Christianity 201

March 7, 2019

Compelling Minds

by Clarke Dixon

Can a thinking person be a Christian? Can a Christian be a thinking person?
Is thinking discouraged within Christianity?

First, there is a lot of thinking going on in the Bible. We often find the Psalmists in deep thought:

“I remember the days of old, I think about all your deeds, I meditate on the works of your hands.” Psalms 143:5 (NRSV emphasis added)
“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” Psalms 145:5 (NRSV emphasis added)

There is a whole portion of the Bible known as “Wisdom Literature” which is devoted to some deep thinking. We find wisdom applied to life in Proverbs and deep contemplation in Ecclesiastes:

I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13 applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven . . . Ecclesiastes 1:12-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

Thinking continues into the the New Testament:

As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. Acts 17:2-4 (NIV emphasis added)

Paul spent up to three years in Arabia following his conversion. Some Bible scholars believe this time was devoted to thinking through the results of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. With his extensive knowledge of the Old Testament, the startling revelation of the living Jesus would have given him a lot to think about.

Second, there is a rich tradition of thinking throughout the history of Christianity. Some great thinkers throughout history include Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, and Descartes to name a few. There are many great Christian thinkers in theology, but also every other field of study besides including science, literature, and philosophy.

So yes, a thinking person can be a Christian, and a Christian can be, in fact ought to be, a thinking person.

There is more we can say about Christianity and thought . . .

Christianity gives a good account for the reason we can freely think for ourselves. If there is nothing supernatural, if there is only matter and the physical, then the brain operates just like a machine, and therefore none of our thinking is free thinking. Rather, our thoughts are like the falling of dominoes. Or, to use another example, they are like the weather. We might experience a “random” gust of wind. However, a gust of wind is never random. The air is simply following the laws of physics and under the circumstances, the gust had to blow the way it did. If there is no God, then the same is true of our thinking. Every thought, though seemingly random, had to happen as it did. If this is the case, how can we hold people accountable for anything? However, we intuitively know that we have free-will. Christianity accounts for this experience of freewill for our minds are more than mere machines. Ironically, the atheist “free thinker” will have difficulty accounting for free-will under a purely naturalistic worldview.

Christianity gives a good account for the reason we can reason in the first place. How do we get from a brain to a mind? How do we get from physical matter to conscious thought? The brain and the mind interact, but they are different. Lee Strobel, in his book “The Case for the Creator” gives the example from Sam Parnia of the brain being like a television set. The TV is necessary for the watching of a movie or show, but the signal carrying the show is quite a separate thing. Should the TV be damaged, it will be hard for the signal to get through properly, but the signal is still a separate entity. So too with our brains. A physical problem with the brain will affect how the mind is expressed, yet they are not one and the same thing. In fact, there is no good theory as to how the two work together.

How did the brain give rise to consciousness in the first place? Strobel goes on to quote J.P. Moreland on this question

Here’s the point: you can’t get something from nothing . . . It’s as simple as that. If there were no God, then the history of the entire universe, up until the appearance of living creatures, would be a history of dead matter with no consciousness. You would not have any thoughts, beliefs, feelings, sensations, free actions, choices, or purposes. There would be simply one physical event after another physical event, behaving according to the laws of physics and chemistry. . . . How, then, do you get something totally different – conscious, living, thinking, feeling, believing creatures – from materials that don’t have that? That’s getting something from nothing! And that’s the main problem.

However, there is no problem accounting for the rise of consciousness in the Christian worldview. Continuing to quote Moreland:

. . . .you see, the Christian worldview begins with thought and feeling and belief and desire and choice. That is, God is conscious. God has thoughts. He has beliefs, he has desires, he has awareness, he’s alive, he acts with purpose. We start there. And because we start with the mind of God, we don’t have a problem with explaining the origin of our mind.

Strobel also references Phillip Johnson: “you either have ‘in the beginning were the particles,’ or ‘in the beginning was the Logos,’ which means ‘divine mind.’” If part of that sounds familiar, that is because “logos” is the Greek word for “word”;

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:1-3 (NIV)

When we consider the evidence of consciousness and free minds we can infer an intelligent, conscious and free agent as the Creator. Christianity fits that inference very well. Our minds are yet another compelling facet of Christianity.

