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Category Archives: Theology

Dating Advice

FreeImages.com/Johannes Brenner

Dating is a delicate process. It comes with highs and lows (mostly highs), but things can change at any time. During the lows, you like to remember the highs. And the whole process tends to be shrouded in uncertainty. Oh, by the way, I’m talking about rocks!

Introduction

This post is the third (and hopefully final) post in my three-part discussion on the age of the earth. The first (A Treacherous Path) was more philosophical in nature, though it also discussed the proper reading of Genesis 1-2. The goal of that post was to show the danger of changing scripture (or changing the way we commonly read scripture).

The second (A Closer Look at Some Actual Fossils) was an attempt to examine real scientific data and see what we have to work with. It presented reasons to abandon the theory of Evolution based only on the fossil record itself (let alone scripture).

There is now one other major topic of discussion remaining. Many Christians today deny Evolution but still hold to an old earth. It is now quite common to hear from Christians that, though Evolution is definitely not true, we still need to embrace the scientific fact that the earth is old. This has resulted in the belief that the Flood in Noah’s day was limited to a local area (as opposed to being global). We will see why this is the case shortly.

Up until the early 2000’s it seemed like there was little evidence a young earth creationist could point to in order to show the errors in contemporary dating methods. It seemed as if we had two incompatible truths: an extremely young earth as presented in the Bible, and science telling us the earth is in fact much, much older. This is no longer the case, as we will see in the sections below.

It is important to remember that Evolution and an old earth go hand in hand. The death of an old earth is the death of Evolution. But it might surprise you to learn that even secular science is gradually moving away from Evolution, though still maintaining an old earth belief. If we imagine for a minute that all of secular science suddenly decides to drop Evolution as a reasonable theory, we might be tempted to let the debate about the age of the earth go and forget about it. So long as Evolution is not believed in, why fight for a young earth?

There are two reasons why it is still important to argue for a young (6000-10000 year old) earth. First is simply that this is in fact what the Bible teaches. Any deviation from this belief is a deviation from the Word of God, however that deviation is achieved (changing the words or changing the way we normally interpret them). If you disagree with this, hopefully you at least agree with the second reason.

Second is that, if we intend to do good science, we need to know what framework to operate in. Belief in an old vs. a new earth affects just about everything, including the production of natural resources, our understanding of climate change, and the carving out of land features. We cannot possibly do good historical science without a proper understanding of how old the earth is and what might have altered its features in the past (e.g., the Flood). You might say that this is the point of science, to determine objectively whether the earth is old or young using science itself. But the fact of the matter is that you actually have to know in advance which it is, and also acknowledge certain things like the Flood, in order to do good science in the first place.

This is why it is so important that we take the Bible seriously. Having knowledge about a global flood from God’s word gives us a definite advantage in doing science. However, in order to get the Bible to fit with secular science, Christians have limited the flood in Noah’s day to a local area. As we will see, this is not because of hints in the text itself, but because of outside pressure.

The first reason above (defending a young earth because it is what scripture teaches) is most important to me, but for both reasons lets dive into the dating methods and see what they show us today. This post is basically a summary of John Morris’s “The Young Earth”, which covers a series of contemporary dating methods to show that the weight of evidence leans greatly in favor of a young earth. I am not suggesting that you base your faith on any of these dating methods which I am about to cover. They are subject to change, but God’s word alone stands as the solid foundation.

 

Radioisotope Dating

FreeImages.com/Dave Dyet

Morris clarifies that this dating method can only be used on igneous and metamorphic rock (rock that was previously extremely hot or molten but is now cooled and solid). This is in contrast to sedimentary rock. “Sedimentary rocks, by definition, are laid down as sediments by moving fluids.” (p. 48) It may surprise you to hear that much of the Grand Canyon is in fact sedimentary rock. (p. 55)

Radioisotope dating works by counting atoms. By measuring the products of radioactive decay, we can figure out how long certain rocks have been decaying and thus how long ago they hardened from molten rock. Uranium in rocks, for example, decays into lead at a certain rate. The time it takes for half of the uranium to decay into lead is called the half-life, and it is believed to be 4.51 billion years (this is a known fact). Morris reminds us that this does not mean the earth is billions of years old, but just that it takes that long for half of the atoms to decay. So if we started with 1,000,000 uranium atoms, for example, then after 4.51 billion years we would have 500,000 uranium atoms. After another 4.51 billion years, we would have 250,000 uranium atoms, and so on.

