Are We Charged to “Rightly Divide” or “Rightly Handle” The Word of Truth?

One of the prettiest drives in America is along the Midland Trail (Route 60) through the mountains of West Virginia. The problem is, that if you are trying to get from Virginia to some destination in the American Midwest, it takes FOREVER to drive the Midland Trail across West Virginia.

Growing up in Virginia in the 1970s, if I was with my parents, driving to parts of the Midwest to see family, we would surely get stuck behind an 18-wheeler, up and down those hilly, curvy parts of the road. It was absolutely boring. What a difference it made in 1988, when the costly last section of Interstate 64, built through rugged terrain, was finally completed through West Virginia, cutting the travel time down at least by half.

I have been driving across West Virginia to Indiana for the past 17 years to visit family on vacation and holidays, and I am so thankful that they built and finished Interstate 64!!

The idea of cutting a straight path through the mountains helps us to properly understand an often misinterpreted passage of the Bible, 2 Timothy 2:15. Here is how the King James Version (KJV) translates it:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The New River Gorge Bridge, at one time the world’s longest single span bridge, is a short drive off of the Midland Trail, in West Virginia. A beautiful area, but difficult to get there. (Photo by Donnie Nunley, at Wikipedia)

Now, compare that to a more modern translation, such as the English Standard Version (ESV):

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Notice how that phrase “rightly dividing” gets changed to “rightly handling,” with respect to “the word of truth.” You see this same type of change in many new translations:  “correctly handles” (NIV) and “correctly teaching” (CSB). So, why do the newer, modern translations change what the old KJV had?

Well, the KJV rendering of “rightly dividing” can be misleading. The issue is that while the KJV gives a strictly literal, almost word-for-word translation of the Greek word for “rightly dividing,” it does not adequately convey the fact that this is meant to be a kind of idiomatic expression, that changes how we are to view the text.

If you use a Bible concordance, you will discover that this Greek word orthotomeō, only shows up once in the New Testament. However, it does show up earlier in the Bible, but in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, used by the early church, and still used today by the Greek-reading Eastern Orthodox. We see this same word used in the Book of Proverbs, so notice how it is translated into English, in bold below:

In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:6 ESV)
The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight,
    but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. (Proverbs 11:5 ESV)

So, what’s the deal here? As the late John R. W. Stott put it, in his Between Two Worlds, this curious word, orthotomeōhas a “more precise meaning, namely to ‘cut straight,’ and the image is conveyed is  either that of a plowmen or a road-maker.” The meaning of that word, then, corresponds to an idiomatic expression that means to “cut a path in a straight direction” or “cut a road across country… so that the traveller may go directly to his destination.”

I think of it as Interstate 64 going straight through West Virginia, as opposed to the curving and winding Midland Trail.

We might be tempted to blame the KJV translators, for a poor translation, when they did their work some 400 years ago. But we must not be too hasty in making that judgment. A lot has changed in 400 years. Words can change meaning, over time. It is quite possible that the scholars, under King James’ supervision, might have originally understood “rightly dividing,” to be in this sense of “cutting a straight path.”

Unfortunately, a popular teaching among some Christians today still insists that we should “rightly divide the word of truth,” by chopping up the Bible, into different bits and pieces, applying certain passages to certain groups of people, and other passages to other groups of people, regardless of the context.  If you “rightly divide” in this sense, it brings to mind the image of cutting up slices of French bread, or a roasted ham, which is quite different from the actual meaning, of cutting a straight path, towards a destination.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this comes from the approach of the somewhat early years of dispensationalism, found in the 20th century Scofield Reference Bible, that essentially taught that the famous Sermon on the Mount was not written for the church, Jews and Gentiles together, who seek to be followers of Jesus. The Scofield way taught that you have to divide up the Bible, with different parts applicable to different groups, and it did so with a vengeance.

The Scofield interpretation insisted that the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), was written specifically to the Jews, and that it only has applicability in a very limited sense, either for the Jews of Jesus’ first century day, or in the future messianic age. In other words, all of that stuff about the Beatitudes, or not murdering your brother with your words, or not committing adultery by lusting secretly after someone else, in your heart, is not applicable to the bulk of people reading the Bible, and has no real relevance for today! At least, not a direct relevance. Sadly, you can still find churches on the fringe that teach this.

Thankfully, more progressive dispensationalist Bible teachers today do not go to that extreme anymore. Christians of good conscience do indeed differ, as to how certain teachings of the Bible are meant specifically for the Jews, as opposed to people more generally. But when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount, the way to “correctly handle the word of truth” should be straight forward enough.

The Sermon on the Mount should be understood more along the lines as it has been faithfully interpreted over the years, particularly from the Reformation thinking associated with Martin Luther. The Sermon on the Mount was given to all by Jesus, showing us just how difficult it is for us to meet the exacting standards of righteousness, demanded by a holy God. What was true for Jesus’ original hearers, is applicable to us today. It is quite a sobering thought to hear Jesus, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 ESV). We can not attain the moral standard that God sets before us, based on our own efforts. We all need the grace of God to intervene in our lives, to transform us, that we might depend wholly upon our Lord and Creator, and be in a right relationship with Him. Thankfully, where we fall short, God remains faithful.

And that is good news!

Learning how to properly interpret the Bible, and appreciate the idiomatic expressions that we do find in the text, is an essential part of how we can “rightly handle the word of truth.” Failure to do so can really put us off track, and interpret the Bible in ways that God never meant for it to be understood.

 


Reflections on Seven Years of Internet Blogging

Time flies, when you are having fun.

When John Paine first invited me to write an article for the Veracity blog seven years ago today, I never would have thought it would become a regular thing that would last more that a few weeks, and a couple of blog posts. Nearly seven years, and hundreds of posts later, I would like to offer a few reflections over what I have learned during that time period.

A lot has happened during these past seven years. Think about it….

Veracity Blavatar

Let’s see….

