As I continue going through the Christian music from the 1980’s that I listened to growing up, I feel compelled to share a song from the group Daniel Amos, a Christian New Wave group from the 1980s—at least I think they would be categorized as New Wave.
Daniel Amos vaulted to prominence among my circle of friends in high school in the early to mid-80s with their Alarma Chronicles albums (four of them in particular): Alarma, Doppleganger, Vox Humana,and Fearful Symmetry.At first, they were a bit too out there…and quite frankly weird…for me. I was used to basically what could be categorized as “easy listening” Christian music. And if I wasn’t listening to Amy Grant, Bob Bennett, Keith Green, or Ken Medema, there was always the family tapes of John Denver. If you are familiar with those artists, and take a trip on itunes, check out Daniel Amos, you’ll fully understand why my first reaction was, “What kind of crazy music is this?”
But what got me eventually hooked on Daniel Amos was their creativity, their conscious allusions to poets like TS Eliot and William Blake, and more than anything else their satire. In a darkly humorous and yet still prophetic way, those Alarma Chronicles albums were a running commentary on the shallowness and plastic faith of popular Christianity. In a way, I suppose you could compare what Daniel Amos did with the Alarma Chroniclesto what U2 did with their three albums of the 1990s: Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop. And the reason I was attracted to both projects was simple: cutting, prophetic biblical satire of a world that often cries “Lord! Lord!” but who is more interested in the idols of pop culture.
But despite all that cutting and creative satire (and trust, me at some point I’ll write a post or two on those songs), the very last song of their very last Alarma Chronicles installment struck me as a thoughtful, poignant, and beautifully poetic song that encapsulated how I felt as a senior in high school. It was a song called Beautiful One. Here is the youtube link to it, as well as the lyrics:
Leaves of sound are shed; they fall on this murmuring mind where the lullabies call, From these words I sink and fall to the Beautiful One, Behold this dreamer in the arms of the Beautiful One.
Deep waters sound; who loves that deep? I make my way up the toilsome steep, In green meadows now I sleep in the Beautiful One, Behold this dreamer in the arms of the Beautiful One.
And in the wind, a song and moonlight on the lawn, Draw me on and on, And through the day, a sigh for dreamers such as I, who steal away to watch and pray.
The night above me whispers low and I have many miles to go, I will not wake until I know the beautiful one, Awake the dreamer in the arms of the Beautiful One.
If I could sum up this song in two words it would be these: poetry and mystery. For me, the fact that it was the last song in a four-album project full of biting satire and humorous commentary resonated with me. For people who know me, know me as a very sarcastic and humorous person. I love mocking the absurd that is passed off as “cutting edge,” or the glitzy crap that is praised by the world but is in reality uncreative plastic. In short, I love to mock the “emperors” of this world who are wearing no clothes. Sure, we should flee from the devil, but I certainly love exposing and mocking his minions.
But the thing is, the living faith of Christianity does not lie in songs like “It’s the 80s, so Where’s Our Rocketpacks?,” “Dance Stop,” “Mall All Over the World,” or “New Car” (find those Daniel Amos songs on itunes or youtube, and you’ll understand). However clever, satirical, humorous and prophetic they may be, the heart of the Christian faith does not like in mockery, even of the devil’s designs. It lies in the mystery of the night in the middle of a journey of faith. It lies in the quiet moments when you are alone, often weary and worn out from the pressures of this life. It is in those moments you find that you have a sense of quiet assurance and confidence that those dreams you find within your heart—dreams that you did not dream, but were rather dreamed into you—will be realized when you awaken in the arms of the Beautiful One.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, talks about eternity’s relationship to time. Since we are limited to a linear timeline, we see things moment to moment. Seventeen year old Joel could only experience seventeen year old Joel, could only remember vaguely what 12 year old Joel was like, and pretty much had no clue what 45 year Joel would be like. But since God dwells in eternity, he is not bound to those linear limitations. He sees the complete package, the whole person of Joel from beginning to end. He knows who I am, whereas I only can remember bits of who I was, and can only speculatewho I will become. But at the same time, I think sometimes eternity breaks into our limited world of time, and we catch glimpses, however brief, of who we are. And those mini-revelations comfort us as we make our journey of faith, and continue to become who we already are.
“Beautiful One” impacted me so much that I put the last three lines of the song next to my senior picture in the Wheaton Christian High School yearbook of 1987. The poetic imagery of the life of faith as a journey, and the mysterious assurance that our deepest dreams are echoes of the certain hope of a resurrected reality is a kind of poetry we can live and breathe. And although we will eventually experience it in full, we also experience in the here and now through the Holy Spirit who blows where he pleases…often over the turbulent waters of our hopes and dreams, and often revealing glimpses of that resurrected land of the future, yet mysteriously present, New Creation.
If you have grown up in an American Evangelical culture, no doubt your view of the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis is that Israel can do no wrong, and all the Palestinians are fanatical Muslims. The problem, of course, is that is completely wrong. The reason why so many Evangelicals in America tend to think that, though, is because men like John Hagee, Tim LaHaye, and Hal Lindsey have taught some very wrong things. Now, like I said in my previous post, I support Israel, and I do think the primary root of the problem does fall in the lap of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. BUT…the fact is that Israel is not guiltless. The average Palestinian civilian has gotten horribly short-changed from everyone. The maps I’ve included show confusing the conflict is.
The Plight of the Palestinians
Now, the purpose of this post is not to give a full analysis of the history of the conflict. My purpose is simply to show how complex the situation has always been, and how dangerous it is to blindly and completely take one side over the other. In any case, here are some items I learned from the book, From the Holy Mountain. Obviously, I cannot verify every single claim, but it is worth putting out there to foster discussion.
As of the early 1990s, around 150 exclusively Jewish settlements have been established in the conquered territory (about 280,000 Israeli settlers).
The Palestinians under Israeli occupation are forbidden to own weapons of any sort, cannot vote in Israeli elections and are subject to the arbitrary and dismissive verdicts of military courts.
“The Israelis are always insisting on the uniqueness of their Holocaust. Now it seems they want our genocide to be forgotten. It is as if they want a monopoly on suffering. In a million little ways, the Israelis make life difficult for us. Many of my people believe they want to squeeze us out” (312).
“Under an Israeli Supreme Court ruling, non-Jews are excluded from the Jewish Quarter, and all Arab residents there in 1967 were evicted from it. At the same time, on 10 June 1967, the entire Maghariba (Moors’) district was demolished to create a plaza around the Wailing Wall. The area dated back to the fourteenth century, and included a mosque and shrine of Sheikh A’id; but despite their antiquity the 135 buildings in the district were bull-dozed and the 650 Palestinians who lived there were expelled from their homes. Yet while all the two thousand Jews who had lost property there in 1948 had their land restored, none of the thirty thousand Palestinians evicted from the Christian suburbs of West Jerusalem in 1948 were allowed to return to their old homes, nor was any reverse law promulgated to prevent Jews from settling in the Christian, Armenian, and Muslim Quarters of the Old City” (312-313).
“The Israelis claim that they are champions of religious freedom, but behind that smokescreen they make it impossible for our [Palestinian-Christian] community to flourish” (314).
If an Israeli is stabbed, Israeli police randomly arrest 500 non-Jewish boys, beat them, and make them stand all day in the sun without water.
In 1922, 52% of the population of the Old City of Jerusalem had been Christian; by the early 1990s Christians made up a mere 2.5% of the population.
In 1922, Christians made up 10% of British Mandate Palestine. They were wealthier and better educated than their Muslim counterparts, “owned almost all the newspapers and filled a disproportionate number of senior jobs in the Mandate Civil Service” (316).
During the events of 1948, “in the fighting some 55,000 Palestinian Christians—around 60% of the total community—fled or were driven from their homes, along with around 650,000 Muslim Palestinians” (317).
“After the Israeli conquest and occupation of the West Bank during the Six Day War (1967), a second exodus took place: between 1967-1992 around 40% of the Christians then in the Occupied Territories—a further 19,000 men, women, and children—left their homes to look for better lives elsewhere. Christians now make up less than a quarter of one percent of the population of Israel and the West Bank” (317).
Within ten years of the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem, 37,065 acres of Arab land [that is, both Christian and Muslim Palestinian] had been confiscated and settled; today only 13.5% of East Jerusalem remains in Palestinian hands” (318).
You get the picture…it causes one to rethink the whole “Israeli-Palestinian” thing, doesn’t it? One thing is for certain: the “blind allegiance to Israel because they are God’s people” mentality of John Hagee is not only biblically ignorant, but it actually is endorsing and promoting the destruction of the Christian culture that has been in Palestine for the past 2,000 years. Let’s face it, Hagee and his followers have probably never even considered the fact that many Palestinians were actually Christians!
