Archive for August, 2007

A Case for Young Earth Creationism, Part 2

August 31, 2007

My overall argument in this series of posts is that young earth creationism coheres better with the totality of the Christian worldview better than does any other argument.  The first plank in this argument concerns humanity, sin, and redemption.  Here it is:

 The Christian story demands a historical Adam.

If Adam and Eve are seen as metaphors, symbols, or images for humanity in general, then the Christian faith collapses.  Here are several reasons for this contention:

1. The Seminal Passage: Romans 5:12-19.  If Adam is not a historical figure here, then the whole passage makes no sense.  If Adam is understood merely as a figure who represents all people, then the whole argument that Paul is making breaks down.  Allow me to demonstrate the absurdity of that interpretation by laying out the passage with a few glosses added in [my glosses are in brackets]:

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man [all men], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned–for sin indeed was in the before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam [all men] to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam [all men], who was a type of the one to come.  But the free gift is not like the trespass.  For if many died through one man’s [every man’s] trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s [every man’s] sin.  For the judgment following one trespass [every trespass] brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  If, because of one mans’ [every man’s] trespass, death reigned through that one man [all men], much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.  Therefore, as one trespass [every trespass] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s [every man’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

The whole argument turns on the parallel between the one man who plunged us into death and sin and the one man who brings us life and justification.  If Adam is merely a metaphor for humanity, then what Paul is saying is that sin entered the world and spread to all men when humanity as a whole sinned.  That is nothing more than a tautology.  How could the one act of righteousness on the part of Christ in any way be parallel to that?  If Adam is not conceived of as historical in this passage, then neither should Christ be conceived of as historical.  Of course, one can always argue that Paul thought that Adam was a historical person, but Paul was just wrong about that.  I will not entertain that possibility, because it violates my view of the nature of Scripture.  That debate is for another time.  Another passage that belongs in this category is 1 Corinthians 15:21-22. 

2. A Seminal Doctrine: Original Sin.  The doctrine of original sin states that sin is part of our fallen nature from birth.  We are not born into the world morally neutral.  We sin because we are sinners.  Original sin is a necessary component of the Christian worldview, for without it, why would redemption through Christ be necessary?  And I would further argue that without a historical Adam, original sin cannot be upheld, at least not in any theologically sound way.  If Adam and Eve were not real people who plunged the human race into sin at a point in history, then we must be driven to one of the following conclusions:

(1) There is no such thing as original sin, or

(2) Original sin has been part of human nature from the very beginning.

If you take the first option, you are not a Christian.  You are at best a Pelagian.  If you take the second option, you are denying that God’s creation was “very good” in the beginning, as Genesis 1:31 claims, and you are laying a charge at the feet of God, namely, that he created us originally in a state of evil.  The Scripture teaches no such thing.  Humanity is fallen because of an event in history, not because God originally designed us this way. 

3. A Common Sense Observation: The Genealogies.  Adam is listed in a number of genealogies in Scripture.  How could a metaphor for everyman be a figure at the head of a genealogy?  That is nonsense.  Genesis 5:1 reads, “This is the book of the generations of Adam.”  That same formula appears in 6:9 with reference to Noah, in 10:1 with reference to Noah’s sons, in 11:27 in reference to Terah, in 25:12 with reference to Ishmael, in 25:19 with reference to Isaac, in 36:1 with reference to Esau, and in 37:2 with reference to Jacob.  The formula appears first in Genesis in reference to the heavens and the earth in 2:4, but that is obviously a figurative usage of the formula, and the heavens and the earth are never placed at the head of a genealogy.  So, what we find is that every time the formula is used in Genesis with a proper name, it refers to a real, historical person (unless you want to argue that Noah, Noah’s sons, Terah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob are also metaphorical figures as well).  The fact that Adam appears at the head of the genealogy in chapter 5 makes it abundantly clear that he was a real person.  Furthermore, he appears in a genealogy tracing the ancestry of Jesus Christ in Luke 3:23-38. 

Young earth creationism upholds the historicity of Adam and Eve and their fall into sin as one of its necessary components.  This argument, if it is sound, eliminates some versions of the old earth view.  However, let me point out that there are some who uphold the old earth view who also believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve.  One could believe in both an old earth and in a historical Adam by taking any one of the following options:

(1) The “day-age” view of Genesis 1, where “days” represent long ages and not 24 hour periods.

