02/20/18

The Birth of Christian Creeds

© Irina Dubovik | 123rf.com – christian symbol fish

In “Legend of the Apostles’ Creed,” I looked at the belief of how the Twelve Apostles agreed upon a standard for their future preaching that came to be known as the Apostles’ Creed. But this legend was just a “pious fiction.” However, there was evidence for “creeds of a looser sort,” lacking the textually determined state of the later confession and creeds. There was even a brief survey of “creedal elements” present in the New Testament. Formal creedal statements seem to have not emerged until the middle of the third century. However, “It is indisputable … that the root of all creeds is the formula of belief pronounced by the baptizand, or pronounced in his hearing and assented by him, before his baptism.”

The reader of the New Testament will continually come across creed-like sayings, which became slogans expressing the new faith. J.N.D. Kelly said in Early Christian Creeds that: “Creeds in the true meaning of the word were yet to come, but the movement towards formulation and fixity was under way.” Particular occasions, like when a candidate sought to be admitted to the Church, called for some kind of assurance of faith; some kind of statement of belief. So catechetical instruction and the baptismal rite itself called for declaring what you believed. Preaching was another occasion that would have lent itself to the formulation of doctrinal sayings.

The day-to-day polemic of the Church, whether against heretics within or pagan foes without, provided another situation [favorable] to the production of creeds. Yet another was supplied by the liturgy; solemn expressions of faith, in the form of hymns, prayers and devotional cries, had a natural place there.

“Jesus is Lord” or “Jesus is the Son of God” were simple, one-clause Christologies that appeared in Scripture as well as baptismal rites. There were also Binitarian (Jesus and God the Father) and Trinitarian (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) summaries of the Christian faith. Binitarian summaries like 2 Timothy 4:1—“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom”— were more common. But there were Trinitarian summaries as well, like 2 Corinthians 13:14 or the baptismal command of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Paul gave what has all the appearance of being a summary of his gospel, drawn up for catechetical instruction or preaching in 1 Corinthian 15:3ff. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures …” Or there is 2 Timothy 2:8, where he said: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.” There are creed-like passages in: Romans 8:34, 1 Peter 3:18ff, Philippians 2:6-11, and others.

It was, after all, natural and inevitable that the initial proclamation of the gospel should emphasize the distinctively Christian, entirely novel and revolutionary element in the divine revelation. But the framework was there. It was always presupposed; and the firmness with which it was apprehended is evidenced by the extraordinary way in which the Binitarian and Trinitarian patterns wove themselves into the texture of early Christian thinking. In due course, with the development of catechetical teaching and of more systematic, comprehensive instruction in generally, as well as with the evolution of liturgical forms giving fuller expression to the faith, these vital aspects of it came to receive more regular and formal acknowledgement in creeds and semi-creedal summaries. . . . The impulse towards their formulation came from within, not from without; and at the New Testament stage we can observe the process in full swing, with confessions of all three types coexisting and interacting.

Above we noted how creeds emerged from a variety of sources, including preaching, liturgy, hymns prayers, devotionals and above all, baptismal initiation into the Church. In their traditional form, creeds are declaratory; they are short statements, in the first person, asserting belief in a selected group of facts and doctrines. Some declaratory professions of faith must have been part of the baptismal service of the early church. “In fact, it was precisely the need for a formal affirmation of belief to be rehearsed by the catechumen at baptism which instigated the Church to invent creeds in the first place.” Whatever their other uses may have been, “their primary raison d’être, was to serve as solemn affirmations of faith in the context of baptismal initiation.”

The Didache was most likely edited into its present form towards the end of the first century from materials written around 70 AD. The first known copy was not discovered until 1873, although there had been references to it by many ancient writers. It is composed of two parts: the “Two Ways” (1.1–6.2) and a manual of church order and practice (6.3–16.8). The Two Ways is a summary of basic instruction about the Christian life to be taught to those who were preparing for baptism and church membership. “In addition to providing the earliest evidence of a mode of baptism other than immersion, it records the oldest known Christian Eucharistic prayers and a form of the Lord’s Prayer quite similar to that found in the gospel of Matthew.”

The baptismal process of the early church was a series of questions asked of the individual, to which they would say: “I believe” before being submerged a series of three times, in a Trinitarian framework. The fourth century treatise by Ambrose, De Sacramentis, consists of six short addresses delivered to the newly baptized, which claimed it followed the Roman models as far as possible. The candidate entered the baptismal font and renounced the devil and his works, the world and its pleasures, and then:

You were questioned, “Dost thou believe in God the Father almighty?” You said, “I believe”, and were immersed, that is were buried. Again you were asked, “Dost thou believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and his cross?” You said: “I believe”, and were immersed. Thus you were buried along with Christ; for he who is buried along with Christ rises again with Him. A third time you were asked, “Dost thou believe also in the Holy Spirit?” You said, “I believe”, and a third time were immersed, so that your threefold confession wiped out the manifold failings of your earlier life.

During the first few centuries of the Church, the only “creeds,” loosely conceived, were ones directly connected with baptism. Yet their roots lay not so much in the rite of baptism, as in the catechetical training, which preceded it. Declaratory creeds were summaries of Christian doctrine “compiled for the benefit of converts undergoing instruction.” They can then be seen as a by-product of “the Church’s fully developed catechetical system.”

Additionally, by the 2nd century there was a “rule of faith” or a “canon of truth” believed and taught by the Church, and inherited from the Apostles. It just wasn’t an official, textually set confession of faith or creed. The content of that rule, in all it essentials, was foreshadowed by the “pattern of teaching” accepted in the apostolic Church. As was noted in “Legend of the Apostles’ Creed,” the early Church was a “believing, confessing, preaching Church,” with a collection of documents (the New Testament) telling “a unique story of redemption.”

As with the time of the New Testament itself, the writings of the Apostolic Fathers did not allude to any formal, official creed. But there was an abundance of “quasi-creedal scraps” which show that the creedal making impulses of the Christian communities were alive and active.” The author of 1 Clement (95/96 AD) echoed the Trinitarian pattern when he inquired of his readers, “Do we not have one God and one Christ and one Spirit of grace which was poured out upon us?” In the Shepherd of Hermas (95-100 BC?), is this comment on the first commandment: “First of all, believe that there is one God who created and finished all things, and made all things out of nothing. He alone is able to contain the whole, but Himself cannot be contained.” The letters of Ignatius have several quasi-creedal scraps, including this Binitarian pattern from To the Magnesians (110 AD): “There is one God who revealed himself through Jesus Christ his Son, who is his Word which came forth from silence.”

With Justin Martyr, we come across for the first time “what can plausibly be taken to be quotations of semi-formal creeds.” Justin converted to Christianity around 130. He was born in Nablus, in Palestinian Syria, and taught Christian philosophy after his conversion in Ephesus and later in Rome, where he opened a Christian school. In 165 he and some of his disciples were denounced as Christians and when they refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, they were scourged and beheaded.

The first thing to note is how deeply the Trinitarian pattern seems to have been reflected in his writings. Here in his first Apology (written In Rome around 150-155 AD), within a discussion on baptism, he said: “To the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” And again when discussing weekly worship: “We bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost.” There is then another passage, again from his first Apology, that seems to be a loose paraphrase of a set, creed-like formula.

What sober-minded man, then, will not acknowledge that we are not atheists, worshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied, as we have been taught that the only honour that is worthy of Him is not to consume by fire what He has brought into being for our sustenance, but to use it for ourselves and those who need, and with gratitude to Him to offer thanks by invocations and hymns for our creation, and for all the means of health, and for the various qualities of the different kinds of things, and for the changes of the seasons; and to present before Him petitions for our existing again in incorruption through faith in Him. Our teacher of these things is Jesus Christ, who also was born for this purpose, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judæa, in the times of Tiberius Cæsar; and that we reasonably worship Him, having learned that He is the Son of the true God Himself, and holding Him in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third, we will prove.

Kelly said it was difficult to resist the conclusion that Justin knew of “a developed Christological kerygma [an irreducible essence of Christian apostolic preaching], which already enjoyed a measure of fixity.” However, there is no evidence it was “an official declaratory creed used at Rome or in any other church.” Nevertheless, as early as the time of Justin “there was apparently something approaching a settled form for the baptismal questions.” Irenaeus and Tertullian knew of formularies, which seemed to have an official character and a distinctive outline, even if their wording wasn’t always given verbatim.

By the middle of the third century the process of crystallization had gone a very long way: there were (and had been, we may conjecture, for some time) “customary and established words”. The endorsement of the local ecclesiastical authority, it would seem, had been added. The framework of the questions was always and everywhere the Lord’s baptismal command, the candidate being asked three times whether he believed in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Gradually these bare interrogations were expanded.

For more on the early creeds and heresies of the Christian church, see the link: “Early Creeds.”

02/9/18

Legend of the Apostles’ Creed

© jorisvo | 123rf.com – fresco (1450) depicting the articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

The Apostles’ Creed has been a central part of worship and declaring what individuals and congregations believe about the members of the Trinity since the early centuries of the Christian church. For centuries it was believed that after Pentecost and before the apostles dispersed in the Great Commission, they “mutually agreed upon a standard of their future preaching.” They were said to have developed this standard so that when they were separated, they would not unintentionally vary “in the statements which they should make to those whom they should invite to believe in Christ.” Yet it seems this origins tale for the Apostles’ Creed is just a legend.