Can a Christian be a thinking person and a thinking person be a Christian? Thinking is encouraged for every Christian. In fact thinking points to the One Who thought us up in the first place!


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

February 21, 2019

Compelling Evidence

Science and Christianity

by Clarke Dixon

Should Christians be afraid of science? Should scientists be afraid of Christianity? We Canadians can tend to be more science-focused than Bible-focused, including those of us who call ourselves Christians. When we fall ill, do we follow James 5:14 and call the elders of the church, or do we call the doctor? As a pastor, I would be pleased to come and pray with you, but I will likely also encourage you to call the doctor if you have not already done so!

There can be a sense of conflict for a Christian. Do we learn from the Bible or science? Do we lean on the Bible or science? Do we lean into the Bible or science? Are we to choose between Christianity and science?

With this apparent conflict, what are we to think?

First, we should be aware that Christianity has provided a good foundation for science to flourish. Belief in a God Who has ordered the universe, creating laws that govern how things work, inspires the investigation of how it all works. Christians were, and still very much are, involved in science.

Second, we appreciate science for what it is, and what it is not. Science is the expectation that things operate according to patterns and laws which are predictable and discoverable. There is no argument with Christianity there. Science is therefore done without explicit reference to God, even by Christian scientists. Let us consider a simple example of how science works. In this past week my youngest son baked a rather large batch of very good peanut-butter cookies. I could run an experiment where I eat twenty cookies a day until they are all eaten, then step on the scales to observe the effect of eating the cookies. If the rest of my eating patterns remained unchanged, we could predict a weight gain. What we will not do is ask how God will intervene in my life based on my cookie consumption. To do so would be to hold a “God of the gaps” kind of theology. The experiment is not about finding God, but finding out how things work.

Science is the belief things operate according to laws, however, it is not the belief that there is no God. As Christians we would say that science is the discovery of how God made things to work. A Christian doing science does the same thing as an atheist doing science. Both are discovering how things operate, but one thinks of the laws of nature, however they came about, the other of God’s Creation operating according to His design. Science is a methodology which does not seek God in the workings. However, to say there is no God is not science, but scientism.

Third, we appreciate what the Bible for what it is, and what it is not. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself within history with each part written to different people at different times using different genres. The Bible is not a science textbook written to science-minded westerners. Of the many genres used in the Bible, one genre you will not find is a lab report.

It is helpful to remember that the Bible was written for you, but it was not written to you. In Bible studies I often ask “what do you find striking in this passage?” We really should ask how the passage would have struck the first readers and hearers. What were the original readers meant to learn, or what were they likely to learn? To give an example, the prevalent worldview when the Book of Genesis was taking shape held that there were multiple gods who had complicated relationships with each other, the world, and humanity. The original hearers/keepers of the passages in Genesis would have been struck by the fact there is only one God worthy of consideration, that He is a God of order, He is the Creator of everything, and He wants a relationship with all people, which will be worked out in some way through one particular group of people, the people descendant from Israel. No one would have questioned whether the universe really did come into existence fully formed in six literal 24 hour periods. That is a question we ask today when we fail to appreciate the theological poetry of Genesis 1.

Fourth, we learn to navigate the relationship between science and Christianity as we follow the evidence. If our science and theology do not fit together, then our understanding of theology is correct and our understanding of science is wrong, or, our understanding of science is correct and our understanding of theology is wrong, or a wee bit of both. Scientists are not infallible, their interpretations of, and inferences from, the data can be off. We believe the Bible to be infallible, meaning it is exactly what God wanted it to be. However, our interpretations of the Bible are not infallible. With humility in our understanding of both science and theology we follow the evidence.

Consider John chapter 9. A blind man healed by Jesus is willing to follow the evidence. He was blind but is healed, therefore the evidence leads him to the conclusion that Jesus is someone special. The Pharisees are also trying to follow the evidence in figuring out how the blind man was healed. However, they have prior assumptions which affect their conclusions:

The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight.  They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”
His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind.   But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.”   (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place.   That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)
They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.

