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Month: August 2015

Pass the Lightsaber! I Need to Cut the Ham Back on the Ark!

Pass the Lightsaber! I Need to Cut the Ham Back on the Ark!

A friend of mine suggested following “Answers in Genesis” on Twitter. He said, “They provide a lot of material for one-liners.” And so, I followed AiG on Twitter today, and immediately was alerted of the following article, entitled, “How Could Noah Build Something So Large?” I apologize in advance if this post sounds too sarcastic. Here’s the link:

https://answersingenesis.org/noahs-ark/could-noah-build-something-large/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AIGDaily+%28Answers+in+Genesis+Daily+Articles%29

I was fascinated by one particular part of the article. It read:

“So how could Noah build an enormous Ark? He had some advantages over the builders of Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid. Since people in his day had such long lifespans, think of the amount of knowledge and skills they could acquire. Also, Noah built the Ark during what was likely the technological peak of the pre-Flood world, and although we do not know the extent of their innovations, we do know they worked with iron and other metals” (Genesis 4:22).

SO LET’S RECAP! According to AiG and Ken Ham, Noah was able to build the ark because of (1) Long life spans, (2) amazing “pre-flood” technological equipment, and (from another post) (3) Noah probably hired mocking workers.

QUESTION #1: Are any of the above “reasons” specified in the Bible, really?

ANSWER: No they aren’t!

QUESTION #2: How does Ham get “they worked with iron and other metals” to mean “they had access to advanced technological equipment before the flood”? After all, in an earlier blog, Ham pointed to the advanced technology we in the modern age have developed over the past 200 years, and then speculated, “Just think of what kind of technology Noah had after 2,000 since Adam and Eve!”

ANSWER: He can make that connection because he makes it a habit of making outlandish, nonsensical claims. For someone who has made it a career lambasting anyone who doesn’t agree with his “young earth creationism” as “reading man’s fallible ideas into the text,” Ken Ham does an awful lot of reading his own fanciful ideas into the Biblical text, doesn’t he?”

HERE’S A LEGITIMATE QUESTION: Given the above statement, I think it is therefore a legitimate question to ask Ken Ham, “Do you think Noah had access to smart phones, lasers, a “pre-flood internet,” hover-crafts, space shuttles, and maybe even satellites?” If that sounds incredibly ridiculous and mocking, just remember, this is what Ken Ham is actually suggesting!

HERE’S ANOTHER LEGITIMATE QUESTION: How many Evangelical Christians, if they really found out that Ken Ham is suggesting such things in order to support his young earth claims, would think twice about giving this man the time of day? I hope and pray that the answer to that question is, “A LOT!”

INCIDENTALLY, here is a picture shared on Ken Ham’s blog today, detailing the progress on his Ark project. This is the east tower from the north. Notice the cranes and scaffolding, the huge construction equipment, and of course the outhouses. All I can say is it must have been a lot easier for Noah to build, given the advanced technological equipment he must have had, probably 100 times more advanced that the paltry tools that have to be used today!east-tower-from-north

 

Inspiration and Inerrancy….My Two Cents

Inspiration and Inerrancy….My Two Cents

I have to be honest: I still am quite frustrated these days. It still hurts knowing that I lost my teaching job because I didn’t think the universe is 6,000 years old. It hurts knowing that I was deemed a “compromised Christian” who undermines biblical authority. And it hurts knowing that the man who fired me told people that I was a “liberal” and that I “didn’t think the Bible was historical.” Really? Is that a fair and accurate characterization of me? Trust me, I have some really liberal friends who, upon reading the above line, will be spewing their drink out of their nose because they’re laughing so hard.

Where do such labels come from? What are the factors? Well, it comes down to how one understands the concepts of “inspiration,” “infallibility,” and “inerrancy” (for expediency’s sake, I’m going to just lump “infallibility” and “inerrancy” together—I’m 45, have a PhD in OT, and I still for the life of me can’t tell the difference between the two). To be sure, it is almost uniquely a Protestant-Evangelical powder-keg. In this post, I’m going to try to make sense of it.

Inspiration and/vs. Inerrancy
A few months ago, I came across an article by Bob Wilkin entitled, “Can We Still Trust New Testament Professors?” in which he took to task New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg for his criticism of the term “inerrancy.” I saved it and thought, “I might have to write a post on this one day.” Then last week, a friend of my sent me an article by Robert Bowman entitled “Seven Problems with Christian Opposition to Inerrancy,” in which he took to task Kyle Roberts for an article he had written, entitled, “Seven Problems with Inerrancy.”

Quite frankly, reading the articles made me sad, particularly the ones “defending” inerrancy. I realized that this debate wasn’t simply a theological debate, it was also very much a political debate. And that got me thinking, along with this issue of “inspiration vs. inerrancy,” the current “creation vs. evolution debate” within Evangelical circles—both of these issues—reflect a frighteningly growing politicization of the American Church, and indeed the entire culture as well.

What the Articles Said
Here are the links to the articles in question:

“Can We Still Trust New Testament Professors?” –Bob Wilkin

http://defendinginerrancy.com/can-we-still-trust-new-testament-professors/

“Seven Problems with Inerrancy” –Kyle Roberts

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unsystematictheology/2015/05/seven-problems-with-inerrancy-leaving-evangelicalism-2/

“Seven Problems with Christian Opposition to Inerrancy” –Robert Bowman

http://credohouse.org/blog/7-problems-with-christian-opposition-to-inerrancy?utm_source=Main+List&utm_campaign=a3a71fa24e-NEW_BLOG_7_Problems_with_Christian&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_57e90b4dfc-a3a71fa24e-61923169&mc_cid=a3a71fa24e&mc_eid=974f2b817b

You can read the articles for yourself, but I will very briefly summarize the two positions.  First, both Blomberg and Roberts argue that whereas the Bible certainly is trustworthy and inspired, the term “inerrancy” simply has a bit too much baggage with it and is often used in harmful ways by ultra-conservative fundamentalists, namely as a way to insist that  Genesis 1-11, Jonah, Job, are literal history.

And this leads us to position two: both Wilkin and Bowman argue that if you don’t believe Genesis 1-11, Jonah, and Job are literal history, then you are undermining biblical authority and are a notorious “liberal.” Bowman even starts his article with a graphic to show this. Inerrancy Wilkin even goes so far as to say that he wouldn’t send his children to colleges that have professors like Bloomberg. (This is similar to what Ken Ham routinely does—he’s even written a book about supposedly “compromised” Christian colleges that don’t teach Genesis 1-11 is literal history).

Simply put, if you read the articles, you’ll find that Wilkin and Bowman’s basic argument goes something like this: “Christians have always claimed the Bible was inerrant; Jesus claimed the Bible was inerrant; if you don’t agree that the Bible is inerrant, then you are casting doubt on the Bible and are ultimately calling God a liar. Therefore, if you don’t think Elisha’s axe-head literally floated, then you are casting doubt on the resurrection of Christ.”

Maybe now you can see why these article have made me sad.

Where Did “Inerrancy” Come From?
The descriptive term “inerrancy” was coined by B.B. Warfield, who was reacting to the modern liberal theology of the 19th and 20th century. Simply put, (and perhaps over-simplistically so), modern liberal theology’s view of Scripture went something like this: “Science now proves that the Bible is just a thoroughly human book, it’s full of errors and discrepancies all over the place, and miracles don’t happen because that would violate natural laws.”

In response to this onslaught by liberal theology, men like B.B. Warfield and the original “Fundamentalist” movement, sought to defend the divine authorship and reliability of the Bible. Warfield emphasizes that the Bible is both a divine and human book. Yes, it was written by human beings, but, as the Bible itself claims, it was inspired by God. And even though there could be translational errors and mistakes, that in the original autographs, the writings of the Bible were “without error” (i.e. inerrant). And since the Bible testifies to the miraculous, then those miracles recorded in the Bible obviously happened.

Obviously, what “inerrancy” meant was that the Bible was true and accurate in whatever it addressed: if it was “doing history,” we could have confidence that what it was saying really happened; if it was “doing parable,” we then interpret it according to the genre of parable and believe it is revealing truth in whatever it is addressing. In order for “inerrancy” to work, you have to know what you’re reading.

The interesting thing about Warfield, though, is that he, for example, had no problem with the theory of evolution. That should tell you that the man who coined the term “inerrancy” obviously did not think Genesis 1-2 was a blow-by-blow “eyewitness” account of creation by God. So ironically, the man who coined the term “inerrancy” is considered by the likes of Ken Ham to be a “compromised Christian.” How is that possible?

