Monthly Archives: September 2019

Did God Create the World as “Perfect”… or As “Good?”

Most of us have heard the story.

God created the world in six days. On the first through fifth day, God declares what he has created to be “good.” Then, we get a step up on the sixth day, when humanity was created, God saying it was “very good.

But is “good” the same thing as “perfect?”

According to a few sermons I have heard over the years, “good” and “perfect” are synonymous. But is this Scripturally accurate? Is this really what the Bible teaches?

 

On the one hand, linking “good” and “perfect” sounds like a reasonable assumption. After all, Christians believe that God is indeed perfect. So why would God create anything other than something that was perfect?

Makes sense, right?

Many who take this view go onto believe that when Adam and Eve sinned, not only did they introduce human sin, suffering, and death into the world, they also introduced animal death and suffering into the world.  If humans had never sinned, then the animals never would have died either. This is consistent with what is considered to be a contemporary, Young Earth Creationist reading of the first few chapters of Genesis.

This is probably the strongest theological argument in favor of God creating the world, from nothing, within a span of six 24-hour days. It does make me wonder about where the mayfly fits in this timing scheme, with its life span of only 24-hours, but just go with me here….

In summary: God created the world perfectly. He would never create a world with millions of years of death, cancer, and suffering in it. For those things, we have Adam to blame. Not God.

This makes for a captivating story.

It might even be true.

But there is a difficulty with this reading of Scripture.

Take Genesis 1:2, the second verse of the Bible, before we even get to day one of Creation, for example. Here we read the first part of that verse:

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep….(ESV)

If God created this universe as “perfect,” why would he create the earth, starting out, with what was without form and void? Was this really God’s doing?

How is an earth, without form and void, “perfect?”

Or, how about a little bit later, when God speaks to the humans he has just created, on day six:

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth…..(Genesis 1:28 ESV)

The word “subdue” is highlighted, because it sounds so… well…. rough and rugged, to say the least. If God created everything “perfect,” then why would humans be called upon to subdue the earth? Why try to subdue something, if it was perfect to begin with?

Some do raise answers to such questions. For example, some claim that God’s command to subdue the earth, only applies to the ground itself, and does not include the animals. To subdue the rocky ground, for farming, is quite different from trying to subdue the animal kingdom.1

I will leave it to the reader to consider if such an answer is compelling or not.

Biblical scholars tell us that, in the days of people like Abraham and Moses, the other gods surrounding ancient Israel,  such as Marduk of the Babylonians, and Atum of the Egyptians, were pretty much a disorderly mess, particularly when it came to the creation of the world. Pagan stories about creation treated the concept of creation itself as a kind of afterthought.

The Bible, on the other hand, tells a much different story.

It tells us that the God of the Bible is a God of order. He brings order out of chaos. Perhaps this is what Genesis has in mind, when in verse 2, we read about the earth being without form and void, which is consistent with a picture of chaos. As the reader proceeds through the days of Creation, the sense of a gradual movement from chaos to order emerges, such as when the creation of light, on day one, gets superseded by the appearance of the sun and moon, on day four, to mark off the days and years.

Then we read on down to day six, where God creates humanity to have dominion over all of the good that God has created. Perhaps, this is what is going on in Genesis, that God’s act of creation is a way of bringing order out of chaos. That might help to explain why God created everything good, but not necessarily perfect.

The perfection of creation was certainly on God’s agenda, but perhaps he created humankind specifically to help bring about that perfection of Creation…. However, as the story goes on, we pretty much blew it with the whole “eating of the forbidden fruit” in the Garden episode.

This still leaves the question open as to why there was chaos to begin with, and why the earth needed to be subdued? Unfortunately, the text of Scripture does not give us a direct answer to that question. It just leaves that question out unanswered… simply hanging there.

Thankfully, whatever we make of this state of chaos, in the initial creation, and the need to subdue the earth, the New Testament completes the story, that “for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19 ESV). As God’s people experience redemption, through the power of the Cross of Christ, we look forward to the day when Christ will restore all things, and cause all of Creation to have its eager longing fulfilled.

As Christians continue to debate about the age of the earth, and exactly how God brought about the creation of the world, and what sin, evil, death, and suffering have to do with it, it is a question worth thinking about.

