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A Treacherous Path

In 2011 (yikes! that was 6 years ago) I wrote about how it is important to not get sidetracked on controversial topics. I was mainly concerned with the thinking that you have to be Calvinist, Arminian, pre-millennial, post-millennial, or fill-in-the-blank to be a Christian. Those who think in this way are led astray.

There is, however, only one correct answer to all of those debates (and in some cases neither side may have it!). As humans, we do our best to understand a particular theological topic, and hopefully if we are in error, we are not in error in such a way as to endanger our faith. Certain camps of thinking, unfortunately, walk a treacherous path, a path that leans out over the railings of truth to say “Look at what I can get away with believing!” Some are less interested in stretching the rules and are genuinely interested in finding the truth, but are nonetheless in danger of falling off the edge.

There is a particular issue on my mind. It is one which is possible to hold to as a Christian, but which leans out so far over the railing as to incur that tingling sensation which happens when one is high above the ground on an unstable ladder. It has to do with the creation of God’s world.

 

The Trouble In God’s World

Christians have debated much about this topic, both within the church and with those outside the church. The specific debate to which I am referring is the date of the creation of the world and how long it took. There are two primary camps in this discussion: those that hold to an old-earth view, believing that the earth was created over a long period of time, perhaps as long as the billions of years proposed by secular scientists (though not necessarily), and the young-earth view (most often those who believe that the creation of the earth occurred roughly 6,000 years ago during 6 literal days).

The trouble comes as a result of scientific evidence that seems to point to an old earth. Christians have sought to embrace this scientific evidence in the attempt to be true to both the bible and reason. Anyone who knows me is probably aware that I hold reason in high regard; it is the medium by which we are able to communicate and by which you are reading this article right now.

The danger with reason comes when it stretches beyond its Creator. We can study the universe and make good conclusions in doing so, but our studies and thinking depend on the fact that “things are” and “things are not”; it is the fabric of everything. That is why it is so powerful when God says, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). God tells Moses to let the Israelites know “I AM” has sent him. Moses’ message was to be validated by the One who….exists! And has always existed, and will always exist…and brought everything into existence.

Keep this in mind as we dive into the science around the creation event. The Great I AM, who just always exists, has done some incredible things and we are going to try to understand them.

 

What’s the Danger?

This blog post is an attempt to show that any view outside of a literal 6 day creation that occurred roughly 6,000 years ago (based on genealogical records in the Bible) is a dangerous path, as was described in the opening paragraphs.

There are three main options to choose from to resolve this apparent contradiction between the Bible and science:

  1. The word “day” in the Genesis 1 account is not a literal day.
  2. The entire Genesis 1 account is figurative / poetic, so whether it refers to a literal day or not doesn’t matter as the whole thing ought not to be taken as literal history.
  3. The science in support of an old earth is not trustworthy.

Let’s look at each in turn.

 

The Genesis 1 “Day”

The focal point of the argument for a non-literal day in Genesis centers on the fact that the Hebrew word yôm has multiple meanings. An example verse we can look at is Genesis 1:3-5:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

(ESV, Gen 1:3-5)

In his in-depth overview of the word yôm, Jim Stambaugh gives us these possible definitions:

i. a period of light in a day/night cycle;

ii. a period of 24 hours;

iii. a general or vague concept of time;

iv. a specific point of time; and

v. a period of a year.

Before jumping to the conclusion that this leaves the door wide open to allowing a non-literal 24-hour day, keep in mind Jim’s wise statement:

If one were to believe that the ‘days’ of creation lasted a long time, then he would have to prove his case from the context of Genesis 1, not simply citing the semantic range of yôm.

We need to look both at the context of Genesis 1 as well as the rest of the old testament to see how this word is used and to determine the proper definition for this occurrence. Doing so reveals that the use of “evening” and “morning” with yôm always refers to a literal 24 hour day in the rest of the Old Testament. This would make “a general or vague concept of time” an exception to the rule if we were to read it that way here.

Now, if we look at Genesis 2:4 we can find an occurrence of the word yôm without “evening” and “morning” which is indeed intended to be used to refer to more than a 24-hour day:

These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

(ESV, Gen 2:4)

Here the word yôm is used to refer to the entire creation week in summary, but the individual days are referred to as literal days throughout the creation process in chapter 1. Much more can be said about this discussion. I recommend reading the article cited above for more details (it’s not the easiest thing to go through but it’s well worth the info). In the end, the burden of proof is on those who would argue that this is an exception to what we find in the rest of the Old Testament.

 

A Different Hermeneutical Approach

I just wanted to make sure you are aware that everything I wrote up until this point is actually a love poem I wrote to my wife. And it has her in tears!

In all seriousness, I would raise an eyebrow if you told me this blog post is anything other than a logical argument for a particular viewpoint. Even if you don’t agree with it, you’ve made some very basic assumptions about what you’re looking at. This is because “things are” and “things are not” in this universe.

An attempt to reclassify Genesis 1 as poetry or figurative is perhaps the most dangerous path to take. If you want to hang on the possibility that yôm might mean a long period of time, ok. But don’t change common sense to make something fit, because no part of the Bible is safe then. There would be no reason why the gospels could not be read as poetic accounts to symbolize the love of God. You’ve probably heard it before: “Jesus wasn’t real, he was just an image pointing us to goodness and God”.

