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Be Like the Ostrich? … Weathering Climate Change, by Hugh Ross. A Review.

Is climate change just a hoax, or is it real? If it is real, what can be really done about it, without killing the world economy?

Hugh Ross, president of Reasons to Believe, and evangelical apologetics ministry focused on the dialogue between science and faith, tackles a topic that often generates more heat than light. However, in Weathering Climate Change: A Fresh Approach, Ross does what the subtitle says, he takes a fresh approach that will both surprise and educate readers.

Will the ostrich be able to delay the impact of global climate change? According to Christian apologist Hugh Ross, in the contentious debate over “global warming,” the ostrich may provide more help to us than draconian and unpopular carbon credit schemes.

Before reading Weathering Climate Change, I made the rather common assumption that today’s relative climate stability has been around for much of earth’s history. It is just something that we take for granted. But Hugh Ross brings up data point after data point to demonstrate that such an assumption is completely false: For most of earth’s history, the world’s climate has ranged wildly in terms of global mean temperature. In other words, climate instability has been the norm in God’s creation.

Hugh Ross takes an Old-Earth Creationist view, that the earth is some 4.34 billion years old, as opposed to the view of a 6,000 to 10,000 year old earth, advocated by Young Earth Creationists. Ross contends that during the vast length of time of earth’s multi-million year history, particularly as we approach the current age, cyclical periods of global warming followed by ice ages of global cooling have always been up and down, up and down.

What is unique is that the past 9,500 years have been an anomaly during the whole of earth’s history. During this period, the global mean temperature has remained fairly constant. Hugh Ross attributes this remarkable period of climate stability to a variety of factors, including the impact of a massive meteorite in Greenland, a particular pattern of volcanic activity, the behavior of the magnetic poles, … just to name a few.

His point is to show that the development of an advanced technological civilization would have been impossible if all of these factors had not lined up perfectly. Furthering the argument that Ross made in Improbable Planet, we live on a planet that has been fine-tuned for human existence, under the most optimal conditions. Ross attributes this to the providential hand of God, that God would provide just the right complex set of factors to make modern human civilization possible.

Did humans just get lucky with this recent 9,500 year-long anomaly of climate stability? Or was it a product of a Mind? It is difficult to imagine how all of this came together at the right time, without a Creator God superintending the whole process. In comparison, a Young Earth view of creation fails to appreciate as much the marvelous precision it took for God to give us the exact conditions necessary for human civilization to flourish, at exactly the right time in earth’s history…. and that human flourishing is good news!

The bad news is that this current period of climate stability can not last forever, according to the research that Hugh Ross summarizes for the reader. Human efforts can either accelerate the shift towards the climate instability, or slow down the transition, but human engineering alone can not make the climate stable on a permanent basis. In other words, global climate change is real. It is not a hoax. That is just the way the world is. To place our hope in this world alone is futile, as compared to putting our hope assuredly in the God of the Bible.

With that context in mind, Hugh Ross points to evidence showing that humans are primarily responsible for the current acceleration of that shift towards climate instability. Over the past 70 years, the near 1 degree in Centigrade increase in the global mean temperature, has almost wiped out the 1 degree Centigrade drop in temperature, experienced during the prior 9,500 years. Human activity, through pronounced use of carbon-based fuels, are only making a catastrophic, though quite natural situation more likely to arrive sooner, rather than later. But there is some basis for hope, in that Hugh Ross believes that certain steps can be taken to slow down this acceleration, and delay the inevitable.

But what will eventually happen, if nothing is done to slow the acceleration? Misleading information suggests that global climate change will ultimately melt nearly all of the planet’s ice and raise the typical daytime temperature across the globe to intolerable levels. Yet as Hugh Ross describes it, the global temperature will eventually hit a peak, before dropping dramatically, and plunging the earth into another ice age. In other words, in the long run, global cooling poses a greater threat than global warming. So, if you fear rising sea levels alone, you might want to rethink that. That is only part of a more difficult problem.

