Friday, November 30, 2012

In-Womb Fighting

Currently, I'm preaching a series out of the Book of Genesis entitled "Start." One of the stories I'll hit is of Jacob and Esau, twins who had a terrible sibling rivalry and whose descendants, to this day, continue to have conflict (i.e. the Israeli/Arab conflict). What's interesting is that the rivalry starts in the womb of their mother, Rebekah. Gen. 25:22 states that her twin boys, "struggled together within her." Later on we're told that when Esau, the older, is born, he emerges from the womb with Jacob's "hand holding on to Esau's heel." I point this out because people have undoubtedly accused the Bible of manufacturing this story. Surely two babies in the womb aren't developed enough to fight one another. This is simply mythology. Yet, once again, the Bible is proven to be plausible through scientific discovery. Notice the recent video of twins fighting in their mother's womb captured by a modern sonogram in the following link.

Friday, November 9, 2012

How Old is the Earth?

Recently, I preached a message on Genesis 1 and explained the idea that Satan seems to have rebelled against God between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2. But I did not say that I held to the so-called "Gap Theory." I have come to the conclusion that the earth of v. 2 is much different than the earth of v. 1. Verse 1 seems to me to be a proclamation about how everything was made: God made it! He creates the universe, "the heavens and the earth," and it is good. God doesn't tell us when the universe was created in the verse, however. But the earth of v. 2 is different. It has ominous qualities. It's chaotic, empty, a waste, and has darkness over it (and God imediately begins to renovate the earth to make it good again, just like He is doing with all who call upon Him as Lord--we're all going to be renovated and be "very good" one day!). All of this chaotic imagery of v. 2 is used elsewhere in Scripture to suggest the results of judgment (ex. Jer. 4:23-28). I'm not sure if there is a huge gap between the two verses, however. It's possible that the fall of Satan could have happened instantly. It's also possible it could have happened before the entire chapter and v. 1 is simply a summary statement about creation telling us that God made it all at some point in time and then the text quickly moves into the final phase of that full creation starting with v. 2. Or, as many of my Dallas Seminary professors would assert, v. 1 could be the the beginning of the first day and the phrase "heavens and earth" are describing the earth and its sky. In this view, we are being told in Genesis just about the creation of the current earth and not the entire universe, with the idea that Satan caused the chaos before v. 1. This view can be called the pre-creation chaos view and it asserts that the term "in the beginning" means the beginning of our planet as it is. In other words, Gen. is talking about "in the beginning of God's renovation of the earth as we know it," leaving the possibility that Genesis is not discussing the beginning of all time (although they argue that the Bible elsewhere certainly teaches God created everything out of nothing at the absolute beginning). Are you getting confused? Don't worry about it. Great Bible scholars with great arguments differ on these questions. All of this, it seems to me, is splitting hairs and misses the point. I hold to the position that v. 1 is a big view of everything and then the focus shifts to a broken, chaotic earth damaged by Satan's fall in v. 2. I have a number of reasons for holding to this view, but they can be discussed elsewhere and are not crucially important to the Genesis account. Moses is not focusing on Satan or the time of Earth's creation. His focus is on God as our Creator and His care in preparing a home for us.
My view is pretty fluid on some of this due to so many scholars who are much smarter than me and disagree on these issues. I've landed on a view, but am open to the possibility that I could be mistaken (by the way, I'm like this with my end times picture as well). I think the following article from the brilliant theologian, Norm Geisler, may prove helpful to you as you weigh the arguments.

The Current Debate on Creation and Evolution
by Dr. Norman Geisler

Since the time of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), debate has raged within Christianity on whether or not total evolution is compatible with the historic biblical and theological teaching on origins. Two basic camps have emerged: theistic evolution and creationism. Within the second faction (creationists), there are two major groups: old-earth creationists and young-earth creationists. (The former are often called progressive creationists, and the latter, fiat creationists.) Currently, in America, the young-earth creationists are led by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), based on the work of Henry Morris. Progressive (old-earth) creationism is championed by Hugh Ross and his "Reasons to Believe" organization; another proponent of this view is Robert Newman at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.

Young-Earth Creationism
The primary difference between young- and old-earth creationists is the speculated amount of time between God’s creative acts. Young-earthers insist that it was all accomplished in 144 hours–six successive 24-hour days–while old-earth (progressive) creationists allow for millions (or even billions) of years. This is usually done by:
(1) placing long periods of time before Genesis 1:1 (making it a recent and local Creation);
(2) placing the long periods of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 (called "gap" views);
(3) making the "days" of Genesis 1 long periods of time;
(4) allowing long periods of time between literal 24-hour days in Genesis 1(called "alternate day-age views); or
(5) making the days of Genesis to be days of revelation of God to the writer, not days of Creation (called "revelatory day" views).
There are several variations within these perspectives, making a total of more than a dozen different views held by evangelical theologians on the matter.

