Wednesday, May 30, 2012


When Uni and I visited Washington, DC this spring, we visited Ford’s Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was shot.  Across the street from the theatre is the house where Lincoln was carried to and where he died.  It has been converted into a Lincoln museum, with the room where he died restored to the way it was on that day.  There are also many artifacts on display.  What impressed me the most was the winding staircase leading to the third floor, visible from the street through large windows.  At the center of the staircase was a huge stack of books all the way from the first to the third floor, every one of which was a book about Lincoln.  As I walked slowly down the stairs, my eyes searched among the thousands for those I had read and found a few.  [They weren’t really books, but a metal sculpture made to look like actual books.]

The curator informed us that Abraham Lincoln was the second most written about person in history.  The first of course, was Jesus.  Lincoln was a controversial man, beloved by many, hated by some, credited or blamed for much social progress and many social evils.  And there were books in the stack “proving” every possible viewpoint.

But Lincoln comes in second.  He was, we could say, a piker when compared to Jesus, whose beloved disciple John even said, “Many other things Jesus did, which if they were written out one by one, I suppose the world itself wouldn’t have room for the books written” (John 21:25).  And that’s just the things He did.  John of course, had no idea how many books of interpretations and opinions concerning what he did and taught would be written over the next two millennia.  And much more than Lincoln, Jesus has been loved, hated, credited and blamed.  He is still at the center of theological and ethical controversy.

I agree with Ross Douthat (BAD RELIGION) that Jesus “is a paradoxical character” and that heresy, in a sense, begins with an inability to live with these paradoxes.  So our modern heresies, like the ancient ones, pick and choose which aspects of Jesus’ person are desirable and construct a “Jesus” more to their liking – sort of a “Dial-A-Jesus.”

Nowhere is this Dial-A-Jesus tendency more evident than in the current debate over sexual ethics, especially in the area of gay marriage.  We are presented by some, with a Jesus who, it would seem would not only publicly endorse laws to permit gay marriage, He would no doubt, endorse and bless the act itself.

We are told, correctly, that nowhere in the Gospels, does Jesus condemn homosexual behavior.  We are also probably correctly told that Jesus was totally accepting of those whose sexual mores were in contradiction to the Old Testament Law.  And of course, this is understood to imply a number of things:  that He opposed the Law itself; that He was accepting of homosexual behavior as well as of other sexual behavior that violated the Law.

There are two favorite sayings of Jesus quoted by those who desire this nice, accepting, amoral Jesus.

The first is Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, that you may not be judged.”  Ripped out of its context this allegedly proves that Jesus is non-judgmental and is making a blanket condemnation of those who are.  It also is used to show that somehow He is invalidating the Old Testament Law as well as any moral pronouncements.  But this saying is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, in which Jesus not only endorses the Law’s moral pronouncements, He actually takes them a step further.  See especially Matthew 5:27, 28, “You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust for her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The other favorite saying is John 8:7, “Let the one who is without sin first cast a stone at her.”  Again, the context tells us a bit more.  The religious leaders were pressing Jesus to make a decision in a capital case in which only the woman was on trial, and no matter what, His decision would have been the wrong one.  And Jesus does tell the woman afterward, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

In the Gospels we are not presented with a nice guy Jesus, who did not hold Himself or others to a moral code.  Rather we have a morally uncompromising Jesus.  Jesus didn’t accept immoral behavior, He accepted immoral people!  He forgave people their sins because of His love for them and because, as God, He had the ability to do so.  And as the God-man, He would ultimately die for the penalty of their sin – including mine.

I agree that there is too much Pharisaism and hypocrisy in our modern culture wars.  I believe that Jesus Himself would have condemned this moralism and hypocrisy.  But we need to recognize that Jesus was so much more than a religious nice guy.  He was God Himself.  And He was the perfect Man.  And He loved “sinners,” myself included.

And please, let’s not enlist Him on our side; let’s accept Him as He is and for who He is.