Nevertheless, there are steps that can be taken that are “win-win” for us all, in contrast to the type of draconian solutions proposed by climate alarmists, that often elevate the young voice of activist Greta Thunberg. While such environmentalist ideas are well-meaning, public resistance to such drastic proposals will greatly impede their adoption, and only increase skepticism about climate change. Ross believes that there are a variety of solutions that humans can adopt that will simultaneously benefit the environment, while still allowing our high technology civilization to flourish. Here are just a few examples:

  • Replanting the Sahara Desert. Many find it hard to believe, but the Sahara region of North Africa once was the primary agricultural source of food; that is, the “bread basket,” for the ancient Roman empire. But deforestation of the Sahara greatly expanded it into the vast desert region that exists today. By giving North Africans incentives to stop stripping vegetation on the edge of desert and replanting those edges with vegetation, it would go a long way towards increasing the amount of carbon dioxide that could be absorbed from the earth’s atmosphere, back into living plants.
  • More efficient lumbering. Instead of clear-cutting forests in the Amazon to make for more inefficient pasture land, incentives can be given to have smarter practices of thinning out forests, allowing newer growth to absorb more carbon dioxide and taking down older growth that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as that older growth decays.
  • Replace the production of cow beef with ostrich, as a primary source of red meat. Cows inject a lot of methane into the atmosphere, whereas ostriches contribute little methane. Incentives can be given to encourage ostrich farming, which actually consumes far less pasture land than cows do. Ostriches also consume roughly a third less resources, in terms of water, as compared to cows.

These are all innovative ideas that are rarely discussed on public forums for addressing the climate change crisis. Why do we not hear more about such fresh approaches to climate change? Perhaps we need to recalibrate the conversation, and move away from endless, heated debates over carbon credits, that only the super-wealthy in the West would be willing to afford.

Kudos go to Hugh Ross for helping Christians and non-Christians alike think through new ideas that will help us to be better stewards of God’s good creation. Admittedly, ideas such as moving to an ostrich-primary meat system from a cow-primary meat system are difficult to advance when ostrich meat prices are nearly three times as much as cow meat prices. However, with the encouragement of ostrich farming, the price of ostrich meat should come down enough, that it would offset other, more-costly mechanisms designed to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint.

Instead of fixating on repeated debates about wind and solar power versus carbon consumption, what if we were to move beyond those discussions and talk more about solutions that are rarely mentioned in the international media, such as better forest management, and how to expand ostrich farming?

Hugh Ross’ fresh approach is a welcome voice to the discussion, particular as an evangelical Christian. Sadly, there are many people today, including many Christians, who reject concerns about climate change, most probably due to the nature of the highly politically charged solutions being promoted, such as regulating national economies, through various schemes of managing carbon credits. Instead, Hugh Ross offers a path forward to creatively find “win-win” solutions to the current environment crisis, thus demonstrating that care for the planet and care for human flourishing are not at fundamental odds with one another, and that such creation care embodies acts of obedience that truly honor God, as the Creator of all things.

When God created Adam, the Lord placed him in the garden to work it and to keep it (Genesis 2:15). It is very tempting for us to ignore God’s command to care for the earth, when faced with environmentalist extremism in our day that worships the creation as opposed to the Creator. When we give into that temptation, it is like being like an ostrich and putting our head in the sand.

But what if there are better solutions? What if we should be like the ostrich, in a different way? What if we were to start to eat the ostrich instead? After all, as nutritionists like to tell us, “you are what you eat.”

How should we be like the ostrich?

Dr. Hugh Ross was featured as part of a worship service at Grace Church in St. Louis, via Zoom, followed by a period of Q&A:


Luther In Real Time

Martin Luther nails his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg church door. Most people associate October 31st with Halloween, but students of church history know this as “Reformation Day

October 31 is commonly known as Halloween. But it is also “Reformation Day,” remembering the day that Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, igniting the fire of the Protestant Reformation, 503 years ago.

Three years after that, in 1520, Luther was condemned with a papal bull, excommunicating him from the medieval Church. With excommunication, Luther’s words were considered to be a heretical, in an era when heresy was a crime against the state. Suddenly, Luther’s words were not simply opinions expressed on paper. They became a matter of life and death.

Ligonier Ministries is releasing a new podcast, Luther in Real Time, that traces key events in Luther’s life, exactly 500 years ago. The audio narrative is extremely well-done, with short narratives about 10 minutes long. I have listened to the first few episodes, and I highly recommend them, as it makes for a very exciting listen. Below is a promo video on YouTube:

 


“Should Christians Vote for Trump?” Eric Metaxas & David French Debate

Well, there was supposed to be Presidential candidate debate tonight. But not anymore.

I have a better idea: What about watching a civil-minded discussion among two Christian leaders, who take very different positions on the 2020 U.S. Presidential election? Eric Metaxas and David French offer a good model for how Christians can engage in a difficult conversation on a controversial topic, without descending into vitriol, which seems to be the norm these days in social media. Recorded just a few weeks ago at John Brown University, a Christian college in Arkansas. We need more discussions like these, as it will help us as believers to have better conversations on the most important matters of all, namely, that of sharing the Gospel of Christ with a needy world.