The fourth century monk and historian, Rufinus Tryannius wrote a commentary on the Apostles’ Creed, probably around 307-309 AD. In his commentary Rufinus related the above origins story for the Creed which was widely believed in the Western Christian church until the 15th century. Each of the apostles, “filled with the Holy Ghost,” were said to have contributed several sentences to the one common summary, which later became known as the Apostles’ Creed. Rufinus said:

Our forefathers have handed down to us the tradition, that, after the Lord’s ascension, when, through the coming of the Holy Ghost, tongues of flame had settled upon each of the Apostles, that they might speak diverse languages, so that no race however foreign, no tongue however barbarous, might be inaccessible to them and beyond their reach, they were commanded by the Lord to go severally to the several nations to preach the word of God. Being on the eve therefore of departing from one another, they first mutually agreed upon a standard of their future preaching, lest haply, when separated, they might in any instance vary in the statements which they should make to those whom they should invite to believe in Christ. Being all therefore met together, and being filled with the Holy Ghost, they composed, as we have said, this brief formulary of their future preaching, each contributing his several sentence to one common summary: and they ordained that the rule thus framed should be given to those who believe.

The Apostles’ Creed itself was present and increasingly became an important summary of confession and belief in the life of the church from at least the time of Rufinus in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. In his 5th century treatise on Christian piety, the Enchiridion, Augustine explained how the Apostles’ Creed was useful in teaching Christian doctrine and in refuting heresies. Along with the Lord’s Prayer, he thought the Creed was a succinct summary of the Christian doctrine and faith.

For you have the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. What can be briefer to hear or to read? What easier to commit to memory?When, as the result of sin, the human race was groaning under a heavy load of misery, and was in urgent need of the divine compassion, one of the prophets, anticipating the time of God’s grace, declared: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered [Joel 2:32].” Hence the Lord’s Prayer. But the apostle, when, for the purpose of commending this very grace, he had quoted this prophetic testimony, immediately added: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed [Romans 10:14]?” Hence the Creed. In these two you have those three graces exemplified: faith believes, hope and love pray.

The above legend was an accepted part of the history of the church until the Council of Florence (1438-1445), which attempted a reunification of the Western and Eastern churches. At the beginning of the negotiations, the Western, Latin representatives invoked the Apostles’ Creed. In response, the Eastern Greek representatives said they did not possess and had never seen “this creed of the Apostles.” Moreover, as J.N.D. Kelly quoted Marcus Eugenicus in Early Christian Creeds, “If it had ever existed, the Book of Acts would have spoken of it in its description of the first apostolic synod at Jerusalem, to which you appeal.”

Once the question is squarely faced, the extreme unlikelihood of the Apostles having drafted an official summary of faith scarcely merits discussion. Since the Reformation the theory that they did has been quietly set aside as legendary by practically all scholars, the conservative-minded merely reserving the right to point out that the teaching of the formula known as the Apostles’ Creed reproduces authentically apostolic doctrine.

Kelly went on to say the legend is an example of the tendency of the early Church to “attribute the whole of its doctrinal, liturgical and hierarchical apparatus” to the Twelve Apostles, and through them to Christ himself. He said this could be acknowledged without prejudice to the question of whether 2nd century Church fathers were correct to claim their rule of faith was the same as the faith of the Apostles. If the question was “Did the apostolic Church possess an official, textually determined confession of faith” the answer is no, it did not. However, “creeds of a looser sort,” that lacked the fixed and official character of the later formularies—yet clearly foreshadowing them—were is use early on.

The early Church was a “believing, confessing, preaching Church.” If the Christians of the apostolic age had not seen themselves as possessing a body of distinctive, consciously held beliefs, why would they have separated from Judaism and begun their program of missionary expansion? “Everything goes to show that the infant communities looked upon themselves as the bearers of a unique story of redemption.” The New Testament is a collection of documents written “from faith to faith.”

The Gospels carefully elaborate certain dogmatic beliefs about Jesus, “which they seek to explain and justify.” The other documents “presuppose a background of faith shared by the author and those for whom he is writing.” For all their differences of nuance, the documents of the New Testament “comprise a body of literature which could only have sprung from a community with a strongly marked outlook of its own.”

In light of these considerations it is impossible to overlook the emphasis on the transmission of authoritative doctrine which is to be found everywhere in the New Testament. In the later strata the reference to an inherited corpus of teaching are clear enough. In Jude 3, for example, we read of “the faith once delivered to the saints”; later (verse 20) the author speaks of “your most holy faith”, again using the word in the sense of an accepted body of beliefs.

Further examples given by Kelly were from the Pastoral Epistles, including 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:13; Titus 1:9. Hebrews advises its readers to “hold fast our confession;” without wavering (Hebrews 4:14, 10:23). In 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul exhorted his readers to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either our spoken word or our letter.” In Romans 6:17 Paul referred to the “standard of teaching to which you were committed.”

What we have before us, at any rate in rough outline, is the doctrinal deposit, at the pattern of sound words, which was expounded in the apostolic church since its inauguration and which constituted its distinctive message.

The story that the Twelve met and composed an “Apostles’ Creed” is a pious fiction. But by the 2nd century there was a “rule of faith” or a “canon of truth” believed and taught by the Church, and inherited from the Apostles. It just wasn’t an official, textually set confession of faith or a creed, as with the Apostles’ Creed and others that followed. The content of that rule, in all it essentials, was foreshadowed by the “pattern of teaching” accepted in the apostolic Church. Its essentials were prototypically contained in the New Testament. From the end of the first century to the middle of the third century, there were only creeds in this elastic, nontechnical sense of the term. “That the Church in the apostolic age possessed a creed in the broad sense of a recognized body of teaching may be accepted as demonstrated fact.”

For more on the early creeds and heresies of the Christian church, see the link: “Early Creeds.”

01/30/18

Nature, Red in Tooth & Claw, Part 2

© Camillo Maranchon | 123rf.com- skeleton of a velociraptor dinosaur

In an appendix to their classic book, The Genesis Flood, John Whitcomb and Henry Morris discussed the question of “Paleontology and the Edenic Curse.” They questioned the validity what they referred to as “uniformitarian paleontology,” which dated the formation of fossil layers in hundreds of millions of years, not the thousands of years allotted in their own timeline for creation. This uniformitarianism assumed the death of billions of animals by natural or violent means and the extinction of untold species of animals, like dinosaurs, before the Fall of Adam. “Long ago before the Edenic curse giant flesh-eating monsters like Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the earth, slashing their victims with ferocious dagger-like teeth and claws.”

But how can such an interpretation of the history of the animal kingdom be reconciled with the early chapters of Genesis? Does the Book of Genesis, honestly studied in the light of the New Testament, allow for the reign of tooth and claw and death and destruction before the Fall of Adam?

In Part 1 of this article we looked at some of the challenges to the modern young earth (YEC) theodicy that Whitcomb and Morris birthed with their book.  The organization, Answers in Genesis (AiG) seems to be at the forefront of the current debate over how to interpret Genesis 1-11 from this perspective. For AiG, the age of the earth, the day of creation in Genesis 1 and whether there was animal death before the Fall are all tied together into the same bundle. Writing for AiG in “Did Death of Any Kind Exist Before the Fall?,” Simon Turpin said:

If Genesis is interpreted through the lens of uniformitarian geology then the fossil record documents that millions of years of earth’s history are filled with death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, and violence. However, if the days of creation in Genesis 1 were only 24 hours long then there is no room for the millions of years of death, struggle, and disease to have taken place before Adam disobeyed God.

Along with others, the work of David Snoke in A Biblical Case for an Old Earth was presented as evidence countering the YEC and AiG claim that their interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is the only biblically valid one. Dr. Snoke said that if you were to acknowledge that the Bible taught animals died before the Fall, many of the other objections to an old earth melted away. Here I’d like to further unpack another of his statements, “The whole point of an old-earth view is to say that things are as they appear, and the earth is full of fossils and fossil matter such as coral and limestone.”

Dr. Snoke noted where YECs like AiG and Whitcomb and Morris identified the Edenic curse in Genesis 3:14-24 as the origination of carnivorous animals. Before the Fall they were said to have been herbivores. Whitcomb and Morris stated that the sharp claws and teeth of the carnivores came from the Fall: “The point is that such specialized structures appeared for the first time after the Edenic curse.” Yet there is no discussion in Scripture of how these modifications (dare we say evolved?) or new species emerged, according to Snoke. “Nowhere does it say that new species of animals [or alterations to existing species] will appear or that the entire order of the physical world will change.”

Snoke suggested that two different interpretive models of the creation, fall and new creation played a role in the debate over whether animal death occurred before the Fall. The models are illustrated below in the following table reproduced from A Biblical Case for an Old Earth. 

View I

World of

Genesis 1-2

World of

Revelation 21-22

Our world

(digression)

View II

World of

Revelation 21-22

World of

Genesis 1-2

Our world

In the first model, the original created world and the new heavens & earth of Revelation are essentially the same. The lost, perfect Edenic world is restored; and our present world is radically different from either. In support of this perspective, the imagery of the Garden of Eden found in Revelation 22:1-3 is noted: There is the Tree of Life, a river and the declaration that “No longer will there be anything accursed.” Snoke does not further elaborate on this model, but the assumed lack of death, disease, and suffering for animals (what AiG calls natural evil) and humans before the Fall would fit in equating them.

In the section of his article addressing whether there was natural evil before the Fall, AiG’s Terry Mortenson said the declaration by God was that his creation was “very good.” Not only did this indicate that land creatures were vegetarian before the Fall, but how could “millions of years of death and other natural evil be called ‘very good’?” He went on to Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25-26, which speak of a future state of creation, where the wolf and the lamb will dwell together; the lion eats straw like the ox; the cow and the bear will graze together and their young will lie down together.

The scene in view is one of complete peace and harmony. For some animals to hunt and kill other animals is described as hurting, destroying, and doing evil. Given this language, is it really possible that carnivores would be destroying other animals (whether healthy or diseased) and earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and asteroid impacts causing animal death and extinction would be happening for hundreds of millions of years in God’s “very good” creation before Adam sinned?

In the second model, the original created world and our current world are essentially the same. The old earth premise is that things are as they appear. Here, the world to come in Revelation is utterly different. Dr. Snoke illustrated the differences by comparing Revelation 21-22 and Genesis 1-3. Revelation 21 said there will be no more sea, night or sun, while the sea, sun and night are part of the created order in Genesis 1. Also it’s “the first heaven and the first earth” that has passed away in Revelation 21:1.