Here’s the Problem
Ultimately, Bloomberg and Roberts are right. The term “inerrancy” was a term coined in response to the Enlightenment-influenced liberal theology of the 19th century. The problem, as I have said elsewhere in other posts, is that in the attempt to combat the liberal theology of the 19th century, well-meaning Christians ended up trying to defend the Bible by playing by the Enlightenment rules. People like Wilkin, Bowman, and even Ken Ham, are still doing that same thing.

The problem when people like Bloomberg and Roberts question the term “inerrancy,” is that they don’t clearly articulate precisely what the real problem is. They’re still coming at the issue from an Enlightenment mindset, or more accurately, still allowing the argument about the Bible to be dominated by Enlightenment presuppositions. This in turn sets ultra-conservatives in a tizzy, and they think you’re saying “The Bible isn’t true!”

So when Bowman goes through a host of Christian theologians throughout history, and shows quotes by them, saying that the Bible is free from error, okay—but Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas weren’t using the Fundamentalist reactionary definition of “inerrancy” back in the 5th and 13th centuries.

Let’s Clear Things Up
If you read these articles, your head might spin off. If there is one thing I’ve learned about Protestants and their theology, it’s this: they’re really good at needlessly complicating things, and then bashing each other over the head with their particular systematic theological constructs. It was true with Luther and Zwingli, it’s still true today. That’s probably one of the reasons I became Orthodox. In any case, here is my brief take on this issue.

First, the Bible is inspired by God: he inspired the writers of the Bible to reveal his truth to address specific events, people, and issues of the time. The reason we have the Book of Jeremiah, and not the Book of Hananiah, because Jeremiah’s prophesies proved to be true, Hananiah’s prophesies were proved to be false, and therefore, Jeremiah’s writings were preserved and Hananiah’s wasn’t.

Second, the uniqueness of the Bible is the canon, not in the modern claim of “inerrancy.” When the canon of Scripture was established, it meant it was the “measuring stick” or “ruler” against which all other teachings were to be judged. If I go around teaching that Jesus really was a rutabaga farmer who said the way to God was self-castration, you could assess my claims against the canon of Scripture, and make the determination that no, Jesus never taught that, and no, the Church has never taught that either. Therefore, since my claims clearly contradict the canon of Scripture that bears witness to the beliefs and teaching of Christ and the early Church, you would be right in concluding that the Holy Spirit is not speaking through me.

On the other hand, if you read someone like C.S. Lewis, Thomas A’Kempis, or Thomas Merton, and what they say about the Christian faith is found to line up with the canon of Scripture, we can accept their teaching, appreciate their insights, and rest assured that the Holy Spirit is still guiding us in all truth as He is clearly working in these men’s lives to further illuminate and guide His Church.

In that sense, my understanding of “inspiration” might surprise people: I think men like C.S. Lewis, Thomas A’Kempis, and Thomas Merton all were inspired. The Word of God is living and active, and still works through and inspires Christians to continue Christ’s Kingdom work. No, the writer of Hebrews was not talking about the Bible when he said the Word of God is living and active. He was talking about the Spirit of God at work in the world.

Someone might object and say, “Are you saying they were inspired in the same way as Paul?” Well, they were all inspired by the same Holy Spirit! The difference is that the Holy Spirit was inspiring the biblical writers, including Paul, to “lay the foundation,” whereas the same Holy Spirit inspires people today to further build up God’s Temple, the Church. It’s not that the Holy Spirit inspired them, but left us to flail about on our own. He still inspires us today, and it is the canon of Scripture that helps us recognize and determine the Holy Spirit’s inspiration still today.

Third, the Bible is revealed truth—it tells the truth about God, Man, and the World. Therefore, claims of “inerrancy” are just redundant. Here is where I have a problem with the concept of “inerrancy.” First, the claim is that the Bible is inerrant in the “original writings.” Well great—the fact is that we don’t have the original writings. So the definition is rendered pretty meaningless right from the start.

Second, you have to be clear on precisely what you mean by “without error.” Do you mean the Bible is without grammar errors and typos? No? Good-because they’re in there. Do you mean the Bible is literally and factually accurate all the time? Well, what are you going to do with Joshua telling the sun to stop moving around the earth? What are going to do with the chronological problems in II Kings, particularly during the reign of Hezekiah? How could the fall of Samaria (721 BC) happen in his 6th year, and then Sennacherib’s invasion (701 BC) happen in his 14th year? The numbers don’t add up. We should be honest and admit there are minor discrepancies here and there, but none which affect the revealed message of a passage, and most of which are easily figured out. Should those things cast doubt on the veracity of the Bible? Of course not.

Third, you still are going to have to be clear on the genre of any given biblical passage. Take the Parable of the Prodigal Son for example. Think of how odd the following statement sounds, “I believe the Parable of the Prodigal Son is inerrant!” What’s wrong with that? “Inerrancy” a term that implies scientific and historical factual accuracy, but this is a parable—therefore “inerrancy” simply doesn’t really fit as a proper description. What you really mean is that the Parable of the Prodigal Son is revealing the truth about God’s love.

Finally, it is true: modern proponents of “biblical inerrancy” are really concerned with Genesis 1-11, Jonah, and Job, and they really want to argue that all three are historical. And it’s true, they are wrong about all three. My take is very simple: if you really take inspiration seriously, then you have to agree that God revealed Himself to the original audience in a way they would have understood. You have to take literary and historical context seriously.

Therefore, God did not inspire Moses to reveal 21st century scientific truths to the ancient Israelites. Genesis 1-11 is not God’s refutation of Darwinism. The ancient world was not interested in the “scientific/historical facts” regarding the creation of the material universe. It’s not that Moses tried to tell the “eyewitness account” of God and got it wrong—he wasn’t giving “God’s eyewitness account” in the first place. Genesis 1-11 isn’t history—it wasn’t meant to be read as history; therefore it cannot be accused of “getting the history wrong.”

Regarding Jonah, I did my master’s thesis on Jonah. It’s not history. It has all the earmarks of a parable, pure and simple. It was written in 5th century BC to the post-exilic Jewish community, and Jonah was an 8th century BC prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel. There is no record of Nineveh ever repenting and turning to YHWH. The parable was written to challenge the returning Jews’ attitude toward Gentiles who might turn to YHWH.

It would be like if I told a story about how God told George Bush to travel to Afghanistan, and eventually Osama bin Laden accepted Jesus, and God told Bush to invite him to the White House to celebrate God’s forgiveness. Now, there really is a George Bush, bin Laden was a real person, but my story isn’t history—it’s a parable to challenge you: if bin Laden repented and God forgave him, could you?

Regarding Job—it’s in the “Wisdom” Section of the Old Testament! In the Hebrew Bible, it is under the category of the “Writings,” along with the Psalms and Proverbs. How can anyone completely ignore the very biblical context in which Job is found, and insist that it is “history,” and then have the gall to say, “If you don’t think Job is historical, then you are undermining the Bible?” Simply unbelievable.

So to Sum Up…
Insisting that texts like Genesis 1-11, Jonah, and Job are to be read in their historical and literary contexts is not claiming they are “filled with errors.” Men like Wilken and Bowman, who insist that these texts must be historically accurate, or else you’re saying the Bible is “full of errors,” are in fact insisting the Bible be read through the worldview lens of the Enlightenment. They are the ones who don’t respect the biblical text enough. They don’t respect it enough to let it speak for itself, firmly rooted within its literary and historical contexts.

And one more thing: we need to realize and be okay with the fact that even where the Bible is relating historical events, the biblical writers were not modern newspaper reporters. They are conveying God’s acts in history, but they are also doing it in a highly creative, literary way. God conveys His truth through creative means, we should embrace it. Men like Wilken, Bowman, and Ken Ham, seem to hate that—it’s not “factual enough.” But how can you truly love the Creator God, and yet be so hostile to the idea that He reveals Himself in creative ways, and that the Bible is full of creativity and literary artistry?

We should just all agree that the Bible is inspired and that it is true. If you want to retain the word “inerrancy,” as a way of saying, “Yes, but it’s really, really true!” Okay—have at it. But I think you’re just being redundant. But if you want to keep using “inerrancy” to bludgeon people into saying that Genesis 1-11, Jonah, and Job are meant to be historically factual, I don’t know what to tell you, other than you’re wrong.

And that does not make me a “liberal.” It makes me an Orthodox Christian who reveres the Bible so much, who takes inspiration so seriously, that I refuse to let the modern Enlightenment misconceptions of what constitutes as “truth” act as a dictator over the Bible.

Christopher Hitchens Claims that MLK Wasn’t a Christian! WHAT?

Christopher Hitchens Claims that MLK Wasn’t a Christian! WHAT?

Christopher Hitchens

In the first decade of the 21st century, Christopher Hitchens, along with Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, really made a splash with what has been labeled “The New Atheist Movement.” I am currently in the midst of sharing my analysis of Hitchens’ book, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. There is no need to explain what the book is about—the title pretty much gives it away.

