Trust is Precious

Trust Websters Unabridged 1983Trust is a powerful word. From the Merriam Webster dictionary definition:

belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.

a) assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something

b) one in which confidence is placed

(Webster’s Unabridged 1983 to the right, click for a larger image.)

Trust is precious and must be cultured and protected.

The post last week Blood From Stone … But Unfortunately He Got Everything Wrong (link with comments: Blood From Stone) led to some interesting conversation, both in comments and off-line. The problem with pastors getting the science wrong struck something of a nerve for some. Trust can be in the crosshairs. One commenter went so far as to suggest:

Before seminary get a STEM degree with a minor in Greek. Your ability to interpret scientific data will be sharpened and you’ll learn the logic that they often do not teach in seminaries.

Now this may have been tongue in cheek, and I certainly don’t think that it is feasible or necessary for all pastors to have a degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) field. It isn’t even desirable. Psychology, Economics, Sociology and English to name only a few … are also valuable degrees. In fact another commenter with expertise in a social science commented that “Fine, but it doesn’t solve the social science problem, which in my view is more serious than ignorance of STEM.” And a post not too long ago argued that we need more English majors in the pulpit to cultivate the art of story telling. I agree story telling is important – and we need a diversity of perspectives.

A third commenter noted – from personal experience as a pastor’s kid.

Sermons are much more about emotional motivation. … Facts are generally just thrown in much the way advocacy groups use stats to raise money – for the emotional response, not for their accuracy.

Having been raised in the church hearing thousands of sermons, a number enhanced by growing up in the era of twice on Sundays, not as a pastor’s kid but with a grandfather, several uncles, and later a brother-in-law and father-in-law who were or are pastors, I can see the commenter’s point. But trust is important and must be cultivated. Careless facts may bring an emotional response. But what happens when someone swayed by the emotional impact discovers that the facts were bad?

This commenter continued:

Pastors use facts in their sermons mostly as part of the “story” often creationist “facts” are thrown in as part of a larger story – the evil of modern society, secular humanism, etc. so while a pastor may even agree afterward that the details were off, it’s the story, the felt need to include those “facts” in the first place that needs to be addressed. In that case, because its often so central to their messaging, yeah – likely needs to be addressed at a later date – and in a non-confrontational context.

Well yes, but perhaps this is story telling taken a step too far. Trust is precious … far too precious to throw away for the momentary gain of emotional impact. Could it be a temporary gain but a long term loss? This does need to be addressed, but better yet avoided altogether.

A fourth commenter reflected on the impact of hearing a pastor who “got everything wrong” on a scientific topic:

I liked the guy very much, but after that I could not take him seriously. It caused me to reconsider everything he taught[.]

Pastors, and for that matter all Christian leaders, need to cultivate, guard, and protect the trust that others place in them. This is true for the sake of believers in the church and for the sake of nonbelievers who may come in, either as guests or on their own (God given) initiative and interest.

Pastors cannot, of course, master every subject. We don’t expect supermen or women in the pulpit (at least I don’t). Cultivating trust really means being careful to do the necessary homework and to consult reliable sources. Christian leaders and teachers need a hypersensitive truth filter to evaluate information from a variety of sources. Rather than training in any specific discipline, they need to cultivate critical thinking skills that can be applied to any discipline.

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Posted in Church, Pastoring and Preaching, Problems for Faith

Adam’s Ancestors

LivingstoneOne of the (many) highlights of the Evolution and Christian Faith Workshop in Oxford earlier this month was the plenary lecture by David Livingstone, Professor of Geography and Intellectual History at Queen’s University, Belfast. This lecture was based on a chapter in his recent book Dealing with Darwin: Place, Politics, and Rhetoric in Religious Engagements with Evolution. I’ve ordered the book and will post on some of this in the near future.