  • A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints became a major contender for the office of President of the United States. Who would have thought?
  • A fundamentalist Islamic State took over a large portion of the Middle East, triggering a massive emigration of some 4 million Syrians towards other countries of the world, including some of the most violent executions of Christians, ever witnessed in the history of the Christian church.
  • While Protestant evangelical, Bible-believing scholars and seminaries continue to be divided, as has been the case since the 1970s, over the question of having women serve as elders in local churches, the number of local churches that have declared themselves to be “complementarian” (against women as elders) vs. “egalitarian” (for women as elders) continues to threaten to split the evangelical movement, at the local level.
  • Two of the world’s most visible figures, in matters of faith and science, debated one another: Young Earth Creationist leader, Ken Ham, and Bill Nye, the Science Guy, a popular educator, with agnostic/atheistic leanings.
  • Liberal Protestant Christians started confessing their sins…. to plants.
  • Social media took over the world, as more and more people gained immediate access to the Internet, through affordable SmartPhones.
  • Evangelist Billy Graham died.
  • While Americans have become more electronically connected with one another, than ever before, American society has become more divided than ever. Same-sex marriage became acceptable as the “Law of the Land,” in the U.S., and countries all over the Western world followed suit. The topic of transgendered identity has people wondering what type of personal pronouns are acceptable, in school and workplace conversations.
  • A reality television star became the President of the United States.
  • The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

Me? I started writing on a Christian apologetics blog.

What on earth was I thinking?

Why Write For a Blog, Anyway??

John Paine urged me to start writing, partly because John and I both have a passion for teaching, and this would be something fun we could do together. We also both believed in the importance of providing excellence in content, that upholds the authority of Scripture and an openness to the evidence, both mutually affirming ideas. Nearly 800 blog posts later, that tradition continues.

My other personal thought was that blogging would be a good way to publish material I could use in Adult Bible Classes, to get content easily out to students, without having to waste countless hours, trying to print stuff off on our church’s Xerox machine.

I do not need any more paper… and neither do you. That’s one good thing about the Internet.

Veracity Blavatar

I still find the blog useful for that purpose, but it has become something more than that. It has become partly a vehicle for discussion, and partly a form of spiritual discipline, kind of like keeping an on-line “spiritual journal.” There is a great community of faithful readers here, though most of them are occasional lurkers, who rarely comment. But when they do, the interaction is always edifying and encouraging…. and I really mean that. Thank you, folks!

What It Is Like Writing For A Blog

Some ask me, “Where do you find the time?” What most people do not know, is that over the past 30 years of online computing, and in pursuing a degree at a theological seminary, I have amassed a large collection of notes, research papers, and half-finished emails. Seriously. What was I going to do with all of this stuff?

Thankfully, I can cut-and-paste like nobody’s business. Now, I finally got rid of a lot of those printed out notes, and other old digital clutter, and have organized it better, which benefits me, and hopefully, you, the reader.

I confess that I will cut some corners, to save time, on a number of blog posts. I try to link to and footnote references where I can, but they do not always make it into the final draft. The proofreading gets shortchanged a lot, and as my wife has told me (gently) on numerous occasions, it is clearly evident that I am a computer engineer and not an English major!!

I need an editor.

I know that.

But frankly, this is the nature of blogging. The goal here is to informally stimulate thought and discussion, and not to write formal journal articles or books for publication.

Let the professionals have at it. They do a much better job with it anyway.

The most successful bloggers, like Tim Challies and Justin Taylor, spend countless hours honing their craft. Me? I have a day job.

But let me get back to the question: Why blog in the first place?

Well, believe it not, the Internet is here to stay.

The Internet, Digital Revolution and Its Lasting, Deep Impact on Christian Faith

The Internet has done for the theological chaos of the 21st century what the printing press did for the Reformation in the 16th century. While blogging platforms will not completely replace the printed book, the sheer convenience of online media is causing other forms of information sharing to decline.  But just as movable type broke the hegemony that the official medieval church enjoyed for so long, technology from Google, Apple and Facebook will continue to spread information around, chopping ideas up in bits and pieces, making it increasingly difficult to maintain consensus among believing Christians (Some think that the Internet is making us more stupid, but that is another topic, for another time).

Furthermore, it seems like the digital world keeps shifting all of the time. Blogging has not gone away, but it has less appeal seven years since I started writing, now that the novelty of quick, easy Internet access to information has worn off. These days, even parents are issuing SmartPhones to their kids, sort of like a right of passage, on the way towards adulthood, kind of like how it was when my parents allowed me to get a driver’s learning permit, back some years ago. Teenagers today are more likely to use phone texting and Instagram, and less likely to use email, on a regular basis. They only read blogs, if they subscribe to them, or if someone links them to a blog article, if cited on a social media platform.

In fact, for “GenZ” folks, young people who have grown up in the online era, following 9/11, platforms like Snapchat and Instagram have become the primary means of communication for this age group.

It makes it really difficult to keep up with all of the changes.

I should know about these things, as my day job is that of working as an Internet Service Provider, at an American university. “Looking up things online” was once a novel curiosity. Now, it is a fundamental part of modern day communication, an essential for many in corporate and personal life.

I keep imagining what it would have been like if Martin Luther had the Internet at his disposal. Mmmm…. Would he have posted his Ninety-Five Theses on his Facebook page? Would he have tweeted out his view of “sola gracia“; that is, salvation by grace alone, on his Twitter account? Would the Protestant Reformation have turned out a bit differently?

The impact of social media, and the Internet in general, has had the greatest negative impact on young people. When I started doing youth ministry in the late 1980’s, surveys in those days suggested that 85% of all Christians made commitments to Christ before the age of 18. According to apologist J. Warner Wallace, some 30 years later now, that percentage has dropped to 12%.

Think about that for a moment.

Less and less young people, growing up in evangelical churches today, are making commitments to Christ, before they leave high school.

Skepticism about Christianity some 30 years ago, generally started to kick in when young people went off to college. Now, skepticism about Christianity starts to kick in somewhere between the ages of 10 and 17, for most kids growing up in Christian homes.

That is bad news for sure, for Christian parents, as by the time kids enter the age of middle school, they have learned how to use Google. The good news is that Christian parents and church leaders still have at least some influence on children, while these young people are at home. Parents are still the number one bulwark against the acidic corrosion of those elements that seek to undermine Christian faith, in the lives of their children. Yet sadly, most Christian parents are woefully unprepared to help their kids to learn how to defend their faith, in an online world.

Evangelical Christians have both an opportunity and a serious problem, in the digital era.

Our insatiable interest in gathering information, in an Internet age, has yielded two, major significant results. The first is really good. The second is really bad: First, it has given Christians access to the best research, scholarship, and quality Bible teaching, at the click of a mouse. What was once the domain of stuffy Bible scholars and nerdy theologians, locked up in seminaries, is within reach from your SmartPhone. 

A plentiful wealth of educational helps is readily available to the average Christian, more than any previous generation, in the history of the church, all right at our fingertips. Such excellent Christian content, all made possible by the worldwide access to Internet, is allowing believers to reach more and more people than ever before, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We can praise God for that!

