Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"How Old is the Earth?" Part 2

Today's post is part of the "I Wish I Knew" forum and is written by the lopsided guy on the right.
“How old is the earth?”
So, does the Bible even address the question of the age of the earth?
Does it intend to?

In my opinion, the answer is no.
Reader: “Graham, am I hearing you right? I thought you had a high view of Scripture!”
Graham: “I do. I believe in divine authorship, full inspiration, inerrancy too.”
Reader: “But, but… how can you say that if you don’t believe the Bible tells us when the earth was created?”
Graham: “For the simple reason that . . . it doesn’t tell us. It’s not rocket science. I mean, if God doesn’t want to tell us, to tell me, I’m ok with that. Are you ok with that?
Reader: “Well, it makes me kind of uneasy, as if I’m walking away from some essential tenet of the Faith.”
Graham: “I know exactly what you’re saying. I’ve wrestled with that same sense. I’ve also had to wrestle with the reality that sometimes my desire for certitude tempts me to squeeze Scripture into something of a pre-defined mold. But when I do that, I’m not conforming to God’s Word; I’m actually conforming it to me.”
Reader: “OK, OK, let’s cut to the chase. Are you saying that the earth is billions of years old?”
Graham: “No I’m not. But, I’m also not saying it’s definitely young. I don’t know for sure. But here's the point: I don’t believe the Bible speaks to that question or even intends to. And if God doesn’t want to address himself to that, I can live with the tension. In fact, I have to. I’d rather live with that tension than force the Bible to say something it doesn’t say.”
Reader: “So, what does the Bible say?”
Graham: “It says, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’”
Reader: “Ok, so when was that?”
Graham: “Not sure… Ok, I lie. It was ‘in the beginning.’”
Reader: “And when was ‘the beginning’?”
Graham: “Ah, now that’s the question, isn’t it. The Bible doesn’t tell us. Might have been 10,000 years ago. Might have been 10 billion years ago. You pick.”
Reader: “So you’re open to both options?”
Graham: “Sure. Even the great conservative apologist, Norman Geisler, put it: ‘I’m a young earther three days a week, and an old earther four days a week.’”
Reader: “That sounds like a cop out.”
Graham: “Not really. It’s saying that you can marshal some evidence for either position. It’s also saying that Scripture doesn’t definitively decide the issue one way or the other, regardless of what some folks will say. The implications of this is that two people can have a high view of Scripture and still end up with different opinions on the age of the earth. One view is not more or less Christian than the other, despite some people’s attempt to make this a (or even the) litmus test of orthodoxy.”
Reader: “So if Scripture doesn’t solve it for me, how do I get an answer?”
Graham: “I think the great Christian scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, has it right when he says that God has written two books: the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. They are not in conflict, but are complementary. If the Bible doesn’t provide a definitive answer, it’s not a bad idea to read His other book, the Book of Nature.
Reader: “So what does the Book of Nature tell us?”
Graham: “That’s a great question.”
Reader: “So give me a great answer!”
Graham: “Now you’re just being lazy. Go find out for yourself.”   :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

"How Old is the Earth?" Part 1

Today's post is part of the "I Wish I Knew" forum and is written by the cheeky guy on the right.
“How old is the earth?”
On the surface, this five-word question looks very straightforward, requiring just a simple numerical answer. But in reality, for Christians at least, there are a bunch of other questions (or assumptions) that line up behind the question. It ends up being a very complex question, or series of questions.
These “background” questions would include, but are not limited to:

Does Scripture provide an answer on how old the earth is?
Does the Bible even intend to address the question?
Is there one correct “Christian” viewpoint on the question of the age of the earth?
Shouldn’t we read the Bible literally if we believe it is the Word of God?

To start our discussion, I think it’s helpful to clarify that the question of the age of the earth is entirely separate from the creation versus evolution debate. Just because evolutionists happen to believe in an old earth does does not mean the converse is true: i.e., that everyone who believes in an old earth is therefore an evolutionist. That is a non-sequitur. In fact, many creationists (particularly folks who focus on the “Intelligent Design” discussion) believe that the scientific evidence indicates that God created everything with great complexity, and that life did not evolve. But they also believe the scientific evidence indicates that the universe, and the earth, are rather old. Understanding that the issues are separate is important because many Christians do not want to start on the slippery slope towards evolution. They tend to dig their toes in out of fear that even entertaining the thought the earth might be older than, say, 10,000 years is starting them on the downward slide towards evolutionism. But the one does not necessitate the other.

In a similar vein, some conservative Christians tend to shy away from even contemplating that the earth might be old because they have been told that it is somehow “unchristian” or “unbiblical” to do so. “If you really want to honor God’s Word,” the argument goes, “you have to take it literally. And if you don’t take God’s Word literally, it means you have a low view of Scripture and are watering it down and capitulating to the culture and becoming worldly!”