                 THE IMITATION OF CHRIST

Saturday, May 26, 2012


I was older when I finally finished college, so my classes were a lot more interesting to me.  I took a philosophy survey class which I especially enjoyed, taught by a professor whose name, as I recall, was Dr. Maloney (though he was usually referred to by the students as Dr. Baloney – not in his presence of course).  As we studied each of the various schools of philosophy, Dr. Maloney would convincingly argue each position.  I recall one conversation which went something like this.

Dr. Maloney:  “Mr. Nietzsche says that Christianity is a slave religion with a slave morality.  It is not for the superman.  What do you think of Mr. Nietzsche’s analysis Mr. Ball?”  (Dr. Maloney knew that I was a pastor and we enjoyed a friendly adversarial relationship.)

Me:  “I agree with Mr. Nietzsche.  I believe he had a correct understanding of Christianity.”

Dr. Maloney:  “You’ll have to explain?”  (It wasn’t often that I or anyone else could stump him).

Me:  “Christianity is not for the superman as Nietzsche said.  Christianity is for the losers!  Mr. Nietzsche’s problem was not that he misunderstood Christianity, it’s that he rejected it.”

I suppose that I could or should have at this point, directed him to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where he expounds on this theme in chapter 1:
26.  “For look at your call, brothers, that not many are wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many well born.
27.  But God chose the foolish things of the world, in order to shame the wise and God chose the weak things of the world to shame the mighty,
28.  And God chose the lowborn of the world, and the despised, the nonexistent, to nullify the things that exist.
29.  So that no flesh could boast in the presence of God.”

Paul was writing to a church that, like many 21st century churches, thought they had it all together, even though they were riddled with problems, many of which were contradictory to their faith and position in Christ.  Paul had to deal methodically with each, one at a time.

The first problem was their divisions over the various preachers and teachers that had ministered to their congregation.  “I am of Paul”; “I am of Apollos”; “I am of Kephas (Peter)”; and “I am of Christ” (1:12).  Paul saw through their problem:  it was not simply a party spirit.  It went much deeper than that.  It was an arrogance concerning intellect.  The Corinthians were apparently a highly intelligent, educated group.  They were Greeks and had been exposed to the philosophical systems of the day.  They were following preachers as they had followed philosophical schools.

And one of the dangers, then as now, for the believer in Christ, was that of tying one’s faith to his intellect, of believing that our faith in Christ owes something to our superior reasoning or intelligence.  But Paul takes them back to their conversion, back to his first visit to them, and to his own call to ministry.
17. “…Christ sent me…to preach the gospel, not in wisdom of speech, that the Cross of Christ may not be made empty.”

We cannot suppose that our conversion to Christ is due to our own intelligence, or to use Paul’s word, our wisdom (sophia).  The message we have believed is, to those outside of Christ, pure nonsense.

Paul was no anti-intellectual.  He was himself from a family that identified themselves as Pharisees, the strict ultra-orthodox party of the Jews.  He was educated in the rigid rabbinical schools of Jerusalem.  And yet he was also a Roman citizen by birth, a not too common situation for a Jew.  We can gather that he was learned in the Greek philosophers and poets, as he could quote them at times.  He was capable of clear cut, rational arguments.  He was one of the most intelligent and learned persons of his day.  And yet he recognized that it was not his learned arguments that won him or anyone else to Christ.  Actually, the message that he proclaimed make no sense to its hearers, no matter how intelligent they were.
18.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved – to us – it is the power of God.
19.  For it is written:
      ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
      And I will nullify the intelligence of the intelligent.'
20.  Where is the wise?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the debater of this age?  Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
21.  For since in the wisdom of God, the world did not come to know God through its wisdom, God was well pleased through the foolishness of the proclaimed message to save those who believe.”

It would almost seem that Paul is saying that “the wisdom of the world” can be a hindrance to faith.  I don’t believe he means that “the wisdom of the world” is useless; I’m sure he would agree that it is of tremendous value, and if he could have seen the amazing technological developments of our modern day, he would still have no problem saying what he said.  When it comes to understanding God’s message, God’s plan, all our intellectual, rational, scientific and technological expertise is absolutely useless.

