Scot McKnight has a new book coming out at the end of this month, Adam and the Genome, co-authored written with Dennis Venema. Dennis is a biologist – and he handles the genome in this book. Scot looks at what this means, or could mean, as we read Scripture. I’ve read or heard parts of these ideas from Scot and Dennis over the last several years and look forward to reading and interacting with the book over the next few months. (You can get more details and read an excerpt here.)
The Origin of Sin and Death. The question of Adam raises a number of issues for Christians, some are centered on Paul’s use of Adam and his contrast of Christ with Adam: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned … so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12,19) Sin, death, and victory over death play a crucial role in Christian theology. Some Christians claim that Adam is thus the foundation for the work of Christ. Talk about high stakes! Many others look at the question a little differently. Scot addresses Paul’s use of Adam in the context of first century Judaism in Adam and the Genome.
The Image of God. But the origin of Sin is not the only issue. Adam and evolution, common descent, also raises the question of human uniqueness. If we are in one lineage with hominoids and other primates. what does it mean to be created in the image of God. Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 bring this to the fore.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:27-28)
what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: (Psalm 8:4-6)
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
All Christians agree that the heavens and the earth are intelligently designed for a purpose. The God we worship is the creator of all. The marvel, beauty and wonder of creation make known the Creator. The classical design arguments of William Paley and the more recent Intelligent Design movement spearheaded by the Discovery Institute have complicated the landscape. Intelligent design is seen by many people as inherently anti-evolution and anti-science. This shouldn’t be the case.
Both J.B. (Jim) Stump (Science and Christianity) and Denis Lamoureux (Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes) dig into the concept of intelligent design. The discussion in Jim’s book provides a brief history of creationism and the Intelligent Design movement. Denis provides a deeper look at the issues from a faith perspective. The Intelligent Design movement is an attempt “to show that natural explanations of certain phenomena are inadequate and that the best explanation appeals to an intelligent designer.” (S&C p. 53) Although proponents claim that this isn’t a “god of the gaps” approach, many of us are unconvinced, especially when it comes to biology and the diversity of life. Stumps notes: “They are adamant that they have not resorted to intelligence only because there are no other explanations but because it is the best explanation, all things considered.” (S&C p. 53) One problem is that little phrase “all things considered.” Because there is (of yet anyway) no positive scientific proof for design distinct from natural process, and because our current state of knowledge is not exhaustive, “all things considered” necessarily encompasses many gaps. It seems unwise to put too much weight on Intelligent Design as a scientific argument for the existence of God.
Intelligent design as a Christian conviction. Denis Lamoureux makes it clear where he stands on Intelligent Design as a scientific argument used to counter evolution: Continue reading
What does the book of Job mean for us today? What is the message and application? John Walton and Tremper Longman III conclude their book How to Read Job by addressing these questions.
The book of Job provides answers – important for us today as they were for the original audience. Christians often turn to Job, and Pastors recommend Job, in times of suffering. Here, we think, we may find both the answer to suffering and the recipe for endurance. This is not really the case. We do gain some insight into suffering – but no real explanations.
We cannot dismiss all suffering as the just desert of sin. “We know that inherent sinfulness is not the answer the book promulgates because the text makes it clear throughout that Job is considered righteous. … No one is without sin, but we cannot just pull out that theological trump card when we try to understand our human plight.” (p. 163)
We will not always find an answer to the why of suffering, and we need not ask. Some will claim that God is inscrutable (impossible to understand or interpret) and this is true, but he is not inconsistent and capricious. “We may agree that God is inscrutable in the sense that he cannot be fully known, but in the book of Job it is God’s reasons that are beyond are knowing and beyond our ability to infer. … The argument against inscrutability is that we need not seek answers that will justify Job’s or our experiences; we know enough to believe that God is wise.” (p. 164)
But, you say, God’s ways are above our ways, certainly there must be a purpose to suffering. The book of Job does not address the question of purpose. “When we look to the past, we are seeking reasons. When we look to the future, we are seeking purposes. The former attempt should be abandoned and the latter held loosely.” We can, sometimes, find tragedy serving a purpose in our lives … but not always, not (for example) for the one who suffers a tragic death. God has a purpose for his world, and the unfolding of the world is according to his purposes – but that doesn’t necessarily give us a sense of purpose in every event.
