Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jesus is Israel, Herod is Pharoah, Israel is Egypt.

It is recognised by everybody that "Out of Egypt I called my Son" (Matthew 2:15, quoting Hosea 11:1) has been one of the harder fulfilment passages Matthew's gospel. It is hard for several reasons.
1) Hosea 11:1 seems to be recalling a past event rather than anticipating a future event. This is noted by all the commentators. We misunderstand Matthew's use of "fulfilment" if we think that it means that it is a fulfilment of a predictive prophecy. Jesus is Israel. In being the seed in whom all the promises to Israel would be fulfilled, even the events of his life mirror the history of Israel. e.g. Blomberg, 67, "This is the first of several instances in Matthew in which Jesus recapitulates the role of Israel as a whole".
National Israel anticipated the life of the true vine, in whom the hopes and fear of all the years are met.
2) Matthew states that hosea 11:1 is fulfilled straight after he has recounted the journey of Jesus, joseph and Mary into Egypt, not out of it.
The majority of commentators (eg. Caron, Blomberg, Calvin, Nolland) suggest that it is put here rather than when he actually comes out of Egypt for structural reasons. Three scenes in 2:13-23 each fulfil one Old Testament allusion.
However, there is another possible (and I think probable) explanation. I first heard of it in a conversation with Michael Lawrence. I'd not arrived at Capitol Hill Baptist Church by the time he was at that point in his bible studies through Matthew's gospel. However, he explained to me how it makes perfect sense to see "Out of Egypt have I called my Son" to refer to Jesus' journey from Israel to Egpyt rather than the return journey.
Herod acts like Pharoah, even killing baby boys. Infanticide was seen as the most horrific of social crimes in the Old Testament. It is from such an Egypt that the Lord brought his son Israel in the Exodus.

Once you see this, there are all kinds of other parallels between the Exodus story and the flight to Egpyt that one sees. They flee at night (Exodus 12:8,12,29,30,31, 42) at the direct command of the Lord (Exodus 12:31). Both passages have the death of God's enemies front and centre: the one who seeks the death of God's people will die. In Exodus, there is no house without a dead son. In Matthew, the death of Herod himself is hightlight (2:15, 19, 20).

This fits also with the whole theme of Matthew's gospel. Jesus is the true Israel, and Israel is no longer the people of God, unless they recognise Jesus as their Messiah. See this theme recur here.

Then, if we have Jesus as our Messiah, even those who will not be comforted due to the exile caused by their rebellion, can in fact have the comforts of the New Covenant, hence the second quotation from Jeremiah 31.

however, these comforts come from the One who is despised and rejected. We deserve the exile; Jesus experiences exile his whole life, as he is called a Nazarene: the one who came unto his own, but his own received him not. Yet, to all who did receive him he, who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God. (cf. John 1:11-12)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

And I am glad and happy and comfortable to be reading and preaching from the NIV

As a church Twynholm BC moved from the NIV to the ESV a few years ago. We have recently made a decision to move back. I'm delighted with the move, particularly this week.
Having preached on Matthew 1:1-17 on Sunday, I'm certainly glad that the NIV made the decision that not every "δε" needs to be translated by the word "and": a comma, or a full stop and capital letter are perfectly adequate and accurate.
The result is, that in 17 verses the NIV has 8 "and"s. The ESV has 42. Is that really necessary? I'm glad I didn't have to read the ESV publically last Sunday.

Here's an email I sent to a friend who asked me why we changed back.

I think we all recognise many of the strengths of the ESV. It is useful for as a bible study aid (rather like the use of an interlinear) for those who don't have biblical languages. It preserves connectives (even at the expense of good English), tries to use the same English word to translate the same oringinal language word where appropriate, etc. Has made some good choices in some places where the NIV has not done so well, (Eg propitiation over sacrifice of atonement etc.)

Anyway, that having been admitted, here are 9 problems with the
ESV divided into 3 categories.

Please don't read the stuff below if you are considering buying the
ESV's off us. Remember it's the extremely sound version, and I'll give you a good price...