John 9:18-24 (The Message, emphasis added)

The blind man does not begin with assumptions:

He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

John 9:25 (The Message)

Operating with different assumptions, the healed man comes to a very different conclusion about the identity of Jesus!

Science-minded people may come to an investigation of Jesus and the Bible with assumptions, and so miss the truth. They may have already decided that miracles cannot happen and therefore they have already concluded, before their investigation, like the Pharisees did, who they think Jesus is. In doing so they can miss an amazing opportunity for relationship with God.

The shoe can be on the other foot, however. Notice that in John 9, it is the religious leaders who are the ones with the assumptions. The Christian may also hold assumptions about science and/or the Bible and miss truth. In doing so we can miss opportunities for growth, and importantly, opportunities for witness. The man born-blind follows the evidence and it leads him to worship Jesus:

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”
 Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”
 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

John 9:35-38 (The Message)

One of our goals as Christians is to help others come to know Jesus. If we hold to the view that science and the Bible are at odds, then we may be creating a stumbling block for others. Are we willing to follow the evidence? Do we give the freedom to others to do the same? I believe that if we send our youth off to university with the belief that they need to choose between science and Christianity, we have failed them. Do we give them the tools to follow the evidence?

Do we need to pick between Christianity and science? Far from being in conflict, there is a good relationship between science and Christianity. One can follow the scientific evidence and still be a Christian. In fact many people come to Christianity because of the evidence provided by science. Many religions have fallen by the wayside, some would say thanks to science. However, the fact that science and Christianity can enjoy a good relationship is another reason Christianity is compelling!


This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

February 7, 2019

Compelling Life

by Clarke Dixon

Why is there life? It turns out there are a number of questions worthy of consideration.

How did the earth become suitable for life? Despite the longing for “life out there,” many scientists tell us the odds are against life happening anywhere, even here! Many things need to come together with precision for life to be possible. They happen to do so for us. The earth just happens to have the right qualities such as the right atmosphere, right orbit, right tilt (thanks moon!), right weather patterns, right core temperature, right distance from and right orbit around the right kind of sun which is in the right place in our galaxy. We are only scratching the surface of things that need to come together for life to be possible. The earth appears to be a finely calibrated machine for the flourishing of life. When we see such kinds of precision we don’t normally ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

How did life come about in the first place? Why is the universe not made up solely of non-living matter? In the past we were taught that life began with very simple organisms in a “primordial soup. ” However, life is incredibly complex even in its simplest expressions. The simplest of life forms require complex machinery and teamwork. As a  student I used to take my pens apart and write with just the ink tube and the attached ball-point. The pen could be reduced to very few parts and still work. Living things, however, cannot be reduced like that. They are more like a mechanical watch where messing with one cog renders the watch useless. Only living things are way more complex. When we see complex machinery we don’t ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

Also, life happens thanks to an incredible amount of information such as we find in DNA. How did all that information get there? Back to my student days, anytime I would see a Commodore 64 computer on display in a store, I would write a short program that would write the same words, over and over again, on the screen. I knew just enough of the computer language called “Basic” to be able to do that. I am sure no employee on finding the computer would have asked, “how did that happen?”. Rather, they would ask the obvious question, “who wrote that?”.

How did there come to be such diversity and inter-dependence among amazing living things?  Why is the world not just covered in something like moss? Why such wonderful, often beautiful and awe-inspiring creatures? How did eco-systems come about which require the very diversity found within them? Living things are found in environments where not only can they flourish, but importantly, they can help other living things in the environment flourish also.

We are very often told that animals “adapted” to their environments. However, did they adapt, or were they, plus their environments, adapted to each other? When we see race cars whizzing around race tracks do we wonder how the cars adapted and became so fast? When we see trucks hauling heavy loads down a highway, do we ask how they adapted, becaming so big? We can speak of the evolution of the vehicle, but we know that intelligence is behind that evolution. Adaptation of things to environments is a matter of creation. When we see things uniquely placed according to what they are and can do we do not ask “how did that happen?”, we ask “who did that?”.