“We cannot out-God God.” (p. 166) God’s first speech from the storm makes this point. Neither Job nor we could do a better job of organizing the cosmos than God has done and continues to do.
Are there any moral obligations on us as humans?
Is terrorism wrong?
Is incest wrong?
How old is the age of consent? (Is this concept meaningful?)
Are children (or wives) property?
Is gender equality always good?
Is racism always wrong?
Is infanticide wrong?
Why shouldn’t the powerful man demand sexual satisfaction?
The list could go on. The answer to each of these questions requires some kind of moral judgment or standard. Everyone has a context and standard for their judgment. Tim Keller digs into “the problem of morals” in the next chapter of his book Making Sense of God.
First, it is important to make a point that Keller generally makes when discussing this topic. Moral behavior (in the context of a culture) is not confined to religious or irreligious people. Atheism does not lead to moral bankruptcy or religious conviction to moral stability. “Anyone who tries to claim that atheists are either individually or as a whole less moral than others will run up against common sense and experience.” (p. 177) The key question isn’t “what makes people moral?” but “what is the foundation for our moral judgments?” Any argument that atheism leads to evil or religion leads to good (or vice versa) will run into some real historical complications. To begin with, both atheism and theism have been used to justify horrendous (in my judgment) evil.
The question that Keller addresses (and one that he has found central to many discussions with skeptics) centers on our foundation for moral judgments. Do we have a moral duty to some absolute definition of right and wrong, good and evil? Is there any reason to view morality as anything more than a (temporary) culturally defined set of functional values? Our modern Western society places a significant value on the worth of every human life. If this defines morality, “it could be claimed that secular Western society is one of the most moral cultures in history.” (p. 179) Keller suggests that many people have an intrinsic certainty that this kind of humanism is simply “right,” but no foundation for this certainty, no rational reason.
Denis Lamoureux has a new book out: Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes! In this engaging and readable book he builds on his strong background in biology and theology to explore the question of evolutionary creation. The first chapter, Trapped in “Either/Or” Thinking sets the stage. Denis opens with the story of a student in class angry at her parents, Christian school, and pastors for teaching her that “Satan had concocted the so-called theory of evolution,” that she “had to choose between evolution and creation” and that “evolutionists cannot be true Christians.” He moves on to tell his personal story of being raised as a Christian then becoming an atheist in college convinced that evolution was true and that Christianity wasn’t. He returned to faith while in the military stationed on Cyprus, but was still trapped in either/or thinking. He became convinced that evolution was a lie against which Christians should battle and believed that all “real” Christians accepted a young earth and a six day creation.
Denis felt called to engage in the battle between science (evolution) and Christian faith. He began by pursuing a PhD in theology. In this course of study he learned to view the Bible through eyes of faith, but more sophistication; after being shaken to the core by a revered professor: “one day after class I cornered my professor in a hallway and asked him directly, “What do you think about the idea that the world was created in six literal days about six thousand years ago?” He answered bluntly, “It is an error.” I can still remember how the word “error” rattled my soul. … This was the very first time in my life I had met a real Christian who said that creation in six days is wrong.” (p. 28) This was a first step toward understanding.
Willing to accept an old earth, evolution still seemed a worthy foe, synonymous with atheism. A second PhD in biology, focused on the evolution of the jaw, convinced him that the theory of evolution is grounded in solid empirical evidence. Transitional fossils abound when one knows what to look for. Denis outlines some of this evidence in his second chapter Opening God’s Two Books. He started this journey with conviction of a call from the Lord to defeat evolution and defend (young earth) creation. He goes on: “In retrospect, I now see that God did indeed call me to attack atheistic interpretations of evolution and defend the belief that the world is his creation.” (p. 44) The mature call as he now understands it didn’t take the form he had originally imagined, but God spoke to him where he was and prepared him for the task.
