Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, December 17, 2010

In Response to Atoday blogs a few words from the Emergents

Over at Adventist Today there have been a couple of Blog authors who have been attacking the Emergent Church movement. Usually with some pretty poorly reasoned and biased arguments such as the opening lines from Cindy Tutsch most recent article which reads like this:
Retreat centers, seminars, and worship experiences that focus on mystical rituals and ancient practices are often seeking to find "the God within." In the ensuing blur of sacred, secular, and mystical, the God who transcends the universe vanishes and is replaced by pantheism or panentheism. Thus, the Creator God cannot be distinguished or worshipped over creation. As a result, each person's interpretations or ideas are as valuable or perhaps more valuable than the expressed Word of God in Scripture.
Cutting edge generalizations there and as with most of the blog articles at Atoday without any source material being given. Because when you actually deal with the actual words of people it is much harder to smear them with banal generalities.

Now I can agree with all the teachings of the emergent church leaders just as I don't agree with all of any other denominations or all of any independent church leader. I don't expect to agree with everyone but I do expect to be able to present my side of an argument and to have the other side accurately be presented. Sadly such objectivity is becoming harder to find in Adventism...maybe also in general Christianity as well.

So in my effort to confront the perversity of such authors as Herb Douglas and Cindy Tutsch lets take some time an hear what an emergent church leader actually says. His own words even, we don't have to go to someone interpretations of what he said we can all look at it. So here is some material from Brian McLaren found in his article A New Kind of Bible Reading He lists 13 points in regards to Bible reading I will abbreviate them here but it offers a nice demonstration between the thoughtful emergent church and the dogmatic traditionalist as seen in Cindy Tutsch's opening lines.

1. Reading the Bible narratively: This means reading the Bible in context of the nested series of stories it is telling.

2. Reading the Bible conversationally: If a culture is a community of people who
converse (or argue) about the same things across many generations, it makes sense to learn the contours of the main players in the conversation.

3. Reading the Bible missionally: If we believe there is a narrative arc to the Bible, we would agree it has to do with God’s creative project, the missio dei, God’s mission of making a world, healing it when it goes astray, and calling it to ever-greater justice, beauty, goodness and truth.
4. Reading the Bible politically/economically: The God of the Bible loves justice,
especially for people who suffer under the domination of violent and oppressive empire. God’s counter-imperial mission is therefore both personal and public, individual and social.

5. Reading the Bible rhetorically: Often, we focus on what a text says and miss what it is trying to do. For example, a mother might say, “If you hit your brother again, I’m going to lock you in your room for a year!” Grammatically and logically, we might say she is making a conditional promise that would qualify her for a charge of child abuse: I will do this if you do that. But rhetorically, she is using hyperbole to encourage one of her children to stop hurting another child. She wants what is best for both children – for one to be non-violent and for the other to be a non-casualty. What seems at first glance to be a threat of cruelty is, in a rhetorical light, the opposite: an expression of love flowing from a desire for peace.

6. Read the Bible literarily: When people claim to interpret the Bible literally, they often unconsciously mean, “like lawyers who write and interpret constitutions.” Constitutional readings trap readers in the grim and limited hermeneutics of the past. But when readers of the Bible develop sensitivity to the ways poets, protesters, storytellers, activists, priests, and mystics use language, the Bible is liberated from its constitutional captivity to be the wild, inspired, and impassioned collection of literary artifacts that it is.

7. Read the Bible closely: One of my favorite theologians asks how we can distinguish a better interpretation from a less satisfying one. Better interpretations, she says, account for more of the details in the text than their counterparts. In other words, we should prefer an interpretation that makes sense of details – showing why the author or community that produced the text decided each detail was worth including.

[He either forgot 8 or miss numbered in the PDF]

9. Reading the Bible communally: The Bible is not, as many preachers of my childhood affirmed, so easy to understand that any child can interpret it. A grown-up can’t even do it on his or her own. Nor can all the scholars of a generation. Nor can all the scholars of all generations. One dimension, in my experience, of the Bible’s inspiration is its depth, its absolute saturation with meaning, its ability to generate meaningful insight again and again, across generations and cultures, and across each individual’s lifetime as well.   That’s why, with so much meaning to be explored, we need to engage with it communally.

10. Reading the Bible recursively: Readers of the Bible have seen it in widely varying ways across centuries. For example, who today would guess that the Song of Solomon would have been the book in the Bible taken most seriously by certain late-medieval commentators, much the way that Romans has been primary for Lutherans and Calvinists, or Daniel and Revelation for Dispensationalists? Just as readers across the centuries have seen it differently, so will we across our personal and denominational life cycles.

11. Reading the Bible ethically: Even a cursory review of the use of the Bible in relation to slavery, anti-Semitism, the treatment of Indigenous Peoples, or Galileo’s discoveries about the solar system should remind us that interpretation is a moral act. People suffer and die because of bad interpretations, and they thrive and celebrate because of good ones. That’s why I believe that we should test an interpretation by reason and scholarship, using our rational intelligence – as we have traditionally done. But we must go farther, and also test our interpretations by conscience, using our emotional, ethical, and social intelligence - which we have too seldom done, raising questions like these: How might I treat people if I follow this interpretation? Whom might I harm? What unintended social consequences can we predict if this interpretation is widely embraced?

12. Reading the Bible personally: The Bible scholar or reader who is a follower of Christ can never pretend to be apart from the textual community as she reads the text. She must remember that she is a part of that community of faith, accountable to the God to which the text points and by which the text is inspired. It becomes dangerous to the soul to practice reading the Bible outside of this relational, personal context.

13. Reading the Bible mystically: To take the personal dimension a step deeper, the
faithful reader must develop the habit of mystical openness, receptivity not only to
understanding from the text but to enlightenment from the Holy Spirit, not only to
interpretation but to revelation, not only to intelligent engagement with the text but also to personal abduction by its message. As we read about people having dreams and visions, we must remain open to the possibility of having our own imaginations invaded and surprised.

Scary isn't it, the Bible actually calls for interpretation, much different than just letting some traditionalist tell you what it means. Though of course if you let the traditionalist tell you what it means they won't spend their time bad mouthing you. Of course you won't really grow and you can only tell others what the traditionalists believe and you end up digging a deeper hole that you can't get out of, but then getting out of traditionalism is never high on a traditionalist's agenda.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Traditon and the God that kills so Adam isn't naked

With the following I am beginning a new blog which moves away from the limiting tenancies of Adventism and denominationalism. For a while I will post the articles from the new blog here also. I have not decided if I will continue to cover Adventism as I have on this blog. Maybe just one more entitled : "you can't get there from here".

As we will see as this blog progresses there are so many ideas in Christianity that are simply accepted because of tradition or perhaps simply accepted because people never questioned an idea or belief. Much of them are origin ideas that color the Christians thinking in matters that range far from the original idea.