In the course of his book, Hitchens proves himself quite adept at impressive broad-brushed statements and inflammatory rhetoric. Occasionally though, he actually gets around to something specific. In chapter 13 he discusses Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the man who is most associated with the Civil Rights movement, and the man who couched every speech and sermon with language from the Bible to make the point that God has created all men equal. Given those undisputable facts, Hitchens’ take on MLK is quite breath-taking…

He begins with a ridiculous accusation that it was Jesus who began the concept of hell, where the dead are further punished and tortured: “Not until the advent of the Prince of Peace do we hear of the ghastly idea of further punishing and torturing the dead.” Let’s put aside for the moment that Hitchens is completely and historically wrong on that point. The reason he makes that statement (i.e. Jesus and Christians love to punish and torture everyone) is that he is really wants to say something about MLK: “In no real as opposed to nominal sense, then, was a Christian.” (176)

If you are like me, you probably just said, “What?” Did Hitchens just claim that the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was not a Christian? Yes he did! All it took for him to make that claim was for him to completely re-define “Christian.” How convenient! “Being a Christian” to Hitchens means “being a sadist and lover of torture.” Therefore, by that definition, MLK was not a “Christian,” because MLK cared for the oppressed and wanted equal rights. This, boys and girls, is what we call tortured logic.

This tortured logic, though, clearly doesn’t rest well for Hitchens. Despite claiming MLK wasn’t really a Christian, he still feels the need to accuse MLK of plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation, and to paint him as a boozing skirt-chaser. In a similar way, Hitchens, in his book entitled, The Missionary Position, completely ridicules Mother Teresa, who devoted her life to caring for the poorest and sickliest people of Calcutta. Why? She was a committed Christian, of course. Hitchens cannot tolerate the reality that there are Christians out there who devote their lives to caring for the poor and marginalized, because that interferes with his delusion that “religion poisons everything,” and that Enlightenment atheists are all good and rational.

And since he was on the topic of MLK, Hitchens decided to put in his two cents regarding slavery—he claims that black people in America were “captives” of “several Christian states” (176). Now this fact is true: black people were brought from Africa and enslaved throughout the South, and many claimed Christianity endorsed slavery. The problem with Hitchens’ claim, though, is that earlier in his book he went at great lengths to argue that America wasn’t a Christian nation to begin with. Rather, it was rather a bastion of Enlightenment thinkers like Jefferson and many other founding fathers.

Well, Hitchens is sort of right—Jefferson was a thoroughly Enlightenment thinker, and Enlightenment ideas did have a shaping influence on our country. Yet…Jefferson, the Enlightenment thinker, was actually a slave owner, as where many of the Enlightenment founding fathers. Furthermore, Hitchens also fails to mention the countless number of abolitionists who fought against slavery, precisely because of their Christian faith. His claim, therefore that “Religion alone is the cause of slavery in America,” is false. It is quite clear that both religious people and Enlightenment thinkers fell on both sides of the issue of slavery.

At the end of his chapter on MLK, Hitchens notes that some groups who supported MLK in his quest for equal rights were communists. But then astonishingly he claims that it was the communists and other “humanist groups” that were really the driving force behind MLK’s quest for civil rights! Hitchens actually says, “When Dr. King took a stand on the steps of Mr. Lincoln’s memorial and changed history, he too adopted a position that had effectually been forced upon him. But he did so as a profound humanist and nobody could ever use his name to justify oppression and cruelty. He endures for that reason, and his legacy has very little to do with his professed theology. No supernatural force was required to make the case against racism” (180).

My question is simple: Does any rational person think that MLK’s Christianity had nothing to do with his civil rights work? A quick read of any of MLK’s speeches and sermons proves the exact opposite. Now of course, an atheist can also be against racism; but Hitchens’ attempt to paint MLK as not really a Christian, but really an ideal humanist (and closet communist?) is ridiculous. I am truly baffled how anyone could take someone who makes such outrageous and demonstrably false statements seriously.

Hitchens then ends his discussion of MLK with this: “Anybody, therefore, who uses the King legacy to justify the role of religion in public life must accept all the corollaries of what they seem to be implying. Even a glance at the whole record will show, first, that person for person, American freethinkers and agnostics and atheists come out the best. The chance that someone’s secular or freethinking opinion would cause him or her to denounce the whole injustice was extremely high. The chance that someone’s religious belief would cause him or her to take a stand against slavery and racism was statistically quite small” (180).

Let’s doing something crazy: let’s look at the facts of reality. First of all, MLK’s legacy does indeed show that religious conviction can have a positive impact on public life and policy. So Hitchens is wrong there.

Secondly, a quick glance at the abolition movement, charities, homeless shelters, hospitals, and other organizations that help the poor and unfortunate, unequivocally prove the tremendous positive influence Christian faith and action have had throughout human history. Now of course, horrible things have been done in the name of Christianity from time to time, but a logical person will still acknowledge the tremendous good that has been done in the name of Christianity as well. And so, once again, Hitchens is wrong here.

Thirdly, although it is certainly true that atheists and agnostics have often taken part in the fight against injustices like racism, I don’t remember any “atheist” or “agnostic” movement in the 1800s that led the fight against slavery. What “record” does Hitchens have in mind?

Ultimately, Hitchens’ argument can be paraphrased like this, “Well, gee, everybody knows religious people are racists who want to enslave black people! It’s so obvious that atheists and agnostics are the only ones who are against racism!” But where is his evidence? Oh, that’s right, the great Communist, Martin Luther King Jr. was responsible for the civil rights movement! Perhaps we should also mention the great atheist leader, William Wilberforce, who helped abolish the slave trade in England due to his atheistic convictions, as well as Fredrick Douglas, the disciple of Rousseau, and Abraham Lincoln, who got his inspiration from his correspondence with Karl Marx.

Excuse the sarcasm, but it should be obvious that the problem with Hitchens is that he really  isn’t concerned with the truth. He is arguing for a preconceived ideology and agenda, an atheistic Enlightenment worldview, and is willing to resort to wild caricatures, overly-simplistic generalizations, blatant distortions, and outright lies to prove his point. It is propaganda, pure and simple.

The reason I am analyzing Hitchens is the same reason I’m writing my book on Ken Ham: I am alarmed at how little people seem to be concerned with actual truth. Ken Ham talks about “presuppositional apologetics,” which is really a fancy way of saying, “We already know that Genesis 1-11 is doing modern science, so damn the actual scientific evidence that proves our assumption wrong; we’ll just distort the facts to make them fit our “presuppositions.” Christopher Hitchens does the exact same thing with his atheism: “I already know that religion ‘poisons everything,’ so I’ll distort the facts and make them fit my own atheistic presuppositions.”

In the 19th century, Friedrich Nietzsche saw this sort of thing coming. Radical Enlightenment skepticism took a jackhammer to the very concept of “truth.” Nietzsche concluded that “truth” really didn’t exist. All that was left was manipulation and power-plays by which people grasp for power and control. Unfortunately, Nietzsche has proven himself to be quite the prophet. What we see in the likes of “New Atheists” like Christopher Hitchens and “Ultra Fundamentalists” like Ken Ham is that they are both children of Enlightenment thinking. Neither one is really interested in truth; neither one is willing to let the facts of history lead them to a deeper understanding of truth and reality.

Such is the state of Western culture today. And a sad state it is when both atheists and Christian fundamentalists are found in the same Enlightenment bed. To use a biblical metaphor, that bed is in Sheol, and our culture is feeling its deadly effects.

That’s why we need to show enough faith to allow Christ to work through us so we can work toward  resurrecting Orthodoxy.

Let’s Get Hitched! Christopher Hitchens Claims “Religion” is Evil…Is It?

Let’s Get Hitched! Christopher Hitchens Claims “Religion” is Evil…Is It?

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is a thoroughly modern, Enlightenment thinker—by that, I mean he is completely devoted to the Enlightenment worldview that essentially believes science and reason to be the keys to human freedom. Freedom from what, you may ask? Hitchens will say, “From religion, first and foremost!” In his book, Hitchens lumps all the religions in the world together and makes the proclamation, “All religion is violent, evil, and the source of all human suffering!” Needless to say, that is quite a broad  and over-simplistic brush, to say the least.

Hitchens’ basic take on religion is that it is residue from a long, evolutionary process. It is primitive, beastly, violent, and sexually repressive. Religion is, as Hitchens states in his book, “the original sin,” and now that we science and can figure out more how nature actually works, it is high time we work to make religion extinct. “Science and reason” will lead us into an enlightened and peaceful age.

