Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Political Confessions of One Independent Evangelical

Not of This World

I don’t believe the Kingdom of God can or will be established by a political process. My primary purpose in life is to proclaim and practice the gospel of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is not to push a conservative social agenda. My identity is found in Christ, not in the GOP. The hope to which I cling, the hope I hold out to the people of this world has nothing to do with candidates, legislation or even Supreme Court nominations, it is based on the One Who said that His kingdom is not of this world.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place (John 18:36 NIV84).”
Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Mark 12:17 NIV84).”
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God (Romans 13:1 NIV84). 
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20–21 NIV84).
One of the authorities that exist and that has been established by God in the United States is the authority of the adult citizen to vote. My primary citizenship is in heaven, but I am grateful to be a citizen of the United States. As a citizen, God has given me the authority and responsibility to vote. I am not alone in taking this responsibility seriously. We will all one day stand before Christ to give an account for what we did with the gifts God has given us. We all must wrestle with our consciences before God with this gift of enfranchisement (the right to vote).

It would be great if our consciences were perfect moral compasses, but they really have become ossified by our sinful natures, influenced by a culture that disregards the rule of God and darkened by the enemy of our souls. Both the liberal and the conservative build their agendas on values, values that they would impose on others. My conscience is informed by my understanding of the Word of God and though the Law of the Lord is perfect, my grasp of it isn’t. Whenever I justify my selfishness, my understanding of God’s Word is darkened. When I submit to the work of Christ in my life God’s Word becomes clearer to me.

Washington State, November 2012

I live in Washington State so November of 2012 was especially challenging for me. I voted very differently than most evangelicals. I voted for Barack Obama, same sex marriage [Later the LORD made it clear to me that I sinned by voting to approve same-sex marriage. Please read my later blog post When the Foundations Are Destroyed: Why I Was Wrong to Vote to Approve Same-Sex Marriage] and the decriminalization of marijuana. I did it [I thought] with a good conscience based on the reasoning that I am laying down in this article. Right or wrong, I am accountable before God for my actions so—though others may condemn me—we will all know the truth soon enough. It would sound smug if I said that I don’t care what others think, plus I’d be lying. God is speaking to each one of us. We can all learn from each other.

I may have lost a number of conservative readers (and maybe even a few friends) with that last paragraph, but hopefully some will continue reading out of morbid curiosity. In any case, I’ll quickly explain my vote for Barack Obama. I like him. He is far more liberal in his policies than I am and I hate the fact that he doesn’t seem to be able to understand why it’s wrong to force faith-based organizations to pay for things that violate their collective consciences. Roman Catholics believe contraception–even non-abortive contraception–is a sin. I believe abortive contraception is murder, but non-abortive contraception is not wrong in and of itself. Mitt Romney probably matches my conservative values more closely, but I’m not sure. To me, his values seemed to change like the wind.

Marriage, That Blessed Arrangement

To the vast majority of evangelicals same-sex marriage is a no-brainer, it is inconceivable to them that any Christian would fail to be appalled at the thought of it, would fail to grasp that legalizing same-sex marriage is the beginning of the end of our civilization. Yet I voted to approve same-sex marriage because I am convinced that what the state calls marriage is not the same as what God calls marriage. What the state calls marriage is just a legal arrangement. The state cannot make two people one flesh, only God can do that.
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate (Matthew 19:3–6 NIV84).”
Only the Creator can make a man and a woman one, and that oneness is for one man and one woman. That is what our Lord has declared. God has joined my wife and me together and He forbids any human being from trying to separate us. My commitment to my wife is that I will never leave her or be unfaithful to her and that nothing but death may separate us. May God grant me the grace to love and honor her. May God deal with me and teach me to be the servant-leader that He has called me to be. If we submit to the work of God in our lives then our marriage will be a city on a hill, a light for the world.

The Apostle Peter said that the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).  I believe God is talking to the church about marriage, but not about same-sex marriage nor about a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Rather, He is speaking to us about how our one man/one woman marriages can bring glory to Him and hope to the world. Do you feel the shaking? God is disciplining us.

Decriminalizing Drugs

I don’t want to smoke marijuana. I don’t think anybody should smoke marijuana. I voted to decriminalize it because the war on illegal drugs is a fool’s errand. Prohibition against alcohol failed, but we didn’t learn our lesson. Our experience proves what sound macroeconomic theory predicts: criminalizing drugs will put resources into the hands of the most dangerous and despicable of men.