A Few More Historical Factors to Consider
That being said though, a few other historical factors have to be taken into consideration:
The impetus for the state of Israel was actually not the Holocaust. The Balfour declaration back in 1918 already spoke of creating a state of Israel, side by side with a state of Palestine. Nevertheless, the Holocaust was no doubt the event that spurred the UN to go ahead and get it done. But now, I have to wonder: was the UN’s establishment of the state of Israel solely because Europe felt bad for the Jews and wanted to, “do the Jews a favor,” or was it also fuelled by an anti-Semitic feeling that said, “Let’s just get these Jews out of our hair?” Given the obviously racist-colonialistic mentality of an Enlightenment-inspired Europe, I think both things, the Holocaust and European antisemitism, hand a hand in it. After all, it was Britain—a horrifically racist empire who viewed all non-Europeans as beneath them, and who practiced horrible racism from South Africa to India—who basically said, “Okay, we’ve got this land in Palestine, let’s just take a portion and give it to the Jews (who likes them anyway?) and let those other Palestinians (they’re Semitic too!) have what’s left over!” Britain, and the UN, probably didn’t really care about these groups…they weren’t European.
Both before and after the establishment of the state of Israel, though, it is equally clear that there was a clear anti-Jewish attitude by many Muslim leaders of the time. The Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem is a clear example of this. As soon as there was even talk of giving Jews a homeland, the annihilation of any Jewish state was a priority for the Arab-Muslim world.
The Grand Mufti had, in fact, promised the Palestinians that if they fled their homes that they would get them back once he and this Arab friends (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon) wiped the Jews out. And so, some Palestinians chose to leave. At the same time, despite the fact that Israel maintains that it was ready to offer full citizenship to any Palestinians who stayed, the fact is that was an outright lie. Sure, Israel might not have rounded up Palestinians and killed them in mass, but they certainly forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes, confiscated their belongings, and gave the property to Jews. Simply put, they stole Palestinian property. Even after that, with the Palestinians who still stayed, Israel reduced them to the status of second-class citizens and systematically took more and more Palestinian land and property, little by little.
Simply put, the Palestinians were abused by everyone: the UN who never even considered their human rights when it helped establish the state of Israel; the surrounding Arab leaders who stirred up even more anti-Semitism, encouraged the Palestinians to leave their homes, and then openly attacked Israel as soon as it was established; and finally Israel, who actively expelled the Palestinians from their lands and homes, who continued to steal Palestinian land, and who still make it a point to make the lives of the Palestinians in Israel so bad that they want to leave Israel. By insisting on a purely “Jewish State,” Israel is in danger of becoming just as much of a racist state as Nazi Germany was. Sure, one can point out that Israel never threw Palestinians into ovens; but they did throw them out of their land, nonetheless.
What Can Be Done?
But here is where things get, not just complicated, but outright impossible. What can be done?
The fact is that for the past 60 years Jews have settled in the land. An entire generation of Jews call Israel their homeland and know nothing else. Calling for the dissolution of the state of Israel is insane and inhumane.
Still, the Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank are inhumane in and of themselves. Furthermore, Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat and Hamas have proven beyond a shadow of doubt that their goal has never been peace with Israel, but rather the annihilation of it. Therefore, given the Arab attacks of 1948, the Six Day War of 1967, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and the infinite number of suicide bombers and rocket attacks coming from Gaza, I can understand why Israel is—call it for what it is—paranoid about the Palestinians.
Nevertheless, the treatment of Palestinian civilians—not the extremist groups, but real civilians—by Israel is deplorable. Israel’s actions, although obviously not the root cause of Arab aggression (for that happened before the State of Israel did anything), certainly have added fuel to the fire. Palestinians who have been kicked out and had their land confiscated deserve it back.
Blind allegiance to Israel is a horrific mistake—ignoring the inhumane treatment of the Palestinians by Israel is deplorable. At the same time, blind allegiance to the Palestinians is also problematic—their leaders are violent extremists and cannot be trusted. But groups like Hamas and Hezbollah were born out of the injustices Israel inflicted on the Palestinians. It’s a vicious cycle.
In light of all this, someone needs to just say it: the hope for a “two-state solution” is a pipe dream. It will never work. So what can be done? Looking back before the conflict, it was obvious that Christians, Muslims, and Jews were for the most part able to live together. What ticked the Palestinians off was a combination of two things: (a) the UN simply took some of their land and gave it to (b) European Jews who weren’t even really Middle Eastern. Seriously, how would we Americans feel if the European Union somehow took the entire middle section of the United States—from North Dakota to Texas, from Missouri to Colorado—and established a “state of the Ming Dynasty” where any Asian could simply just immigrate and take land away from any American? I don’t think we’d allow it. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’d go to war over it.
Given that example, I’m starting to see that the reason for the Palestinian/Arab hatred of Israel isn’t just the fact that they are Jews—it’s also a hatred of “the West” imposing their culture and values on them. Again, what if the “State of the Ming Dynasty” was established, and any American still living in that territory had to start following Confucianism or Taoism, and even then find him/herself treated as a second class citizen, and their families regulated to refugee camps in a thin strip of wasteland somewhere in Nebraska? We would not be happy.
So again, I ask, “What can be done?” I think this whole mess isn’t the fault of Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism. Ultimately, the fault lies at the doorstep of Enlightenment-minded European colonialism. It has always been incredibly racist and imperialistic, and too often, such nationalism often blurred the distinction between the Christian Gospel of Christ and the nationalistic love of Britain, or France, or Europe in general. Therefore, the idea that “We can work it out if we are just reasonable” is not only hopelessly delusional, it is the epitome of Enlightenment arrogance.
That being said, there’s only one thing that even has the remotest possibility of working. First, Europe and America needs to acknowledge that they played a major part in screwing over, not just the Jews historically, but also the Palestinians recently. Secondly, Israel should offer full citizenship to all Palestinians in the refugee camps Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon, and, as much as possible, return the land they stole from the Palestinians. Thirdly, Israel should unilaterally allow Palestinian Christians and Muslims a place within the government. Fourthly (admittedly for cosmetic-sake), the name of the nation should be changed to something like “Israel-Palestine.” Simply put, there should be one state consisting of Jews, Christians, and Muslims—it should not be a “Jewish State” or “Christian State” or “Islamic State.”
Now is this realistic? Given the current climate, of course not. In fact, the only way that could happen is, in my opinion, by a move of God—only the love that comes from Christ could ever accomplish such a thing. A European-enlightenment mindset, a Jewish-Zionist movement, and an extremist Islamic terrorist agenda simply will add up to endless bloodshed, bigotry, hatred, and death. It is only the love of Christ that can heal the wounds of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My proposed solution requires a huge leap of faith. And, just as Paul says in Romans, the kind of faith that saves—both the individual from his/her sins, and entire people groups from national and cultural annihilation—is the faith in the God who can bring life from the dead: be it Isaac from Sarah’s dead womb, Christ from a dead tomb, or a living and unified people of God from the death and destruction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
***I originally wrote this four years ago, and have now revised it a bit. If you find this post, along with the next few posts, to be challenging and thought-provoking, please share them on Twitter and Facebook. Or at the very least, hit the “like” button!
Having grown up in Wheaton, Illinois, I obviously inherited a certain Evangelical worldview. Now this worldview was comprised of a number of moving parts: Republican, anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, Hal Lindsey’s dispensationalism, and, of course, pro-Israel:
Why should Christians be Republicans? Because the GOP is anti-abortion.
Why should Christians oppose abortion? Because it is murder and the taking of human life.
Why should Christians be against homosexuality? Because it’s unnatural; the Bible calls it sin.
Why should Christians buy into dispensationalism? Because no one else seems to understand the book of Revelation, and Hal Lindsey seems so sure of what he’s saying
Why should Christians be “pro-Israel”? Because the Jews are God’s people…and that’s kind of an essential part of Hal Lindsey’s (and Tim LaHaye’s) dispensationalism.
A Little Background on My Views
Now that I’m 45, my views have matured and changed a bit. That being said, I still tend to side with the GOP, but mostly because I consider myself more fiscally conservative, and I simply think that the Republican economic philosophy has a been chance of getting our national budget balanced. Still, I have largely become disappointed with the juvenile antics of both parties.
I still am against abortion, but have a somewhat altered view as well. I still think human life is sacred, but the reality is that we are not living in a Christian society, and there is simply no way to an all abortions. The best Christians can do is to convince society to restrict abortions as much as possible, not unilaterally and forcibly do it. Personally, I think with available contraceptives and even the “morning after pill,” it can be argued that the surgical procedure of abortion is wholly unnecessary. The only time it should be necessary is in cases of emergency, when the mother’s life is at stake. I even can understand the argument for allowing it in cases of rape or incest.
I also believe that certain sexual practices, be it adultery, promiscuity, or homosexual acts are clearly bad things to do. Part of the Church’s witness to this fallen world is to try to guide people in healthy behavior. As far as the “gay marriage” debate is concerned, I’m with C.S. Lewis in thinking that there should be two separate marriage certificates: one from the State, and one from the Church. Consequently, the State can set up the rules for legal benefits however it wants—in my mind, the State marriage license isn’t a Christian marriage; it’s a civil union, regardless of who gets it.