Secondly, … and this is the downside, … the average Christian’s ability to discern truth from error, in the era of the Internet age, has increasingly gone downhill, as unvetted information continues to come across daily on our phones, and other computer screen devices…. and most local churches do not have much of a clue, as to how to help their local flock of believers navigate the mess.

As a result, less and less evangelical, church going people read their Bibles, and therefore, know less and less of what the Bible actually teaches.

The contemporary chaos of social media is particularly difficult for an evangelical Protestant, such as myself, as Protestants have no teaching magisterium to appeal to, in order to try to resolve theological disputes and controversies. In this sense, I do envy my Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox friends, who do not have this problem. Well, perhaps the problem is lessened in those traditions, as they have a stronger sense of community authority, as compared to the relatively free-for-all world of Protestantism.

For us evangelical Protestants, it often comes down a preacher’s ability to take the Word of God, and make their best case towards an audience who might listen, trusting that the Holy Spirit will make things clear to them, and move their consciences towards thinking, saying, and doing the right things.

This was once done through sermons, in front of a live audience, supplemented by books, and radio, and perhaps television. Those rules have drastically changed in the post-Christian era of the Internet. Today, it really helps to have a Twitter account, and some means to propagate compelling content to a reading, listening and viewing audience, through podcasts and online video.

Will “Internet Blogging” Continue to Flourish, In the Coming Years?

Here is my approach: I am an advocate of what some might call the “longform” blog, best represented and championed by the folks at Mere Orthodoxy. I get more out of one, well-articulated article, than a bunch of quick reads, that you can easily forget in 5 minutes. As a supplement to reading Scripture, I much prefer reading a thoughtful, challenging essay at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, or First Things, as opposed to reading a daily entry from Our Daily Bread, or a page from My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers.

Let me explain this: I do acknowledge that these more pithy resources help other Christians immensely. Short devotional readings are very good at establishing regular, spiritual disciplined habits, but they are not very helpful in terms of forming a Christian perspective on reality, or what the Bible calls, having “the mind of Christ.”

…However, I do make an exception for what I believe is the UK’s best short form blog, Think. Nuggets to chew on for weeks….

I have averaged roughly one blog post a week, or else I have tried to break up longer posts into smaller, more digestible posts, but I confess that brevity is not always my strong point. I realize this, as I will often get a lot of “TL;DR,” which stands for “Too Long, Did Not Read,” for reasons why some readers quickly move on to something else.

Part of that is my weakness, but it is also partly because our fast-paced society has very little patience for sustained thought and argumentation. We love “sound bite” theology, but frankly, biblical truth does not operate like that. Sometimes, you just have to block out some time to read and study the Scriptures, for several hours at a time. There is no substitute for doing this. There is only so much coherence and clarity to be embedded in a 280-character Twitter tweet.

Me? I very much like books on Kindle. Audiobooks and podcasts work great on a commute, or while working out in the yard. But there is just something about have a printed book in my hand, like a good study Bible, that keeps me grounded in a reality that is more tangible.

Nevertheless, the drive to make things more accessible puts pressure on blogger-types, like me, to try to find more creative ways to get really good content out there, and keep it short and crisp. In many ways, the excitement of blogging, that really captivated people, when blogging first became popular, has worn off on a lot people. People have less intellectual bandwidth for “longform” blogging, than they did a few years ago, when John Paine convinced me to start writing.

For example, in 2019, the most popular form of engaging important conversations is now the threaded tweet, whereby Twitter users can link multiple Twitter messages into a single thread. This makes it really easier to get thoughts out there, to a wide audience. When Twitter increased the Twitter message length from 140 to 280 characters, it really did not change the length of individual tweets, whereas the threaded tweet has really taken off. Apparently, we humans like our information in short chunks.

But the popularity of threaded tweets might change next week. The pace of change is unrelenting.

Such brevity, in the world of social media, comes at the cost of increasing information chaos, a lot of unbridled emotion, and less human face-to-face interaction. As a result, a large portion of information on the Internet is simply mistaken, what has now become known, in today’s jargon, as “fake news.” Just about every heterodox opinion is available on the Internet, and then some new stuff, that no one has ever heard before…. and it is all available from your teenager’s SmartPhone.

Come to think of it…. If Martin Luther was alive on this planet to see this day, he might have thought twice about posting his Ninety-Five Theses online.

Communicating the Good News in an Era of “Fake News”

First and foremost, Veracity is a Christian apologetics blog. That being the case, a lot of what has been written over the past seven years has led to some very fruitful interactions with critics. Normally, skeptics and critics do not flock to reading Christian apologetics blogs, but of those who do, who really want to interact, who are all over the world, most of these dialogue partners, have been very cordial, even when we are unable to work past our disagreements.

Sadly, some of the most difficult interactions have been with other Christians, who seem less inclined towards respectful conversation. A lot of what ends up online is more of an indicator of people in process, as opposed to a presentation of informed, mature thought. Reaching prematurely for the keyboard is often driven by the flash of emotion, and not a desire to promote edifying discussion.

What still amazes me is how much junk (dis)information is floating around in Christian circles, and how easy it is for us as believers to give this type of stuff an unwarranted pass.

OKAY.

Time for a true confession: The first time I read an article on the Babylon Bee, a good three years ago, I truly thought it was a true story. It was that believable. But upon reading a bit more, I quickly learned that the Babylon Bee was a Christian satire site, kind of like the evangelical version of The Onion. So, I am just as guilty as the next person, when it comes to being gullible as to what you can read online.

Nevertheless, this is no excuse for failing to employ adequate fact-checking measures, before you relink some bogus story on your Facebook page. Your skeptical neighbor or co-worker will judge you harshly, if you re-post something online that reveals that you have not done your homework, and this damages the credibility of our Christian witness.

Some twenty to twenty-five years ago, I would constantly receive bogus emails from otherwise well-meaning Christians, that had zero quality of credibility. I can not tell you how many emails I collected, from otherwise well-meaning believers, still claiming:

That type of stuff has largely stopped, but that was before the era of pervasive social media. Things have only gotten worse. I had never even heard of the Flat Earth movement or the anti-vaccine movement, among Christians, until the age of social media. I get depressed every time I read comments on YouTube videos, authored by so-called professing Christians.

This may sound like I am grumpy, let us be honest: We have exchanged the diligent study of the Scriptures, under the authority of the Word of God, with half-truths, unverified rumors, and just plain bad thinking. I still have a lot of my thinking that needs correction, too, but as Dr. Michael S. Heiser, an Old Testament scholar with Logos Bible Software has noted, there is still a large amount of incredibly useful material that never makes it into local churches, as well-trained godly men and women wrestle with how best to deliver meaningful, accurate content to everyday Christians.