The Apostle Paul warned us not to be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. People are not highly evolved animals. We are created in the image of God. At our core we are spiritual beings who long for spiritual experiences. Only God can satisfy that need. In Jesus the fullness of the Godhead is incarnated in human flesh. He is the only mediator between God and man. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We can come to God through Jesus Christ and be filled with the Person of God’s Holy Spirit. There is such joy in knowing Jesus and walking with Him. Drugs and alcohol produce a false peace that muddles our brains, destroys our bodies and ruins our lives. Yet our need for spirituality remains. If we give our lives to Jesus He will make us what He created and redeemed us to be. He will meet that need in us.

Abortion

At the advice of a friend, I went to see Lincoln, the movie. I loved it so much that I saw it a second time. That’s rare for me (movies are so expensive), but I was delighted to be overwhelmed by such powerful and complex dialog. I was amazed at the realism. Those fighting to pass the thirteenth amendment were not caricatured as those who loved the African-American. Lincoln was portrayed as a man who was driven by one idea: that all men are equal, therefore slavery is an abomination.

To me the moral center of the movie was when Lincoln said, “Euclid's first common notion is this: things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. That's a rule of mathematical reasoning. It's true because it works. Has done and always will do. In his book [thoughtful sigh], Euclid says this is self-evident. You see there it is, even in that 2000 year old book of mechanical law. It is a self-evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.”

Human life is sacred because we are created in the image of God. To me it is self-evident that life begins at conception. It is not wrong to prevent conception, but once a child is conceived she is endowed by her Creator with certain unalienable rights, and those rights include the right to live.

Like the Democrats in Lincoln who were opposed to abolition on moral principles, there are many who find my view morally repugnant. To them, the woman’s right to control her own body is absolute. To them, freedom of choice is a woman’s health issue and if I oppose that right then I am waging war on women. There is no way to reconcile these two opposing worldviews.

Like Lincoln and many who voted for the thirteenth amendment I am not ignorant of the logical conclusion of my views, nor do I hold to these views to achieve those conclusions. Many who voted for the thirteenth amendment did not want to give the African-American the vote, but that was the logical conclusion of their view and they knew it. Would I execute a woman or a medical provider for performing an abortion? I would not. I could not.

God Loves the Foreigner

I think that the biggest problem with the conservative political thinking of most evangelicals is in the area of immigration policy. We should be leading the charge for immigration reform. We should demand simplification of the immigration process, call for raised quotas and plead for amnesty for illegal immigrants who have worked hard and obeyed our laws. Instead, we behave like those who know nothing about the love of God, who do not know that we all live as strangers here.
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10:18 NIV).
The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:34 NIV).
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

Our politics always reflect our cultural perspective. That is why denominations split between the north and the south during the time of the Civil War. Splits were caused because the churches in the South were pro-choice and the churches in the North favored abolition. Things are more complex today, but black evangelical churches tend to be more liberal and white evangelical churches tend to be more conservative. We’re even beginning to see a split between older evangelicals and younger ones. The younger evangelicals are supporting a broader view that includes environmental concerns. They’re still waging the culture war. They just have a broader view of culture. To me, they’re making the same mistake but are just doing it in a more elegant fashion. The end result will be the same: there will be more division in the church and the message of the gospel will be diluted.

I believe there are two truths that we must keep in tension: 1) Each of us is responsible before God to use our earthly citizenship for His glory and 2) We all need to respect each other’s consciences. To be blunt: being a Republican is not an essential of the faith. Don’t try to force your political views on fellow Christians. Allow God to work in their lives. Respect their decisions. You are not their Lord.
If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ ” So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God (Romans 14:8–12 NIV84).
There are people in this world who will always find something to fault the church for, but when we behave in a way that says, “If you want to be a born-again Christian, you’d better be prepared to become a Republican” then we dilute the gospel and put an unnecessary stumbling block in people’s paths.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20–21 NIV84).
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12 NIV84).
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17 NIV84).
My problem with the culture wars includes both the culture part and the war part. When the world looks at the church it should not see a people marching in lockstep for some political agenda. No, they should see a people who have been cleansed of their sins, live victoriously over destructive habits, have nurturing families, work hard, have healthy marriages, pray for their co-workers, and lift up the other members of their churches. Along with our Savior and my fellow members of the body of Christ, I pray that God will make us one so that the world will believe that the Father sent Jesus to redeem us of our sins.