But let’s look at his arguments that claim religion to be the poison of everything. Do his arguments hold water? Are they logical? Are they reasonable? Hitchens calls himself an Enlightenment thinker—let’s see if he can make a coherent and truly enlightened argument.

Religion and Violence

Hitchens begins his argument by briefly talking about the violence that occurred in Belfast (Protestant-Catholic conflicts), Beirut (where the Catholic militia cooperated with Ariel Sharon during the massacre of the Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Chatila in 1982), Bombay, Belgrade (where war criminal Slobadon Milosevic and his Bosnian Serbs massacred countless Croatians), Bethlehem (and the fighting between Christians and Jews and Muslims), and Bagdad, (where, Hitchens claims, Hussein was not a “secular” ruler, but rather a devout Muslim who built the largest mosque in Iraq, called “The Mother of All Battles,” and who supposedly had a Koran written in his blood). In each example, Hitchens argues, the motivating factor to the violence and bloodshed was religion.

I would have to say that although religion was certainly a factor, other factors were involved as well: different ethnicities, different political affiliations, and different cultural issues to name a few. To claim, therefore, that religion was the only factor is quite naïve. Furthermore, what Hitchens successfully proves is that bad people do bad things, often in the name of religious faith. But does anyone honestly think that no one has ever realized this before? If we were to be precise, religion does not kill—people kill, often in the name of religion. But for that matter, people kill for many other reasons.

That doesn’t dissuade Hitchens from making some incredibly inflammatory accusations.  Consider the following: “Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience. …religion looks forward to the destruction of the world” (56).

Now, it is absolutely true that every religion, Christianity included, has numerous black spots in its history of which anyone should be appalled. But let’s step back and look at what precisely Hitchens is claiming, and not claiming, for that matter. All of these accusations can be made to a whole host of other things, not just organized religion. To paint all religion with such a broad brush of racism, bigotry, intolerance, etc., carries the same rationale and logic as of Hitler saying all Jews are evil, money-grubbing, and filthy. Sure, there have probably been a number of Jewish people who have been evil, greedy, etc., but for that matter, there also have been evil, greedy Germans, Poles, Swiss, and Africans as well! What Hitchens is doing is basic stereotyping, pure and simple.

That Bad, Bad Christianity!

Another thing Hitchens likes to repeat in his book is how throughout Church history, Christians “could simply burn or silence anybody who asked any inconvenient questions” (115).

Wow…really? That’s what Christians have been doing for the past 2,000 years? If you don’t know your history, and are susceptible to propaganda, you’d no doubt swallow what Hitchens is saying. The fact is, though, although there have been specific times throughout Church history in which injustices were committed (i.e. the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Salem witch trials), any reasonable-thinking person can see that these were by far the exceptions. This is not to excuse the atrocities, but we need to get some perspective. Consider the following estimates:

  • The Crusades (which happened over a span of around 200 years) killed 1.5 million people
  • The witch hunts throughout Europe and America (1400-1800) claimed about 60,000 lives
  • The Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834) was responsible for 350,000 lives
  • American settlers killed about 1 million American Indians
  • All the atrocities and genocides mentioned in the Old Testament (1200-500 BC) totals about 1.3 million deaths.

If one totals all these numbers up (for these are the most cited atrocities of Christianity) the number is 4.21 million deaths in the name of Christianity over approximately an almost 3,000 year span. By contrast, when one looks at the Communist/Atheistic regimes in the 20th Century alone we find these numbers:

  • USSR: 65 million
  • China: 40 million
  • Cambodia, North Korea, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia and other socialist-communist countries: 97 million people

That is a death total of 203 million people by Communist regimes within the 20th century alone. Simply put, is it logical or reasonable at all to accuse Christianity of the worst atrocities in world history when the death toll over for the most cited “atrocities” related to Christianity (and this includes the Old Testament) amounts to 4.21 million over a span of thousands of years, while, in the 20th Century alone the atheistic Communist regimes have been responsible for over 200 million deaths? The answer is obvious: it is completely absurd.

Not surprisingly, Hitchens conveniently avoids this issue at all. In chapter 17, he gives the impression that he will address the question, “Aren’t secular regimes far worse than the worst of the Inquisition, witch trials, Crusades, etc?” Instead of actually answering this question, though, Hitchens comes back with the following: “…it is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than fascists or Nazis or Stalinists. One might hope that religion had retained more sense of its dignity than that.” (230)

Let’s be clear, this is precisely not what “people of faith” are saying. They’re not saying, “Hey, Stalin and Mao are just as bad as us!” In response to accusations like the ones Hitchens makes, they are saying, “If atheists are more moral than religious people, how do you explain the historical fact that atheistic regimes in the 20th century alone have killed more people than all the religious atrocities in human history combined?” Not surprisingly, Hitchens never addresses the question at any point in chapter 17. Instead, he spends his time criticizing certain religious figures for not standing up against the regimes of Stalin and Hitler. This is what is commonly called, “A diversion from the issue at hand.”

Hitchens has much more to say about how religion is the root of all evil, but as we can already see, there are holes in his claims that you could drive a truck through. Tomorrow, we’ll see some real doozies. If you have read any of Hitchens’ work, please leave a comment. If nothing else, if you like debates, you can watch Hitchens in action on a variety of things posted on youtube.

Let’s Get Hitched! My Assessment of Christopher Hitchens and the New Atheist Movement

Let’s Get Hitched! My Assessment of Christopher Hitchens and the New Atheist Movement

Christopher Hitchens

Six years ago I decided to read my way through the three “leading books” of the New Atheist movement: Christopher Hitchens’ god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I learned quite a lot reading these books, but the main thing I learned was this: these supposed “heavyweights” of the New Atheist movement, these paragons of Enlightenment thinking, were woefully ignorant of Biblical Studies, Church history, philosophy, and religion in general. And so, I thought I would now edit and re-post these entries I had made on my earlier blog  six years ago. The first writer I will look at is the late Christopher Hitchens. Enjoy…

When I decided to read the celebrated “New Atheist” books by Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, I thought I was going to be intellectually challenged. I found myself, however, shock at just how un-intellectual the arguments of these men were. Simply put, the “Christianity” they objected to was not historic Christianity at all. It was a caricature—the “strawiest” of straw men. Dawkins might be a brilliant micro-biologist, but he is a complete amateur when it comes to the topic of religion in general and Christianity in particular.

As for Harris, I found his arguments to be so juvenile that, if I were grading his paper, I would have to fail him for his complete lack of logic and coherence. I certainly don’t mind if someone holds to a view that is opposite of mine. I certainly respect anyone who attempts to argue how his view is correct and how my view might be wrong. Debate and dialogue lie at the heart of learning. There is one thing, though, I do expect when one makes an argument either for his view or against my view—back it up with logic and sense. At the very least, one should know what one is talking about, and one should display a basic level of coherent logic to one’s argumentation.

As for Christopher Hitchens, he was a celebrated writer who writes for Vanity Fair magazine, mostly known for his sharp-tongued attacks on religion. His book, pretty much sums up his attitude toward religion. Along with other atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, Hitchens has become somewhat of a media darling. These men are seen as courageous—true children of science and the Enlightenment who have the guts to call religion for what it is, a poisonous and dangerous cancer that stems from our primitive evolutionary past! Woah!

Since Hitchens is considered to be such an insightful and intelligent spokesman for the Enlightenment here in the 21st century, I thought I’d take the time to read his most recent book. I am, after all, a Christian, and an Orthodox one at that. Yet I have always tried to maintain the mindset that if ever it became obvious that Christianity was, in fact, not true, and that either another religion or atheistic/humanist worldview made more sense, that I would be obligated to change course.

Now I will give this to Hitchens—he certainly brings up a host of atrocities done throughout history in the name of religion, and successfully shows that yes, they were atrocities, and yes, they were done in the name of religion. Any clear-minded and sensitive person will have to pause and consider these horrific events. But ultimately, Hitchens fails in his quest. To use a baseball metaphor, he certainly swings away, makes contact, and rifles a few shots down the line in foul territory; but when it’s all said and done, he ends up hitting a harmless pop up to second base. He certainly does not strike out; but this Mighty Casey has a horrible hitch in his swing and an ego the size to Kayne West. He goes around bragging about how he is the greatest home run hitter in the game, but fails to acknowledge that he can’t even hit the ball out of the infield.

I can summarize Hitchens’ book in the following fashion:

(1) He argues that religion is the root of violence, evil, and sexual repression;

(NOTE: my friend Ian Panth wrote a post of his own that addresses this charge. You can read his post at: https://popchrist.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/mad-science-bad-science-and-the-cure-for-everything-originally-published-august-4-2009/)

(2) He argues that religion is anti-science, anti-health, and anti-rational; and

(3) He goes to considerable length claiming that the Old and New Testaments are worthless pieces of infantile garbage.

