I have made the case in the last two posts that each person is called to ministry and that the clergy/laity distinction is a false one. Does this mean that we are to be a totally egalitarian community? Are there roles of authority and how do they function in the life of the church? I want to begin an investigation of this question by first visiting Calvin’s idea of Jesus and munus triplex, “the triple office."
As we read through the Old Testament we discover that there were three types of offices to which people were anointed or ordained, if you will: prophets, priests and kings. Each of these played a vital role in the life of Israel. Jesus life, death and resurrection changed all this.
Hebrews tells us that Jesus functions as our high priest, but he is unlike any high priest who has come before. Hebrews 5:6 says that he was a priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek was the King-Priest of Salem who blessed Abraham in Genesis 14. The New Testament is filled with references to Jesus Lordship. Jesus was also known as a prophet and certainly he excelled beyond all others in “telling forth” God’s purposes and bringing hope as he brought people to repentance and faith. Jesus fulfilled all three offices. At no point after Jesus’ resurrection is there an anointing to these three offices.
With the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, individual believers had direct access to God. Bruce Waltke and Jerry MacGreggor in Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? point out that all through the Old Testament, decisions were made by casting lots, using the “urim and thummim,” and “fleeces” to discern God’s will. The last instance of this we see is with the selection of Matthias as the disciple to replace Judas just before Pentecost. From that point on, divination is no longer needed, because we have direct communication with God through the Holy Spirit. Christ is our mediator and we no longer need earthly priests.
Christ is the prophet, priest, and king. None of us individually is prophet, priest or king but because we are united to Christ as his body, we corporately fulfill these functions to the world. As Chirst’s body we fulfill the munus triplex. With this in mind, I want to take a look at the first sixteen verses of Ephesians 4.
Where did we get the clergy/laity dichotomy? The word “clergy” comes from the Greek word kleros, which means “lot” or “inheritance.” When used figuratively, as in, “we are God’s inheritance,” or “we share in the inheritance of Christ,” it refers without exception to the whole people of God. It never refers to a specially called elite subgroup of people. “Clergy” and “the people of God” (laos tou theou) are one in the same group!
The term “laity” is not a direct translation from the noun laos (“people”) as is often purported. It came indirectly from laos through the adjective laikos, meaning “of the common people.” Laikos is not in the New Testament and it is not in the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint.
The first known mentions of laikos come from about 300 BCE. It was an adjective used in papyri to describe the profane things of the rural people in Egypt. The earliest known use of the word in Christian literature is in a letter by Clement of Rome to the Corinthian church, written circa 96 CE. In exhorting the church to preserve godly order, he alludes to the order of the Old Testament era. He discusses the responsibilities of those who were neither priests nor Levites, and calls them laymen (laikos anthropos.) (1 Clement 40:5) (1)
Laikos was used sparingly by Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion in their Greek translations of the Old Testament during the second and third centuries. It was used as a synonym for bebelos which means “profane” or “unholy.” Laikos was also a synonym in Greek literature for idiotes which meant “nonprofessional.” (It is the word from which we get “idiot.”) Laikos did not begin to enter the common Christian vocabulary until the third and fourth centuries. Over time and across languages, the adjective evolved into the noun “laity” to represent the unprofessional, common, and profane people contrasted with the educated, holy, and sacred people known as “clergy.” (2)
The Reformers saw this as a problem but they also struggled with church order. The outcome of their struggle to reconcile the issues was retention of the clergy/laity distinction while trying to elevate the laity. (3) Did they succeed? Ask yourself if you prefer ministry by a lay- Christian, anymore than you do surgery from a lay-surgeon, or legal advice from a lay-lawyer?
Real ministry is what is done by a caste of Christians called “clergy,” those with special training and an extra endowment of spirituality. Laity exists to assist clergy in real ministry. We say we believe in the priesthood of believers but look at our language and structures. Clergy do “full-time” Christian ministry. We send people to seminaries to prepare for the ministry. We install them in our congregations as the minister. Prayer is deferred to the clergy because they have special status with God. The sick have not been cared for until visited by clergy.
