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September 2006

September 27, 2006

Wednesday September 27, 2006

Katrina: Lakeview Christian Center has released a new (very professional) video providing information about their efforts in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Music: If you are in the U.S., you can download a new song by Switchfoot. “Dirty Second Hands” will be on their new album, “Oh! Gravity,” set to release December 26.

Blogging: If you use Movabletype, this is a plugin you may want to investigate. “The plugin catches and cleans characters pasted in from Microsoft Word documents and other sources that contain ‘special’ characters that then to break site validation schemes.”

Contest: Kim at “Life in a Shoe” has details of a contest with quite a generous prize.

September 26, 2006

Scientific American is a popular science magazine with a monthly circulation approaching 700,000. Including foreign language editions, the circulation increases to over 1,000,000. First published in 1845, it is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. Quite needless to say, it is not a publication that is particularly friendly to creationism. How unfriendly is it? A recent “Skeptic” column lets us know.

In the October 2006 edition of Scientific American is a column by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic, a magazine produced by The Skeptics Society, which “engages in scientific investigation and journalistic research to investigate claims made by scientists, historians, and controversial figures on a wide range of subjects.” His column is titled “Darwin on the Right: Why Christians and conservatives should accept evolution.” The column is a brief attempt to lay out six reasons that Christians should embrace evolution. The argumentation used in this article is almost embarrassing for its poor use of reason and woefully inadequate understanding of the Christian faith. It reads more like a bad high school-level essay than something that would be printed in a publication such as Scientific American. I’d like to take a brief look at each of Shermer’s six points. He begins with statistics:

According to a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of evangelical Christians believe that living beings have always existed in their present form, compared with 32 percent of Protestants and 31 percent of Catholics. Politically, 60 percent of Republicans are creationists, whereas only 11 percent accept evolution, compared with 29 percent of Democrats who are creationists and 44 percent who accept evolution. A 2005 Harris Poll found that 63 percent of liberals but only 37 percent of conservatives believe that humans and apes have a common ancestry. What these figures confirm for us is that there are religious and political reasons for rejecting evolution. Can one be a conservative Christian and a Darwinian? Yes. Here’s how.

One immediate observation is that he makes a distinction between evangelicals Christians and Protestants, yet does not define these terms. In theory, every Protestant is evangelical and every evangelical is Protestant. Regardless, we will press on.

1. Evolution fits well with good theology. Christians believe in an omniscient and omnipotent God. What difference does it make when God created the universe—10,000 years ago or 10,000,000,000 years ago? The glory of the creation commands reverence regardless of how many zeroes in the date. And what difference does it make how God created life—spoken word or natural forces? The grandeur of life’s complexity elicits awe regardless of what creative processes were employed. Christians (indeed, all faiths) should embrace modern science for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divine in a depth and detail unmatched by ancient texts.

I will be the first to affirm that the Bible is not a scientific text. Neither was it intended to be such. However, if we are to believe that the Bible is God’s word and that what God has spoken is true, we must also believe that what God says about science must be true. When God says that the world was created by His command, we must believe it to be so. Shermer asks, “what difference does it make how God created life—spoken word or natural forces?” The difference is that the Bible tells us God created the world by His spoken word. We are not able to believe in the Bible as God’s word and reject Scripture’s clear teaching that life was created from nothing at God’s command. I agree that “Christians … should embrace modern science for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divine in a depth and detail unmatched by ancient texts.” But science has not proven evolution. It has not proven that the world was created in any way other than at God’s command. I embrace modern science, but only so far as it is compatible with Scripture and plain reason. Evolution does not fit with good theology, for evolution and Scripture are wholly incompatible. If we are to embrace evolution, it will be at the expense of the Bible.

2. Creationism is bad theology. The watchmaker God of intelligent-design creationism is delimited to being a garage tinkerer piecing together life out of available parts. This God is just a genetic engineer slightly more advanced than we are. An omniscient and omnipotent God must be above such humanlike constraints. As Protestant theologian Langdon Gilkey wrote, “The Christian idea, far from merely representing a primitive anthropomorphic projection of human art upon the cosmos, systematically repudiates all direct analogy from human art.” Calling God a watchmaker is belittling.