In other words, the heaven and earth of Genesis 1 (presented in Gen. 1:1) are lumped in together with our present heaven and earth, as a unity that will be destroyed when Christ comes again to make all things new. There is no mention in Scripture of a major physical change of the world at the fall.

The Garden of Eden is a type of heaven in the second model, but not equal to it. Other types in Scripture include the temple in Jerusalem for the true temple of God in heaven (Hebrews 8:1-5). King David was a type of the Messiah.  The Garden gives us a picture of heaven as the temple in Jerusalem does of the holiness of God in his heavenly throne room. “The Garden was a space of special protection made for human beings, where God walked with man.”

John Walton seems to have a similar sense to David Snoke of the Garden of Eden in The Lost World of Genesis One. He said scholars have recognized the temple and tabernacle contained a good bit of imagery from the Garden of Eden. They also point out how gardens commonly adjoined sacred space in the ancient world. Strictly speaking then, the Garden of Eden in Walton’s view was not a garden for man, but the garden of God. Walton then quoted biblical scholar Gordon Wenham, who said:

The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary.

Outside of this Garden, according to Snoke, was the dangerous natural world. The model fits with God forcefully driving the man from the Garden he had been originally charged to work and keep. Instead of dwelling in the pleasant and peaceful Garden, God banished him into the outer darkness where “nature, red in tooth and claw” was the rule. There the ground was cursed and he would work it by the sweat of his brow and eat of it in pain. He said:

In my view, the powerful forces that existed outside the Garden, which included darkness, the sea, and carnivorous animals, existed prior to the fall as judgments held in readiness, as visible threats to Adam and Eve of the contrast between their protected state of grace and the possible consequences of leaving God’s presence.

There seems to be enough biblical evidence to say animals died before the Fall. As I mentioned in Part 1, there is also credible biblical evidence to allow for the old earth creation acceptance of millions of years for the process. Things in our world today are as they appear. The nature of animal life was not changed from grass eaters to meat eaters by the Edenic curse. Nature, red in tooth in claw existed outside the Garden before the Fall, apparently for millions of years, and became part of human existence when we were banished from the Garden—until Christ comes again to make everything new. Maranatha.

01/19/18

Nature, Red in Tooth & Claw, Part 1

© master1305 | stockfresh.com

In this short video, you will see two lions stalking, and then one of them killing, a zebra. The two zebras are caught by surprise; but one got away unharmed. The photographer then seems to have edited the incident to show a somewhat later confrontation between one of the lions and the unharmed zebra over the downed and dying zebra. Eventually that zebra runs off when it is apparent its partner isn’t getting up. Now let’s see how your interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis will influence your understanding of what you see in the video.

How does “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” fit into God’s plan? Tennyson wrestled with this question his 1850 poem, In Memoriam. Under the influence of geologists like Charles Lyell, there was a growing acceptance of uniformatarianism over catastrophism in Victorian England. Uniformatarianism suggested the earth’s geologic processes in the past acted with essentially the same intensity as they do in the present. Catastrophism held that the earth originated through supernatural means; while a series of catastrophic events, such as the biblical Flood, formed what geologists saw in rock formations and anthropologists found in fossils.

The acceptance of long, geologic periods of time in uniformatarianism challenged the belief originating with Bishop Ussher that the age of the earth was around 6,000 years old. See “Crumbling Pillars?” and “The Fall of the Chronology of Ussher” for more on Ussher. However, catastrophism fits with a younger view of the age of the earth. Belief in the truth of the Bible seemed to be undermined by this new geologic theory. “After the discoveries of Charles Lyell, and other geologists, discoveries which undermined the literal truth of the Bible, could one retain one’s faith in Christianity?”

A better way of stating the above dilemma would be that the discoveries of Lyell and others undermined a literal interpretation of biblical passages that had been used to support a younger age for the earth. An older earth was at odds with interpreting Genesis 1 to mean God accomplished his creative works in the space of six consecutive twenty-four hour days. A variety of approaches to interpret the creation days in Genesis 1 have been suggested, as Vern Poythress reviewed in his booklet, Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1. Some of the approaches are: the mature-creation theory, the gap theory, the intermittent-day theory, the analogical days theory and the day-age theory. See the link for a free pdf of the booklet and a description of the various approaches noted here.

Young earth creationists, like Answers in Genesis (AiG), will argue that all death, human and animal, was the result of the Fall. Writing for AiG, Simon Turpin said in Did Death of Any Kind Exist Before the Fall?, “Human physical and spiritual death, together with the death of animals, came about through the disobedience of one man.” That man, of course, was Adam. Turpin laid out biblical support for linking human and animal death as the result of the Fall by looking at nine “key passages” from Genesis 1, 2 and 3 through Revelation 21-22. Although he gave the impression that he has thoroughly researched and exegeted the issue, I have serious reservations with his discussion of the evidence and his conclusions.

For example, he gave the standard AiG argument for why the days of creation in Genesis must be understood as 24-hour days and should not be understood in any other sense. The genre of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is not poetic, according to Turpin. Genesis 1-11 is historical narrative in the same way Genesis 12-50 is: “There is no transition from non-historical to historical and it is not treated as a separate literary category from Genesis 12–50.” Additionally, “The days of Genesis 1 are six literal 24-hour days (Exodus 20:11) which occurred around 6,000–10,000 years ago.” This is the crux of the AiG argument against old earth creation and their rejection of animal death before the Fall. See “Does Anybody Really Know What Time Is?,” “What’s In A Day?” and “Genealogies In Genesis” for challenges and alternatives to an AiG position on Genesis 1 and the age of the earth.

If Genesis is interpreted through the lens of uniformitarian geology then the fossil record documents that millions of years of earth’s history are filled with death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, and violence. However, if the days of creation in Genesis 1 were only 24 hours long then there is no room for the millions of years of death, struggle, and disease to have taken place before Adam disobeyed God.

A second given reason by Turbin and AiG that Genesis 1 suggested there was no death before Adam’s Fall was “the vegetarian diet prescribed to both man and animals in Genesis 1:29-30 ruling out any carnivorous behavior before the Fall.” In his commentary on Genesis 1-4, C. John Collins pointed out that while Genesis 1:29-30 does say humans and animals were given plants to eat, “it does not say they ate nothing else.” Moreover, if we take the passage to mean a vegetarian diet for these animals, it only applies to creatures living on the land. “It says nothing about anything that lives in the water, many of which are carnivorous.”

Collins also said it was a mistake to read Genesis 2:17 as implying that physical death did not effect the creation before the Fall. He thought the focus of this death was spiritual death, addressed to Adam alone (the “you” is masculine singular); and is then appropriated by the woman in Genesis 3:2-3. “It applies to human beings and says nothing about the animals.”

From all of this we may conclude that Genesis does say that changes have come into human nature as a result of the fall—pain in childbearing, other afflictions of body and soul, death, frustration in ruling creation—but it does not follow that nonhuman nature is affected in the same way.

Turbin also cited Geerhardus Vos’s seminal book, Biblical Theology a couple of times in support of his assertions. Vos’s discussion in the passage both quotes by Turpin were taken was from was a section where Vos addressed “the principle of death symbolized by the dissolution of the body.” Vos was countering the view that human death preceded the Fall and had nothing to say about animal death. We could go on, but my intention was to illustrate how there are alternate possible interpretations of the passages cited by Turbin and other views of the six creation days of Genesis 1 that can fit with a biblical sense of the text. The AiG way to interpret Genesis 1-11 is not the only biblically legitimate way.

Ted Davis wrote a provocatively titled article for BioLogos, “Does Death Before the Fall Make God a Liar?” He addressed the same young earth creationist (YEC) and AiG claim that animal death was a direct result of the Fall. Davis reflected on a critique of a special issue of the Christian Research Journal devoted to the question, “Where Do We Come From?” The author of the AiG article, “Compromised Creation,” said she appreciated how the articles demonstrated “the impossibility of Darwinian evolution and the bankruptcy of theistic evolution.” But she found the issue dangerously compromised since many of the authors accepted an old earth. There was a general assumption of millions of years of living and dying.

There can be no argument that the fossil record is a graveyard full of evidence of disease, violence, carnivory, suffering, and death. To assume (as many authors implicitly do in this journal) that such miseries were all part of God’s “very good” creation (so named by God in Genesis 1:31) is to impugn God’s character. If God had called a world already full of bloodshed and death “very good,” then He either had a cruel sense of irony or didn’t know what He was talking about, or worse, He is a liar.

Davis pointed to Psalm 104, which praises God for the many wonders in creation; including the young lions who “roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.” There is the sea, which teams with innumerable creatures, both small and great. “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things” (Psalm 104:27-28). Davis said he doesn’t see how to reconcile this Psalm with YEC theodicy.

In A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, David Snoke said if you conceded that the Bible teaches that animals died before the Fall, many of the objections to an old earth fade away. “The whole point of an old-earth view is to say that things are as they appear, and the earth is full of fossils and fossil matter such as coral and limestone.” He thought that from a scientific standpoint, either the earth was old, or simply appeared old. However, there are theological problems in the mature creation or appearance of age view for both science and YEC/AiG.

In Redeeming Science (pp. 116ff; a pdf copy is linked here) Vern Poythress noted several different objections to the appearance of age view. First, a mature creation view implies that God has deceived us. Second, it makes scientific investigation illegitimate. Thirdly, from an AiG perspective, it would falsely imply that death preceded the Fall. Lastly, again causing problems for the YEC and AiG understanding of the Flood, it would undermine their understanding of the biblical teaching of Noah’s flood.

Dr. Snoke presented what he saw as two valid interpretive options on the age of the earth from a scientific viewpoint, meaning he accepted that scientific evidence in both would suggest an old earth. Vern Poythress then showed how a consistent mature creation view of creation could lead into both theological and scientific problems for a young earth that only give the appearance of being old.