The idea is thus that we can count the product lead atoms and determine how longer the uranium has been decaying, and therefore determine how old the rocks are. Note that the “clock” is supposedly reset when the rock is heated or in molten form, and begins counting once it solidifies. (pp. 48, 49, 52)

Many rocks dated using this method have given numbers in the several hundred million and even several billion years of age, so it is important that we study this method closely to determine what is going on. This is in fact what the RATE science team did, which Morris was involved in personally. (p. 49) This team conducted an in-depth study of radioisotope dating methods. In fact, Morris claims that “It may be that Institute for Creation Research scientists have done more radioisotope dating on Grand Canyon rocks than anyone else.” (p. 58)

There are four assumptions required when using this dating method:

The first assumption is that we have a closed system. This is vital to accurately using radioisotope dating. If any atoms are lost or gained over the course of time, we can no longer simply count the atoms. Morris does not at all imply that scientists are sloppy in their gathering of specimens. Rather, it is their care that demonstrates that the system is definitely not closed:

…One would hope that the results obtained on good specimens would be reasonable and consistent, since all questionable specimens were already screened out.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Many, many times, when specimens are dated, the resulting answers do not agree with each other or with any other estimate gained from the fossils or from stratigraphic position. If the results come back wrong, the results from the tests are thrown out, and a charge of contamination may be levied. But these are the results of tests run on specimens that have already been culled for any evidence of contamination or loss or gain of its constituents. (p. 50, emphasis mine)

Morris also goes on to note that it is a well known fact that both uranium and lead “can be leached by ground water”. (p. 50) The bottom line is that if we have a closed system and the process is known to work, then dating several specimens of the same rock should yield similar results. The fact is that quite often it does not.

What might have caused worldwide leaching to occur such that we cannot guarantee a closed system over much of the globe? Perhaps a catastrophic global flood. (p. 53) When you understand that the flood waters covered the globe, you might be wise to use this dating method only on unexposed, deeply buried rock.

Second, we have to assume we know how many atoms were already present in the rock at the time of formation. Without knowing this, we cannot accurately count the atoms because we do not know how much we started with, thereby rendering it impossible to determine the age. We might be able to determine a maximum age, but not the actual age.

You would hope that this method would be accurate on “fresh” rocks, rocks which had just recently solidified, but this crucial assumption (how many atoms were present at the beginning) comes back to bite us even with new rocks. You might have heard of that one rock from that one recently active volcano which was incorrectly dated to be millions or billions of years old by radioisotope dating. The fact of the matter is that most of the time, new rocks with known recent ages come up with old ages using this dating method. Morris states, “It does not work whenever it can be checked, for essentially all recently formed rocks date old.” (p. 54)

In his book “Bones of Contention” (summarized in my last post), Lubenow covers the work of the RATE science team. The team took 13 samples from a recent volcanic eruption in New Zealand, known to have occurred in 1975. They sent these samples to Geochron Laboratories for potassium-argon radiometric dating (a method which measures decay from potassium into argon atoms). Potassium-argon has a half-life of 1.25 billion years, so it decays 3-4 times faster than uranium-lead does. This laboratory is “one of the most respected commercial dating laboratories in the world.” (Lubenow, kindle location 5128).

The dates that were determined for the 13 rock specimens ranged from as recent as 270,000 years ago to 3.5 million years ago. Most interesting is that “All were said to have a margin of error of about 20 percent in either direction.” (Lubenow, kindle location 5152). This is humorous considering the rocks were definitely known to be only a little over 25 years old, but it illustrates the problem well: even with fresh rocks we do not seem to be able to accurately determine the age of formation.