A. Philosophy of translation. the "Exclusion of Subtlety Version"

1) it seems to be based on the assumption that a 'word-for-word' translation is more 'accurate' than a 'sense-for-sense' translation. This seems an entirely wrongheaded assumption to me. Surely faithfulness in translation
is that which best conveys the sense of of the original in the target language.
2) the word-for-word thing is shown up by how many of its proponents seem to write as if either they are ignorant of basic linguistics, or they assume their readers are ignorant, and try to pull the wool over their eyes. E.g. to suggest that "adelphos" MEANS "brother" and not "brother and sister" begs the question as to whether the semantic range of two words in different languages, times and cultures are ever identical.
3) It seems interesting that those who are themselves bilingual (such as Carson and Silva) and therefore always trying to translate from one lanuage they know well to another seem to favour dynamic equivalence.
4) the fact that it is based so heavily upon the RSV frustrated even some of the translators. So, I remember [one of the translators of the ESV] saying that where he'd say it was a close call, but on balance he'd prefer to depart from the RSV, "on balance" wasn't enough to go for what he would feel was a more accurate translation.
5) The decisions made on gender inclusivity seem not to understand the ways in which the English language has moved on.
Lots more on this area in
Carson's "The limits of functional equivalence" in "the challenge of Bible Translation" (Incidentally, if you have my copy of that book, please let me know. I can't remember who I leant it to!)

B. Readability. the "Extremely Stilted Version"
1) Surely there would be a way even to have a more formally equivalent translation that wasn't quite so wooden, and incomprehensible.
What is gained in the literalism of Numbers 27:1 "
1Then drew near the daughters ofA)">(A) Zelophehad the son of Hepher" as opposed to "the daughters of Zelophehad approached"? and this isn't a one off example, it's a formalism that runs throughout.
2) Preservation of connectives may be quite useful at times in the development of an argument in Paul (though even
then the pudding may become over-egged. But when every kai and de, and vav of a vav consecutive are translated "and" it becomes utterly ridiculous. There are more "ands" in Mark's gospel than verses! 1241 "ands" in the ESV compared with 693 in the NIV. For a fun exercise, turn to a random chapter of Mark's gospel and try and work out what would have been lost to the accuracy of sense if some of the "kai"s had been translated not with "and" but with "fullstop, capital letter." What would have been gained by the readability?
3) If readability isn't THE most important thing in our private devotions, (we can take time to read and re-read a sentence until we've understood the English) it is of vital importance in public reading. (If you didn't follow, it was too late). For us this has become the overwhelming factor as to why we are planning to abandon the
ESV, particularly as about many of the congregation don't have English as a first language, and another large proportion left school at 16. I have two degrees, but even I don't read too well! Even if it was perfectly accurate, it wouldn't be much good if it is utterly incomprehensible - we might just as well read out the Greek and the Hebrew!

C. Marketing. The "exclusively sound version"?
1) With all the arguments and subtleties involved in bible translation, the way in which the
ESV is being put forward by some as the only sound version for the discerning bible reader who really trusts that every word of the original is inspired, is frankly a little distasteful.

And verily, verily I say unto you, that, I have sufficient upon this subject said.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A pictorial representation of a Hebrew Cosmology

In my previous post I made the point that assuming that Genesis 1 is attempting to be "Scientifically accurate" just doesn't work. This is not just because of the chronology of Genesis 1, but, even more obviously, because of its topology. Today I came across this picture that makes the point well.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Confusing Converstions 9: Clicher Texts

We should certainly take every verse of the bible seriously. However, we should also ensure that we do not "expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." (article XX, 39 articles)

So, when people claim to have "the clincher" verse on either side of the debate, we should certainly listen, but we should certainly also weigh with other Scriptures.

A clincher verse for some creationists is Romans 8:20-21.
"For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."

The argument is that this shows that all decay and death (whether animal, plant??, radioactive??) is all a result of the fall. Even the second law of thermodynamics, it's argued, is a result of the fall. Perhaps this is why it is difficult to read the "science". Before the fall there would have been an entirely different science in place. (As far as I see, perhaps even a different mathematics, as the second law of thermodynamics is essentially the result of statistical mechanics)

The clincher for the non-literalist might be Genesis 1:6-8

6 And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

I would argue that there are not merely temporal problems in understanding the Genesis to be a literal scientifically accurate account. There are also spatial problems. Where is this place beyond the sky where these waters may have been stored (albeit possibly temporarily). It cannot be the upper atmosphere on a literalist reading, because the known universe is within the expanse/firmament, not beyond it (the sun, moon and stars are set within the expanse, not above it in 1:14-17).

I cannot see any way in which this makes sense within a scientifically accurate topography of the cosmos. It makes perfect sense if Moses borrowed the widely accepted topography of the universe in the Ancient Near East without challenging it, because that wasn't his point.