We have the ability in us to determine these things based on common-sense reading skills. One excellent example I’ve found in my studies (though I cannot remember the source) is of Exodus 14 and 15. Exodus 14 gives a narrative account of Israel escaping from the hands of Pharaoh through the sea, while the waters covered over Pharaoh’s army. Exodus 15 gives a poetic account of the same events. Even if chapter 15 didn’t begin with “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord” (NIV) and didn’t have indented lines in the print, we would read it as poetry and it would mean different things than the narrative account in the previous chapter.

Genesis 1 reads like the rest of Genesis: a historical narrative from the beginning of our universe to the time of Moses. It is very clear that the authorial intent is to give us information about what happened. This puts it distinctly out of the category of poetry as well as apocalyptic literature (which is intended to give a cloudy picture of what is yet to come). It’s all right there for us to read and believe.

There are other ways to determine whether the Genesis 1 account is narrative besides just reading it. The RATE team, a group of scientists that measured various rocks and minerals around the world in order to validate contemporary dating methods, also performed an in-depth analysis of the Old Testament. They found that certain tenses of verbs are more common in different kinds of literature in the Old Testament. With impressive accuracy, they came up with a formula for calculating the likelihood that a verse is narrative or poetry based on the verbs in the given passage. The Genesis 1 account was determined to be 99.99% likely to be narrative based on verb usage as compared to other passages in the Old Testament. This is just another reason why the burden of proof is on those who would decide to read the passage as poetry. This information comes from “Thousands Not Billions” by Donald DeYoung, a summary of the RATE group’s research.

 

What about Science?

Let me start off by saying that I am 100% behind science (true science). But I believe even science done by a Christian cannot probe very far into what happened in Genesis 1.

For example, it has been argued that the distance of the stars and the amount of time it takes for their light to reach us proves the universe is very old. But if we take into account the fact that just moments before the point when God began creating, the universe and all of its rules, patterns, temperatures, creatures, mountains, bodies of water, bodies of humans and all of their needs, desires, feelings, aspirations and longings were perhaps never before conceived of by any self-aware being out there other than God himself (and perhaps that there were no other beings to think of such things anyways!), it starts to seem silly that we expect God to follow a physical law he just created.

That’s why the faith of a child is necessary in order to understand Genesis 1. With the faith of a child, there’s no issue with the plants being created (and bearing fruit) on day 3 and the sun being created on day 4. Arguments like, “Well, plants couldn’t possibly grow in that short of time” or “The sun didn’t exist, so how could God tell what a ‘day’ was?” start to melt away.

There are other scientific arguments worthy of mentioning. Most notable are the arguments for an old earth based on radiometric dating of rocks and plant fossils. I recommend reading the above-mentioned book, “Thousands Not Billions”. The RATE group found evidence quite to the contrary of what secular science (and Christians) have been saying. Most interesting is the presence more often than not of carbon 14 in coal and diamond, in which case there should be no measurable carbon 14 if those elements are indeed as old as science claims. The first section of the book is particularly helpful in understanding how carbon dating actually points to a young earth. It shows that you have to assume that the world is really old before you can start achieving old readings with the carbon dating method.

But even if the RATE group had not done their work, what should the Christian do? Should the Christian leave the final word to secular science? It does not matter that there are Christian scientists who claim the same. What matters is what the Bible teaches. If you still disagree on this point, there are two things you need to realize:

  1. Because of the testimony of creation to the glory of God (Psalm 19), non-believing man, who is BENT against God, cannot effectively do historical science (at least as far as the creation of the universe and the earth are concerned). Ask yourself how a secular scientist could possibly arrive at a correct conclusion if the earth is indeed less than 10,000 years old? How can he possibly deal with the awe and glory of creation and the screaming obviousness that Someone made it? No. He must push it to the distant past to deal with it, there’s no way he can make it a recent event because Evolution (if it did exist) couldn’t possibly work that quickly. The idea that he could be objective about this is not even on the table and goes against what scripture teaches about the nature of man. This, by the way, is different than medical science and other fields of study where scientists are not forced to make an immediate decision about how things came to be.
  2. Even a believer cannot measure what happened in the creation week. As far as we know the laws of nature (as we like to call them) could have changed a thousand times during the creation week. This, along with the catastrophe of the flood (which probably transformed the earth), should not allow us to assume that we can possibly verify what took place. I guarantee that there are things that point to a creation event that occurred 6,000 years ago, but even so it is beyond science. Science is far better at doing things with the laws of our universe than it is at trying to figure out when or how things happened, which tends to cross the line between science and philosophy very quickly. Because of the power of God and the non-natural way things came about, I guarantee that this will result in situations where honest science is in fact contrary to scripture.

 

Conclusion

My hope is that anyone who is not reading the Genesis 1 account as what it is will think carefully about the danger of their path. I don’t know exactly what happened during that week, but God has graciously given us quite a detailed account of it. He could merely have said, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” and left it at that. Rather, he let us know that it happened in six days and what happened on each day so we could A) have a reference for six days of work and one day of rest, B) see that no one could have done it except for God, and C) praise him for the glory and power through which he made our universe.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2017 in Philosophy, Theology

 

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“The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom”

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” ~Proverbs 9:10, NIV

There’s that point in your study of the Bible when you are reading Proverbs and you start to notice that “wisdom” is one of the main topics of the book, and that it continues to be brought up again and again. At least, that happened to me.

I was trying to figure out what true wisdom actually is. How, I wondered, can a non-believer be considered wise? Why was Solomon the wisest man on earth? How do I start moving in that direction? The answer was right in front of me, and in fact if at the time I was reading the Bible from beginning to end, I had just read the answer a couple of books earlier. It was right there, in the book of….Job?

