Monthly Archives: February 2019

Does Dark Matter … Really Matter?

Did you know that astrophysicists have found the “missing baryons?”  Why would a Christian care about such a discovery?

 

As Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist and president of Reasons to Believe, put it, this discovery helps to solve the mystery of “dark matter,” supporting the modern Big Bang theory, which points to a beginning of the universe. When the Big Bang theory was first developed in the mid-20th century, a problem immediately became apparent, as the theory predicted that there should be a great mass of matter (or energy) existing between galaxies, making up to about 70% or so of the universe. The problem was that researchers could never see it; hence, roughly speaking, the term, “dark matter.”

In 2017, two independent teams of researchers were able to develop a method whereby they could detect the existence of the “missing baryons.” For those Christians who believe that the Bible affirms, or is at least not in conflict with, the idea of an ancient universe, of millions of years, this discovery appears to point towards the existence of so-called “dark matter,” helping to solve a persistent riddle, as to what was missing in the Bang Bang cosmological model. There is still a lot more to learn about so-called “dark matter,” and neither this discovery, nor the Big Bang theory necessarily “prove” the Bible. But for Christians who hold to an Old Earth Creationist interpretation of the Bible, like astrophysicist Hugh Ross, this discovery is yet another piece of evidence in favor of the truthfulness of the Christian faith.

Ironically, many Young Earth Creationists have been fighting against the notion of dark matter for decades. Why? Because if dark matter really exists, it would help to bolster the Big Bang theory, and thereby undercut their interpretation of the Bible, namely that the earth and universe is only about 6,000 years old, contrary to the consensus of modern science. Now, there are at least some Young Earth Creationists, such as Danny Faulkner at Answers in Genesis, who are saying that the question of dark matter is really irrelevant, and that Young Earth Creationists, like astronomer Faulkner, should embrace the existence of dark matter in their alternative proposals. This is quite a concession.

But for those who believe that the evidence supporting the modern scientific consensus for the Big Bang is, at least, in some sense, consistent with what the Bible teaches, namely, that the universe had a beginning (“In the beginning”…. see Genesis 1:1), dark matter is not a problem at all. For if the universe had a beginning, it stands to reason that you will also have a Beginner!

Now, with a God who works miracles, a Young Earth Creation is still possible. Many of my dear Christian friends are Young Earth Creationists, and they have several thoughtful reasons for holding to their position. But the story of dark matter raises a good question: As a Christian, what is easier to defend when talking with a non-believer? The idea that science coheres with the Bible, or that science is in conflict with the Bible?


What is an “Elder” of a Church?

How can we think of the question of eldership more like a dance…. instead of a brawl???

Calling someone an elder doesn’t make them an elder… so writes British pastor, Andrew Wilson, in his excellent blog essay, “A Theology of Eldership.”

Wilson begins his essay with a famous, Abraham Lincoln anecdote:

Abraham Lincoln was fond of asking people: if we call a tail a leg, then how many legs does a dog have? “Five,” his audience would invariably answer. “No,” came his standard reply, “the correct answer is four. Calling something a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

When I look around at how different churches implement spiritual authority, I observe that rarely is there a clear, biblically-driven understanding of what it means to be an “elder” of a church. At the risk of being overly too-brief and simplistic, an “elder” is an office in the church, and as Wilson argues in his essay, the primary function of an “elder” is to act as a type of shepherd, or pastor of a flock, to borrow from the Bible’s teaching related to tending after sheep. To shepherd or pastor is to protect the sheep from physical harm. Likewise, an “elder” is someone who serves the community of faith by protecting them from spiritual harm. An “elder” is a type of guardian, making sure that the people are grounded upon solid, Bible doctrine.

But no matter how wonderful or effective they might be, how many “elders” in churches really function like that?  For example, there are churches where a pastor or pastors of the church, who preach on Sunday morning, do not serve as “elders.” Furthermore, there are “elders” who think of themselves, not as spiritual guardians or shepherds, but rather as “members of the board” of the church, like in a business corporation. That may work for a Fortune 500 company, but is it appropriate for a local church?

In other words, such “elders” are primarily tasked with administration of the church, handling financial matters, etc., but it is not altogether clear as to what type of spiritual authority they exercise, if any, in terms of shepherding or pastoring the flock. Perhaps, much of these administrative tasks might more properly be viewed in terms of “waiting on tables,” as in Acts 6:2, and not something that should distract the “elders” from their more pressing duty, of faithfully expounding the Scriptures to the community of believers. So, here you have a case of pastors, who act like “elders,” but they are not “elders,” and “elders,” who do not necessarily act like “elders,” because the pastors are already acting as “elders.”

How much sense does this really make?

My concern is that such a fluid understanding of what defines an “elder” is terribly confusing.

Calling someone an elder doesn’t make them an elder.