But I want to be cautious in suggesting that it is an absolute clincher. If other factors were to convince me of the necessity of the literalist view I would, by faith, have to trust that there was some way in which this did make sense within the early topography of the universe - a universe that was certainly a very different place to the one we know now, if there was not even any second law of thermodynamics.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An atheist who thinks Christians are hateful if they DON'T seek to convert him.

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?

“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Confusing Conversations 8: The apologetic imperative.

Apologetics is an important discipline. We should consider carefully how to answer questions that the non-believer might have concerning biblical truths that we hold. Yet we should never hold truths just so that our apologetic response would be easier.
I've come across people from both sides of the creationist/theistic evolution debate who use as an argument for holding their position that it is an apologetic imperative.

The creationist might say, "It is an apologetic imperative that we hold to a six day creation. If we take a non-literal reading of Genesis Chapter One, the very first chapter of the bible, it will be impossibly complicated to then argue why we insist on taking a literal reading of the virgin birth, the sacrificial death and the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus. I just don't think that I'd be able to explain that to my next door neighbour."

The theistic evolutionist might say, "It is an apologetic imperative that we hold to an old earth, and some form of macro-evolution. There is such clear scientific evidence for them that if we don't follow that evidence where they lead, we will show ourselves to be obscurantists; I don't think I could even get a sounding for the gospel if I were to believe things like that."

Now, once one has decided whether or not one is going to take a literalistic view of Genesis 1, one could use these arguments to show why you think that view makes an important difference to your apologetics. But you should never start with the apologetic ease of a position and then decide whether you will hold it or not.

We should first be convinced by the text of Scripture one way or another, and then begin to think through the apologetic implications. Truth first, and then its defence.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Confusing Conversations 7: Symbolism

This week I'm back in the pulpit, returning to the series on Genesis 1-3
One of the things that I've noticed as I've preached through the series is the rich depth of symbolism throughout the chapters.
I've noted in a previous post the symbolic imagery of the temple, certainly in Genesis 2-3, and possibly in Genesis 1. God is building for himself a tabernacle: this tabernacle is to be the source of all life within the cosmos, and as such functions as a miniature cosmos.
But the symbolism doesn't stop there.
This week, I'm preaching on Genesis 3:8-13. There are some points that are so deeply inlaid with symbolism, that I feel we end up missing something if we move from the rich language of the narrative and try to reduce it to an historical account: 'what it would have looked like if we had been there.'
Even translation of some of the phrases in 3:8-13 leaves you having to make hard choices that limit the symbolic richness of the passage.

e.g. 3:8. Here are some decisions that must be made in translation "And they heard the voice/sound of the Lord God['s] walking in the garden in the spirit/wind/cool/evening/early morning of the/that day. And the man and his wife hid themselves amoungst/between the tree(s) (singular but is plural signified, or just one tree? If just one, which tree was it? Was it the one they ate from or the one that would have given them life, or just one of the other trees that they were free to eat from?)of the garden."

If one says that this must be a straight historical narrative, the best way to understand the "voice" is that it is the sound of the Lord's walking: as it were, his footsteps among the fallen leaves. Hamilton translates it "rustling sound". But if one allows this to be a symbolically-laden retelling of a real event: one where the symbolism is so rich that one is not supposed to reconstruct the actual historical line of the event, where we are not supposed so much to picture it in every detail, but explore the theological significance of it all (rather like, as we said in a previous post a Judges 5 rather than Judges 4 type account) then we have no problem in understanding this as the very voice (word?) of God walking in the garden.

Another factor that has led me more towards such a reading are the many parallels between the opening chapters of Genesis and the book of Revelation. Revelation is without doubt the book of the New Testament with the richest and most frequent use of the Old Testament. (See Greg Beale's excellent introduction in the Revelation entry in the "Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament"). Much of the significance of the theology of Revelation is that the visions that I believe John truly saw, are written in language that picks up huge amounts of symbolism from the Old Testament. The symbolism then becomes the point. We are not somehow supposed to try to reconstruct the actual details of the visions, as if we need to know the exact visual experience of John. The symbolic narration of the visions is God's intention for us in the visions. But I'm seeing more and more similarities between the realities portrayed in Revelation and realities portrayed in the early chapters of Genesis.

There seem to be two approaches to the symbolism of Genesis 1-3.

First approach says, that unless the account is also historically accurate in every detail, the symbolism loses its significance. Historical truth is the truth that is being portrayed. If we cannot 'trust' the account in its historical details, how can we 'trust' the symbolism.

