Monday, November 19, 2012

Old Earth Theology – What the Early Church Fathers Taught

This is the final post on a series about Old Earth Theology. This first post is here.

The teachings of the early church fathers are not part of the inspired text. However, as the beginning of our church traditions, they are a study in how orthodox Christianity is understood and taught. So it is interesting to see how the church fathers interpreted Genesis 1.

To this end, there is a good book out that has a chapter that discusses it. It’s entitled Coming to Grips with Genesis: BiblicalAuthority and the Age of the Earth. It’s a collection of 14 articles by various authors in support of YECm. The first chapter written by James Mook details the teaching of the early church fathers on Genesis 1.

Dr. John Millam, an OEC, has a reasonable critique ofMook’s article. I always like to balance arguments with critiques and responses from the opposing side. The side who ignores good arguments from the other side is suspect. While Millam has a good critique, it’s not sufficient as an argument for OECm. Some of the church fathers taught that the days were 24-hour periods of time. Some taught that they were figurative periods of time. In looking at the evidence, however, I found out that the figurative “days” in Genesis 1 were never explicitly taught as long periods of time prior to Adam and Eve. Instead, they taught them as a type of eschatology.

I have never heard of this before, so I have had to study this. This type of eschatology was widely held by various Jewish sects although they differed on the particulars. It was especially popularized by the rise of the teaching of the Kabbalah, a school of thought that taught a form of mystical exegesis. Some scholars argue that the Kabbalah was the origin of the doctrine of the Trinity. I think that theory is in error. But I also think that mystical exegesis is in error. Although the Kabbalah helped popularize the eschatology of Genesis 1, that understanding doesn’t rely on the Kabbalah for validation.

In fact, varieties of eschatology that use Genesis 1 are different enough that it’s not wise to speculate on eschatology on that alone. However, whether the church fathers were YECs or not, it seems most likely that the eschatological understanding was more important to them. Given that one of the differences concerned the day the Messiah was to come, the church fathers certainly understood that he had already come in the person of Jesus Christ.

But I’ll say it again: none of the church fathers taught any form of an old earth creation. Granted that there are problems with using them to support a young earth as Millam has pointed out, but even some of Millam’s arguments are questionable. For example, he argues that while the early church fathers never taught an old earth, he doesn’t think that they would have rejected it either. The appeal to this comes oddly after an attack on their hermeneutics as apparently being vastly different. You can’t have it both ways. If you say that someone’s interpretive method is questionable, you wouldn’t want to say that you think they would have supported your position as evidence that your position is correct. So obviously Millam respects the church father’s understanding of scripture. Given that never taught OECm, and some were explicitly YECs, then the evidence suggests that as a body, they would more likely have accepted YECm.

Additionally, given that some taught that the “days” of creation were allegorical of all of creation, they believed that creation consisted of about 6000 years with a seventh indefinite period of time after the resurrection. What aspects of that are accurate is a different discussion. It’s intriguing to think that perhaps the millennium in Revelation 20 refers to the sixth or seventh day of creation. Just don’t tell the strict dispensationalists. That could stir up a hornet’s nest.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Old Earth Theology – Who Is Making the Arguments

My first post on this series is here.

There are two basic sets of arguments that contribute to an old Earth theology. The first set contains arguments that are scientific in nature. The second set contains arguments that are theological in nature. Quite simply, there are two different groups that make each of these arguments.

Naturalists and Theistic Evolutionists

The mainstream scientific school of thought is dominated by scientific thought that relies on naturalistic presuppositions. That means that before any conclusions are drawn from testing, any supernatural explanations are automatically denied. The untested theory is that the supernatural cannot be empirically tested. The non sequitur conclusion is that only natural explanations are possible.

It is from this philosophy of science that Darwinian evolution draws it’s a priori conclusion. So the question is not whether organisms evolved naturally from inanimate matter. The question is how they evolved from inanimate matter.

Given that even non-biological science is naturalistic, sciences that are not directly related to Darwinian evolution still assume that Darwinian evolution occurred. Therefore, when physicists and geologists test to determine the age of the earth, they must assume that it is old enough for life to have evolved. Therefore, any evidence that the earth is young is dismissed as anomalous or not yet explained.