Most academics write for other academics, and not for “normal” people. Furthermore, a lot of otherwise sincere and gifted pastors are clueless as to what is out there, that can really help their people. My belief is that Christian intellectuals need to do a better job in getting good content out to the “people in the pews,” so my small, meager effort here at Veracity is just my limited attempt to help that process along.

God meant for the Scriptures to be read and understood by unlearned people, but not to be used as a club to beat up others, thereby displaying one’s own ignorance. Sadly, the massive influx of online information tends to take advantage of the latter.

In saying this, I must be careful to add that I am not picking on my fellow Christians. There is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that crazy thinking does not discriminate, on the basis of one’s worldview. There are plenty of Mormons, who believe the Book of Mormon to be the inspired Word of God, despite the lack of archaeological evidence, supporting the claim of ancient Israelite migration to the Americas, over 2,500 years ago, as put forward by Joseph Smith. Likewise, a large number of atheists continue to insist that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, despite the abundant historical evidence to the contrary.

It is just that Christians, above all people, need to be people of the Truth. So, it really hurts the integrity of the Christian message, when otherwise sincere believers continue to propagate debunked or speculative interpretations of the Bible, that lack evidential warrant. At the very least, Christians should make a concerted effort to verify suspect pieces of information, before blasting nonsense out on their Facebook pages. Christians should be models for displaying critical thinking skills, and, at the very least, make a concerted effort to apologize to others, when such misinformation gets propagated.

The Critical Need for Evangelical Churches to Engage in Christian Apologetics

Some forty years ago, you could get away with not being exposed to much serious content as an American Christian. But nowadays, we are constantly being bombarded by information through traditional and social media, much of it that is hostile to the Gospel. It has become an imperative for believers today to become more conversant with the culture, and to the objections to our faith.

” We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV)

The future of the church depends on this type of informed engagement with ideas that would seek to undermine the Gospel. Yet, I should note a word of caution here: Christians do not need to know the answer to every question. But Christians do need to know where to go to find the right answers. It is best to say, “I do not know the answer to your question, but let me get back to you once I have done some research on that, and we can discuss it further.”

The amount of pushback Christians can get, when sharing their faith, can indeed be overwhelming. But typically, a basic understanding of some of the most popular criticisms against Christianity is sufficient for most.

Previous generations of young people would look up to authority figures, like their parents or pastors, to find answers to life’s questions. However, today’s young people look more to the Internet and social media to find answers, and this is just as true for young people in the church as well as outside of the church.

The average teenage kid today, armed with a cell phone, can “fact check” a pastor’s sermon in less than thirty seconds, something that kids growing up previously in my generation could only do by spending hours, taking multiple trips to the local library (in the 1980s), or Barnes and Nobles (in the 1990s), and fussing around through clunky card catalog systems to find that information. But how does a kid today know the difference between “fake news” and really good content when they go and “google” for something, in a matter of seconds?

Do You Feed the Trolls? : Internet Rage as Barriers to Healthy, Constructive Discussion

There have been a few other noticeable shifts since I started blogging some seven years ago. For example, fewer people comment on the blog than they once did. At other times, comments just go off on irrelevant rabbit trails, having nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Commenting on a blog can be intimidating, as Internet blogs get regularly trolled by “drive-by” commenters, who have no desire to engage in discussion. Rather, they just want to promote their message, and vitriol in online communication has apparently become the new normal. Without exception, every time I have tried to engage thoughtfully with an online troll, who leaves abrasive, inflammatory, or self-righteous comments, they never respond back.

The blog trollers pretty much ruin it for everyone else. People online will say things that they would never dare say to someone in a face-to-face conversation. This is part of the reason why Internet search providers, like Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Microsoft (Bing), are self-censoring a lot of their data results now, due to all of the complaints. But this raises serious concerns regarding free speech. What is mostly upsetting to me is that some of the worst offenders at this negative form of communication are so-called professing Christians.

Sadly, there is a growing breed of commenters who really have not done the hard work of study, who simply parrot the responses of others, but who have very little understanding of what they are saying. The democratization of ideas in an online world has largely placed the voices of shallow thinkers on the same level as that of well-trained scholars, who actually know what they are talking about. The cause of truth suffers as a result.

In response, the growing trend among many bloggers, is to shut down their comments section, as it is just no longer worth the time to parse through the utter rudeness that passes for an overwhelming percentage of online discussion. We have become a technological culture that largely SHOUTS AT ONE ANOTHER…. IN ALL CAPS, OF COURSE!! The discussion has shifted more towards organized discussion boards (like Reddit), but most significantly towards dedicated social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter.

Who knows? It is possible that people will get sick of sites like Facebook and Twitter, and turn back to reading and engaging more with blogs again. These trends tend to be cyclical. But my objection to shutting down comments sections in blogs is that it shuts down conversations too much. I do not want to put up with nonsense, but on the other hand, we need to meet people where they are at, and take serious ideas seriously. Perhaps we can all find a “sweet spot” where polite discussion can still take place, without descending into mayhem. I do not know how all of this will play out.

The Future of Platforms, Like Veracity: A Lesson From History

The rise of social media has made this problem in how we engage one another in online mediums, only more challenging. As someone who works professionally in the area of information technology, and who appreciates its benefits, it has become quite clear to me that the advances in technology have not led to advances in ethics. As followers of Jesus, we need to seriously re-think how we engage and use information technology.

With the decline of traditional authority, established within the local church, and the proliferation of “fake news” and alternative media sources, through Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, etc., that are not guaranteed to be reliable, many of my fellow Christians have fallen into this morass.

The problem is exacerbated by sincere, yet misguided Christians, who lack any substantial theological training, who think that because they have a keyboard and an Internet connection, that somehow makes them an expert on the Bible.

Dr. Michael Heiser refers to this world of Christians gone wacky as “Christian Middle Earth“, a realm marked by good intentions, but driven by cranky scholarship, and its influence is growing. Gone are the days when we could look to a Walter Cronkite to give us the news, or to a spiritual leader, like a Billy Graham, who could rally Christians together for the common cause of the Gospel. We need spiritual discernment now more than ever.

Blogs, like Veracity, can be very useful tools to get good content out to people. But even blogs have shortcomings by their very nature. There is simply no substitute for the local church. By far, the greatest opportunity for the Gospel comes in the form of believers, united together in community, in fellowship with one another, looking past their differences on non-essential matters of faith, seeking that the name of Jesus be held in the highest esteem, for the glory of God alone.