The real question.

John Entwistle, bass player for “The Who,” released a solo project including a song called “I Wonder” in which he marveled at the way things were put together. The song includes these lines in the chorus:

Thank you Mother Nature
For the way you got things planned
Don’t ever change a thing, I’m happy as I am.

In thinking about nature he was on the right track. There is a “who?” behind the “what?” and the “how?” questions.

The precise alignment of parameters required for life to flourish on earth points to intelligence and capability. The complexity found within even the simplest of living things points to intelligence and capability. The use of language in the building blocks of life points to intelligence and capability. The care shown through the placement of living things in finely balanced eco-systems points to intelligence and capability. The question is not “how,” but “who?”. Who has this kind of intelligence and capability?

Christianity provides a compelling answer to this question; “who?”.

Consider what we discover in the first two chapters of Genesis:

  1. On the suitability of the earth for life, God put all the necessary conditions and circumstance into place for life. Obvious things are mentioned like light, dark, the sun, the moon, water and land (see Genesis 1:1-19). We are not told about things like gravity, oxygen, and the like. We should not expect a science report from a book that is introducing us to God!
  2. On life getting life started in the first place, God, a living being, created life and living things. In being created by God living things are complex right from the start. In fact living things are created with “seed in it” (eg. Genesis 1:11), the ability to reproduce is baked right in. Besides, how could non-living, non-thinking things give rise to living, thinking things?
  3. On diverse living creatures being found in well balanced eco-systems, God created life according to their kinds (see Genesis 1:20-25). Also, food is provided (see Genesis 1:29-31). The required systems are put in place for life to flourish.

As we consider life and living things, there is one more question.

Why do human beings seem to be so different from the rest of the animals in remarkable ways? There is a difference in intelligence, creativity, language skills, morality, and religion. There is an ability to reflect and a desire for significance that is not found in other animals.

When a child in an orphanage is taken into a family where they are then fed, clothed, coached, taught, and experience loving and caring relationship for many, many years, we do not ask “how did that happen?”. When we see one child marked out from all the others in such remarkable ways, we ask, “who desired a special relationship with that child?”.

Back to Genesis chapters one and two. God created humanity in His image, and for a special relationship. Biblical scholars point to two accounts of creation, the first being found in chapter one and the second being found in chapter two.  In the first account humanity is created last, but “in his image” (see Genesis 1:26). In case we think that we were an afterthought, the second account has humanity created first (see Genesis 2:4-9). Both accounts point to how we were created by God for a special relationship.

The life, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus are also a confirmation that God has created us for special relationship. God did something special for humanity about 2000 years ago in Jesus. Why? Because humanity has had a special place in God’s heart from the beginning. Humans are different from all other living things becuause we were created for a special relationship.

What the Bible tells us about God, our creator and redeemer, fits very well with the questions raised about life through philosophy and science. When we consider these questions of life and living things, it turns out there is a more compelling question than “how?”. It is “Who?”. The answer is God as revealed in the Bible, as revealed in Jesus. The answer is God, Who wants a special relationship with you.


This is all very introductory and merely a scratching of the surface of things. There are many fine resources available. Good starting points are “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel, and “God’s Crime Scene” by J. Warner Wallace. This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

January 24, 2019

A Compelling Cosmos

by Clarke Dixon

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1 (NIV)

You can imagine the Psalmist looking up to the stars in awe, praising God for all creation. But do the heaven’s still declare the glory of God in our day? Do the skies still proclaim the work of his hands to a people as sophisticated and learned as we are? The heavens would compel the ancients to glorify God as Creator. But are we compelled by them today?

It turns out that the heavens still speak. Philosophers and scientists do the talking, but through the study of “the heavens,” the cosmos, we can learn something about the existence and nature of God.

Let us look to three questions inspired by the heavens. Please note that this is all very introductory.

What is behind the beginning of the universe?