Job is an oft-ignored book in the old testament that at first read can seem quite dry and boring. Yes, there’s some interesting stuff that happens at the beginning because we get a glimpse of what goes on in the heavenly realms, but beyond that, it’s just a bunch of guys arguing with a man who lost everything…and getting nowhere. I never looked forward to having to go through those long-winded speeches.

About a month ago, however, I finally decided to take the book seriously. There are a couple reasons I did this, one being that I had somewhat recently taken interest in the book because it seemed to me like it gave some information on why bad things happen to people. I was all prepared to write a post on just that, and I probably will eventually. But then I discovered that “bad things happening to people” was not the main point of the book. Not even close.

The flow of the story is as follows: Job is a righteous and blameless man, and Satan wants to prove to God that Job is only that way because of his many material blessings. God agrees to let Satan cause tragedy after tragedy to fall on Job and his household. The end result is that four of Job’s friends come to “comfort” him, resulting in an argument that spans over 30 chapters and during which no one is particularly happy or pleasant. There are three very interesting questions that arise after you read the book for the first time:

  1. Job was “blameless” before God sent disasters on him. Somehow he sins during the course of the argument, because at the end God rebukes him. What did Job say that was wrong?
  2. Job’s three older friends sin during the course of the argument, because God rebukes them at the end. What did they say that was wrong?
  3. Elihu, the young man who finally gets a chance to talk at the end, is not rebuked by God. What did he say that was right (or at least, “ok”)?

A “Brief” Walkthrough

One of the things I did when studying Job was write a short summary of each chapter. This helped to see the point of each person’s argument, since there’s a lot of poetry and extra words beyond the main points they are trying to convey. The result is fascinating (note that there is some HEAVY paraphrasing and content that is definitely not said by anyone in the book):

Job 1: Job was blameless and upright. Satan starts bringing disasters on Job, but Job continues to praise God even though he loses everything.
Job 2: His wife tries to get him to curse God after Satan inflicts Job’s body with sores. In all this, Job does not sin.

Job 3: Job’s friends show up. Job says, “I should never have been born.”
Job 4: Eliphaz (friend #1) indirectly accuses Job of sin. He mentions an encounter with a spirit that uttered something to Eliphaz. Was it a good or evil spirit? More on this later…
Job 5: Eliphaz directly accuses Job of sin. He states that if Job turns from his ways and seeks God, he will be restored.
Job 6: Job says, “Owch! Tell me what I did wrong?”
Job 7: Job acknowledges that mortals live hard lives, but then he starts to question God and why he did what he did, since Job is blameless and had no need to be punished.
Job 8: Bildad (friend #2) replies. He does not necessarily seem to accuse Job, he just encourages him to seek God. He says that God will listen because Job is blameless.
Job 9: Job: ‘Well of course I’m blameless! But how can a mortal prove his innocence to God? You know what? It doesn’t matter. God simply destroys both the righteous and the wicked.” Job still acknowledges that he would totally lose in any argument with God, because of how powerful God is and what he has made.
Job 10: Job changes his tone and seems to want to actually have that argument with God to prove his innocence. He also states that God oppresses the righteous but smiles on the wicked, in contrast to what he said in chapter 9. Is this a pendulum swing by an emotional man who’s going through some very hard times?

Job 11: Zophar (friend #3) is angry with Job’s statements and accuses him of sinning, saying “Turn from your ways and you’ll be restored!”
Job 12: Job seems to change his tone so as to show that he still has awe for God, stating that God controls everything. He is also mad at his friends (or at least at Zophar).
Job 13: Job gets really angry and asks his friends and God to prove his sin, getting very blunt in his speech.
Job 14: In short, Job says, “Life is tough.”
Job 15: Eliphaz now accuses Job of sinning in his previous response when he challenged God. “The wicked get what they deserve, Job!”
Job 16: Job says: “Woe is me! The wicked (you guys!) surround me and I have no hope!”
Job 17: Job continues to moan that he is surrounded by mockers, very likely meaning his friends.
Job 18: Bildad seems offended, saying “The wicked will perish!”.
Job 19: Job says, “Leave me alone. God has destroyed me, must my friends and relatives destroy me too? Oh how I wish my words were written on a scroll so they could be remembered!” Wish GRANTED.
Job 20: Zophar is offended. He restates that the wicked will be destroyed.

Job 21: Job is angry now. “Not true! The wicked are never punished when they deserve it. I know what you’re going to say yet again, that I was punished, which is proof that I am wicked. But the wicked actually get away with whatever they want, so your argument is invalid!”
Job 22: Eliphaz says, “You have indeed sinned. Repent!”
Job 23: Job says, “If only I could make my case before God! When my testing is complete, I will come out of it like gold.”
Job 24: Job says, “The wicked prosper for awhile, but then they are destroyed eventually.”
Job 25: Bildad says, “How can a mortal be righteous before God?”
Job 26: Job: “Thanks a lot, bro. That was SUCH a helpful piece of advice you just gave me.” After that sarcasm, Job goes on to proclaim that God is powerful.
Job 27: Job says, “I will NEVER give up. God has denied me justice. The wicked will perish.”

Job 28: Interlude on Wisdom (more on this later)

Job 29: Job says, “I wish it was like the old days, when everyone respected me and I was expecting long life.”
Job 30: Job says, “God has abandoned me, I am miserable.”
Job 31: Job says, “I am blameless, what have I done wrong? That’s it, I’m done with this conversation.”