There are naturalists who otherwise believe in a supernatural Creator. Some may even be Christian. However, they hold any claims of Christianity to be untestable because they don’t fit into the naturalistic presuppositions that they have been taught define science. If you want to work in mainstream science you largely have to buy into naturalistic presuppositions to be accepted.


The theists who argue for an old earth are the ones who argue from a scriptural standpoint. The question I have always asked is why they argue for an old earth when the scriptures don’t explicitly teach that. The plain reading of Genesis 1 is that God created the earth in 7 rotations of the earth as denoted by the period of the sun. In fact, these theologians go out of their way to deny that Genesis 1 doesn’t mean what it seems to say.

The only reason I can think of why they do this is that they have heard some of the evidence for an old earth and an old universe and are convinced by it enough to see if the scriptures make allowance for the current mainstream science on the matter. What I haven’t heard a single one in this group address is the evidence for a young earth. The only thing I can conclude is that they haven’t heard the evidence for a young earth because mainstream scientists typically don’t address it.

The Science Isn’t Conclusive

The thing is, there is some compelling evidence out there that the earth is relatively young. Not all scientists are naturalistic. Some Christian scientists actually work on the fringes and conduct experiments using science that is based on non-naturalistic presuppositions. That means that they allow that there may be a God.

Answers in Genesis has been a clearinghouse for non-naturalistic science, particularly as it relates to the origins of the universe, the earth, and life. Recently, they have been repackaging some of the leading evidences for a young earth. I’ll repost their top ten list here:

  1. Very little sediment on the seafloor
  2. Bent rock layers
  3. Soft tissue in fossils
  4. Faint sun paradox
  5. Rapidly decaying magnetic field
  6. Helium in radioactive rocks
  7. Carbon-14 in fossils and diamonds
  8. Short-lived comets
  9. Very little salt in the sea
  10. DNA in “ancient” bacteria

Another consideration that I think trips many people up is the age of the universe versus the age of the earth. Many scientists, much less laymen, think that time throughout the universe passes relatively uniformly. In our day-to-day life it certainly seems so, so it’s understandable that it’s a difficult concept for most people to grasp.

But vast differences in the passage of time are far more common than most people think. The spectrum of electromagnetic radiation (visible light and various radio waves) is nothing but temporal distortions generated by subatomic interactions that approach the speed of light. What I’m trying to say is that the universe could easily have been created after the earth and aged so fast that it appears older than the earth. It’s not scientific fiction and actually explains a few things that the Big Bang theory can’t account for. There are some that think this theory is far-fetched, but it’s actually a more likely explanation for the evidence than the Big Bang.

What I’m trying to say is that there’s no good reason to believe the naturalists on the age of the earth without question. They have some legitimate observations that can’t be ignored. But those observations have their own problems. Naturalistic science should be scrutinized. Theology that goes out of its way to accommodate it should be scrutinized as well.

My next (and last) article in this short series will discuss what the early church fathers taught regarding Genesis 1. You might be as surprised as I was when I first read it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dr. Timothy Keller book: Every Good Endeavor

There’s a deep disconnect between the lives of many church members and many pastors. I don’t think it’s wrong for a man to go from high school straight to college, and from there straight to seminary only to wind up leading a church with very little work experience outside the church. Many of the men who have done so have become very good pastors.

But church members have careers, jobs, vocations, occupations, or whatever you want to call what they do with the majority of their working time, away from anything remotely related to the church. Men especially tend to identify with their work. If they identify with their work and their work is not related to church, then they experience that disconnect I mentioned. Church is something they visit once or twice a week. “Real life” isn’t church.

I’m not sure most pastors have a clue. As long as they see people in the pews everything seems okay, that is until that person falls into some sort of sin. When that happens the pastor is left baffled as to how this person could have turned without realizing that this person has a more significant identity outside of the church.

Dr. Timothy Keller has made some inroads into this mysterious area of church life with a new book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.

Based on short biographical sketches, Keller seems to be one of those who doesn’t have much of a work history outside the church. Having not read the book, I don’t know if he covers everything well, but he gave an interview to Desiring God where he discusses some of the points in his book. If this is any indication, then he seems to handle the theology very well and accurately assesses the impact of culture on our working world.