Also, when God created the mountains and other rocks, what kind of rock should he make them out of? Should he make them out of “new” rock (as we would call rock just released from a volcano), or would it be rock like that of an apparently aged mountain? Remember that God created Adam as a man. In reality, Adam would technically be one minute old, but would appear to be 20, 30 or maybe 40 years old. This was not to be deceptive, but was because God had other intentions. In Adam’s case, he intended to make a fully mature man from the start. Perhaps he had intentions to create fully mature mountains too. We have no ability to discern the number of atoms present in the rocks when God created them, so can we really use this dating method? It doesn’t even work on rocks with known ages!

The Third Assumption is that the decay rate from one atom into another (for a given atom type) has always been the same. This goes along with typical uniformitarianism, the belief that the processes which we observe today have always been the same. Granted, we can observe the decay of atoms today and see a particular rate, but should we assume it has always been this way?

One of the products of uranium decay is also helium. This is created inside the rocks and makes its way up to the surface (more on helium dating methods later). Now, the RATE science team did find that what looked like 1.5 billion years of radioactive decay that had occurred in rock retrieved in New Mexico. However, a large amount of helium buildup was also found in the rock, an amount that should not be present if the decay rate has been constant. Helium will slowly be released from rock over time because it is “slippery”. It basically cannot be contained by rock for a long time. (Morris, p. 53)

The Rate team analyzed the amounts of helium and concluded the following:

RATE experimentally measured the helium diffusion rate for these crystals and found it pointed to a helium diffusion age of only 6,000 +-[plus or minus] 2,000 years. Thus, within just the last few thousands years, 1.5 billion years’ worth of decay (at today’s rate of decay) took place. These data seem to demand such a burst of grossly exaggerated decay, not very long ago. Evidently the assumption of constant decay rates is in error. (p. 53)

There is much speculation as to what might have caused this increased rate of decay. The cause isn’t really what matters. If we cannot have certainty that the decay rate has always been the same, we cannot trust this dating method.

The fourth assumption is that we know how old the earth is. “What?” you say. Why would we need to know how old the earth is before dating it with the radioisotope method? Isn’t that the point of using a dating method? It is because half of uranium decays into lead every 4.51 billion years. In a young earth there is simply not enough time for significant, measurable decay to have occurred. We require the earth to be old so we can use this method! Perhaps this is in part why the young rocks come out as being so old using radioisotope dating. (p. 54) What is 6,000 – 10,000 years compared to 4,510,000,000 years? It’s nothing.

It’s time to acknowledge our assumptions about the past instead of simply believing that historical science is a purely objective process. Your assumptions will definitely determine your end results. I’ve spent a lot of space on radioisotope dating because it is one of the most important to understand in my opinion. Let’s turn to some other dating methods.

 

Carbon-14 Dating

FreeImages.com/Mark Butler

Carbon-14 dating only works on carbon-based material like bones and plants, things that were once part of living matter. Carbon-14 has a half life of 5,730 years. This means that elements dated with this method cannot be dated if they are older than approximately 57,300 years, due to the limited amount of carbon remaining which would be difficult to detect. (p. 63) Morris states:

Even the most devoted advocate would not claim that C-14 has any relevance beyond 100,000 years before the present time, and its inaccuracies are well-known. It decays so rapidly that even if the entire mass of the observable universe were packed with carbon-14 atoms, after just 1.5 million years there would not be a single C-14 atom left. If any C-14 is present in a specimen it must be younger than that. (p. 63)

Once again, the age of the earth that we assume from the start greatly affects our ability to use this dating method. Carbon-14 is actually produced by the interaction of cosmic rays with the atmosphere. The C-14 then becomes absorbed into animals and plants as it settles to the earth, where it decays at the given half-life. Therefore a tree, for example, takes in C-14 at a particular rate (until it dies), and the C-14 inside the tree decays with a half-life of 5,730 years. But in order to have a stable rate of input and output, this requires an earth that is at least 30,000 years old so that we can have “carbon-14 equilibrium, with equal amounts of C-14 being formed and decaying”. (pp. 63-64) But is the earth that old? Based on the genealogies we have in the Old Testament, the earth can only be a maximum of about 10,000 years old. So the young earth creationist, by default, should be skeptical about using this method.