Several years ago I had read and posted on David Livingstone’s book Adam’s Ancestors: Race, Religion, and the Politics of Human Origins. This is a book I enjoyed reading, so it was a real pleasure to meet him and to have an opportunity to talk about the book among other things. Given our current focus on the question of Adam, Adam’s Ancestors is a book that warrants another look and some edited reposts. It is a readable, but thorough and academic, book looking at the history of the idea of pre-adamic or non-adamic humans in western Christian thinking from the early church through the middle ages, the explorations of the fifteenth and sixteenth century, the debates on racial supremacy, and on to the present day. The book presents an interesting survey and puts many factors into perspective.

The Challenge of Adam has been developing over time, it didn’t appear abruptly with Darwin and the theory of evolution. In fact Darwin is something of a late comer to the problem. The story of Adam and Eve has been something of a puzzle through out Christian history. Inconsistencies in the Genesis record were recognized very early on – but pointed the church fathers to an allegorical interpretation of the story while retaining Adam and Eve as unique persons.

Origen (ca.185-254 AD) in On First Principles Book 4 as translated from the Greek.

And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? and again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally. (Anti-Nicene Fathers Vol. 4, p. 365)

Peter Bouteneff in his book Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives summarized Origen’s nuanced view as follows: “Yet the Holy Spirit dictated not history but stories that contained complexities and difficulties, with the intention of inviting readers into the deepest and most serious engagement.” (p.118)

Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 335-394+ AD) is another early thinker who struggled with these ideas, according to Livingstone he appears “to have thought that Adam’s physical body was derived from animal forebears.” (p. 6-7).

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Posted in Adam, Creation, Image of God

Blood From Stone … But Unfortunately, He Got Everything Wrong

Mary Schweitzer is a paleontologist who specializes in molecular paleontology, that is in the detection and interpretation of original molecular fragments in well-preserved fossil specimens. She is best known for discovering what appears to be biomolecules, remnants of soft tissue, blood cells, vessels and such, in ancient fossils including a 68 million year old Tyrannosaurus Rex (One nicknamed Big Mike, not Stan the one pictured here which is in the Natural History Museum at Oxford).

Her discovery of soft tissue remnants is controversial as the standard mechanism for fossilization would not permit these biomolecules remnants to persist in a specimen so old. The conditions would have to be rather special – rapid burial to protect the corpse from scavengers, increasingly deep burial in an appropriate formation, followed by careful excavation and prompt analysis when the fossil is found. Even then skepticism remains. This is an example of good science with criticism and response. A series of results with increasing reliability is challenged and tested. Prof. Schweitzer has described her results in the scientific literature, but also in a number of popular venues. Her 2010 article Blood From Stone in Scientific American is fascinating if you can manage to get a hold of it.

Creationists have jumped on this discovery as evidence for the failure of the old earth, deep time model of origins. This strikes me as a predictable, but rather ridiculous response. Schweitzer’s discovery, assuming it holds up as now appears likely, tells us a great deal about these ancient creatures and about the conditions of fossilization. Soft tissue remnants in samples many hundreds of thousands of years old is uncontroversial however. In fact Schweitzer and colleagues used comparisons between such specimens and their dinosaur specimens to validate their methods and results on the T Rex. Contra Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis … There is nothing here that supports a view in any fashion consistent with the young earth interpretation of Genesis.

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Posted in Creation, Evangelicalism, The Fossil Record

The Author of Life

IMG_1140I had the privilege of being in Oxford last week (UK! not OH or MS). The picture to the right was taken from the top of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. You can click on the image for a larger version. I’d never been to Oxford before and the town and University are impressive. The highlight of the week, though, was not the place but the people. I was in Oxford for a workshop with grantees from the Evolution and Christian Faith program administered by BioLogos. It was nice to see Scot and Kris as well as a number of other people I had met at the first workshop last year.

My job (or one of my jobs) at the workshop both this year and last was to moderate a group where grantees discussed their projects and the progress made to date. The creative effort involved in the broad range of projects underway is impressive. In one project The Author of Life now nearing completion Diane Sweeney (a high school biology teacher) and Joshua Hayashi (a school chaplain) are producing a multimedia curricula with seven short videos (about 6-7 minutes) to encourage high school students (and others) to think deeply about God’s role as Creator. Their collective experience as chaplain and teacher shapes the approach they take to reach students, either Christian or non-Christian who have questions and concerns about the relationship between science and faith.