Job 32: Job is righteous in his own eyes, so his friends are silent. Elihu finally speaks up, angry that his friends are unable to prove Job wrong, but still were trying to condemn him. He’s angry that Job is justifying himself rather than God. “Get ready,” Elihu starts out, “I’m FINALLY going to get to talk. Just wait till you hear what I’m about to say. This is really going to hit you hard. Pay close attention to what I’m about to say, and hear true wisdom. This is really going to be great.” He goes on like this for quite a while.
Job 33: Elihu says, “God sometimes uses trouble to bring people back to himself.”
Job 34: Elihu says, “Job has been sinning by saying there’s no point in doing good. God does punish the wicked, but if he chooses to be silent in some cases who are we to accuse him?”
Job 35: Elihu accuses Job of holding an illogical belief: the belief that “I am right, but there’s no point in being right.” Elihu says, “God is so much bigger than your wickedness or your righteousness, do you really expect your behavior to have that much of an effect on him?”
Job 36: Elihu says, “God is just. He does use trouble to bring righteousness, but he is great and not confined to man’s boxes.”
Job 37: Similar to what God is about to say, Elihu says, “What do you know about the works of God?”

Job 38: God answers Job and is not happy, sarcastically asking him to answer his questions because surely Job knows!
Job 39: God talks about what little Job knows about everything.
Job 40: God tells Job to answer him. Job says, “I can’t, I’m unworthy.” God says, “Man up! How can you discredit my justice? Prove to me that you are so powerful!” God then proceeds to declare his mighty creation.
Job 41: God proclaims more about his mighty creation.

Job 42: Job repents, saying “I didn’t know what I was talking about.” God then addresses Eliphaz and says he is angry with him and his two friends because they did not speak the truth about him as Job did (wait, what?). God accepts Job’s prayer on their behalf and restores Job to twice as much as he had before. Minus three friends that somehow were never afterward invited for tea.

 

The Point of it All

Now that the flow of the book has been laid out, we can more easily answer our three questions:

  1. What did Job say that was wrong?
    God makes it clear that Job was questioning his justice. Job was saying things like, “It doesn’t matter if you’re wicked or righteous because God clearly doesn’t care.” This was tarnishing God’s attributes: his holiness, and of course his justice too.
  2. What did Job’s older friends say that was wrong?
    Job’s friends wrongly accused him of sinning, at least at first because Job was blamless prior to that argument. In effect, they brought out that sin in Job by wrongly asking him to repent when he was really innocent.In chapter 4, Eliphaz mentioned an encounter with a spirit. I encourage you to go read the full story, but in short the spirt says: “Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?” (Job 4:17, NIV)One of the things I’ve pondered is whether this was a good or evil spirit. Assuming the encounter was legitimate, the spirit seems to be stating the correct viewpoint, that none can be righteous before God. But what if this spirit is also part of Satan’s scheme to ruin Job? Perhaps Satan was trying to get Elihu on the path of accusing Job so that he would not stop to consider that Job might actually be blameless. Feel free to share your thoughts on this.

3. What did Elihu say that was right?
The first two questions are less of a focal point than the third, which I believe is the point of the book. I’ll tell you in a minute, but first consider something.

In the center of the book of Job, there’s a section that does not appear to be dialog and which spans the whole of chapter 28. The NIV calls this chapter, “Interlude: Where Wisdom is Found”. You should read the chapter yourself, but the point of it is that wisdom is precious and no one knows where to find it. But God gives us the answer! The last verse of that chapter states:

And he [God] said to the human race, “The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28, NIV)

You see it in several places in Proverbs, but here it hits you like a ton of bricks. It is the starting point for all reasoning and decision making. It’s what leads a person to wisdom:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7, NIV)

But what does it mean? Why would the fear of the Lord be the beginning of wisdom?

Think about it. Every choice you make and every thought you think is filtered through the fear of the Lord. Wisdom that is based on this principle will be right, just and holy, because it will be wisdom that exists within the bounds of what God himself would do.

Of course, wisdom involves logic, and it involves the ability to think through things well. Because of this, I’m suggesting the following, long definition of wisdom that hopefully captures both sides of the coin:

Wisdom is the ability, using reason, to arrive at (and uncover) logical and sound conclusions, and then carry out any actions those conclusions demand, based on their moral implications.

A simple analogy somewhat based on examples from the book of Proverbs: a man sees that his neighbor is lazy and does not plant his fields or prepare a harvest, and then his neighbor dies from starvation. The man then concludes, “His laziness caused him to starve!” But he proceeds to be lazy has well, and also dies of starvation.

In this analogy, the man was “smart”. He saw the results of an action and took note. But he was foolish because he failed to carry out the actions that logic demanded! And so we can see that wisdom is two parts: a capability to use reason but also the capability to carry out what that reason concludes. Contrary to popular thought, wisdom is much more than being able to think things through clearly. Wisdom, as defined in the Bible, is as much dependent on action as it is on thinking. Philosophical ponderings for twenty years in a cave are not allowed.

The funny thing is, the fear of the Lord is where wisdom starts. You’d think it would be reason! But if you think about it for a minute (using reason, I hope), you’ll conclude that it makes sense, because what good is reason if the bearer of that reason does not fear the Lord? His powers of logic will lead him to carry out terrible things. To quote C.S. Lewis (slightly out of context), he would just be a “more clever devil.” Better to be grounded in the fear of the Lord than to have the ability to learn from and figure anything out.

The Answer

I’ve definitely expanded on the Biblical definition of wisdom here, but hopefully it will help us understand what Elihu said. Using the fear of the Lord as his foundation, he points out how Job wrongly said that there is no point in being righteous. But beyond this, he states what his friends failed to state, which I summarized from chapter 34, “Job has been sinning by saying there’s no point in doing good. God does punish the wicked, but if he chooses to be silent in some cases who are we to accuse him?”