As far as the dispensationalist view of the “end times” and the book of Revelation, I discarded those long ago. No one within the first 1,850 years of Church history ever believed that view. It is a modern (and in my opinion, heretical) view that displays a gross ignorance of the Old Testament, what apocalyptic literature is, and what the New Testament’s view of “the end times” really is. Unfortunately, most Christians who have this view just believe it because that’s what they’ve been told, and they really don’t understand it—it is something that just is rattling around in the attics of their brains.
Now, what about the state of Israel? I don’t think I ever was a blind “pro-Israel at all costs” type of John Hagee Christian. As a Christian and a biblical scholar, I simply do not see the modern state of Israel as “God’s chosen people.” The New Testament is pretty clear on this one: the chosen people of God are those who have put their faith in Christ. That is the true people of God; that is the true Church. As Paul says, “In Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile.” The Church has its roots in Israel, but in Christ, Gentiles who put their faith in him are grafted in, and Jews who reject him are cut off. Therefore, “ethnic Israel” is just another people—they need salvation in Christ, just like everyone else.
This is precisely the problem with dispensationalist theology: it thinks that Christians are God’s people through faith in Christ, but Jews are also God’s people by keeping the Torah. In essence, they believe there are TWO peoples of God. Furthermore, they believe that by supporting the state of Israel, they are taking part in the End-Times scenario that says the clock is counting down—there MUST be a rebuilding of the Temple, so that the anti-Christ can walk into it, declare himself God, and unleash hell on the Jews (the Christians will have been raptured, of course) for seven years. Then Jesus will return, save anyone who turns to him during those seven years, and destroy the anti-Christ and all evil—then, at that time, the Jews will finally turn to Jesus.
That is the essence of dispensationalist theology, and that is completely unbiblical. Evangelicals will do well to finally abandon the theology of Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye.
The History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
When it comes to the current state of Israel, a brief history is in order. Since the Holocaust was so horrible, the United Nations felt so bad for the Jewish people that they decided to let them have a homeland. Britain, who controlled Palestine, simply gave part of the land to the Jews—they held it, so they had a right to do that. In fact, Britain and the UN originally planned for a “two-state solution”—a nation of Israel living side by side a nation of Palestine—but from the very beginning the Palestinians were against it. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (the Muslim leader for Palestinian Muslims) was close allies with Hitler and even commanded a Panzer division.
Furthermore, when Israel was declared a state in 1948, not only did all the surrounding Muslim countries forcibly expel their entire Jewish populations, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel all teamed up and attacked Israel, vowing to annihilate Israel as soon as it was founded. The Grand Mufti, along with his nephew Yasser Arafat, told the Palestinians to flee from their homes and let the Arab nations come through and kill the Jews; then, afterwards, they could come back to their homes and live in a Palestinian State.
As it turned out, Israel held its ground and survived. Given the number of expelled Jews from Arab countries that came to Israel, and given the fact that may Palestinians fled their homes, the Israeli government ended up giving those Palestinian homes to immigrating Jews, and then proceeded to build Israeli settlements to accommodate the Jewish population.
Then in 1967, on the eve of another Arab attack with the purpose of annihilation of Israel, Israel launched a pre-emptive attack and was victorious again—taking control of the entire Sinai peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Since then, the surrounding Arab countries refused to admit the Palestinians refugees into their own countries, and Israel has regulated the Palestinians to the Gaza Strip refugee camps or the West Bank—the Palestinians are a homeless people.
But the fault, as I have thought for the longest time, is primarily with the Arab countries and the terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. For every time there has been a peace settlement, Israel has given up land for peace, and immediately, groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have proceeded to launch attacks against Israel. Even in 2000, when Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat 98% of what he wanted, he rejected it—why? Because he never wanted real peace—he, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, etc. have always been single-minded in their determination to annihilate Israel from the map. That being said, the history of the conflict has also shown that Israel has bloody hands as well. Many of their prime ministers had originally been “Jewish terrorists” against the Palestinians during the 30’s and 40’s.
That was my view and position…and I still hold to much of it. I don’t think Hamas, Hezbollah, or Iran has ever nor will ever accept the notion of a Jewish state—they are bent on violence, period.
From the Holy Mountain…
That being said, though, I want to relate (and recommend) a book I read a few years back: From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East, by William Darymple. He decided to retrace the journey of a 6th Century Byzantine monk named John Moschos, from the holy mountain of Athos, down through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and ending up in Egypt. On his journey he visited ancient Christian sites and connected with the Orthodox Christian remnant community that still lived in the Middle East.
The entire book is fascinating, but the one part that challenged me the most Darymple’s account of his travels through the Israeli-Palestinian territories and his “up close and personal” glimpse at the sad fate of Palestinian Christians living in the land since the formation of Israel in 1948. For a full account of Darymple’s book, it is best to read the book. For now, I will just highlight what impacted me most.
At the risk of being over-simplistic, the state of the Palestinians before the formation of Israel in 1948 was remarkably good. Even under the Ottoman Empire, Palestinian Christians lived in a “semi-state” of peace with their Muslim neighbors. Armenian Christians living in Palestine were very well off, well-educated, and prosperous. Christian monasteries often welcomed surrounding Muslims who would visit the monks and ask them to pray for them (for a variety of needs). Now, this should not blind us to the grim realities of the Turks’ massacre of Armenian Christians in the early 1900’s or the Turks systematic expulsion of Greek Orthodox Christians from Turkey in the first half of the 20th Century. Christians under Muslim rule have often suffered hardship, and sometimes brutality. There is no question to this. Nevertheless, the Palestinians—both Muslim and Christian—lived in a fair amount of harmony before 1948.
It was after the formation of the modern state of Israel that has been the reason for all the conflict we have seen over the past 70 years. More on that tomorrow….
Anyone who has known me since I was a kid can tell you one thing: I was a baseball nut. I not only collected baseball cards, I used them in my almost pathological obsession with a game I inherited from my brother, “dice baseball.” I not only watched Cubs games and followed the box scores, at the beginning of each season I would write out by hand all the rosters of all the major league teams, and then make up trades the Cubs could do in order to finally win that elusive World Series. To this day, chances are that you could say something like, “1976 Orioles 3rd baseman!” and I’ll be able to picture that 1976 Topps baseball card and say, “Doug DeCinces!” “1983 Royals relief pitcher!” “Dan Quisenberry!” …you get the idea…a bit obsessed.
Another thing about me as a kid was I was insanely hyperactive. So much so, that I’m convinced that when my parents saw that even though I was born in November, I could still be put into Kindergarten at the age of 4 (the cut-off date at that time was November 30th; nowadays it’s something like September 1st), they jumped at the chance. Consequently, I was always the youngest in my class. On top of that, I was already small for my age, so put me in a class of kids all pretty much a year older than me already, I was really small for my class. Even though I never fell behind academically, I think my small size did affect my ability to keep up in sports…in this case, baseball.
My “career” in youth baseball could be described in the same way Chicago Cubs baseball could be described for the better part of the past 100 years: pretty pathetic. It wasn’t that I was horrible, but I certainly wasn’t “the star.” And because I was virtually always was the smallest on the team, the little league coaches, and later high school coaches, would pretty much overlook me. On top of that, I always found myself on virtually the worst team in the league. I was pretty much a bench-warmer who played sporadically. Even in high school, when I got the “Coach’s Award” for my junior and senior years, we all know it’s pretty much getting an “E” for “Effort,” or being the girl forever described as “having a good personality.”
Needless to say, both my “career” in youth baseball and my life-long devotion to the Cubs have been one long lesson in humility (or humiliation). Even before I got into high school, though, I came across a Christian artist named Bob Bennett. In 1982 he came out with Matters of the Heart—to this day I still think it is one of the most thoughtful and beautiful albums I’ve ever heard. One of the songs on that album was a song entitled “A Song About Baseball.” Here is the youtube link:
And here are the lyrics:
A Song About Baseball: Bob Bennett
Saturdays on the baseball field I’d be afraid of the ball
Just another kid on camera day,
And the Angels still played in LA, I was smiling
In living black and white
Baseball cards and bubble gum,
I think there’s a hole in my glove
3 and 2, life and death
I was swinging with eyes closed, holding my breath,
I was dying, on my way to the bench
But none of it mattered after the game
When my father would find me and call out my name
A soft drink of snow-cone, a candy bar
A limousine ride in the family car
He loved me
No matter how I played, he loved me
No matter how I played
But none of it mattered after the game
When my father would find me and call out my name
Dreaming of glory the next time out
My father showed me what love was about
He loved me
No matter how I played, he loved me
No matter how I played
But none of it mattered after the game
When my father would find me and call out my name
For anyone with a sensitive heart, it should be clear that “A Song About Baseball” is not simply a song about baseball—it really is a song about life: the disappointments we have, the inadequacies we feel, and the unconditional love God has for us, even after we strike out time and time again. And let’s face it, we strike out a lot in life: I never made it to the big leagues–heck, I got cut from the college team; I’ve work my butt off getting a PhD, only to find myself unemployed; I failed in marriage. And even if I succeeded in everything I tried, a hundred years from now, everything I “accomplished” would have been forgotten anyway.