Even though this is the case, it may no longer matter, because it is now widely known that C-14 is actually increasing and is not in equilibrium (p. 64). It is also not as trusted as people think. Morris tells some interesting stories:

I remember talking with a famous archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania doing an excavation in the country of Turkey. He had discovered an ancient tomb with wooden timbers. I asked if he had sent timber samples off for dating through the carbon-14 method. His reply and candid admission shocked me. He had, of course, sent samples off for dating, but claimed he would never believe anything that came back from a carbon-14 lab. Nor was he aware of any archaeologist in the world who would accept such dates. If the date agreed with what he knew it should be historically, then the data would be published; if not, it would be ignored. He was obliged to carbon-date artifacts to keep his grant money coming, he always did so; but he did not trust the method or its results.

On another occasion, I was debating an evolutionist at the national convention of the American Archaeological Society when dating processes came up. I chided the archaeologists present by insisting that they should be honest and admit they never trust carbon-14 dates. There was nervous laughter throughout the audience, but no one even attempted to contradict me. (p. 64)

I don’t think the reasons for avoiding C-14 dating in the examples above are only because it has come into question. It’s also that it tends to favor a young earth. Hopefully Christians soon realize that C-14 dating is actually strongly in support of a young earth. The greatest example is C-14 found in diamonds and coal. Diamond and coal are particularly interesting to study because they are believed to take such an incredibly long time to form that there’s no hope of there being any C-14 left in them once they are formed. And yet, C-14 has been found in coal all over the United States, and the RATE team found C-14 in diamonds from several African countries as well. Because of how hard diamond is, the possibility of contamination is next to nothing. (pp. 65-66) We simply have to conclude that these diamonds formed recently. An old earth scientist would merely attempt to find the source of supposed contamination and miss the point.

Lets not forget that there was a global, catastrophic event that upset any progress toward C-14 equilibrium across the globe:

…the Flood would have drastically altered the carbon inventory in the world as it laid down the vast limestone deposits (calcium carbonate), coal deposits, and oil shales. At the time of the Flood, great amounts of carbon were removed from the atmosphere and oceans and were no longer available for ingestion or absorption into animals or plants, thus destroying any semblance of uniformity in nature and also any hope of a calibration curve going back before the Flood. Nor would such a calibration be possible for the first few centuries following the Flood, during which time things re-stabilized. As mentioned, the carbon-14 built up in the atmosphere has not yet even reached equilibrium with its decay. (p. 65)

It appears that the global Flood affects this dating method as well.

 

Sodium Dating

FreeImages.com/Maicol de Angelis Oliveira

Salt? Yes, salt. This is another way to date the earth. It also has a key benefit: there is essentially no possibility of contamination, because we can use the entire world for our tests, and the world is considered to be a closed system. (p. 78)

This experiment works by measuring the amount of salt in the oceans. Oceans are gradually getting saltier over time. We can actually approximate both the intake of salt and also how much salt is being removed from the oceans (onto land or in other ways). In doing so, we can approximate how salty the ocean will be in X number of years, and also how salty it was X number of years ago. Morris gives examples of input and output, including Coastal Erosion and Hydrothermal Vents (input), as well as Sea Spray and Ion Exchange (output). These are very interesting to read about, and also make you thirsty. There is a margin of error for each of these factors, and so scientists can give minimums and maximums for each one so we can see the total range of possibilities. (pp. 89-90)

Based on the amount of salt we have in our oceans, it would take approximately 32 million years to accumulate, with a maximum possible time span of 62 million years (if we use the slowest possible rate of accumulation). Obviously, Morris is not saying it took the oceans 32-62 million years to get the way they are. He is simply saying that the 4.5 billion years of age for the earth we are given by scientists doesn’t work. (p. 90) In fact, Morris states: “If the ocean was old and had been receiving sodium at any rate comparable to today’s rate, it would be so choked with salt, life would be impossible. The evidence supports a young earth, not an old-earth.” (p. 91)

And it need not be a 30-60 million year old earth either. It might have been salty at creation, but beyond that, can you think of a factor that would cause massive amounts of erosion across the globe, thus accelerating sodium input exponentially?