The second approach says, that for the purpose of symbolism that gives a trustworthy theological account of the real historical events, a trustworthy author might employ language to describe an event that is not strictly historically accurate. But that the way in which the symbolism is so clearly being employed means there is no deception; we are to trust the author because the symbolism takes us deeper into the theological realities of the situation than a straight historical account would be able to do. Judges 5 is in many ways theologically richer than Judges 4, yet necessarily less "realistic".

So, whatever your take on the literalism of Genesis 1-3, I urge you not to miss its symbolism, where much of the richness of the theology of the text will be found.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

FIEL Conference 2

The rest of the time at the FIEL conference was a great privilege.
1) I got to hang out with some great brothers and sisters: an older brother in ministry, Stuart Olyott; a fellow elder, John Folmar (who so graciously put up with my snoring - one night on the plane and 3 nights in a hotel room); the leadership of FIEL, including the director, Rick Denham: hugely gifted in terms of vision and business acumen, and Tiago Santos: a brother with great theological insight and pastoral vision (you could tell he's got a great pastoral heart even by how he translated - he wasn't just translating it, he was preaching it!)
2) What a privilege to have the opportunity to encourage, and Lord willing, influence a group of pastors in a part of the world that is starving for the gospel. I was constantly encouraged by conversations with people who had made great sacrifices, and had a joyful trust in the Lord, even though the fruit seemed to be slow to become visible.
3) I was fed in my own soul through listening to the teaching of John Folmar, Sturat Olyott, and Augustus Nicodemus (as much as I could understand his Portuguese.)

Below are the remainder of the 9marks talks given by John and me.

These are a couple of Q&As that all four speakers were involved with:

This is the second half of the talk that Stuart gave on not preaching boring sermons, followed by his final address:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

FIEL conference

Because I love the Lord's church, it is always a tremendous privilege to speak to other pastors. Each one represents a whole church. Anything that a pastor learns, or is encouraged by, will be multiplied in the congregation to whom the Lord has given him as a pastor.
It's been my first time speaking through an interpreter. It's hard in some ways; but it also gives you time to think!
Here's the 9Marks talks that John Folmar and I have given so far.

And here's a couple of great talks by Stuart Ollyott, whom it has been a real pleasure to meet this week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Honouring a faithful pastor

It's been a tremendous privilege to be back in Washington DC at Capitol Hill Baptist Church this weekend for a celebration of 15 years at Capitol Hill Baptist Church for Mark and Connie Dever.
A friend posted a video of the rather surprised Mark as he walked into a room that was waiting for him.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Millenium, and two friends: a Rookie Preacher and a Seminary Professor

I've been preaching through Genesis 1-3 in the morning services here at Twynholm. Yesterday we arrived at Genesis 3:1-7. In the evening service we take a passage related to the morning passage. Marcos Peters, probably still inside his first 10 sermons, preached an excellent message on Revelation 20:3 (the one who deceived Eve is bound so that he might not deceive the nations).
Taking us through from Eden to Babel to the coming of the kingdom in Christ Marcos argued convincingly for an amillennial reading (though he did well not to use that term!) This was then applied in a way that was encouraging for us, just as it would have been encouraging for the initial readers. Things may look tough, but Christ has won his victory through the cross and resurrection; he is enthroned in heaven; Satan is bound; we can have confidence to preach the gospel, knowing that today Christ is in the business of bringing people from every nation to enlightenment and salvation.

On the other side of the argument, my friend and dear brother Jim Hamilton has had a series of posts arguing for a premillennial reading. You can find them here, here, here, here and here. They are very coherent, and deserve serious thought.
One of the key arguments he uses is a comparison of Revelation 20:3 where Satan is bound so that he cannot deceive the nations with Revelation 13:14 where he deceives the inhabitants of the earth. Revelation 13 is clearly the church age, so Revelation 20 can't be, he argues.

Well, when it comes to the rookie preacher and the Professor of Biblical Theology, this time I'm with the Rookie!

Here's my reply to his last post:

Thanks Jim for these posts.
(Thanks also for your very helpful reflections on your first pastorate. This was very encouraging to me 18 months into life at Twynholm. Praying the Lord would make me more prayerful.)
As a fairly convinced amillennialist I’m interested in your comparison between the two texts, seeing deception in Revelation 12-13 and no deception in 20.
My own reading is that the deception of the nations is exactly what comes to an end with the finished work of Christ (not without exception, but without the Jew/Gentile distinction that existed before the coming of Christ).
Since Babel the nations have been deceived, and only through coming through Israel is there enlightenment in the Old Testament (focused on the temple in Jerusalem… I think someone’s written a good book about that!).
With the coming of Christ (and the Spirit) Babel is reversed (Acts 2) worship in delocalised (John 4) and repentance is granted to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11)
Jesus himself says that unless the strong man is bound, there can be no freedom.(Matt 12)
So I think that you are being a little harsh on the amillennialist. We don’t believe that Satan deceives nobody in the church age, but that the nations are not deceived as a whole. I’d suggest that we are paying very careful attention to the text, and particularly the force of the word “Nations”.