Notes:

1. Terry Mortenson, a scientific historian, with Answers in Genesis rightly argues that “In Genesis 1:28 man is commanded to subdue (kabash) the earth…Kabash means to take complete control of something, to make it subservient.” But then Mortenson adds, ‘The text does not say that man should subdue the animals….The fact that God uses a different verb (radah) to refer to man’s “rule” over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything that moves on the earth, strongly suggests that “subdue” relates to the non-living creation and “rule” relates to the living creatures. But nothing in the context warrants reading into “subdue it [the earth]” the idea that the creation had been filled with natural evil (death, disease, extinction, asteroid impacts, tsunamis, etc) for millions of years prior to man.’ But look more carefully at Mortenson’s contextual argument. What Mortenson ignores is the whole context of the verse, by omitting the very first part of the verse: “And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” This is a command for humans to procreate and “fill the earth” with offspring. To suggest that “”subdue’ relates to the non-living creation;” presumably the physical ground of the earth, as Mortenson does, would suggest that humans are to fill the non-living creation with living humans. Once you fill the “non-living creation” with the “living creation” of human beings, then the “earth” is no longer a non-living creation. Why anyone would find this exegesis of the text convincing is baffling. But there you have it. 


What is the Bible? (in 5 Minutes)

My church is doing a year long survey of the Bible. The problem is… well, …. the Bible is a big, long book.

How do you grasp the story of the Bible, without getting overwhelmed?

It is a pretty daunting task.

This may sound odd to some people, but most Christians have never read the entire Bible. Evangelical believers will say that they look to the Bible as their authority. But sadly, and typically, we only read select portions of the text.

So, there is a bit of a tragic irony here. Grasping the whole Bible can be intimidating. For it could even be counter-productive. When professed atheist Penn Jillette was growing up, he was the only kid in his high school church youth group, to have read the entire Bible from cover to cover, and he was not impressed by what he read. As Jillette put it, reading “the Bible itself, will turn you atheist faster than anything.

Yikes!!

There is a better way of going about this. But how?

I mean, as a Christian, I have probably read the Bible through completely perhaps twice… and I confess to have cheated in some places … like skimming through the lengthy description of the tabernacle, in the Book of Exodus; skipping over a few pages in Lamentations; eyes glazing over various long genealogies, of “someone who begat someone else, who begat someone else,” …. and yes, I had my head scratching when it came to the Book of Revelation, quickly moving to the end.

So, getting an overview of the Bible, before one tries to dive into it would be a helpful thing.

This is where The Bible Project really becomes a handy resource. Some 1.4 million subscribers on YouTube have made this channel one of the best learning tools, for gaining a survey of the Bible. Most videos are short (5 minutes or so), and have excellent graphics. As I join my church in our year long survey of the Bible, I will be referencing select videos from The Bible Project’s excellent catalog of resource, on the Veracity blog. Here is a good place to start, from their “How to Read the Bible” series, on “What is the Bible?” Learn more about The Bible Project here.

Enjoy!!


Unbelievable. The Big Conversation. In 90 Seconds.

I do not know how he does it.

Last year, it was thinkers like Jordan Peterson, Susan Blackmore, Steven Pinker, John Lennox, Michael Ruse, Daniel Dennett, and Peter Singer. This year is it Bart Ehrman, Peter Williams, William Lane Craig, Sir Roger Penrose, Bret Weinstein, and Alister McGrath.

Justin Brierley, of the podcast Unbelievable?, in the U.K., manages to get some of the biggest names in Christianity, and those who reject Christian faith, into the same studio, to talk about the big issues. Subscribe to season 2 of the Big Conversation. Too bad we do not do enough stuff like this in the States.


Who Are the Young Christian Apologists??

In the wake of the news, this past summer, of two prominent Christian leaders, either doubting or even fully leaving the faith, I thought it might be helpful to consider the state of apologetics, in the American evangelical church today. Even if you take just a quick glance at Marty Sampson’s Instagram page, one of these leaders who has been struggling with his faith lately, you get a picture of what type of intellectual questions doubters are wrestling with today, and just how much social media plays into the confusion, and just how little the local church is making an impact, in many cases.

Furthermore, in reflecting upon Norman Geisler’s death earlier this past summer, it made me wonder: Geisler was perhaps the senior “dean” of evangelical apologetics, for a whole generation of Christians. Now that he has departed this earth, who will carry on the torch, to defend the faith for a new generation?

Can you defend your faith, when you are asked some of the big questions?