God's Work and Ours: And Interview with Timothy Keller

Based on this interview it’s probably worth reading on those aspect alone. I plan to get hold of this book and read it. It might be worth your while as well.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Old Earth Theology

As a matter of full disclosure from the beginning of this, I’ll let it be known that I’m a Young Earth Creationist (YEC – I’ll refer to Old Earth Creationists as ‘OEC’).

Additionally, to limit any discussion to the topic at hand this series is about the differences between Old Earth Creationism (OECm) and Young Earth Creationism (YECm) between Christians. It will involve some of the science surrounding this topic and will assume that naturalistic evolution has not occurred. So that eliminates discussion of theistic evolution. It’s not that I get many commenters here, but I have a very specific topic that I wish to discuss. I won’t entertain discussion otherwise here.

I have thought about this for a number of years now. The topic of the age of the earth is one that seems fraught with a lack of understanding. Most of the time when I read or hear an OEC explain why he or she believes OECm, the rationale typically given is limited to arguments regarding the exegesis of Genesis 1.

The problem with this approach is that an exegesis of Genesis 1 devoid of scientific considerations results in interpreting each ‘day’ as a single rotation of the earth. In other words, the exegetical arguments that result in a gap between verse 2 and 3 (the Gap Theory), or interpreting each of the days as referring to very long unspecified periods of time, are obviously informed by some information that the OEC isn’t disclosing.

The reason it seems is that OECs think it goes without saying that science has absolutely proven that the earth is old, but they aren’t prepared to discuss the science because they are theologians, not scientists. They haven’t studied the science in any depth, but what they have seen appears to have been pretty convincing to them. Most OECs that I have read or heard merely dismiss the science with statements such as “Well, Genesis 1 isn’t a science textbook.” I can only interpret that to mean, “I don’t understand the science, but it seems to me that scientists have proven that the earth is very old. Genesis can be interpreted different ways. It’s not a deal-breaker. Therefore, I can say that the earth is very old without changing the gospel. That’s so scientists don’t think I’m an idiot and other Christians won’t think I’m a heretic.”

The view of YECm is that a plain reading of the scriptures are that the days are single rotations of the earth and that the science isn’t conclusive.

The only non-theistic evolution OEC that has addressed the science that I have seen merely said that the science for the age of the earth is not encumbered with the same naturalism as Darwinian evolution is. Therefore, he concluded, we can accept the conclusions without delving into the intent of the scientists. The only problem I have with that is that many of the scientists whose work contributes to calculations of the age of the earth are Darwinian evolutionists otherwise and invested in an old earth a priori to testing and analyzing data.

The point of this article is simple. I have some sources that I have reviewed regarding arguments for OEC. But I may not have them all. I have reviewed plenty for the exegesis of Genesis 1, but can find very little other than what I have mentioned for importing scientific conclusions into the exegesis of Genesis 1. If anyone reading this knows of some better argument for OECm, please let me know. I’d like to interact with it and post my findings. I’m looking for the best arguments for OECm if any are out there that I haven’t found. Post links or resources in the comments and I will review what I understand.

What I plan to cover in the future is how the early church fathers handled Genesis 1 (in general) and how the science is not conclusive. If anyone comes up with a better argument than I have seen, I’ll include it as well.

The second article discussing who (in general) is making the arguments can be found here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Some Arguments for Complementarianism

The erudite Steve Hays blogs at Triablogue among other places and carries out some exceptional ad hoc debates online. The following was part of a recent article entitled Amputee-identity disorder detailing one of his recent debates regarding abortion. This section regards complementarianism, the biblical idea that men and women were created by God to complement each other by positionally fulfilling different roles in order to reveal truths about God. These contain some observations I had never thought of before and I wanted to pass them along without further comment.