Paul sees two diverse schools of thought which are in opposition to his message:
22. “ Since indeed Jews are asking for signs and Greeks are seeking wisdom
23.  but we are proclaiming a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

The Jews had been seeking and awaiting their Messiah for centuries.  And many still are.  They were waiting for one who would give them political deliverance and set them up in His eternal kingdom.  Jesus claimed to be that person.  [The title “Christ” is from the Greek  Christos, anointed One, and corresponds to the Hebrew Meshiach, which in English is usually rendered Messiah.]  But Jesus was crucified; He was not only put to death by those from whom He was supposed to deliver, but His death was that which was reserved for the vilest of criminals.  He was exposed to public shame.  This was a stumbler for the Jews.

But to the Greeks the whole idea was itself “foolishness.”  It doesn’t fit with their intellectual scheme.  I have heard and read of the whole concept of the cross as being abhorrent to many today.  Why would God demand the death of His Son?  Why the need for such a penalty?  It makes no sense – to the world’s way of thinking.

And amazingly Paul does not attempt to justify the crucifixion to either Jew or Greek.  He simply tells the Corinthians (and us):
24.  “but to the called, both Jews and Greeks – Christ, God’s power and God’s wisdom,
25.  because God’s foolish thing is wiser than men and God’s weak thing is mightier than men!”

God’s wisdom is way beyond the world’s and is, in a very real sense, incomprehensible.

So how are we to relate the gospel to present day “Greeks” and “Jews”?  Are we to attempt to argue our case using “the wisdom of the world”?  Or are we to simply proclaim the message ignoring the arguments of those who do not believe?

I believe that Paul gives us an example by his own practice.  He realized that he had the truth and was not ashamed to say so.  But we’re told that he “reasoned.”  We see him being, as he says elsewhere, “all things to all, that I might by all means save some.”  We are to demonstrate that the “wisdom of this world” does not necessarily contradict the Word of God.  All truth is God’s truth

And we need to recognize that God chose us, not because we were intelligent enough to choose Him, not because we had something to offer Him, but because we had nothing to offer.  Our salvation is ultimately all of His doing.
30.  “But you are from Him in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom to us from God, even righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
31  So that just as it’s written
 ‘The one who boasts
let him boast in the Lord!'”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I first saw Ross Douthat on Bill Moyers’ TV program Moyers & Company.  I flicked the TV on in the middle of their dialog as they discussed his new book, but was intrigued with what I heard.  Douthat came across as a traditional Christian and a political conservative, but was able to hold his own with the great liberal interviewer.  I was impressed with his remarks and felt I had to read his book.  I had barely begun reading it when I saw an interview with him in Christianity Today, May 2012, which impressed me even more.

His book is Bad Religion:  How we Became a Nation of Heretics.  Douthat is a New York Times columnist and converted Roman Catholic.  From reading the book it was pretty easy to ascertain that his Catholicism leans toward traditionalism and his economics leans toward Republicanism, though his thinking is broad and well-informed.

Douthat claims that “For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is:  not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics” (page 6).  This seems to be his thesis.

America, in his view, does not suffer from a lack of religion, as many wring their hands over.  Nor does it suffer from too much religion, as others wring their hands over.   “…America’s problem,” he tells us “isn’t too much religion, or too little of it.  It’s bad religion:  the slow motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place” (page 3).

Douthat sees orthodoxy and heresy as sort of like conjoined twins (my analogy) each of whom needs the other to stay alive.  Orthodoxy needs heresy to maintain its balance, to keep it from becoming “rote and brittle.”  And heresy needs orthodoxy as its standard; one can’t deviate unless one has something from which to deviate.

But something has happened in America.  Orthodoxy has become weaker and weaker while its evil twin has become dominant.

The greater part of Douthat’s book is devoted to a tour of America’s religious history over the years since World War II.  As one who has been an observer and student of this same history, I found it extremely interesting.  Much of the data presented is familiar and I found very little new information.  But what is striking is how Douthat ties it all together to make his point.  And it seems that he has shown a continual trend toward heresy’s dominance.