Old-Earth Creationism
Old-earth (progressive) creationists are not to be confused with theistic evolutionists. Old-earth creationists do not accept macroevolution as a method by which God produced the originally created kinds of Genesis 1. Old-earth creationism was strong among nineteenth-century creationists, though the view dates from at least the fourth century (in Augustine). Again, prominent contemporary defenders include Hugh Ross and Robert Newman.

Theistic Evolution
Broadly speaking, theistic evolution is the belief that God used evolution as His means of producing the various forms of physical life on this planet, including human life. All theistic evolutionists believe that God performed at least one supernatural act—the act of creating the physical universe from nothing. However, this may more properly be called deistic evolution, since there are no miracles involved after the first act of Creation.
Most theistic evolutionists hold to at least two acts of Creation: (1) the creation of matter out of nothing, and (2) the creation of first life. After that, allegedly, every other living thing, including human beings, emerged by natural processes that God had ordained from the beginning. Some theistic evolutionists do insist that God directly created the first soul in the long-evolved primate to make it truly human and in His image….

Areas of Agreement Between Young- and Old-Earth Creationists
Young- and old-earth creationists have much in common, at least among those who are evangelical. This includes several basic things.

Direct Supernatural Creation of All Forms of Life
Both young- and old-earthers believe that God supernaturally, directly and immediately produced every kind of animal and human as separate and genetically distinct forms of life. Both hold that every kind produced by God was directly created de nova (brand-new) and did not come about by God’s using natural processes over a long period of time or tinkering with previous types of life in order to make higher forms (evolution).

Opposition to Naturalism
Both groups are also agreed in their opposition to naturalism, which they see as the philosophical presupposition of evolution. They correctly observe that without a naturalistic bias, evolution loses its credibility. Ruling out the possibility of supernatural intervention in the world begs the whole question in favor of evolution even before one begins.

Opposition to Macroevolution
Likewise, both are united in their opposition to macroevolution, either theistic or nontheistic; that is, they reject the theory of common ancestry. They both deny that all forms of life descended by completely natural processes without supernatural intervention from the outside. They deny that all living things are like a tree connected to a common trunk and root; rather, they affirm the separate ancestry of all the basic forms of life, a picture more like a forest of different trees. Microevolution, where small changes occur within the basic kinds of created things, is acknowledged, but no macro (large-scale) evolution occurs between different kinds. For example, both old- and young-earth creationists agree that all dogs are related to an original canine pair—part of the same tree. However, they deny that dogs, cats, cows, and other created kinds are related like branches from one original tree.

The Historicity of the Genesis Account
Further, both young- and old-earthers who are evangelical hold to the historicity of the Genesis account: They believe that Adam and Eve were literal people, the progenitors of the entire human race. While some may allow for poetic form and figure of speech in the narrative, all agree that it conveys historical and literal truth about origins. This is made clear by the New Testament references to Adam and Eve, their creation and fall, as literal (cf. Luke 3:38; Rom. 5:12; 1 Tim. 2:13-14).

Areas of Difference Between Young-and Old-Earth Creationists
Of course, there are some differences between the two basic evangelical views on Creation. The primary ones include the following.

The Age of the Earth
A crucial variance between the two views, naturally, is the age of the earth. Young-earthers insist that both the Bible and science support a universe that is only thousands of years old, while old-earthers allow for billions of years. Young-earthers connect their view to a literal interpretation of Genesis (and Ex. 20:11), but old-earthers claim the same basic hermeneutic, which they believe can include millions, if not billions, of years since Creation. They too cite scientific evidence in their favor.

At a minimum, it would be wise if both sides could agree on the following:
(1) The age of the earth is not a test for orthodoxy.
(2) Neither view is proven with scientific finality, since there are unproven (if not unprovable) presuppositions associated with each.
(3) The fact of Creation (vs. evolution) is more important than the time of Creation.
(4) Their common enemy (naturalistic evolution) is a more significant focus than their intramural differences….

The doctrine of Creation is a cornerstone of the Christian faith. The essentials of this teaching have universal consent among orthodox theologians. They include the following:
(1) There is a theistic God.
(2) Creation of the universe was ex nihilo (out of nothing).
(3) Every living thing was created by God.
(4) Adam and Eve were a direct and special creation of God.
(5) The Genesis account of creation is historical, not mythological.

While there is lively debate about the time of Creation, all evangelicals agree on the fact of Creation. There is also agreement on the source of Creation (a theistic God) and the purpose of Creation (to glorify God). The exact method of Creation is still a moot question; however, increasingly, the scientific evidence supports a supernatural Creation of the universe, the direct creation of first life, and the special creation of every basic life form. Hence, macroevolution, whether theistic or naturalistic, is unfounded both biblically and scientifically.1


1 Taken from Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2003), p. 468-73. Used by permission.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Voter Guidance

The following entry was written some time ago, during the primaries. I think, however, it should be helpful for Tuesday. --Rusty
How are Christians supposed to determine who to vote for in crucial elections? Hopefully, the following ten guidelines will help. They are influenced by Stoyan Zaimov’s article published in the Christian Post Reporter on 12/26/11 (Iowa Pastors' Advice for Christian Voters as Caucuses Approach).