The truth is, we have the highest view of Scripture and divine authorship when we let Scripture speak on its own terms. Imposing one’s own categories or preferences or biases on Scripture actually does the opposite of honoring it—it dishonors it. Making Scripture say something that it does not intend to say dishonors the Word of God and fashions it into an image of our own imagination.

This means that we must take the Bible literally when it intends us to take it literally. And we allow for figures of speech and variety of literary genres and intents when that’s what the author or speaker intends and what the text calls for.

For example, saying “I only take the Bible literally” results in absurdity when the psalmist says in 17:8: “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” To take the Bible literally at that point is to make it say something not just absurd, but patently untrue. One would never claim on the basis of this verse that the psalmist wants to be kept as a literal apple (Gala or Granny Smith?) in God’s literal, physical eye (is He blue-eyed or brown?). No, this is a poetic expression of David’s desire that God’s favor and affection would continue to shine on David. Interpreting this verse as a figure of speech, and not literally, is the correct, God-honoring way to interpret it and to arrive at truth. Similarly, “hide me in the shadow of your wings” taken literally results in a claim that God is a cosmic chicken.

On the other hand, when Genesis 2:25 says, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame,” we have no reason to not take it literally. The ‘laws’ of literature and hermeneutics (interpretation) would give us every reason to understand the text to be speaking about a literal man and woman who are married (and that these words are not figurative code for a Martian and a tadpole). We understand “they were both naked” to mean precisely and literally that – they had no clothes, and if the weather patterns of the Garden were like a Wisconsin winter, it would have been a sorry sight indeed.

A recent example of the dangers of making Scripture say something it never intended to is Harold Camping’s numerology. Camping “discovered” all kinds of esoteric patterns in Scripture giving him unique insight into the date of Jesus’ return on May 21, 2011. Millions of dollars were spent by the faithful warning the world of impending doom. When May 21 came and went, and the world mocked, Harold revised his calculations and reset the date to October 21, 2011. The fact that I’m writing this and you are reading this says very clearly that he got it horribly wrong. The reality is Scripture was never intended to be read that way. Neither God nor the human authors intended it as a number-crunching book with secret codes.

So it's very important that on the one hand, we don't make Scripture say less than it intends to. And, on the other, that we don't make it say more than it intends to.

This brings us back to the question of the age of the earth: Does the Bible address the subject? Does it even intend to?

We’ll continue the discussion in the next post.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Since my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit...

Today's Guest Post is part of the "I Wish I Knew" forum and is written by Eric Erickson, Associate Pastor at LakeView Church

"It says that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. How do I know what I can and can't do to my body?"

Our human nature wants to have a list of the forbidden and the allowed. The amazing thing about that is even the earliest evidence demonstrated that man could not adhere to that type of relationship with God. (See Genesis 3) We'll jump back to that in a bit but for now...

This question we received as part of "I Wish I Knew" references a verse in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies." (BTW, in 1 Corinthians 3 Paul uses almost the identical wording "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that the Spirit of God is living in you?" but is using it in a collective manner, ie, the Church in Corinth was God's temple)  Whenever we look at any verse like this we must always remember these three things: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT. Why was Paul saying this? Who was he saying it to? What prompted the statement? Paul was addressing a church (a collective of Christ-followers) in the city of Corinth who had embraced the message of the Gospel but who also had significant issues. If you read the entire letter, I personally think Paul was beside himself and was trying to carry thoughts so quickly and intensely, that he occasionally would jump around a bit. Two issues that Corinth was dealing with were: unity and sexual immorality. In this particular passage, Paul is addressing a bit of both. Early in chapter 6 he rebukes them for not seeking wise godly counsel to handle their disputes but rather a worldly and perhaps corrupt justice system. The Corinthian city culture and mindset were sensual and pleasure-seeking. Paul asks "why would you look to them for answers?" He then describes some of their behaviors and, in fact, points it out to the readers that they were at one time those types of people too. Paul was telling the readers, "in Christ, that is not who you are" (see verses 11 and 15).

One of the arguments that Paul was addressing was the apparent license that the Corinthians were feeling they had to do anything. But Paul says that while all things are lawful they are neither beneficial nor are Believers to be consumed by or flaunting of them. There may have been some confusion because Paul had made it clear to them that they were no longer subject to the law but the Corinthians began to flaunt, abuse and exploit that freedom.

So, I think the person asking this question may have been wanting to know something like: Can I get my ears pierced? Can I smoke? How much is too much to drink? Is it ok to drink alcohol? How far is too far sexually? Is a tattoo ok? When have I eaten too much? (ouch, were those my own toes?) In any of these questions we must first realize that if we have truly accepted the fact that Jesus has redeemed us, justified us and sanctified us then we have the Holy Spirit living in us. The very presence of God indwells us (see Romans 8:9). That Spirit desires for us the things that bring eternal satisfaction not temporal. So the question becomes what is the motive for the things we do. Clearly there are things to avoid (Galatians 5:16-21, 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 John 2:15-17, Romans 1:29-31, Romans 13:12-14), but the motive behind behavior or action is the root of the matter.