Beginning in the last century a majority of scientists have been won over to the view that our universe had a beginning. While some Christians balked at the “Big Bang” theory, others saw the implications for theology. After all, we people of the Jurdeo-Christian tradition have long been saying that the universe had a beginning. William Lane Craig lays out what he calls the Kalam Cosmological argument in this way:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Further, the cause “must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused, and powerful.” Sound like anyone you know? God, as revealed in the Bible, fits this cause of the universe perfectly. But then you might object with “who created God?” Consider the first premise, and then note that God does not begin to exist, therefore we do not need to consider what caused his existence. Again, this is all very introductory, but here is a short video from William Lane Craig which explains it in a much better way.

Why are the conditions just right at the beginning of the universe for it to be life permitting?

Scientists tell us that certain physical constants, like the force of gravity, are so very specific, that if they were just slightly different at the beginning, the universe would not exist as we know it. It would not be life permitting. This is commonly called the Fine Tuning Argument.

Just how specific must these constants be? The web resource godandscience.org quotes Dr. Hugh Ross from his book, The Creator and the Cosmos, on one such constant, the ratio of electrons to protons:

One part in 1037 is such an incredibly sensitive balance that it is hard to visualize. The following analogy might help: Cover the entire North American continent in dimes all the way up to the moon, a height of about 239,000 miles . . . Next, pile dimes from here to the moon on a billion other continents the same size as North America. Paint one dime red and mix it into the billions of piles of dimes. Blindfold a friend and ask him to pick out one dime. The odds that he will pick the red dime are one in 1037. (p. 115)

Did this degree of fine tuning happen by necessity, chance, or by design? Design can be shown to be the most reasonable alternative. I am only scratching the surface, but here is another short video from William Lane Craig to give you a better handle on the fine tuning argument.

Why does anything exist at all?

Looking up to the heavens above on a starry night, we might ask not just how this all began, or how it ended up being so delicately balanced for life, but why is there anything at all? Gottfried Leibniz asked “why is there something rather than nothing?”. He then went on to show how God is the answer. William Lane Craig has formulated Leibniz’s thinking using the following premises:

  1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).
  2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
  3. The universe exists.
  4. The explanation of the universe’s existence is God.

This can be a tricky one to wrap our minds around, but basically the idea is that the universe is contingent, that is, something else was required for its existence. We experience this in daily life as we see that all things have some cause behind them. There is a computer here in front of me because someone built it, and I bought it. This computer did not need to exist, nor did I have to buy it. Its existence and placement is contingent on many things. However, God exists necessarily. Nothing caused God to exist. The only way a contingent universe could exist is if something which existed necessarily caused it to exist. This is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

Here is one more short video from William Lane Craig to help you better understand the Leibniz contingency argument.

Some observations.

  • Some might wonder why not just read the Bible and not concern ourselves with such philosophical pursuits. However, the Bible itself says “The heavens declare the glory of God,” therefore it is worth hearing what the heavens declare. We do this through science and philosophy.
  • The fact that science and philosophy can be found to be in sync with theology reminds us that we need neither leave our brains at the door of the church, nor leave our faith in the parking lot of the university. This in itself is something compelling about Christianity. Many of us would find an “everything you know from anywhere else is wrong” kind of attitude to be off-putting.
  • Each of these arguments from philosophy and science are not a knock down argument for Christianity on their own. However, they are part of a larger cumulative case for the truth of Christianity which goes well beyond thinking about the cosmos.
  • You may feel like you can’t wrap your head around these arguments. As J. Warner Wallace points out, jurors in murder cases make decisions that affect the future of an individual in drastic ways, yet they don’t need to be experts. The jurors listen to the testimony of expert witnesses and consider all the evidence without becoming experts in any one part.

It is compelling that what was written so long ago in the Bible should provide answers consistent with what is being learned in our day. Christianity provides compelling answers to philosophical questions inspired by the cosmos, but far more than that, it speaks about God who loves! May you have confidence that Christianity is true. May you have confidence that God loves you in Christ!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

All Scripture references are taken from the NLT. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full 36-minute sermon can be heard on the podcast here.