steve hays
    November 3, 2012 at 10:09 PM
    i) You act like TGC advocates arranged marriage. If a woman doesn't want to have "habitual sex," then don't get married in the first place! No one is forcing them into marriage.
    ii) You have no concept of marriage. It doesn't even occur to you that marriage requires mutual accommodation. You seem to imagine that in a relationship with someone else, you should never ever have to do anything you don’t want to do. That doesn’t work in marriage–or friendship.
    ii) Paul's command (if that's what you’re alluding to) requires mutual accommodation (1 Cor 7:3-4). It's not a command to wives, but a command to couples. A command to husbands and wives alike.
    iii) Is it actually true that men want sex more often than women, or is that, itself, a sexist stereotype?
    iv) Take the hook-up culture on your average college campus. You can't have sexually active single men without sexually active single women. So why assume that women are less interested in sex than men?
    v) Or is that even though women are (allegedly) less interested in sex, they offer sex because that's the only way to hang onto their boyfriend? If they don't offer sex, he will dump them.
    But even if that's true, that's damaging to feminism. For that means women are so emotionally dependent on having a man in their life that they will do things to keep him which they find personally disagreeable.
    vii) Another explanation is that women are trying to keep up with other women. It's a female competition. Every girl has to have her own boyfriend.
    But if that's the case, it makes women look too emotionally weak to resist peer pressure.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Stages of a Dying Church

Matthew Boyd has a blog worth reading called From The Outside Looking In. He wrote a post recently asking what seems to be a simple question about church involvement in missions entitled Does The Progress of Your Mission Efforts Depend on Money Within An Organization? 

I started out with a simple comment:

 A church that is active in building and sending its own missionaries, in the local community, region, and around the world, is a healthy and Biblical church. Without this aspect of a church's ministry the church would turn its God-given resources in on itself and implode. The mechanism for doing this is the idea that the goal of evangelism is to get people to join, or even just to come to, the church. The mentality is that the church is there to meet their felt needs with the hopes that they will pay their dues. The struggle at this point is between those who think the church should change everything to draw more people and those who think the church should do things the way it has done for hundreds of years. The changers what new people to come to church to be ministered to. The non-changers want the people already paying their fair share of the dues to be catered to with services as they have always been. The point that is missed is that the struggle needs to be to make the current members understand that having accepted the gospel and being God's children means that we need to take the gospel out where people have never heard and disciple them with it whether they end up joining your church or not.

I ended up with something longer than I could post as a single comment. So I'm posting the rest of it here. I talk about the stages of a dying church...

Churches in the cycle of self-consumption go through progressively painful steps toward their own destruction as we are observing today:

1. The Social Club stage. People come and pay their dues and enjoy the company of other people as they are ministered to by charismatic people who have to be in control. These people often feed off the clubby nature of the church because their desire to control is aided by the desire of members to not have to do too much. These ore most often not the pastors of the church, but the deacons or church council members. Pastors who don't see this stage won't teach against it and may cater to the controllers because they fear their influence in the church, or because they tithe from a healthy portfolio. If a pastor can't turn things around in this stage, the church will go through major upheavals in later stages. But a certain amount of tact and wisdom is required to pull it off lest he inadvertently throw the church into stage 2:

2. Non-powerful members of the church realize their duty to serve God instead of just paying for others in the church to serve them. When they ask for help from the church, financially or otherwise, they are met with obstacles*. These obstacles are placed in their way by the ones in control who like the clubby nature of the church as I have described. The ones in control become upset because the Christians who desire to serve God biblically require vested leadership. This threatens the power base of the ones in control and they fear losing the status quo of their clubby church. The longer this goes on, the stronger the obstacles become and they often become codified. This is where the church enters into phase 3.

3. The people who want to minister begin to find the obstacles insurmountable and they begin to leave the church in favor of other congregations open to their ministering. I have often found in many of these churches where the ones in power will actually counsel those who want to minister that they should leave the church. Churches in this stage will dwindle in size and struggle painfully sometimes for a long time with being able to pay the bills, much less a pastor. I'm not talking about very small churches who have this struggle naturally, but by churches once built to accommodate a much larger congregation who are no longer able to maintain the physical plant. Most often, I've seen the church dissolve. The property goes up for sale to a new or growing church or is renovated for some other purpose.

Can a church come back after having slipped from stage 1? Possibly, but I've never observed it. Once a church denies the gospel to the rest of the world, it denies it to its own members. If any church life grows back, it's not a biblical church (e.g. the prosperity gospel).