Jim then replied:

Mike, Thanks for your kind note and encouraging words.

On Rev 20, it looks to me like the kind of thing that Satan was doing in Rev 12-13 is stopped altogether.

Great to hear from you!


I replied to Jim:

Thanks Jim,
Yes, you argue very well the case that all deception has stopped; if people are wanting to think the issue through and hear the premil position argued for well, these posts would be a great place to start. Revelation 20:3 is of course your best verse if you are going to be premil. I would argue though that it’s your best verse in the same way that 1 John 2:2 is the best verse for a general atonement. Looks like a slam dunk case on a first reading (or, as a Brit I ought to say a plumb LBW decision).

I’m just wondering though that, given the huge emphasis on the breaking down of the Jew/Gentile distinction in the New Testament, that you could not at least understand why an amil reader would see it entirely consistent to describe such a cataclysmic change in terms as radical as the chaining of Satan so that he would no longer deceive the nations?
Grace and peace,
Your brother,

Jim replied:

Mike, I understand what you’re saying, but I think it’s wrong!

The reason is that Revelation 13:7 says this of Satan’s beast: “and authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation.”

So I think that when you read Rev 13, you see that Satan’s beast has Satan’s own authority (cf. 13:2) over the nations. Then in Rev 20 all that authority is stripped away from him.

Making that say the same thing is more than I’m interested in trying to do,


Confusing Coversation 6: Must a real event be told in an unstylised narrative?

When people are trying to pin me down exactly where I stand on a lot of the questions concerning the historicity of Genesis 1-3, I'm often asked, "Do you believe in the special creation of man."

The simple answer to the question is, "Yes, absolutely." It is very clear to me from Genesis 1:26-31 that there is the WORLD of difference between human beings and the other creatures. We are specially and uniquely created in God's image. I preached on this a couple of weeks ago at Twynholm.
However, what is often meant in the question behind the question is this: "Do you believe in the special creation of man, and none of that nonsense about shared descent from apes?"
Here is another issue where I think there is unnecessary division between Christians who have the same anthropology of believing that all humans are made in God's image, no other creature is, and would have a very similar theology of what that means.
We all believe that human beings are not made "ex nihilo" but from pre-existent material. We are made from the dust; but God has so breathed life into us that we have become living beings of incredible value and worth. We all agree that we are "descended" from dust physically, but spiritually specially created. Does it diminish the value of human beings if God took his time in bringing us from dust to image bearing just as he took his time in forming and filling the universe?

I can understand the arguments on both sides when it comes to whether Genesis 2 should be taken as an entirely literal historical account in every detail. I am not yet utterly persuaded either way.

Take the rivers for example. Some people take those to be a sign that we could actually fairly accurately locate Eden to somewhere near the source (and others suggest near the mouth) of the Tigris and Euphrates. We can then make some guesses as to which rivers the Pishon and the Gihon are (or suggest that they no longer exist as their course was so altered by the flood.) If this is the reading, the point being made would be that this is a real place that existed at a real time, yet, due to the expulsion we cannot return there (though, why not, if we can locate it - would we still find a cherub stationed with a flaming sword, or has the tree of life died? or been removed permanently in order to be planted in the New Jerusalem?).

Others believe that Eden is much more of an idealised picture of the original dwelling place of man with God, rather than a literal account. The four rivers then might be Tigris, Euphrates, Nile (making a much more straightforward reading of 'Cush' as its normal location in Ethiopia) and Indus. The whole land - the whole ancient near east - thus receives its blessings from the place where God dwells with his people.

I think that there are New Testament controls that make it essential to believe in a literal Adam and Eve from whom are descended all people (I disagree with Denis Alexander on this). Just as we all sinned in the one man Adam, so in the one man Christ we are all made alive. Also, even if one takes much of the detail in Genesis 2 as figurative, the genealogies in Gen 5, and particularly the assertion in Gen 3:20 that Eve would become the mother of all the living, convince me that we have real events being described, even if the description is stylised.