 

Sediments in the Ocean

This is slightly different than measuring salt. Here we are measuring sediment in the bottom of the ocean.

Now, we know that the rate of erosion today is 27.5 billion tons of sediment per year, which is being eroded off of continents into the oceans. But we also know how much sediment is in the oceans right now, approximately 410 million billion tons. This is actually more than there is material on land, which is about 383 million billion tons. (pp. 92-93) Note what follows:

Simple division arrives at an age of 15 million years. We could properly conclude that this is the age of our present ocean basins, given the assumption of constant sedimentation rate and no sediments there to start with. If the oceans are as old as commonly believed, they ought to be completely full of sediments. (p. 93)

Now of course, I am not implying by quoting this that the earth is 15 million years old. Just as before, the flood easily explains the extra sediment that we have and once again reduces the maximum possible age. (pp. 93-94)

 

Helium

I briefly talked about helium earlier when going over radioisotope dating. As mentioned, it is a product of radioactive decay occurring underground. Helium is being added to the atmosphere at a rate of 13 million atoms per square inch per second, and it is being lost into outer space at a rate of only 0.3 million atoms per square inch per second. Based on the amount of helium we have in the atmosphere today, this gives a maximum possible age of 2 million years. (p. 87)

It is clear that 2 million years is no where near the 4.5 billion proposed age of the earth. Remember our discussion earlier, that the rate of radioactive decay was very likely much higher at a previous time in history, which produced the large amount of helium we see in some rocks today. Morris notes:

These uniformitarian assumptions include the notion that the rate of accumulation has never been any different throughout the past. But during Noah’s flood, the rate may have been much more rapid, because the earth’s crust was in such turmoil that the helium would have been able to escape crustal rocks more easily. Accelerated nuclear decay would further increase the rate. Both these factors would reduce the maximum age. (p. 87)

The Grand Canyon

I specifically wanted to quote a section from Morris’s book about the Grand Canyon because it is so remarkable. The many, cleanly sandwiched layers in the Grand Canyon peak our curiosity and demand our scrutiny. Perhaps there was a time when I would be writing this post that I would try to present the evidence for rapid deposition of these layers by the Flood (which is indeed what happened). This is no longer necessary, because many scientists today acknowledge that the layers were formed by catastrophic events and not by slow deposition over long ages (as was previously believed) (pp. 96-97):

Please grasp clearly what these scientists are advocating. They would say that nearly all of the rock material was laid down rapidly, as sediments, by catastrophic events. These events were separated by great lengths of time. But while the real evidence points toward rapid catastrophic deposition which took very little time, great amounts of time supposedly passed between the layers where no evidence is found! The evidence for time is the lack [emphasized] of physical evidence. (p. 97, bold emphasis mine)

There should be erosion, and there should be alteration between the layers that would keep them from looking so uniform. Do an image search for “Grand Canyon layers” and see for yourself. They are so clean, flat and even that this is simply not possible. Only a massive flood that deposited the layers over a short period of time could produce the Grand Canyon as we see it today.

 

A Flood of Evidence

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You probably noticed by now that all of the dating methods discussed above are affected by the flood event in Noah’s day (if it indeed was a global flood). This shows why belief in an old earth requires a local flood, just as belief in Evolution requires an old earth. Once you allow for the global flood, you can no longer do historical science in the same way. Because of how the Flood is tied to dating methods, I thought it would be beneficial to include a short section on why we should believe a global flood did in fact occur.

First, note this sobering prophecy in 2 Peter:

3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (NIV)

Now, I do not think Christians who argue for an old earth and a local flood are denying that Christ will return, nor are they denying a general creation event. I just find it chilling that the creation and the flood are mentioned together as things which will be denied in the last day. The reading of Genesis 1 has been wrongly adjusted to fit secular science, as I discussed in my first post. Let’s now look at the Genesis 7 flood.