Why Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) Should Change Their Name

The recent allegations of inappropriate sexual activity, dating back several years ago, by the late apologist Ravi Zacharias, are heartbreaking. I discovered this latest news several weeks ago about the spa workers on Julie Roys’ blog, which now is news at Christianity Today magazine. I corresponded with the “whistle blower,” Steve Baugham, several years ago, and you can read some of my interactions with him on the Veracity blog.

Jesus Among Other Gods, by Ravi Zacharias, 2000. Perhaps my favorite Ravi Zacharias book.

My main interest with Ravi Zacharias from several years ago was over the inaccurate promotion of Ravi’s academic credentials by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). I was aware of a sexting controversy involving Ravi as well, but felt like I had nothing to say about it, as the exact details were unknown, due to a non-disclosure agreement that Ravi had with another party.

I personally reached out to a member of RZIM’s team that year, and received a personal phone call, for which I was grateful. My concern back then was that RZIM had delayed in resolving the academic credentials, a matter which should have been resolved within a matter of weeks, but that actually took about 2 years to get rectified. I received assurance that RZIM was doing their due diligence and doing the right thing. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in many of the persons who do great apologetic ministry work with RZIM, so I was grateful that RZIM was taking the steps to put these matters behind them.  May their efforts in building the Kingdom increase.

However, in view of the recent allegations, I believe that now would be a good time to take an additional step, and rename Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, to honor and respect the new generation of Christian apologists, many of whom were personally discipled by the late Ravi Zacharias (Frankly, I think that a name change would be a move that even Ravi would applaud!).

According to the CT article, RZIM has engaged a law firm to investigate these new allegations. I would sincerely hope that these allegations could be proven false, and Ravi’s full legacy could be restored. As a long time enthusiast of Ravi Zacharias, having taught several adult Bible classes using his teaching material, I would greatly welcome that outcome.

Nevertheless, it has bothered me for several years now that Ravi Zacharias had been wrongly put on a pedestal, by many of his supporters. Sadly, I have known of several admirers of Ravi who have doubled-down in defending certain aspects of Ravi, when they really have not done the hard work of actually listening to different points of view, and investigating different perspectives, that conflict with the narrative that Ravi portrayed in his public ministry…. and I am not just talking about the scandals, I am also talking about sincere criticisms of certain apologetic methods and arguments used by Ravi.

On the one hand, Christians should do their very best to defend the honor and reputation of their leaders. The Gospel does cause an offense, and so, we should not be surprised when the Enemy sows seeds of distrust by making false accusations against Christian leaders.

At the same time, Christians should be seekers of the truth. We should be willing to admit when we are wrong, when presented with convincing evidence. We should embrace the truth, even when it might be painful to do so.

The line between defending the reputation of Christian leaders and the pursuit of truth can be sometimes difficult to find. I wrestle with this a lot. Yet President Ronald Reagan’s adage offers some sound wisdom here, “Trust, but verify.”

Some of us can become overly skeptical and fail to trust anyone, other than themselves, which is not the best path to take, considering that we as humans have the unavoidable tendency to deceive ourselves immensely. Christian doctrine has another name for this: it is called “original sin.” Nevertheless, others of us can be so trusting that we fail to take the necessary steps to verify that what our leaders are telling us is indeed truthful and reliable. We need discernment. We need more concentrated study into God’s Word to gain wisdom.

So, what if the latest accusations against Ravi hold true? It would not mean that everything about Ravi’s ministry should be invalidated. If we were to judge everyone on this type of standard, then our Bibles would become very small indeed. Abraham pimped his wife. Moses killed a man in cold blood. David committed adultery and had the woman’s husband killed. These are patriarchs of our faith. The Bible is quite clear that all of us have skeletons in our closet, that we would prefer would just remain there.

Ravi’s career as a Christian apologist offered a display of a number of good arguments for the Christian faith, that personal failings themselves can not undo. The many gifted students of Ravi’s, who are now leading RZIM, need not be lumped together and taken down by any of Ravi’s supposed failings.

Would I continue to recommend Ravi’s books to others?… Mmmm… I am not sure about that….. No matter what, the failures of Ravi’s life should serve as illustrations for up and coming apologists to take heed, and learn some tough lessons, and engender a better sense of accountability.

Let us pray for Ravi’s family and RZIM that things will turn out for the best. Until the investigation makes a conclusion, hard though it will be, I want to do my best to prefer to honor the tradition commonly upheld in American jurisprudence, “Innocent, until proven guilty.”