So it seems the “nature, red in tooth and claw” illustrated in the opening video can fit within an interpretation of Genesis 1 consistent with an old earth view. Attempting to combine the origins of human and animal death in the manner done by YEC and AiG is both scientifically and theologically invalid. Look for more discussion on this issue in Part 2 of this article.

12/29/17

Protestants Without Sola Fide, Part 2

© kehli | 123rf.com- monument of Martin Luther on the market place in front of the townhall, Wittenberg, Germany.

Some of the reported findings of the Pew Research Center’s “U.S. Protestants Are Not Defined by Reformation Era Controversies” have left more than one person scratching their heads. Surprisingly, only 27% of Protestants correctly said that Protestants alone traditionally teach that salvation comes through faith alone; 44% of Protestants said that both Catholics and Protestants hold this doctrinal belief. Confusingly, the survey also found that 24% of self-identified Protestants said they were not familiar with the term “Protestant.” What does it mean when 24% of Protestants aren’t familiar with the term “Protestants”?

In Part one of this article, I looked at the confusion with how Pew defined one of the fundamental doctrinal differences between Protestants and Catholics, sola fide: justification by faith alone. The Pew survey linked sola fide with salvation and not justification within the questionnaire when it said: “faith in God alone is needed to get into heaven.”  This Pew definition was not the classic Protestant understanding of sola fide. Nevertheless, only 46% of self-identified Protestants said they thought “Faith in God is the only thing that gets people into heaven,” 52% said: “Both good deeds and faith in God are necessary to get into heaven”—a Roman Catholic sense of salvation.

The Pew study does seem to suggest that: “U.S. Protestants are not united about – and in some cases, are not even aware of – some of the controversies that were central to the historical schism between Protestantism and Catholicism.” Most American Protestants (57%) believe the two Christian traditions are more alike than different. And as noted above, 52% of Protestants believe that faith and works are necessary for salvation. This is a dramatic shift from the position of the Reformation.

In his article on justification in the New Dictionary of Theology, N.T. Wright said popular Protestantism has suppressed the distinction between justification and regeneration, while Roman Catholics have continued to be influenced by Augustine, “who saw it as God’s action in making people righteous, through pouring into their hearts love towards himself.” The emphasis on the change brought about by God’s action has continued into modern Roman Catholic theology, with the consequence that the reference of the word has been broadened significantly “to include far more than Paul (or the Reformers) intended.” So it seems worthwhile to review here the essential Protestant doctrines, noting where they are distinct from Roman Catholicism.

Writing for Themelios, Scott Mantesch said in “Is the Reformation Over?” that Protestant Christians often summarize their primary doctrinal commitments with the five “solas”: sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo Gloria. He noted that Calvin wrote the five solas should not be treated as discrete or independent doctrines. “They cohere with, inform, and require other important biblical truths.” For example, there is a theological inconsistency in affirming the doctrine of justification by faith alone, while remaining committed to the sacrament of penance. “Calvin recognized that whatever authority the Catholic Church ascribed to Scripture in theory, Rome undermined Scripture’s authority in practice by commanding the exclusive right of interpreting the biblical text.”

P. Chase Sears said in his article on “New Testament Theology” for the Lexham Bible Dictionary that the Reformers insisted that the church return to sola Scriptura—Scripture alone as the authoritative source for theology. They emphasized the grammatical-historical method of interpretation in order “to grasp the overall structure of the biblical understanding of God and his relations with mankind.” Martin Luther saw Jesus Christ as the heart of Scripture, but he wrestled with the problem of unity in diversity within Scripture. In order to resolve this difficulty, he distinguished between law and gospel, “with the doctrine of justification by faith as his hermeneutical key to piecing the entire Bible together.”

Mantesch said the following on how the Reformer’s understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith distinguished Protestant and Roman Catholic theology from each other:

For the Protestant reformers, justification was a first-order doctrinal concern. Not so with many contemporary Catholics. The most recent edition of the Catholic Catechism gives only brief attention to the doctrine of justification.Clearly, sacramental grace, not justification, occupies the central position in Catholic conceptions of salvation. American Cardinal Avery Dulles admits as much: “Justification is rarely discussed at length except in polemics against, or dialogue with, Protestants.”It is noteworthy that the official Catholic formulations of the doctrine of justification found in the “Catholic Catechism” and the “Joint Declaration” make no mention of the positive forensic character of justification—that sinners are acquitted before God on account of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Moreover, both of these documents describe justification as including divine pardon and the process of renewal of the inner person. The “Catholic Catechism,” for example, reaffirms the definition of justification formulated at Trent in 1547: “Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man.” [See Chapter VII of the Council of Trent]

Mantesch then asked how Protestants should respond when contemporary Roman Catholic churchmen affirm one or several of the solas. In the Joint Declaration of 1999 Roman Catholic officials approved “by grace alone” and “by faith alone.” Responding to his own question, he said we should be grateful that Catholics are willing to affirm these central biblical truths, while remaining cautious and realistic.

The Gospel Coalition now has a series of free online courses available, one of which is on The Five Solas. In “Remembering the Reformation by Reflecting on its Solas,” Stephen Wellum said: “The solas remind us about the God-centered nature of Christianity and how human beings, as important as we are as image-bearers, are completely dependent upon God’s sovereign initiative to create, reveal, rule, and redeem.” Each of the five solas is addressed and there is a wealth of information (written and video) on each doctrine.

Similarly, in his lecture on “Sola Fide: Lady Jane Grey & the Rediscovery of Justification by Faith,” Steve Nichols said: “Salvation from start to finish is the work of God for his glory.” The doctrine of justification reminds us that we don’t have to do anything for our salvation. Indeed, we cannot. “Christ has done it for us.” Nichols went on to suggest that Martin Luther used two words to describe the doctrine of justification: alien and immediate. By alien he meant justification is outside of us. “The doctrine of justification reminds us that it is nothing that we muster.” By immediate, Luther meant “without a mediator.” Where the medieval Catholic church saw salvation between Christ and sinful humanity mediated by the church and its sacraments, for Luther there was no mediator between humanity and Christ. The video for the Nichols lecture is under The Gospel Coalition material on Sola Fide. A link there will take you to Ligioner Ministries, where there are additional links to the lectures Dr. Nichols gave on the five solas.

In its attempt to assess differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics on one of the classic Reformation solas, The Pew Research Center study treated sola fide as a discrete and independent doctrine from the remaining four, something John Calvin said should not be done. Together the five solas, “cohere with, inform, and require other important biblical truths.” Additionally, by removing the term justification from its definition of sola fide and asking participants to choose whether “faith in God” or “good deeds and faith in God” were necessary for salvation, Pew effectively neutered what was a first-order doctrinal concern for Protestants—at the time of the Reformation and today.

Thomas Schreiner in his lecture on Sola Fide for the 2015 Theology Conference at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said it was right to say faith alone saves us “since imperfect works don’t pass muster to make us right with God.” Good works are necessary for eternal life, but they can’t be the basis for our right-standing with God since He demands perfection. “Good works are a fruit of faith and a result of the Spirit’s work.” As Shreiner and others have said: “We are justified by faith alone and yet our faith is never alone.” In conclusion, I think it’s worth repeating another statement Schreiner made in his lecture:

When we speak of justification by faith alone, we aren’t saying that our faith justifies us. We see here how the five solas are closely linked together, for righteousness is by faith alone because our righteousness is in Christ alone as the crucified and risen one. And if our righteousness is by faith alone and in Christ alone, then it is by grace alone since our works don’t constitute our righteousness. And our righteousness is also to the glory of God alone since he is the one who has accomplished our salvation. Justification by faith alone doesn’t call attention to our faith but to Christ as the redeemer, reconciler, and Savior. [As an aside in the video, Schreiner noted he didn’t mention sola Scriptura here. “But everything I said supported that.”]

12/19/17

Protestants Without Sola Fide, Part 1

© Cora Miller | 123rf.com | Doorway where Luther nailed his 95 Theses

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther is credited with sparking the Protestant Reformation when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. Classically, there were two fundamental ideas that drove Luther: sola fide, meaning that justification is dependent upon faith alone; and sola scriptura, that Scripture is the only ultimate authority for Christian belief and practice. There were other concerns over religious practices such as the sale of indulgences, but sola fide and sola scriptura “became the rallying cry for many Protestant reformers.” Yet a recent Pew Research study suggested less than half of U.S. Protestants (46%) affirmed a belief in either doctrine, and only 30% affirmed a belief in both; another 36% did not believe in either sola fide or sola scriptura. This raises the question, are modern Protestants no longer Protestant?

A Pew study, “U.S. Protestants Are Not Defined by Reformation-Era Controversies,” found that half of American Protestants (52%) thought that both good deeds and faith in God were needed to get to heaven. The same percentage (52%) also agreed that in addition to the Bible, Christians needed guidance from church teachings and traditions. While Protestants are almost evenly split on sola fide and sola scriptura, U.S. Catholics are mostly aligned with the teachings of the Catholic Church, which affirms both of these declarations. Eighty-one percent believe both good deeds and faith in God are needed to get into heaven and 75% agree that in addition to the Bible, Christians need guidance from church teachings and traditions. “Overall, two-thirds of Catholics take the traditional positions of the church on both of these issues.”

Among Protestant subgroups, two-thirds (67%) of white evangelicals say salvation comes by faith alone, with 33% saying that both faith and good works are needed. White evangelicals also had the highest percentage of believers in both sola fide and sola scriptura (44%). See the following chart from the Pew Research Center report.

Above sola fide was said to mean: “justification is dependent upon faith alone.” This doctrine reaches back to Martin Luther and his understanding of Galatians 3:28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Luther’s theological insight here was the heart of his personal spiritual change and his theology that followed. In The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Notger Slenczka added the following:

This exclusion of works as a ground of justification does not mean the isolating of faith but singles out justifying faith because it receives the righteousness of Christ that is given by grace alone. The formula thus has the implication of solus Christus (Christ alone) and sola gratia (grace alone).