That’s the crucial point. Elihu gives God room to do what he does. It’s a simple “let the Potter mold His clay” statement. Job’s friends were unable to see this because they were so sure Job had sinned. They were partially basing their reasoning on the fear of the Lord in that they were taking sin seriously, but they also had some assumptions that prevented them from being able to figure it out. In fact, if they truly feared the Lord, Job’s exemplary life would have meant something to them.

The book of Job has one resounding declaration: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. My hope is that this blog would always be based on that foundation, otherwise it’s no more a road to wisdom than any other ponderings in caves out there.

One Loose String

I mentioned that in chapter 42 God is not pleased with Job’s older friends because they did not speak the truth about him as Job did. The immediate question is, how is God considering what Job said about him to be true as compared to what Job’s friends said? Clearly God had just rebuked Job, so this is somewhat puzzling. I’m not positive on this, but my suggestion is that God was rebuking Job’s friends because they said that God was punishing Job for an earlier sin, whereas Job was rightly saying that he was blameless. In this sense, Job was correct and his friends were wrong. Just as Job was sinning by stating that “God doesn’t care if you’re wicked or righteous”, his friends were sinning by wrongly blaming God for punishing a righteous man, when in fact it was Satan who was doing the damage. No, Job shouldn’t have accused God of wrong, but also no, his friends shouldn’t have accused God wrongly!

(For the full effect, I strongly recommend reading the interlude on wisdom in chapter 28. Actually, just read the whole book a couple of times. It’s worth it!)

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2016 in Philosophy, Theology, Uncategorized

 

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Job Opening Available

Lately I’ve been going though a challenging career change. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, but even so it is easy to get discouraged and lose sight of God’s promise to provide for his children.

Anyone who has searched for jobs knows how challenging it is, and how delightful it also is when you see a job posting that looks perfect. In such cases you can’t wait to apply and get your resume in there, and from then on your eyes are fixed on your email inbox.

Today, an interesting idea popped into my head: there’s another job opening available, and the benefits are amazing! Check out the job posting below and hopefully you’ll be interested in applying:

 

Immediate Opening: Christ-Follower with Faith like a Child

Are you low in spirit? Are you worried about how you’re going to make ends meet? Then keep reading!

We’re looking for people like you who are ready to lean on the Almighty for their daily bread. This is a full-time, permanent opportunity with multiple positions available. Come work in a fast-paced environment where you will always be learning new things and putting them to practice.

What we expect you to have:

  • A humble and contrite heart.
  • Faith like that of a child.
  • Willingness to work odd hours and at any point in your life.

We offer amazing benefits!

  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • 24/7 job-crisis support line
  • Your daily bread

If this sounds like you, send in your resume today! If this is not for you but you know someone who would make a great fit, feel free to forward this opportunity along (and then, afterward, I suggest you get with the picture!).

 

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2016 in Theology

 

Let us move on to maturity

What is the one determining factor today in deciding whether a particular church is Bible-based (that is, in line with the teaching of the scriptures)? There are many differing views on various theologies, but among those who are genuinely concerned that the Scriptures are taught well in a church, it seems that the one crucial point that must be taught in churches is the Gospel.

If one were to say, “All that ultimately matters is that the Gospel is preached”, this is automatically met with heartfelt approval. After all, how could it be wrong? Is not the Gospel the center-point of the entire Bible, indeed even all of history? It’s in the Bible, and it’s the necessary knowledge for salvation. It just sounds so right. Not only that, but we have moved beyond this. Now, everything we do or understand in life is seen through the grid of the Gospel: marriage, money, work, life. All are to be understood through the Gospel story.

Why Not?
You might be wondering why I am bringing this up, why I think this shouldn’t be the case. As I have said, it seems so right, and it resounds in our hearts. But it is missing a beat, and this for three primary reasons.

Reason #1: Jesus = The Gospel

The Gospel has almost become Jesus himself. And what I mean by that is, all that Jesus is and means is the Gospel. For any struggle you are facing in your life, whether it be temptation or guilt for giving in to temptation, these can be forgotten by simply remembering the cross. We simply need to run through “For it is by grace you have been saved” one more time to remember that our sins are atoned for. Far too often, the joke is made in small group Bible studies when someone is asked a theological question they don’t know, “Jesus! Of course, the answer is Jesus!”. And by “Jesus” here, they mean the cross and what he did.

Our sins are atoned for, thank God! But let us not forget this one thing: even if Jesus had not died for our sins he would still be worthy of our adoration and praise, and he desires for us to be his people. But Jesus is more than the work he did. He is a person! We can be in relationship with him! Verses such as this one…

I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Psalm 16:18, NIV)

…are subconsciously read as “I keep my eyes always on the Gospel”.

Reason #2: The Holy Spirit Nonexistent

Unfortunately, a total focus on only the Gospel of Jesus Christ leads to an emphasis on the theology and presence of Jesus over the other two persons of the Trinity (though all three were involved in the process). The Father is still mentioned significantly, though not as much. But what about the Holy Spirit?

I am contending here that the Holy Spirit is all but forgotten. Beyond a prayer for his help in devotions or preaching, we know little more about him. Granted, this depends on our beliefs in the works and gifts of the Holy Spirit, for sure. But even if we do not believe in these gifts today (we’ll save that matter for later), the Holy Spirit is still so rarely mentioned and is not relied upon in real, tangible ways. If the Holy Spirit is taught in church he is almost always mentioned in the past tense (e.g., how he was present in Jesus’ life, how he came to live in us the moment we believed, etc.).