February 12, 2014

Where Our Story Begins…

I Cor. 13:12

  • For now we see through a glass, darkly… (KJV)
  • We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist… (Message)
  • Now we see only a dim likeness of things… (NIrV)
  • Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror… (NLT)
  • Now it is like looking in a looking-glass which does not make things clear… (Weymouth)

Last night we listened to two very different podcasts, both discussing the question of origins, a topic which has been on many peoples’ minds much because of a debate that took place last week between a young-earth creationist and an evolutionist from the scientific community. The word Genesis means beginnings and the question of “how we got here” has intrigued humans throughout history.

Genesis 3:21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib  he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

The first podcast introduced the idea that Adam was somehow an intersex person. For some of you this may be a new word, but think of the word hermaphrodite  which is less commonly used, and you’ve got the idea. The speaker, a respected pastor teaching a course at a Bible college suggested that God basically removed the femininity from Adam and left him entirely masculine. Bet you never heard that before.

Genesis 4: 17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.

The second podcast has an idea you might have heard, namely that Adam was simply one among many and that this answers the question of how the earth became populated so quickly and how Cain would have built a city and who would live and work in that city. So far as that goes it makes sense, but it raises more theological problems than anthropological problems, the least of which is the introduction of sin and death into the world, especially in the way we understand this taught in Romans.

It can be bewildering to consider all these things, and given all the discussions that have been taking place online in the past 7 or 8 days, it’s possible you’ve found yourself in the middle of one.

So what is our Genesis? Where does the story begin for us if we’re “seeing through a glass darkly” when it comes to the big-picture origins of life?

I love how Mark opens his writing, and it’s significant because Mark is considered the earliest (first written) among the gospels:

  • The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (NIV)
  • The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here (Message)
  • Here begins the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. (Living Bible)

We don’t know fully — and will never know — what happened in the days, years or eras that followed God’s proclamation “Let there be light;” but can know the author of creation personally, even if he doesn’t let us in on all his secrets, or help us unravel the vast number of theories that both believers and non-believers have concocted to attempt to explain things.

Here are two verses that should be part of your answer to people ask you (I Peter 3:15) about the origins of life; here’s where our story begins:

John3:19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world…

Col. 1:16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

December 18, 2012

Diversity of the Body

CEB Romans 12:3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.

CEB I Cor. 12:12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink…

…19 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? 20 But as it is, there are many parts but one body. 21 So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

Christmas gatherings bring about the diversity of people who make up our extended families. If I am honest, I often find myself among people with whom I feel I have very little in common, and your family reunions are probably similar.

But full disclosure compels me to admit that my spiritual family is not much different. Even within the confines of a particular church, there is often the same dynamic at work: People have very different spiritual emphases and interests, not to mention varying degrees of spiritual depth.

Last week we had some fun with this at Thinking Out Loud that I thought would bear repeating here; to see the full breadth of the God’s family reflected in the way we interpret what we think are distinctions, using terminology that often leaves people in a fog.

When you say you’re a Bible & Science ministry, does that mean

  • you believe in a literal six-day creation and a young earth?
  • you believe in an old earth; that Genesis is allegorical, that evolution is probable
  • you focus on intelligent design and try to skip the subjects above ?

When you say you have a prophetic gift, does that mean

  • you speak forth with a prophetic voice concerning issues facing the church and/or the world in general
  • your ministry almost exclusively revolves around end-time predictions
  • you counsel people and help them find where they are to live, what should be their vocation, who they should marry, etc. ?

When you say your church is charismatic, do you mean

  • the music is loud and lively, and people clap and rejoice during worship
  • your church emphasizes belief in the limitless power of God and has an active desire for a manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ?

When you say you’re a ministry to Christians struggling with homosexuality, does that mean

  • you try to assist gay Christians out of that lifestyle through prayer and/or reparative therapy
  • you try to support gays who are struggling with faith issues and/or acceptance by the church ?

When you say you’re an apostolic ministry does that mean

  • you work with church-planters and missional communities to encourage people who have the gift of apostle
  • you are frequently addressed as “Apostle _______” as you see yourself as part of a line of apostolic succession and/or feel there is a special anointing on your ministry ?