A good example of this is to be found in this comment from my article on Jimmy Swaggart’s Study Bible, the comment is as follows:

“i don't have his bible but i know from the bible that they did animal sacrifices back then.. because of God killed one.. to make there garments. thus starting the animal sacrifices because God covered them with animal so in turn they covered there sins they did and do back then till Jesus came for all.”

If one were to question the above comment they would have to ask did God actually kill an animal or animals just to make garments? Does it not take a good deal of processing before one skins an animal before that skin can be used successfully as clothing? Was this the same God who just spoke the universe into existence and now He has to kill in order to make clothes for humans? Was God really the very first being in recorded Jewish/Christian history to kill another living creature? If this was meant to be the first sacrifice why did the story not emphasize the killing as sacrifice idea rather then just making it about how God provided garments for Adam and Eve? And finally why does not any other part of the Bible reference this incident as emblematic for the sacrificial system?

Those are all very reasonable questions but I bet the writer of the above comment has not thought about even one of them. Reason is not the enemy of faith, in fact reason encourages faith because then there are reasons for the faith. The reverse however is not usually true; faith is often the enemy of reason. Because then they say if I had a reason to believe something why would I need faith. That is the problem that the traditionalist and the Fundamentalist have when they deal with what is written in the Bible. Their faith is in fact their tradition, their belief is not evidence based but tradition based, to question their tradition is to question faith in their minds. That however is not how the entire Bible lays out faith. Faith in God was based upon the multitude of stories that fill the Bible, the evidence of the Messiah, as Jesus came and lived among us. Those stories, the very pages of scripture are evidence to base ones faith upon.

Blind faith is exactly what it says, a faith that is not seen, a faith without evidence, a belief without reason. It cannot be reasonably explained to anyone it is accepted or rejected based upon nothing because it stands on nothing. As Gandhi said: “Faith... Must be enforced by reason...When faith becomes blind it dies.” Unfortunately that is not quite true because it does not die it instead becomes a vice. A more accurate quote by Ray Cove would be “If you don't have faith in your people in the field, you are lost. If that faith is blind faith, then it is not faith at all, just maladministration.” Blind faith is very problematic.

So how do we answer the traditionalist? We must take them back to their source material and ask them to explain their presuppositions. That is why this is a blog rather then simply an article. The subject is simply too vast, it is too vast for one book, with such a vast field of thought to engage in not every possible objection can be covered or every possible explanation given. Thus this is a conversation, a dialog that continues and evolves as we learn more and as we examine more implications. For our friend who believes that God was the first to kill we can answer fairly simply by going to the source. Because the Genesis story never once says that God killed an animal to make the garments for the people.

As the Exposititor’s Bible Commentary says: “The mention of the type of clothing that God made--"garments of skin [`or]," i.e., tunics--is perhaps intended to recall the state of the man and the woman before the Fall: they "were both naked [`arummim], and they felt no shame" (2:25). The author may also be anticipating the notion of sacrifice in the slaying of the animals for the making of the skin garments, though he has given no clues of this meaning in the narrative itself.”

Tunics that is coverings, it does not say animal skins that is the from the early English translations. When you look at the text and then the interlinear of the words here is what we see using the King James with the
Strong’s numbers following the word:

Adam 120, wife 802, Lord 3068, God 430, coats 3801, skins 5785, clothed 3847

When you look at the word skins 5785 we see that it includes man’s skin also:

5785  `owr (ore); from 5783; skin (as naked); by implication, hide, leather:
KJV-- hide, leather, skin.

5783 says:  `uwr (oor); a primitive root; to (be) bare: KJV-- be made naked.

It is not all that hard to see that God made tunics to cover the skin of the people and thus they were clothed. You don’t have to kill anything with such an interpretation. You don’t have to have God kill an animal and then perform a miracle to immediately make the skin usable for sewing or to become supple and move about comfortably in.

Remember “animal” is not in the Hebrew, just skins and skins can have varying meanings. It could be the cover layer of something else, wool is the covering layer of a sheep, various barks or leaves could be considered to be coverings, a snake sheds its skin, so there are other options available.

All we have is the quick aside in the story that God had seen their nakedness and covered them. God cares, He assists them even when they disobeyed He maintained their interests at heart. It is a simply line in a simple story that people want to pour so much meaning into that it eventually loses the initial meaning.

After this we have to consider what the author was trying to say. Was he trying to reference sacrifices and just did not know how to create the implication very well? Was he trying to express his idea of how God could have done things, without the conception of God that the Bible progresses through. Say for example God in his estimation could kill anything and anyone with impunity and it would not matter because God is the ultimate power and as such can do what He wants and the character…the very essence of God…how He acted and how He loves would be of little concern in his story. God cared enough to cloth them it did not matter how he did it.

We have a lot of questions and perhaps not a lot of answers. The people with all the answers like the original commenter seem to have none of the questions. They don’t know how to ascribe original meaning to the text or application to the present but they do have the answers that their traditions maintain. I prefer the method of the late A. Graham Maxwell who would constantly ask “what does this say about God”.

If that is you, stay tuned to this blog as we explore past the traditions.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Resurrection guest article

Resurrection: Origin of Belief by Elaine Nelson

The Resurrection is central to Christianity, for without the Resurrection there would be no Christians. While the Jews at the time of Christ believed in an afterlife, the first evidence is found in the Old Testament with God’s promise to Abraham that he would have descendants as the sand of the sea, and would inherit the land. This was the only immortality held by most ancient peoples, although there is evidence in their tombs that there was belief in an afterlife requiring food, servants, even animals.

The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote of death that came to everyone: “The living know at least that they will die, the dead know nothing; no more reward for them, their memory has passed out of mind. Their loves, their hates, their jealousies, these all have perished, nor will they ever again take part in whatever is done under the sun” (Ecc. 9). Death was final: “while man goes to his everlasting home. And the mourners are already walking to and fro in the street….or before the dust returns to the earth as it once came from it, and the breath of God who gave it" (Ecc. 11).

Christianity was born out of Judaism, but as the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote: “There is nothing new under the sun” and all religions have gradually developed their beliefs, often building on earlier ones. Judaism originated in the Sumerian and Assyrian cultures where Ur is located, the place where Abraham lived and was called by God. At that time there was still idol worship and practices differing greatly from later established Judaism.