If Scripture gave clear standards or rules on the things we can and cannot do -- both to our bodies and otherwise -- it would eliminate the need for us to be in a relationship with our heavenly Father. This was what happened in the Old Testament. The Law was given to demonstrate both man's inability to follow rules in order to be right with God and also to point to the full satisfaction that Christ was able to fulfill when he went to the cross on our behalf. That's the wonder of the Christian faith. We don't follow a list of rules, we live in a loving relationship. Our desire for any action should be to bring Him glory through that.

So for any question that asks about "what we can or cannot do as followers of Christ," ask yourself, "does this demonstrate the Spirit who lives in me?" We should also surrender consistently to the Spirit and the fruit he wishes to demonstrate will shine through (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control).

This week while I drove my kids to school, they asked why Deb and I don't want them saying, "Oh my gosh." Mckenzie my 10 year old soon to be lawyer and debater gave her compelling arguments why OMG was not "swearing."  I said that I agreed, but that I was more concerned that she and her younger brother learn that God's name is holy and it would be unfitting for us to use His name casually or carelessly. It would not allow us to understand the honor His name should have in our lives. She said, "But gosh isn't his name". I said, "You're right, but for our family we would rather not even come close to dishonoring or carelessly using God's name. So, rather than see how close to the edge we can get, let's stay back a safe distance." The question then becomes, "How can I honor God the BEST with the things I do with/to my body?"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is Truth Relative?

Today's Guest Post is part of the "I Wish I Knew" forum and is written by Alex Unis, Pastor of Student Ministries at LakeView Church

“God is like an elephant, which a bunch of blind men are touching. One blind man grabs a leg and says, ‘my God is strong, and firm.’ Another tries to wrap his arms around the belly and says, ‘my God is prosperous and wealthy.’ A third, finding shade from the ears, says, ‘my God is benevolent, a shelter from the tragedy of life.’ But really, they’re all talking about the same God, they just experience him in different ways.”

The Relativism question, along with its little brother Pluralism, comes up quite often in culture today, and can be seen in this proverb.

More fully, the question of relativism looks like this: “Is there such a thing as absolute truth? Especially in spiritual matters, is there really right or wrong, or does your ‘truth’ depend on your culture, situation, and upbringing?” This results in an argument that looks like this: “Culture, local situations, and a personal experiences are varied such that each person’s experience with the divine is unique an individual. Therefore, what is spiritually true for one person may not be spiritually true for another.”

Christians tend to look at this and point to “hard sciences” to prove absolute truth. “2+2=4≠5” This is always true and never false! Unfortunately, we lose a lot of listeners here, since spirituality is not a “hard science.” It doesn’t fit the scientific formula. Spirituality is about experience, not tested and observable facts, so the relativist will quickly tune out.

So, here I will offer a different type of explanation: metanarrative and unity.

Relativism revs up the blender and breaks everything into as many pieces as possible. Spiritualism is a result of individual experience, and since every individual has a unique experience, every form of spirituality is unique. This results in a whole-sale rejection of metanarrative (meaning “big story”). As Christians, we see the whole world and the whole existence of humanity having a common purpose. Each of us fits into the bigger story of history that God has laid out from the beginning. Relativism attempts to dethrone the larger, over-arching story by insisting on “local narratives,” or, small stories. “You see, the story of Jesus is right for your story, but in the Far East they have a different story.” However, the Christian World View depends on a single story, a single creator with a single plan for salvation. And this one, large story all points to the consummation of history when Jesus returns. The idea of creation demands a creator, and the Creator demands a single theme and purpose for humanity. If I affirm that God created (Genesis 1), sent his Son for humanity (John 3) and that Jesus is returning to earth to establish his kingdom (pretty much all of Revelation), then I must acknowledge God’s big story. And, if God has a big story, all of our “little stories” must fit into this.

I find that fact quite comforting. My purpose comes from fitting into God’s story. Although my life may be “like grass” in comparison to human history, it’s not a worthless little path I’m walking, it’s a mighty trail.

Secondly, relativism places spirituality in a category separate from the rest of life. Politics, the state, education, economics, and the like have little to do with spiritual beliefs. Those are public, religion is private. What we learn from Scripture, however, is quite the opposite. Jesus teaches that we should pay taxes (Mark 12.27), and he instructs us regarding economics and how to use our money (Matthew 6.19-34, James 4.13-14). In Scripture we are taught how to relate to our governments (Romans 13.1-7), how to raise our children (Deuteronomy 6.4-12), and even a welfare-type system is found (James 1.27).

