Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Adventist Review and Theistic Evolution

The Adventist Review has weighed in on the idea that Theistic Evolution should be accepted in the Adventist church. The article by E. Edward Zinke is entitled Creation and the Certainty of the Second Coming asks numerous questions. Strangely though it quotes no one who believes in Theistic Evolution, it does not even seem to paraphrase any beliefs of Theistic Evolutionists. The questions therefore are meant as rhetorical devices to assert that Theistic Evolution has no reason for their beliefs, that it destroys the Gospel. In some cases the article simply makes absurd statements which have no merit at all. For example:

Spirituality matured through the process of evolution, they say, and finally reached an evolutionary peak in Jesus.”

Who are the “they” apparently not important enough for the author to identify, after all there are thousands or millions of beliefs out there if someone believes it then I guess that is all we need to know. Do you think that the Adventist Review will go out and ask a Christian who is a Theistic Evolutionist to contribute an article to the Review? I highly doubt it. If they publish a propaganda article like this they have no intention of actually dealing with what Theistic Evolutionists really believe. Even so the rest of us should realize that it is unwise to get the idea of what someone believes from people who don’t believe it. In other words you don’t go to Buddhist to find out what a Christian believes. The Buddhist may have a good idea if he has studied Christianity but when he tells you about Christians he will use statements by actual Christians. Objectivity is often not found in the ranks of the opposition to something. It is to those objective people that we should seek our knowledge not the people who simply say “they say”.

The author says:
“If we do not accept the biblical account of Creation, we are left with many, many questions, a few guesses, and no answers. We have an uncertain identity. The nature and even the existence of God are called into question. Our future is in limbo….”

This is a typical statement by traditional Adventists. By Biblical account they mean literal account. They ignore the possibility of the account being a myth used to teach people. If one believes the story is not meant in a literal way then that means that they don’t believe in the Biblical account of Creation. Because you don’t believe in the account the way they believe in the account. See my article Genesis in Symbol and Substance.

Included in the many questions the author asks is this:

“What implication does theistic evolution have for the way God acts in the world? If God either cannot or does not behave in the way that the Genesis Creation account describes, then what does that say for other reports of His activities in the rest of the Bible? Did God bring about a worldwide flood and guide Noah’s ark to safety?...”
What about the other questions about Noah’s flood, that God repented of making man, that God killed every living creature on the planet? There are whole hosts of questions there and that is before we even get to the scientific implications and evidence or better said lack of evidence of a worldwide flood. Clearly there is no shortage of questions regarding how God interacts with the world and they aren’t really answered any too clearly in the book of Genesis if you take the stories as literal. The article continues:

“Suppose God did bring about life on our planet by the process of theistic evolution, developing it through the survival of the fittest from simple life forms to the complexity of a moral and intelligent creature called Homo sapiens. What then would be the meaning of sin and salvation? Is sin simply a lack of progress? At what point could humans be considered to be created in the image of God and therefore morally responsible?”

Would it really matter? Would sin be anything different from what it is now if we did not simply suddenly come into existence. None of us living now or in the Bible times simply suddenly existed like the Adam and Eve in Genesis. Is sin different for someone who has never heard the Genesis story? Adam and Eve and their story do not define sin, selfishness and distrust define sin. But if you don’t know anything about God how can you be distrustful of Him? Sin then is still that virus that infects us with selfishness and hurts us and causes us to hurt others. Salvation would likewise be the healing of that situation. The God who heals would be the same God even if the method of creation was different from the presumed literal account of Genesis.

Sadly this is the kind of article that the Adventist church will produce and market to the membership. Where tradition is the method of understanding and any attempt to scientifically and rationally deal with the Bible and reality is decried as “Relying upon human ability to discover “truth,”… For some reason traditional Adventists don’t think that their interpretations are in any way based upon human reasoning, their default is that their interpretation is not their interpretation it is the literal word of God. Any other interpretation then is based upon human reasoning.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why not publish sermons

The other day I listened to one of the programs for the Walla Walla Camp meeting 2009. It was on Preaching presented by Dave Thomas. It was mainly about the ways to prepare and deliver sermons. I did think it was interesting that the reason he feels that Preaching sermons is still the best method is because it is Biblical. That is preaching is mentioned in the New Testament. I would argue the usefulness of sermons in the modern information age is not all that useful. I mean really the Bible mentions nothing about Christians writing books yet Christians have probably written millions of books. We don’t really say that books aren’t useful because they are not Biblical. Culture and times change the way we do things…so just because something is Biblical does not mean it should continue with the same emphasis as it had in Biblical times.