Unless you have been living under a rock for most of your Christian life, the subject of “women and elders” has been a hot-button issue in evangelical churches for a long, long time. Some believe that the Bible does not permit women to serve as elders. Others believe that the Bible does allow women to serve as elders. Some see this, not as a question of superiority or inferiority of a particular gender, but rather as an issue of proper spiritual authority. Others see this, not as “caving into the culture,” but rather as an issue of encouraging the full use of gifts for ministry, for both men and women, as well as an issue of justice, in a world where women are marginalized and abused, who need to know about and experience the liberating power of the Gospel. Some see male-only eldership as part of the historically ordained, orthodox principle of church structure, in keeping with the New Testament, and not to be tampered with, whereas others see a male-female joint eldership as an inevitable reality that all churches must eventually accept…. it is just a matter of time.

Unlike other controversial issues in the church, like the use of alcohol, age of the earth, different views of the End Times, etc., the “women and elders” issue is simultaneously public, profound, and pervasive. It is public, because while others may never know about your use or non-use of alcohol, a woman in the pulpit is hard to ignore. It is profound, because unlike the dispute over the millennium or the timing of the “Rapture,” Christians can exist for years in our churches, without a decided view on the End Times, but how we think about gender, and its relationship to spiritual authority, is something that touches on the core of every person’s being. It is pervasive, because while not all Christians are highly scientifically minded and motivated, to understand the age of the earth, gender-based issues impact just about every area of life.

Both sides in the “women and elders” controversy can make some powerful arguments. (… and yes, you can find extremes on both sides, too, those who view gender categories as completely interchangeable, making no mention of spiritual authority, and those on the other side who devalue the competence or performance of women, decapitating one-half of the Body of Christ, from the service of Christ’s Kingdom. I am ignoring these extremes here…)

The difficulty is that when churches wrestle with these issues, we do our congregations a disservice when we fail to adequately define what constitutes an “elder,” so that at least everyone is on the same page. For example, if a church allows women to serve as deacons, but the so-called “elders” in the church are largely performing the office of being deacons, to prohibit women to serve as such “elders” is completely nonsensical, thus offending the conscience of those who seek, in obedience to God, to celebrate the full gifting of men and women. But if you allow women to serve as such “elders,” railing against the conscience of those who believe that the Bible does not allow women to serve as elders, for the sake of upholding biblical, spiritual authority, what is the point? This is particularly confusing, when it is, to a large part, non-“elder” pastors of the church, who are mainly fulfilling the task of being “elders.” What then, is the positive, edifying purpose you are really serving?

This all seems like a recipe for madness, to me, an excuse for those passionate on both sides to vote with their feet…. and unnecessarily so, as it neglects laying the proper groundwork to achieve a common vocabulary, which is necessary to gain a proper understanding of the issues.

Here is my practical suggestion. I might be wrong, so I would appreciate correction, if needed. If a church is considering the “women as elders” issue, it might be useful to consider limiting the office of elder, for men only, to actually that of pastoring and shepherding, as much as possible, and greatly expanding, as much as possible, the role of deacon, including men and women, to serve the community, and thus empowering all, male and female, to fully use their God-given gifts. It will not make everyone happy, but it might be a good step forward to promote peace.

Might I humbly suggest that churches should consider crafting a clear understanding of what constitutes an “elder,” before engaging in discussions, about whether or not women should or could serve in such a capacity?


Does Carbon-14 Radiometric Dating Undermine the Bible (or Confirm It)?

Some Christians are not fans of radiometric dating. They believe that radiometric dating has been used to attack the Bible. These Christians seek to honor God’s Word, so the motives behind the argument against some scientific practices, such as Carbon-14 dating, are well-intentioned. Nevertheless, this approach can be confusing, if not wrongheaded, for the simple reason that Carbon-14 dating actually presents strong evidence for the Christian faith (and not against it).

How can that be?

Carbon-14 dating is but one of several radiometric dating methods, whereby scientists can determine the ages of things, by examining how quickly certain substances have decayed over time in a sample. Substances, like Carbon-14, will slowly break down, at a rate determined by the radioisotope’s half-life.

Radiometric dating methods, like with Carbon-14, get a bad rap among some Christians, in that the science of radiometric dating is used to suggest that the earth is really, really old… as in millions of years old… which runs contrary to a common view, that the earth is only 6,000 years old. However, it should be clarified that Carbon-14 dating, specifically, can only measure things in terms of thousands of years old, and not millions. But the calibration principle behind Carbon-14 dating, when applied to other substances with a much longer half-life, like potassium, allows scientists to measure dates in the range of millions of years. Therefore, the concern about radiometric dating in principle remains.

But how many Christians know that Carbon-14 dating actually has been used to confirm the Bible? Let me describe a few examples. Continue reading


Elisha, She-Bears, and the Cursing of Children?

This is up there near the top of “Weird Stories of the Bible,” when the prophet Elisha curses a group of young boys, who taunt him. But does this image really correspond to the message that the Scriptural writer is intending to convey?

I was totally dumbstruck, a moment I will never forget. I was doing youth ministry, when a high school student asked me about the weird incident of Elisha and the She-Bears, found in 2 Kings 2:23-25. What is that all about?