But here is where it gets a bit tricky theologically.  The Pew study said sola fide was: “faith in God alone is needed to get into heaven,” but getting into heaven is related to salvation. The statement alone is true as far as it goes (“For by grace you have saved through faith”, Ephesians 2:8), but the problem is where Pew equated it with the Reformation principle of sola fide. In doing so, Pew confounded what has historically been a crucial theological distinction between the Protestant and Catholic understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith. In the Lexham Bible Dictionary, Michael Bird gave the following explanation of differences between Catholics and Protestants on justification by faith:

The primary debate between Protestants and Catholics is whether justification is a forensic declaration based on the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness to believers [Protestants], or based on the infusion of righteousness into the believer through the sacraments, enabling them to do works of charity by which they might be justified [Catholics]. . . . While fresh new ecumenical ground has been broken, thus far no consensus has been reached. The Catholic Catechism remains firmly committed to the teachings of the Council of Trent, which remains a barrier to any consensus emerging.

The Council of Trent stated in Chapter VII about justification: “[It] is not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just and from being an enemy becomes a friend, that he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting.”

In Reformed Dogmatics, Geerhardus Vos added the following aboiut the Roman Catholic understanding of justification:

The Roman Catholic church makes a distinction between a first and a second justification. The first consists in the infusion of habitual grace, by which original sin is suppressed and expelled. The formal cause of the second justification is to be sought in good works that man himself performs. This is a confusion of sanctification and justification, and makes the fruits of the former meritorious. As justification becomes sanctification, so sanctification again becomes justification in the hands of Rome—naturally, a legalistic justification.

With regard to second justification, Roman Catholicism said in the Council of Trent: “If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema.” What Roman Catholicism condemned here is the clear Protestant understanding of sola fide, justification by faith alone.

My systematic theology is not sharp enough to have picked out that problem with the Pew survey on my own. I read an article by Joe Carter for The Gospel Coalition, “New Survey Finds Majority of Protestants Are (Maybe) Not Protestant,” that brought the Pew study and how it framed sola fide to my attention. He updated his original article on the Pew survey, as he himself had missed the Pew Research Center’s “mistake.” He explained how he originally read the Pew description as referring to justification, which a theologically minded Protestant who associates sola fide and justification by faith, would do. Here is an example of what Pew said that was confusing: “For example, nearly half of U.S. Protestants today (46%) say faith alone is needed to attain salvation (a belief held by Protestant reformers in the 16th century, known in Latin as sola fide).”

As Carter pointed out, belief in sola fide was determined by how Christian respondents answered the following question in the Pew survey: “Which statement comes closer to your view, even if neither is exactly right?” Their choices were: 1) “Both good deeds and faith in God are necessary to get into heaven” and 2) “Faith in God is the only thing that gets people into heaven.” Similarly, sola scriptura was determined by how they responded to this question: “Which statement comes closer to your view, even if neither is exactly right?” Their choices were: 1) The bible provides all the religious guidance Christians need” and 2) In addition to the Bible, Christians also need religious guidance from church teachings and traditions.” See the “Survey Questionnaire” attached to the Pew Research Center article on the survey.

Carter went on to indicate he thought there was a priming bias in how the survey questions here were worded, meaning “the types of questions that are asked tend to prime a respondent to assume later questions are of the same type.” This led him to conclude that respondents were set up to look for a distinction between what Protestants and Catholics believe. His own mistake was evidence of that. “ I was primed to follow Pew’s reasoning even though when I wrote this article I was explicitly on the lookout for the effects of priming on the survey results.”

He concluded that it was impossible to know based on these results how many people are “pseudo-Protestants” and how many (like him) were reading too much into the survey questions. “The conclusion I draw is that some people were reading the question as I did as being about justification, while many others were seeing it as merely about salvation.” Given this confusion, it might be helpful to have a more comprehensive discussion of sola fide.

In his article for Themelios, “Is the Reformation Over?” Scott Mantesch noted how John Calvin believed the doctrine of justification held an essential place in the Christian gospel. He also believed it was one of the most significant issues separating Protestants and Catholics, saying it was “the first and keenest subject of controversy between us.”  While Calvin emphasized that justification must be distinguished from regeneration or sanctification, he still insisted that justifying faith necessarily resulted in spiritual renewal and growth in godliness. While it is faith alone that justifies, “yet the faith which justifies is not alone.” Calvin said:

As God justifies us freely by imputing the obedience of Christ to us, so we are rendered capable of this great blessing only by faith alone. As the Son of God expiated our sins by the sacrifice of his death, and by appeasing his Father’s wrath, acquired the gift of adoption for us, and now presents us with his righteousness, so it is only by faith we put him on, and become partakers of his blessings.

Not only is justification by faith doctrinally important, it is pastorally vital. In order to illustrate this point, Thomas Schreiner, who, wrote Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification, asked when we stand before God on Judgment Day, what will we plead before him? “Will we plead our own righteousness and goodness?” The doctrine is not a matter of indifference.

Thomas Schreiner is a New Testament professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. At a 2015 Theology Conference on The Five Solas, he read a paper summarizing his book. All the papers presented at the conference can be found here, in an edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. There is also a link to a video of Schreiner’s presentation under The Gospel Coalition’s page on The Five Solas.

He said the shorthand phrase of sola fide, meaning justification by faith alone, “summarizes in short form the theology that has been hammered out exegetically, historically, and theologically.” An untutored individual may think this means that good works are not necessary or important. But when most advocates say that justification is by faith alone, they quickly add that such faith is never alone. “Hence, when they affirmed that justification was by faith alone, they were ruling out the notion that our works were a basis of justification. So, the slogan justification by faith alone is useful as long as it is rightly understood.”

When we speak of justification by faith alone, we aren’t saying that our faith justifies us. We see here how the five solas are closely linked together, for righteousness is by faith alone because our righteousness is in Christ alone as the crucified and risen one. And if our righteousness is by faith alone and in Christ alone, then it is by grace alone since our works don’t constitute our righteousness. And our righteousness is also to the glory of God alone since he is the one who has accomplished our salvation. Justification by faith alone doesn’t call attention to our faith but to Christ as the redeemer, reconciler, and Savior. [As an aside in the video, Schreiner noted he didn’t mention sola Scriptura. “But everything I said supported that.”]

Schreiner observed that Roman Catholics believe that justification comes in part from our adherence to the moral law. They will point out that the Scriptures only address whether justification is by faith alone once in James 2:24 in the negative: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” But Schreiner argued that in James 2:14-26, James is rejecting a saying faith, a faith where works are absent. “It is this kind of faith that doesn’t save, for it is a faith marked by intellectual assent only.” When James says faith without works doesn’t save, he is thinking of a “dead” faith (2:17, 26), a useless or idle faith (2:20).

But genuine faith, a faith that embraces all that God is for us in Jesus Christ, saves, and such a faith inevitably produces works. But this accords what we mean when we speak of sola fide. We are justified by faith alone and yet our faith is never alone.

The problem may have been that Pew researchers believed (in all likelihood correctly) that the typical person taking the survey would not have previously heard of, or understood, the differences between the Catholic and Protestant views of sola fide, the doctrine of justification by faith alone. So they redefined sola fide as described above, and chose to not use the term “sola fide” in the questionnaire. Apparently Pew thought the phrase: “Which statement comes closer to your view, even if neither is exactly right,” was enough to guide those individuals who did understand the classic sense of sola fide to their redefinition. Given Joe Carter’s confusion and that of others (See the endnote “correction” for Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s article on the same Pew survey in Christianity Today), it was not.

If Carter and other Protestants could misread or confuse the Pew “mistake” with sola fide, doesn’t that add further validity to the point of the Pew article? Namely, there may be a significant number of American Protestants who are Protestant in name, but not necessarily Protestant in theology. What then does it mean to be “Protestant” in theology, and how does that differ from Roman Catholicism? We’ll examine these questions in Part 2 of this article.

12/8/17

Room for Differences on Creation

© michaeljayfoto

Tim Keller stepped down as the Senior Pastor for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City in July of 2017. Redeemer also split into multiple congregations, “actualizing our long-stated plan of shifting from being a single large church with multiple congregations to becoming a family of smaller churches.” Keller said his new role would be as a teacher and trainer for the next generation of leaders and pastors within the Redeemer family of churches. “The gospel is a living force, always sending and giving—and as I am sent in a new way now, so is every member of Redeemer, to love and serve this great city.” And yet he has been smeared as having such a low view of Scripture, “that he goes out of his way to promote the false doctrine of theistic evolution.”

The above is the stated opinion of E.S. Williams in “Keller’s false gospel” on The New Calvinists website. Williams has also written a book titled The New Calvinists, which critiques Keller and others. Williams claims in the subtitle of his book these pastors are changing the gospel. In another article on The New Calvinists bashing Keller (there are several), “Keller’s theistic evolution,” Williams distorts Keller’s position by saying he believes the Bible must be made to conform to the ‘truth’ of science. “Keller does this by asserting [in The Reason for God] that the first chapter of Genesis is a poem.” He is certainly not the only critical source of Keller on his understanding of Genesis one and whether theistic evolution can be affirmed by those with a high view of Scripture.

Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis (AiG), has also been critical Tim Keller. He said: “It is so sad to see a great Bible teacher like Tim Keller promote belief in evolution to the church.” Ham’s contends Keller and others have misunderstood what he and Answers in Genesis are saying in relation to the loss of biblical authority. According to Ham, this is the result of “contributing to undermining the authority of the Word of God by accommodating man’s ideas of evolution or millions of years into Genesis.” He believes there has been “an increasing generational loss of Biblical authority because so many in the church have opened the door to compromise beginning in Genesis.”