Douthat sees Christianity as full of, almost consisting of, paradoxes:  God is both transcendent and immanent; faith plus works are required; Christ is both fully human and fully divine; the Scriptures are both human and divine.  We could list many more.  Heresy, in a sense, begins with an inability to live with these paradoxes, and most of the heresies Douthat writes of are overemphases on one aspect of the paradox, to the forfeiture of the other.

In the first half of his book, which he entitles “Christianity in Crisis,” Douthat traces the decline of American Christianity.  But he begins by describing what he sees as a religious revival following WWII.  Great spokesmen were emerging:  Billy Graham, Fulton Sheen and others.  There were Christian intellectuals speaking to us as well as a great amount of literature, even the movies.  During this period Mainline Protestantism was enjoying growth in numbers and in influence, although Douthat refers to it as a “twilight glow.”  The National Council of Churches was at its zenith.  Evangelicalism was escaping from its fundamentalist cocoon.  Catholicism was experiencing a “golden age” with an “unparalleled” influence both culturally and politically.  The African-American church was becoming emboldened with the movement toward Civil Rights.

In the 60s and 70s two major trends are noted:  the growth of conservative (i.e. evangelical) churches and denominations and the decline of Mainline and organized Christianity, the latter being seen as “the major religious story.”  Douthat devotes a long chapter to dealing with the crises, political and otherwise, of this period:  Vietnam, Civil Rights, the sexual revolution, prosperity.  All of these affected and were affected by American Christianity.

The third chapter begins by telling us, “Amid such sweeping challenges to the faith, there were two obvious paths that the Christian church could take:  accommodation or resistance.”  He devotes a chapter to each, both of which are still with us today.  In the chapter entitled  “Accommodation,” he describes how much of Mainline Christianity attempted to unite liberal theology with secular trends.  Offensive doctrines were discarded along with restrictive sexual mores, until mainline denominations seemed to be in the vanguard of secular thinking, while their members were bailing out in droves.

The resistance to the accommodation took many forms, all of which are seen as in some ways ineffective:  conservative political backlash, the inerrancy debate and others.  The trend toward secularization seemed to be slowing.  “But” Douthat tells us, “the fact that America wasn’t rapidly secularizing didn’t mean that it was returning to Christian orthodoxy.  Like the accommodationists before them, the resistance project assumed that Christianity’s chief peril was growing unbelief, when the greater peril was really the rival religious beliefs – pseudo-Christian and heretical …” (page 131).  Interestingly he sees the trend to identifying evangelicalism with partisan politics as having a negative effect on evangelicalism, both as to principles and reputation.  Ultimately this period left us with a growing number of “nones” and “unchurched Christians,” which “provided crucial constituencies for the alternative theologies that we will take up in Part II” (page 145).  “So the waning of Christian orthodoxy has led to the spread of Christian heresy rather than to the disappearance of religion altogether (page 145).

The second half of the book entitled, “The Age of Heresy” was to me the most entertaining, perhaps because Douthat seems to see what most others in his field do not:  that the religious fads that are cheerfully reported in the news media (whether right or left, religious or secular) are more than simply interesting trends; they are heresies.

In the chapter entitled, “Lost in the Gospels,” Douthat deals with the various alternate views of who Jesus himself is.  As he points out, “Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character” (page 152).  Beside the fact that Jesus is perfectly (100%) human and completely divine, there are all the other pictures of Him presented in the gospels:  ascetic, miracle worker, prophet, ethicist, etc.  The creeds of orthodoxy accept all of these views – “the whole of Jesus.”  The “great heresies” want “a more consistent, streamlined, and noncontradictory Jesus”(page 153).  And so it is today.  Most of the modern head-line grabbing heresies are just new wrappings on the old, presenting a Jesus who is merely human, or in some cases a mystical quasi-divine character, but never the complete God-man of the Gospels.