Friday, November 23, 2012

1.0 Scriptural Patterns in Software Development

In the Beginning God

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:1–3 NIV84).
I love software development. I don't have a bachelor's degree nor do I have any degree in computer science, but for over twenty years I've had the joy of working in the software development industry and I love it. The Logos of God, the full expression of God, God's Wisdom, God's Ultimate Craftsman, the Lord Jesus Christ through Whom the Father created the universe has been at my side that entire time, answering my supplications as I called to Him for wisdom, leading me into all truth and showing me His glory along the way. I am very grateful.

Design Patterns/Pattern Language

Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come (Romans 5:14 NIV84).
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain (Hebrews 8:5 NIV84)."
Did God invent pattern language or is it an attribute of His nature? I'm convinced it is an aspect of the Logos of God, but in either case it is a gift from God for software development. I'll admit that I'm often confused and discouraged by design patterns literature, but design patterns give us a way of communicating about software architecture and learning about best practices. I imagine it's been around in one form or another since the beginning of computer programming. The most useful design pattern is a working system, just as the best Bible teaching comes from a life well lived.

Naming The Animals

I had intended to start out with an associates degree in computer science but wasn't interested in Cobol or mainframes. I wanted to work with micro computers. Back in the early 1980s I was warned that micro computers meant micro paychecks, but I was working with Ashton Tate's dBase II and I really enjoyed it. I ended up getting an associates degree in business administration from Anchorage Community College and later took some programming classes at The Evergreen State College where I also took an interdisciplinary environmental studies program that combined marine biology, political science and water chemistry. It was fascinating.

When the marine biology professor talked about the taxonomy (classifications) of marine invertebrates he'd often begin with the phrase "the taxonomy of this is all messed up." The text told us that there are three ways you can come up with a taxonomy: 1) looking at the over-all shape (morphology) of the various species, 2) comparing their DNA structures or 3) assigning points to their various characteristics. The funny thing is that--even though evolution is supposedly the foundation of all life sciences--each of these different methods will lead to different taxonomies. The evolutionist is forced to say, "These two species look very much alike but their DNA is quite different. They must have arrived in similar places through very different evolutionary routes." Sure.

God gave Adam the first scientific mission of all times when He told him to name the animals. A good name captures the essence of a thing. Adam had to study each creature, compare and contrast it with the others and come up with the perfect name. Not an easy task.

At the end of the day, software development is about writing code. The biggest expense associated with that code is the maintenance of it, and maintenance begins long before the first version is ever shipped. The more readable it is the less it costs to maintain. Code that is organized in a reasonable manner with well named variables, classes, methods and attributes is a great asset for the organization that owns it. I'm a maintenance programmer and I've read a lot of code over the years. Naming those animals is still one of the most challenging and important things that we do.

One thing I know for sure, brain-dead naming conventions lead to the worst names of all. Also, I've learned to have a healthy scepticism about names. An object is what it's used for, hopefully the name reflects that, but not always.
A good name is more desirable than great riches (Proverbs 22:1 NIV84)...

A Way that Seems Right

Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers (Proverbs 22:28).
Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil (Proverbs 4:26–27 NIV84).
Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved (Matthew 9:17 NIV84).
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a crown of splendor (Proverbs 4:7–9 NIV84).
I began working with relational databases on micro computers long before they could legitimately claim to be relational. I suppose Edgar F. Codd may still be looking down wondering if anyone will ever get it right. I've worked with dBase II, dBase III, Paradox, Microsoft Access, SQL Anywhere, Microsoft SQL Server and DB2. I've programmed in each of the databases I've mentioned, Clipper, Delphi, Powerbuilder, Visual Basic, VB .Net, C# and Java. Love me some Structured Query Language, baby. Along the way I've learned the hard way that you can't program in a new language or environment the way you did in the old one. I remember trying to program Paradox the way I did dBase. What a disaster!

It's crazy. I'm a highly intuitive person with an attention deficit disorder. Everything in me screams that I should be able to just envision a system and build it using the simplest of constructs. I can, but only in my dreams. In the real world, I have to research and discover best practices. Approaches that make little sense to me are often the most practical ones. Only after I've used them a few times do I internalize them.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (Proverbs 14:12 NIV84).
Slinging code is a great way to make a living. I hope I can keep doing it for at least another twenty years. Of course, it would be great if I could afford to retire then I could spend more time programming.