It is possible for real events to be described in a stylised fashion; one might think of the description of the stars fighting against Sisera in Judges 5:20. Was it a real event? Yes! It's just been described in a more literal historiography in Judges 4. Does that mean that it cannot be described in stylised terms in chapter 5? Do we have to rethink our cosmology in order to accommodate fighting stars? No!

Christians can disagree as to the genre of Genesis 2, and still agree on its theology of man, of marriage, of the relationship between man and God, of work, of worship, and a hundred other central things. Let's not make it an issue to divide over.

Paul Mills on the Economic Crisis

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

Not sure that's what I meant... but maybe!

When I was preaching on Genesis 2 last week, I mentioned that being made in God's image is not just about God doing things for us, but also us doing things with him. Adam is called to bring order out of chaos in Eden just as God had brought order out of chaos in Genesis 1.

Sometime the best memories of our parents are not what they did for us, but what they did with us.

So, a member of the congregation emailed me this...

HT: Dean Dryden

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Confusing conversation 5: What God did, and What God could have done.

"So you think that God took 14 billion years to make the world, not just 6 days. Don't you believe God is powerful enough to do it quicker?"
I have heard young earthers ask old earthers such questions.
But I hope that no self-respecting old earther would imagine for a moment that God couldn't have done it in 6 literal days, 6 literal seconds or 6 literal picoseconds.
Similarly I hope that no self-respecting young-earther would for a moment imagine that God would have shown himself more glorious had he chosen to create in less time than six days, but somehow he didn't because he couldn't.
If one is going to take Genesis 1 literally, the strange thing is not that God takes such a short time to form and fill the whole world, but that he takes such a long time. After all, he is the one who creates time - he doesn't need it! His whole infinite life does not experience the passing of time at all.
Somehow, God is bringing more glory to himself by taking his time.
Old earthers would argue that God brings even more glory to himself by taking billions of years temporarily, just as he brings more glory to himself in creating ten billion times ten billion suns.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Confusing Conversations 4: Literally true, and truly literal.

"If you don't believe that the first chapter of the bible is literally true, then how can you believe that the rest of it is?"

I hope that every Christian believes that the bible is literally, true. That is absolutely and entirely truthful in everything it affirms. So, wherever the bible affirms something as scientific fact, then it is scientific fact. Wherever it affirms something as accurate history, it is accurate history. But, the Good Samaritan is not historically accurate (it is a parable). Ezekiel 1 is not scientific fact, it is a vision.

However, this doesn't mean that to truly understand the bible, one must take the most literal interpretation possible. It is always literally (in the sense of totally and utterly) true; the truth is not always literal (in a sense that excludes all metaphor, parable, poetic licence, verbal imagery etc.)

Obvious other examples of this in the realm of cosmology are found in Psalm 19:6

"[the sun] rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat. "

Are we to believe that the sun literally moves from one end of the heavens to another? No! We don't have to believe in a geocentric universe in order to believe that Psalm 19 is utterly true. It is just not true in a literal sense. In fact, to try to understand it as a true scientific account of the orbit of the sun is to utterly misunderstand it; to miss its truth; to distort it. This is fairly easy to see, as Psalm 19 is undeniably poetic. The sun has already been described as a bridegroom, and champion. Are we to envisage a marriage to the moon, or a little horse that the sun rides on? No, it's poetry that teaches how this majestic sun, seen everywhere, giving heat and light shines for the glory of God. But the poetry is more than just those statements; as poetry it attaches an appropriate emotional response of awe and wonder and splendour to those truths. The poetry conveys the truths in exactly the inspired fashion that its divine author intended.

Is Psalm 19 made more problematic had many (or all) of the early readers would have believed in a geocentric universe, and thus, if read literally, understood it to correspond better to the cosmology they held than we would understand it to. No: for that is not the intention of the passage.

What then is the intention of Genesis 1? Is it true literalistically? Does it employ poetic imagery? Does it even employ culturally accepted views of the world in order to convey truths?

These are legitimate questions to ask in bible interpretation. Let's not assume that if we come to different conclusions as to the intention of a passage, and therefore a different conclusion as to which truths are being affirmed in a passage, that we therefore have a different understanding as to whether the text is truthful. Let's all agree to trust what the bible really teaches and then work jolly hard at trying to understand it on its own terms.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Confusing Conversations 3: "Deism" is an accusation that can cut both ways.