He also deals in these chapters with the health and wealth gospels, the “god within” gurus, and the political “messiahs” of our day.  It seems that no one is spared:  Joel Osteen, Oprah, Deepak Chopra, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck.  We have arrived at the point where theological orthodoxy is so weak, that anything goes.  The evil twin has prevailed!

The book is a fascinating tour of the histories and heresies of modern American Christianity over the past 65 years.  Douthat has shown where we’ve come from and where we are at present.  The book is well worth reading, even if merely for all the data it presents.  And the thesis is well argued.  I’m convinced!  The author has done a great job in identifying the problem.

The last chapter is entitled “The Recovery of Christianity” and contains the author’s thoughts on what to do.  As with many books, the solutions presented are the weakest part of the book.  As Douthat himself says, “This book has been written in a spirit of pessimism, but for both Americans and Christians, pessimism should always be provisional” (page 278).  He discusses the options available to us – the possibility of “withdrawal, consolidation and purification” (page 280) but concludes that this itself could lead to negative consequences.  He admits that “The deeper trends that might inspire a Christian renaissance are beyond any individual believer’s control” (page 284).  But he then goes on to make some suggestions as to what kind of faith the Christian should live out “without regard as to whether it succeeds in changing the American way of religion as a whole.”
·        “…such a faith should be political without being partisan … avoiding nationalist temptations” (page 284).
·        “…should be ecumenical but also confessional” (page 286).  There needs to be a quest for unity without sacrificing denominational distinctives.
·        “…should be moralistic but also holistic” (page 288).  Our morality should be more that “thou shalt nots.”  He especially emphasizes this in our attitudes toward gay sex.
·        “Finally … (it should be oriented toward sanctity and beauty” (page 291).

His final paragraphs contain some profound insights.  “It is not enough for Americans to respect orthodox Christianity a bit more than they do at present.  To make any difference in our common life, Christianity must be lived – not as a means to social cohesion or national renewal, but as an end unto itself” (page 293).

This is one of the few books I can actually say that I wish I would have written (except that I’m glad that I didn’t have to do all the research).  Much of what Mr. Douthat wrote has been in agreement with my own thoughts, even though as a biblical literalist my definition of orthodoxy is a bit tighter than his.  I have even attempted to put into practice some of the principles he listed long before he wrote them.

Of course, I would add a few things.  I believe that what is really necessary is a return to the Scriptures.  Though I have been a member (and sometimes pastor) of Bible churches, I realize that we too have traditions, rituals, confessions and a creed (though we are in denial).  And just as I would remind my Roman Catholic and Mainline brothers, I need to remember this myself: we must constantly re-evaluate our confessions in the light of the Word.  And we must recognize that the center of it all is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I realize that this is a double negative, though grammatically acceptable.  It’s like saying, “Why I don’t not believe in God.”  But as some atheists are extremely dogmatic about their beliefs and can’t seem to understand why others don’t agree with them, I felt I needed to say a few words.  It’s sort of like telling the Jehovah’s Witnesses who knock on my door, why I am not a Jehovah’s Witness.

First of all, there are many Atheists whom I admire.  Their writings and questionings are thought-provoking and I often find myself in agreement with many of their observations.

One area where the Christian and the Atheist are in agreement is on the fact that there is such a thing as truth and that that truth is capable of being known.  Both groups are, for the most part, not relativists or subjectivists.  Of course, we differ extremely on what is truth and what is not.

The greatest defense of objectivity and universal reason I’ve ever read is the book, The Last Word, by Thomas Nagel, who freely professes to be an Atheist.  I recommend it to any thinking person:  Atheist, Christian or anyone in between.  I could also list other Atheists whose writings I devour and probably a few others whom I suspect of being Atheists, but who do not find it necessary to make the claim.

However, there is a number of those who some refer to as, among other things, “The New Atheists.”  These guys clearly are not only Atheists but Anti-Theists.  They are not content to simply disbelieve in God or a god.  They aggressively campaign against this God in whom they don’t believe (maybe we could call them “evangelistic Atheists” – Uni).  I wouldn’t say that they have an agenda, but they definitely have a belief system to which they are committed.