While Abraham is revered by the Jews, it is Moses whose name is a synonym for the Law given to them at Sinai. This is considered to be the birth of the Jews as a distinct ethnic and religious group. God gave them very specific rules by which to live and practice their religion. Even then, there was only the promise of a long life and posterity as their blessing. Moses died without knowing of a resurrection and it was long afterward before the idea gradually was introduced into their religious beliefs.
Job is often cited as believing in a resurrection with his famous words: “I know that my redeemer lives.” (Some translations have “avenger). But the correct translation should be “vindicator” a Hebrew word which refers to the next of kin who has the duty of avenging the blood of a brother or protecting his title to property after his death. The role of the vindicator is to insure justice for his own kinfolk, bound to him by ties of blood. “Yet from my flesh shall I see God” is an ambiguous phrase which can mean either :“away from my flesh” (after death) or “from the vantage point of my flesh” (in this present life). The text is so corrupt that we can only conjecture what the original may have been. There is nothing in the book of Job indicating who is the author; the time when he lived; nor that he was a Hebrew. Because “Yahweh,” the divine name used by the Hebrews, and the other common designations for God: Elohim, El, and Eloah and Shaddai are not used; Bible scholars are unable to ascertain these answers. The Jewish Talmud has long observed the tradition that Moses was the author but it is impossible to confirm that. The one identifying feature is that the name “Satan” was never used in Jewish history until the late 6th or 5th century B.C., which would indicate that no earlier date could be authenticated.
During the Diaspora in Babylon and later Persia, the Jews came under the influence of those cultures. Those beliefs included the concepts of both good and evil; Heaven and Hell, and a Satan that were not in the Jewish religion. Up to that time, the Hebrews had attributed all that happened to their God, and there was no personal hereafter, it was only the nation that would be blessed. In their sacred scriptures, Heaven was the exclusive abode of Yahweh, God of the Israelites and they believed that after bodily death their abode was in Sheol, the place of the dead (Gen: 37:35, Job 7:9, Ps. 49:15), Prov. 15:11: Is. 38:10, Ezek 32:27, Hab. 2:5). This became a common belief when Jesus told the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31), where the poor man died and was in Hades, another synonym for Sheol. In the Hebrew Scripture there is no direct reference to a postmortem Hell--or to a Heaven. These terms enter Jewish lore after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C., and the subsequent Exile of Jews to Babylon when they fell under the influence of Persian dualism and Zoroastrianism--which made a profound impression on Jews, and later Christians, and Muslims.

Daniel is apparently the last writer of the Old Testament who first introduced a hope for the afterlife. As an apocalyptic, he wrote of a coming kingdom with the “ancient of days appearing on a throne to pass judgment. At the end, “those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake to everlasting life, the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12).

There is no consensus on the date of Daniel. Actually, the professors of Old Testament History at Wheaton College (Walton) and Harvard University (Kugel); professors of the Bible as Literature (Gabel, et al); and the Interpreter’s Bible Commentary all place the date no earlier than the second century B.C. the SDA Bible Dictionary gives a much earlier date, ca. 6th or 5th century B.C., although in its comments there is acknowledgment that a majority of Christian scholars attribute it to an anonymous author of the time of the Maccabean revolt during the middle of the 2nd century B.C. and agree that scholars recognize that the historical sections of the book contain “numerous historical inaccuracies, anachronisms, and misconceptions,” and that some of the prophetic specifications seem to fit Antiochus (and many commentators who accept the book as genuine prediction by Daniel will allow at least some application to Antiochus in ch. 8 or 11) does not prove that a later fulfillment might not fit the requirements even better and more completely.“

Thus Adventists are  hold a minority view in their adoption of Daniel as being written in the 5th or 6th century B.C., perhaps because of major doctrines that are based on the acceptance of Daniel as being the last apocalyptic prophet in the OT. The interpretation of Daniel 9 and the specific date for the cleansing of the sanctuary is accepted by most scholars as the history of the time of the Maccabean Revolt and the description of Antiochus Epiphanes that polluted the altar. The unique Adventist interpretation totally discounts the Jewish Revolt in the second century and moves it almost a millennia later. This particular interpretation resulted in what Adventists have described as the “Great Disappointment” of 1844: that being the year predicted when God would come to claim His people. Had they been students of history, as well as fluent in Greek and Hebrew, and had not depended solely on the KJV with its often faulty translations. those mistakes would not have been made.

It is Paul, the earliest NT writer, who first wrote of Christ’s resurrection in what is considered to be his first epistle: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him (1 Thes. 4:14). More than a generation later, the Gospel writers told the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By the time they were written (not earlier than 60 A.D.), there were already many Christians throughout the Middle East and the Resurrection became the central theme of Christianity, giving hope to all.

This most important of all Christian doctrines: life after death and the hope of eternal life--was only a gradual dawning of the earliest inklings in late Judaism that found its fulfillment in the Resurrection of the Messiah; the beginning of Christianity; and the culmination of all men’s hopes and dreams of the possibility of life after death. All this, because of the belief in what happened 2,000 years ago in a small and remote region of the vast Roman Empire and that revolutionized the world since that time.

Sources: Kugel, James L. How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now.
Gabel, John B., et al. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction.
Panati, Charles. Sacred Origins of Profound Things.
The SDA Bible Commentary
The Interpreters One Volume Bible Commentary
Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament.
It was only recently during a study of the book of Ecclesiastes that I realized that perhaps the book was written to not only reveal the wisdom the writer had acquired with regard to the world but also that the book may have also provided fodder for subsequent ideas to develop. That it might have been the necessary step in the progressive understanding which God used to reveal the concept of a resurrection. The book asks the question where does the spirit of man go? His answer is that it returns to God.

(Eccl 3:21 NIV)  Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"

(Eccl 12:6-7 NIV)  Remember him--before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Once the idea that the spirit returns to God the possibility of God doing whatever He wants with the spirit becomes possible. The spirit is in the control of God and if God wanted to reanimate a spirit He could and it would make sense for Him to do that with the ones He loves. At least looking back from our perspective as we try and determine the ways in which a religion grew in understanding and principles. We may well never know exactly how some of these doctrines developed but we must realize that they did develop they had a growth in small increments. That after all is the way humans work, we learn by a step by step process where we apply information in a way that builds upon previous information. That is what the Bible does and we misread it when we pretend that there was some kind of ultimate truth presented from the beginning and people simply forgot that truth. Because in fact that is not what the Bible does and that is not what the Bible ever taught. It is an assumption based upon poor logic and poor assumptions.  ---RC

Friday, November 19, 2010

Glenn Beck and Daniel Lapin unique view of the tower of Babel

I have a friend who is always seems to be surprised  by my critiques of sermons or articles I hear or read. When he hears the same sermon he only appears to focus upon the things that he agrees with and discounts and maybe even forgets anything that could be troubling to a discriminating listener. I think the reason he does this is because if the sermon ends with a point that he agrees with…a point that he agrees is a good point or has had some good points somewhere in the sermon it was a good sermon. How the person got to his good point if it involves logical fallacies or simply completely wrong facts or even absurd theology, well those things don’t matter if the overall point is regarded as good. I am not like that. If the point is arrived at through false information I look at the point as being unjustified. I may agree with the overall point but if the case is not made the speaker or article has wasted my time. If you have a good point; make it with a good case and factual information rather than made up information.