The questions are provocative – The first episode challenges students to think about the tendency to compartmentalize things like school, biology and faith. And it isn’t just students – adults do the same thing all the time, looking at the world through different glasses at church and at school, at church and at work. This isn’t the way it should be. As Christians we should be able to integrate all areas of our life together and see things differently. “Jesus himself was fully God and fully man. He was theology and biology integrated. He is the Author of Life. Studying his creation can only bring us closer to him.”

These are shot in Hawaii and the scenery is stunning. Josh talks about the way living with two sets of glasses can make doubts, fears, and questions seem immense and unanswerable. The Sermon on the Mount turned things around for him. Two sets of glasses are unnecessary. God sent his son as a human, material of this world, biological mechanisms and all. Quoting C.S. Lewis he concludes:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Have you ever felt the need to where two sets of glasses? One for church and one for the rest of life?

What impact does this have?

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Posted in Creation, Resources for Discussion

Responses to the Traditional View of Adam

creation of Adam dsIn the final major essay in Four Views on the Historical Adam William Barrick argued for a traditional young earth view of Adam as the unique, supernaturally created, seminal father of all humankind. His view was outlined in the previous post on the book: The Historicity of Adam is a Gospel Issue. In this post we will look at the responses offered by Denis Lamoureux, John Walton, and Jack Collins as well as William Barrick’s rejoinder to their comments.

Denis Lamoureux agrees with Barrick’s summary of the reality and meaning of sin but not with his conclusion that this depends entirely on the historicity of Adam. He feels that Barrick’s strategy of connecting the historicity of Adam with the historicity of Christ and the resurrection, thereby making it a gospel issue is unwarranted. A serious regard for scripture does not require this.

The gospel is about Jesus Christ, not Adam. The gospel is about the reality of sin, not about how sin entered the world. The gospel is about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, not specifically for Adam’s sin. And it is because of the gospel that we are called “Christ-ians” and not “Adam-ites.” (p. 229)

At many places in his essay Barrick responds to statements made by Peter Enns in The Evolution of Adam – in fact this seems to be in his sights more than any of the immediate views presented in this book. Denis is correct however that a criticism of Pete’s view is often a criticism of his as well. He disagrees with Barrick that accommodation to a human perspective, allowing ancient cosmology into the text for example, denigrates ancient Israel or the Bible and it certainly does not impugn God’s moral integrity (all claims Barrick makes). Rather, we have to take the text we have before us (which does include ancient cosmology) whether we like it or not.

Lucas_Cranach_God_as_Creator_Luthers_BibleLamoureux also points out that Christian tradition is not inerrant – and the traditional view is not necessarily the correct view. Martin Luther’s 1534 Bible features a diagram of the universe  using the ancient cosmology and Luther’s lectures on creation in Genesis indicate that he believed this cosmology was accurate – including the firmament and waters above. We need to be open to revisions in tradition as we study scripture in each new generation.

John Walton believes that Barrick consistently misunderstood or misrepresented what he means by archetype. He equates archetypal with allegorical and this is not what Walton means by archetypal. Rather he (Walton) argues that the authors in scripture were using Adam in an archetypal manner and that this is the role that Adam plays in their arguments. An archtype can be historical, but need not be historical.

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The Historicity of Adam is a Gospel Issue

michelangelo's Adam 2The final major essay in Four Views on the Historical Adam is by William D. Barrick. In his chapter Barrick argues for a traditional young earth view of Adam as the unique, supernaturally created, seminal father of all humankind. He argues that this is central to the biblical story and the Christian worldview. If Adam is not historical we must wonder why there is a need for Jesus. According to Barrick “[t]hat makes the historicity of Adam a gospel issue.” (p. 222 – emphasis in the original). Barrick’s stress on the importance of a young earth and a historical Adam exactly as described in Genesis 1-3 is rooted in his approach to scripture (what we might call his theology of scripture) and his understanding of the gospel story conveyed in scripture.