Calling God a watchmaker is clearly belittling, but I do not know of any Christians who believe that God fills this role. God is not a mere garage tinkerer who pieces life together from available parts. Rather, God is the one who not only created life as an idea, as a concept, but who created the available parts and who then assembled them in an orderly fashion. To suggest that God is only slightly more advanced than we are is to ignore the vast gaps that continue to exist in human knowledge. Humans may have been able to map the genome, but a great deal of work remains; an infinite amount of work. The more we conquer, the more we realize we still need to conquer. And one thing humans have never been able to do and will never be able to do is create life ex nihilo, from nothing. We may be able to arrange and rearrange the building blocks of life in some semblance of order, but we are not able to make something from nothing. That is the realm of God alone. Creationism is not bad theology, but is the theology of the Bible. It is not an optional doctrine, but something we must believe if we are to be men and women of the Bible.

3. Evolution explains original sin and the Christian model of human nature. As a social primate, we evolved within-group amity and between-group enmity. By nature, then, we are cooperative and competitive, altruistic and selfish, greedy and generous, peaceful and bellicose; in short, good and evil. Moral codes and a society based on the rule of law are necessary to accentuate the positive and attenuate the negative sides of our evolved nature.

This third point begins with a premise that is accepted only by evolutionists. As Christians we do not believe that humans evolved at all, but that we were deliberately placed on this earth and were made to rule it. To attempt to explain original sin through between-group enmity is to completely misrepresent original sin. Between-group enmity is unable to explain why it is that every human being, no matter his age, culture, race, or gender is sinful. It is unable to explain why we all do things that are wrong and why we all delight in doing wrong. It is unable to explain what is clearly spiritual. Evolution cannot explain original sin or the Christian model of human nature. It cannot explain the conscience, the soul, or sinful nature.

4. Evolution explains family values. The following characteristics are the foundation of families and societies and are shared by humans and other social mammals: attachment and bonding, cooperation and reciprocity, sympathy and empathy, conflict resolution, community concern and reputation anxiety, and response to group social norms. As a social primate species, we evolved morality to enhance the survival of both family and community. Subsequently, religions designed moral codes based on our evolved moral natures.

“Attachment and bonding, cooperation and reciprocity, sympathy and empathy, conflict resolution, community concern and reputation anxiety, and response to group social norms” are all characteristics of families. However, all of these characteristics are as easily and even more easily explained by creation rather than evolution. Could God not have given us the desire to attach and bond? Could he not have made us sympathetic and make us desire to resolve conflicts amicably? Even a brief overview of the Bible will prove this to be true. To suggest that religions designed moral codes based upon moral natures is to put the cart before the horse, for is it not more likely that a moral code existed with God before creation was begun, and that our natures were created in a way consistent with this code? Is it not likely that God, whose moral nature included moral codes, designed us in His image and built that code into us? Is this not an explanation for the laws that seem so clearly to be written into the hearts of all humans? Evolution cannot explain family values and can certainly not explain more codes.

5. Evolution accounts for specific Christian moral precepts. Much of Christian morality has to do with human relationships, most notably truth telling and marital fidelity, because the violation of these principles causes a severe breakdown in trust, which is the foundation of family and community. Evolution describes how we developed into pair-bonded primates and how adultery violates trust. Likewise, truth telling is vital for trust in our society, so lying is a sin.

Christian morality has to do primarily with imitating God who is true and who is faithful. The violation of these principles may case a severe breakdown in truth, but far worse, violation of these principles causes a growing rift between creature and Creator. Christian morality involves human relationships, but only secondarily to the relationship between God and man. Evolution may offer some description of how humans developed into pair-bonded primates and how adultery violates trust. But the Bible offers an answer that is far more clear and far more likely: God created marriage so that human beings could emulate the relationship of Jesus Christ to His people. Truth telling is vital for trust, but even more vital to maintain relationship between God and man. Lying is a sin because it makes a mockery of God who not only tells the truth, but is the very source of truth. Evolution absolutely cannot account for specific moral precepts in a way that is satisfying. And, ironically, evolution is the worldview that underlies the acceptance of non-traditional relationships such as homosexual marriage. Could it be that evolution can be used to explain anything?