So what’s the point to life, when it’s inevitable that for most of it we strike out and ride the bench? Well, the answer to that question is found in the lines that always (and I really do mean always) make me cry:
But none of it mattered after the game
When my father would find me and call out my name
Dreaming of glory the next time out
My father showed me what love was about
He loved me
No matter how I played, he loved me
No matter how I played
I don’t think there has ever been a time when I’ve listened to this song and haven’t teared up at this lines. Why? Because it’s not just about baseball; it’s not just about the love of a father; it’s an existential truth that lies at the heart of reality itself: we will always “dream of glory the next time out,” but the real glory that transforms us is the love that is there in the midst of our failures.
Incidentally, these lines remind me of the countless times my own dad would stop what he was doing to go play catch with me, because I was convinced that I would one day I’d pitch in Wrigley Field if only I practiced just a bit more, or the times we’d be driving home in that rusted out 1968 VW Bug after losing yet another game, me upset that I really wasn’t even given much of a chance to begin with…I mean really, sure, I was average—why did I have to sit the bench for half the game while the coach’s son who couldn’t stop a ground ball to save his life plays the whole game at shortstop? I have to admit, summer youth baseball wasn’t really all that fun—but none of it really mattered: it was summer, and there was always the pool to go to, or more dice-baseball, or perhaps dad would be my catcher and I could pitch in Wrigley Field, if only in my mind.
But truth be told, those summer youth leagues really serve as a microcosm of my life—and probably a whole lot more people’s lives: lots of disappointment and frustration in trying to excel in an endeavor that you love; but then the reassurance and calming support of a loving father that continually spoke into your heart, that your value as a person goes far beyond whatever might happen on the field, or whatever recognition you might or might not receive. So much of what we do in our lives really doesn’t matter…and that’s okay, for our Father will find us, call out our names, and welcome us home.
One of the “teaching tools” often used at Answers in Genesis is what is known as “The Seven ‘C’s’ of History.” These are the seven “big events” that affect the universe.
The “Seven C’s” are:
Yes, it is a catchy phrase; and yes the graphic is clever, in that the arrow encompassing all seven “C’s” makes the shape of a “C.” The only problem with this teaching tool, though, is a really big problem. What parts of the Bible do the “Seven C’s” cover? Well, “Creation” obviously covers creation in Genesis 1-2; “Corruption” covers the Fall in Genesis 3-5; “Catastrophe” covers Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9; and “Confusion” covers the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.
Moving onto the next two “C’s” we have “Christ” and then “the Cross,” both of which are found in the four synoptic Gospels. And then, to top it off, we have “Consummation,” which is covered in Revelation.
So what’s the problem? Other than Genesis 1-11, AiG ignores the entire Old Testament! Go get your Bible, put your finger at Genesis 12 and then another finger after Malachi: what you’re holding between your fingers is the majority of the Bible that tells of God’s interaction with Israel. But Ken Ham completely ignores all of it! Does that seem like a comprehensive and thorough depiction of the Christian faith?
The Old Testament provides the entire “back-story” to the coming of Christ. It is what provides the historical and theological contexts by which we are able to understand Christ and the Gospel. It is God’s Story creatively working its way through history. Ironically, in his zeal to “prove Genesis 1-11 is historical,” Ken Ham virtually disregards the actual history of the Old Testament, without which it would be impossible to fully appreciate the Gospel.
The New Testament is filled with quotes, references, and allusions to virtually every book of the Old Testament, most of which are not from Genesis 1-11. So let’s be clear, Ken Ham has chosen to ignore the parts of the Old Testament that the New Testament writers themselves felt important enough to reference in order to explain the Gospel of Christ, and instead has focused on Genesis 1-11 as the lone representative of the Old Testament.
Now of course Genesis 1-11 is important. It provides the mythical backdrop to the entire biblical story as it unfolds throughout history, beginning with Abraham and finding fulfillment in Christ and the Church. But Ken Ham doesn’t really view the Bible as God’s story. He views it as God’s revealed “fact book” on (a) the problem of sin, and (b) the solution in Christ—that’s it. The Bible isn’t God’s story; it’s God’s “salvation equation.” Therefore, why bother with all that stuff about ancient Israel in the Old Testament? Let’s just get to the end to see how the problem gets solved.
I remember when I was in junior high and high school, I never liked math. I was good at it, but I didn’t like it. I learned how to get the right answers, but I never really learned the process involved in math. So sure, I got good grades in math, but I never really learned it. The same goes for Ham’s depiction of the Gospel. Yes, he “gets the right answer”—Jesus crucified and resurrected. But he doesn’t really “get it,” if you know what I mean. He doesn’t “get it” because he doesn’t think it’s necessary to understand the unfolding of God’s story throughout the life of ancient Israel.
If you were to ask him how he knows that “Jesus is the answer,” he’d no doubt say, “Because it’s in the Bible.” That would be like me, after being asked, “How do you know your answer to that math problem is correct?” then saying, “I checked the answers in the back of the book!” But again, I never really learned math; and Ken Ham has never really learned the biblical story. He doesn’t need to; he’s checked the “back of the book” in order to get the “right answer.”
Those kinds of students, be it of math or the Bible, tend to flunk out.
Having been through the “academic track” that has gotten me two master degrees and a PhD—all in Biblical Studies—one can say that I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the “academic world.” Nevertheless, I have tried to take the good, solid learning I received at the graduate level, and make it understandable and accessible to teenagers.
But in addition to that, I have been challenged to continue learning, primarily along the lines of philosophy, western culture, and Church history and theology, all subjects that I had somewhat limited background in when I started teaching them. And so, over the past nine years, I have given myself as much of an advanced education in those subjects as I possibly can. I’ll admit it, it’s pretty heady stuff.
And although it has been worth it to learn and discuss these things, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that one of the biggest temptations in the academic world (and academic study in general) is to be so concerned with appearing learned that one ends up actually using all that learning as a disguise: “I don’t really want to face the real despair and sense of meaningless in my heart, so I’ll talk all scholarly-like on Nietzsche!” “I don’t really want to reveal the deep yearning in my heart to know Christ (because that would be too vulnerable), so I’ll try to give an insightful analysis of the Trinity.” …stuff like that.
I say that because I have found that, given my academic background, I feel my primary calling is to, in fact, expose students to all this truly wonderful and challenging academic learning that unfortunately simply gets ignored in much of the Evangelical world. I don’t want to sound harsh, but it’s true. But at the same time, “academic learning” in and of itself is worthless if it is not guided by a true heart for God. I though, am actually quite introverted and private when it comes to, I guess you can say, “my heart of hearts” of my faith. I don’t particularly like to open up that part of me to people I’m not close to…
…nevertheless, lately I’ve been reflecting on my spiritual journey since when I was in junior high. And, thanks to the internet and things like itunes, I’ve been able to re-purchase virtually all of the influential Christian music I listened to back in the 1980s. And what I’ve come to realize is that much, if not all, of my spiritual convictions and outlooks have been definitely shaped by the 1980s Christian music of artists like Amy Grant, Phil Keaggy, Keith Green, Bob Bennett, and many others. Now when I listen to that music I listened to as a teenager, I am able to look back at certain songs and see how they have completely shaped my spiritual life—things that I “intellectually” came to as an adult were already instilled in me back when I was a teenager, and I just didn’t realize it.
I think that says something about our faith. Regardless of how many degrees you may get, or how many sermons, Sunday Schools, or Bible studies you take in, much of our Spiritual formation comes through music, poetry, art—namely creative expressions of faith, not academic/intellectual explanations of it. And so, from time to time I want to focus on particular songs that have been the means of my Spiritual formation. If you read my other posts, you’ll discover what I think and how I see things; in these next few posts, though, I’m going to try to reveal about who I am. For, truth be told, when I look at myself, I do not see myself so much as Dr.Anderson, or an “academic intellectual”—I see myself as the kid who was shaped by these songs.
The first song I’d like to share comes from Amy Grant: All I Ever Have to Be. It is found on her album entitled Never Alone. Here’s the youtube link to it:
Here are the lyrics:
When the weight of all my dreams
Is resting heavy on my head,
And the thoughtful words of health and hope
Have all been nicely said.
But I’m still hurting, wondering if I’ll ever be
The one I think I am….I think I am
Then you gently re-remind me
That you’ve made me from the first,
And the more I try to be the best
The more I get the worst.
And I realize the good in me,
Is only there because of who you are…who you are
And all I ever have to be is what you’ve made me.
Any more or less would be a step out of your plan.
As you daily recreate me,
Help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find.