I've seen this happen too often in the states and I'm familiar with this pattern. I don't have anyone to credit by my own observations. Someone may be able to refine them. But the material in Matthew's article is inextricably linked to the health of a church, I believe as according to what I have observed, and I think God allows this pattern to lessen the impact of sinful churches and increase the effectiveness of healthy churches.


*These obstacles can be unnecessary procedural difficulties (red tape), de-funding from the budget, the decay of orthodox doctrines, etc.

Open Letter to Strong-Willed Christians

I don’t need to tell you all the good things about yourselves because you have already made the case, at least in your own minds. But let me iterate the qualities about yourselves that make you valuable people so that you know that I respect you for that as well as for letting other people who read this know.

You possess the drive to accomplish great things. You have integrity to your own ideals. You are capable of garnering the support and cooperation of other people. All of these things can be used to do great and mighty things in the Kingdom of God. I believe Peter was strong-willed. I believe Paul was strong-willed. So you have great examples in the Apostles for the work that God has for you.

But qualities like this can also be your spiritual downfall and many great Christian leaders have succumbed to their ability to overcoming obstacles to fulfill their sinful desires.

You see, you possess qualities that make you a great leader. But these qualities do not guarantee that your leadership will be good. Let me share a couple of principles to consider as you seek to implement your leadership in the Kingdom of God.

First, the strong must cater to the needs of the weak. This is a biblical principle from 1 Corinthians 8-10. These three chapters involve Paul spelling out how those who have strong faith must surrender their rights for the sake of not being a stumbling block to their brothers and sisters in the faith who are weaker in their faith. The Corinthians were threatened with disunity because people who thought they were strong were opposing people who they thought were weak. Now, I’m sure it seems logical that they strong should dominate the weak so that the weak are brought up to speed. However, weak people don’t grow the same as strong people.

This follows after Paul’s instruction earlier in his letter to the Corinthians that they shouldn’t think too highly of themselves. He says it that way to the Romans who had a similar problem, but goes into much detail to the Corinthians. It also follows after Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:42-45. Jesus himself demonstrated this by washing their feet at the last supper. Sadly, we don’t often think this way when we think of leadership in the church. We think of people who dominate other people and lead with strength.

I work in manufacturing. We have machine operators who need to program their machines based on drawings of the parts that come from our engineering department. Most of the time the drawings as simple enough and the operators can add or subtract the dimensions quickly given in order to come up with coordinates that fit in the Cartesian coordinate system that the machines use. But sometimes drawings are too complex for the machine operators to deal with quickly. Dimensions are specified on the drawings that include relative positions based on angles. In order for the operators to calculate the coordinates they need to key into the machines, they need to use trigonometry. Most of them don’t know trigonometry and those who do would spend too long trying to set up the formula and key it into a calculator. Even then, the probability they will make a mistake is too high. So they usually have to leave their workstation and come to see me. I can open the drawing electronically and measure the coordinates they need easily and quickly and without error.

The idea in my example is that it is incumbent on the engineers to generate drawings that the floor can use efficiently. The people on the floor don’t have the education or the tools to be able to use the drawings effectively. They are in a position of weakness where the engineers are in a position of strength. The people in the position of strength must cater to those in the position of weakness in order to accomplish what they need accomplished.

How does this relate to strong-willed people? Especially with raising strong-willed children, I can find dozens of resources counseling the parents how to cater to their strong-willed children’s needs. I can also find resources on how to lead strong-willed people or deal with them in general. But I also have found many resources instructing people that if they are not strong-willed then they are weak. You see, you require others to cater to you, but demand that you be seen as the strong ones. As I have already pointed out, this is contrary to biblical teaching. In order to be most effective in Kingdom work, you must learn to cater to those you see as weak. Paul did as he pointed out in 1 Cor 9. He is your example in this.

One way that you often fail to do this is through your natural competitiveness. You are driven to win. But you end up competing against people who are geared to cooperate in Christian mission, not contend. So you force them to contend, not for the faith, but against you. That’s wrong. You might claim something like you are pushing them to do their best, but you have to understand that they aren’t motivated the same way you are. If you think that they are the weak ones, then don’t expect them to change to cater to your leadership. You must change to fit their followership so as to motivate them according to their temperament.