I’ve tried to ascertain the main points of that belief system.  I realize that I am generalizing and that not all Atheists hold to all of these points, and I may not be accurately describing these points.  I also realize that I’ve undoubtedly missed quite a few and that a number may appear to be self-contradictory.
·        All beliefs are based on “science.”  By this is meant current scientific theories and hypotheses.  And at the same time the data used to formulate these beliefs must be empirical – capable of being observed.
·        There is no God.  Though one would assume this should come first, the belief is supposedly based on the fact that one cannot “prove” God empirically.
·        Atheists do not “believe” or have “faith.”  They simply “know” certain matters to be true.  Some are quite touchy about this matter.
·        The Bible (of course) is not to be believed.  It is merely a set of myths.  Any evidence of its factuality is not to be heeded.  (Of course, if one doesn’t believe in God, why should he believe a book that claims to be inspired by Him?)  Even any evidence of the New Testament’s first century dating is to be rejected.
·        The doctrines of Christianity were invented in the fourth century by Constantine.  This is clearly documented in the book and movie, “The DaVinci Code,” which is to be taken by faith.
·        All or most of the evils in this world are caused by religion.
·        Religious people’s beliefs are due to indoctrination or cultural predispositions.  Atheists do not have this problem.

There are undoubtedly many more doctrines in their A-theological system, but these are the main ones I’ve observed.

I believe it take great faith to be an Atheist; to find purpose in a purposeless universe; to find a moral system in an amoral universe …

I guess I just don’t have that kind of faith!

As Steve Martin’s song says, “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.”

Monday, May 7, 2012


In a recent e-mail, a reader named Chris asked the following question and made some interesting observations:
“Do you think it's possible for a Christian to view Genesis more as metaphor than fact?  Just as the Bible was written in a different language(s), the words and understanding were entirely different.  Imagine for argument that the current science is correct, Genesis could read, ‘In the beginning there was a singularity of infinite density.  It was touched by the hand of God and exploded into a multidimensional space time continuum...’
 That would have made absolutely no sense 1,000 years ago.”

My response was:

“(or 3,500 years ago when Genesis was written.)  Interesting insight.   I agree.  See:  A CHRISTMAS THOUGHT.  I plan on writing more on this in the near future.”

So here I am.  I have many thoughts on this matter; many are a bit scattered, so this is an opportunity for me to assemble them.  Pardon me if I seem to ramble.

First of all, a few thoughts on the Creation accounts in the first two chapters of Genesis.  There are, I believe, actually three accounts in these chapters:
·        Genesis 1:1:  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  This sums up all of creation.
·        Genesis 1:2-2:3.  The six days of creation and the day of rest.  This account basically describes the same creation as 1:1, but views the creation in greater detail and describes it from the perspective of the earth.  Even the heavenly bodies are described as they would be observed from the earth.
·        Genesis 2:4-25:  “…the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, on the day the LORD God made earth and heavens.”  This account is concerned with the creation of man.  All of the rest of creation is seen from the human perspective.  In the previous two accounts, God is referred to by His “generic” name, Elohim; in this account, His personal, covenant name Yahweh is used and paired with Elohim, “The LORD God.”

There have been many attempts at somehow reconciling the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 with current scientific views.  More than we could count.  Though some are pretty far-fetched, I believe that for the most part these are sincere efforts.  If we believe that all truth is God’s truth, then there should be no contradiction between God’s truth as revealed in Scripture and God’s truth as revealed in nature (i.e., scientific truth).

We should, however, beware of two extremes:  first granting too much authority to our own personal “biblical’ interpretations; and, second, granting too much authority to current scientific views.  Both are subject to change.

For instance, it wasn’t too long ago (within my lifetime) that the “Big Bang” model for the origins of the universe was considered something akin to heresy for many in the scientific community.  The “Steady State” was the accepted doctrine of most.  (Scientists are as conservative and dogmatic as theologians.  It takes a lot of evidence to convince them to revise their beliefs.)