6. Evolution explains conservative free-market economics. Charles Darwin’s “natural selection” is precisely parallel to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Darwin showed how complex design and ecological balance were unintended consequences of competition among individual organisms. Smith showed how national wealth and social harmony were unintended consequences of competition among individual people. Nature’s economy mirrors society’s economy. Both are designed from the bottom up, not the top down.

This sixth point does not seem to fit with the rest of the list. While the other five have dealt with principles that are distinctly Christian, this one turns to free-market economics. Shermer may as well have said “Evolution explains the American obsession with team sports.” I know little of economics, free market or otherwise, so will leave this point as-is, except to point out that simply because two theories parallel one another does not make either true.

The article concludes with an exhortation and a passage from Scripture. “Because the theory of evolution provides a scientific foundation for the core values shared by most Christians and conservatives, it should be embraced. The senseless conflict between science and religion must end now, or else, as the Book of Proverbs (11:29) warned: ‘He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.’”

There does not need to be a conflict between science and religion. In a perfect world, there would be no conflict, and, indeed, when the world is remade there will be no conflict. What we see in this debate is not a competition between science and religion, but a conflict between worldviews. These worldviews are wholly incompatible. Michael Ruse, a well-known evolutionist speaks truthfully when he says “evolution came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity…Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and is true of evolution still today.” Evolution is not mere science, but is religion dressed as science. Evolution, and the naturalism that lies behind it, is a full-blown worldview, and in reality, is a religious system that stands in direct opposition to Christianity. The true conflict, the conflict between evolution and creationism, is a conflict of truth and error, a conflict of God and man. Creationism embraces God as the Creator and Sustainer of the world; evolutionism rejects God replaces Him with time, chance and opportunity. The debate between creationism and evolutionism is by no means senseless, for it is a defense of the truth and a defense of the One who is Truth.

September 26, 2006

Tuesday September 26, 2006

Courses: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is offering several courses free online. There are a couple by David Wells that are sure to be especially good.

People: Phil Johnson has begun a new series on TeamPyro and begins with an interesting “word of personal testimony” that describes how he was saved.

Music: I am a few days behind the times here (how am I supposed to know Bob has posted on his site when his RSS feed has stopped working!) but Bob Kauflin has posted some information about the upcoming Christmas album from Sovereign Grace Ministries, including the lyrics to a new song by Mark Altrogge.

Debate: Audio of the “debate” on Calvinism between Al Mohler and Paige Patterson has been posted online.

September 25, 2006

Every soul thirsts. It may not be felt every moment, but to some degree every soul thirsts after something it does not have. We are rarely content in our current condition and it seems that this is the way we have been Divinely wired. But while we all thirst, we do not all thirst in the same way. A couple of years ago I read Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health which was written by Don Whitney. I posted a review of it here and highly recommend that you read this book for yourself. The one chapter that gave me the most to think about and meditate upon was the one dealing with spiritual thirst. It has proven helpful in times of weakness and times of thirst in helping me discern just what it is I seek after. In this article I will list the three types of thirst the author outlines and briefly discuss each of them.

The Thirst of the Empty Soul

The soul of the unbeliever is empty towards the things of God. Until the Spirit fills the soul with His presence, it is devoid of any love for God. Without God, the unbeliever is constantly looking for something, anything, but is unable to fill this emptiness. This is something many people do not understand, but that the Bible teaches clearly: While the unbeliever’s soul is empty because he does not know God, he does not seek to fill it with God. Many people believe that unbelievers are truly seeking after God, yet the Bible tells us that the empty soul is unable to see his real thirst. Not only that, but the empty soul does not want to see his own thirst, and would not, even if it were possible. The empty soul is completely and fully opposed to God; it is deceitful and desperately wicked. In Romans 3:11 Paul quotes the Psalmist, David, who wrote “no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Psalm 14:2) Humans may have a God-shaped hole in their souls, but this is not a whole the unbeliever seeks to fill with God until the Spirit does a prior work in Him.

And so it is that the empty soul seeks to be satisfied. It seeks satisfaction in work, family, love, sex, money and everything else the world has to offer. It may seek satisfaction in religion and even the Christian religion, but yet never truly seeks God and thus never finds Him. Until the Holy Spirit enables that soul to understand the source of his thirst and enables him to see the One who can satisfy, he will continue to look in vain. “Just because a man longs for something that can be found in God alone doesn’t mean he’s looking for God…Many who claim they are questing for God are not thirsting for God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture, but only for God as they want Him to be, or a God who will give them what they want.”