It seems common among Christians on both sides of the "Creationist vs. Theistic Evolution" debate to accuse one another of Deism rather than Theism. Deism is the idea that, while God was intimately involved in the creation of the world, he is largely, or totally uninvolved in the intricacies of its ongoing existence. This is contrasted with Theism, in which God not only made the world, but sustains its existence. He remains intimately involved with everything that continues to happen in his creation. The contrast is therefore the difference between a watchmaker who made it, wound it up and let it go and a composer who note only wrote all the notes, but also conducts the orchestra.

Some creationists accuse theistic evolution of deism: so, Wayne Grudem writes "The fundamental difference between a biblical view of creation and theistic evolution lies here: the driving force that brings about change and the development of new species in all evolutionary schemes is randomness.... But the driving force in the development of new organisms according to Scripture is God's intelligent design." (Systematic theology, 276)

Yet it seems here that Grudem has assumed, a priori, that the view of "randomness" that theistic evolutionists tend to believe in is one that is outside of God's theistic design. Yet every theist ought to believe that though there are apparently "random" and "chance" events the Lord is utterly sovereign in them all. The Lord has "designed" intentions in them. From the roll of the dice to the decision of free agents the Lord has intentions that are most certainly NOT random.

Proverbs 16 reminds us of both of these facts

9 In his heart a man plans his course,
but the LORD determines his steps.

33 The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD. (NIV)

Undoubtedly there are some who hold to theistic evolution who themselves tend towards deism. I have had conversations with people who suggest that God set it up in such a way that he knew something good would come out of it, but could not be sure what. So, Deistic Evolution posing as Theistic Evolution exists. But, I fear that it may betray some deistic assumptions on the part of creationists if they will insist that apparent randomness is incompatible with intelligent divine design.

On the other hand there are those who hold to theistic evolution who accuse creationists of deism.
Ever since Henry Drummond coined the phrase "the god of the gaps" it has been used as an accusation against those who hold to creationism, and more recently Intelligent Design. The idea is that people seem to think that science runs itself quite nicely, thank you very much, but there are a few things that cannot be explained without some kind of miraculous intervention from God. Like Drummond, they urge instead belief in "an immanent God, which is the God of Evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology."

Well, though once again this accusation of a God only occasionally involved in His world may be fair for a few creationists, sure theistic creationism is also possible: that God is utterly involved in every moment, but differently involved in the miraculous.

Whichever position you take on the Creationism vs. Evolution debate, make sure that in avoiding falling into materialism, you don't inadvertently fall into deism: that would be a far more serious error than getting the Creationism vs Evolution question wrong.

Make sure also that you don't wrongly accuse a brother or sister in Christ who believes in the same God as you do of a theology to which they do not hold.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Confusing Conversations 2. "Creation vs. Evolution" is not a conversation

I think it was Thomas Renz, a then lecturer at Oak Hill, who was the first to point out to me that Creation vs. Evolution really isn't a real conversation. It is the confusion of two conversations.

Really there is one staggeringly important conversation: Creation vs. Evolutionism

And one real, but far less important conversation: Creationism vs. Evolution.

The first conversation is vitally important because it is a conversation about worldviews. Is there a creator or not? Is the world utterly dependent upon that creator, or is "evolutionism" (the idea that evolution can explain everything) true? "Evolutionism" is a term used in different ways, but where used appropriately and not merely as a sneer, it is a materialistic philosophy that believes that evolution is not merely an historical explanation of what has happened, but also a philosophical explanation. Matter is all there is; matter happens to have thrown up these incredibly evolving organisms that have eventually, through an entirely materialistic process, led to the existence of humans.
By contrast, "creation" presupposes a theistic worldview: it assumes that the world is created by a divine being who is utterly in control of whatever processes have taken place to bring about humanity, and every other thing in existence, from the smallest molecule to the largest supercluster of galaxies. Whatever processes there may have been to get to where the creation is now, in a very real sense these processes can be described as his acts of creation.
All Christians should obviously be in agreement that "creation" rather than "evolutionism" is alone a satisfactory worldview that makes sense of the existence of our universe and everything in it.

The other debate is not about worldviews at all, though it is often confused as being so. It is a debate about ancient (Natural) History, the debate between Creationism and Evolution. It is a debate about the age of the earth; the time it took for certain species to come (be brought) into being. It is a debate about taxonomy: are the species fixed, or can there in time be sufficient divergence within a species that eventually one has multiple species.

These are, of course perfectly valid questions to be asking. But I hope that every theist at least recognises how these questions are far far less important than the questions of worldview.

The methodology by which we come to a particular conclusion on this second question might betray a worldview, and more of that anon; but it is inaccurate to imply that either position, in and of itself, encapsulates a worldview.