Ask anyone for a definition of laity and it nearly always is given in terms of the negative:
When “laypeople” are referred to positively, they are said to be “the people of God” (laos tou theou.) True enough, but the “people of God” in contrast to whom? The clergy? Scripture only uses clergy (kleros) in reference to the whole people of God. Laos tou theou are the clergy!
The primary locus for ministry is the congregation in dispersion throughout the community during the week. We have moved the locus to the gathered congregation. Why? Because non-pastor Christians are “idiots!” (laity = laikos = idiotes = idiots.) They can be helpful assistants to clergy but they can not be fully trusted with the things of God. Real ministry can only be done by professional Christians, and since they can’t be everywhere, it is the job of the “laity” to bring unbelievers to the professionals for real ministry. Consequently, the saints are thoroughly under- equipped for ministry in dispersion, and they are demeaned and trivialized for ministry among the gathered. Am I exaggerating? Do people in the pews have any sense of call? Look at the best selling book list. What continues to be at the top? The Purpose-Driven Life. You may love the book or hate it, but it is being read by millions of people who have received no discernment of call and ministry from the Church.
It is time to dispel the myth of laity and embrace the reality that all the baptized are clergy. We are all kleros + laos = klaos; "the clergy people of God."
I quoted Karl Barth recently and what he wrote needs to be repeated:
“Theology is not the private reserve of theologians. It is not a private affair for professors…Nor is it a private affair for pastors…Theology is a matter for the church. It does not get on well without professors and pastors. But its problem, the purity of the church’s service, is put to the whole church. The term ‘laity’ is one of the worst in the vocabulary of religion and ought to be banished from Christian conversation.” (5)
1 Weber, Hans-Ruedi. “On Being Christian in the World: Reflections on the ecumenical discussion about the laity.” Document at World Council of Churches website: www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/education/ weber.html. 1999. Accessed May 1, 2005
3 Gillespie, Thomas W. “Ministerial Orders in the Reformed Tradition: A Study in Origins.” A paper presented to the delegations to the Consultation on Church Union from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. circa 1979?
4 Stevens, R. Paul, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999), 24-25.
5 Karl Barth. Theologische Fragen und Antworten, 1957, 183-184, quoted in R. J. Erler and R. Marquard, eds., translator, G. W. Bromiley. A Karl Barth Reader. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986, 8-9. I found the quote in R. Paul Stevens. The Other Six Days. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, 24.
(This post is a modified exceprt from an article I wrote in the Presbyterian Outlook called Respiratory Failure in the PC(USA).)
Neil Craigan posted the following yesterday:
I think he and I share some similar motivations. I always enjoy his reflections. Besides that, he often manges to find some really cool graphics to insert into his posts.
I have been catching up on blogs I missed last week and discovered a series on racisim by author Scot McKnight. The first post is:
I love his opening paragraph:
"If you embrace a kingdom vision of the gospel itself, racism is nothing short of disgusting. If you embrace a judicial perception of sin, the Cross, and the gospel, racism is more tolerable. I’m sorry to put in such bold terms, but it all comes down to how you understand the gospel."
Two weeks ago I said I wanted to enter a discussion about calling and vocations in our current environment. This is my first installment.
R. Paul Stevens, in his book The Other Six Days, makes a case for a Trinitarian view of call. I haven’t seen this perspective presented elsewhere but it is core to my understanding. Stevens suggests that God’s call comes to us in these ways.
Father = Creation Stewardship – Being stewards of creation and co-creators with God.
Son = Kingdom Service – Carrying on the works of Jesus.
Spirit = Exercising Gifts – Using gifts for the growth and health of the Church and humanity.
All are called to participate in all three. The callings are integrated and yet each has identifiable aspects. However, in terms of how we spend the hours of our days, the great majority of us spend the great majority of our time in Creation Stewardship. Accounting, farming, sales, factory work, teaching, art, plumbing, even (and especially) diaper changing, are Creation Stewardship.