It is really hard to imagine how much crazier it can get, when it comes to the absolute erosion of truth, that passes for communication, in our online world. I knows this all sounds pessimistic, but I actually suggest the opposite!

I believe that God has a way of doing remarkable things, when we least expect it. In many ways, the current cultural situation reminds me of the period of the early church, when the Christian message had to compete with a myriad of mystery religions, and an untold number of Roman and Greek pagan gods and goddesses, and even bizarre speculations among marginal Christian groups, like the Gnostics.

But within a few hundred years, the clear, consistent voice of orthodox Christian witness rose above the din of intellectual and spiritual chaos. The advancement of the Christian gospel completely took over the Roman empire. In this type of atmosphere, such a “revival” of Christian faith in our day could be unleashed at any time…. and that is exciting!

With respect to the cultural moment we current live in, it is imperative that Christians learn how to use technology, including social media, in a manner that respectfully honors the Lord and Savior we serve. It is not simply the message that we seek to communicate that matters. It is also includes the manner in which we share that message. If we approach those with whom we disagree with charity and grace, this will go a long way towards winning skeptical non-believers to the Truth of Christ.

So despite the challenges, I am hopeful. We are called to faithfulness to the Truth, but this does not always mean that the message of the Gospel will permeate the heart of every person we meet. But if the Veracity blog helps to enable even one person to better love and have a face-to-face conversation with another human being, about the true reality of Jesus Christ, resulting in a transformed life, set free from sin and experiencing the hope of eternal life, then it is all worth it.

 

 


Outgrowing God? Why Sometimes Good Scientists Make for Bad Historians

Richard Dawkins’ latest book Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide is soon to be released, guaranteed to create a stir.  The retired Oxford evolutionary biologist, and author of The God Delusion, is best known scientifically for introducing the concept of a meme, an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.

Dawkins has arguably made important contributions to science, but that does not necessarily make him the best historian. George Heath-Whyte is a PhD student at Oxford, studying Assyriology, investigating the Ancient Near East history of Babylon, during the Old Testament era. The British periodical, The Spectator, features an article entitled, “If Richard Dawkins loves facts so much, why can’t he get them right?” The article quotes a Twitter tweet thread, written by George Heath-Whyte, pointing out a whole list of historical errors made by the well-known evolutionary biologist, Dawkins.  The tweet starts off with ‘Reading new book “Outgrowing God”, and as an Assyriologist I’ve had a couple of major face-palms moments,’ and then goes on from there.

Lesson learned? Just because you have demonstrated yourself to be an extraordinarily capable scientist does not mean that you are also an expert in history (or theology). Dawkins would have never passed the Old Testament class I took in seminary.

Perhaps Richard Dawkins might learn a thing or two, if he would read the history blog, History for Atheists, by Tim O’Neill. As an atheist, blog writer Tim O’Neill can not be successfully accused of being a crypto-Christian. O’Neill does know what he is talking about.

The Cosmic Skeptic, an atheist YouTuber, interviewed Richard Dawkins about the new book. Below is Oxford mathematician, and evangelical Christian, John Lennox debating Richard Dawkins several years ago.

UPDATE: September 26, 2019

Not only can you be a good scientist, and still be a bad historian, you can also be a bad ethicist. If you are looking for a good 5-minute answer, as to why Richard Dawkins’ worldview is corrupt, you would do no better than to listen to this clip from Jordan Peterson:


The Fool and the Heretic, A Review

What happens when Christians disagree about the Creation story described in Genesis? Was the universe created in six, 24-hour periods, or did God use biological evolution, as part of the process of creating the universe, over millions of years? Are those who accept the former “fools?” Are those who believe the latter “heretics?” Can Christians, who take different views on Creation, find common ground with one another?

 

As a study in deeply profound contrasts, many Young Earth Creationists believe that evolution is attacking the very foundations of the Christian faith. Many Evolutionary Creationists believe that Young Earth Creationism is inviting ridicule to the Christian faith.

It would seem like these two views of Creation are in irreconcilable conflict with one another. So imagine this: What would it look like, then, if a Young Earth Creationist scientist and an Evolutionary Creationist scientist, both with PhDs in scientific fields, were to sit down in a room together? What would they say to one another? Could they become friends?

 

A Dialogue Between Christians in Deep Theological Conflict

The Fool and the Heretic: How two scientists moved beyond labels to a Christian dialogue about creation and evolutionis a book length dialogue of such a series of meetings. The Fool and the Heretic chronicles the story of two Christians, with doctorates in science, who met together on and off for five years, to see if they could find common ground with one another.

Todd C. Wood is a Young Earth Creationist. As a scientist, with degrees from Liberty University and the University of Virginia, Todd Wood understands the science of biological evolution very well. He just does not accept the story of neo-Darwinian evolution to be true. To him, the traditional interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, with a 6,000 year old earth, is the correct one.

On the other hand, Darrel Falk is an Evolutionary Creationist. As a scientist, who helped to start Biologos, a ministry that seeks to educate Christians about the modern scientific theory of evolution, Darrel Falk understands the science of biological evolution very well, and he finds the scientific evidence compelling. Nevertheless, Darrel Falk believes the Bible to be true, and he accepts the Bible as God’s Word. For Darrel Falk, there is no contradiction between the current scientific consensus, regarding human origins, and the teachings of the Bible.

Putting these two believing scientists together might be a recipe for disaster, or it could be an opportunity for God to do something great. A mediation group, the Colossians Forum, sought to bring these two men together over several years, to see if they can see past their differences. But it was tough going at first, and reading this book was pretty emotional for me as well, as I will explain a bit more below.

The two most emotionally difficult chapters to read were entitled “Why Darrel’s Wrong and Why it Matters” and “Why Todd is Wrong and Why it Matters,” which really gets at the heart of why Todd Wood thinks Darrel Falk is wrong, and harming the church, and why Darrel Falk thinks Todd Wood is wrong, and harming the church.  The slight downside to reading these chapters is that they were written by scientists, and the scientific concerns seem to override biblical concerns…. at least initially.

The “Fool”:  Biologist Todd Wood: Young Earth Creationist scientist.

Why Proponents of Different Views of Creation, Think the Other Person is So Deeply Wrong

For example, in Todd Wood’s essay, “Why Darrel’s Wrong and Why it Matters,” he makes the often repeated argument that Evolutionary Creationists do not take God at His Word. They simply do not believe what God says to be true.