When you say you have a ministry to worship leaders, does that mean

  • you assist worship leaders in the personal spiritual development and in building the tools they need to build their teams
  • you help worship leaders navigate areas such as song selection, instrumentation, arrangements, sound systems, etc.
  • you exist to advance an agenda of a specific sub-genre of worship: hymns, modern hymns, ‘soaking’ music, prophetic worship, etc. ?

When you say you’re a ministry to the Jewish community do you mean

  • you stand in the Messianic tradition and want to keep as much of the Jewish ethnic and cultural flavor, while recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah
  • you stand in the Hebrew Christian tradition which involves assimilating Jewish believers into western evangelical culture
  • your ministry is more concerned with both the political and prophetic ramifications of the state of Israel ?

When you say you are a ‘progressive’ Christian do you mean

  • you prefer contemporary churches which don’t make a major issue out of some of the traditions and taboos which defined Christianity in the mid-20th-century
  • you have a more liberal position on Christian doctrine and theology and Biblical inerrancy ?

When the bottom of your church sign reads, “Everyone welcome,” do you mean

  • you regularly interact with people from the wider community and while it may be a foreign environment in some respects, they would feel relaxed attending services and sense you’re genuinely glad they came
  • people are welcome as long as they dress like you, believe the same doctrines, read the same Bible translation, vote for the same party, and conform to the church’s position on social issues ?

The bottom line however is that we emphasize our unity in Christ.  If you click back to this song, it’s a good way to end today’s thoughts, focused on the things in which we’re all in agreement.

(NIV) I Cor 9:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

September 13, 2012

Why Didn’t He Call The Light “Light”?

For several weeks now at Thinking Out Loud, I’ve been encouraging people to check out the Phil Vischer podcast.  Phil’s name may register with those of you with children as the creator of Veggie Tales.  There are 16 podcasts so far, and Phil is joined each week by Skye Jethani, a name familiar to both bloggers and readers of Christianity Today, and by producer Christian Taylor. Phil is a naturally funny person, and the whole show has a “radio morning zoo” feel to it; but Skye, as a pastor is more focused and while he often adds to the levity, he also rarely wastes words.  Many weeks they are joined by a guest. But why are we mentioning it here?

This past week, the guest was John Walton who teaches at both Moody and Wheaton, and specializes in Old Testament studies. Apparently he and Phil have had some previous conversations regarding Phil’s newest children’s series, What’s In The Bible, especially about the creation narrative in Genesis.

One of the comments was about this verse:

Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

John then asked, “Why didn’t God call the light, “light.”?  He said that what we’re seeing in this verse is not the creation of light, but the creation of the separators or periods of separation between light and its absence, that what we’re witnessing in this book is the creation of time.  You could say, “And God said, “Let there be time.”

I’d never thought about that before.

Much discussion early on also had to do with the apparent ongoing tension between theologians and scientists on the creation of the world.  John compares this to the difference between you telling your friends about the origins of your house versus the origins of your home.  The former has to do with land, and construction and the physical features. The latter has to do with family, and usage, and traffic patterns.  They are two entirely different stories, and he says that the Bible does not attempt to answer the house questions, and we shouldn’t expect the Bible to serve as a science textbook, because those issues are not raised in its pages.

There was also the issue of death coming into the world. John looked at the creation narrative again and told of having his students focus on this verse:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

He then asked them if Adam was clothed in skin, and reminded them that skin is epidermis and epidermis is dead cells. In other words, there was death from the beginning.

This then led to a discussion of predation. That was a new word to me.  The question is whether or not in a “new earth” — a doctrine that’s a given when you get academics together — animals would survive through killing other animals or whether as Phil asked “whales would strain plankton.” John responded that the new earth would involve a new order, and that he does not believe this will be a replication of what existed in the garden, but will involve an entirely new set of possibilities.

This particular podcast — their longest — is 67 minutes long. After the usual banter, John Walton is introduced at around 22:00, and the interview really kicks in at 23:15.  You also have to endure Phil playing the ukelele at the beginning and end of the show; once in children’s ministry, always in children’s ministry, I guess.  So even if you skip the frivolity at the beginning, you’re still looking at 45 minutes; but well worth it.  (We listened to it twice already.) This is the kind of material I love personally; what this blog’s tag line is all about: Diggin’ a little deeper.