Along the way, Hitchens takes time to lambast the likes of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, as well as a few other religious figures. His ultimate argument is that we need a “New Enlightenment” in which we finally scrap religion all together and embrace the ideals and principles of Enlightenment thinking—this is the only thing that will lead to peace in the world.

Over the next few blog entries, I will attempt to address Hitchens’ arguments point by point, under the headings I have just described above. My ultimate goal by doing this is not to somehow “prove” religion (or specifically, Christianity) is “true” in some empirical sense of the word. I fully acknowledge that there are a host of very disturbing and complex issues and problems that rightfully challenge any kind of religious belief. In fact, I hope to, at the conclusion of my remarks about Hitchens, discuss what I feel are legitimate and troubling objections to religious belief.

Rather, what my ultimate goal here is to show just how wanting Hitchens’ arguments really are. Simply put, Hitchens proves himself to be prone to over-generalization and over-simplification; many of his descriptions of religious beliefs are gross caricatures that display either a willing misrepresentation of the facts, or a shocking ignorance of them. He is an arrogant propagandist and a bomb-throwing blowhard. I truly am shocked that he has gained as much notoriety as he has, because, quite frankly, his arguments and accusations are simply sophomoric. His rantings against religion do not so much offend me as they leave me scratching my head and wondering, “Really? Those are your best arguments? That’s the best you can do?”

And so, along with my continuing book review of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, the occasional post on Ken Ham, and perhaps a few other surprises along the way, I will also introduce you to the arguments of the three “biggies” of the New Atheist movement, starting of course with Mr. Christopher Hitchens. In my next post on Hitchens, I will address his argument that religion is the root of all violence. (Spoiler alert…it isn’t).

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: The Practical Conclusion (Warning: Lewis Likes Evolution!)

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: The Practical Conclusion (Warning: Lewis Likes Evolution!)

C.S. Lewis

Having explained the Christian understanding of the atonement in the previous chapter, Lewis puts forth what he feels is the “practical conclusion” to all of this in the final chapter of Book 2. I mean, okay, the atonement states that through Christ’s death and resurrection, that we have the opportunity to be put back “in the right” with God. But for what purpose?

In this chapter, Lewis ingeniously links “what happens next” with….wait for it….the fact of evolution! YES! It’s the sort of chapter that would cause young earth creationists to set their hair on fire and run for the hills! Their beloved C.S. Lewis—the man who gave us The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe; the man who gave us Aslan and Narnia—that man accepted the theory of evolution! No doubt Ken Ham would warn us that Lewis, along with J.R.R. Tolkien, were “compromised Christians” who were a threat to our children. Alas…what is one to do?

I think I’ll keep Lewis and Tolkien, and forgo pork products. Ah, but I digress…

Lewis starts the chapter by stating what should be the obvious, but what often times is overlooked, even by Christians: “The Christian belief is that if we somehow share in the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures.”

Now on paper that sounds all wonderfully poetic. In real life though, think about what Lewis has just said. Let me put it another way: you can never get resurrection unless you first undergo crucifixion. The problem with so many people is that we want the payoff of eternal life, but we really don’t like that whole “pick up your cross and follow me” part. But the fact is, there is no other way. That doesn’t mean you have to be literally crucified or martyred. But it does mean that if you sincerely are committed to following Christ, you will have to undergo a kind of death, and it can come in many forms.

And I’ve found that it isn’t necessarily a one time “over and done with” thing either. As long as you are alive in this world, there will be countless times that you realize that a part of you must die. You might lose a career, lose a marriage, lose a loved one…the injustices of this world that nail you up on your own existential cross—God allows those things to happen for the sole purpose of getting you in that proverbial tomb, to where you have died to yet another part of yourself, so that he can then bring about countless resurrections little by little—and they act as a foretaste of the Ultimate Resurrection when Christ returns.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Lewis’ point is simple: if you follow Christ, be prepared for suffering, because it is through that suffering that new life will appear.

Lewis and Evolution

Now let’s get into how Lewis uses evolution! Lewis states that many people have speculated as to what the “next step in evolution” might be that will take mere man to a step upward and onward. When will a “new kind of man” appear on the scene, so to speak. Lewis’ answer is that Christianity testifies to the fact that this “next step” has already happened in the person of Jesus.

Evolution is like that, Lewis explains. It is full of unexpected twists and turns, acts in ways you would have never guessed, and on a genetic level, works through that really bizarre thing we call sex. God is pretty creative, isn’t he?

Well Lewis says that whereas natural life was conveyed by means of evolution through the biological act of sex, this new kind of “Christ-life” is conveyed by different means, namely three things. First, there is baptism; second, there is belief (or faith); and third, there is Communion. He doesn’t get into how or why different denominations emphasize one thing above the others, but he does insist that all three are essential.

Some might object to calling baptism or communion “essential,” by claiming they would thus become “works” to merit salvation. Well Lewis doesn’t bother getting into that kind of debate. He keeps it simple: Jesus told his followers to do these things, so if you are a follower of Christ, you should do them. You do them and believe they are vital because you are going off the authority of Christ himself.

I remember when I was baptized at 16—it was the summer in which I read Mere Christianity for the first time, and was convinced that Christianity was true. Did I “feel” anything when I got baptized? No. It was actually quite anticlimactic. I can’t even remember which one of the pastors at my church baptized me. From my perspective, my baptism meant very little. But I was obedient to what Christ wanted his followers to do. That’s what’s important.

The Christian

So what impact does deciding to follow Christ have on one’s day-to-day life? Does it mean that the Christian is now perfect, and that he doesn’t screw up? Of course not. But Lewis explains it in a different, and very profound way. The Christian now has the “Christ-life” inside him, and that “Christ-life” is constantly giving him the ability to pick himself up when he falls, and is constantly repairing him all along the way.

The Christian, therefore, in the long run does become quite good, but he is not “becoming good” in order to win Christ’s favor. It is the “Christ-life” inside him that is slowly, through day-to-day death-resurrection moments, making him a good person…slowly re-making him into the image of Christ, and hence the image of God. He gives quite a good analogy in this regard: “Just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but because bright because the sun shines on it.” So, if you’re a Christian who really loves botany…there’s your analogy!

The Christian Body

Lewis then takes it another step further—it’s a step that most American, hyper-individualized Christians often neglect: Christ isn’t just acting within individual Christians. He states, “the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through with Christ acts—we are his fingers and muscles, the cells of his body.” He then states that the Christian-communal life—that is, the Life of the Church—is like evolution. The new “Christ-life” is spread through Church practices like baptism and communion, as well as an individual Christian’s faith.

This is something extremely important to grasp, that quite frankly, most Christians fail to do. Lewis calls the reality of Christ’s resurrection-life within the life of the Church as “super-biological fact.” What that means is that God uses material things like bread and wine to spread the new kind of life that is in Christ. And that life is not some ethereal, disembodied kind of life. Spiritual life is united to the material world, it transforms it, it redeems it—it re-creates it. In Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, “the heavens” and “the earth” are combined, and the corruptible material life is taken up into Christ’s body (i.e. the Church) and transformed and redeemed.

Does that sound pretty out there? Well, welcome to the Christian faith! It is about the renewal and re-creation of God’s entire created order, and the Church is that “super-biological organism” through which he God’s works his will to redeem his creation.

My Own Thought: Evolution and Salvation in the Church

The way that Lewis uses the theory of evolution to illustrate the way in which Christ’s resurrection-life is spread in the life of the Church is, for me, genius. When you think of it, it makes complete sense. All throughout the Bible we find verses that tell us how “the heavens and the earth” declare God’s glory. What does that mean, other than that the natural created order reflects truths about God and his ways.

So what does evolution tells us about the natural world? It actually tells us two things: (1) it accounts for the wide variety of life in the natural world—all the various kinds of life throughout the world is simply breathtaking; (2) it also testifies that along with all that variety of life, everything in natural (even humans) share a biological unity.

Evolution in the natural world, therefore, actually reflects a deeper spiritual reality that we find in salvation in Christ: (1) there is a wide variety of personalities, gifts, and abilities within the Church, yet (2) there is a shared unity in Christ. Simply put, the theory of evolution that explains life in the natural world is a reflection of the deeper reality of the life of the supernatural world, where the material world of nature is taken up into the very life of God in Christ.

Consider what Paul is saying in Colossians 1:15-20. No, he’s not talking about the modern theory of evolution, but he is talking about how the entire created order is united in Christ: 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation16in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers, all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.  19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And then again, in I Corinthians 15, in which Paul talks about the final outcome of the resurrection, he says in 15:28, “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.”