This is connected with the first reason above. If a re-reading of the Gospel is our answer to daily troubles, then it is knowledge of and reliance on the Holy Spirit that has suffered. Our faith and lives then become only a process of mental reassurance. We simply need to remember what has been done for us to get the boost we need to overcome a problem. It may or may not work, but it lacks the real power of God for which he is known.

Reason #3: It is strongly opposed in scripture

What? The Bible is against the Gospel? Not at all. It is against an understanding of God that merely stays on the Gospel and never moves on:

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death,and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites,the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Heb 6:1-3, NIV)

It is these “elementary teachings” that I am talking about. What could be more clear than this scripture? It is not saying that the Gospel is useless, that it is of no value. Not at all, for it is compared to the “foundation”. Moving beyond the foundation does not mean forgetting it but it means building on it. For every aspect of our faith and our growing relationship with God is dependent on the fact that Christ has died for us. But when we fail to move on, we are forever building layer upon layer of foundation, so that we have a solid concrete house unsuitable for living in. It puts us at a risk of never progressing spiritually, a problem which has its own dangers. We start to care less and less about becoming holy but only remember how we were made righteous and saved whenever we encounter sin.

Conclusion

Might it be that there is more to the doctrines of God then how they relate to the Gospel? And is our study of the Bible not more than simply trying to find out how a particular passage is teaching the Gospel message yet again?

This is a controversial issue. The problem is that it is attached to other theologies of importance, such as the work of the Holy Spirit, so that a belief in one can profoundly affect one’s belief in another.

The Gospel is clearly the center point of the Bible, and you must have it to have a church. But the entire Bible points beyond itself to God, and by “God” I mean all three persons of the Trinity.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2015 in Theology

 

The Holy Spirit and Your Faith

I cannot help but bring up what I am about to talk about. I’ve tried to avoid it because it is one of those issues which has often been debated, and to write a post about it would be just another Christian writing yet another blog post about the well-discussed topic of the work of the Holy Spirit. But I could not resist it, because over the past two or three years I have had this issue pressing on my mind more and more. I have come to the conclusion that it is not something which we can comfortably debate and go our separate ways. It is not simply a “well, that’s your denomination, we’ve got ours” kind of issue anymore. And I don’t think it ever was.

I’ve said this so that, if I come across as sounding very firm, it is because I treat this topic very seriously, and I’m trying to get you to do the same if you’re not already.

Believing Belief
My thesis: You cannot live a normal, Christian life (as God would have intended it) without the belief that God still works in real and tangible ways through the Holy Spirit in your life, for your edification, and for the edification of others. And just to be up front and clear about it, by “real and tangible ways” I mean everything from tongues, to prophecy, to miraculous healings, as well as the subtler ways in which God interacts with us. And before I go on, to be even more precise I mean that all of these things can and do happen right here where we live, not only in a foreign country where evangelism is just beginning to happen.

Should I begin by giving the standard humble disclaimer: that I am not intending to imply that I am the normal, correct Christian who is so much better off than you? The problem is, if you do not believe in these things, everyone else really is much better off. Without belief in his Holy Spirit, you have successfully bottlenecked your faith. You believe that God is real, and you believe he has saved you (which he has), but you do not believe in him.

If you disagree with me, you will of course object that you do believe in the Holy Spirit, that he does work today in tangible ways, and that you never doubted it. But how true does an idea have to be for it to be valid? If you deny miraculous gifts, but still believe in the Holy Spirit, you may believe in a spirit who does work and interact with us, and some of your beliefs will be based on Scripture. But some of them will be “filler” beliefs which are there only to fill a gap. I will explain this part at the end.

The Cessationist (One who denies that miraculous gifts are for today, but instead have ceased)
There are well thought out arguments for this position, but what gives away the problem is the fact that an argument is even needed to be thought of in the first place. If one were to drop the Bible on a remote island somewhere in the world, and the native people of this island were to read it and believe in it, they would not for a moment question the ongoing work and gifts of the Holy Spirit. It would not even cross their minds. This is because in order to argue against it you must have a reason to, a reason which comes from outside scripture.

Cessationists do not see gifts today, so they seek to find an argument for why they don’t happen today. Stop right there! We’ve just walked into some of the most dangerous territory we can as Christians. The moment we start interpreting the Bible based on our circumstances, we have embraced relativism. Now even sin can be justified because, “Well, that just happens today.” It really is no different.

But is it true that these things don’t happen anymore? Many, many Christians claim that they do. This puts the cessationist into a really interesting position and leads them down the only possible path. Because they do not believe these things happen today, when anyone tries to talk about an occurrence of a spiritual gift, they deny it. Why? Because those things don’t happen today! It is therefore impossible to prove that they do.

How This Relates to Your Faith
It is a dangerous thing when we disbelieve something the Scriptures teach because we have decided it is not true. To be in this position while being a Christian is to be in a position of conditional belief. It is a faith that refuses to grasp more than it wants to grasp; a faith that wants salvation, but nothing more.

You cannot say, “I can get along without these gifts.” 1 Corinthians 12:7 says otherwise: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” For the common good of whom? For the common good of the Church! These things are intended by God for the strengthening of his people.

This is why you cannot say, “All I need is the Bible”. Yes, the Bible is living and active and yes, you need it. But it is not everything you need. If you do not believe me then John 5:39 says: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.”