So in summary, we have two debates.

1) Worldview Debate: Creation (theism) vs. evolutionism (materialism)
2) History / Taxonomy debate: creationism (young earth / fixed species) vs. evolution (old earth, unfixed species)

Two questions to think about.
a) which debate is more important?
b) which debate is nearer the centre of the force of Genesis 1?

I think that all Christians who have read Genesis 1 carefully should be in no doubt at all that the answer to both these questions is (1)

For other posts in this series see here

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Confusing Conversations about Creation

In preparing for preaching a sermon series on Genesis 1-3 I thought it would be good to get a little more up to speed on where the lay of the land is at the moment in the debates between creationists / intelligent design movement / theistic evolutionists and the new atheists.
I have to admit, that the issues involved, and particularly their relationship (or lack of it) to a right understanding of Genesis One can be enormously confusing. Many people seem to be talking past each other. They thing they are having one conversation when their discussion partner thinks it is an entirely different conversation. The conversations are confusing, precisely because one conversation is being confused with another.
I thought I'd do a few posts to examine the confusing of the conversation conversations and how confusing it can be. And if you are not confused yet, just wait!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sad, and very sad...

"We come together in this place where… he brought joy as only he could."
"Though our hearts are aching we need to look up where he is..."
“I love [him] and I want to thank him so much for blessing me and every single individual on this earth…”
“He is going to live forever and ever and ever and ever."

Sadly, none of these quotes were intended to refer to the Lord Jesus, but to another very lost self-declared king.

Even as the coffin containing his corpse came in and the choir began,

“Soon and very soon we are going to see the king”

It was clear from the screams of fans in the congregation that they knew that the king they were hoping to see soon and very soon was the one whose body was being carried in that that moment.

Al Mohler put it well: " Where the Gospel of Christ is absent or eclipsed, this is all that is left. The messianism of Michael J. will just transfer to a new object."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The prayer of atheists.


1) the lyrics of "The script" song "breakeven"
2) the fact that google returns over 6 million results for the exact sentence "pray to a god I don't believe in". seems people can't help it. Perhaps people believe there is a God after all.
3) Why, when I believe there is a God do I not more often turn to him in prayer? Are we too often practical atheists?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Great title for a conference...

Great title for a day conference... maybe someone could give a blog that title!?
HT: Dave Bish

Conversation about sermon introductions

Over at the 9Marks Blog a few of us have been having a conversation about sermon introductions.

Deepak asked the question. I gave the "textbook" answer. Mike McKinley replied, questioning the usefulness of many introductions. I nuanced and Aaron Menikoff chipped in. Mike retorted. I'm planning to reply and link to this post in case anyone wants to read a brief (and not particularly clever) introduction.

So, here's the text of the introduction from Sunday's sermon on Jephthah... (Judges 10-12) I think I actually said something a little different to this, but this was the manuscript I took into the pulpit.

Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.

Salvador Dalí quotes (Spanish painter, 1904-1989)

The point he’s making is clear: whatever natural abilities we have, we will not make the most of them unless we have ambition: a desire to use that which has been given us to serve some end.

What is your ambition? What are you intent on achieving with you life?

Fame? I wonder how many people around the country are already rehearsing their skills in order to attempt to have half a chance of fame in next year’s Britain’s got talent.

Wealth? Oscar Wilde once said, “Every man of ambition has to fight his century with its own weapons. What this century worships is wealth. The God of this century is wealth. To succeed one must have wealth. At all costs one must have wealth.”

Other ambitions seem far more down to earth than seeking untold wealth or fame, and yet can be just as much of a driving force in our lives. Perhaps you feel your ambitions are much more reasonable, and less, well... ambitious.

· A stable family

· A successful career

· A peaceful life

· Living to meet one’s great grandchildren

· Having a child

· Holding down a job

· Getting out of debt.

· Kicking a bad habit.

· Owning you own home

Perhaps you ahve to admit that you’ve given up on ambition. Your hopes have passed you by, and now you are content to live one day at a time, but occasionally you wonder if your life had become directionless: you feel as if you are not longer living, but only existing.

Ambition becomes a driving force that motivates one to sacrifice a great deal in order to serve your ambition.

What are you ambitious for?

What sacrifices are you willing to make in order to realise that ambition?

It is an important question because our ambitions set the direction of our lives, as much as we are able.

And in setting our life’s direction, it reveals what we think the purpose of life is.

What do your ambitions say about your understanding of the purpose of life?

Judges 10-12 introduces a new character who is nothing if not ambitious...