In fact, as the “Big Bang” was gaining ascendancy in the scientific community, Pope Pius XII jumped on the bandwagon on November 22, 1951 with an address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences entitled:  “The Proofs for the Existence of God in the Light of Modern Natural Science,” in which he endorsed the Big Bang model.

According to Simon Singh in his book, Big Bang; The Origin of the Universe “…the Papal endorsement…became an embarrassment for the Big Bang proponents, … the British physicist William Bonner, for example, suggested that the Big Bang theory was part of a conspiracy aimed at shoring up Christianity…” (pages 360, 361).

I’ll not spend much time discussing the various views of biblical apologists in which they attempt to reconcile a literal six day creation with scientific views.  Except for one matter that I find ironic – that many 6-day Creationists anathematize the Big Bang theory, which itself was originally anathematized by scientists as being too “Creationist.”

So back to your suggestion:

I agree that, accepting the Big Bang as valid, there would have been no way to explain this to a pre-scientific person.  The Bible is not a scientific textbook and was not intended to be.  It’s a revelation of the Person and work of God and has been accepted as such for over 3,000 years.  The six day creation account was adequate for its readers for most of that period.  And I believe it’s adequate for 21st century readers – not to satisfy us with the details of creation but to give us a satisfactory picture of the Creator.

As far as interpreting the Genesis account ”more as a metaphor than fact,” this makes sense as long as we recognize that a metaphor is not meant to contradict fact, but to explain fact.  So I’d rephrase the question something like:  “Is it possible to understand the Genesis account as a metaphor explaining the fact of creation?”  I’d say that the answer is Yes.

The Bible, like most literature, is full of figures of speech:  similes, metaphors, hyperboles, etc.  One of the important aspects of interpretation is to recognize these and distinguish them from simple statements of fact.  The various creation accounts present us with some of these problem areas.

There are other creation accounts in the Bible besides those in the first two chapters of Genesis, which if taken literally (or literalistically) would seem to contradict the Genesis account as well as science.  In fact, Genesis 2:4 speaks of “…the day the LORD God made earth and heaven,” while chapter 1 speaks of six days of creation.

One of my favorites is Job 38:4-7, where, in some of His most cutting sarcasm, the LORD tears into Job:
            “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
            Tell me if you have understanding!
            Who set its dimensions?  Because you know!
            Or who measured it with a line?
            On what were its bases sunk?
            Or who set its cornerstone,
            When the morning stars sang together,
            And all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

Here the LORD pictures the creation of the earth as though it were a building.  In fact, some of the language is reminiscent of the passages on the construction of the Temple.

There are many more:  Job 26:7; Psalm 104:5-9; Proverbs 8:29, Isaiah 51:13; Zachariah 12:1.

We accept these accounts as metaphors because they are found in poetic sections of the Bible, as well as the fact that we know that the LORD didn’t construct the earth as an architect constructs a building.  In these cases, we who believe the Bible accept the findings of science as true and the words of the Bible as metaphorical.

So why can we not do the same with Genesis 1 and 2?  To do so would not be to deny that “God created the heavens and the earth.”  It would simply be to accept the details of the creation presented in Genesis as metaphors for the basic truths of God’s creation.

Though I lean strongly toward this explanation, I hesitate to dogmatize.  Whatever our views of the origins of the universe as described in Genesis, all of us have to admit that we weren’t there at the time, nor was any other human being.  There was only one Eyewitness who was present at creation.

            JOB, GODAND SUFFERING, 7

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Last week I received an e-mail from Chris, a reader.  In it were various comments and questions.  One of them was “Why do you believe?”  A later e-mail assured me that the question was directed specifically at me and not some generic “you.”  So Chris, here’s my story.