At one level, Todd Wood’s argument makes sense, as it sounds pretty straight-forward, following a traditional reading of the text of Genesis 1 and 2. A “day” in Genesis 1 is a 24-hour day. Attempts to turn a “day” into a “long period of time,” or any other interpretive tweakings, are manipulating a “plain reading” of the Bible. Science needs to bend its knee to the traditional reading of Genesis. End of story.

But I also found this to be really frustrating, as it is the same type of reasoning that has been used to justify the so-called “Flat Earth” movement, among a growing number of Christians, who contend that the earth is NOT a curvy globe, and they have Bible verses to supposedly prove it. After all, Job 38:4-5 “teaches” that the earth is to be measured with a line, and not a curve, right? That is the supposedly “plain reading” of the Bible. Any other interpretation compromises the “clear” interpretation of Scripture. The Bible proves those fairy tale makers at NASA, who concocted the idea, of landing a man on the moon, to be a bunch of liars, right?

When I hear Christians talk like that, I want to crawl into a hole and disappear.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it moves from identifying what the Biblical text says; that is, the observation of the text, directly to what the text means to me; that is, the application of the text. It completely skips over the most often neglected part (or at best, skims lightly over it), as to what the text means. In other words, what did the passage mean to the original writer and the original audience; that is, its interpretation, in its historical context, as the primary key to understanding how God meant the passage to be understood to all readers, regardless of where they stand in history. That task is an essential one, but sadly neglected by many students of the Bible today.

Frustratingly, Todd Wood has a tendency to simply equate the authority and truthfulness of the Bible with his own interpretation of the Bible. Whether Todd Wood realizes it or not, the two are simply not the same. Making the assumption that ancient Israelites 3,000+ years ago would have read Genesis 1 & 2 the same way Americans in the 21st century would have read it, requires evidence to support that assumption, not mere assertion.

Likewise, in Darrel Falk’s essay, “Why Todd is Wrong and Why it Matters,” Darrel Falk notes that he takes a figurative view of the early chapters of Genesis, as compared to a “literalistic” view, which Todd Wood holds. After all, science has proven to provide a very accurate, reliable description of our world. This is fine, as far as it goes, but you do get the sense that it is the science that is ultimately driving Darrel Falk’s interpretation of the Bible.

This is a weakness, that Young Earth Creationists can so easily expose. It gave me the impression that it is okay to read the Bible figuratively, if science requires it. But the actual context for the Bible itself was left unaddressed, which was disappointing to this reader. In other words, the intention of the biblical author, and the reception by the author’s original audience, is secondary, according to how Darrel Falk presented his argument. For Christians uneasy with broadly figurative or metaphorical interpretations of certain parts of the Bible, Todd Wood’s position comes across as more on solid footing.

However, as the book unfolds, you get a better sense as to why these two scientists differ. Todd Wood believes Darrel Falk to be wrong, in that the Evolutionary Creationist position puts doubts in the minds of Christians, about the truthfulness of God’s Word. As a result, Evolutionary Creationism harms the church, because it encourages Christians to question a view of the Bible, that has been largely accepted by many, many Christians, for hundreds of years.

Darrel Falk believes Todd Wood to be wrong, in that Young Earth Creationism flatly rejects the most well accepted and attested narrative of the modern, scientific consensus, regarding human origins, as taught in public high schools, universities, and public science museums, all over the Western world. This conflicting view, between Christianity and science, is unnecessarily driving people, mainly young people, away from the church, and away from the Bible.

What makes this dialogue really insightful and challenging is that the process of dialogue led both men to learn things about the other that they never considered before.  For example, like many proponents of macro evolution, Darrel Falk went into the dialogue believing that all Young Earth Creationists simply do not understand the science. All Young Earth Creationists are fools. But Darrel Falk soon realized that Todd Wood really is not a fool.

Todd Wood understands the science very well. He knows that the evidence supporting the validity of neo-Darwinian evolution is very strong. Nevertheless, Todd Wood believes the modern narrative to be completely wrong, because it goes against a classic reading of a crucial Scriptural text. He is of the school that says that, in time, the Young Earth Creationist narrative about creation will be proven correct. Young Earth Creationists simply have not yet discovered a testable, scientific model, that successfully makes predictions that align with a traditional reading of Genesis. But he believes they eventually will. He believes the scientific evidence is on his side. He just needs to keep searching diligently to find it. Todd Wood is no fool, but this does not mean that Darrel Falk is convinced by Todd’s argument.

The “Heretic”: Darrel Falk. Evolutionary Creationist scientist.

Moving Past the Standard Talking Points, in the “Creation Controversy”

Darrel Falk understands the science, but he also loves to study God’s Word. The Bible is the source of life and meaning for Darrel Falk, despite whatever he may find in his scientific studies. To this, Todd Wood concluded that Darrel Falk is not completely a heretic. In other words, Todd Wood is not convinced by Darrel’s interpretation of Scripture, but he does acknowledge Darrel to be a true brother in Christ.

Those are the very encouraging things I found in reading The Fool and The Heretic. Still, there are remaining difficulties that are hard to resolve. While Todd Wood is hopeful that the scientific evidence will eventually prove his way to be correct, his perspective is at times an outlier within the broader Young Earth Creationist movement. You still find a lot of Young Earth Creationists who simply do not understand the science, who fit right in with Darrel Falk’s stereotype, such as those who repeat the canard of saying that evolutionists believe that “humans have descended from apes.” While this makes for great rhetoric, it simply is not true, as it does not accurately reflect the views of scientists. Humans and apes, according to mainstream biology, share a common ancestor. But it does not mean that the apes we see today are the ancestors of today’s humans.

A good way of grouping different Young Earth Creationist approaches can be understood like this (courtesy of Randy Isaac, former executive director of the American Scientific Affiliation):

  • (1) Scientists, educators, Smithsonian museum curators, and the political left, are in a Satanically-inspired conspiracy together to mock God’s Word, by promoting evolution.
  • (2) The scientific data today appears to present the idea of an old-earth and old-universe, and a biological linkage between modern humans and pre-human creatures, but this is simply a matter of appearance. Nevertheless, this appearance of age is what we would expect when God performs a miracle.  Just as when Jesus turned the water into wine, which by its very nature, has age to it, the same could be said about, say, the de novo creation of Adam. Adam would have appeared to be about a 30-year-old man, even though he was created within a single 24-hour period.
  • (3) The current scientific consensus regarding human origins makes a lot of sense. But the evidence supporting the traditional interpretation of Genesis is still out there. Scientists have simply not yet discovered it …. but they will.

Todd C. Wood belongs firmly in this last category. Darrel Falk might shake his head in disbelief, but there Todd Wood is.