Recently Glenn Beck produced a great example of this kind of false information to a good point. As I have said before I like Glenn Beck and agree with him on a lot of things but when it comes to the Bible and theology he is an absolute amateur. I have found that to be true of the several Latter Day Saints I have talked with personally. Interestingly the Latter Day Saints did better on general religion knowledge in a recent survey.

“On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.”  

Of course general religious knowledge is much different from actually understanding the Bible or its stories. In this case Glenn Beck brings in Rabbi Daniel Lapin to tell us of his unique view of the story of the tower of Babel. You can read the transcript of the Glenn Beck Television show here and I will quote several sections below as I compare their version to the Bible and standard Biblical reference works.

You all know the story of the tower of Babel…well no you don’t most Adventists think that the tower was built in the hope to save the people in case God sent another flood. Of course that is not in the story and the story is really quite short so I will post the relevant verses here.

Genesis 11:1-9
1          Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.
2          As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3          They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.
4          Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."
5          But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building.
6          The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.
7          Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."
8          So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.
9          That is why it was called Babel-- because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (NIV)

From the Transcript:

[Beck says] Let's just look at the legend itself. I don't believe it's a legend. But what is it teaching? A great king says let's build a tower. What's wrong with that?
LAPIN: Right. Well, a few things are wrong with it.
First of all, he didn't actually say — according to Chapter 11 in Genesis and these nine verses really reveal this dark secret that lies at the deepest recesses of the human soul, which is our susceptibility to become slaves. It's there. It's ready. It can pounce at any moment and transform us into serfs.
And sure enough, these nine verses in Chapter 11 in Genesis, as you say, the King Nimrod doesn't say let's build a tower. He starts off with this extraordinary pronouncement: Hey, everybody, let's build bricks. And then he says let's build a city and a tower.
Now, ordinarily people would say, hey, let's build a city and a tower. A shining city on the hill, said John Winthrop. And people will say, how are you going to do it? Well, we'll make bricks. No, here, the key thing was let's make bricks.
And what's more he's not identified necessarily or early as a king. He's first identified as a hunter back in Chapter 10, verses 8-10.
Now, here's the key thing about that, Glenn — everybody was hunting.
BECK: Right.
LAPIN: Today, it's just the good guys hunt. But back then, everybody hunted. That's how you ate.
Why on earth would this one man, Nimrod, be identified as a hunter? Because he hunted, not animals, he hunted people. Not to kill them, he hunted people to seduce them into becoming his subjects and to allow him to become their master.
BECK: OK. So, he said — Nimrod, a great hunter of man, he says, let's build bricks. And then let's build a city. Why did he say let's build bricks first? What do the bricks represent?
Since Lapin begins with Nimrod and honestly the Bible says very little about Nimrod here is what it does say:
Genesis 10:8-12 Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, "Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD." The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calneh, in Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. (NIV)

1 Chronicles 1:10 Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on earth. (NIV)

Micah 5:6 They will rule the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with drawn sword. He will deliver us from the Assyrian when he invades our land and marches into our borders. (NIV)
That is it; the Bible says nothing else about Nimrod. Granted there are all kinds of legends about Nimrod after all The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop has quite a bit to say about Nimrod and the dastardly influences of Nimrod upon Christianity. But then Hislop’s book is terribly inaccurate, even the mythology he uses is inaccurate. Of course most of the books that Hislop quotes are relics of history so who knows if he is quoting them accurately or not. But comparing his material with more scholarly works dealing with ancient myths the differences are profound. But that is just a side note to our story. For our purposes let’s just acknowledge that the Bible says nothing about Nimrod being a hunter of men whether as big game or politics. He is never said to even be a king in the Bible but does found a number of cities. It is often assumed that Babel is the beginning of Babylon, as the Expositor’s Bible Commentary points out:
“One ends in Babylon, the other in the Promised Land. It is hard not to see this positioning of the account of Babylon as deliberate on the part of the author of Genesis, especially in light of the continuous interplay between the name Shem (shem) and the quest for making "a name" (shem) both in the account of the building of Babylon (11:4) and in the account of God's election of Abraham (12:2).”
The writers of Genesis rather liked to imply somewhat less than complementary beginnings for the nations that surrounded the Hebrews. Aside from the confusion of the failed tower of Babel, a couple of other nations were attributed to Lot getting drunk and having sex with his daughters.
Genesis 19:36-38  So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father.
The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today. (NIV)
For now we can just note the tendency, what it means…if it was true or an attempt to denigrate is up in the air depending upon your method of interpretation.

The most obvious answer to the Genesis statement about let’s build bricks is to introduce the idea of city construction. After all there is only so much you can do with building by placing stones upon stones. If you quarry and cut stones you can do much higher but that does not appear to be the intention in Genesis 11 here it explains the establishment of a city and of course the tower which many scholars think is a ziggurat. But Rabbi Lapin has other ideas.
LAPIN: Two differences between bricks and stones.
Number one, every brick is the same as every other brick. That's the whole point. They're totally interchangeable. If you want to turn people to bricks, you are able to turn them into interchangeable social economic cogs that can be just plugged around society.

The second thing about bricks is they're made by man. Stones are each unique. When we have a tradition in Western civilization that man is created the image of God, what it really means is that just as God is unique, so is every single human being is unique, just like a stone.

Don't allow other people to turn you into bricks, retain the personality of a person for which you are created.
That is quite a leap from the building of a city to stones or bricks representing people. It does not follow the story at all if one interprets the bricks as people. After all in the story as they build all having a common language what happens? God says look at these people nothing can stop them they can do anything. In the story God comes down to stop the people from being so successful. In the story as it compares the two lines we can see that it is done so that the Hebrews can be established through Abraham. God is setting back the people at the city of Babel apparently so that the line which introduces Abraham will be able to compete.
BECK: OK. So, Nimrod is a guy and he says, we want — I'm going to build — I'm going to build bricks. Was it — was it a real religious society? Because this is right after the Great Flood. Everybody is wiped off and everybody is scattered their own way. They all have their own language, right?
LAPIN: Many different languages.
BECK: And they're all — and they're all worshipping God.
BECK: And Nimrod comes and there's something about — you know, he had a — he had a new idea, right? Tell me about the new idea.
Here Beck and Lapin disagree with the very story they are telling. Saying they all had their own language when the Genesis story said everyone had the same language. It never says they were all worshiping the same God. As the story says of the children of Noah, they spread through the world.
Genesis10:32  These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood. (KJV)
Who they were worshiping is not known, but it is likely that if God was upset about Babel and if the tower was actually a ziggurat it is likely that there are religious implications involved. As that was the key issue that separated the monotheists of the Hebrew religion from those around them.
BECK: OK. And the mortar that holds those bricks together.
LAPIN: Yes now, in Hebrew, mortar is very related — same word really as the word materialism. And you can actually even hear the similarity transfer into the English language. Mortar — M, T, R are the key consonants. Material — matter — same word essentially.
Now we don’t have to read Hebrew to know what word is used and how it is translated. We have numerous scholars who have written numerous reference works on these words and the word for mortar is not materialism. As Strong’s says:
2563  chomer (kho'mer); from 2560; properly, a bubbling up, i.e. of water, a wave; of earth, mire or clay (cement); also a heap; hence, a chomer or dry measure:
KJV-- clay, heap, homer, mire, motion.