In Barrick’s view, which he calls the traditional view, a historical Adam at the original man from whom all human beings descend is foundational to a biblical understanding of God’s creative activity, the history of the human race, the nature of mankind, the origin and nature of sin, the existence and nature of death, and the reality of salvation from sin; it is foundational to the progressive account of the historical events recorded in Genesis, … “and perhaps most importantly, foundational to a biblical understanding of Scripture’s authority, inspiration, and inerrancy.” (list and quote p. 199, emphasis mine)

This is important – everything in Barrick’s view rests on his approach to scripture as inspired and incapable of error of any sort. In his view the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of scripture and protected it from all error. This leads to very strict readings of the intended meaning and prevents serious consideration of the idea that mistaken understandings may have been included. His theology and, to be fair, the theology of many other Christians rests on this approach to scripture.

First, the traditional view commonly affirms that God gave the Genesis account of creation to Moses by special revelation. Thus the narrator is both omniscient and reliable, because the ultimate author is God himself. After all, if Adam was truly the first human being, there were no human eyewitnesses to his creation. Additionally, Adam could not have described the making of the woman, because he was in a deep sleep throughout the divine procedure. The only eyewitnesses are God and the angels. The only alternative to divine revelation would be an unlikely angelic report. …

Second, traditionalists take the position that the declarations of Genesis bear the stamp of divine truth, historical fact, and historiographical accuracy. (p. 199-200)

He believes that the suggestion that the account contains mistaken ancient Near Eastern conceptions of cosmology “impugns God’s moral integrity.”

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Posted in Adam, Creation | Tagged

Let Creation Rejoice

100_0119 dsA couple of months ago I received a copy of the new book Let Creation Rejoice: Biblical Hope and Ecological Crisis by Jonathan Moo and Robert White courtesy of the publisher, IVP Academic. With other books in progress, this is the first chance I’ve had to dig into it. I’ve been looking for a book that would help us make a foray into the area of environmental crisis and global warming. Here we have a start. Let Creation Rejoice looks at the scientific evidence for threats to the environment arising from the actions of mankind and at the hope and mission that Christians have and the difference this can make. From the preface:

Yet what is inescapably different about today is that never in the history of human life have so many people been threatened by the changes our planet is undergoing; never have some of the planetary changes we are witnessing occurred so quickly, with so little time for adaptation; and never before has one species (us) been identified as the primary cause of such rapid, large-scale changes. It is this recognition of our vulnerability and our culpability, along with the fear that things are on the verge of getting much, much worse and there is little we can do about it, that lies behind much of the despair so prevalent in this age. …

This book, though, is about hope …

As we say in the first chapter, it is our desire that readers come away from this book with a renewed appreciation of the wonderful world that God has created, as well as a firm understanding of its present condition and the potential that we have to affect it. But most of all we aim to encourage profound trust in the Creator and Redeemer God whose faithfulness is the only and ultimate ground of our hope. (pp. 8-9)

Moo and White are well qualified to address this issue and their book is worth a careful look. Jonathan Moo is an assistant professor of biblical studies at Whitworth University in Spokane Washington. According to his biography at the Faraday Institute he holds undergraduate degrees in Biology and English (Lake Forest College), and graduate degrees in Wildlife Ecology (MS, Utah State University), and Theology (MA Old Testament, MA New Testament, both from Gordon-Conwell, PhD, Cambridge). Robert White is professor of geophysics at the University of Cambridge UK, PhD Cambridge.

Over the next several weeks I intend to work through this book, probably about a chapter a week – whatever works best, starting in a couple of weeks. This is an important issue – with far greater consequence that debates about, oh, say, the historicity of Adam. I hope it generates serious thought and a good discussion.

The first full chapter of the book is short, and sets the stage for what is to come in the later chapters. This should give a taste for the book and the shape our discussions will take.

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Posted in Creation, Environmentalism, Eschatology | Tagged ,