Within a document, “Where Do We Draw the Line?,” AiG said it is made up of “Christians who unite to defend the authority of the Bible in today’s secular culture.” That is what they say they are about—“the authority of the Bible, often in Genesis.” An example of how the issue of Biblical authority is understood by AiG has to do with the age of the earth.

For example, the secular world has been teaching that the earth is billions of years old. The Bible, based on genealogies recorded throughout the Scriptures and the context of the Hebrew word yom (day) in Genesis 1, reveal that the earth is thousands of years old. So, this question becomes a biblical authority issue. Is one going to trust a perfect God who created all things (Genesis 1:1), has always been there (Revelation 22:13), knows all things (Colossians 2:1–3), and cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18), or trust imperfect and fallible humankind who was not there and speculates on the past?

In the original AiG article, you can see links that elaborate their understanding of “genealogies,” the “context” of the Hebrew word yom (day), and whether the earth is “thousands of years old.” There is also a chart that lists “a sampling of biblical authority topics” such as the age of the earth, evolution and whether or not Noah’s flood was global or local as issues of biblical authority. AiG said the Bible does not teach the earth is millions of years old; that man was specially created from dust and the woman from the man. An evolutionary worldview says humanity came from an ape-like ancestor. And Genesis 6-8 affirms the Flood was global, covering the highest mountain by over 15 cubits. “Those appealing to a local Flood trust secular authorities who say that the rock layers are evidence of millions of years instead of mostly Noah’s Flood sediment.”

Additional examples of topics on biblical authority in the chart include the Trinity and racism. The article went on the say: “Basically, AiG is involved when any issue impacts the authority of Scripture—especially when human claims run counter to what God teaches.” What seems clear is that AiG’s position is that any Christian seeking to affirm the authority of Scripture necessarily has to acknowledge an understanding of Genesis that aligns with its own position. AiG believes the age of the earth is in the neighborhood of thousands, not millions, of years; that there was a global flood covering the highest existing mountains of the time of Noah; and that humans were specially created out of dust. Tim Keller and other Christians who allow for or teach any views that do not agree with this understanding of Genesis are therefore undermining the authority of the word of God.

The weight given to these positions is seen clearly in the AiG Statement of Faith, last updated on August 10, 2015. In order to preserve the function and integrity of the ministry “in its mission to proclaim the absolute truth and authority of Scripture,” employees and volunteers should abide and agree to the AiG Statement of Faith. Board members for the AiG ministry must hold to the following six tenets:

  • Scripture teaches a recent origin for man and the whole creation, spanning approximately 4,000 years from creation to Christ.
  • The days in Genesis do not correspond to geologic ages, but are six [6] consecutive twenty-four [24] hour days of creation.
  • The Noachian Flood was a significant geological event and much (but not all) fossiliferous sediment originated at that time.
  • The gap theory has no basis in Scripture.
  • The view, commonly used to evade the implications or the authority of biblical teaching, that knowledge and/or truth may be divided into secular and religious, is rejected.
  • The view, commonly used to evade the implications or the authority of biblical teaching, that knowledge and/or truth may be divided into secular and religious, is rejected.

While Ham and AiG does not go as far as E.S. Williams in claiming Keller and others are promoting a false gospel, Ham and AiG do seem to believe that if Keller and others disagree with the AiG understanding of Genesis on creation, the age of the earth, and whether the Noachian Flood was local or global, they have a low view of Scripture. A recent origin for humans and creation (approximately 4,000 years from creation to Christ), six 24 hour days for creation, and a global, Noachian Flood are non-negotiable beliefs about creation, according to AiG.

The Gospel Coalition (TGC), an evangelical ministry founded by Tim Keller and Don Carson, posted a video discussion between Tim Keller, Ligon Duncan and Russell Moore on what is necessary to be believed; what are the non-negotiable beliefs about creation. Both Duncan and Moore are council members for TGC.

Keller led off the dialogue on the essentials of what has to be believed about the Bible when talking to nonbelievers. Keller said the relationship of God to the creation—the Creator/creation distinction—should be stressed. He said nonbelievers may want to talk about creation as a religion versus science battle, but he suggested to not go there. “The relationship of creation to evolution isn’t the heart.” There are at least four, five or six orthodox Christian views of evolution, according to Keller. “But let’s not go there at first.”

Duncan said he’d want to tell the skeptical, intelligent unbeliever that Christianity and science are not in conflict. Protestant Christianity laid the philosophical foundation for the rise of science.

Within the church, Duncan thought the essentials or boundaries of what we have to agree on in order to recognize each other as orthodox are: creation ex nihilo, the goodness of creation and the special creation of Adam and Eve. By creation ex nihilo, Duncan meant there is a Creator-creature distinction—God was the Cause of everything else. Adam and Eve have to be acknowledged as the fountainhead of humanity to support the federal headship of Adam to have the Adam-Christ parallel for the gospel.

Keller said he would want to talk first about the first two points, the Creator-creature distinction and the goodness of creation, with a nonbeliever. With a Christian, he said he would discuss Adam and Eve, saying there are a lot of different understandings about how old the earth is, what the days are in Genesis 1, and to what degree evolution was a part of how God created things. “But where I would stop is, with Adam and Eve.” Keller said there had to be an actual Adam and Eve, otherwise he doesn’t understand how the Pauline view of salvation in Romans 5 works.

He acknowledged that the consensus, even among Christian scientists, is that all human beings were not genetically related to a human couple. It had to be a little group of people somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. “But when I read the text … it sure looks like it’s saying that God created Adam and Eve. And he didn’t just adopt … a human-like being and put in the image of God.” Keller said the text said he created them out of the dust of the ground. He thought he had to let his reading of the text correct his understanding of the sciences.

 Science is a way of telling me truth. And the Scripture is a way of telling me truth. But if they are clashing, even though I know the science might show me I’m reading the Scripture wrong, and that has happened in the past, where the science came in and said “Are you really … does the Bible really teach that the sun revolves around the earth? So it’s possible for the science to make you ask, “Did you read the text right?” But if you go back and read the text and you come to your conclusion, that as far as you can say before God “I’m trying my best to read this as I think what the Scripture says.” Right now it says to me, … and everyone came from Adam and Eve and they were special creations. And so even though I don’t have an answer to my science friends, that’s where I stand.

I don’t think Tim Keller compromised biblical authority in what he said; nor did he preach a false gospel. I do see him saying belief in the authority of the Bible has room for differences on how to interpret Genesis 1 and whether the age of the earth is 6,000 years. It may even have room for some form of evolution. AiG and E.S. Williams vehemently deny this possibility. AiG has linked a denial of evolution, a localized flood, and an age for the earth and creation around 6,000 years with the Trinity and racism as key issues of biblical authority. So it doesn’t seem they would stand with Keller or any other Christian—which includes me—who won’t affirm their understanding of Genesis.

11/28/17

David and the Uncircumcised Philistine

© tupungato | 123rf.com.

Between 2007 and 2013 Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and two others led excavations at a site in the Elah Valley known as Khirbet Qeiyfa. Among the artifacts found there is perhaps the oldest inscription written in Hebrew. There also was a cultic stone shrine decorated with architectural elements that echo biblical descriptions of Solomon’s Temple and his palace in Jerusalem. Carbon dating places the city’s existence around the 11th and 10th century BC, at the beginning of the Kingdom of Israel. Perhaps most intriguingly, the site is located on the Philistine and Judean border “in the area that has been identified as the location of the battle between David and Goliath.”

In September of 2016 the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem opened an exhibition focused on the archeological discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyfa called “In the Valley of David and Goliath.” The archeologists only realized during their second season of excavations that their fortified town “perfectly fit the descriptions of the Biblical town of Shaarayim.” The Hebrew name of the town means “two gates,” which is what was uncovered during the excavations; two gates. You can watch a short video about the exhibition here. There is an article about the Khirbet Qeiyfa archeological site here.

The geographical location of the town also fits right in line with the Biblical depiction of Shaarayim, mentioned in the context of the aftermath of the battle between David and Goliath when the Philistines “fell on the way to Shaarayim.” The town is also mentioned in the book of Joshua as being situated near Socho and Azeka, two archaeological sites surrounding Khirbet Qeiyafa.

The story of David and Goliath is the classic biblical tale of the big bully getting his comeuppance from the little guy. In his commentary on 1 Samuel, Robert Bergen said in Western culture it has become the primary historical metaphor for “describing any individual or group who overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to defeat an oppressor.” In 1960, the story became a feature length Italian film, where Orson Welles, no less, played King Saul. The feature length movie is available on Amazon Prime and YouTube. There is even a TED Talk by Malcom Gladwell that reviews the biblical account, “The Unheard Story of David and Goliath.”

Gladwell’s account of David and Goliath tends to minimize Goliath’s threat as an opponent to David, while drawing out the danger David and his sling posed to Goliath. According to Gladwell, Goliath was only 6’ 9’’ tall. He referred to Goliath’s shield bearer as a young boy or attendant who led him by the hand. And he cited medical speculation that Goliath’s 6’ 9” height was the result of acromegaly, a condition caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland that causes an overproduction of growth hormone. The distinct side effects from acromegaly were then used to explain other aspects of the David and Goliath encounter. Later we’ll look at biblical and extra biblical evidence that challenges this portrayal of Goliath, but first let’s look at his assessment of David and his choice of weapons.

David rejects the offered use of Saul’s armor, instead choosing to take his shepherd’s staff, his sling and five smooth stones. Gladwell noted where soldiers of that time would fight with slings. He speculated that when David released his rock, it was traveling 35 meters per second; faster than a baseball thrown by the best pitchers. “If you do the calculations on the ballistics, on the stopping power of the rock fired from David’s sling, it’s roughly equal to the stopping power of a [.45 caliber] handgun.”