God is a real person! You may “believe” it but you might not believe it. You might still secretly laugh inside when someone says they spoke in tongues, while wholeheartedly clinging to a book that was delivered to us by means of a mysterious process involving man and God in which the words of God were written in the style of each man writing it.

Disbelief Doesn’t Work
If you do not believe in miraculous works of the Holy Spirit, part of your spiritual life has to be contradictory. You deny these work of the Holy Spirit, yet you affirm his leading in your life. How did that come about? Was it a sign, an impression, a sense of peace, strong emotions? When did we decide that these things are valid ways of determining God’s will in your life? Those who deny the gifts have decided that the only way the Holy Spirit really speaks to us is through these things, as well as through the pastor as the scriptures are preached on Sunday.

Now, some or even all of these ways may be valid, but who decided that they were, and when did they decide this? Where was it written in scripture? But if you are going to point to scripture to answer that question, point to the rest of it as well. Point to the verses that talk about how God speaks to us through the gift of tongues, and then someone else interprets it. For this is exactly how Paul is commanding the Corinthian church to structure their use of gifts. Or, point to the examples where the Holy Spirit spoke in visions to people like Paul to tell them what they must do. If you’ve read the Bible once, you know there are plenty of examples to point at, even in the New Testament alone.

When you say that God answers prayer, what do you mean? For example, you pray that God will show you whether to take a particular job, or whether to marry a particular person. How does that even work if he cannot manifest himself in any way? Perhaps just the right sermon will be preached to you on just the right Sunday that just happens to address your question perfectly (I’m not denying that he can talk to us in this way). Will you really cling to that more than you would cling to a direct word from the Almighty? This goes along with the belief that the Bible can answer every question you might have about your life. How do we know the will of God? “Read the Bible!”, we are told. Certainly, the scriptures tell you the ways of God, but there could be any number of choices before you at one point in your life, all of which align with his ways. Does that mean you are to choose all of them?

Is your spiritual life consistent with your belief system? What I am saying is that if you do not believe in the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit and yet believe God speaks to you, it cannot be consistent. Your faith demands it, and your life needs it desperately. You either believe in the Holy Spirit or you do not. You cannot say “I’m not sure if gifts exist or if the Holy Spirit acts in real ways, but I’ll hold it in my mind as a possibility. I’ll sit on the fence for now.” Don’t play games with your faith!

What it All Means
So what should you do? Just agree with me, and then all of the gifts will suddenly start happening in your life?

Not necessarily. In fact, they may never happen for you. The truth is, I don’t know. Perhaps it is that people simply do not believe in supernatural gifts, and so God refuses to work that way. That is totally legitimate and definitely possible. But suppose we all decide to believe that they are intended for the church today, and then after all the prayers of repentance have been prayed, and after all the teaching that has so long been swept under the rug has been taught, the Spirit still ceases to work in that way in our lives. What then?

We must still believe it, just as we must believe anything else in Scripture, even though we don’t always see it right now. If anyone cannot believe it now, they will not survive persecution when it finally does come, because their belief system is at least partially dependent on their circumstances, and it is very difficult to believe in an all-powerful God when he is not coming to your rescue.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2014 in Theology

 

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The Most Basic of All Truths

Forgive me for writing another complicated post, but I couldn’t help it.

What do you think is the simplest, the most basic and foundational truth we can know outside of revelation from God. What I mean is, were we not given the Bible, what could we “start with?”

According to presuppositionalism, we have certain presuppositions which we must assume are true when debating about God with non-believers, or anything at all for that matter. In particular, we can assume that God exists. Indeed, they would say that we cannot know anything without admitting that God exists.

To help explain this, imagine you are debating about which tires are the best for a particular kind of car. You could talk about every possible aspect of the tires in your discussion with another car owner, how some might be too big for the chassis, or how the tread on a particular tire is too smooth to grip the road for the level of acceleration the car offers.

However, while you are having this discussion in which you might disagree with the other person, you are only able to have it because of an enormous host of presuppositions you both share. One might be more aware of these in greater detail than the other, but they are all still there. They are presuppositions like: 1) Gravity pulls the car down toward the road; 2) Friction wears away the tires over time; 3) The person driving this car probably is not going to be driving the majority of the time in reverse. But even more basic than these presuppositions are: “cars roll on the surface of the road”, “cars should be able to go at least 65 mph”, and more basic still, “the car exists and is tangible”.

Back to the Issue
Hopefully now you can see what I’m getting at. The question is, when you walk up to an unbeliever, what do you both agree on before the debate about God’s existence even starts? Hopefully you both agree on the following:

  1. If you say something, what you are saying is more or less what you meant to say (give or take human error).
  2. Logic and reason can be relied on as the method of constructing and testing arguments.
  3. You can know things.

All of these must be true. If someone is debating philosophy with you they automatically believe these things. What would be the point in speaking if I did not think anyone could possibly receive the message I meant to send? Why would I structure my sentences using the basics of logic if I did not believe that logic had any use or structure or sense in it? And most of all, why would I attempt to sway someone’s beliefs or reinforce my own beliefs if I did not think one could hold a belief or know anything at all?

If you can point these things out (especially how everyone deep down does believe that we can know things) to an unbeliever, you will always win the argument. But what about the original question: is the presuppositionalist right in saying that we can assume that God exists right from the start, before arguing at all?

The idea is that knowing things at all is absurd if God does not exist. Why? There are sophisticated arguments for this, but essentially, it is absurd because if God is the source of logic, it does not make sense to use logic without assuming that God exists. If there’s no source than it’s all absurdity. Perhaps a presuppositionalist could come and respond to this post with a more complete argument, but that is what it is in its most basic form.