(2) The “gap” theory that posits a gap of millions or billions of years between God’s original creation in Genesis 1:1 and his restoration of creation beginning in Genesis 1:2.  The reason the original creation needed to be restored (according to this view) is because the fall of Satan threw the world into chaos.

(3) The view that God guided the process of evolution until he brought forth Adam and Eve, the first people to be made in the image of God. 

Obviously, this one argument comes nowhere close to proving my case.  But I start with it because I believe it is the most important part of this whole discussion.  At the end of the day, I can live with someone coming to one of the above “old earth” views so long as the historicity of Adam is upheld.  If someone denies the historicity of Adam, then a line has been crossed that veers away from orthodoxy.  The Christian worldview cannot stand without original sin, which itself cannot stand without a historical fall. 

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A Case for Young Earth Creationism, Part 1

August 27, 2007

I have decided to expand a discussion I began here so as to give a more comprehensive justification for my understanding of issues surrounding the age of the earth and the origin of life, particularly human life.  I am a so-called “young earth creationist,” which means I understand the opening chapters of Genesis to be (more or less) a literal description of how God created the universe and how humanity came to be and subsequently fell into sin.  Working backwards from Abraham (who lived around 2,000 BC) and calculating back to the creation of Adam based on information given in the genealogies of Genesis 1-11, it has been determined that the earth is somewhere around 6,000 years old.  This is considered young in comparison to the prevailing scientific opinions of today, which posit billions of years for the earth’s existence.  In actuality, “young earth” is a misnomer, because if young earth creationism is true, then it is only young in comparison to a fictional theory based on a misunderstanding.  However, I will not quibble over terminology; for convenience I will use the phrase “young earth creationism” to describe my position.

My purpose in this post is simply to lay out two theological-methodological presuppositions that I operate with in order to approach this issue.  Here they are:

1. The Bible is the Word of God written, given to humanity by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  It is trustworthy on all matters it addresses.  As the Baptist Faith and Message says, it has “truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.”  The Bible is not a science textbook, but that does not mean that it does not have implications for scientific issues.  In addition, many theological issues (such as the nature of humanity and the fall into sin) are directly connected to scientific questions related to the age of the earth and Darwinian evolution.  If we exclude the Bible from scientific discussions, we run the risk of impacting our overall theology in a negative, unbiblical way.  Therefore, the divine authority and trustworthiness of the Bible is what I take as my starting point for all subjects of investigation. 

I understand the common retort: “But there are many ways to interpret the Bible, and you are simply assuming that young earth creationism is the correct way.”  Actually, I have not assumed that.  In later posts I will offer arguments for my interpretation of the Bible.  Let me simply point out right now that I am well aware of various approaches to the opening chapters of Genesis.  I know that devout Christians who hold to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture have come to different interpretations than mine.  For now I simply want to assert that Scripture is my starting point, not autonomous human reason.

2. What one decides with regard to the age of the earth and the origin of humanity is not an isolated fragment detached from one’s overall theology.  It is part of a whole worldview, a framework, a web of beliefs that mutually affect one another.  How one approaches Genesis 1-11 has massive implications for the final shape one’s theology will take.  Therefore, scientific questions that overlap with the material of Genesis 1-11 should not be divorced from theology, nor vice versa.  I have heard the argument that we should allow scientific discoveries to impact our interpretation of the Bible.  That may be true to some degree, but on the other hand, scientific data itself is not self-explanatory.  The way we view the world impacts the way we interpret Scripture, but the way we interpret Scripture also impacts the way we view the world.  Our conclusions about certain matters rarely proceed in a step-by-step argument from indubitable premises to indubitable conclusions.  Rather, we fit things into a whole worldview package based largely on how well they cohere with that total package.  I lay all this out here in order to prepare the way for my main argument, which will be unfolded in the upcoming posts: young earth creationism coheres with the totality of the Christian worldview better than any other view.  When I put all the pieces together, I find that young earth creationism best fits the biblical, theological, and scientific data.  It offers the most natural reading of Genesis 1-11, is confirmed by other biblical passages that refer to Genesis 1-11, coheres with the wider teaching about humanity, sin, and redemption, and can be harmonized with modern science if it is allowed to stand in its own integrity rather than being forced into the mold of naturalism.  I plan to argue these points at length in the upcoming posts.  I hope you’ll stay tuned. 