And all I ever have to be
All I have to be
All I ever have to be
Is what you’ve made me.
Never Alone was one of the first Christian albums I ever listened to, and it had a tremendous impact on my young “junior high” life. Looking back, most of the things we go through in grade school and junior high seem pretty silly—but to our junior high selves, those things were the most important things in our world. The “thing” I was dealing with was this: I was one of the “popular kids” in grade school, but when 6th grade came around and we all went to a new junior high school, it seemed everyone else grew over the summer, but I stayed small. Not only was I one of the smaller kids in the junior high, I somehow also became the favorite target of junior high bullies. My junior high memories basically consist of getting my books kicked down the hallways, getting my baseball cap thrown in the boys’ urinal in the locker room, and getting jumped from behind walking home from school. I even remember one day, when I stayed behind to help the Industrial Arts teacher clean up after school, he said, “You know Joel, you’re not as bad as the other kids say!” Wow…even though I’m sure that guy thought he was giving me a compliment, what I heard was, “Hey Joel, everyone hates you.”
Needless to say, junior high was not fun for me. But being the strong-willed child that I was, even though I had to endure quite a lot of mean behavior, that experience further entrenched in my character to fight back. I might get beat up, I might be laughed at, but I certainly was never going to back down or let them get the best of me. I guess, that junior high experience put that chip on my shoulder, and it hasn’t ever left.
Nevertheless, those experiences hurt…a lot. And when I would go home, especially when I would go to bed, I would put Amy Grant’s Never Alone cassette in my tape player and often cry myself to sleep. I couldn’t understand why, for no apparent reason, I had become hated by the very kids I was friends with in grade school. All I Ever Have to Bebecame more of a song for me—it was the cry of my heart. Every single line seemed to speak to the struggles I was going through as a confused and hurting 12 year old. And when you find yourself in the midst of a crisis that leaves you broken and hurting, you realize that All I Ever Have to Be is one incredibly deep and serious song. You can have your Thomas Aquinas, A.W. Tozer, or St. Augustine—Amy Grant’s All I Ever Have to Be was the Holy Spirit blowing through my troubled soul.
Even though every line spoke to me, these lines in particular always made me cry:
As you daily recreate me,
Help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find.
And all I ever have to be…is what you’ve made me.
To be quite honest, they still make me cry. First off, I find it amazing that even though it was during my time in graduate school that I came to really see how the biblical theme of “re-creation” runs throughout the Bible and is at the very core of the Christian hope, I was being reassured of God re-creating me all the way back when I was a young kid. The “theology” my mind comprehended as an adult had already been woven into my heart as a child. And secondly, what was so reassuring in this song was the reminder that, even though I didn’t know why I was going through what I was going through, and even though I was hurting and confused, all God wanted me to be concerned about was being who I was, and who He made me to be. And the fact was, I wasn’t going to know all of it yet, and all I had to do was what I could find. The end result is in God’s hands. It is our calling to live the life that makes us into who we already are before God.
Deep stuff for a 12 year old. Deep stuff for anyone, really.
As real, Bible-believing Christians know, young earth creationist extraordinaire Ken Ham has shown us the way, the truth, and the life…about Genesis 1-11. But perhaps his most extraordinary contribution to the human race has been his work regarding Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9.
In addition to hiring godless workers, Noah also had access to advanced technological equipment that probably dwarfed the current advanced technology we have today. Like Ken Ham has said in his post defending building his own ark (see claim #7 in this post):
“By the time of the Flood, who knows what technology people may have invented? The fantastic technology we enjoy today is the result of an accumulation of knowledge gained over the past few hundred years. Think how far technology has advanced in just 200 years! We can’t even imagine what many people might have invented by the time of Noah, about 4,400 years ago (approximately 1,600 years after Creation). Who knows what remarkable things were created by geniuses when Noah was building the great Ark? And with people living so long before the Flood, there would have been an incredible increase in knowledge. Imagine people like Alexander Graham Bell, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and others living for hundreds of years and what they may have achieved!
It’s very possible that Noah had technology that would have astounded us (and we would have envied)! And for those scoffers who say that if Noah had such technology we would find evidence of it, they need to understand the sheer destructive processes of the global Flood. It essentially obliterated the pre-Flood world.”
Yes, he actually has put this down in print.Amazing, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but that makes it pretty clear to me: the smart phone, personal computer, laser-guided missiles, space shuttle, and the Mars Rover would have been considered absolutely prehistoric to a man like Noah!
In any case, Ken Ham has conclusively shown, remarkably without any evidence, that Noah was able to take two of every “kind” of animal onto the ark. This included dinosaurs, apparently 50 kinds of dinosaurs, including t-rexes and brontosauri.
Now, secular scientific skeptics who are beholden to the anti-God religion of evolution will no question this clear fact. “How could Noah have gotten two t-rexes and two brontosauri onto the ark?” they will mockingly ask. What pathetic fools they are! Isn’t it obvious? Noah didn’t take two full-grown t-rexes and two full-grown brontosauri onto the ark. Ken Ham says that Noah took babyt-rexes and baby brontosauri onto the ark. It’s only logical that that is the way Noah did it.
How do we know this? Because the Bible doesn’t say that it couldn’t have happened this way, therefore it must have happened exactly that way.
Cryogenic Chambers In any case, this impressive display of rationality and logic got me thinking…I think Ken Ham is actually wrong on something. Yes, I know…that’s hard to believe, but stay with me.
If Noah clearly had access to advanced technology, that would obviously require advanced knowledge of observational science in order to build and run that advanced technology, right? Therefore, it seems obvious (and many unnamed scientists whom I will not footnote agree) that Noah was a scientist, and a pretty darn good one at that!
How do we know? Because the Bible doesn’t say that he couldn’t have been the greatest scientist in the world, therefore, he probably was.
And that astounding fact opens up so many possibilities to understand Noah’s flood…
Since Noah was the greatest scientist in the world, with access to supremely advanced technology, it might very well be true that he didn’t even have to bring two baby t-rexes and two baby brontosauri onto the ark—he probably was an advanced geneticist, and therefore probably was able to simply bring on board two fertilized t-rex eggs and two-fertilized brontosauri eggs…in cryogenic chambers that he was able to construct using his advanced knowledge of observational science that Methuselah had been able to pass down to him.
Incidentally, although we can’t be completely sure, but there is ample evidence (the kind that we cannot produce, because it’s historical science) that implies that the cryogenic chambers on Noah’s ark were developed in the pre-flood world renown “Lamech Labs,” located on 777 East Eden Street, on the banks of the Gihon River.
How do we know this? Ken Ham tells us (see claim #7 in this post): Genesis 4:22 says, “Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools,” “bronze and iron tools” obviouslymeaning the ability to construct cryogenic chambers and further the family business.
By the way, we should also note Genesis 4:21: “His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the ancestor of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” The leading biblical scholars at AiG speculate that in the Hebrew the words “lyre” and pipe” really should be spelled “liar” and “pipe”—which clearly are prophecies to warn us against lying evolutionists like Bill Nye, and pot-smoking hippies…like Bill Clinton and Barak Obama…both members of the Democratic party.
Therefore, since Noah, being the leading geneticist of his day, was able to use his advanced knowledge of cryogenic chambers, genetics, and the pre-flood genome to perfectly preserve dinosaur embryos so they could fit on the ark, it only makes sense that he was able to do this with many other “kinds” of animals, thus making it possible to build a smaller ark that we might have originally thought. After all, according to the leading biblical scholars at AiG, the Hebrew word “cubit” really was a reference to the size of a modern day sugar cube, thus making it possible to interpret the dimensions of Noah’s ark to be on a much smaller scale.
Long historical narrative short, we’ve been able to reconstruct what Noah’s ark really looked like. As you can see, the animals on the ark were very happy. The reason why all the animals are smiling should be obvious: the carnivorous dinosaurs had been frozen as embryos in Noah’s cryogenic chambers, and therefore were not able to eat them.
How do we know this? Because the Bible doesn’t say that is not how it happened, therefore, that’s the way it must have been.
In addition, as our picture shows, we believe that the animals in the pre-flood world had the ability to smile—God only took away their ability to smile after the flood, when God gave Noah permission to barbecue…and this clearly didn’t make the animals happy…hence, no more smiles.
Rebellious Abstinence and Clumping Another revelation Ken Ham has revealed through God’s revealed Word has been in regards to the reason for the flood. Now, we might assume that by the time of Noah’s flood there were millions of people on the earth. Well…na, na, nana not so, folks! Thanks to Ken Ham’s insights, we know for certain that there simply were not a lot of people on the earth. How do we know this? Because God had commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Therefore, given that commandment, what would be the most obvious way to rebel against God’s mandate for procreative sex?