Water and clay, slime that sets, cements things together. The word makes complete sense as mortar because that is the context of the story. It makes no sense as materialism. Even when you build with stones you use mortar. It is frankly a bizarre bit of reasoning if it can even be called reasoning. Ultimately with this style of interpretation we see Beck say:
This may seem like a new story to you, but a new world order is not. The very fist time that this was tried — let me bring in Rabbi Lapin. He is the president of the American Alliance for Jews and Christians.

Rabbi, the very first time socialism or communism or new world order was tried was the Tower of Babel, right?
BECK: He said, Let's make people all like bricks, all the same, not like stone. The mortar that will hold those bricks together is materialism.
BECK: And we'll have this utopia. We'll build a tower that will reach the heavens.
LAPIN: Yes. You will be able to fulfill your highest aspirations in that fashion.
BECK: We're all bricks.
LAPIN: And I urge people to read the story and to listen to us, not as if we're describing some long forgotten historic event, but we're describing what is really happening today and will happen in our grandchildren's generation somewhere in the world again.
It will happen over and over again.
This conclusion… this main point I agree with but it is not really found in the story of the tower of Babel and that makes the case not made at all and it frankly makes their attempt look foolish…at least to anyone who takes the time to actually read the story and check the word usage. Not that you can’t draw lessons from the story but they are not as far fetched as Beck and Lapin submit. As the Expositor’s Commentary says:
“Although by itself the story of the building of Babylon makes good enough sense as the story of man's plans thwarted in God's judgment, its real significance lies in its ties to the themes developed in the surrounding narratives. The focus of the author since the beginning chapters of the Book of Genesis has been both on God's plan to bless mankind by providing him with that which is "good" and on man's failure to trust God and enjoy the "good" God had provided. The characteristic mark of man's failure up to this point in the book has been his attempt to grasp the "good" on his own rather than trust God to provide it for him. The author has centered his description of God's blessing on the gift of the land: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth" (1:28). The good land is the place of blessing. To leave this land and to seek another is to forfeit the blessing of God's good provisions. It is to live "east of Eden."





Saturday, November 13, 2010

More on youth leaving the church

Both here and on Adventist Today there was discussion on the claim that Adventists youth do not leave over doctrines. A statement that is clearly false on it’s face since of course there are Adventist youth who leave over doctrines and it only takes one to make the statement false. But numerous Adventists still held to that idea regardless of the common sense answer that of course there are Adventist youth and adults who leave over doctrines. So I thought I would supply some information from two books that we can read most of at Google books.

“Since I believe that my estimate of 50 percent inactivity for those we are not able to contact is conservative indeed, it seems reasonable to believe that at least 40 percent to 50 percent of Seventh-day Adventist teenagers in North America are essentially leaving the church by their middle 20s. This figure may well be higher. Some will return eventually (perhaps a fifth of the dropouts), but, of course, more may also leave. This study does not provide data to suggest what may happen beyond the mid-20s.”

Page 38-39 dealing with those who remained in the church since it is difficult to gauge those who left the church but the conclusion is suspect:

Young Adults and the Fundamental Beliefs
“We did not ask about all 27 fundamental beliefs, but several that define key elements of Adventism. While correct belief is not all there is to being an Adventist, it is certainly core. Without our distinctive message, there is little reason to remain in our particular faith community, especially if friendship ties are broken.”

From the table on page 39
                                    Agree               Disagree
The Sabbath…………91%.................4%
The Second Coming
Of Jesus……………..92%..................3%
The state of the dead...88%..................3%
The heavenly sanctuary and
The 2300 days……….61%.................7%
Ellen White is a
True prophet…………73%.................9%
The Adventist Church is the
True church…………...69%................14%

I am guessing that it is here in this analysis of the survivors in the Adventist church that the myth of youth not leaving because of doctrines comes from. This being the source for the sentence quote that publications like the Adventist Review can use.

“…The feeling here seems to be not so much a rejection of Adventism but that claims for “true church” smack of pride and exclusiveness. Much of the drop in agreement on other items has been because of uncertainty rather than disbelief, especially on the heavenly sanctuary item, where 31 percent were uncertain. Disbelief in Adventist doctrine does not appear to be a major cause of dropout for youth and young adults.”

It is that last sentence that has taken on a life of its own. The conclusion taken from the comments on a survey of Adventists still in the church; that being that half of the group that is still in the church and communicating with the surveys. But not a survey of those who have actually left the church…the ones we are trying to understand.

Continuing on page 41 on the 11,000 Adventists in the Valuegenesis study:
“…With this younger group, once again temperance and Sabbath issues were highly supported; wine, unclean meats, and sexual behavior were moderately supported; and the “bottom four” were weakly supported. In that study the acceptance rate was jewelry, 39 percent; rock music, 26 percent; dancing, 23 percent; and movies, 19 percent. All four had more in disagreement than in agreement, with nearly two thirds disagreeing on watching movies. It seems almost certain that these four standards will not hold in the near future of the church.”

When reading this we have to wonder what the author sees as a difference between a standard and a doctrine? Unfortunately many people don’t realize they are the same thing. That is a teaching of the church as its standards and beliefs.

On page 42 dealing with the importance of religious faith:
“… This may indicate that contemporary young adults tend to view religious faith apart from institutional commitment and, indeed, the comments introduced in another chapter tend to bear this out. It may also suggest that inactive young adults may be open to fresh approaches to religious faith.”

Adventist doctrine has taught the institutional view of religious faith, but that is less important to the young adults, again a disagreement with doctrine.