Resurrection and re-creation. The unity and diversity of the biological world, as explained by evolutionary theory, testifies to the unity and diversity in Christ. Let that sink in.

It shouldn’t surprise us that a theory about life in the natural world should serve as a reflection of the reality of the life of the supernatural world. Perhaps there is a way I could say it better, I don’t know. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the tragedy of Ken Ham’s crusade against evolution is that he is completely preventing Christians from creatively using what is being discovered about the natural world to help illuminate the Spiritual realities that are revealed in Christ. Instead of using the testimony of the natural world to help reconcile all creation to Christ, Ken Ham is declaring war on the very creation that God loves and is redeeming. We need to see that everything in the created order can be used to declare God’s glory…even evolution.

What About Those Who Have Never Heard of Christ?

As if the whole “evolution points to new life in Christ” thing wasn’t enough, Lewis also throws in another doozy that is bound to make many Evangelicals squirm: What about those people who have never heard of Christ? Are they just automatically going to hell? Whereas many well-meaning Christians say something like, “Well, Romans says that all men are without excuse, so…” then they trail off, not really wanting to say, “…so yeah, they’re going to hell.”

Well, Lewis doesn’t say that. He says something quite insightful: “The truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”

Now please note what Lewis is not saying: he’s not saying that “everyone automatically goes to heaven.” What he is saying is that he’s not going to condemn everyone who has never heard of Christ to hell. He expands on this thought later in the book. Basically he is speculating that it is possible that people who have never heard of Christ, yet who are sincerely seeking the truth about God, can be saved through Christ, even though they have never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Basically that Christ can save everyone who puts his faith in God, in as much as God has revealed Himself to that person.

When you think about it, isn’t that the same position men like Moses and Abraham were in? They had never heard of Jesus of Nazareth, but they put their faith in God based on what had been revealed to them at the time. We all believe Moses and Abraham are “saved,” and it is because of the work of Christ. So if it works for them, why would it not work for others who have never heard of Christ either? It makes sense to me.

Conclusion

By the end of Book 2, Lewis has explained the significance of the atonement, and he has pointed to the fact that salvation is not just something for the individual. It is not just a “I get to go to heaven” card. Individual salvation is really just the beginning of God’s greater “re-creation project.” It involves becoming part of the Body of Christ, the Church, and as a community helping spread Christ’s life to the rest of all creation.

When you get your eyes of yourself and realize that the Gospel envelopes the salvation of the entire created order, your worldview goes through a radical transformation. Everything in the natural world is to be offered up to God so that He can redeem it and sanctify it, and bring it under the Lordship of Christ. There is no “sacred” vs. “secular” because all of creation is just waiting for us to make it sacred. We need to keep that Spiritual Evolution goes until Christ is all in all.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: The Perfect Penitent

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: The Perfect Penitent

C.S. Lewis

For the past week, I have written a number of posts on Ken Ham. This week I am going back to C.S. Lewis. After pointing out that Answers in Genesis is not promoting historic Christianity, I need to go back and focus on just what that “mere Christianity” really is. I left off half way through “Book 2” of Mere Christianity. Lewis had just finished talking about how a man who claimed the sort of things Jesus claimed about himself would not be considered a “great moral teacher.” Either he was a diabolical liar, a nutjob, or actually God himself. (Exactly how that one works will be looked into in a later post).

In the next chapter, entitled, The Perfect Penitent, Lewis attempts to clearly explain the significance of the atonement. What is the “atonement”? Basically, it is the fancy theological word that describes the belief that somehow Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection put us back into right relationship with God. Now, Lewis correctly points out that according to Christianity, despite Jesus’ moral teachings, his ultimate purpose of his coming wasn’t just to teach—his purpose was to suffer and die. And Christianity then teaches that somehow that suffering and death has given us a fresh start and has put us right with God—that is the heart of the Christian message. But really now—how does that work?

How Does Atonement “Work”?

As anyone who has grown up in Church can testify, the normal way the atonement has been explained within Protestantism has tended to be this way: (1) God created Man to be in communion with him, (2) Man sinned and screwed everything up, (3) God therefore is really ticked off and wants to kill Man, (4) but then God says, “Wait, instead of killing Man and sending him to Hell, I’m going to send my son Jesus down to earth, and I’ll beat and kill him, and I’ll let Man off the hook! (5) All Man has to do is believe that Jesus died on his behalf, and we’re good!

Of course, speaking as one who grew up in an Evangelical Christian home and church, that understanding scared the crap out of me. I mean, really—if God is so ticked off to do that to Jesus, what is He going to do if I screw up again? The guilt and fear of many Christian youth can be palpable. Of course, such a description of the atonement can be misleading. I found a good description of the difference between the typical Protestant view and the Orthodox view of the atonement. I’d encourage you to take a look.

Lewis also addresses this as well. He acknowledges that Christians have often tried to explain exactly how the atonement “works”—this is particularly true in the Protestant tradition—but he also emphasizes that the explanations of the atonement aren’t the atonement itself. They might help you understand it to a degree, but you should never get too caught up with trying to explain it perfectly. The fact is that the atonement points to something that is ultimately a mystery to us. In the death and resurrection of Christ, “something absolutely unimaginable from outside shows through into our own world.”

We shouldn’t be surprised if we do not have adequate language to explain it perfectly. That’s okay, as Lewis points out, using the analogy of eating dinner, “A man can eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept what Christ has done without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly wouldn’t know how it works until he has accepted it.”

I think that is a very important point to make. Too often we tend to get caught up with trying to explain everything about the atonement, or some other aspect of theology. Now I am all for trying to explain things as clearly as possible; but we should never forget that we are ultimately dealing with a mystery. The best we can do is say, “Well, this is how it sort of works; this is how I understand it. But the important thing is not to be content with intellectual cognition of what Lewis calls elsewhere, “the dance” of salvation; the important thing is to get out on the dance floor. You’ll understand it a lot better when you’re dancing.

The Metaphorical Views of Atonement

The above example I gave about how I understood the atonement as a kid growing up is what C.S. Lewis calls the “police-court sense.” It is true, there are many places in the New Testament where the atonement is describe in this way. But we must remember that the ways in which the NT writers explained the significance of the atonement are by their very nature metaphorical. In addition to the “police-court” or “legal” language Paul sometimes uses, there is also the sacrificial and medical metaphors as well.

Now the reason why the “law court” metaphor is so dominant in Protestant theology is because both Luther and Calvin, both who had studied to become lawyers, naturally latched on to that particular language in Paul, and emphasized that way of understanding the death of Christ over the other ways in the New Testament. Consequently, since Protestantism has traditionally focused almost exclusively on that way, it has unfortunately failed to appreciate the other ways in which the New Testament explains Christ’s death.

But also in the NT there is the sacrificial metaphor of Christ as the lamb. Yes, every Christian knows “Jesus is the Lamb of God,” but I simply haven’t met too many who can articulate or understand what the New Testament writers are doing by calling him that. They are using the sacrificial language of the Temple—and it is not the same as when the language of the law court is used. The purpose of the OT sacrificial system was not simply to avert punishment. It was to restore community. A Jewish family would go the Temple, offer a lamb, and then the priests would kill the lamb, keep a portion for YHWH (that they would eat), and then give some back to the family so that the family could eat a meal in the Temple, in YHWH’s presence, and thus celebrate reconciliation and restoration.

In addition, the final metaphor often used in the NT is that of the medical metaphor of the hospital: the sufferings of Jesus bring about our healing—therefore Jesus is the Great Physician. The point is that if you focus solely on the legal language in the NT, your understanding of the significance of Christ’s death is going to be limited. Yes, (1) he bears our punishment (legal language), but (2) his death is also a sacrifice that restores community, and (3) his sufferings and death are the means by which we are healed (medical/physician language). A fuller understanding of Christ’s death requires reflection and emphasis on all three ways it is described in the NT: legal, sacrificial, medical.

Lewis gives another analogy to explain the atonement: if someone has fallen into a hole, it is up to someone who is on firm ground to reach down and pull him up. And the “hole” that humanity has gotten itself into is that it has tried to set itself up as the center of the universe, and to behave as if it belonged to itself. Therefore, Lewis points out that “fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”

Repentance

So we are both imperfect and rebellious. What needs to happen is what Christians call “repentance.” Now repentance is not simply saying you are sorry. Lewis says, “It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.” And the kicker is that the person who really needs to repent is a really bad person, but the really bad person probably won’t want to repent. The only person who could repent perfectly would be a good person, but then the good person wouldn’t need to repent.

So what can be done? Answer: the atonement. God becomes man, lives a sinless life so that he has the ability to repent perfectly, and therefore undergoes the death and repentance that bad humanity couldn’t do for itself. Or simply put, in Christ, God has physically identified with our bad and sinful humanity, and still being God, has put right in the middle of that bad and sinful humanity a person who could repent perfectly and undergo that kind of “repentant death” on behalf of humanity.