That’s right! Abstinence and clumping! According to Ham’s son-in-law, Bodie Hodge, pre-flood human beings shook their fists in rebellion against God and started the world’s first abstinence program. As he states (under the heading “Were Pre-Flood Human Beings Few in Number” in this post), “If the world was indeed bad enough for God to judge with a Flood, then people were probably blatantly disobedient to God’s command to be fruitful and fill the earth.” That’s why there simply aren’t a lot of human fossils from the pre-flood world: there simply weren’t a lot of people in the first place.
Now, you might be thinking, “That certainly makes sense, but what exactly is ‘clumping’?” Well, according to Ken Ham, the other reason why there is not a lot of pre-flood human fossils is because humans were highly mobile, and tended to “clump together.” We can’t be sure, but we believe that fig leaves were involved.
As should be obvious, the rebellious pre-flood abstinence program, combined with the proclivity to “clump together” led to a lot of pent-up frustration in the pre-flood world. That explains why the human beings that did exist tended to be very violent and irritable. We learn from Genesis 6:1-4, though, that some of the pre-flood people simply had enough, and started to be fruitful and multiply, but not in a good way. That is why God brought the flood as a form of judgment.
This explains perfectly why there are not a lot of human fossils left from the flood…there simply weren’t a lot of human beings to begin with. On top of that, when they died, their bones just couldn’t fossilize. In fact, according to AiG research, “there would be just over one human fossil per cubic mile of sediment laid down by the Flood!” If that doesn’t make sense to you, then it is clear that you haven’t submitted to the authority of Ken Ha–, I mean the Bible, and you need to repent.
As a side note, according to AiG scientists, the few fossils we do have of the pre-flood human beings indicate that they should be categorized as homo erectus, but they are convinced that some of them were just absolute Neanderthals.
How do we know all this? Because the Bible doesn’t tell us this it couldn’t have been this way, therefore, it must have been this way. It’s logical.
What Happened to all of Noah’s Technology? As it turned out, AiG has used their truly astounding capacity for logic and rational thought to conclude that the flood destroyed virtually all of the advanced technology of Noah’s day. Now godless skeptics might mock the biblical account and say, “If Noah used giant cranes, bulldozers, and flux-capacitors to build his ark (which no doubt had the capacity for warp speed), then why don’t we find the remnants of such machinery alongside the fossilized remains of the dinosaurs who perished in the flood?”
Maybe the pre-flood dinosaurs were whipped up into such a rage during the flood that, as they were drowning, they managed to eat what was left of the pre-flood technological equipment, and it the pre-flood acid in their pre-flood digestive system was so powerful, that it was able to completely disintegrate it all.
Why should we believe this? Because the Bible doesn’t say that couldn’t be the reason, so that means it probably is.
Noah’s Last Days in the Post-Flood World One might be tempted to think, “Despite the raging waters that destroyed 75% of the pre-flood advanced technology, and despite the other 25% that was dissolved in the digestive tracks of the drowning dinosaurs, wouldn’t Noah have still had the knowledge of that technology, even after the flood?” Well, yes, that was true…but the events of Genesis 9 describe the reason why even that precious knowledge was lost.
Genesis 9 tells us that in addition to being a world-renown scientist, engineer, inventor, ship-builder, and geneticist, Noah was also the pre-eminent botanist of his day, and was able to use his knowledge of botany to plant a vineyard. Unfortunately, he ended up turning to alcohol to try to drown his memories of the flood. All that excess wine not only caused him to pass out in his tent, but it also did irreversible brain damage to his frontal lobe, and all that wonderful knowledge of pre-flood technology was lost.
…the fact that his son Ham (who went by the nickname, “Ken”) went in and “looked upon Noah’s nakedness” could be another factor. Such psychological trauma probably caused Noah to suppress all memory of the pre-flood world, the flood itself, and with it, any knowledge of that wonderful advanced technology that we don’t have any evidence of…due to the flood waters and the rampant acid reflux outbreak among the dinosaurs.
So there you have it: a completely rational, historical-science explanation regarding what the Bible doesn’t sayabout Noah, the pre-flood world, the flood, and its aftermath. The fact that the Bible doesn’t say these explanations couldn’t have happened is yet even more evidence to support that they, in fact, did! After all, that’s the only way to make sense of the claims of young earth creationism.
I hope that my modest contribution to the young earth creationist movement will get noticed by the historical-science experts at Answers in Genesis. Perhaps they can hire me and I can be a part of their team! I certainly hope so…I hear that in addition to building a giant Noah’s Ark, that Ken Ham is also planning to build his own Tower of Babel at the Creation Museum. I think he can really make a name for himself! I’d love to be there to see what God thinks about it.
I want to finish Book 3 of Mere Christianity with a short discussion on Lewis’ view of faith. He devotes two chapters to the topic of faith. In 3:11, Lewis emphasizes that we need to understand faith on two levels. The first is simple: basic belief—“accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity.” Lewis argues that one can come to the conviction that the basic beliefs and doctrines of Christianity are true by the use of one’s reason.
I, for one, believe that Jesus rose from the dead. No, I cannot go back in time and “prove” it, but knowing what I know about the historical reliability of the four gospels, my reason has lead me to believe that happened. More than just facts, though, are what I consider to be the very reasonable worldview of the Christian faith. As I’ve studied other religions and worldviews, I am logically convinced that Christianity makes the most sense of the world and has the deepest insight into the nature of humanity.
That being said, though, Lewis points out that the real battle is not between “faith” and “reason,” but rather between “faith and reason” and “emotion and imagination.” What he means by this is what is considered the second level of faith: “Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” Lewis continues: “That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off,’ you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently, one must train the habit of faith.”
Lewis’ insights into the two levels of faith is are really true. On one hand, if Christianity isn’t reasonably convincing, they don’t become a Christian. Back when I was in high school, I went through a crisis of faith, and it was my reading of Mere Christianity that logically convinced me that there was enough to Christianity to dive in and see where it took me. Now it’s true, there are some who will never accept the faith unless they have every single, solitary question answered to their satisfaction…but I’ve realized that 9 times out of 10, what they are demanding isn’t reasonableness, but iron-clad certainty. That, ironically, is unreasonable: it’s like refusing to marry someone unless you have 100% proof that they will never cheat on you or let you down. Nothing in life—not even stepping out in faith—is certain. But you take the step of faith on the reasonable conviction that the one you are giving your life over to is trustworthy.
This is where the second level of faith comes in. Most people I have known who have walked away from the Christian faith have not been “logically convinced” out of the faith. Again, 9 times out of 10 it seems that there is some underlying emotional hang-up or painful scar, or just laziness that lies at the heart of the walking away. If you leave faith at solely the first level (which is pretty much mental adherence to certain claims), then it’s almost inevitable that when experiences happen in which it would be more convenient not to hold to those beliefs, then you’re going to ditch those beliefs. Why? Because as Lewis states, it is essential to “train the habit of faith.”
Faith in a Higher Sense
Lewis ends 3:11 by talking about Faith in even a higher sense. He says that any true attempt to hold on to the Christian faith and to practice the Christian virtues will quickly get you to realize something: you’re not as good as you think you are. A true attempt to follow Christ will give you a fairly quick lesson in humility. This realization, Lewis says, is a good thing. It’s not a cause for despair. If you give into temptation, dust yourself off and keep trying—what you’ll find is that the more you resist, even if you give in from time to time, the stronger you will become.
Lewis states, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it really is.” Bad people, Lewis says, don’t really know a lot about badness—they give in on a moment’s notice. Only good people, by virtue of resisting temptation and fighting against giving into badness, really understand the strength of badness and evil.
And we know about badness because even though we may resist, we inevitably give in from time to time and realize our own weakness. This too is a good thing. Why? Because, as Lewis states, we tend to have this idea about faith that it is like trying to pass an exam or making a bargain with God—as long as we do our part, God will be obligated to keep his end of the bargain! Well we don’t do our part; we fail….and yet God is still there to pick us up, dust us off, and strengthen us to keep going. Simply put, when we fail, we realize that faith isn’t like passing an exam or making a bargain with God. …and this leads to 3:12…
Faith and Works
What Lewis says in 3:12 really is an extension of how he ends 3:11. When we try to practice the Christian, when we fail and find God is still there, we realize that we can’t do it on our own efforts. But we don’t despair because we realize that God will remain faithful to us, even when we are unfaithful—and that realization gives us courage to get up and keep going. We still must work out our salvation—like any relationship, we must continue to work at it—but eventually the work is for different reasons.
We put our faith in God by obeying him, and doing what he says—if we didn’t do what he said, then we really wouldn’t be putting our faith in him or trusting him. We do those things, not in a worried way, thinking if we don’t do them perfectly, he’ll be angry and send us to hell. But rather, as Lewis says, we do them “in a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save [us] already.”
We do “Christian works” because we are being saved, and we are being saved because we are doing “Christian works.” Yes, this opens up the old question regarding “faith” and “works,” but Lewis will have none of it. You need both. Debating which one is more important is like debating which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary. This really shouldn’t be that hard to realize. As in marriage, how do you show your faithfulness to your spouse? By doing things for him/her. And why do you do certain things for your spouse? Because you love that person and want to display your faithfulness to him/her. Why wouldn’t it be the same with our relationship with God?