Nevertheless, there are those in the second category above, who argue for an appearance of age, when it comes to Creation. The nature of miracles makes exact, scientific description problematic. But someone like a Darrel Falk would reject such an argument, as it tends to suggest that God is a God of deception. Why make the earth appear to be millions of years old, when, in fact, it is only 6,000 years old? That seems like deception. And Darrel Falk does not believe that the God of the Bible is a God of deception.

This is all in contrast with the first category of Young Earth Creationist approaches, namely that a conspiracy exists to undermine the Bible, and that Evolutionary Creationists have gone right along with it, drinking the kool-aid. But the vast majority of scientists, whether they be Christian or non-Christian, hold to the scientific consensus that the earth is 4.34 billion years old.

While there is still some serious debate over certain aspects of modern, biological evolutionary theory (such as issues regarding Michael Behe’s “irreducible complexity,” Stephen C. Myer’s argument about the evidence of Intelligent Design in DNA), the broad consensus of many thousands of scientists remains very consistent. It is difficult to imagine how a conspiracy among scientists, involving vastly separate disciplines, ranging from geology, to astronomy, to chemistry, to biology, could keep such a conspiracy together, without at least someone finding a serious discrepancy.

Nevertheless, to Todd Wood’s credit, he does have a point, in that there have been advocates of evolutionary theory, that have indeed adopted heretical ideas about the Christian faith, denying essential truths of Christian doctrine, all because they think that the science demands it. For example, I have read some proponents of theistic evolution, making the argument that Christians need to completely discard the doctrine of the Fall of humanity, because the evidence from science does not support the idea of a great cosmic fall, in human history.

This is why Evolutionary Creationists, like Darrel Falk, prefer the terminology of “Evolutionary Creationism,” and not the terminology of “Theistic Evolution,” which is altogether too vague and not sufficiently grounded enough, in a Christian, biblical theology.

There were points in the dialogue where some misinformation, or at least potential misinformation, persisted. For example, Todd Wood believes that Darrel Falk’s more figurative or metaphorical reading of Genesis 1-11 is somehow “new” and innovative. Unfortunately, Darrel Falk does not sufficiently answer Todd Wood’s contention.  So Darrel Falk remains vulnerable at this point.

However, as John Walton, a Wheaton College professor of Old Testament argues, a more figurative or metaphorical reading of Genesis 1-11 actually predates Todd Wood’s more literalistic approach. Walton contends, that due to discoveries within the past two hundred years or so, we now know more about the Ancient Near East, than did the fathers of the early church. Those early church fathers were working with the best information they had available to them, but they were still hundreds of years away from the original context of the Book of Genesis. But archaeological research, in recent times, has given us access to information, about the original context for Genesis, that the early church fathers simply had no contact with.

But perhaps Darrel Falk can be given some space here, as Darrel Falk is a scientist, and not a biblical scholar.

Todd Wood, on the other hand, expresses a concern shared by many other Christians. Christianity is indeed under attack, in the wider culture. Todd Wood believes that the prime target for the attack is the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis. If you can defend the first few chapters of Genesis as true, then that can serve as a bulwark against other compromises of the faith, down the line.

But is Todd Wood’s goal, to reinforce a traditional reading of a six-24-hour-period Creation story really going to achieve what Todd Wood is after, namely to uphold the doctrinal teachings in Genesis? Is Todd Wood’s task, to keep searching for scientific evidence to prove Young Earth Creationism to be true, worth the effort? For Darrel Falk, what Todd Wood is doing is a waste of valuable intellectual energy. The Christian faith can be defended in other ways, without spending Todd Wood’s great intellectual capital, on a dead end project, where the current scientific consensus remains increasingly settled.

Todd Wood and Darrel Falk: A Young Earth Creationist, and an Evolutionary Creationist: Unlikely dialogue partners, in an on-going in-house Christian debate.

My Response to The Fool and the Heretic

What is my take away from The Fool and the Heretic?

Well, I still continue to see this dilemma quite frequently in my own evangelical Christian circles. There are those, like Todd Wood, who believe that Evolutionary Creationists, like Darrel Falk, are corrupting the minds of the “sheep,” within our churches, causing needless confusion. Likewise there are those like Darrel Falk, on the other hand, who believe that Young Earth Creationists, like Todd Wood, underestimate the scientific understanding of too many of these same “sheep,” thereby dumbing down the Christian message, thereby inviting skeptics to poke fun at the Gospel.

Or to put it another way: On the one side, are those who do not comprehend the explanatory power that modern science has provided contemporary society, or they simply have no interst in science matters, hence these believers conclude that scientists, who embrace the scientific consensus are trusting in “man’s wisdom” and opposed to the knowledge of God. Those who are then “in the know” are willing to risk ridicule from the scientific establishment in order to protect the faith of the less informed “sheep.”

On the other side, are those who quietly smile and nod when they hear scientific nonsense being propagated by other uniformed Christians, but do not speak up, as they do not want to disturb the more childlike-faith professions of such fellow believers. And still, there are those in the middle who want to avoid the extremes of haughty skepticism, as well as uninformed hyper-literalism, on either side of the spectrum. It is in the midst of this tension that Todd Wood and Darrel Falk explore with one another.

Personally, I had a crisis of faith, back in my college years, precisely over this issue of Creation. I knew Genesis to be true, in that the Bible accurately and precisely described the human condition. But I found the particular, 1980’s Young Earth Creationist way of reading the Bible to be less than convincing, as taught by my well-meaning, but not scientifically trained, college pastor. I was not entirely sure about evolution, but I came to the conclusion that Young Earth Creationism was setting up otherwise unsuspecting Christians for a spiritual fall, and I did not want to have anything to do with this brand of Christianity.

Little did I know, at that time, that for the next thirty-plus years, God would place a number of Young Earth Creationist believers in my life. I could not figure this out, but I can honestly say that I can count on a number of these Christians as very dear friends of mine, to this very day, even though we disagree about the age of the earth, and other related topics. So, reading The Fool and the Heretic really helped me work through what it means to try to have a dialogue, with fellow Christians, when there is such deep seated disagreement about the relationship between science and the Bible.

As I wrote about nearly five years ago, learning to be able to “agree to disagree,” on the topic of human origins and Creation, has been really difficult for me personally. A good fifteen years ago, I made the decision to revisit the whole “Creation controversy,” to see if I had completely missed something, when I was deeply wrestling with this issue, back in my college years.