To be honest, it saddens me that we even have to debate this. The words used are so abundantly clear. The best way to argue for it is to simply quote it (with my own emphasis added, which Morris helped point out on page 70 in his book):

18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits [about 23 ft]. 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. (NIV, Gen 7:18-20, emphasis mine)

Notice what God specifically clarifies for us. He clarifies the height of the waters (covering the mountains), and he clarifies (several times!) just what was wiped out (namely, everything). It feels like, since he knew how much this would be debated, the Lord stated it redundantly to make sure it was absolutely clear to us, and yet here we are still talking about it. Morris notes that Mt. Ararat is 17,000 ft high, and states, “A year-long mountain-covering Flood is not a local Flood.” (p. 70)

Earlier on, God predicted this event by saying (and I may as well bold it all):

17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. (NIV, Gen 6:17, emphasis mine)

It starts to become silly to use the argument that it was the “known earth”. If that is the case, try to imagine what God would have said to imply the whole earth…It’s kind of hard to say it any other way, isn’t it? You can’t even say “the four corners of the earth”, because someone will just say “it was the four corners of the known earth”. What is going on here is the refusal to take these words as they are clearly stated, just as Christians refuse to take Genesis 1’s literal day as is clearly stated. And the reason is also the same: trying to align with secular science.

A wise friend of mine shared this with me: if it was only a local flood, why not simply have Noah and his family leave the area? It’s like telling Lot and his family to build a bomb shelter instead of leave Sodom and Gomorrah. Likewise, “two of every kind of bird” (NIV, 6:20) is taken onto the ark. Why do birds need to be kept on an ark for a local flood? Some birds can travel astonishing distances in a single day. Conversely, fish and sea creatures had no need to be rescued because they were the only creatures that could survive a global flood, though some certainly died in it too. Hence, Gen 7:23 says, “and the birds were wiped from the earth”. (NIV)

When will we simply take with the faith of a child the things that God gave us in Scripture? Science is on the young earth Christian’s side, but that hardly matters. You cannot prove that the earth is old or young using science. It requires faith (either in the Bible or in naturalism and uniformitarianism) for either view. As Morris wisely says, “Rocks, fossils, isotope arrays, and physical systems do not speak with the same clarity as Scripture.” (p. 120)

I myself am guilty of opening the door to an old earth a few years ago when I started to feel like science demanded it. How much better if I simply stood on God’s word? I had to repent of that sin, for sin is what it was. I should have trusted that eventually the data would align with scripture. Now I am at a point where I am convinced that in the end the Bible will always prove to be true, and every day good Christian scientists are showing that to be the case in ever greater examples.

Historically, it was the issue of the age of the earth that was the first doctrine of Scripture to be abandoned by compromisers, then the Flood, then the creation. Today, the cycle has reversed. With evolution now exposed as not credible, many Christians are re-adopting creation, but still hold on to the old-earth and local Flood. How much better it would be to come all the way back to a biblical world view (one which employs better science, by the way). (p.125)

If you still think this doesn’t matter, consider Jesus’ words:

12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? (NIV, John 3:12)

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2017 in Philosophy, Science, Theology, Uncategorized

 

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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 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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What does it mean to “encounter” God?

This post is more of a question and introduction than it is a completed search for an answer. It is prompted by some thoughts I have had for awhile.

What does it mean to have an “encounter” with God? It might seem like an odd question. Here are the sorts of answers it might get.

To encounter God is:

-To have a sense that a particular sermon was intended by God particularly for you.
-To feel close to him in worship.
-To sense his leading by means of the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
-To hear him speak to you in an audible voice.
-To actually see him.

Which one of these falls under the definition of an “encounter”? Perhaps all of them? Or maybe just the last two?

I won’t try to answer that, but I will say this: that it seems today that many Christians appear to have excluded the last two on the list as a possibility and have settled for the “next best”, myself included. 

We strive to hear God’s voice, and when we don’t, we start to try to figure out different ways he might possibly be speaking to us, sometimes by signs or symbols.

But the scriptures don’t portray God that way. Whenever God wanted someone to know something, he either sent a prophet or said it himself. And that’s what I think heaven will be like. God will not have to do an elaborate act which we might eventually translate and be able to say, “Oh, I think God is telling me he loves me.” Rather, God will simply say, “I love you.”

So that’s my question: why should it be different now? Is God’s mouth closed or are our ears stopped?

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Philosophy, Theology