In any case, Lewis says a little more about faith, but these are the main points. They’ve stuck with me for 30 years now. That’s why I still go to church even when I don’t feel like it—I’m training in the habit of faith. That’s why I still am a Christian, despite the emotional turmoil I’ve gone through at certain times in my life—I won’t let my faith be ruined by my changing moods…although, it certainly can be tough sometimes.
One of the biggest controversies within many Evangelical circles today revolves around the interpretation of Genesis 1-11. As I have written about many times, young earth creationists/ultra-Fundamentalists like Ken Ham insist that Genesis 1-11 has to be a modern-scientific account of the origins of the material universe if it is to be true. They accuse anyone who does not think that Genesis 1-11 is a modern historical narrative of “compromising” the authority of Scripture. And if you really want to whip men like Ken Ham up into a frenzy, use the “M” word, myth, and try to say that Genesis 1-11 is in the genre of ancient myth.
Let’s face it, if you have grown up in modern American Evangelicalism, you have been taught to equate “myth” with “falsehood” and “lies.” The statements, “Genesis 1-11 is a myth,” and “Genesis 1-11 is not true” are considered synonymous in modern Evangelicalism. That is quite unfortunate because, all that reveals is the Evangelical tendency to elevate “facts” above creativity. We must remember that God has revealed Himself in the Bible, and the Bible is mostly made up of creative genres of literature; Jesus himself, the Word of God (not solely the “Objective Fact” of God) spoke mostly in the genre of parables.
What do I mean? Simply this: God reveals His truth through creative means, not through cold-hard facts and scientific data. Of course, those things are important, of course the historical events recorded in the Bible really happened, but they remain just facts and data until they are woven together into the bigger story of God’s salvation. Ironically, the “fact” is that God has used various types of genre in the Bible to convey truth about Himself, Mankind, and Creation. To say that Genesis 1-11 is “myth,” therefore, is not to denigrate it or say it’s not true. Rather, it is to say that it is the door that opens to us to experience the reality of God Himself, and it gives us a foothold and basic worldview through which we can make sense of the world and His unfolding redemption in history.
Not only is myth not a threat to the truth of Christianity, but men like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien would argue that it is outright essential to Christianity. It is a glorious positive that helps bring us into the biblical world where we experience reality itself.
I am currently reading a book by Humphrey Carpenter entitled The Inklings—a biography on C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. In the book, he talks about how these men understood reality, the Bible, Christianity, etc. Being experts in literature, they full-well knew the importance and profundity of myth. There were a few passages from that book that got me thinking, and hence this post.
Myth, Sub-Creators, and Truth
One of the things that eventually got Lewis to accept Christianity was Tolkien’s argument that myth and story-telling are crucial to the way in which God reveals Himself. Tolkien said that to the ancients, “the whole of creation was ‘myth-woven and elf-patterned.’” And since man’s imaginative inventions, just as man’s capacity for abstract thought, find their origin in God, when men made myths, they were acting as “sub-creators” and were “actually fulfilling God’s purpose and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light.” Simply put, ancient myths were creative stories about the deeper realities of existence, and they, however imperfectly, had elements of truth in them.
Those seeds of truth could then point the way to recognizing the truth regarding Christ—the story of Christ was essentially, “myth being realized in history.” Therefore, far from blinding us to the truth of Christ, men like Lewis, Tolkien—and even early Christian philosophers like Justin Martyr—argued that they pave the way for truly understanding the truth of Christ. This is true not only for ancient pagan myths, but it also helps us understand the purpose of Genesis 1-11. Those chapters are not trying to give us a modern, scientific account of the material universe—such questions would not even have been asked in the ancient world. They weren’t interested in them. Instead, they were interested in the meaning and purpose of creation, and the nature of both the gods and mankind. Genesis 1-11, in contrast to the other pagan myths of its time, gives a clearer mythical perspective on the nature of God, the nature of mankind, and the meaning and purpose of creation. It sets out the nature of the state of reality and the problems we face—and we then find the answers to those problems in the revelation of Christ.
Myth, the Encounter of Reality, and the Backdrop to the History’s Stage
The other thing to realize about the genre of myth is its purpose. As Carpenter wrote, Lewis believed that a story of a mythical type “gives us an experience of something not as an abstraction but as a concrete reality. We don’t ‘understand the meaning’ when we read a myth, we actually encounter the thing itself. Once we try to grasp it with the discursive reason, it fades.”
Therefore, mythical literature isn’t about “knowing”—it is about “tasting.” As Lewis believed, “What you [are] tasting turns out to be a universal principle. Of course the moment we state the principle, we are admittedly back in the world of abstractions. It’s only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience a principle concretely.”
You might right now be thinking, “What the heck does that mean?” Let me try to explain, using Genesis 1-11 as the focus.
What we experience when we read the mythical creation account in Genesis 1 is the reality of the orderly and good creation itself. We experience the reality of the sovereignty and goodness of the Creator God Himself. Genesis 1 reveals that creation itself is good and orderly, and we see that goodness and order every day—we “taste” the truth of Genesis 1 every day, every time we step outside. We “taste” the truth of the creation of Adam in Genesis 2 every time we take a breath. We experience and “taste” the truth of “the fall” of Genesis 3, and experience the reality of “the fall” of Genesis 3, every time we reach out for something we’re not ready for, or blame someone else for our sin, or experience shame for doing something we know we shouldn’t have done.
Simply put, the truth of what is contained in Genesis 1-3 isn’t “objectively proven” through historical/scientific analysis or the scientific method. Rather, it is experienced in our daily lives and tasted in our very experience as human beings. We don’t “know” Genesis 1-3 is true as a means of historical fact; we experience the truth of Genesis 1-3 by virtue of being human. In that sense, on that existential level, we “know” it to be true.
This can be extended to the whole of Genesis 1-11. The purpose of the mythical account of Genesis 1-11 is not to speak to history or science questions that can be proven or disproven. It is lay out the mythical backdrop to the entirety of human experience to which we all relate. If “all the world is a stage,” then Genesis 1-11 is the backdrop against which human history play out. It provides the existential context against which we can understand God’s dealings in the history of Israel, culminating in the historical reality of Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection.
Tolkien’s Simarillion and Lord of the Rings
We see this in literature all the time. J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Simarillion provided the mythical backdrop to the entire world of Middle-Earth, and thus the setting the stories in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The “history” of those fictional stories only could be told once the “myth” of The Simarillion was established.
Yes, it is possible to read and enjoy The Hobbit and LOTR without having read The Simarillion, but your understanding of those stories will be enhanced greatly if you go back and read The Simarillion. If you read The Simarillion, you will drink in and “taste” that highly symbolic and mythical world that is the backdrop to The Hobbit and LOTR. You will find yourself not just reading and understanding the events of Middle-Earth; you will find yourself experiencing them.
That, I submit, is the power and purpose of mythical literature. Far from being “not true” or “lies,” mythical literature opens the door to the heart of reality that we experience. No, there is no “literal ring of power,” that archeologists can dig up to “prove it is true,” but there are many “rings of power” throughout human history—and they are very real, and they wreak havoc in our world: they might be in the form of kingly crowns and scepters, or they might be in the form of deals with lobbyists and lack of term limits. …but the truth of “the ring of power” is not tied to a literal ring that speaks to a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins.
The Myth of Genesis 1-11, and the History of Christ and the Church
The same dynamic can be seen in the Bible. Genesis 1-11 is the founding myth that provides the true Biblical Worldview, and the true understanding of the reality of creation: a good Creator God, a mankind created in God’s image, but due to people’s foolish choices, a mankind not fully in God’s likeness, and thus lost and in need of redemption…and a creation itself, groaning in labor pains, longing for the revelation of the sons of God (Rom 8:19).
The existential dilemma experienced in the founding myth of Genesis 1-11 is answered and resolved in the historical reality of Christ, and is played out in the ongoing historical story of the Church.
And so, men like Ken Ham are partly correct when the insist that Genesis 1-11 is essential to the truth of Christ. But they are completely wrong to deny that Genesis 1-11 is mythological, and instead insist that Genesis 1-11 has to be historically factual in order to be true. That would be like insisting that the backdrop on the stage has to be torn down and made into actual characters in the play. Without the backdrop, there can’t be a play, and the characters cannot be fully understood.
That is the power and purpose of myth, and we see it at work in the opening chapters of Genesis. God is Creator, and is therefore creative in His revelation. Myth is not the enemy to the Gospel. It is the backdrop to it; it sets the stage for the Gospel to be played out in history.
That is how men like Tolkien and Lewis saw it. That is how I see it. Saying Genesis 1-11 is in the genre of myth, far from debasing the truth of the Bible and the Gospel itself, is to elevate the truth of the Bible, and to open the doors to the much wider reality God’s creation. In reading Genesis 1-11, we experience our reality, and we taste its truth within our very being. And that opens the door to our recognizing the truth of Christ in human history…not only “back then” in the first century, but in the “here and now” within His Church.