This made the sling a very powerful weapon, one that some have called “the gun” of the ancient world. Sling stones excavated at the main gate of the city of Lachish (pictured below in The British Museum) were as big as tennis balls.  Slingers are known to be accurate enough to hit birds in flight; and to hit, maim or kill a target up to 200 yards away. “If you go back over the history of ancient warfare, you will find time and time again that slingers were the decisive factor against infantry in one kind of battle or another.”

photo by: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin; licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Goliath’s weapons and armor could have weighed more than 150 pounds (His armor alone weighed 126 pounds). His combat gear was designed for close combat. The weight of his spearhead was around fifteen pounds; too heavy and awkward for throwing. He was covered from head to toe in metal. He wore a bronze helmet; armor; bronze greaves (knee and shin protection).  He had a bronze javelin (more likely a scimitar) slung between his shoulders. And he had a full body shield or innâ carried by a shield bearer, who went ahead of him. The assumption by Gladwell of Goliath being led by a youth is inaccurate.

Without Saul’s armor, David would have had greater mobility. This and the fact that Goliath was outfitted for close combat explain his invitation for David to “come to him” in 1 Samuel 17:44. David ran quickly towards Goliath after they exchanged insults because he wasn’t afraid, for two reasons. First and foremost, he knew that the Lord would deliver him (1 Samuel 17:37). Second, he knew from past experience that he had killed both lions and bears. Based on David’s future tactical skills in warfare, I would speculate that he realized Goliath’s vulnerability to attack by a skilled slinger, which he knew himself to be.

Goliath really was huge. He was 9’ 9’’ tall; not 6’ 9” tall. The different reported heights are due to the six cubit height recorded in 1 Samuel 17:4 versus the recorded height of four cubits in the Codex Vaticanus (an important Greek manuscript of the Old and New Testaments) and Josephus, as well as a copy of the Septuagint. Bergen suggested the shorter figure is an emendation to the text by a pious copyist to increase the text’s credibility. However, a smaller Goliath then creates problems for the bulk of his combat gear, like a 15-pound spearhead.

There are several other biblical references to giants. The twelve spies reported to the Israelites there were Anakim in the land, a people “greater and taller” than they were (Numbers 13:28; Deuteronomy 1:28). After wandering forty years in the wilderness, Moses told the Israelites they would confront the Anakim when they crossed the Jordan into Canaan (Deuteronomy 9:2). Joshua defeated the Anakim from the hill country of Judah, destroying them and their cities. But some remained in the Philistine cities of Gaza, Gath and Ashdod (Joshua 11:21-23). They were driven from Hebron by Caleb (Joshua 14:12-15).

The Anakim were believed to be the descendants of Anak and dwelt in the region around Hebron. Their name means “people of the necklace.” R. K. Harrison noted where the 18th century BC Egyptian Execration Texts seemed to point to a tribe named Anak. Referring to the Egyptian Execration Texts in Space and Time in the Religious Life of the Near East, Nicholas Wyatt described how the Egyptians performed a curse ritual on their enemies in Canaan, including the rulers of Iy-Anaq. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament reported that Papyrus Anastasi I, a 13th century BC document, referred to fierce warriors that were seven to nine feet tall. Josephus described how Caleb conquered Hebron, killing all its inhabitants, who were a race of giants:

For which reason they removed their camp to Hebron; and when they had taken it, they slew all the inhabitants. There were till then left the race of giants, who had bodies so large, and countenances so entirely different from other men, that they were surprising to the sight, and terrible to the hearing. The bones of these men are still shown to this very day, unlike to any creditable relations of other men.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament also reported that two female skeletons about seven feet tall from the 12th century BC were found at Tell es-Sa’ideyeh in Transjordan. However, Jonathan Tubb, who was in charge of the excavation of Tell es-Sa’ideyeh, said “no such skeletons were found there.”

Moderns are distant enough from Josephus and the biblical reports of the Anakim and Goliath to be skeptical that humans as tall as nine feet once lived on the earth. The confirmed proof of seven or nine foot skeletons has so far been lacking support. But there is a tantalizing suggestion that there was such evidence at one time. In On the Resurrection of the Flesh, as Tertullian speculated on the meaning of New Testament texts on the resurrection from the dead, he made an aside comment about giants: “There are the carcasses of the giants of old time; it will be obvious enough that they are not absolutely decayed, for their bony frames are still extant.”

The archaeological evidence of an ancient race or tribe of giants, of Anakim, is still missing. Perhaps it will never be found and speculation on the veracity of the story of David and Goliath will continue. Biblical scholars have voiced a variety of concerns with it, including the differences between the Masoretic text (Goliath 9’ 9’’ tall) and the Septuigint (Goliath 6’ 9’’) noted above. Another concern is with 2 Samuel 21:19, where it says Elhanan struck down Goliath. Complicating the issue further, is 1 Chronicles 20:5, which says Elhanan struck down Lahmi, the brother of Goliath. The best explanation seems to be that 2 Samuel 21:19 is a copyist error from pre-Christian times. 1 Chronicles 20:5 preserves the correct and accurate reading.

Undoubtedly, the writer of 1 Samuel wanted to impress the story of David and Goliath onto the minds of his readers. Robert Bergen noted several narrative techniques that support this conjecture.  First is the length of the account, 912 words in Hebrew. That is longer than any other single Davidic battle narrative. Second, there are more quotations (22) than there are in other stories. The longest quote in 1, 2 Samuel is by Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:8-9.

There are also details normally missing from similar narratives. We know the pieces and weight of Goliath’s armor, the number of chesses and loaves of bread David brings from his father, how David selected his sling stones, and even that he drew Goliath’s sword from its sheath to kill him and cut off his head. “These details force the reader to ponder the narrative after its reading and thus make the story more memorable and more likely to be studied further.”

Bergen also noted the passage in 1 Samuel 17 was the longest description of military attire in the Old Testament. “Goliath’s physical stature, armor, weaponry, and shield bearer must have made him appear invincible.”  All these external advantages suggest that chapter 17 was at least partly intended as an object lesson for the previous chapter in verse 16:7, when the Lord told Samuel to not look on the outward appearance of Eliab, David’s brother. Outwardly Goliath was the premier warrior. And yet, he was overcome and killed by the young shepherd David.

Another contrast exists between the physical stature of Saul and David. Saul was described as being taller than any of the people. He was literally head and shoulders above them. When Samuel presented Saul to the people he said: “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people” (1 Samuel 10:23-24). David was just a youth (1 Samuel 17:33). He could not wear Saul’s armor when he went to challenge Goliath, because he had not tested it; he wasn’t used to it (1 Samuel 17:39). Yet David brought about the victory in the Valley of Elah that Saul, a proven warrior and leader, could not.  The message of the passage is to simply not trust in outward appearances; trust God instead.

11/17/17

Evolutionary Wars

credit: Steve Cardino, from “The Lie: Evolution”

The cartoon image here portrays a war between Humanism and Christianity, where Humanism is founded on evolution and Satan, while Christianity is founded on creation and Christ. The castle of Christianity is starting to collapse as the castle of Humanism systematically attacks the rock of its foundation in the cartoon, creation. The Christian guns are ineffectively aimed either nowhere or at the balloons (issues) of humanism instead of it evolutionary foundation. The message it sends is clear: Christianity is in danger of losing the cultural war with Humanism because it isn’t attacking the Satanic foundation it’s based on, evolution.

The cartoon originally appeared in a 1987 book by Ken Ham titled: The Lie: Evolution. In “Creationism and Culture Wars,” Ted Davis said it has been the “signature icon” for Answers in Genesis (AiG), an organization founded by Ken Ham. Over time the image has been modified, as it reflected the ‘evolution’ of Ham’s and AiG’s thought. “Over time, I began to emphasize that believing in the creation account in Genesis means accepting God’s Word as the ultimate authority, and believing in the secular idea of evolution is to accept man’s word as the ultimate authority.”

In a 2002 version of the cartoon, the castle of Christianity was represented as being founded on six literal creation days equaling God’s authority, versus the millions of years equally man’s authority for the foundation of the humanism castle. In 2010, the foundations were “no longer creation vs. evolution or six days vs. millions of years, but ‘autonomous human reasoning”’ vs. ‘revelation/God’s word.’” See “Creationism and Culture Wars” for the images.

Although Ham’s signature icon is still very much alive, it has evolved into a more sophisticated new species that is better adapted to twenty-first century culture wars, in which biblical faith is increasingly seen as contrary to science and reason. Ironically, Ham’s ministry itself is a primary cause of that perception.

Ted Davis noted how Ken Ham echoes the belief of William Jennings Bryan in the early twentieth century, that evolution inevitably undermines Christian faith. Like Ham, Bryan represented his thought in a cartoon. He saw evolution as causing modernism and leading to “the progressive elimination of the vital truths of the bible.” Bryan’s cartoon has three modernists, a student, a minister and a scientist descending a staircase that represents a slippery slope stemming from “the progressive elimination of the vital truths of the bible.” The descent starts with evolution and ends with the scientist stepping from Agnosticism to Atheism.

credit: original cartoon by Ernest James Pace; photograph by Ted Davis

The “Descent of the Modernists” cartoon appeared originally in Bryan’s 1924 book, Seven Questions in Dispute, published the year before his death, which took place days after his participation in the infamous Scope Trial. See “’Conflict Between Science and Religion’” and “No Contest; No Victory” for more on Bryan.

Despite the parallels in their thinking about creationism and the culture, Davis noted that Henry Morris, not Bryan, had the greater influence on Ham’s thought. AiG refers to the late Henry Morris as ‘the father’ of the modern creationist movement. His book, The Genesis Flood (1961), was the beginning of the revival of creationist thought that faded from the church with the passing of Bryan and the retreat of fundamentalism from cultural engagement after the Scopes Trial. Davis noted that in another book by Morris, The Troubled Waters of Evolution (1974), he argued evolutionary thought could be traced back beyond the “evolutionary pantheists” of the ancient Greco-Roman world. True as far as that statement goes, Davis noted where “Darwin’s theory was immensely more sophisticated and far more plausible than any ancient theory—but Morris goes much further.”