I had never seen the passage before, and it left me speechless:

23 He [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”24 And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. 25 From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

What is going on in this passage? I will be honest: Having never read that before, I had no clue how to respond. Over seven years in Bible-teaching churches had never prepared me for that question (Why do most churches skip over these difficult passages????).

Skeptics use these verses to mock the morality of the Bible. It is hard not to blame them, from a quick, surface reading of the text. It sounds like God is sanctioning, even inflicting, violent child abuse.

But this high school student who quizzed me about this passage was not at all trying to ridicule the Bible. It was a honest question. This teenager was sincerely confused… and I was stumped.

I could have simply said, “Well, that is in the Old Testament. No need to worry.” But I knew better.

So, what is the Bible really talking about here? Could there be more going on, than what a plain-text, isolated reading of the text indicates?

A theologian who writes frequently for First Things magazine, Peter Leithart, highlights the work of Keith Bodner, that gives a more nuanced, and greatly more compelling answer as to how to interpret this difficult text in the Bible. In short, the story of Elisha and She-Bears is really an event with satirical theological-political commentary, criticizing the apostatizing of Israel’s leadership, by their sanctioning of idolatry at Bethel. A careful reading of other biblical texts gives us the clues needed to fully unpack this story (see 1 Kings 12:1-15, 2 Kings 1:8, 1 Kings 14:21, 1 Kings 13:24, 2 Kings 8:12, for additional context).

In this interpretation, the “small boys” in this passage, really are not children at all. Instead, they are a band of idolatrous priests that threaten Elisha, and the true worship of God the prophet represents. The author uses the language of “small boys,” not to historically chronicle their age, but rather to criticize the immaturity of these rebellious priests.

The critique of Elisha’s “baldness?” Well, this is not really about a loss of hair, but rather the loss of losing his mentor Elijah, as a spiritual covering.

This explanation may not completely remove for you the scandal that this passage raises. Understood, but the shock value maybe the point. Passages in the Bible that sound just plain weird, might be clues that more is going on than what can be picked up by a surface reading. As I wrote about in my review of Andy Stanley’s book, Irresistible, perhaps the problem with the Old Testament, is not with the Old Testament itself, but in how we interpret it.

Additional Resources:

Gospel Coalition blogger, Derek Rishmawy has an older post highlighting Peter Leithart’s own commentary on this passage, from Leithart’s 1 & 2 Kings commentary. For some other, informed takes on the same story, I would recommend either the following segment of Dr. Michael Heiser’s Naked Bible Podcast (Heiser is an Old Testament scholar, for Logos Bible Software, who wrote many of the notes for the FaithLife Study Bible, and author of the groundbreaking book, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible), or a sermon by Dr. Peter Williams (Williams is a textual critical scholar at the University of Cambridge, and Tyndale House, in England, and a translator for the English Standard Version of the Bible), or the detailed analysis from the “uber-intellectual” Alastair Roberts, MereFidelity podcaster and blogger. Dr. Heiser’s treatment is just audio, with no video. But one of Dr. Heiser’s key themes is that if it is weird, it is probably important. This passage surely qualifies. The Dr. Williams’ video is from a talk he gave at, what I think is, Park Street Church in Boston (Williams takes a more traditional view of the “young boys”, summarized in a series of Tweets). Alastair Roberts’ video is from his YouTube Question & Answer channel. All three scholars offer great resources on other topics, I might add!:

 

 

 


Supporting Vaccination: Loving Our Non-Believing Neighbors

Many of you have been hearing about recent measles outbreaks across the country. What is so sad about this situation is that vaccination is probably the most effective means of preventing the spread of measles. But when we learn that many of the “anti-vaccination” people are evangelical Christians, the story gets even more distressing.

Folks, many Christians are divided over many things, including how we should be thinking biblically about science. But this is one issue where Christians should be united, if not for the sake of our own families, but also for the sake of our witness to our non-believing neighbors.

Consider this, of the three primary creationist positions, regarding faith/science issues facing the church today (Young Earth Creation, Old Earth Creation, and Evolutionary Creation), all three have leading ministries endorsing the use of vaccines, such as Creation Ministries International, Reasons to Believe, and Biologos, respectively. The fact that all three of these groups, which differ in so many other respects, speak of one mind regarding the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, is a remarkable testimony.

Unfortunately, too many people make the step of drawing from statements, by evangelists like Gloria Copeland (below), that you do not need vaccines (flu, in Copeland’s case), and that we can simply trust in Jesus.  Yes, we should trust in Jesus, but this does not mean that we should not take prudent steps to protect our health and the health of others around us. Nothing in life is risk free, but Christians should stop passing on debunked stories as to the supposed link between autism and vaccines. The benefits of vaccines outweigh the risks.

In an era when so many non-Christians have such suspicions towards evangelical Christians, it would greatly speak for the Gospel if Christians can take the step of making sure we approve of vaccinations, in word and deed, as an expression of love towards our non-believing neighbor.


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