All who know Christ have known the thirst of the empty soul. All who know Christ have known the satisfaction of having their thirst quenched.

The Thirst of the Dry Soul

There is a second type of spiritual thirst, and it is the thirst of the dry soul. This is a thirst that is felt only by those who believe. It does not indicate that one has fallen away from the Lord, but that he is in a dry place spiritually and that his soul is in need of refreshment. This is the thirst the Psalmist speaks of in Psalm 42. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” This man knows God, but feels that God is distant from him and so cries out for hope and restoration.

There are three ways a Christian can become spiritually arid:

The first is by drinking too deeply from the fountains of the world and too little from the river of God. When a believer drinks too much of what the world has to offer and too little of what God offers, the soul becomes parched. Giving ourselves over to our sin means we turn our backs on God, even if only for a while, and we allow the soul to run dry.

The second way a believer can become arid is what the Puritans referred to as “God’s desertions.” There are times in life when God’s presence is very real to us and other times where we feel only His absence. We know as believers that God’s absence is merely our perception and that there is never a time where He actually withdraws from us. However, there are seasons in which He removes from us a conscious knowledge of His presence.

The third way a believer becomes arid is fatigue, either mental or physical. Becoming burned-out by the cares and concerns of the world will cause a believer to focus too much on himself, thus turning his thoughts from God.

The dry soul yearns for God and nothing else will satisfy. The soul has tasted and seen God and wants nothing more than to return to being close to Him. And when the soul is dry, God is faithful and good to provide the nourishment we seek after. He fills, He restores and He satisfies. The Psalmist new this, for he wrote “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

The Thirst of the Satisfied Soul

The final type of spiritual thirst is the thirst of the satisfied soul. The satisfied soul desires God precisely because he is satisfied in Him. There are many biblical examples of this, but perhaps one of the most clear is the apostle Paul who, in Philippians 3, went to great lengths to describe the depth of His relationship with Christ, but then added the words “that I may know Him.” His satisfaction in Christ and the deep love and affection he felt for God, only stimulated his desire to know Him more. Paul wanted nothing more than to know and love God. His satisfaction made him thirsty for more. Thomas Shepard wrote “There is in true grace an infinite circle; a man by thirsting receives, and receiving thirsts for more.” This is not a cycle of frustration, where we continually lament that we do not know more, but a cycle of satisfaction and earnest desire.

So Thirst!

I will close with a prayer of A.W. Tozer. “O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made thirsty still.”

September 25, 2006

Monday September 25, 2006

Blogging: On Saturday I went to a blogger’s lunch not too far from here. Someone there mistook me for Frank Turk which seemed to delight James White. Anyways, Carla Rolfe has details and a bunch of pictures. I’d like to point out that, though I’m not smiling in the picture of Carla and myself, I gave it a try. Her husband couldn’t figure out the camera and I could only hold a smile for so long. As soon as I let it go, he snapped the picture. So it’s his fault, not mine!

Calvinism: Tom Ascol mentions a Lifeway survey which concludes that 10% of Southern Baptist pastors consider themselves 5-point Calvinists.

Eschatology: Justin Taylor pointed to some interesting charts that help explain the various ways of understanding the end times.

Weird: Want your child to fall asleep to the sweet strains of “Enter Sandman” by Metallica? Now he can with Rockabye Baby, a new series of lullabye albums.

September 24, 2006

Today I present a brief reflection on Sunday, providing some historic viewpoints on the Lord’s Day as summarized in various creeds and confessions. I do not think my commentary would be helpful or necessary:

The London Baptist Confession says:

As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished…The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

The Heidelberg Catechism says:

…That I, especially on the sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God, (b) to hear his word, (c) to use the sacraments, (d) publicly to call upon the Lord, (e) and contribute to the relief of the poor. (f) Secondly, that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works, and yield myself to the Lord, to work by his Holy Spirit in me: and thus begin in this life the eternal sabbath. (g)

The Westminster Longer Catechism states:

The sabbath or Lord’s day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to betaken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercises of God’s worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day…The sins forbidden in the fourth commandment are, all omissions of the duties required, all careless, negligent, and unprofitable performing of them, and being weary of them; all profaning the day by idleness, and doing that which is in itself sinful; and by all needless works, words, and thoughts, about our worldly employments and recreations.

The Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists has as a core belief:

The first day of the week is the Lord’s Day. It is a Christian institution for regular observances. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ from the dead and should be employed in exercises of worship and spiritual devotion both public and private and by refraining from worldly amusements and resting from secular employments work of necessity and mercy only being expected.

And finally, the average Evangelical says:

“Want to go to the mall after church?”

September 23, 2006

I used to be an avid computer gamer. From the time computers became widely available, I was using them to play games. I played them for long enough to know that they don’t make them like they used to. Modern-day games have not risen above the standards set by such classics as X-Com, Railroad Tycoon, Civilization, SimCity and so on. When these games were made, computers were primitive enough that a game had to stand on the merits of its gameplay. Graphics were not exciting enough to be able to hide a bad game within pretty graphics. With recent advancements in technology, games have undergone a radical transformation. Today’s games are rapidly becoming almost photo-realistic. This raises new issues about the morality of portraying acts of violence and sexuality that were mostly unknown even a few short years ago.

September 22, 2006

It looks like the whole mess at Ligonier may (thankfully!) be drawing to a close. This afternoon two statements were posted to Ligonier’s web site. The first was from Ligonier’s Senior Management and the second from CEO Tim Dick. Since I have posted on this matter in the past, I may as well carry on and post what I (optimistically) hope represents the end of the matter.

Here is the statement from Senior Management (link):

On August 24, 2006, Ligonier Ministries filed a legal complaint and a request for an injunction since no ecclesiastical court could be found. The filing was an attempt to stem the slanderous and reckless allegations being made about Ligonier and its leaders on the Internet by an individual known as Frank Vance, whose true identity is still unknown to us.

The accuser’s malicious attacks culminated with the accusation that Ligonier defrauded Soli Deo Gloria, in our recent acquisition of it. This has been categorically refuted by Don Kistler, SDG’s founder.

Threats to Ligonier and its leadership have continued to escalate, with the accuser issuing deadlines for Ligonier to answer his non-credible charges. At one point our president was told he had “put a knife to his own throat,” by ignoring the accuser.

Throughout this entire ordeal, numerous emails and posts refuting the accuser were ignored by him. Mediation through ecclesiastical means is always preferred. On at least six occasions, we have sought information from the accuser as to how we might contact his pastor or session. The accuser has refused all requests, publicly scoffing at the notion.

Based on godly counsel we have received from churchmen and others, the decision was reached not to pursue a conclusion to this matter through the legal system.

Having withdrawn the complaint, we ask friends and fellow believers to pray that we will have wisdom as this matter comes to a peaceful end.

We are grieved by the entire matter, and we desire that God be glorified by the outcome of this decision.

- Ligonier Ministries’ Senior Management

And here is the statement from Tim Dick (link):

Public Statement from Tim Dick President and CEO of Ligonier Ministries

On August 24, 2006 a complaint was filed in a Judicial Court of Seminole County, by Ligonier Ministries seeking injunctive relief because of the significant threats and allegations being made by a “blogger” under the name Frank Vance, whose true identity is yet unknown.

The decision to take this step was extremely difficult. The intention of the complaint was simply to respond to the unfounded, slanderous attack of our accuser, and to seek an objective response. I attempted to resolve this in private, as my beliefs require. Each time I refuted the accusations, he refused to listen. My denials were then used by the accuser to perpetuate his blog commentary. At that point, I stopped interacting with the accuser, who again escalated his attack, continuing to exhibit, by his public and private conduct, a testimony inconsistent with that of a Christian.

In light of Don Kistler’s statement and our concern for the health of the church, I have asked that our complaint be withdrawn. I regret any confusion this may have caused to our constituents, staff, Board of Directors and our friends and colleagues in the Christian community. As the President and CEO of Ligonier Ministries I accept full responsibility for the decision and consider the matter closed. I pray that in the days ahead, God will be glorified as we continue to serve Him.