This leads me to my second principle: The qualities that God gives us to serve him are the same qualities we use to sin against him. This realization should provide two things:

The first one I have pointed out is how the great qualities you have as a strong-willed person can also be your downfall. If you heed this principle, you should be humbled enough to submit to the authority of God in your life. Many strong-willed people I know go off strong, yet poorly informed. You push hard with only some of the facts you need. The key is understanding that you will never have all of the facts. That means that you need to lead with the care that you might be wrong about something. If that doesn’t lead you to submit to God’s authority in all humility then you need to step down from Christian leadership.

The second is that all the wonderful qualities of the people you lead can also be their undoing as well as the undoing of the team. If you can’t submit to God’s authority in all humility, you can’t lead them to do the same. If you don’t understand the magnitude of responsibility you have been given and the glory that God deserves for it, you will forage ahead half-cocked and do more damage than good for the Kingdom. And any good that does happen is in spite of you, not because of you.

Do not take the strength of will you have been given for granted or assume glory for using it. Learn to serve others before you use your strong will to lead others lest you lead them to destruction. You have been given a trust by God in your strengths.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Definitive Statements in the Bible

One of the many important factors in understanding the Bible is identifying how authors use specific words. So it’s important to be able to identify definitive statements made by authors. A famous one is Hebrews 11:1. I’ve heard that preached as definitive of faith throughout the Bible. Now, that’s not a bad thing. However, there is a refinement that is often overlooked.

There are two qualities to definitive statements: connotation and denotation. Now we are familiar with those words because we learned them in school as such: denotation is the dictionary definition; and connotation is how we feel about the word. “Piety” and “devotion” have that same basic denotation, but for many people they have completely opposite connotations.

How does this apply to the definitive statements?  One would hope that the dictionary would have strict denotations, but when a connotation becomes common enough it is added to the dictionary as a definition. So there’s not always a clear delineation between connotation and denotation.

This applies to study of the Bible when we identify a definitive statement. Like Hebrews 11:1, many take the statement as purely denotative. But we have to take into consideration that the statement is partially connotative. Logically, it works this way: Everything fits into categories. A certain amount of categories specified or excluded are enough to define something to a degree, but particular definition requires its exclusion from everything else in all categories that apply to it. Denotation is enough to fit the meaning of a word into a reasonable number of categories. But inasmuch as that word applies to more categories than what are generally specified, a definitive statement is connotative. So a connotation doesn’t require explicit denotation although some denotation may be given.

Let me give a tangible example as an explanation. I own a car. Now we all know the general definition of a car. So you know that I’m probably referring to a transportation vehicle that has four wheels and some means of propulsion. You might ask what kind of car I have and I might respond with, “I own a 2000 Ford Focus LX4.” That narrows it down significantly. But what if the police were after me and a witness said that they saw a Red Ford Focus, older style headlights, with North Carolina license plate that starts with “HCL” but they didn’t catch the rest. That might be enough information for the police to track me down as the owner of the car. So they didn’t have all the information, but they had enough to narrow down the information to one single car as different from the rest. Now, I could give you the VIN number without telling you anything else and you could find the car. The VIN number is completely denotative although I didn’t even say it was a car. The information exists elsewhere and can be easily discovered.

By the way, there is a common argument for dismissing some words in the Bible as synonymous. It is said of these that they “seem to be used interchangeably”. I’d have to look at them and analyze how they are used to determine if that argument is warranted. Sticking with the car example, one can say that my car is red. That statement is somewhat definitive. It can also be said that blood is red. That seems to be definitive. But my car isn’t blood. They are both in the category “red”, but they do not share many more categories than that. So it may be that two things that share many of the same categories are spoken of connotatively, but without arriving at a full denotation that demonstrates synonymy between them.

When John writes “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends,” we can arrive at some important conclusions about how John thinks about love, specifically the Greek “agape” as opposed to “phileo” that he uses a few verses later. There may be some more specific things that john has to add about love, and these are evidenced by the extended passages that serve as the context for these verses where he relays Jesus’ teaching about love.

So, when you are studying the Bible in depth and desire to think about what the words mean, I hope this helps to refine your thinking about how you do so.