That is essentially what the atonement means. Even if it is not a perfect explanation, hopefully it is good enough to begin to get one’s head around the significance of Christ’s death. The significance of it will get fleshed out later in the book.

 

My Ultimate Frustration with Ken Ham

My Ultimate Frustration with Ken Ham

IMG_20150809_173718541

If you have been keeping up with my blog, you have obviously noticed my numerous posts on Ken Ham, his organization Answers in Genesis, and young earth creationism in general. This whole topic of “creation or evolution” garners much heated debate and attention. Ken Ham has his organization promoting young earth creationism, Hugh Ross has his organization promoting progressive creationism, Francis Collins has BioLogos promoting theistic evolution, Richard Dawkins uses evolution to attack religion…the list can go on. And now I am writing posts on it, and am even writing a book on what I feel is Ken Ham’s heretical views.

…but in many ways, I actually don’t like the topic. My love is poetry, literature, music, and biblical studies. Seeking how to “reconcile modern science and the Bible” is about as much fun for me as trying to “reconcile Webster’s dictionary with the music of Erik Satie.” Does that not make sense? That’s the point: why do we need to “reconcile” two things that are addressing completely different areas of knowledge?

But given the fact that we do live in a modern “scientifically-minded” culture, it is inevitable that issues like this come up, and therefore have to be addressed. The fact is, modern scientific discoveries do impact how we read the Bible, particularly Genesis 1-11. But Ken Ham is wrong to claim, though, that people who are convinced of evolution are putting modern science above the Bible and letting science change the meaning of the Bible.

Rather, we need to realize that ever since the rise of modern science and Enlightenment thinking, our tendency has been to read the Bible through that modern, Enlightenment worldview, and therefore we make assumptions regarding what Genesis 1-11 is about. Modern scientific discoveries, particularly that of evolutionary theory, are showing us that our Enlightenment assumptions about Genesis 1-11 are wrong—Genesis 1-11 is true as ever, but we have to admit that we, by assuming it was “doing science,” have been reading it wrong for the past few hundred years.

Fortunately, right alongside the rise of evolutionary theory, we have made other discoveries in the area of ancient Near Eastern literature that have made it possible for us to read Genesis 1-11 through the eyes of the original audience once again. Now that is what interests me. It is in the wrestling with Scripture, and then seeking ways to creatively relate it to our lives today—that is what makes me come alive.

Understanding the original, inspired message of any given biblical text opens my eyes to see biblical themes that run throughout so much literature, poetry, art and music, whether it is Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, ancient icons, the music of U2, or movies like The Matrix, The Spitfire Grill, or The Mission. The inspired truth that we find in the pages of Scripture also confronts us in so many other creative arts.

God is the Creator God, and he has revealed himself creatively in the pages of Scripture, in the history of Israel, in the life of Christ and the Church, and in a multitude of creative ways to this day. When Paul says the Word of God is living and active…yes indeed—and you see that everywhere.

My Frustration with Ken Ham

Unfortunately, though, I feel that Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, being beholden to the Enlightenment worldview as they are, have strangled the beauty and artistry of God’s creative Word, ironically by trying to argue that the creation account is “scientific.” To them, literature, artistry, metaphor, be it in Genesis 1-11, Jonah, or Job, are all deemed deceptive and “threats” to the faith. They don’t “get” art—and God at heart is the ultimate Creative Artist, painting his salvation throughout the canvas of history.

Now of course, the Bible is full of history—but even the history parts are creatively and artistically presented. Simply put, that’s what makes the Bible inspiring, challenging, and just downright fun to explore.

Consequently, by reading the Bible through the Enlightenment worldview, and by setting the Bible up as an authoritarian idol, Ken Ham sincerely believes he is doing God’s work by “defending” the scientific truth of the Bible. The authority of the Bible he claims is really his authority that he so vigorously defends. And the result of it all is just nonsensical claims regarding both science and the Bible.

And not to sound mean, but that kind of approach makes you dumber, because, as the prophets repeat time and time again, worshipping an idol makes you blind, deaf, and dumb…just like the lifeless idol you bow down to. And Ken Ham’s claims are lifeless, with no correspondence to the reality that God has created.

That is what frustrates me. I want to explore and write about the creativity and inspired message found throughout the Bible, and how it can be seen in all types of art, literature and poetry. Instead, I find myself having to address truly lifeless nonsense because, sadly, a whole lot of Evangelicals in America have unknowingly bought into what Ken Ham is saying, and the “young creationist crowd” of which he is a part is actively hurting countless of thoughtful, sincere Christians.

I guess what we are experiencing today is something we see throughout the Old Testament. Sometimes idols need to be torn down and exposed for what they are before God’s Spirit can breathe through us again. To be blunt, Ken Ham’s young creationist theology is idolatrous, pure and simple.

Authority and the Church, A Scepter and the Bible

Let me end by going back to the question of authority. We need to view the Bible as God’s inspired instrument by which the Church exercises the authority Christ bestowed on it. Think of the Church, as Christ’s body, together reflecting God’s image, as a king on a throne; and think of the Bible as the royal scepter. It is the Church who has been given authority by Christ, and the Bible is the inspired tool, “useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). The Church is to use the Bible and exercise that authority as a shepherd uses his staff to guide the sheep. When that is done, then Christians can also use the Bible in creative ways, as an artist paints a masterpiece with his brush, or a poet writes poetry with his pen.

What Ken Ham is saying, though, is the authority lies in the scepter, not in the one sitting on the throne; it lies in the Bible, not in the Church community. When that happens, when you take the Bible out of the context of Christ’s body, it no longer is that scepter wielded by the king bearing God’s image, and therefore cannot be used creatively as a painter’s brush or poet’s pen. It becomes a tyrannical rod with which an individual beats his fellow subjects. Authority is always in the hand of the one who holds the scepter; it can never be in the scepter itself. There will always be someone who wields it.

We need to be, as a Church, as Christ’s body, the ones who wield the scepter in creative image-bearing ways to paint salvation in the world. We cannot allow individuals to use it as a weapon to judge and condemn fellow servants of Christ.

Peter Enns: The “God-Mocker,” According to AiG (Part 4)

Peter Enns: The “God-Mocker,” According to AiG (Part 4)

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In my final installment of analyzing Answers in Genesis’ review of Peter Enns’ book, The Bible Tells Me So, I will focus on the most obvious issue that concerns Answers in Genesis:  Enns’ take on Genesis 1-11. Enns claims that Genesis 1-11 is meant to be seen as the “national myth” of Israel. In other words, they would have seen the story of their nation in the account of Genesis 1-11.

Think about it: God creates land out from the Sea of Chaos, then creates Adam and Eve and places them in His land where they can commune with Him, but they disobey and are cast out of God’s land, to the east, and eventually their descendants find themselves in the land of Shinar…Babel…Babylon—that’s Genesis 1-11.

Then think about the history of Israel in the Old Testament: God created Israel to be His people, he brought them out of Egypt, through the water of the Red Sea, to His land, where they could commune with Him, but they disobeyed Him and were cast out of His land, to the east, and ended up in bondage in Babylon. At the very least, one has to admit that Enns seems to be on to something. N.T. Wright has also noticed this similarity. It is a very interesting and profound insight into the meaning of Genesis 1-11 and how the Jewish exiles in Babylon would have related to it.

But to even admit to such a way of reading Genesis 1-11, Mitchell would have to acknowledge that perhaps, just perhaps, God wasn’t doing 21st century science in Genesis 1-11. And that would be a bridge too far, because for Answers in Genesis, the only kind of truth out there is scientific, historical facts…the kind that would make any Enlightenment thinker proud. And so, instead of at least acknowledging Enns’ literary insight into the text, Mitchell accuses him of “resorting to some literary tricks.” Yes, God cannot reveal His truth through literature; it can only come through cold, hard scientific and historical facts. (As an English major, I just cringed).

The Ancient Near Eastern Worldview

Mitchell also follows Ham’s lead by suddenly presenting evolution as a theory that (a) claims that life comes from non-life, and that (b) is unable to account for any new genetic information that would make it possible for anything to evolve. I’ve already touched upon both of these false characterizations in an earlier post. In any case, Mitchell claims that despite these two “facts,” Enns still “accepts evolution as fact and mocks the account in God’s Word.” What? How did Enns “mock” the account in God’s Word? Mitchell cites her example:

“The ‘science’ of the biblical writers was also ancient. Creatures didn’t evolve but were made by God as we see them, like a potter molding clay, in male and female pairs. The world was flat, probably a round disk, created by God a few short thousand years ago after holding at bay a watery chaos. Above the earth was a solid dome of some sort, held up by pillars (mountains), that held back the “waters above” (hence, the blue sky).”