Morris traced the origins of evolutionary thought back through all the religions of the world other than Christianity, Judaism and Islam. These are excluded because they are based on Genesis. All other religions are “evolutionary” religions, including: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Atheism and ‘liberal Christianity.’ He said that evolution itself is a religion. He does not mean Darwinian evolution, but belief in the idea that all things have arisen by innate processes in the universe: the belief that the universe had no beginning; that it is eternal. You can watch a YouTube video series of a talk Morris gave titled “The Troubled Waters of Evolution.” It is in five parts. If you watch Part 1, notice the parallels between the metaphor Morris uses of the “fruit tree” of evolution producing harmful philosophies and evil practices the humanistic “balloons” in Ken Ham’s cartoon.

But Morris goes back even further in his book, The Troubled Waters of Evolution, according to Davis. He attributes the origins of evolution with Nimrod and the Tower of Babel in Genesis 10:8-10. According to Morris, it was part of the pantheistic polytheism of Babel Connected with astrology, idolatry, and the worship of fallen angels. “It is therefore a reasonable deduction, even though hardly capable of proof, that the entire monstrous complex [of evolution] was revealed to Nimrod at Babel by demonic influences, perhaps by Satan himself.” Therefore, evolution is “the world-view with which the whole world has been deceived.”

That’s why the foundation of Ham’s humanism castle connects evolution with Satan—and why evolution gets blamed for social ills that plagued us long before Darwin was born and would still be prevalent today even if Darwin had never existed. Evolution becomes the scapegoat for many sinful behaviors, to such an extent that it is virtually equated with sin itself, or even seen as inherently Satanic. This is a profoundly unhelpful way of approaching historical and cultural aspects of evolution, and it fails entirely to explain why many people who utterly reject evolution commit the very sins that Ham connects with belief in evolution.

Despite the revisions over time to the AiG “signature icon,” its foundations have actually changed very little. For AiG, Christianity sits on the foundation of “Creation;” which means “6  (24 hour) Days” for creation is equivalent to God’s authority; and only this interpretation is true “Revelation in God’s Word.” On the other hand, Humanism sits on the foundation of “Evolution;” which wrongly believes in “millions of years” for creation according to human authority; making “human reason autonomous” from the revelation of God’s Word. In other words, respect for the authority of God’s Word requires an agreement with the AiG view of creation in six 24 hour days—and its companion doctrines of 6,000 years since the creation and a global Noachian Flood (See the AiG Statement of Faith). In contrast, Humanism and its issues rest on autonomous reason, manifested in allowing millions of years for creation and allowing evolution rather than creation to explain how the universe and humanity came into being.

Lastly, the warfare metaphor in the AiG “signature icon” was actually first used by John William Draper and Andrew Dickinson White in their books on the perceived conflict or “war” between science and religion at the end of the 19th century. Draper wrote History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874) and White wrote History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). In the Preface of his book, Draper seemed to set conflict between religion and science on a foundation that was eerily similar to the 2010 AiG cartoon. “The history of Science is … a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.”

Warfare or conflict rhetoric tempts us to see dichotomy where there may not be one. And when Christians use it to compare their understanding of a Biblical passage like Genesis 1 to alternative interpretations by other Christians (who also affirm the authority of Scripture), they need to be aware of the danger of imputing the rightful authority of Scripture onto their interpretation of the Biblical passage in question. It seems to me that is what has happened with Henry Morris and AiG.

11/7/17

Swallowing a Camel

© Oleg Lopatkin

The Babylon Bee reported that NYPD detectives are investigating an attack on a group of teen-aged youths who were mauled by two female grizzly bears in Central Park. According to witnesses, when pastor and author Tim Keller was on his morning run through Central Park he passed a group of young men. One of them shouted, “Hey baldy! Run, baldy, run!” Another youth echoed the sentiment before the two high-fived each other. Onlookers reported that Keller stopped jogging, closed his eyes and prayed. Immediately two massive grizzlies charged out of a nearby wood and mauled the group of boys.

The event, of course is not true. And if you are not familiar with the Babylon Bee, you would have missed the clue it gave that you were about to read a satirical piece of “news.” The back-story to the above is in 2 Kings 2:23-25, when the newly anointed prophet Elisha was traveling from Jericho to Bethel after his predecessor, Elijah, was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. A group of forty-two young boys (The Hebrew phrase can refer to youths between the ages of twelve and thirty) came out of Bethel and jeered at him, saying, “Go on up you bald head!” In his commentary on 2 Kings, Paul House suggested their jeering seems to be a contemptuous reference to Elijah’s being taken up to heaven, with the sense of “Go away like Elijah.” Elisha cursed them in the name of the Lord, as their behavior was an insult directed at him as a prophet, and therefore the Lord who he represented. “And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.”

What happened in the 2 Kings passage was not an example of biblical satire, but Leland Ryken commented in How to Read the Bible as Literature, that there is more satire in the Bible than you might think. Much of the Bible’s truth and wisdom has been shaped as satire. “By framing truth as an attack on vice or folly, biblical satire drives its point home with an electric charge.” Despite the negative approach of the satirist, a positive norm emerges from biblical satire because it includes a foil to the evil it attacks. “That foil is usually the character or law of God.”

Satire, Ryken said, is “the exposure, ridicule or rebuke, of human vice or folly.” It can “appear in any literary genre (such as narrative, lyric or parable), and it may be either a minor part of a work or the main content of an entire work.” The reader’s task with satire is fourfold: to identify the object(s) of attack, the satirical vehicle that embodies the attack, the tone (either biting or laughing), and the norm or standard by which the criticism is made.

Satire usually has one main object of attack, but it could also have a number of jabs in various directions, called “satiric ripples.” When satire “is an attack on historical particulars it means that the reader of satire usually needs help in reconstructing the assumed social context—the economic, political, religious, or social conditions that the satirist attacks.”

The object of attack could be a single thing, as in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), which attacks the love of money and the callous unconcern it encourages. Or it could be a series of objects as with Jesus’ discourse against the Pharisees in Matthew 23. There Jesus rapidly ridiculed the scribes and Pharisees, saying they tithe mint, dill and cumin, but neglect the weighty matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness. They are like whitewashed tombs that outwardly appear beautiful, but are full of dead bones and uncleanness. “So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

The object could be a historical particular, like the attack on the self-righteousness of the Pharisees in parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14); or it could be about a universal vice like greed, as in the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21), planning to build larger barns to store all his grains and goods.

The most common satiric vehicle is story, as with Jonah or the satiric parables of Jesus. There may also be brief snatches of action, as when Isaiah 46:5-7 briefly narrates how idol worshipers first have to have a goldsmith make an image in order for them to fall down before it and worship! Or there could be a portrait or character sketch as in Isaiah 3:16: “The Lord said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet.” Narratives and portraits are among the most artistic and sophisticated types of satiric vehicle. At the more informal end are cruder statements, as when Amos calls the wealthy women of Israel “cows of Bashan” (Amos 4:1); or the “woe formula” used by Jesus in Matthew 23 cited above.

Biblical satire always has one of two prevailing tones. One is gentle, smiling and subtle. “It aims to correct folly or vice by gentle laughter, on the premise that it can be laughed out of existence.” Examples of such a “soft sell” would include the story of Jonah as a whiny, pouting prophet. Or Isaiah 44:9-17, where those who fashion idols are described as taking part of a tree to build a fire in order to warm himself or bake bread, while with the rest he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down and worships it.

The second tone is biting, bitter and sharp. “It points with contempt and moral indignation at the corruptness and evil of people and institutions.” Most biblical satire is of this type, and includes a good bit of scorn, as opposed to humorous laughter.

The fourth and final aspect of satire to look for is the satiric norm; the standard by which the object of attack is being criticized. “The satiric norm is the positive model that is offered to the reader as an alternative to the negative picture that always dominates a satiric work.” In Jonah, the universal mercy of God is extended to the repentant city of Nineveh as a positive foil to Jonah’s misguided patriotism. “In the Sermon on the Mount, each of Jesus’ satiric charges against the Pharisees is accompanied by a positive command (Matt. 6:1-14).”

Satire is found throughout the Bible. The books of Jonah and Amos are entirely satirical. The orthodox comforters in Job are the ones who are rebuked. “The book of Ecclesiastes is a prolonged satiric attack against a society that is much like our own—acquisitive, materialistic, hedonistic, secular.” Many of Jesus’ parables, like the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) or the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14) are satiric. Whenever a biblical narrative prominently displays a character’s flaws, as with Jacob’s greed or Haman’s pride, there is a thread of satire.

Given this discussion of satire, I’ll offer the following suggestion of why the Babylon Bee story about Tim Keller is satirical. Remember that satire is “the exposure, ridicule or rebuke, of human vice and folly.”

The object of attack is against the infighting that occurs among evangelicals when ministers are perceived to be “too liberal” because they don’t hold to certain doctrinal positions. You can Google “Tim Keller” and “critique” to see what I mean. There are articles on Tim Keller’s “false gospel,” his “disappointing” comments on homosexuality and more. He’s been roundly criticized for what he’s said with regard to evolutionary creation. There’s even a book giving “a gracious criticism of some aspects” of his theology.

The satiric vehicle is an alternate reality story that portrays Tim Keller as Elisha in a modern version of 2 Kings 2:23-25. The satiric tone is subtle and laughing. Praying for judgment against his critics is the last thing to expect from someone like Tim Keller. Note also how the Babylon Bee article said Keller “calmly closed his eyes and uttered a prayer” as opposed to Elisha calling down a curse against those who were ridiculing him.

The satiric norm for the Babylon Bee article would be to remind those critics of Keller that they are also, in a manner of speaking, being critical of the God he serves as a minister. I don’t mean that questioning the opinions of Tim Keller is tantamount to debating Paul or Moses on some of their doctrinal positions. But (to use another satirical image), I think they are straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). With all the cultural critiques they could be addressing today, they are going after Tim Keller. Really?