as several of my friends all said, who made the trek down to South Carolina, to witness the totality of the Great American Eclipse of 2017, the difference between witnessing a partial eclipse versus a total eclipse is tremendous. Some have said it is like the difference between getting a negative report on a pregnancy test versus getting a positive report on a pregnancy test.

Inhabitants of the planet earth have the incredibly unique opportunity to observe perfect solar eclipses, that have enabled the rapid advancement of modern science. In a perfect solar eclipse, like the one that crossed America in August, 2017, the disc of the moon perfectly and exactly covers the disc of the sun in the sky, for just a few minutes. This unique phenomenon led to one of the greatest scientific discoveries, nearly one hundred years ago.

Albert Einstein was a fairly unknown figure, in 1916, when he published his theory of general relativity. The reigning theory of cosmology at the time suggested that there was no beginning to the physical universe, an idea that contradicts the teaching of the Bible, that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Einstein’s theory would indicate that there indeed was a beginning, and that this made sense scientifically. To prove his theory, Einstein predicted that you could make measurements during a perfect solar eclipse, to demonstrate that the gravitational influence of the sun bends the rays of light emanating from distant stars.

A colleague of mine brought a colander to the eclipse viewing party, where you can make out dozens of crescents from the partial eclipse (click on image to expand, to get a closer look).

In May 1919, British physicist, Sir Arthur Eddington, led an expedition to Brazil to observe a total solar eclipse. Eddington’s observations confirmed that the predictions made by Einstein were 100% correct. Albert Einstein became a household name after that discovery. This eventually led to the contemporary understanding of Big Bang cosmology, with its emphasis on a specific, unique beginning of the universe, in alignment with what the Bible teaches.

This discovery would have been impossible without perfect solar eclipses, that enabled Eddington, and other physicists after him, to make precise measurements that could test Einstein’s theory. There are four basic conditions that need to be met in order to have a perfect solar eclipse:

  • (1) The moon’s size relative to the sun’s size has to match exactly.
  • (2) The moon’s distance from the Earth relative to the sun’s distance from the Earth.
  • (3) The earth’s distance from the sun.
  • (4) Humans had to come into being at the precise time in history, to be able to observe perfect solar eclipses.

Christian astronomer Hugh Ross notes the low probability of all of these factors coming together. In a recent interview for the Christian Broadcasting Network, Ross said, “The sun is 400 times farther away from us than the moon. But the sun is 400 times bigger. So that’s why you get a perfect solar eclipse.” Yet despite the extreme low probability, some atheistic astronomers believe that the exact combination of all of these factors is merely a “coincidence.”

Taking the view of these atheistic astronomers is close to believing that you can win a multi-million dollar lottery rather easily. As a Christian, I believe that it is far more reasonable to consider the possibility that the God of the Bible, in His providential way, made the exact conditions possible for us to observe perfect solar eclipses, thus enabling the remarkable growth of modern technology, in the 21st century. The existence of these four, exactly precise conditions, helped to me worship God as Creator, as I witnessed August’s solar eclipse, even a few hundred miles from where the path of totality occurred.

Looking for a napkin to prop up that short table leg? You might be better off with a different, more sturdy table.

Strangely however, some Christians seem content to have a wobble in their thinking on this topic. Consider this: Have you ever been out to a restaurant, where the table wobbles on the floor? It can be a rather annoying experience.

You fumble around for a book of matches, or a napkin, to place under the short table leg, trying to even the table out. You hope that you are not flipping your dining companion’s plate, as they try to eat their meal, when you lean over your side of the table to eat yours.

Now consider that fourth, basic condition necessary to be able to have perfect solar eclipses: Humans had to come into being at the precise time in history, to be able to observe perfect solar eclipses.  This is really important as the distance of the moon to the earth is increasing by 3.82 centimeters per year. As astronomer Hugh Ross notes again, there is a “300 million year” window for us to be able to observe perfect solar eclipses.

Prior to that 300 million year window, the moon would be too close to the earth, such that the disc of the moon would greatly exceed the disc size of the sun, thus making the exact measurements made by Sir Arthur Eddington difficult to obtain. After that 300 million year window, humans would not be able to even see a total solar eclipse, since the disc of the moon would be much smaller than the disc size of the sun. In other words, humans needed to appear on earth at exactly the right time in the 13 billion year history of the universe, which is a low probability event (unless you believe in a God of providence!).1

However, if the universe is less than 6,000 years old, as many of my Young Earth Creationist friends insist, you are effectively shortening the leg of the four-legged table of this argument, for demonstrating God’s providential action in the history of the universe. From a Young Earth point of view, the window for viewing a perfect solar eclipse far exceeds the time-span of the life of the universe, at least up to this point in time. In other words, we are not really living in any particularly unique period of time to be able to view perfect solar eclipses, at all! From that angle, the appearance of humans in earth history is no big deal, when it comes to viewing perfect solar eclipses.

Do you see how that table wobbles now?

True, if the universe is less than 6,000 years old, you still have the other three legs of the argument, that support the idea of the uniqueness of having perfect solar eclipses, in God’s created universe. So, I can not completely dismiss a 6,000 year old universe, as at least a theoretical possibility.

But I am still left with a short leg, on the fourth leg of the argument, and that leaves me with a rather wobbly table.

When your matchbooks, napkins, or your car keys fail to prop up that wobbly table in the restaurant, most people would probably just give up and ask for another table at the restaurant. Sadly, there are many people who grew up with a belief in Young Earth Creationism, as the one and only possible option for the Christian, and when some realize that their “table” is rather wobbly, more than a few have left the “restaurant” of orthodox Christian faith altogether, to go to a completely different “restaurant,” if you follow my analogy.

What a needless tragedy!!

As I have argued elsewhere on Veracity, belief in a Young Earth remains at least a theoretical possibility, and I respect that. But if the evidence from modern science, that has thus far concluded that the universe is 13 billion years old, creates in us a sense of incredible awe and wonder, at how God uniquely put us in the exact, precise time in earth history, to be able to view perfect solar eclipses, and enjoy the majesty of God, why would we reject that?

Notes:

1. There are other factors that make the current moment in universal history so unique, with respect to observing perfect solar eclipses, such as the interference of supernova, in making observations during total solar eclipses, and the existence of telescope technology, that enabled folks like Sir Arthur Eddington, to make his observations. If you do the math, you will see what I mean. 


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