What Does the Cross Mean?

August 17, 2007

Did the death of Jesus on the cross satisfy the wrath of God against sinners?  Did Jesus Christ bear the sins of his people such that he became a substitute in their place, receiving and exhausting in himself the punishment we deserved?  In recent years, many self-proclaimed evangelicals have answered these questions negatively.  The doctrine of penal substitution (that Christ bore the penalty of the Law as a substitute in our place, thereby satisfying the just wrath of God) has come under fire from many corners. 

A number of objections have been raised against penal substitution, and a number of answers have been given to those objections by proponents of penal substitution (see the new book Pierced for Our Transgressions for an exhaustive list of answers; it will be out in the USA in November).  In this post I merely want to offer a general reflection on what I believe is the often unspoken assumption behind many of the objections that are raised against this doctrine. 

I think, more often than not, people reject the idea of penal substitution because it makes God out to be so exacting.  He demands punishment for every misdeed.  He cannot make sinners right with himself apart from full satisfaction of his wrath.  A God who demands this kind of strict perfection does not seem like the God of Scripture who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  After all, he commands us to forgive others when they sin against us without demanding any form of payment.  Does he command us to do something that he himself will not do?  Isn’t it more compatible with love simply to sweep offenses aside and have done with this tedious legal business?

This line of thinking, whether pursued consciously or not, is one symptom of an age that has remade God in our image.  I have argued before that God does many things that we cannot do precisely because he is God and we are not.  In our human relationships, of course the person who forgives without payment demonstrates greater love than the person who demands some kind of restitution, especially an exacting restitution.  But the Bible does not command us to forgive just because forgiveness is grand.  Repeatedly, it gives a specific theological basis for our forgiveness of others.  And that basis is precisely that God is the one who exacts vengeance for sin, not us.  Our mandate to forgive is predicated on the fact that God is a righteous judge who will exact the full penalty for every sin, whether from Christ on the cross or from the unrepentant at the final day of judgment.  Either way, vengeance is not ours to pursue.  But this does not mean that the demands of God’s holy Law have been obliterated at a whim; it means that we do not have the right to press those demands–only God does.  Here are two biblical examples of what I am talking about:

Romans 12:17-19: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone.  Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath.  For it is written: ‘Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord.‘” 

On what basis did Jesus himself refrain from lashing out against those who abused him?  Peter answers that in 1 Peter 2:23: “When reviled, He did not revile in return; when suffering, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to the One who judges justly.”   

God demands perfection.  This has been a distinctive mark of Christianity for centuries.  Every other religion denies this tenet and ends up with some version of salvation by personal effort.  Other religions teach that if you jump through certain hoops, your good deeds will in the end suffice to overcome your bad ones, and you will find favor with God.  Perfection is not necessary, but being good enough is, and we have it in our power to jump through all the right hoops.  Christianity has always proclaimed otherwise.  The church has always proclaimed that the demand for perfection (James 2:10) rules out all hope of any of us ever attaining salvation by our own efforts.  And this is why Jesus Christ came for us–to satisfy the demand for perfection in our place.  He obeyed the Law and bore its full penalty against us, thereby upholding the justice of God even while lavishing us with the grace of forgiveness. 

The objection that penal substitution is incompatible with a loving God can only be sustained if God is brought down to our level and treated as though he is one of us.  I cannot demand that my wrath be satisfied against those who have offended me, but that is because I am not the creator and judge of the universe.  But if God is honored as God, who stands above us and whose holiness will not be compromised, penal substitution is the only means of atonement that could possibly answer our need. 

Running vs. Walking

August 12, 2007

Tonight I took my son out in the stroller (as I often do) for a walk around the rural roads of our community.  We saw about four cars in an hour (slow traffic night even for us).  We enjoyed the fresh air, the sights, sounds, and smells of a farming community, and the pleasant evening weather. 

I love walking.  It is truly a serene way to exercise.  It gets my heart rate up a bit, gets blood flowing to my joints, and burns calories.  But it doesn’t make me suck air the way intense workouts do.  It doesn’t leave me hurting the next day.  It puts me in touch with the wonders of God’s creation in a way that I couldn’t be if I were fighting to breathe.