We’ve been looking at How to Read Job by John Walton and Tremper Longman III. The first three sections of the book focus on Job in its ancient Near Eastern audience. As Old Testament scholars, both Longman and Walton agree that a meaning detached from the ancient context will necessarily go awry. As Christians, however, we believe that there is more to the text than the ancient audience realized.
After all, now Job appears in a broader context – the canon – and we need to read the book in light of the whole canon, including the New Testament. The New Testament gives us an inspired continuation of the story of redemption that goes back to Genesis; thus we can look back on the earlier story in the context of its continuation. (p. 148)
This is something like reading a novel, especially a good mystery novel or watching a movie or TV show.. The clues present in the early part of the story make more sense when the outcome is known. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (i.e. the Old Testament). Luke 24, along with other passages in Paul and the Gospel’s make this point. Thus, for Christians it is important to consider the Old Testament in the context of this fulfillment. Walton and Longman give some guidelines. (These are paraphrased from p. 150-151.)
- Always begin by reading the Old Testament passage in the context of its original setting before reading it from the perspective of the New Testament.
- Christ’s relationship to the OT is more than a handful of Messianic prophecies – but we should also be careful of seeing Christ everywhere.
- There must be an organic connection between the OT and its christological significance. (“Organic” needs some discussion.)
- The NT citations of the OT are not always based on a historical-grammatical reading of the OT. These are in keeping with first century methods of interpretation.
- Different books and even different parts of the same book may point to Christ in different ways.
- The connection can be on a thematic level – like the connection of Christ with wisdom and the importance of wisdom in Job.
- We must reflect intellectual humility when describing connections not clearly expressed in the NT.
What is the difference between a dead dog and a dead chemistry professor lying in the middle of the road?
I recently picked up a copy of the second edition of Henry (Fritz) Schaefer’s book Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? Fritz Schaefer was a professor of chemistry at the University of California Berkeley for 18 years (1969-1987) before moving to the University of Georgia, where he has now been for almost 30 years. I was a graduate student at Berkeley when Fritz was on the faculty and participated in a lunch gathering he had with Christian graduate students for a year. His influence as a Christian and a productive and respected scientist was an invaluable example for me.
This book arose from a series of lectures he has given over the years. He got started lecturing on science and Christianity in response to an incident from his first experience teaching freshman chemistry at Berkeley in January 1984. To cover time after a bit of a technical failure with an expected demonstration … well let’s read his own telling of the story:
I said, “While we’re waiting for the moles, let me tell you what happened to me in church yesterday morning.” I was desperate. There was great silence among those 680 students. They had come will all manner of anticipations about freshman chemistry, but stories about church were not among them!
At least as surprised as the students, I continued, “Let me tell you what my Sunday School teacher said yesterday.” The students became very quiet. “I was hoping the group at church would give me some support, moral spiritual, or whatever, for dealing with this large class, but I received none. In fact, the Sunday School teacher first told anecdotes about his own freshman chemistry instructor, who kicked the dog, beat his wife, and so on. Then he asked the class, in honor of me:
“What is the difference between a dead dog lying in the middle of the road and a dead chemistry professor lying in the middle of the road?“
The class was excited about this and I hadn’t even gotten to the punch line. They roared with laughter. … “the difference between a dead dog lying in the middle of the road and a dead chemistry professor lying in the middle of the road is that there are skid marks in front of the dead dog.” It was a new joke at the time, and the class thought it was outstanding. (p. 3-4)
After the class a number of students came down to talk with him – several of whom simply wanted to know what he had been doing in church. Some of the students asked if he would give a lecture on the topic – the first such lecture was in April 1984; the 400th in the summer of 2016 (from a listing in Appendix B of the book). I was a TA for freshman chemistry one of the terms Fritz taught the class – quite possibly January 1984; the timing is about right.