…You might also enjoy the previous episode (# 15) which deals with the issue of heaven and the issue of the rapture. You can find that easily enough once you’re at the site; and I also wrote a set-up for that piece Tuesday at Thinking Out Loud.

Time to Re-Address The Issue of Comments
It’s been awhile since I discussed this on any of my blogs, but the time has come to revisit this thorny subject.  What we’re looking for here is comments that stem from the content of the day’s topic, and that then add something to what’s being said.  I call it “added value comments.” We’re also looking for comments that will form part of a discussion that others will want to join. If you disagree with what’s being written, say so politely; at least you will be engaging the written material. If you do agree, don’t just say “That was very good,” because Akismet, the filtering system at WordPress will shut you down every time. (Some day I’ll copy and paste a bunch of spam comments at TOL so people know what not to do.) Instead, say why a particular verse or commentary resonates with you.  If you posted something in the last month, check back, it may not be there because it was just a bunch of random verses, or it did not seem to tie in to the day’s topic. And if you find it’s not there, but you feel you have something to say, may I encourage you to start a blog of your own.

November 9, 2011

The Front of the Book

If we’re honest, most of the tensions and debate within some Christian circles are concerned with issues arising out of the front of the book (Genesis) and the back of the book (Revelation).  Not that the 64 books in-between don’t also present their share of challenges; such is the nature of ‘seeing through a glass darkly;’ the last word, darkly, surprisingly accepted by my spell-checker.

When it comes to the front of the book, much ink has been spilled and much fellowship has been fractured by division between young earth creationists and old earth creationists.   Websites like Answers in Genesis and Answers in Creation present the two sides to the debate; while bookstore shelves can be confusing since all the books sit — generally alphabetically — in a single section called “Creation Science” or as a subset of the apologetics section.  If your church wants to have an evening or a weekend where this issue is presented, it’s entirely possible to book a speaker or ministry team and overlook checking which side of the discussion they subscribe to.

Old earth creationism also allows for the possibility of what’s called theistic evolution; or the idea that evolution was the means God used to bring us to the point where we find ourselves now, or what we could term ‘the age of man.’  My personal belief is that I can accept the idea that the ‘days’ of Genesis 1 are not necessarily literal, I can accept the idea that much of Genesis 1 and 2 are somewhat poetic in nature, trying to explain something so far beyond our understanding, just as words can’t describe the vision John experienced described at the back of the book.  I just think there are too many flaws — both scientific and theological — in evolutionary theory to go down that road.

But not all old earth creationists believe in theistic evolution, which makes for a bit of a divide within their community.

Still, the idea of a 6,000 year-old earth with an apparent age — the view I long subscribed to — is equally tenuous when you go out in the evening and look at stars, the light from which may have originated more than 6,000 years ago.

Does it matter?

I think that believers who are trying to understand the nature of God — to really know him — should be asking themselves questions on this issue from time to time.   It should neither be an obsession nor should it be a concern if we can’t fathom all the nuances of creation; but it should be somewhere on our radar.  In fact, I believe our idea who God is will actually shape our opinion on some of the facets of this kind of discussion.

Why mention this today?

I was reminded that this discussion rages on while stopping by Internet Monk, one of the longest running Christian blogs, and certainly a very Christianity 201-ish (or 301-ish) place for deeper discussion.   A recent item there looked at the responses of Peter Enns to an interview that Albert Mohler — a young-earth, six-day creationist — did on National Public Radio; responses by Enns which included this one and this one.

Enns writes:

I am writing, rather, for the sake of those who are living with the consequences of what Mohler says they must believe–those who feel trapped in Mohler’s either/or rhetoric, that to question a literal interpretation of Scripture concerning creation puts one on the path to apostasy.

I find the phrase ‘path to apostasy’ particularly intriguing.  Does a ‘liberalization’ of our view on this subject put other doctrinal understanding at risk?  Does it change our doctrine of man, our doctrine of the nature of God, and perhaps even affect our doctrine of salvation? Or does this issue stand apart from other theological implications.