1. Pray. As Christians, we are commanded in 1 Tim. 2:1 to pray for our governmental authorities. Certainly this would apply to praying over the placement of people into these positions of authority. Before you vote, ask God to give you clarity and wisdom. Politicians are notorious for saying what we want to hear, not necessarily what they believe. Not all politicians are like this, but certainly many are. We need discernment to know who the real deal is and who is a fake.
2. Faith. I believe the most important freedom our country has is the freedom to practice our faith without government intrusion. If a candidate does not respect the Bible and the rights of our citizens to worship the God of the Bible, it would be unwise to vote for him or her. Pay attention to how the candidate talks about people of faith.
3. Life. If a candidate has little regard for the life of an infant or of the elderly, I will not vote for him or her. Admittedly, some candidates make a distinction between being pro-choice and pro-abortion. That is to say, they want to eliminate abortion somehow and in some way, but prefer to look to medical science and/or social reform rather than a repeal of Roe vs. Wade as the means of ending abortion. Nevertheless, if a candidate does not see a fetus as a life or supports unfettered euthanasia, I have a hard time voting for that individual. Pro-life is a big one for me.
4. Poverty. If a candidate is overly focused on capitalism or wealth to the neglect of the poor, I am less inclined to vote for him or her. Our leaders should show concern for the poor. However, by poor, I don’t mean irresponsible. The Bible is clear that we are to expect our citizens to be productive contributors to society (2 Thes. 3:10). The government should provide help to those who have been hit by difficulties and are infirmed. But for able-bodied citizens, we should more frequently offer a hand up than a hand out.
5. Character. It stands to reason that a leader, if he or she is to lead well, must have a strong, moral character. The best indicator of future character is past behavior. If elected, this person is given a public trust. If that leader is not trustworthy, there will be problems keeping the trust! So, it’s fair game to look at a track record when it comes to marriage, family, fiscal responsibility, job performance, etc. Is this person a man or woman of integrity? What does the past tell us?
6. Family. The biblical standard of marriage as between a man and a woman is an important issue for me. This is not simply ideological, but practical as well. Society simply functions better when the family unit consists of one father and one mother in a faithful, healthy, sacred, and monogamous relationship. Redefining marriage in homosexual or polygamous terms (FYI, there is also currently a movement to recognize polygamous marriage) logically leads to redefining the ideals we pass on to future generations. Where a candidate stands on this issue will have an impact on my vote.
7. Economy. It is a biblical principle to pay back debt and to reward those who work hard. It is important to me, therefore, for a candidate to be fiscally responsible with state or national debt and to encourage economic development. If our government penalizes financial success with over-taxation and hikes up debt to pay for too many entitlements, our nation will not be prosperous enough to provide for the poor. The greatest institutions for helping the poor, our churches and other non-profits, will not have the income to provide maximum care because donations will be too low in a struggling economy. We do need governmental oversight to protect the public from corporate corruption (such as predatory lending), but we must be careful to allow a healthy free market to thrive. I want to know that my leaders possess fiscal understanding and have the leadership skills necessary to provide strong economic direction.
8. Military/Law Enforcement. Throughout biblical history, the government had the noble responsibility of protecting its citizens from attack. Strong, moral, and disciplined military and law enforcement agencies are necessary for the sake of freedom. Yet, these forces should be used only for just causes. In candidates, I look for men and women who respect the military and law enforcement and expect these agencies to abide by the highest standards of human decency.
9. Education. When it comes to educating our kids, the most important question is “What’s best for the children?” If a candidate begins the discussion with teachers’ rights or a strict separation of secular and private education, I’m less inclined to vote for him or her. However, I applaud those who want to encourage educational systems that reward educators who truly love kids and are gifted in training them.
10. Global. We are to be good neighbors to other countries in the world. I expect my governmental leaders to be ambassadors of good will, champions of freedom, well-informed, diplomatically savvy, and tangibly formidable when it comes to other nations. Israel, in particular, is an ally that must be given special attention due to biblical wisdom (Gen. 12:1-2) and strategic objectives (its alliance is crucial in the struggle against militant Islamic terrorism). If a candidate seems shallow, ignorant, naive, or feeble with regard to foreign policy, I’m less likely to vote for him or her.
These are some of the guidelines that help me filter candidates in an election. Obviously, the list is not exhaustive. It also requires us to research where each of the candidates stand. But, perhaps, it will aid you as you ask for the Spirit’s discernment in the ballot box.