But for now we are all subject to sermons because we fear change and fear trying new things. So continuing on the subject of preparing sermons Dave Thomas talks about the amount of time it takes to create a good sermon. 20-40 hours is the amount of time he indicates is needed to prepare the sermon. I find that hard to believe that most any sermon I have heard in the last 20 years of my life has taken 20 hours of preparation let alone 40 but let us assume that 20 hours is the average amount of time a pastor spends preparing a sermon. That is a good deal of work.

So why don’t they publish their sermons? In the computer age most all sermons should be written on computers, even the people who go against Dave Thomas’ instructions and only make an outline and don’t write our their sermons should have the outline in electronic form. They go through all this work give a sermon and that’s it, maybe some will record it to tape and maybe a few will put them on mp3 for download but hardly any publish the written sermon. What may take an hour to listen to can be skimmed for the key points in 10 minutes in written form. If it seems interesting or useful one can read the whole thing or listen to a download. (I think tapes are really outdated but maybe a few older people still like them.) With blog technology it is so easy to publish I can see practically no reason for sermons not to be posted in written form. I think the local church would benefit from posting sermons and distant people would benefit also.

There is one reason in the preparation for preaching program that Dave Thomas mentioned that might explain why preachers are not posting their written sermons. That reason is that sermons are often very personal. The person who gives a sermon feels particularly vulnerable right after giving a sermon. So they may likely feel vulnerable publishing their sermon. I don’t think that would be a good excuse if they really put in the work to prepare a good sermon and if they feel that God had something for them to say. I also think it would be useful because then the criticism of a sermon which people would not likely give to a preacher can be given in a less personal way. In other words it would be a way to get feed back and to improve the preachers reasoning or facts. I think of one sermon I heard where the person said that in ancient days people built lamps into their sandals (thy word is a lamp unto my feet). It is pretty funny when you think about it and it did spur me to see if there was any evidence for such a thing. There is not but I would guess that person is still using it

So publishing might be a little scary that people will point out your errors but if we are really searching for truth let us point out the errors and let the preacher make the corrections and even correct himself in front of the congregation. Maybe that is the first part in changing the sermons, maybe moving from the emotional show, we can move to reasoned arguments and ultimately maybe even dialog with our pastors, who I think are sorely in need of continuing education.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Without Objectivity, What is There?

What makes you respect someone; Honesty, thoughtfulness, compassion, wisdom, knowledge? Do your respect someone who gives a sermon which you know is factually incorrect? Perhaps you can always say he/she just did not know the facts. What happens when you talk to that person and point out the error and they say no, I stand by my statement completely? I can tell you what happens to me I lose all respect for their positions.

In life there are a vast array of opinions and feeling and speculations, more than enough to constantly stimulate our minds. Which is why when someone tells you something untrue and then when pointed out that it is untrue they refuse to acknowledge the error or change their position what does one have left to listen to in that person. They have taken the position that fact and truth are unimportant to them. There is no point in discussion with them because for whatever reason they have lost their objectivity. The strange thing is this so often happens in the area of religion and politics. It seems to not even matter what end of the spectrum one falls on either, liberal or conservative. Some of the most precious ideas are held without any regard for the truth, the facts or reality and reason.

This was brought home to me this last week on the Spectrum blog, which is frequently Progressive Adventist and liberal politically oriented. In a comment under the article entitled A Horrendous Betrayal of the Gospel By Charles Scriven. The article is titled rather like the National Enquirer as the article is really just a criticism of singing the National Anthem during a church service on the 4th of July. The reason being that Christianity is for everyone not any one country or people. He might have a point if he were referring to the singing of the The Star-Spangled Banner in Canada or China. But it does not make a lot of sense in a church where the majority if not all the people at the church are actually citizens of the United States or Permanent Residents. But that is not the problem.

The problem comes when Chris Blake who is apparently a minister someplace wrote this comment, here is the first two paragraphs:

Last year I preached a sermon in College View Church about the virtue of non-combatancy: our great need for creativity and imagination and resilience when fighting evil; our tendency to believe in the myth of redemptive violence; the penchant when you own the biggest hammer in the world to see everything as a nail; the odd presence of the American flag in front of the sanctuary; and the non-violent model of Jesus. Normally CVC sermons are televised the following week. Mine was not. (Smile.)