I even engaged in a letter exchange with Dr. John C. Whitcomb, for about 6 months, after listening to a sermon he preached on the Bible Broadcasting Network. Dr. Whitcomb, who is well along into his nineties now, was the co-author of The Genesis Flood, the book that launched the contemporary Young Earth Creationist movement, back in the 1960s. What got to me is that Dr. Whitcomb came across, not as a complete lunatic, but rather he approached me in his letters as quite a godly man, who genuinely cared for my soul.

That letter exchange really softened my heart towards Young Earth Creationists as people, fellow believers, who also love Jesus, and who want the world to come to know the love of the Savior, just as much as I do. I still have struggles getting my head around why Young Earth Creationists read the Bible the way they do, but in reading The Fool and the Heretic, it made me realize that it really is worth it to try to find common ground between believers, who disagree so strongly about interpreting certain controversial passages of the Bible, just as Todd Wood and Darrel Falk clearly do. There simply is no other book like this, available from a Christian publisher.

As to the downside of the book, it really dealt with some of the more radically opposed perspectives that dominate the discussion, among evangelical Christians. With exceptions noted above, most Christians, that I know, are somewhere between Darrel Falk and Todd Wood. They are generally uneasy with the idea of a 6,000 year old earth, that flies in the face of the modern scientific consensus. But neither are they convinced by a full blown concept of biological evolution, that might leave God out of the story.

There are other dialogue partners, that The Fool and the Heretic left out. For example, there are Old Earth Creationists, such as those affiliated with Reasons to Believe, who accept the modern scientific consensus in most areas, while still rejecting macroevolution, when it comes to biological theory. Old Earth Creationists have no problem accepting a 4.34 billion year old earth, and they do affirm the unique, special creation of Adam and Eve, but they do so without believing in any evolutionary linkage with prior biological lifeforms.

Along a similar vein, there are also proponents of Intelligent Design, such as at the Discovery Institute, who are contrarian to the typical Neo-Darwiniam story. Such proponents believe that an “intelligent designer” can indeed be affirmed by the scientific evidence. For those looking at a dialogue among these four perspectives, I would recommend reading Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Designreviewed about a year ago here on Veracity.

Leaving those two other, mediating positions aside, Todd Wood and Darrel Falk represent the polar opposites in the Creation debate. Furthermore, The Fool and the Heretic, makes for a fairly quick read, which makes for a helpful introduction to the discussion. But if I had to pick one side that came out a little bit better in this book, it would be Todd Wood’s approach to Creation. In reading The Fool and the Heretic, I walked away with a more sympathetic view towards Todd Wood’s particular approach to Young Earth Creationism. If only more Young Earth Creationists were like Todd Wood, it would probably greatly enhance the public image of Young Earth Creationism, and lend more credibility to the movement.

Albert Einstein, The Famed Scientist, Was Once Just a Quirky Guy

Exactly one hundred years ago this year, our view of the world was changed by a solar eclipse. It can be argued that when Albert Einstein first proposed his theory of general relativity, that he was some sort of freakish madman, going against the well-attested, time-honored views of Isaac Newton, regarding the nature of time, space, and gravity. Frankly, if it were not for the persistence of Sir Arthur Eddington, who in 1919, made the crucial observations of a solar eclipse, that confirmed the predictions made by Einstein, we might never have known of the name of Albert Einstein (I would strongly encourage readers to take in Eric Metaxas’ interview of Matthew Stanley, the author of Einstein’s War, who chronicles the story of how Arthur Eddington confirmed Einstein, in the years during and just after the First World War).

Will Todd Wood, or another Young Earth Creationist scientist like him, emerge as the next Albert Einstein, or Arthur Eddington, to be able to take predictions, made by a proponent of Young Earth Creationism, and make observations that can confirm such predictions, for which the current scientific consensus can not adequately explain? The possibility is there, even though I would think that even Todd Wood would admit that this is an uphill battle.

However, it does bear noting that an Evolutionary Creationist, like a Darrel Falk, would probably reject the word picture of an “uphill battle,” as not being severe enough. Finding a successful Young Earth Creationist proposal  would be more like trying to climb a thousand foot sheer cliff, with no climbing gear. No ropes and no crampons. With the climbing surface covered with grease.

So be it.

The rigorous dialogue continues.

But hey, if Todd Wood thinks the evidence is there, …. well…. then…. he can knock himself out at it. More power to him. Go for it.

A Nobel Prize surely awaits a Young Earth Creationist who can successfully make a prediction, while still being falsifiable, based only on a Young Earth scientific model.

In the meantime, as far as I am concerned, it is a whole lot easier to defend a view of Creation, based on evidence we do have, as opposed to appealing to evidence we do not have. In that respect, Darrel Falk has a leg up on Todd Wood, so I would tend to lean a lot more towards Darrel Falk, as having the better argument.

Nevertheless, the benefit of reading The Fool and the Heretic is to illustrate how two sincere Christian believers, can disagree so strongly, with respect to human origins, while still finding some common ground. Both scientists care deeply about wanting young people in our churches to flourish in their faith, and not be sidetracked spiritually with chronic doubts about the truthfulness of the Bible. In reviewing their dialogue, Young Earth Creationist scientist Todd Wood landed on this hopeful note: The process of having these series of talks between Darrel Falk and himself, has “been rewarding and frustrating all at the same time, but one thing I know for sure: Darrel has made me a better creationist and Christian, and I’m grateful for that.

The more I think about that, the more I respect Todd Wood, and his search for evidence towards demonstrating the validity of a Young Earth, or what he calls a “Young Age” Creationist model.

Might this dialogue between these two scientists draw some towards Todd Wood’s side, towards Young Earth Creationism, or will it draw others more towards Darrel Falk’s side, towards Evolutionary Creationism? That is hard to say.

But genuine dialogue like this vital today. As biologist Joel Duff says, in his review of The Fool and the Heretic, this book encourages all sides involved, that we “must do better. This book helps us toward that goal.” I complete concur.

Will the conflict between Young Earth and Evolutionary Creationism ever resolve? Who knows? But The Fool and the Heretic at least suggests that real dialogue is indeed possible between vastly different Christian viewpoints. My hope is that The Fool and the Heretic might offer some sort of path, to help Christians, with different interpretations of the Bible, with respect to human origins, learn how to be friends with one another, and not enemies.

 

 

 

 

 


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.’ Isolated by itself, Mortenson’s argument has a lot of appeal. Hebrew parallelism could indeed be in play here. 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. Terry Mortenson is a smart scholar, but his exegetical argument appears to be greatly forced. I am no grammar scholar, but why anyone would find this exegesis of the text convincing is baffling. But there you have it. 


%d bloggers like this: