November 2006

Evolution and the anthropic principle...

It seems to me that among evolutionary theory's least-exploited weaknesses are its implicit assumptions about the conditions necessary for life to come into existence.

Evolutionary principle, in other words, only comes into play when organic life first forms. But shouldn't adaptive forces be at work even before full-fledged life appears? Shouldn't, for instance, the principles of evolution be equally adept at creating non-carbon-based life forms as carbon-based? Shouldn't evolution be as capable of creating rock-based life as water-based?

It seems silly to claim that evolution can take atoms from the primordial soup to mankind (and beyond) ONLY IF the exact building blocks of carbon-based life are present first. Shouldn't the adaptive powers of evolution be just as capable of raising some form of life from a helium primordial soup as from carbon?

Where does evolution begin? After life's initiation, or before? It seems completely contrary to evolutionary theory's claims to suggest that life requires certain inescapable conditions to form. Isn't the point of evolution that life adapts to exist and survive? Evolutionary forces, if real, should be as active in forming life as in advancing it. Which means that adaptation should include adaptation to non-carbon environments.

Ironically, some at the forefront of evolutionary thought (Kurzweil, etc.) propose an evolutionary jump from man to machine--from carbon-based to non-carbon-based life--as the next major evolutionary leap. But if non-carbon-based life is possible at the more advanced end of the evolutionary spectrum, why not at the outset? If evolution potentially ends at machines, why couldn't it start there as well?

The assumption by evolutionists that carbon is essential for life implicitly establishes evolutionary theory on a foundation of design. Though evolutionists suggest the existence of non-carbon-based life forms elsewhere in the universe, the absence of the slightest evidence for such life forms is damning evidence of evolutionary theory's need for a stacked deck at the outset. Evolution needs a perfectly designed universe even to get out the gate.

Read more on the many ways the universe conspires to support life on earth (what some call the anthropic principle) in this article from the Wall Stree Journal.


The pursuit of gold....

I went to the library with my daughter Tessa this evening. She headed to the children's section where she's on intimate terms with the librarians. I headed to the periodicals section where I picked up a copy of this month's Harpers Magazine.

Harpers' lead article, Through a Glass, Darkly: How the Christian right is reimagining U.S. history, by Jeff Sharlet was a strong, yet not-altogether-unfair criticism of conservative Christianity's reading of America's political history. (Sorry, not available online at Harpers--though a fair chunk of the article is available on this blog.)

Sharlet mixes reporting of hokey political/cultural rallies (where he appears to have played the coward's trick of acting sympathetic to gain the confidence of leaders) with surprisingly astute assessment of the influence of thinkers such as Rousas Rushdoony and Cornelius Van Til on modern Christian conservativism.


Faithful Christians and the state of the union...

Here are two pieces that wonderfully illustrate the blessings God pours out on this evil world through Christians who, from love for God and man, work for justice in civil society. The first is a short op-ed piece by Kathleen Parker that ran in today's Baltimore Sun. The second is this letter to the editor written by Chuck Colson that appeared in today's New York Times:

To the Editor:

David Kuo cites the idea that evangelical Christians take a two-year fast from politics ("Putting Faith Before Politics," Op-Ed, Nov. 16).

Hmmm. What would have happened if Christians over the last two years had taken a leave of absence from politics? Here's what would not have happened:

The Bush administration would not have taken on the issue of slavery in Sudan, AIDS in Africa or global sexual trafficking. We wouldn't have seen Congress pass a ban on "partial birth" abortions or take on prison rape and prisoner rehabilitation, or highlight the horrors of persecution in North Korea.

And what about Christians in public office? Leaders like Sam Brownback and Frank Wolf, who have risked their lives to go to troubled spots of the world to protect human rights and human dignity, would have just stayed home.

Christians should be engaged in public life as instruments of justice and righteousness.

A two-year fast? No thanks.

Charles W. Colson
Lansdowne, Va., Nov. 22, 2006
The writer is the founder of Prison Fellowship.

(Thanks, Jim and Mark.)


Should Christians vote for a woman for elected office...

Under Brother David's post, With friends like these: complementarianism's squishy anti-feminism, Fred Greco asks:

David and David, Do you think that a Christian could ever vote (in good conscience) for a woman running for elected office (e.g. Kay Hutchinson)?

Since neither David is responding...

As the Creation order of the sexes given us in Genesis 2, the interpretation and application of that Genesis 2 Creation order given us in 1Timothy 2 and elsewhere (women are not to exercise authority over men), and the incidental account of God's judgment descending on Judah in the form of two curses--children oppressing and women ruling over them (Isaiah 3:12)--make clear, the exercise of authority over men by women is contrary to the order of the sexes determined and revealed by God.

Sorry about the redundancy, but it can't be said too often that this is the perspicuous (quite clear) teaching of Scripture from beginning to end. The order of the sexes is an ontological reality and it's meaning is not limited to the church and home, but extends everywhere the sexes are sexual--in other words, everywhere and always.

If a man sees and unequivocally affirms this fundamental anthropological truth, then we may begin to discuss particularities such as the home (Ephesians 5), the church (1Timothy 2), and the public square (Isaiah 3). But if a man denies this truth in the public square while claiming to affirm it in the home and church, he's either grossly inconsistent, or he has not yet understood sexuality in a biblical way and he does not yet hold to a biblical anthropology...


Why Dispensationalism is wrong....

Every time someone asks a candidate for licensure, "Tell me why dispensationalism is wrong," in the candidates and credentials committee of my presbytery I cringe.

I'm not a dispensationalist, but the answers sought and given are often caricatures rather than fair assessments.

Some years ago I sought to explain to one of the last dinosaurs of dispensationalism why dispensationalists couldn't be true Calvinists. The dispensationalist I was talking to was John Sailhamer. The setting of our talk was a breakfast at the 2000 meeting of the Evangelical Society in Boston--where John was assuming the presidency of ETS. The issues we discussed were Amyraldianism and the order of God's decrees (infralapsarianism vs. supralapsarianism). And what I learned was that I didn't know Reformed theology as well as my dispensationalist friend, let alone dispensationalism.

By the end of our conversation most of my cocksure views had been gently removed and I promised myself I would never again presume to define dispensationalism's faults--at least to a real live thinking dispensationalist. I don't agree with dispensationalism, but I'm not an expert on it. And when I did meet an expert, I found certain stock Reformed criticisms of dispensationalism rather threadbare. Dispensationalists deserve to be taken seriously. Reformed believers don't appreciate being accused of the things Arminians suggest against us. Most are false. We need to be as careful in what we say about dispensationalism as we ask Arminians to be toward us.

For more on illegitimate criticisms of dispensationalism read this post by Dan Phillips.

With friends like these: complementarianism's squishy anti-feminism

Wayne Grudem plugs his latest book (Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism?) in this week's WORLD.

In an interview with Marvin Olasky peppered with references to the book ("...friends I name in my book research I outline in this book research shows this book I attempt to warn...) Wayne rehearses arguments first developed in the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood's Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Wayne briefly and accurately recapitulates the problem with gender neutral Bibles, specifying the TNIV as a particularly egregious egalitarian translation.

But in the end, Wayne's arguments are neutered by his insistence on calling evangelical feminists "friends" and "fellow Christians."


Destroying good preaching...

The unmentioned scandal of late-20th/early-21st century preaching is not the number of preachers seeking outside inspiration for their sermons. That's well-documented. Just as baleful in its effect on modern preaching has been the number of preachers who have turned from preaching sermons to a flock to writing sermons for an audience.

My father used to tell his children that written and spoken English are two entirely different languages. And it's true. Equally distinct are sermons addressed to a particular flock and sermons written for a broad reading audience.

Throughout the centuries a number of great preachers have had their sermons collected and published. But the sermons contained in such volumes were seldom prepared with publication in mind. Rather, they were preached to a congregation (often from notes or extemporaneously) and later made available for publication. For instance, John Calvin's sermons are available in written form due to the work of a French shorthand expert named Denis Raguenier who took verbatim shorthand notes from Calvin's extemporaneous preaching. Luther's sermons were carefully recorded by a variety of listeners. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' sermons were mechanically recorded and later transcribed. Jonathan Edwards sermons are still being culled from handwritten manuscripts and must be edited for publication.

Today many preachers write sermons with minds divided between a local congregation and the national audience they hope to reach through a book they intend to publish out of their current sermon series. The result is wretched preaching (and often wretched publishing to boot).

Many of the greatest preachers of our time have declined in power as they have shifted focus from a local church and specific congregation to a national audience. If you listen to early sermons by many preachers whose sermons are routinely published today you find power not present in current preaching. Sadly, the powerful preaching of a young pastor often leads a publisher to offer book contracts for future sermons and those book contracts become the death of the preacher's power.

It's also true that preachers whose sermons are routinely broadcast often fall into a similar trap of preaching for a broad audience rather than preaching to build a particular Church

Preaching for posterity rather than for the current needs of a particular flock leads to emasculated preaching. Those who preach for publication can be divided into two camps: populists and scholars. Populists tend to become more oratorical, to illustrate more liberally and to over-simplify. Those preaching for more scholarly publication (commentaries, for instance) become more pedantic and theoretical. Both types of preaching are devoid of pointed application.

Many good preachers also write great books. But in the end, I am convinced that preaching for publication is preaching for pay and honor. And that always bodes ill for power.

Sermons, tried and tested....

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on sermons sold, traded and appropriated. (Thanks, Wayne)

I've written in support of using others' sermons in the past--partly because I've done so with my brother's sermons 10-15 times over the years. Vineyard minister Steve Sjogren ably defends such sharing in the article. Interestingly, preachers most likely to be quoted by others (megachurch pastors such as Sjogren and Rick Warren) are also most sanguine about others doing so and least likely to seek attribution.

But there's also a deeply slimy aspect to the sale and slavish recreation of others' sermons--even down to the appropriation of the original preacher's personal illustrations.

If we'd stop referring to such preaching as simple plagiarism and speak about the issue in light of Scripture's definition of the shepherd's call--without reference to the standards of academia and commercial publishing--we might come to consensus on what is and is not appropriate in this area.

I suspect, for instance, that in plenty of good churches Martyn-Lloyd Jones is followed pretty explicitly when preachers are preaching through Romans. Perhaps this isn't ideal. But Lloyd-Jones has inspired a number of my sermons--how could he not when a young pastor is preaching in Romans and reading Lloyd-Jones? Plagiarism? I don't think so. Utter originality may be a transcendent value in academia, but faithful believers are unwise to make this a test of preachers of the Word.


The worship of Cain....

A staple of growing up in an Evangelical church was this explanation of Cain's rejected sacrifice: "Cain's offering was a verry baaad offering because it came from the fruit of the ground rather than the fat of the flock like Abel's. God likes lamb offerings. God doesn't like fruit or grain offerings."

Legalists find such reasoning essential. There must be an objective reason grounded in the actions of Cain and Abel to account for God's disregard of Cain's offering and embrace of Abel's. And the easiest such explanation lies in the distinction between what was offered. Cain's fruit-of-the-ground offering was rejected because it was deficient, of lesser worth or excellence: "When God later establishes a sacrificial system for Israel, dear children, He demands lambs goats and bulls. We must therefore bring God our agricultural firstfruits, our lambs, the very best and most objectively beautiful of the fruit of our farms...."

There are two problems with this explanation, one rather obvious, the other less so. The more obvious is that, when established, God's sacrificial system actually does provide for grain, oil, and wine offerings--fruit-of-the-ground as well as fruit-of-the-flock worship.

Our loved ones at The Cottages in South Africa...

This Fall, Church of the Good Shepherd has four of her members and one close friend working at an orphanage called "The Cottages" in Loskop, South Africa. Our middle child, Michal, and her husband, Ben Crum, have been there since late August. Our fourth child, Hannah, and two friends, Kim Berner and Emily Dorton, arrived at the orphanage in early October. All five will come home on December 16th, Lord willing. Here are a few pictures they've been able to get up on Ben's blog. Check them out to see South Africa's landscape, but more the beautiful children.

The Cottages are under the auspices of a ministry birthed by folks who are a part of Mars Hill Church in Seattle called the Agathos Foundation. Like any startup, Agathos has had its ups and downs. Its web site summarizes their vision:

In an effort to provide a highly cost-effective, easily replicable support system for the unique needs of orphans and the elderly, the Agathos Foundation establishes farming communities in Southern Africa wherein the strengths of each age are brought together and utilized so that each distinct need is fulfilled. The Agathos Foundation--in cooperation with U.S. and regional charities, local churches, NGO's, cities and villages--purchases and maintains profitable farms that provide necessary capital for the housing, education, professional skill building, micro-financing, health care, and supervision of orphans by the elderly in an organic, familial environment.

But, as my mother says, "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride." Despite the exciting vision given above...


Raising covenant children in Sodom...

Bloomington's city council recently passed a gender identity ordinance opposed by the testimony and public opposition of a number of the members and officers of Church of the Good Shepherd. The ordinance was modeled after similar ordinances passed around the country in the past few years, all aimed at protecting an individual's right to identify his gender any way he chooses regardless of his biological sexuality. Among other things, such laws guarantee the individual's right to use whatever dressing room, locker room, or bathroom he'd like. So in public schools in Los Angeles, for instance, the law forbids teachers from stopping men from using the women's locker room. But it gets worse.

The New York Times reports that New York City's Board of Health now plans to allow individuals to go back and alter the sex marked down on their birth certificate. Yes, you read that right...

Reformed worship in the key of elitism...

On not celebrating the Mass every where in the vulgar tongue; the mysteries of the Mass to be explained to the people.

Although the mass contains great instruction for the faithful people, nevertheless, it has not seemed expedient to the Fathers, that it should be every where celebrated in the vulgar tongue.

-Twenty-second session of the Council of Trent, Chapter VIII

If any one saith, that the rite of the Roman Church, according to which a part of the canon and the words of consecration are pronounced in a low tone, is to be condemned; or, that the mass ought to be celebrated in the vulgar tongue only; or, that water ought not to be mixed with the wine that is to be offered in the chalice, for that it is contrary to the institution of Christ; let him be anathema.

-Twenty-second session of the Council of Trent, Chapter IX, Canon IX

There is one theological principle ...confirmed both by the Council of Trent and by the Second Vatican Council, after a long and sober discussion. (I assisted, and can confirm that the clear resolutions of the final text of the Council constitution substantially reaffirmed it). That principle: the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rite. As in the Council of Trent, so in Vatican II the Council fathers admitted the vernacular only as an exception.

-Alfons Cardinal Stickler

From the beginning, Church of the Good Shepherd has ordered her worship according to the historic reformed liturgy that can be traced back to Geneva, Switzerland, in the time of John Calvin. Each week we have a call to worship, prayer, several songs and hymns, a prayer of confession, an assurance of pardon, several more spiritual songs, the reading of a full chapter of Scripture, the receiving of the Lord's tithes and our offerings, the Doxology, a pastoral prayer, an expositional sermon, prayer, another song, hymn, or spiritual song, and a benediction. Some weeks we recite a creed and every other week we celebrate the Lord's Supper. For our Scripture lessons, we are in the habit of reading consecutively through books of Scripture so that over a period of years we will hear a large portion of Scripture read aloud. In the past year we've finished Isaiah and now are nearly to the end of Revelation. This is our liturgy.

Several years back, a new family moved to town who shared our theological commitments and visited Church of the Good Shepherd one Lord's Day. They didn't return. When my wife, Mary Lee, had an opportunity, she asked the wife what the problem was? She responded that they preferred a "more liturgical" form of worship. We puzzled over that one, wondering what she meant by "liturgical?" Did they want us to have the prayer of confession a unison reading rather than it being led by an elder or pastor? Would they prefer responsive readings? Did they miss the Gloria Patri?

As I mulled it over, it came to me that it wasn't the liturgy itself that was the problem, but its presentation. I'm guessing the church this family ended up at follows almost precisely the same order of worship we follow, but everything about their presentation is highbrow while ours is mid to lowbrow...