I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not believe in God.  He just always was there, like all other truths I came to believe, though I can’t recall when I first heard His Name.  I did not receive “years of childhood indoctrination” (Richard Dawkins’ words).  My father was, to my knowledge, not a believer.  He never spoke of God.  My mother was a Christmas and Easter Roman Catholic, but to my recollection, I never set foot in a church until I was 10 years old and attended my maternal grandfather’s funeral.  All I can recall was a priest talking in a language I couldn’t understand, some boys about my age waving smoking incense censers around, and my grandmother wailing in grief and fear that she didn’t know where Grampa was going to end up – pretty scary.  Three years later a similar story of Gramma’s funeral.

I first heard Bible stories from a rural school missionary when I was about 7 years old.  He told us second graders that Jesus died for our sins and all that was required of us was to believe in Him.  What he said made sense to me though (or because) I already believed in God.  It was not till 10 years later that I attended a Protestant church where I heard a similar message – the message usually referred to as the Gospel.

So why do/did I believe in God?  I suppose at first I simply assumed He existed in the same way that I assumed other matters:  that the world was round, that there were people on the other side, etc.

I had never heard of the philosophical arguments for God’s existence, though I believe that I would have agreed with some of them at a very early age.
·        The cosmological argument – the argument that there must be a first cause.
·        The teleological argument – the argument from purpose.  There must be a purpose for all this.

I didn’t need to read Aristotle or Aquinas to understand these matters.  To me, even at an early age, they were obvious.  I suspect they are obvious to most members of the human race, though where they lead to may vary.

So I can honestly say that though I’ve had many doubts about many things in my life, I have never doubted God’s existence.  To deny His existence would raise more questions than it could satisfactorily answer.

As far as my personal Christian faith, it’s been a longer journey.  The Gospel that I first heard as a second grader did not fit easily with the Catholicism of my mother’s family as well as that of many of my neighborhood friends who attended Catholic schools.  The one message seemed too simple, the other too complicated.  The Christian input in my thinking was diverse and sometimes contradictory – gospel music on the country stations, references to God and Christ in literature, God-talk in magazines.  I read a lot, prayed a lot and asked for direction.

Then at the age of 16 I began dating the love of my life.  Uni was a beautiful Christian girl who shouldn’t have been dating the likes of me.  After some months she persuaded me to come to church with her at a little Baptist church.  I was astounded to hear from the pulpit the same message I had heard in second grade.  I began to understand the simplicity of what it means to have faith in Christ.  I continued to pray, though I never told Uni.  I continued to attend church.  One problem I had was that the message I heard seemed contradictory.  I was told that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead, and that all I had to do was believe.  At the same time I was being told that I needed to “come forward” during the closing hymn of invitation.  This seemed to be another “sacrament,” similar to the ones in my mother’s church.

Finally after over a year of this, I went forward during an evangelistic service.  Most of the church folks counted this as my conversion.  But looking back I realize that I had put my faith in Christ much earlier.  I’m not even sure when.

So I’ve rambled on about the “how” of my faith, but haven’t really answered the question “why.”  A few thoughts.

As I said, I have always believed in God’s existence.  To a certain extent, the person of Christ and His death on the cross were an element of that same belief.  But somewhere in those early years, I found I had to place my trust completely in Him.

Faith begins with intellectual assent to truth claims.  While these truth claims that I first heard seemed apparent to me, I did seek to ascertain whether they were actually true.  I heard many claims about Jesus in those years.  Yet the certainty of the eyewitness accounts in the Gospels and the evidences of the empty tomb convinced me.

However, faith is more than simply intellectual assent.  It involves an act of the will.  We must not only acknowledge the factuality of the Gospel, we must commit our trust to these facts and the One with Whom they are concerned.

And of course, my faith in Christ is even more than all this – it is first of all a work of God.  As Jesus said:

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me, I will in no way cast out” (John 6:37).

“No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him …” (John 6:44).

The word translated “draws” is elsewhere translated “drag,” as of a fishing net (John 21:11).  C. S. Lewis said somewhere that he was “dragged kicking and screaming into the Kingdom of God.”  I guess I was too!

I’ve rambled on and on and I’m not sure whether or not I’ve answered the question.  If not, let me know.  Why do you believe?