I agree with that, but I do not think it is the most basic truth, nor do I think it is a starting point for arguments with atheists. It seems to me that the fact that logic and reason are sound methods for analyzing or describing anything abstract or real is the most basic truth we know. And if you would disagree with me, you must use logic to do so.

Even the presuppositionalist, in his or her attempt to explain the existence of God as being the ultimate truth that we all can assume to be true from the start must use logic to do so. You might object that he must also use language to do so, therefore language is the most basic truth. But language does not go as deep as logic and reason. If they invented a device which could be connected between two people’s brains so that one could “think” what the other was thinking, you would eliminate completely the medium of language, while still being able to understand someone’s argument by having them simply think about it (this idea is less absurd than it sounds). Even your thoughts have a logical structure, something that gives them sense and use for you to think them, whether or not you have ever learned a single word.

It seems that God has placed in every human being this basic ability to structure and compare, to calculate and to see when something is not balanced. Without it we can’t do, think or say anything at all. We cannot even begin to ponder the universe or the things of God without it.

This scares some people. They worry that reason therefore becomes God, and existed before God or is outside of and above God. But it seems odd to think that a method existed before a being. Can a method even exist at all. Is it not abstract? For sure, we do not know how God orchestrated the whole thing. But we don’t have to worry that a method will become God to us if we rely on it. If God could create intangible things like physics and the invisible principles which rule our planet, it seems he could also create or install in us the ability to reason in some way which we could never possibly understand on this earth.

You could say that “I exist” is the most basic truth we know. But even the idea of existing, or of knowing you exist, requires a logical understanding. You are saying or believing that A = B, that something is true. That famous quote actually goes “I think, therefore I exist.” And what is thinking but the application of logic and reason? Those come first.

Conclusion
This stuff can make your head swim. You don’t have to go deeper than you need to. Very likely I missed something or got something wrong in this post because this is mind-boggling stuff. But at the very least I hope you can, when in debate with someone who is a relativist and believes that we can know nothing, start by using their own attempted use of logic as an argument against their beliefs. For the truth which says that “things make or do not make sense” is the one presupposition everyone starts with, and is something near and dear to us all.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Philosophy

 

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The Bread and Water of Faith

Anyone who knows me or has read any of my posts here knows the kind of stuff I like to discuss: issues that are, for the most part, either highly debatable or highly irrelevant.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. I have had experiences in the past few months of my life that have shaped me profoundly and have caused me to look at my faith in new ways.

How Things Happened
On August 18, 2012, I married the love of my life (she still is by the way). As we settled into our new lives, things grew gradually worse at my job. Indeed, even before we were married I wondered whether I was going to be fired before the ceremony. In reality I kept working that job for about 7-8 months after the wedding.

It was the worst experience I have had in my life. Not only was I miserable because of the way I was treated at work, I also wondered if I was going to be fired at any moment. Suddenly, the one thing I had never been much concerned about came to the forefront of my mind: money.

I had read these verses many a time from Luke 12:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! (NIV)

My response was always, “I know, I know….God provides.” I did not feel the weight of need because all the bare necessities had always been provided by my parents. It’s a lot different when you are on your own.

To complicate things, the fact that I hated my job so much made me want to quit it at the same time that I did not want to be fired. But what would that mean? Could I just quit my job and let God provide? That didn’t seem right.

I decided that I would just go until I could go no more. It is hard, though, to know when you really have reached your limit. When you quit something difficult, you always wonder, “Couldn’t I have gone just one more day?”

However, when the day came, both Marcella and I knew it. We knew it was time to quit that situation. I gave my three weeks notice. Why three? Because I needed to give at least two, but I didn’t want to cut myself short. I had nothing else lined up to take the place of that job. I was working on becoming a home inspector but had already failed the test two times. I knew, though, that I had done what I could. We really did believe the rest was in God’s hands. That was our only real comfort.

Then the fateful week came. It was my last week of work. I took my home inspector test for the third time on that Monday. I was sure I had failed, and the rest of that week was so difficult. I was leaving my job that Friday, and if indeed I did fail the test I would have to wait a month before I could take it again.

Friday came. I went through the final steps at my job and closed that chapter of my life for good. But the victory seemed hollow, because I didn’t know what to do. I was unemployed. But I was unemployed in God’s hands.

And He came through. No more than three hours after finishing that job, the test results came in the mail. I had passed! There was no way I could have timed that myself. He let me suffer the least amount of time I needed to at that job, and made us wait the least possible amount of time before getting another source of income.

Conclusion
There’s no way you can know what that was like for Marcella and I. Many other small things like that have happened throughout the process that have reinforced our trust in God that he will provide for our financial needs. It has established a stronghold in our minds that would be very difficult to destroy at this point. It is the only reason why now, as I sit at home waiting for the calls for home inspection requests that are not coming in, I am not overwhelmed with worry about what we are going to do. If only he would expand my faith to the other areas of my life!

I have come to see that this is the basic bread and water of Christianity: trusting God in every aspect of your life. And not just affirming it mentally (as I used to do in my parent’s house regarding those verses above). Yes, the most basic faith which you must hold in Christianity is trusting in Christ’s death on your behalf on the cross. But it seems almost silly to trust that God will pay for your sins but not help you with your rent.

Your faith must go beyond the mental affirmation. Of course, C.S. Lewis understood it best:

Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith. (Mere Christianity, 125)

This post is not an attempt to make myself look so faithful, but to show you that those verses about God’s providence really are true. And that is all I mean to say: You can trust in His provision!

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Theology

 

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