The fact is, what we believe spiritually permeates every bit of what we do. We can’t call one aspect of our life sacred and another secular. Everything we do is sacred. Everything we do is a result of what we believe spiritually.

So, don’t let relativism rip things apart, making the truth of Jesus true only to you. No, Jesus is truth to all (John 14.6).

To finish where I started, the elephant story is nice, but is misses something big. The one who tells the story is the only one who is able to say “God is like an elephant” and is therefore the only person who is enlightened. Nobody else gets it. The rest of the world is missing it. Does that sound like relativism?

Monday, September 10, 2012

I Wish I Knew

Yesterday at church we did a live text & email question/answer forum titled "I wish I knew." Our three pastors (Eric, Alex and yours truly) did 90-second interactions with a slew of questions from "Is suicide unforgivable?" to "Are there pets in heaven?" The varied questions from both services are available at LakeView's website, www.lakevc.org, under  the "Messages" tab.

The very first question dealt with the diversity of views among denominations.

Jesus implores us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt 22:37). Thinking is a divinely-sanctioned activity to be encouraged, not avoided. And that means that as we interact with the text, we might come to different conclusions on certain things. That's OK.

It's also OK to have particular preferences on

  • style of music
  • frequency of communion (not to mention whether it should be the real stuff or grape juice or grape jelly)
  • choice of Bible translation
  • whether the minister should wear a robe (I had to borrow one a few years ago at an ecumenical Thanksgiving service but its owner was over 6 feet tall. As I walked down the aisle holding my skirts I felt like Galadriel in Lord of the Rings).
  • etc.
Such diversity is a good thing. But sometimes folks elevate personal or even denominational preferences to the level of biblical mandates.

I have found it helpful to distinguish between more and less important matters this way:
  • Is it a conviction to die for?
  • Is it an opinion to defend?
  • Is it a preference to discuss?
Thinking through the differences can make your life, your faith and your friendships a whole lot easier. There's a fairly small collection of things in the first category (convictions to die for): the deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, etc. So let's not make music or dress or the year of the communion port a litmus test of orthodoxy.

As Augustine said (although the quote has also been attributed to Fred and Bob):
In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Mormons, Muddled Democrats and "God's Man"

As a kiwi, I find American politics fascinating.

Almost four years ago I was standing at the back of the church as the praise run began in the second service. It was the Sunday right before the election. Someone sidled up to me:
"So, are you going to tell the church who they should be voting for?"

I laughed, thinking it was a joke. But they were deadly serious.

Hector's House! What about separation of church and state?

It's all rather confusing to this fellow from down under who, in another life, paid homage to the Queen one holiday in the year and then celebrated Guy Fawkes' attempts to blow up the Houses of Parliament on another.

So who did God want to be President last time? Who was God's man?

Was it McCain, who somewhat conveniently managed to find faith and his way back to the church in the months before the election? Or was it Obama, who'd been going to church for years but still found it almost impossible to convince skeptical conservatives? (Kind of a tall order, really, given a name that sounds like "Osama," a strong pro-abortion platform, and The Donald's persistent rumor-mongering that Obama was born on Mars or in some madrasah in Indonesia.)

The same question has come back with a vengeance again, although with a twist (and I'm not talking about getting magical mormon knickers in a knot). So who is God's man this time?

Is God's man a fiscal conservative with sons as handsome as Donny Osmond? If you answer yes don't forget that as a former LDS Bishop he also happens to believe that Jesus is not uniquely God in the flesh and that we can all evolve into godhood.

Or, is God's man the leader of a party that took out "God" from their platform and then thought better of it, forcing him back in after three unconvincing votes?

Perhaps all this talk of "God's man" is a little misguided. A little too messianic. Could it be that, despite the incredible privilege, importance and responsibility of voting, we put a little too much hope in our elected officials?  I mean, to get to where they are they need both the desire to change the world and a well-stroked ego.

I'm not saying that the election is not important. Nor that the choices are insignificant. (Ok, let me tip my hand: I personally think that borrowing to spend what we don't have is a recipe for disaster. I happen to believe that life is sacred, begins at conception, and that marriage is between a man and a woman. I also realise that good people disagree with me on those issues and some think there are other "justice" issues, such as war and care for the widow and orphan, that should also be factored in.)

What I am saying is that we have an unhealthy tendency to look to a party or a person for solutions that border on salvation. Yet parties and people will always disappoint at some level. ALWAYS.

Viewed from that level, it's almost a choice between the lesser of evils.

But there is a man who is God's Man. And He will never disappoint.
For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity--the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time (1 Timothy 2:5,6).
 He gets my vote.

And I long for the day when He will rule and reign in righteousness, when
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15).