Sure, there are still plenty of Christian apologists, earnestly upholding the truthfulness of the faith, but many of the most public ones are either about my age or older. Here is a brief list of some of those most prominent voices today, in conservative evangelical circles. I do not agree with everything the apologists below say, but these are all folks who are competent. They know their stuff (I will not hyperlink to everyone below, as there are just too many. Google is your friend here 🙂 :

  • William Lane Craig: Classical and evidentialist apologetics, who is perhaps the most well known apologist of our day. If you only had time to study the arguments of one Christian apologist, I would recommend William Lane Craig.
  • Timothy Keller: Combine a conservative Presbyterian pastor, with C.S. Lewis, who can actually read philosopher Charles Taylor, and who knows how New York City urbanites think, and there you have… Tim Keller.
  • John Lennox: British heavy-weight sized up against Richard Dawkins.
  • Ravi Zacharias: Another senior apologist, with great appeal among older generations, and intercultural.
  • Lee Strobel: The Case for…. You name it.
  • Bobby Conway: THE One Minute Apologist.
  • Frank Turek: Mentored by Norman Geisler.
  • Hugh Ross: Old Earth Creationist scientist.
  • Michael Brown: Leading Messianic Jewish apologist.
  • J. Warner Wallace: Cold-case Christianity from a real police detective.
  • Greg Koukl: Stand to Reason, best known for the “Columbo” tactic.
  • Hank Hanegraff: Hank has taken some heat, from his recent turn towards Eastern Orthodoxy. But his training as an apologist goes back to the late Walter Martin, one of the best Christian apologists of the 1970s and 1980s.
  • James White: The top Reformed presuppositional apologist around.

What about slightly younger apologists, or at least those who have greater appeal among folks who are just a bit younger than me? Well, notice that all of these folks have some type of presence on YouTube:

  • Michael Heiser: Semitic languages and Old Testament scholar.
  • Michael Licona: New Testament scholar, and one of the best defenders of the Resurrection today.
  • David Wood: Apologetics oriented towards Muslims.
  • Jeff Durbin: The next generation James White.
  • Mike Winger: A Calvary Chapel pastor, who has a vibrant interest in apologetics.
  • Sean McDowell: Son of Josh McDowell.
  • Justin Brierley: The best apologetics podcast in the UK, with Unbelievable?
  • Alisa Childers: A former CCM (contemporary Christian music) artist turned apologist. I realized that I have listed no other women above, but Alisa really stands out as a very thoughtful thinker in the apologetics world, in her own right.

All of these folks contribute significantly to the world of Christian apologetics, but what about reaching the generation of students coming out of high school and college today?

There are a couple of things to note about these new, younger Christian apologists:

  • Nearly all of these apologists have major platforms on YouTube. YouTube is becoming the “go-to” source for top-notch apologetic content, in the world of social media. Having a high-quality video presence really gets the message across to younger generations of people. Podcasts are great, but sharp YouTube videos are even better.
  • Young apologists are primarily driven by evidentialist apologetics, more so than classical or presuppositionalist apologetics. There are a few exceptions to this trend, such as presuppositional apologist, Sye Bruggencate, as in his movie “How to Answer the Fool,” a video primer on this particular apologetic method.

Can you think of any other up-and-coming young apologists?

There is a lot of great content out there. Perhaps too much content, but here is my advice: My advice is for folks to Google (or use Bing) to find a few of these folks on the Internet, and then check out some of their content. Subscribe to a podcast or a YouTube channel you can connect with, and then check in every once in awhile to find out what they might be discussing.

Consider giving financially and prayerfully to a ministry you really like. They really need that.

There are two dangers that Christians face, as related to apologetics. One is to basically ignore apologetics, and simply base your faith on emotional feelings alone. Emotional feelings are fine, but as Dr. William Lane Craig notes, many of the recent and very public “deconversions” from Christianity are being propagated by Christians who are part of faith communities where apologetics are simply not valued as important.

The second danger is at the opposite extreme. Sometimes, we can expect too much from Christian apologetics, as the number of objections to Christianity are as plentiful as the human imagination is creative. It is impossible to have all of the answers, to every question. It is okay to say that you do not know the answer. But it is a good idea to have some type of resource available, whom you can consult, to help you have a better, more informed conversation, with someone who might have some serious questions, and who is looking for answers.

Christian apologetics should not be about winning arguments, but rather about winning people to Christ. We do not need to have a knock-out punch, in our discussion with our neighbors. What is sufficient is that we should show that faith and reason are not in conflict with one another, so as not to create an artificial barrier to someone meeting Jesus, at the foot of the Cross.

I will close with this quote from veteran apologist, William Lane Craig, as to why local churches, particularly parents who are raising the next generation, should care about apologetics:

If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not have sound arguments for Christian theism and good answers to their children’s questions, then we are in real danger of losing our youth. It’s no longer enough to teach our children simply Bible stories; they need doctrine and apologetics. It’s hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics.

Unfortunately, our churches have also largely dropped the ball in this area. It’s insufficient for youth groups and Sunday school classes to focus on entertainment and simpering devotional thoughts. We’ve got to train our kids for war. We dare not send them out to public high school and university armed with rubber swords and plastic armor. The time for playing games is past.

Well said.

Here is Standardized Apologetics with a nice run down on the top YouTube apologists:


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