Stevens sees this Trinitarian idea of call reflected in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (NIV)
Spirit – Gifts
Lord – Service
God – Works
In addition to these general calls, God gives us temperament, gifts, life experiences and passions. Form these we discern our personal vocation. However, the exercise of our vocation is always contextual. The particular context we are in always shapes how our vocation is expressed. In the best of circumstances, our employment, or occupation, will be an extension of the vocation God has given us. This means that our occupation is but one expression of our vocation which can find expression in other ways apart from employment. Thus, how we respond the Trinitarian call is unique to each of us:
Temperament/gifts/experience + passion = personal vocation
Temperament/gifts/experience + passion + context = occupation (in the broadest sense of “what I am occupied with,” which may mean employment)
Notice that I have said nothing here about ministry. Ministry is not defined by what we do. It is defined by WHO we are doing for! If we are using our vocation in service to the Trinitarian call of God, that is ministry, period!
Notice I have said nothing of church or ecclesiastical leadership. While ecclesiastical service is an occupation for a few, it categorically is not THE ministry. I am convinced that ecclesiastical structures should exist to equip, nurture, and empower people do the ministry as I just defined it; whatever we do in service to God.
So how is it that all but a very small number of us who have never darkened the hallways of a seminary have no sense of call to ministry in our lives?
(Warning: I have great passion about these issues. Potential flaming ahead.)
We live in a polarized world. Every organization I am involved with seems to be confronted with issues of polarity. Many embrace one pole of a polarity and doggedly work to make their pole prevail. Others grab the other pole and fight back. Still others wish those who agitate for one pole or the other would be quite so we could all live in blissful denial that a tension exists.
A few years ago I read a wonderful book by Dr. Barry Johnson called, Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems. His thesis is that a great many (not all) of the issues we define as problems to be solved are actually polarities to be managed.
To illustrate the point, ask your self a question. Which is more important to breathing; inhaling or exhaling? The question is absurd because breathing is the oscillation between these two polar activities.
Johnson uses the idea of matrix with four boxes. The boxes in the left column are one pole and the boxes in the right column are the other pole. The boxes on the top row are the positive aspects of the two poles and the bottom row are the negative aspects.
With the breathing analogy, call “inhaling” Pole 1 and “exhaling” Pole 2. The positive side of inhaling is that the body receives oxygen (Quadrant A). However, if we stop there, carbon dioxide builds up and we die (Quadrant B). This pushes us to the positive aspect of exhaling which is that we expel the carbon dioxide (Quadrant C). However, if we stop there, we will be deprived of oxygen and die (Quadrant D). This pushes back to Quadrant A, and the cycle repeats it self.
The idea is that this same dynamic applies to many polarities in human relationships. For example, take a church board that is divided between those who want a rigidly scheduled and tightly controlled church and those who want a spontaneous, adaptive, and free flowing style of ministry. Call Pole 1 “Planned” and Pole 2 “Free-Flow.”
Quadrant A - The positive side of a planned environment is that everyone knows their responsibility. Lines of accountability are clear. People know what to expect and how to plan. Resources can be effectively and efficiently marshaled for a given task.
Quadrant B – Life together becomes stale. Activities are done by rote. Creativity is stifled. Opportunities are missed because the focus is on keeping the “machine” running. New people with new gifts and passions have no way to plug in.
Quadrant C – The move is toward the free-form. The possibility of new dreams and visions is embraced. New opportunities are identified and pursued. Creativity is unleashed. People begin to find new ways to minister they had never thought of before.
Quadrant D – Eventually chaos ensues. Overlapping activities happen while other concerns drop through the cracks. Creativity is stifled because there is no way to effectively engage the community. Opportunities are missed because there is insufficient structure to mobilize people to action. This pushes the group to Quadrant A and the whole thing starts over.
The fact is that in most polarities, most of us tend to lean toward one pole or the other. We tend to be overly (if not exclusively) focused on the positive aspects of our preference and the negative aspects of the polar opposite. Throw together people leaning toward opposite poles and what too often happens is a power struggles to make one pole or the other prevail. The irony is that should either one win, they will likely kill the organization; just like valuing inhaling over exhaling.
Tremendous breakthroughs can occur when everyone comes to see the polarity for what it is. Understanding begins when I can openly acknowledge the potential downside to my polar preference and express appreciation for the positive aspects of what the polar opposite brings. That lessens the defensive stance of my polar counterpart to do the same, hopefully allowing us to appreciate each others contribution to a healthy polarity.