Does any of that description of how the ancient world viewed creation around them sound like it is “mocking”? What Enns says is absolutely true. That was essentially the worldview of the ancient Near East, of which Israel was a part. Enns’ point, therefore, is that since this is the way the ancient world tended to view and understand creation around them, it would only make sense for God to use the images and concepts they were familiar with in order to reveal to them the truth about who He was, what creation was, and who mankind was in that creation.

There is absolutely nothing “mocking” in that description. It only comes across as “mocking” to those who are so entrenched in a false heresy that they get defensive and scared when anyone challenges what they claim. Mitchell is horrified that Enns could claim that there is literary creativity going on in the Bible, and then still claim it is God’s Word. For Mitchell, as also with Ham, “creative” evidently means “not true,” “mocking,” and “undermining God’s Word.” I find that highly ironic, given the fact that their entire organization is so focused on the creation account, that they take such a negative view on the creative artistry in the Bible.

Genesis 1-11 isn’t Science, but it is…

Mitchell then engages in the typical Hamite double-speak:

“Scientists who accept the young age of the Earth and the Bible’s accounts of Creation and the global Flood understand that, while the Bible is not a science textbook, all that it contains pertaining to history and science is a true and valid yardstick against which man’s ideas should be measured.”

Think about what she just said—it is pure double-speak: “The Bible isn’t a science textbook, but what it says about scientific stuff is true!” She is admitting her assumption is that the Bible is, in fact, making scientific claims according to 21st century scientific knowledge, yet somehow she still manages to say, “Oh but the Bible isn’t a science textbook…only where it talks about science…which is in Genesis 1-11, because I say I say it’s science…even though I cannot produce any evidence that verifies that claim, because you know, we’re talking about ‘historical science,’ which is the kind of science you can’t test, observe, or prove—you just have to take it on faith!”

Truly impressive and dizzying double-speak.

Mitchell’s Parting Blows

Mitchell ends her “critique” by expressing her horror and concern at how Enns has probably led young people astray with his lies: “I shudder to think of the damage Dr. Enns has done to the children and college students he has influenced through his books, curriculum materials, and teaching.” Yet how seriously can we take her critique? It is full of misrepresentations of Enns’ work and outright lies. It is, pure and simple, an exercise in fear-mongering.

Now let me re-emphasize, there are some things in Enns book I don’t agree with, but that’s okay. The core of his argument is incredibly good and worth considering. He is not God, and his is not all-knowing. He is a Christian scholar doing the best he can to understand the Bible in light of its historical and literary contexts—and he does amazing work. I would encourage everyone to read him.

But just because I disagree with him on a few points, I’m not going to warn people that he is “hurting children” with his views. His work will challenge you to think more critically, and I think more Christianly, about what the Bible is and what its message is. It will engage you, challenge you, and help grow you in your faith.  Why? Because it is inviting you to wrestle with the biblical text, much like Jacob wrestled with the angel. And that is always a good thing.

Apparently, though, for Mitchell and Ham, wrestling with the Bible and trying to understand it better is tantamount to challenging God’s authority. No, don’t ask questions, don’t express doubt, and for good heavens, don’t even think that what Answers in Genesis is telling you isn’t true! It is! And if you think it isn’t, then you’re calling God a liar.

Is Peter Enns Among the Prophets? AiG says, “NO!” (Part 3)

Is Peter Enns Among the Prophets? AiG says, “NO!” (Part 3)

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In this brief post, I will look at how Answers in Genesis responds to Enns’ explanation of Messianic prophecy and his view of Jonah.

Messianic Prophecy

In addition to criticizing Peter Enns over his explanation of the Gospels, Mitchell also accuses him of denying that “the Old Testament writers were prophesying under God’s guidance at all.”

Not surprisingly, I have to say no, he never said such a thing. What she took issue with is Enns very valid and true point that nowhere in the Old Testament can you find a prophecy about a future messiah dying and rising from the dead on the third day. The thing is—Enns is absolutely right. No Jew in the first century expected the Messiah to die because there was nothing in the Old Testament that explicitly said that.

Seriously, if you grew up in church, didn’t you ever wonder that very thing? If it was so obvious in the Old Testament that the Messiah was going to die and then rise in three days, then how could the entire Jewish people—and Jesus’ own disciples for that matter—fail to see it? If you never thought about that, as a teacher I need to tell you that you need to put your thinking cap on!

What Enns is trying to explain is exactly what was going on with how the Jews understood their Scriptures, what Jesus was doing, and what the Gospel writers were trying to convey when they quoted the Old Testament and applied passages to Jesus. Now, this is a huge topic that has been the subject of entire books. I will attempt to give a very simple explanation of it. Ready? Here it goes…

What Jesus’ followers witnessed and experienced, both during his ministry, as well as his death, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, caused them to see the Old Testament in a whole new light. Jesus’ death and resurrection changed everything; it changed their entire Jewish worldview.

Your typical Jew in the first century was taught that when YHWH returned to His people, He would first send someone from the royal blood-line of David, who would wage war against the Gentiles and re-establish the political kingdom of Israel. Through that political and military might, the Gentiles would succumb to YHWH’s kingship. It was quite easy to get that interpretation from certain passages in the Old Testament, but because that was the overall Jewish worldview of the time, it caused Jews to conveniently overlook other passages in the Old Testament.

Simply put, their pre-conceived notions of what they assumed YHWH was going to do made them blind to what YHWH was actually doing. It was only after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit that Jesus’ followers started to truly “get it.” Jesus’ death and resurrection was, as Enns states, “both [a] surprise ending and deeply connected to Israel’s story,” and this surprise “drove the Gospel writers to do some creative reading.” Therefore, what we see in the Gospels are Jesus’ followers saying, “Hey, Jesus is the fulfillment of the entire story of Israel, but in a way that we simply were not expecting! Wow! Listen up! It makes sense now!”

Apparently, the notion that the Gospel writers engaged in “some creative writing,” is too much for Mitchell to handle or understand, for she obviously interprets “creative writing” as “lies, falsehoods, and fabrications.” She actually says, “This notion has long been discredited by evangelical scholars”—truly a remarkable statement, given the fact that this is the accepted view of some of the most influential evangelical scholars today, from Richard B. Hays, N.T. Wright, Richard Burridge, the list can go on…and yes, Peter Enns as well. So, to a point, Mitchell’s claim is a lie.

Jonah

Mitchell also takes issue with Enns’ treatment of Jonah, namely his claim that Jonah is not a historical account of a prophet literally being swallowed by a giant fish, who later preached in Nineveh. I wrote my master’s thesis on Jonah, and I agree with Enns—Jonah has all the characteristics of a parable. Another reason to doubt that Jonah should be read as an actual historical account is the facts of history itself. We have the ancient annals of the Assyrian empire, and at no point in any of the annals is there an account of an Israel prophet coming to Nineveh, warning of its destruction, and of the entire city of Nineveh repenting and turning to the God of Israel. Such an event, if it happened, would certainly have been recorded in the annals of Assyria—but nothing of the sort is mentioned. Why? Simple: it didn’t happen.

The story of Jonah is a parable addressed to the post-exilic Jewish community who was struggling with how to deal with the surrounding Gentile population. The challenge of the story of Jonah essentially is this: if Gentiles (like Nineveh in the story) repent and turn to God, and if He extends His covenant love to them, are you going to agree with God, or are you going to be like Jonah and get angry with God? That’s why we are never told Jonah’s reaction to God’s question at the end of the story: Jonah’s decision is the very challenge to the post-exilic community. The decision is theirs to make.

Mitchell though hears the word “parable” associated with Jonah, and she hears, “You’re saying Jonah isn’t true! You’re saying God is lying! You’re saying the Word of God is untrustworthy!” And, in her attempt to “defend” the historicity of Jonah, she makes an astounding claim:

“Under the preaching of a reluctant Jonah, Nineveh—from top to bottom—repented and was spared God’s judgment (Jonah 3). Only in a later generation, when the nation reverted to its former wickedness, did God judge it by permitting another nation to overrun it and destroy it.”

What makes this so astounding is that there is no historical evidence anywhere that there was ever a massive repentance in Nineveh in which the entire population turned to the God of Israel, and thus there is no historical evidence anywhere that Nineveh then went back to their pagan ways. Why? Because they had never turned to YHWH in the first place.

Mitchell has totally made this claim up out of whole cloth, pure and simple. But this is just par for the course with the people of Answers in Genesis. For an organization so devoted to trying to prove that Genesis 1-11 is actual history, they really have a knack for making fictitious things up to support their claim that Genesis 1-11 is historical.

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