However, even if Ravi is exonerated from these latest accusations, I am afraid that his legacy has been sufficiently tarnished, that it would not be good for RZIM to continue their work, with the name of Ravi Zacharias so boldly displayed on the masthead. Ministries like RZIM should be focused around a common vision statement, statement of faith, and a shared covenant held by staff/supporters, and not around a particular personality. When a ministry becomes solely attached to the name of a famous, yet ultimately flawed person (which we all are!!), it can easily sink the reputations of others who are not associated with lingering scandal.

Sadly, Protestant evangelicalism has developed a reputation of promoting a type of “celebrity pastor” culture that does more harm than good.  It harms those who follow after such “celebrity pastors.” It reinforces the skepticism and distrust of those who stand outside of the church. Furthermore, the pressures of trying to fit into the role of the “celebrity pastor” is an impossible task for that “celebrity pastor” to fill, which if the CT story is correct, goes a long way in explaining the current controversy involving Ravi Zacharias.

Therefore, changing the name of RZIM to something that more reflects the common vision of purpose of the band of apologists that Ravi once mentored, and who now lead the ministry, would be the prudent thing to do.  Let us not attach ourselves to the legacy of sin-prone human, failing persons. Instead, let us refocus on lifting up the unfailing name of Jesus. To God be the glory.


The Whole Christ, by Sinclair Ferguson, A Review

How do you know if you are truly a Christian? Can you be sure about that?

In our 21st century age, we tend to look down upon Christians of earlier eras, particularly the Puritans. Their world seems so far removed from ours. But such an opinion only reveals our chronological snobbery. A wealth of wisdom lays hidden with the Puritans, that we need to need to hear from today. The assurance of one’s salvation is one area of wisdom we need to recover from those Puritans,

If you ever read the writings of the English Puritans, they often speak of the tension between “legalism” and “antinomianism,” in the Christian life. On one side, is the tendency to reduce Christianity to a set of rules and regulations to follow, a bunch of “do’s and don’ts” (legalism). On the other, is the tendency towards lawlessness, a faith that has no real regard for the commands of God (antinomianism). What Christian does not wrestle with that tension today?

Between these two extremes, it can sometimes be like walking a tightrope, maintaining a sense of balance to keep from falling down one way or the other. We have plenty of controversies in church history that testify as to how difficult it is to maintain that sense of balance.

Martin Luther was accused of being a libertine by his Roman Catholic opponents, while his Papal accusers were accused of their own “works-righteousness.” Anne Hutchinson was exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, for her claim that the Puritan fathers were teaching a “covenant of works” as opposed to a “covenant of grace.” Late 20th century evangelicals argued over the “Lordship Salvation” versus “Free Grace” controversy. In recent years, megachurch pastor Andy Stanley told his congregation that they must “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament, largely because of the Old Testament emphasis on law, causing quite an uproar.

In all of these controversies, the assurance of one’s salvation has hung in the balance. At the core of this, the relationship between Law and Gospel is something with which every new generation must wrestle.

Sinclair Ferguson, in his The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, looks at one of these controversies in church history, as a lens on which to try to tease out how this balance might be properly maintained. The “Marrow Controversy” was an otherwise forgotten controversy over an otherwise forgotten book, by Edward Fisher, a Puritan author from the 1640s, entitled The Marrow of Modern Divinity.

The Whole Christ centers around the story of an early 18th century Scottish preacher, Thomas Boston. Early in his preaching career, Boston was frustrated by the lack of positive response to his preaching message, among the callous in his Scottish congregation. Yet Boston took great comfort in reading Edward Fisher’s book, when he stumbled across it one day, while visiting someone else’s home. Fisher’s book sought to find a way between legalism and antinomianism (a term which means, “against the law”). The abbreviated title, “The Marrow,” meant that Fisher was trying to get at the innermost substance of the Gospel. Boston credited The Marrow for correcting his own posture towards the Gospel, and it revolutionized his ministry.

So, when the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland banned the book in 1720, as promoting antinomianism, some 80 years after it was first published, a theological fire erupted. Thomas Boston and his like-minded preacher friends protested the ban. These pastors, known as the “Marrow Men,” did not view the book as dangerous at all, but rather saw its message as liberating with the truth of the Gospel. The censure of the church, which subsequently was never revoked (even to this day!), would not stop the “Marrow Men,” for they sought to republish The Marrow of Modern Divinity, with some notes added by Thomas Boston, in 1726.

Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ endeavors to explain the “Marrow” debate that engulfed the early 18th century Church of Scotland, as a means to help us today to properly understand the relationship between the Law and the Gospel. There are a couple of added, standout benefits gained from Sinclair Ferguson, from this book:

The last issue, regarding the assurance of salvation, is something that still needs sharpening in our day. For on one side, it is very easy to have a false assurance of one’s salvation, by presuming upon the grace of God, and thereby leading a life of recklessness, marked by a distinct lack of holy living. If you dwell among Christians who act one way on Sunday, but who act completely different on the other days of the week, you will know exactly what this means.

We may think we have a right standing before God, when in fact, we have merely fooled ourselves, placing our own demands and wishful thinking upon God. On the other side, we can become so restless concerning our final state before God, that we lack confidence in the power of God to save sinners. In our insecurity about “going to hell” we forget about the love of God, which brings us into the joy of God’s presence. People who fret and fret over whether their faith is fully acceptable, in the sight of God, reveals this sense of spiritual insecurity.

Sinclair Ferguson takes us on a trip through church history, that might not be familiar to readers. Ferguson draws connections between the teachings of the medieval church, similar teachings found in contemporary Roman Catholicism, and other crucial theological figures, such as the 16th century French/Swiss Reformer, John Calvin, and the 19th century Scottish “heretic” John McLeod Campbell. But this is not theological history to satisfy certain intellectual curiosities. Instead, Ferguson weaves a theological tale that will assist the reader in avoiding common pitfalls, that can easily derail the life of any Christian.

The forward of The Whole Christ, written by Tim Keller, helps to orient the reader to understand the book’s purpose, regarding how the Law and the Gospel relate to one another. Keller writes that Ferguson “wants to help us understand the character of this perpetual problem—one that bedevils the church today. He does so in the most illuminating and compelling way I’ve seen in recent evangelical literature.” But the book’s audience should not be restricted to pastors, for The Whole Christ seeks to set out a reasoned, biblical approach to how a balance between legalism and license can be lived out.

How can this be done?  By preaching the whole Christ. A proper understanding of the Gospel, in its fullness, is the antidote that helps believers to avoid a sense of making the Christian faith into following a list of do’s and don’ts. It also helps us to avoid a faith, where we can fool ourselves to think that we can do whatever we want, with no restraints upon our conscience. The subtle danger, as Ferguson tells us, is that often we can have a very “orthodox” sounding theology, but that on the inside, our hearts’ disposition is completely out of whack. The way the message is presented is just as important as the message itself.

By emphasizing the whole Christ, Ferguson insists that it is all too easy to separate Christ Himself from the benefits He gives to the believer. A proper grounding for the assurance of our salvation is found in loving God for who He is, and not simply for what He gives us.

The last few chapters of The Whole Christ explore the details of what it means to have the assurance of one’s salvation. These chapters make for the densest reading in the book, but it forced me to read slowly and think more carefully. Does one have an unhealthy preoccupation with anxiety about their eternal state? Or does one settle for a kind of presumptive expectation of salvation, when actually, their hearts are far, far from God? Sinclair Ferguson endeavors to find the right balance and nuance, to get at the truth.

Again I ask: What genuine Christian does not struggle with these matters? But notice how easy it is to trick ourselves. If I find myself easily condemning other Christians for their “loose-living,” that might be an indication of legalism in my own heart. On the other hand, if I am quick to dismiss the rigidity of how another Christian seeks to be obedient to God, it might be a good sign of a latent antinomian spirit residing in me.

What is the solution to avoiding these spiritual traps? Knowing the whole Gospel: The Whole Christ. How do we equip ourselves to fully understand and implement this truth?

One way would be reading The Whole Christ, by Sinclair Ferguson. I listened to the audiobook format, but if you like a video teaching format, you should consider the video teaching series, available at Ligonier Ministries. The clarity of doctrinal teaching that Ferguson offers is exceptional. I have read through the entire book once, and several other parts multiple times, and I continue to learn vital Scriptural truths to be applied to my walk with Christ, in every chapter. This is a book to savor, and re-read, so that the Scriptural truths it conveys might become imprinted upon our hearts.

  • ….

UPDATE: September 26, 2019, 10am

This just came in…. a debate between William Lane Craig and Gregory Boyd on penal substitutionary atonement (PSA). Haven’t viewed it yet, but it looks to be very good, and quite relevant to the topics covered in The Whole Christ.  I side with William Lane Craig here, but Gregory Boyd is probably one of the most able critics, whose perspective should be taken seriously by other Christians. I see the PSA view as complementing the Christus Victor view of the atonement, and not a contradiction.


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