Running, on the other hand, is something completely different.  I don’t believe the human body was designed to run long distances.  God gave us legs that could run if we needed to in extraordinary circumstances, but I don’t think he ever intended us to do it on purpose the way so many people do these days.  Take the marathon, for example.  We have a ritual that commemorates the Battle of Marathon, fought in 490 BC, when an outnumbered force of Athenians defeated Darius’s army.  A messenger ran 26 miles to Athens to proclaim the good news.  And then do you know what happened?  HE DIED!!!  So what do we do?  WE REPLICATE THAT 26-MILE SUICIDE RUN!!!  Something’s not right here.  Somewhere along the way we missed the obvious clue that running is bad for you.  Ask the Athenian messenger boy. 

Take it from me: I used to be a distance runner in high school.  Oh, they talk about the so-called “runner’s high.”  Do you know what that is?  It’s a lie that distance runners perpetuate in order to justify their stupid behavior to people like me.  It was probably made up by the same person who started the rumor that Pop Rocks and soda would make your stomach explode. 

I am actually in the process of formulating a theological argument that running for no good reason may be a sin.  Think about how unnatural it is, how it contravenes the Creator’s design and overthrows the order he established.  God didn’t make our joints to endure that kind of punishment.  We have no record of Jesus ever running anywhere.  He walked everywhere (which clearly sanctions my preferred method of exercise), but he never ran.  Maybe this will turn into my dissertation.

Take it from me: life is better when you walk.  Slow down.  Take the world in.  Be kind to your body and to your friends–like me–who can’t keep up with you.    

The Truth

August 8, 2007

If God has no wrath, the cross has no meaning.

Animal Farm and Orwell’s Politics

August 1, 2007

Yesterday I started reading George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm, the story about a group of farm animals who overthrow their human master in order to create an animal utopia of equality and prosperity, only then to succumb to the same kind of totalitarian oppression they had experienced before.  This is my first time to read it (I’m on chapter 9, so I don’t yet know the ending). 

It surprised me to learn that George Orwell (the pen name of Eric Blair) was a socialist.  While Animal Farm is an outright assault on communism (aimed directly at the Soviet Union, which was quite popular among Western nations in the years surrounding World War II), it also attacks capitalism as well.  My understanding of Orwell is that he did not object to the idea of socialism but merely to the way the concept had been falsely implemented so as to suppress liberty and equality.  He objected to totalitarianism, which in the Soviet Union had piggy-backed on the idea of socialism.  However, I assume that since he was a socialist, he would have supported any socialist government that did socialism right.

I share Orwell’s hatred of totalitarianism.  Likewise, I believe socialism would be a good thing if it were done right.  But here’s where he and I part company: I don’t believe socialism can be done right in a fallen world.  In order to work, socialism has to pretend that sin is not a factor of human existence.  But sin is a factor of human existence, even a necessary factor in a post-fall world like this one.  The only place where socialism might work would be a place where there was no sin, and for that we must await the eschaton.  In this sense, socialism suffers from an overrealized eschatology.

In another sense, socialism also suffers from an underrealized eschatology.  The climax of history occurs through blind economic forces leading to their inevitable conclusion.  There is no transcendent divine invasion into this world.  The “revolution” is a completely natural event.  From a certain perspective, you could say that socialism really has no eschatology because of its inherent link to atheism. 

If there is an economy to speak of in the new creation (and I believe there will be), then it probably will be something like the socialist utopia that Marxists have long dreamed of (only with God at the center, not ignored or denied).  But until that day comes, I will recognize the truth about human nature and dismiss all earthly utopian dreams as mere fantasy.  Socialism has never succeeded in this world, nor can it.  Capitalism (with some government oversight to ensure fairness) is the best we can do.  I know that capitalism often results in oppression, greed, fraud, and abuse, but what else would you expect in a fallen world?  At least capitalism doesn’t concentrate economic power in the hands of a few who oppress and defraud the nation as a whole.  No “system” will get rid of those vices; only Christ can do that.  In the meantime, the nations of this world are better off with a free market that gives equal opportunity (not equal outcome) to all.