Most people think “inerrancy” means believing that the Bible is true. Well, no, it does not. Throughout Church history, people have believed the Bible to be true and inspired, but the notion of inerrancy is quite another thing. Most people don’t realize that the notion of biblical inerrancy was never held in the history of the Church until the Modern Age, when Fundamentalists, in their attempt to rescue the Bible from the 19th century attacks of modernism, actually ended up devaluing it by claiming it was “perfect” and “inerrant” in some scientific sense. Catholicism did the same thing, only it went the way of claiming papal infallibility (also a 19th century reaction). The claims that the Bible is “inerrant” and “perfect” in that sense actually was doomed from the start—for it’s quite obvious that there is editorial work in the Bible, there are anonymous authors, there are apparent “factual discrepancies” that, if judged by today’s modern criteria, cast doubt on the Bible.
But the problem with all the modern attacks on the Bible and the Fundamentalist attempts to defend the Bible is that one is using 19th-21st century standards and assumptions to judge ancient texts that are 2,000-3,000 years old. It also ignores how the Church throughout history understood the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible itself does it ever claim to be “perfect” or “inerrant” in some modern-scientific sense of the term. It is not an “inerrant guidebook” that speaks directly to all times and situations. Such a view of the Bible is ultimately idolatrous, in the biblical sense of the word.
The Bible is Subjective…(stay with me, I’ll explain!)
Instead of using this problematic concept of inerrancy, how should we describe the Bible? First we must realize that the Christian faith is not based on the Bible. The Bible, rather, bears witness to the faith communities of OT Israel and the NT Church. It is the product of faith, not the source of it. And since that faith involves relationships, both between the faith community and God, and among the members within that community, faith is unavoidably personal, and thus subjective. This should not be a shock or surprise, for human experience is, by its very nature, relational and subjective. Even “objective facts,” if they are to mean anything beyond the fact of their existence, must be interpreted by human beings who live relationally and subjectively with one another.
Now, just because something is subjective, doesn’t mean it’s not true or that it is completely relative. I believe the Bible is certainly true. But to acknowledge subjectivity simply means that no human being can ever completely detach himself from human existence and see “the whole picture” from the outside looking in. Our vision will always be bound and colored by our circumstances, cultures, upbringings, and individual circumstances. Just because you and I, for instance, might see and interpret a certain event in different ways, that doesn’t mean that that event didn’t happen.
What it does mean, though, is that each one of us is simply interpreting it in a different way and that even though one interpretation might be nearer to the truth about that event than the other, both interpretations probably have some truth to them. Therefore the best way for us to arrive at a clearer understanding of that event isn’t to try to step outside of the human experience to try to view it “objectively.” That is simply impossible. Instead we need to interact, relationally and subjectively, with each other. And it is through relationships between people, and between people and God himself, we come to a clearer understanding of the truth of events of history.
All that is to say that if one approaches the veracity of the Christian Faith as something that is solely dependent on the “provable and objective facts” regarding the Bible, and if one assumes that unless the Bible has to be read literally in every case in order for it to be true, one is already starting off on the wrong playing field with the wrong set of rules to the game.
The Bible Bears Witness, and is Inspired Revelation…(just not an “objective history”)
So, the Bible is the product of faith, and it bears witness to the faith of the biblical communities. In addition, the Bible is also revelation, and is thus inspired. Anything that is revealed is obviously the result of one person revealing it to another. Thus inspiration (that is, by God’s Spirit) is how God has revealed himself to us. Such inspired revelation, therefore, means that the Bible, by its very personal nature, is to a certain degree subjective in its communication with human beings. For it is not simply revealing facts about God (although it certainly does that), but more importantly it is revealing the person of God himself, living relationally with human beings. The Bible, therefore, is the inspired revelation of God and his actions within the history of OT Israel and the NT Church.
That inspired revelation, though, takes the form of a host of various genres, none of which claim to be “objective history.” There are laws, poetry, proverbs, narratives, letters, prophecies, and even mythological language in the Bible. But there is nothing in the Bible that would be categorized as “objective history” in the modern sense of the word. Like I said earlier, such a notion of “objective history” is a 19th Century creation that ultimately is a false narrative in and of itself—for there’s no such thing as “objective history.”
All history-telling is interpreted, and is thus subjective. In that sense, all history-telling is “biased” to a degree—for the one telling the history is, by his very human nature, interpreting the facts, choosing which facts seem to him to be more important than others, and weaving a narrative of that history. But again, just because there is no such thing as “objective history,” that doesn’t mean that understanding the truth about a certain historical event or person cannot be known. It just means that an understanding of the truth will (and indeed must) come through subjective human beings.
Why is that important? Because the Bible doesn’t claim to be “objective.” On the contrary, it certainly does have an agenda! That agenda is to show that God has worked through the history of ancient Israel to bring about salvation, renewal, and re-creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the subsequent out-pouring of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the testimony of countless people who have interpreted the history of Israel and the historical events of the first century AD in such a way as to say, “This is what these events mean. This is how these events give meaning and understanding to the question of the purpose of human existence.”
Therefore, when someone of today reads and interacts with the texts of the OT and NT, he is interacting relationally with not only God, but also with the people of those faith communities back then and throughout history through the inevitable subjective experience of the Holy Spirit. And it is in that experience of the Holy Spirit where the life of faith is lived. No, that experience is not “objective,” or “perfect”—but it is living and active, going wherever it pleases. And that, I submit, is much more important than any claims that reduce the Bible to a mere collection of “objective facts.” For you can’t live in relationship with an “objective fact.” You can only live in relationship with a person on a living, active, and subjective level.
The Bible: Kind of Like an Impressionist Painting…(kind of!)
Perhaps the most succinct way to understand what the Bible is on a practical level of reading is this: the Bible is (A) historically reliable in what it records about history, but at the same time is also (B) artistic and literary in its interpretation of that history. The biblical writers were not newspaper reporters who just wanted to give facts. They were authors and artists of tremendous literary genius. Or to put it another way, they weren’t trying to take snapshots of historical events. They were impressionistic painters of those events.
To use that analogy further, let’s say I showed you a few famous paintings by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh. If you criticized them for their “errors,” in that the bridges in Monet’s paintings “don’t really look like that,” or the stars in Van Gogh’s paintings “don’t look at all like actual stars we can see with a telescope,” I’d tell you that you are judging them by the wrong standards. They aren’t meant to be “realistic” in a factual sense. They are interpretations—and because of that, they actually bring out more true beauty and wonderment than an actual picture of a bridge or a snapshot of the night sky.
Nevertheless, both are realistic enough for you to recognize what they are depicting. Both give enough realistic details for you to be sure of the subject content, but both also give impressionistic interpretations of those real things that draw you out and beyond the “objective facts” of a bridge or the night sky, to ponder the truth about the beauty and wonder of creation, and ultimately our own humanness. Therefore, in terms of understanding our humanity, I would argue that those paintings are truer than the actual bridge Monet viewed or the night sky that Van Gogh observed.
The same goes, I submit, for the historical reliability and what I call the “literary brushstrokes” of the Bible. I think there was a real Abraham, a real Exodus in which Hebrew slaves made their way from Egypt to Canaan, real kingdoms of David and Solomon, a real civil war between Israel and Judah, a real exile, a real return from exile, real prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah who really prophesied, and a real birth, life, ministry, arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. But at the same time, I also fully accept and expect that those texts which tell of these historical events do so in a highly literary and creative way. Why? Because that’s how the ancients wrote about historical events.
For example, I believe that the Hebrews in the Exodus somehow got across the Red Sea and escaped the Egyptians. I just don’t think it happened like Charlton Heston did it in The 10 Commandments. We have to realize that the way in which that event is told in Exodus is purposely crafted to allude to the ancient Near Eastern myth regarding how God conquered the great sea serpent Leviathan, who represents the powers of Sheol. Even in the Psalms, Egypt is equated with “Rahab,” another name that alludes to Leviathan. The point is clear: the writer of Exodus interpreted the escape of the Hebrews from Egypt against the backdrop of that ancient Near Eastern myth of slaying the sea serpent. In other words, they viewed the escape from Egypt as “myth made incarnate,” if you will.
The Bible: History Through a Literary Lens
Simply put, the Bible is history through a literary lens. To demand that everything in the Bible must be scientifically literal is to, in fact, deny the creative, literary nature of the Bible. Even when talking about real history, the Bible does so through imaginative and creative means. Why should that scare us or surprise us? Our God is a creative God. He communicates to creative human beings who are made in his image through creative means. It is through such inspired creativity that the Word of God is living and active, and able to slice through to the very soul. Instead of bowing to the idol of scientific-historical literalism, we should breathe in the inspired air of God’s creative Spirit and Word, enfleshed in Christ, whose presence dwells within the Church.