In This Way Death

Adam On the High Price of Disobedience

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned... (Romans 5:12 NIV84)
We can learn a lot from this verse if we reflect on the "just as" and the "in this way" and then journey through the scriptures to see what mistakes Adam made, what we can learn from them and how we can make better choices.

Beyond all doubt Romans 5:12-21 centers on Christ: His example of obedience and the great things He accomplished for us in His mighty work of redemption. However that work was necessitated by Adam's act of disobedience and the terrible results of that disobedience in the lives of each of Adam's descendants.

There were four players in the great drama of the first act of disobedience: God, Who gave Adam one specific command (And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die (Genesis 2:16–17 NIV84).” ); Satan, the father of lies, who was a murderer from the beginning; Eve, one flesh with Adam, his one and only companion, his partner in establishing God's reign on the earth; and Adam, who needed to make a decision.

Besides God's commandment and the call to love God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength there were three influences on Adam: the world, the flesh and the devil. We've mentioned the devil who desired to steal all that God had given Adam, to separate Adam from God and to destroy God's kingdom on earth. Adam's flesh included all of his human nature without consideration of God. This battle was not about Adam choosing his lower nature instead of his higher nature, it was about him choosing to disregard his relationship with God.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15–17 NIV84).
Through the eyes of his wife, Adam saw that "the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom (Genesis 3:6 NIV84)." Genesis 3:6 spells out the lust of the flesh, the desire of the eye and the pride of life involved in this temptation, but what worldly influence was there?

Adam's world revolved around his wife, Eve. Before the fall he said of her, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man (Genesis 2:23 NIV84)." Notice that he did not name her at this point. Naming her would imply that he had power over her. He just said that she would be called woman. He recognized how everyone would perceive and address her. Also, he declared her essence. Woman is a marvelous word. It sounds like man, but it isn't man. Women are equal to men in every respect but they are different. That's all I'm saying.

It's been pointed out that Adam was with Eve while she was being tempted by the enemy of her soul and did nothing to support her. He remained silent and just waited to see how things would play out. I think that is a true and useful observation, but what did the Apostle Paul say about this?
For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner (1 Timothy 2:13–14 NIV84).
This language may sound harsh to our modern ears, but there are two things here that are critical to the topic at hand:
  • Adam was formed first. That put him in a place of responsibility. He was called by God to be the servant leader.
  • Adam knew what he was doing. He was not fooled by the lies of the devil. He brought destruction on his family with full knowledge of what he was doing.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV84).
The enemy of our souls is capable of using much more cunning deceptions than he does, but God does not allow him to and, frankly, he doesn't need to. We fall for lies that we know are utter nonsense. We choose to believe things like:
  • If I just have this one shiny thing, I'll be happy.
  • Some lucky dog's gotta win.
  • I can play with fire and not get burned.
When we believe this nonsense we:
  • Focus on our own selfish needs and childish egos
  • Disregard the God who created us and sent His Son to die for us
  • Bring trouble on those we care the most about
I don't believe we are guilty of Adam's sin, but we did inherit his conditions. As a result of Adam's act of disobedience we have a sinful nature to contend with. Trouble has come on all of us because of Adam, but Christ's obedience has given us a new opportunity. When we give our lives to the One Who gave His life for us we are born-again, made new, free to make better choices. No destructive habit, no character flaw, no personality weakness has power over the child of God. We still have a sinful nature to deal with but by daily surrendering to the authority of Christ in our lives, confessing our failings and seeking to follow the leading of God's Spirit we can live a victorious Christian life.

How can we avoid the way of death?
  • Recognize that the enemy of our souls desires our destruction and will tell us all sorts of lies that appeal to our selfish desires and childish egos
  • Disobeying God will bring trouble on us, our families and those around us
  • We need to listen to others, but we also need to acknowledge God and when we do that He promised to direct our paths
God does love us and He has a wonderful plan for our lives.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Misreading Romans 5:12

What's Wrong with Teaching We're Guilty of Adam's Sin?

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned... (Romans 5:12 NIV84)
The lion's share of the Evangelical theologians I've read have--in my humble opinion--gotten this verse terribly wrong. They follow Augustine who seems to be the first church father to teach that this verse means that we're all guilty of Adam's sin. Augustine got that idea from the Latin translation he read which says "in whom all sinned" instead of "because all sinned." Today's teachers know better than that, but they look at the tense of the verbs and say that "all sinned" at exactly the same time as "sin entered the world" and, they conclude, the only interpretation that could possibly make any sense is that God holds us all guilty of Adam's sin. The trouble is that they're making an inference. The verse itself does not plainly state that.

Robert H. Mounce in "The New American Commentary: Romans" tells us that the natural reading of this verse is that Adam's sin caused us all to have a sin nature and the result of that is that we have all sinned, which is consistent with rest of the book of Romans, Paul's other epistles, and--I would argue--the entirety of Holy Scripture.

The humble person lets scripture answer scripture. No other part of scripture suggests that any person is guilty of any other person's sins.
The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die (Ezekiel 18:1–4 NIV84).”
Even if a church father asserted that Romans 5:12 tells us that we're all guilty of Adam's sin, it is pure hubris to build such an important doctrine on such flimsy evidence. Ezekiel 18 is very plain and appeals to our God-given sense of right and wrong. Romans chapter three is painfully clear that we each have a sinful nature and--as a result--have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:1–3 NIV84).
What's wrong with the idea that we're all guilty of Adam's sin?
  • It is unnecessary. We all have plenty of failures of our own to drive us to the cross.
  • It is distracting. It suggests that our sins don't matter because, even if we had not failed ourselves, we'd still be guilty before God.
  • It is confusing. It keeps us from hearing what God is actually telling us in this section of scripture.
The point of Romans 5:12-21 is to compare and contrast Adam's act of disobedience with Christ's act of obedience so that we can firmly grasp the benefits of the atonement. We haven't just been forgiven. Just as Adam's act of disobedience changed our natures, so also Christ's act of obedience overflows to us so that we can be made righteous, not just legally, but in such a way that our natures are fundamentally changed and we--though we still have a sinful nature to contend with--can live a victorious life in Him.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Evolutionary Crazy-Talk: Acceptable Discourse?

On This Week with George Stephanopoulos James Carville implied that people who do not believe in Evolution are crazy [1]. That same month (also on This Week), Andrew Sullivan made the charge much more clearly [2]. Bill Nye, The Science Guy, claimed that people who deny evolution harm young people and hamper scientific progress [3]. An ad hominem attack is not the most elegant rhetorical device and is usually associated with those who argue from a weaker position, but I don’t think this a harmless difference of opinions.

I am not in the least bit disquieted by people ridiculing me for believing that God created heaven and earth, for believing that mankind was created in the image of God, for believing that the Holy Bible is the Word of God, but I am convinced that there is something darker going on here.

What if there really is a segment of the population that refuses to listen to reason, that is actually harming young people and is hampering scientific progress? The most serious charge is that this group is doing harm to young people, but if they are hampering scientific progress then they are also preventing technological advancement and so are hurting the economy. That threatens everyone’s well-being. The obvious conclusion is that these people are a danger to society.

When we say that people are crazy we’re saying that they will not respond to conventional means of persuasion. That’s what we thought of the kamikazes of World War II. That’s what we think about Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Ayatollahs. This is how we convince people that radical action is required.

I don’t think for a second that James Carville, Andrew Sullivan or Bill Nye harbor such heinous designs. I’m a big fan of each of them, but I would advise them to refrain from demonizing the 46% of Americans who believe in Creationism [4] because of the collateral damage that can be caused by this sort of rhetoric.

Is it really so crazy to not believe in Evolution? Let’s say that your brother and his wife are expecting. Is it unreasonable for them to expect a Homo sapien? Personally, I don’t think anyone really believes in Evolution. What we truly believe affects our actions. If the most strident advocates of Evolution really believed in the almost miraculous power of the survival of the fittest they would never advocate for the weak, give to the poor or work to strengthen any social safety net.

I remember when the press was reporting an unusually high number of mutations among frogs in Minnesota. Scientists were worried. Something must be terribly wrong with the ecosystem. No one seemed to be suggesting that such mutation was just part of the evolutionary process, that we should just stand by and see what awesome new species would result.

Bill Nye claims that if we don’t believe in Evolution, the foundation of all life sciences, that we’ll never come to the right conclusion in matters relating to biology. Really? That’s odd, because a blind faith in Evolution lead scientists to the conclusion that most of our genetic information is useless junk, left over from the all the mutations we’ve gone through. Now it’s clear that they were wrong [5].

What makes Bill Nye an expert on biology any way? He’s an engineer, not trained in the life sciences. How did evolution inform his career as an aviation engineer? Did he make random changes in plane design to see which ones would provide the greatest benefit? There’s nothing wrong with testing different implementations but those changes should be based on some precedent, logic or intuition.

I’m a software developer, but no information system comes close to the genetic information systems that regulate the many species that exist on this planet. The one thing I know for sure is that the more complex the system the more careful one has to be developing and maintaining it. It would be crazy for me to make random changes to the system and put them into production to see which ones succeeded. Intelligent design is a much more reasonable approach.

Unlike some Evangelical Christians I have no problem with brothers who hold to Theistic Evolution. I can’t see it myself, from either a scientific or scriptural standpoint, but I don’t think it’s an essential of the faith and I’m convinced that we should extend liberty to one another in this area.

I’m not afraid of Evolution. I’m not the one trying to stifle the debate. Believing that God created heaven and earth, made mankind in His own image and spoke to us through His Holy Word does not make me crazy or a danger to society. Those who say that I am should ask themselves if there is a better way to make their points.




[2] This Week With George Stephanopoulos, 10/28/2012

Sunday, April 15, 2012

One Evangelical’s Response to Andrew Sullivan’s Christianity in Crisis

Summary of Andrew Sullivan’s Christianity in Crisis (from the article): Christianity has been destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists. Ignore them, writes Andrew Sullivan, and embrace Him. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/04/01/andrew-sullivan-christianity-in-crisis.html Apr 2, 2012 1:00 AM EDT


The main point of this article—according to the title—is that Christianity is in crisis. As Allan Quatermain said in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, “The Empire is always in some peril.” But Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18b ESV).”

Now I won’t just dismiss this article based simply on the idea that Jesus has his church under control. The Lord has a process for building His church and that includes times of correction. The Apostle Peter told us, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God (1 Peter 4:17 ESV)? “ One of the ways that Jesus builds His church is through loving discipline. We certainly see that in the book of Revelation, in which Jesus speaks to the individual churches, telling them Who He is, what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong then setting out a path forward for them to overcome and to receive the blessings of God.

The words of Andrew Sullivan are nothing like the words of Jesus. Instead of beginning with a revelation of Who Jesus is, he begins by claiming: “If we return to what Jesus actually asked us to do and to be—rather than the unknowable intricacies of what we believe he was—he actually emerges more powerfully and more purely.” Mr. Sullivan would separate us from the knowledge of Christ by putting it in the past tense and declaring it unknowable. That is not what the scriptures declare. Just before Jesus said that He would build His undefeatable church He asked His disciples who they thought He was.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16:15–17 ESV).
Our heavenly Father still reveals Jesus to us through the Holy Scriptures and by the power of the Holy Spirit, but magazines like Newsweek sell more copies when they include a controversial article about religion. To do that they must manufacture a crisis and take cheap shots at the biggest players in organized religion, rich evangelists (though in reality there are undoubtedly far more poor evangelists than rich ones), the Roman Catholic Church and the evangelical churches. We’ll ignore the fact that these magazines pick on Jesus because right now He’s turning the other cheek and the prophet Mohammad isn’t.

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that God has put eternity in men’s hearts. Mr. Sullivan said, “The thirst for God is still there. How could it not be, when the profoundest human questions—Why does the universe exist rather than nothing? How did humanity come to be on this remote blue speck of a planet? What happens to us after death?—remain as pressing and mysterious as they’ve always been?” But the Apostle Paul said, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:18 ESV).” So there are two powerful desires at work within fallen man: one for the divine and the other to suppress the truth because of our sense of guilt and a stubborn refusal to turn from our sins. The first chapter of the book of Romans plays that out, showing how we try to create a religion that works for us, recreating God in our own image, if you will.

I will take Mr. Sullivan at his word when he claims to believe in Jesus’ divinity and in the resurrection, but why then does he appeal to the authority of Thomas Jefferson who called “vast parts of the Bible religious manure?” Isn’t he trying to transform Christianity into a religion that is somehow more palatable to people today? It does remind me of what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he said that in the last days there would be people who have an appearance of godliness but who deny its power. Let us be clear, the power of godliness is found in the person of Jesus Christ, revealed in the Holy Scriptures through the work of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. Jesus is our mediator, the One Who stands between us and God, the One Who brings us together. He paid the price for our sins on the cross and was raised from the dead that we could become right with God.

Mr. Sullivan boldly asserts that we should ignore the Holy Scriptures’ “supernatural claims that, fused with politics and power, gave successive generations wars, inquisitions, pogroms, reformations, and counterreformations.” He provides no evidence that the supernatural aspects of the gospel, in fact, gave rise to these things. No causal relationship is established in this article. This is “begging the question” brought to a new low. I could more easily assert, based on the authority of the scriptures, that the supernatural aspects of the gospel transform our lives and enable us to put God’s word into practice. Can one not recall any good that any Christian has ever done? Turn in your imagination and ask them if their good deeds came from their inherent goodness. In my mind, each one replies, “No. God did a miracle in me and enabled me to do some good.”

Mr. Sullivan asks, “What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself?” That is the oldest argument in the book. It goes like this: “Don’t tell me how to live; you’re not perfect yourself.” Doesn’t society need some controls? We use politics to create mechanisms to control our society. Anarchy is an ugly alternative. If each one of us strove for and finally achieved perfect moral reformation then we wouldn’t need politics. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. In the mean time, just because a person calls himself a Christian doesn’t mean that he should be excluded from the political arena. Ones religion informs ones conscience. I would not advocate a Christian version of sharia law, but it is perfectly reasonable for religion to have an influence on politics. We might just as well try to exclude logic or ethics.

Mr. Sullivan says, “The crisis of Christianity is perhaps best captured in the new meaning of the word 'secular.' It once meant belief in separating the spheres of faith and politics; it now means, for many, simply atheism.” No, actually, secular simply means things that are not religious. Redefining words is a way to confuse people when you don’t have a particularly persuasive argument.

Mr. Sullivan does allow that there are times of great extremity when Christians should be allowed to be involved in politics, but only the kind of Christians that he advocates: those who ignore Who Jesus really is and who disavow the supernatural power of God. He said, “When politics is necessary, as it is, the kind of Christianity I am describing seeks always to translate religious truths into reasoned, secular arguments that can appeal to those of other faiths and none at all.” The gem of truth here is that, in order to be effective in the political sphere, we must translate spiritual truths into logical arguments, but that is not the sole domain of those who have an appearance of godliness but deny its power. This is something that evangelicals can do. I’m not saying that we always do.

Then he gives us an important caution: “But from Gandhi to King, the greatest examples of these movements renounce power as well. They embrace nonviolence as a moral example, and that paradox changes the world more than politics or violence ever can or will.” Thank you, Mr. Sullivan. I didn’t know that we were experiencing a groundswell of Christian churches advocating violent political changes these days. That is bad. Nonviolence is better. You are so right.

Mr. Sullivan says concerning the Roman Catholic Church: “whatever shred of moral authority that remained has evaporated.” What solution does he recommend? “I don’t know what greater indictment of a church’s authority there can be—except the refusal, even now, of the entire leadership to face their responsibility and resign.” The entire leadership of the Roman Catholic Church must resign or Andrew Sullivan will not grant them any moral authority. That would kill any cancer that exists, but I’m not sure the patient would survive the treatment. It sounds to me like Mr. Sullivan has an agenda to rebuild the Roman Catholic Church as he would Christianity as a whole.

Now let’s look at one of my favorite parts of this article. “Others defend a rigid biblical literalism, adamantly wishing away a century and a half of scholarship that has clearly shown that the canonized Gospels were written decades after Jesus’ ministry, and are copies of copies of stories told by those with fallible memory. Still others insist that the earth is merely 6,000 years old—something we now know by the light of reason and science is simply untrue.” You’re talking about me, Mr. Sullivan (and perhaps also your grandmother). I believe the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God. God does not lie. By His grace and in His sovereignty, God has preserved His Word for us. If you would ridicule me for my simple faith then I will rejoice, as my Savior told me to, but to be perfectly honest your attack is less than impressive. Is that all you’ve got?

There are a lot of things that I’m ashamed of, but like the Apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16 ESV)…” He told the Thessalonians, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV).” When we accept the Word of God for what it is then that word works in us and transforms us by the power of God. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (Matthew 24:35 ESV).” The way I read the data, after two millennia of scholarship and textual criticism the Holy Scriptures are more impressive than ever and they are still changing lives today.

I am a young earth creationist, but I do not insist that the earth is merely 6,000 years old. I’ll admit that I think it is probably somewhere in that range, that’s just how I read the scriptures. Other believers—reading the same Bible–think the earth is much older. A literal reading of Genesis reveals that on the day God created Adam he looked older than he was and he was placed in a garden that looked older than it was, otherwise he would have had nothing to eat from the trees. No surprise, the universe looks old. Perhaps Mr. Sullivan has more faith in science in general and his light of reason in particular than I do. That is something I do not presume to know.

For anyone who knows the Bible, the following statement is likely the most outlandish: “Jesus never spoke of homosexuality or abortion, and his only remarks on marriage were a condemnation of divorce...” Let everyone who knows and loves the scriptures pause and take that in. It is magnificent in its ignorance.

First, let’s take homosexuality. How about if we actually look at what Jesus said?

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (Matthew 19:3–6 ESV).”
In the beginning God made them male and female and made them one. That is what God calls marriage. The law of God makes it clear that sex is blessed by God within marriage and marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman. Fornication, sex without marriage, is a sin. Sex that violates the marriage covenant, adultery, is a sin. Building on the sum of God’s revelation up to that point, that is what Jesus taught. Homosexuality, as an inclination, could be defined as same sex attraction. In that sense, it is not a sin, any more than any other inclination to sin is, in itself, a sin. Sex outside of the marriage covenant is a sin and Jesus defined marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman.

Marriage does not come from the state. God gave us marriage. The state can define a legal arrangement that it calls marriage, but it does not have the power to change God’s definitions. In his day, C. S. Lewis said that Christians should not try to incorporate biblical divorce standards into the law, thereby enforcing them on unbelievers. I don’t know what he would say about same sex marriage.

If life begins at conception then abortion is murder, plain and simple. It would be technically correct to say that Jesus did not tell us not to murder, but it would be missing the point entirely. Here’s what He said on that issue:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Matthew 5:21–22 ESV).”
In the Law of Moses God had already revealed–to no one’s surprise–that murder was wrong. Jesus spoke to the heart of the issue of murder and told us that other attitudes and actions have the same moral equivalency. Now let me ask you, if calling a brother a fool makes us liable to the fires of hell then what does calling a baby a fetus (so that we can feel better about killing her) make us liable to?

It troubles me that this article never affirms what Christian churches have done and are doing. From the beginning the church has given to the poor and supported widows and orphans. It sounds simple, but it never has been. The first church in Jerusalem dealt with the thorny issue of racism in its distribution of food to widows. The Apostle Paul added a definition of the type of widow that should be supported by the church. He also told us that anyone who does not work should not eat. I wonder what Paul would have said to Saint Francis about begging for food when one is capable of working. Would it have sounded crazy to him?

I am encouraged to see what is happening with young evangelicals today. They tend to be less homogeneous politically. I have long worried about the elephant in the evangelical room. I’ve asked my friends, “Aren’t we giving the impression that if you want to be one of the born-again ones, you had better be prepared to become a Republican?” The kingdom of God will not be established on this earth through a political process. Each of us must struggle with how we live our faith out.

It is also encouraging to see the growth of missional communities. These are small groups within churches that are doing service projects for their communities. It’s not a new thing, but it brings a renewed emphasis, a fresh perspective and a new energy that is having an impact all over this country.

I do agree that head knowledge is not what Christianity is all about. Paul told us that head knowledge just puffs us up with pride, while love actually builds us up and makes us better, more effective people. Then he said, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God (1 Corinthians 8:2–3 ESV).” John told us, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him (1 John 3:17 ESV)?” This is not a new idea for the Church. Does it help us to be reminded by someone who has “no concrete idea how Christianity will wrestle free of its current crisis?” Indeed, it means little coming from someone who can say nothing affirming and can only put forward two examples: one, Thomas Jefferson, who is no man’s orthodox Christian and the other, Saint Francis, who precious few of us can relate to.

I’ll tell you what I think God is speaking to the Church. Jesus prayed to the Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20–21 ESV).” Jesus is speaking to us and telling us to not be divided by any issue that is not an “essential of the faith.” We need to dust off the old dictum: “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity.” Jesus is building His church among all who have experienced the reality found in the Apostles’ Creed: Roman Catholics, evangelicals and all orthodox Christians. Just because a person is orthodox, doesn’t mean he is born-again, but if you are born of God then you must be orthodox on the essentials of the faith. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not orthodox Christians; they are not born of God. They worship a different Jesus. The Holy Spirit is working in the Church to focus our eyes on Jesus, to empower us to proclaim the life giving Gospel and to move us to join hands with one another.