“A simple factor analysis of the data revealed five main factors [Valuegenesis results from Sough Pacific Division]:
control: not allowed to think for self, problem with the doctrines, and emphasis on nonessentials
            lack of caring
            lack of meaning and purpose
            personal integrity
            control; discipline, family problems, too restrictive”

There is simply no around the idea that doctrinal issues are related to the loss of youth and adults in the Adventist church. Let’s start being realistic for a change.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Is the Bible the Word of God Part 3

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. "'Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. (Exodus 31:12-14 NIV) 

How do you interpret the above verse? Is it inerrant, God said it, I believe it word of God? How you answer that question will decide your view of the Bible. Most however won’t be asked that question. They will refuse to even allow themselves to ask that question even as they read the similar verses which are also spoken as the instructions of the Lord. For example we could ask the same question of the following verse:

(Exodus 20: 22)  Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites this: 'You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: (Exo 21:17 NIV)  "Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

Granted it is pretty nasty to curse your parents but is it deserving of being put to death? I would think most people would think of that as overkill, but what do you do when that is a command from God? Did God ever take back these commands? If He did, which I can’t find anywhere, what would that say about God? Most will say that those are just commands to the theocracy of ancient Israel they don’t apply today. Why don’t they apply today, does not the word of God stand forever, is not God the same today and yesterday? With this introduction; with it’s thought questions in mind let us look at what a couple of prominent Christian organizations say about the inspiration of the Bible. I will use two websites. The first is a study by a noted conservative Bible teacher John MacArthur Our God-Breathed Bible and the other a popular apologetics website: CARM Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

The CARM site article would be designed two counter my first to articles Is the Bible the Word of God part 1 and Is the Bible the Word of God part 2. The title in fact goes against my conclusion “The Bible isn't the word of God. It contains the word of God”, well almost as I would say it contains some of the words of God. Here is how the article begins:

One of the objections raised by critics of biblical inspiration is that the Bible is not the word of God but that it contains the word of God.  Is this accurate?  No.  First of all, this doesn't fit what the Bible says about itself.  The collection of 66 books that the Christian Church recognized as being inspired speaks as the very words of God in many places.
  1. "Thus says the Lord" occurs over 400 times in the Old Testament.
  2. "God said" occurs 42 times in the Old Testament and four times in the New Testament.
  3. "God spoke" occurs 9 times in the Old Testament and 3 times in the New Testament.
  4. "The Spirit of the Lord spoke" through people…
We should first correct the ever present condescension that such articles use to try and persuade people who don’t read carefully. The objections are not those of critics of biblical inspiration, they are critics of the fundamentalist form of biblical interpretation. You notice by the title it is not addressed to an atheist critic because they would not hold to the part about containing words of God. So the article begins by assuming their view to be correct and it is based upon some faulty thinking because of course the Bible does not say of itself that it is the word of God, not any particular book or the later collection of books we call the Bible makes the claim. Even the claim to the number of times the Lord is said to have said something does not make the whole Bible the word of God. But if one assumes that it does and that the whole Bible is the word of God where does that leave you when you are answering the introductory questions in this article? Much of the CARM article then goes into the claims that were already dealt with in my previous articles so we will move on to John MacArthur.
In this lesson we examine the subject of inspiration and we begin by considering the meaning of the term. The English word  Inspire is derived from the Latin  inspirare, which means "to breathe in." Second Timothy 3:16 says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God" or, as it is translated in the New American Standard Version, "All scripture is inspired by God." The term,  inspiration, does not reflect the exact sense of  theopneustos, which is the term in our passage.  Theopneustos means "God-breathed"; the Scriptures are breathed out by God, not breathed in. So we may say that the Bible is the product of God breathing out His words so what He wanted written got written. In other words, the Scriptures are the product of divine breath assuring us that the sixty-six books of the Bible are the very words of God. 
This is the most popular verse used to claim the inspiration of the Bible thus the Bible is the word of God. It is a good verse dealing with inspiration but does not claim the Bible as the word of God. In fact when we read the whole text in its context we see that the inspiration is very broad.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17 NIV)
The scriptures are inspired to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus, they are useful for teaching, rebuking and training in doing right so we can do good work. That says nothing about the Scriptures being inerrant or literally true in all statements or historically or scientifically accurate. No, it says God gave the scriptures to make us wise for salvation. God is involved in the process of helping us understand salvation; to help us understand ourselves and God better so that we could come to faith in Jesus Christ. Stories which are what most of the Bible is; are wonderful techniques for instructing with ideas of how to behave and how not to behave. What causes trouble and what gets a person out of trouble. Does a story have to be literal or historical to teach a lesson? Well of course not we know that plainly from our own experience with the books we read. Myths like George Washington chopping down a cherry tree can bring lessons out of their fiction, as we have all heard the tale and can quote fictional George Washington, “I cannot tell a lie”. Stand up and take responsibility, a powerful concept from a simple fictional story.
MacArthur later in his article states:
So the men who wrote the Old and New Testaments were commissioned by God to write His words. Paul's words to Felix reinforce the fact that we can trust the Bible as the Word of God: "This I confess unto thee that, after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets" (Acts 24:14).

2. It includes all Scripture 
The Greek term  pasa can be translated "all" or "every." However, when Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16 the New Testament canon was not closed. Therefore some believe "all" can refer only to the Old Testament. But that interpretation places a time restriction upon "all" that is not warranted by the text. All Scripture is inspired of God whether it precedes or follows Paul's second epistle to Timothy. 

Jesus said "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10.35). That includes Scripture that had been written, was being written, and would be written.
I really like the juxtaposition of this part of his article. MacArthur concludes one section with the quote about Paul believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets. But does he really? Think about what Paul says about circumcision.  He says several places that circumcision is nothing (1 Cor 7:19, Gal 5:6, Gal 6:15) and he even warns of those who cling to it:
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh-- (Philippians 3:1-3 NIV) 
What Paul believed about the law and the prophets was much different then his ancestors believed because Paul did not hold to literal verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, he reinterpreted them in the light of his relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul writes:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)-- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Eph 2:11-12 NIV) 
In the Bible we have to be very careful with the word “all” or “every”. Today educated people know that when people say “all” or “every”; they are making a generalization. Because if the use of “all” or “every” is meant to be taken literally the statement can be disproved with merely one example that contradicts the statement. The Bible actually has numerous contradictions of facts. The believer in inerrancy gets by these contradictions by saying that in the original manuscripts the errors don’t occur. This is however a faulty use of logic because the originals no longer exist so it is merely a gratuitous assertion.  
Paul tends to use “all” in a the generalization way for example:
At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. (2 Tim 4:16-17 NIV) 
Or consider Paul saying:
…if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col 1:23 NIV) 

The gospel had not then and  probably even now been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, it is an exaggeration, an exaggeration in the Bible. As the following article says of this verse:
(2) It must be recognized as well that the passages cited above are hyperbolic in nature. The word “hyperbole” derives from a combination of two Greek terms that signify “to throw above.” A hyperbole, then, is a figure of speech that contains an obvious exaggeration (with no intention of duplicity) for the purpose of emphasizing a truth. The Bible abounds with this figure, which, in most contexts, is perfectly obvious and draws no criticism.

For example, it was said of the pagan peoples east of the Jordan that “their camels were without number, as the sand which is upon the sea shore for multitude” (Judges 6:5; cf. 1 Samuel 13:5). That’s a lot of camels for a few Bedouin tribes!

Jehovah promised Abraham that his “seed,” i.e., offspring, would be “as the dust of the earth,” i.e., numberless (Genesis 13:16; cf. Galatians 3:29). But the earth could not possibly contain as many people as there are specks of dust upon the planet. This is obvious hyperbole.
As with all information the Bible calls for interpretation and the presuppositions with which we come to the Bible will either make us see it for what it is and derive the important principles or they will call us to make unrealistic claims about how the book came to be and how it must be interpreted. As a final example this is what MacArthur says about the exegesis of the Bible:
Many seminaries and churches teach that God gave thoughts and not specific words to the writers of Scripture. This would mean, for example, that when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13 the only thing God gave to Paul was some general thoughts on the subject of love. The words of the text we owe to Paul. This view is sometimes referred to as thought or concept inspiration.

Now this position denies not only verbal inspiration, but inerrancy as well. Of course that makes exegesis futile. There would be no reason to do a word-by-word exposition if you're convinced that the words are merely human and not divine.
This is, as with most of the fundamentalist approaches to the Bible foolish. First the Bible was written in one of three languages and when translated the words used translate into various English words and even in the original language one word could have multiple meanings. But this is what verbal inspiration beliefs lead to and the confusion multiplies by all of these various assertions which are incorporated into the Bible to become the presuppositions fundamentalists and traditionalist use to interpret the Bible. There comes a time when we need to realize that we have to be reasonable in our approach to the Bible and see that it does exaggerate and make claims that cannot possibly be true. That even the perception of God changes through it pages as people learn more and knowledge increases. We can’t go back to the primitive concepts and literalism that was once used to understand the Bible. And yes it calls for human intelligence and reason and understanding just as everything else in life calls for us to think. That is not a bad thing however, and let’s be glad that even though in the stories God called for rather nasty things we don’t have to carry them out as if they are the enduring word of God that never changes because really otherwise we would all have to end up killing each other just over our breaking the Sabbath. The subject of keeping the Sabbath reminds us of the old Jewish prophecy which as quoted in this article
"Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rav: If all Israel had observed the very first Sabbath, no nation or tongue would have ever ruled over her…Rabbi Yohanan said, following Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai: Were Israel to observe two Sabbaths punctiliously, they would be redeemed immediately [BT Shabbat 118b]."
Is the Bible Really the Word of God Part 1

Is the Bible Really the Word of God Part 2

Sunday, October 31, 2010

More on Newman's Adventist Today Article

After my last post I have been having a bit of an E-mail correspondence with Adventist Today Editor J. David Newman. In that dialog I perceived that the basic problem in our presuppositions is that the literalist creation side has taken upon themselves a very fundamentalist view of scriptures. Fundamentalists have dominated much of Christianity in 20th century as it was the Christian response to modernist reason, that reason gave us the disciplines of Higher and Lower Biblical Criticism. The Fundamentalist could not argue with the reality of Lower Criticism but they found that the more subjective ideas of higher criticism was to be decried. In Higher criticism we could see an advance in understanding through the timeline of the Bible. That the writers could actually insert their own ideas into the Bible books, that we don’t have to accept the idea that just because a text says that God said or did something it may not in fact be God who did or said what the author claims. Did God really kill thousands of Israelites for David’s transgression, did God really want to destroy Israel and Moses showed God the faulty logic of God’s intention, or that God really was sorry for creating mankind as the flood story says. The Traditionalist side of Adventism on the other hand does not seem to comprehend this idea very well. For them tradition decides their interpretations. For example the Jews have a tradition that the first five books of the Bible are the law of Moses and therefore written by Moses. Apparently even the material that describes the death of Moses, which rather makes the assumption false on it’s face. But with the Jewish tradition the Adventists prophet maintained the same tradition that Moses wrote Genesis and the other 4 books. If Moses the greatest of the prophets wrote the Genesis story it must be from God, though of course the book itself makes no such claims.

On top of this assumption Adventist have added many other traditions, mostly they can be laid at the feet of Ellen White but in most cases they were not ultimately developed by Ellen White but they became incorporated into Adventism through Ellen White. It is one of these that we find mentioned by David Newman toward the end of his Adventist Today article. He writes:

But there is an even bigger curse to come. Genesis tells us that God did not create the world to experience rain. We read in Genesis: “When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up; the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground” (Gen. 2:4-6, NIV).

It was not until the time of the great Flood in Noah’s day that rain began to fall. “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights” (Gen. 7:11-12, NIV).

Of course the Gen 2 text is not about rain falling after the creation it is the beginning statement of the alternate creation account of Genesis 2 describing the earth before anything was created. The flood account says nothing about there never being rain before but by placing the two verses together the Adventist tradition becomes there had been no rain before the flood. The creationists then will take this insertion of meaning into the Bible as one of their tools to say that physical laws have changed.

Interestingly enough in my conversation with Newman while he has no problem inserting such meaning as no rain before the flood he does not really want to deal with the idea that the Genesis story includes the law of entropy and the law of conservation. The story of creation talks about eating food, after all that is the meaning of the beasts of the field; the animals that forage on grass.

Genesis 1:30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food." And it was so.

Food implies entropy and conservation of energy. So you can’t simply pretend it is not there. It is there and an animal like an Elephant would eat a lot of it not to mention what a dinosaur would eat or a whale, and these big mammals are kind of indiscriminant eaters. They aren’t going to be checking for crickets in their clump of grass. Did they just not eat until after Adam sinned even though in the creation account food is mentioned in both Genesis 1 and 2? If an animal was to eat but was not losing energy in someway what would be the purpose of food? It tastes good yes but if the idea was just to give a pleasurable sensation why not just use smell? Were they just to eat until they reached maturity and then stop their lifelong habits? With the ploy to changed natural laws the creationist asserts the change but has no evidence to support the claim and when ideas counter to their claims are made they can simply say the laws were different so it does not matter that they ate the law of conservation did not exist or entropy, a type of magical thinking which always solves any problem because they believe in a circular fashion and their belief is their evidence to support their belief.

In his article Newman writes:

I believe this law [law of entropy]—along with other laws that lead to decay and death—did not exist before sin entered the universe. Let’s take a look at Scripture to see when God changed fundamental laws under which our Earth operates.

He then quotes the curse that God declared on the ground, thorns and thistles. But as is the way of the traditionalists who think they are literalists Newman then adds material that is not found in the Bible, he writes:

All animals were vegetarians, but now some could prey on other animals for their food. This meant a change in how they processed food. Microevolution comes into play. And Satan can use all of his skills to help evil develop.

All that from thorns and thistles, vegetarians yes we could determine that from the story but there is nothing there about predation, nothing there about Satan using his skills, of course the idea of Satan is of much later development. But what of microevolution why did it suddenly appear or was it as the theistic evolutionists believe always a part of the natural laws of God, no change needed?