The myth of redemptive violence is easily swallowed in a culture that force-feeds the myth every second with every dollar. Thankfully, some still do not buy it, will never buy it.

To which I responded:

By myth I take it you mean fiction, what is the myth of redemptive violence?

To test your definition: If it is really a fiction (myth) then we should be able to demonstrate that no one has ever been saved from the hands of threatening or evil or violent people by the acts of violence by people trying to save the threatened people.

I won't ask you to support the statement about the culture that force feeds the myth every second with every dollar because I am sure even you realize that that statement is a gross exaggeration.

The funny thing is that even after pointing out that the statement is a gross exaggeration in the next comment he said he stood by the comment completely.

He writes:

Redemptive means deliverance or rescue from whatever ails or threatens us. So if we're threatened by violence, we should be able to redeem that threat by, for example:

Overthrowing the democratically elected head of Iran in 1951.
Forcing Ho Chi Minh to retreat from 1955-1975.
Arming Saddam Hussein in his fight against
Arming Osama bin Laden in his fight against the
Training Timothy McVeigh to kill.
Creating terms like "collateral damage" to minimize war horrors
Arming the world with military weapons; in fact, making more in weapon sales than we give in foreign aid.

Here I could list 500 more examples of how redemptive violence "pays off" ultimately in more violence and mayhem. (You could counter with Adolph Hitler and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but that's the exception.)

The first thing you will notice is that he puts World War II as an exception. Which means he is saying that Redemptive violence is a myth (a fiction that violence saves anyone except in certain exceptions) Which of course means it is not a myth, that at least some of time it is a reality. The second thing you note is that his list of examples does not include the Gulf war, fought to free Kuwait, The Grenada war etc. In other words ignoring the times when people were freed by violence. You would also note he references where the US is involved, ignoring where doing nothing has resulting in horrible consequences such as Darfur and Rwanda. In the case of Vietnam War where communist North Vietnam attacked South Vietnam when we ended our support of South Vietnam (“Forcing Ho Chi Minh to retreat from 1955-1975”) When we left millions were killed and nearly a million fled the country, hundreds of thousands in boats (boat people). Hopefully the best one can say is that if the US ever gets into a war it may not be best to end with a stalemate.

In the above Chris Blake is just selectively choosing his examples, it is an example of subjective reasoning, choosing what is important and listing that while ignoring what goes against your theory. It is merely an attempt at being persuasive by hoping that others don’t know history enough to doubt your rendition of the facts. The real violation of logic comes when he acknowledges the exception to his thesis that redemptive violence is a myth. When someone acknowledges in their own words that their thesis is wrong because it has exceptions how can they continue to stand by that thesis. Something then is very wrong.

But there was still the very gross exaggeration comment made. Most people realize that words like all, and every are often indicators that a logical fallacy is being used. So when Chris Blake says: “every second with every dollar” most of us would think there is an exaggeration here. I would hope most of us would see through such statements but as you will see that is not the case. Chris Blake then tries to use some statistics from “Stockholm International Peace Research Institute” to back up his statement. I could go into the numbers statistics but even here Chris Blake in his own words shows that his assertion is false. He writes:

More than half of all discretionary spending of the U.S. government goes toward military expenditures.

He has falsified his own statement that every dollar is used to forced feed the myth of redemptive violence. (Again most should realize that our culture spends lots on other things also, healthcare, education, entertainment, food etc)

What bothers me most is that Charles Scriven commented on Chris Blake’s posts:

Chris Blake:

You are gift to us all. Thanks for the Sassoon and Owens poetry. Thanks for the history and numbers you cite. Your passion is seismic.

That sounds like it is meant as praise, praise for history and numbers which are inaccurate and used to defend a thesis of redemptive violence that Chris Blake’s own words show is untrue. But yet Chris Blake concluded:

And you think I'm exaggerating?

I stand sadly by every word of the previous post.

The question then becomes why do some lose all objectivity when certain of their cherished beliefs are shown to be incorrect; Going so far as ignoring their irrationality and the irrationality of others. Being wrong is understandable standing by your error when it is revealed is irrational. I don’t really know the reason but I am sure that it damages us all and is not something that we should ignore when it occurs.