It always amazes me when listening to the creationists who pretend that they are accepting the literal story of creation and when you really look at it they are inserting all kinds of details to make the story work…the details which the story does not have at all yet for some reason they still think their view is the literal historical view and that anyone who interprets the story differently is not taking the Bible literally enough.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Response to objections of death before Adam

In the Fall 2010 issue of Adventist Today J. David Newman presents his article entitled: Death Before Sin – No

I thought I would take some time to counter a few of his statements.
So Christian evolutionists say that death is natural and normal, while the Bible says that death is an enemy. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. ...The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:22, 26, NIV). And it will not exist in the new earth (Rev. 21:4).
This is one of those techniques which frankly we see all the time right now during the political ad season. Blanket statements which seem so certain but are in fact really misinformation. Take the above as the example. The Bible says that death is an enemy. Does that mean that all death is the enemy? After all when I eat my apple or pull up my carrot and eat them I am in fact killing the fruit or for my carrot the whole plant. The Genesis story talks about eating of the fruit of the Garden that means the cessation of life for at least the fruit, or perhaps the nuts which after all are the seeds which if their life cycle was to complete they would grow into a new tree. So actually even in the Genesis story death is not treated as an enemy. At least not until it concerns the human being. And after all that is really what the text quoted above is about. It is not about plants, animals or bacteria it is death that is the enemy of Human beings, those individuals who are capable of understanding the consequences and lost opportunities that make death our enemy.  Death as the enemy of man is the concern and that is the death that will not exist in the New Earth. That statement in Revelation is not really meant to indicate that all things we know will cease to exist and all laws of the universe will change. Perhaps they will but that is not very likely the intent of a statement that reads:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev 21:3-4 NIV)
Newman then quotes the texts from Paul in Romans chapter 5 about how through one man sin entered the world, strangely missing the literary device Paul uses contrasting Jesus as the one man that brings life with Adam the one man who brought death because everybody in the family of Adam dies, which includes Jesus who died but stopped the death cycle by promising resurrection. It is a literary device because of course death still reigns everybody still dies, the hope of resurrection is still future for all the rest of us. So we see that being overly literal when we read these texts is not the wisest course.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned--(Rom 5:12 NIV)
Newman uses the above text but is Paul consistent here or is he using it as part of his literary comparison? According to most conservative scholars Paul also wrote 1 Timothy and it says:
And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (1 Tim 2:14 NIV)
We must therefore ask if Paul wrote both of these verses which is true? My answer is that Paul uses what will fit the comparison or point he is trying to make. He is not bound by the kind of literalistic view that subsequent traditional Christians have placed upon his writings. To Paul we all sin and we all die, the cure for one is the cure for the other. It is simple and pragmatic. We can’t really argue about it we don’t see anyone who does not sin nor do we see anyone that does not die; salvation, the healing; heals both. Death cured by resurrection and sin cured by reconciliation but you have to alive to be reconciled. The cure to sin is meaningless if you are still dead. Resurrection to a life filled with sin and misery is not a terribly appealing idea either; just doing it all over again and again, the two are intimately connected in Paul’s usage.

Newman asks:
If death were taking place in the world before Adam, and if Adam was simply the end result of the evolution of human beings, why would death be an enemy? And why would it need to be destroyed?
In the above I answered Newman’s second question as to why death would need to be destroyed. What about the previous question? This is a purely philosophical question which could probably be answered many ways depending upon ones presuppositions. The most common would be that death that was leading to the human being capable of individual understanding and reasoning to things beyond himself was not the enemy just as the death of my apple or carrot are not my enemy. Death only becomes the enemy when we understand the larger issues involved to thinking individuals. After all is the hawk grabbing up a mouse evil because the hawk lives upon the flesh of the mouse. Is the hawk sinning because Adam sinned? Or if we looked at it from a six day creationist viewpoint who made the hawk behave the way it behaves, who created it with the talons and beak made to rip flesh? Some I am sure would say that Satan did it. That being a popular excuse when all explanations fail but at least we have to admit that such an idea is not presented in the Bible.

Newman than uses the argument that is so very popular among traditional Adventists, the argument those of us who read the various discussion forum of Adventists see often.
This subject is very important, because it impacts how we look at Jesus, at the cross, and at the whole question of sin. If science explains where we come from, then the same science tells us that people do not come back from the dead, and that Jesus may have lived and died on a cross but could never have come back to life again. The same people who believe in Christian evolution also believe what the Bible says about the end of this age—that one day death will no longer exist—even though that is not what science says. So why accept what science says for the beginning of this world but not accept what science says for the end of this world?
In fact science does tell us that ordinary people don’t come back from the dead on their own. It says nothing at all about what would or could happen if there was a God, a supreme being with all power and knowledge involved. Again science tells us what would happen to a man hung on a cross but not what would happen if God came down and became a man and was hung on a cross. Science can tell us nothing about God resurrection Himself if He came as a man and died on a cross. It does not even try to tell us these things. Science has the limitation of only being able to really study what exists now. What the evidence we have now says. Granted there are scientists who will produce theories about things that happened and are not currently observable or without much evidence. For example some scientist will produce theories about what happened in the first 10th of a second after the big bang. But like a lot of science those theories come and go, science obviously changes it grows and expands and corrects itself but it does not attempt to explain the Christian Atonement.

Ultimately Science never tries to tell us what will happen if there is a supreme being who wants to step into our time and space and do something. So why accept what science says for the beginning? Because there is evidence for the beginning, we look at that evidence we compare different observations and see a lot of evidence which is very compelling. Why not accept what science says for the end of this world? Because there is precious little evidence about the end of this world since it has not happened yet, if there were multiple big bangs in a collapsing and expanding universe all the evidence from a previous end of the world would be gone so all that is left is various speculations and speculation is not science. This is Newman’s most important point and it is totally contrived and meaningless.

I will conclude by discussing the following quote:
If Adam and Eve were not historical figures, then we have no information on how we became sinners. If human beings gradually evolved from the Neolithic man to Homo sapiens, at what stage did they become sinners? If other humans existed along with Adam and Eve, how did they become sinners? Who, then, did Christ save?
This is another commonly held Traditional Adventist idea. It tends to ignore the reality of what we as human do since recorded history which is we hurt each other and often ourselves. Pragmatically we understand we are sinners; is it all that important to know which of our ancestors was the first to realize or to be accused of being a sinner? It does not change the reality of where we are one bit. I suppose it is about as useful as asking where did God come from. We don’t have any idea so we say He always was, fine then why not say humans were always sinners. Historically it certainly works; actually this wanting to know the beginnings of everything generally does not work for anyone. We have a whole Adventist sub doctrine about how Satan was once Lucifer and how sin began in him. It is not from the Bible, it is not from Jewish religion it is based upon early church traditions. Jesus was more pragmatic and simply said of Satan that he was a liar and murderer from the beginning. He did not see a need to invent a back story, just give the present reality. Surely the present reality of being sinners is enough. As for who then did Christ save? He saves whoever He wants and whoever will accept His salvation. I think I can trust Him on that issue, and I only see problems when I try and say who God saves or not, being that I am not God it would only be speculation based upon lack of knowledge and I am enough of a scientist to know that such speculation is not good for science or religion.