Johnson uses the human function of breathing. The Apostle Paul used the analogy of “the body” to illustrate his perspective on how the various gifts should function in the church. The body is a myriad of managed polarities like breathing. As the body of Christ, we need to learn better how to breathe.
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Eventually I am going to get around to doing some posts on social and cultural Trends. The AP published a story on Crime Rates which continue at a thirty year low.
Here is the lead:
"The nation's crime rate was unchanged last year, holding at the lowest levels since the government began surveying crime victims in 1973, the Justice Department (search) reported Sunday.
Since 1993, violent crime, as measured by victim surveys, has fallen by 57 percent and property crime by 50 percent. That has included a 9 percent drop in violent crime from 2001-2002 to 2003-2004."
Curious how so many believe that crime is running rampant when in fact it is at record lows.
Denis Hancock highligted the following article at his Reformed Angler blog today:
I think the article does a a good job of describing the challenges of addressing global poverty. Debt relief is all good and well, but without a strong protection of property rights and rule of law, it will be ineffective. Property rights and rule of law will lead to the development of captial markets. Captial markets will faciliate the construction of infrastructure and the diffusion of technological know-how and resources. No amount of aid debt relief will accomplish a thing until there is a commitment to just economic and legal structures.
I am back from the General Assembly Council meeting last week in Sacramento. Having served on the Council for a year now, I am finally beginning to get a big picture view of how things operate. From where I sit, “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us!” We have some major systemic problems.
I am convinced that Presbyterians, from sessions to the GAC, have a view of board operations that cripples our ministry. We view boards as entities that both set policy AND implement policy. The reality is that Boards should exist only to set policy and priorities, while gifted people with callings should be empowered to implement policy.
It is not hard to see where the confusion comes from. If you have been in small congregations like I have, the session very often contains most of the people who are actively implementing the programmatic ministry of the church. There are only a fixed number of people and they wear multiple hats. They both set policy and implement programs. As an organization gets much beyond about 200 active people, this mode of operation becomes very debilitating as the board tries ever harder to manage and direct every activity.
The role of the board is policy and priority setting. Boards are to be rigorously focused on outcomes, not management of operations. Boards set the boundaries and then empower those within the organization to make the desired outcomes a reality. By and large, our Presbyterian board meetings at all levels are management meetings, not policy and priority setting meetings.
We need boards that set parameters for operations. They discern what outcomes need to be realized. They clearly communicate these policies and outcomes to the staff (and often volunteers) who make the desired outcomes a reality. Here is the most important part. Other than clarifying policies and parameters, the board gets out of the way and empowers gifted people do the work so long as they stay within boundaries set by the board! It is not a board’s responsibility to micro-manage gifted and experienced workers as they make desired outcomes a reality.
Furthermore, as it relates to staff, one person (the Executive Director at the GAC level) needs to be the staff person who is responsible for the outcomes achieved by all the staff. While other senior staff may have interaction with the board for informational purposes, there needs to be a clear and unambiguous understanding that one person is responsible for the outcomes. When boards become involved in programmatic management questions, they sow massive confusion. Staff ends up with multiple “supervisors.” They end up with competing (and often contradictory) versions of desired outcomes. Staff needs to be ultimately accountable to a head of staff who is accountable to the board for outcomes.
At the denominational level I think several things need to change:
First, I think there should be one denominational board, not GAC and OGA. The General Assembly sets general policy. We need one board that does policy and priority setting for the denomination between assemblies.
Second, the board needs to be as small as it can be while still reflecting the diversity of our denomination.
Third, board members need to be selected based primarily on evidence of visionary leadership.
Fourth, the board needs to be rigorously focused on outcomes and not programmatic details.
I think these changes would ultimately result in A) a board with less work but substantially improved oversight and effectiveness, and B) a clearly focused staff with much greater flexibility to adapt to increasing rates of change. These are the types of changes I expect to be working for. Who says Don Quixote is dead?
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The only metaphor I can think of for today is “sipping from a fire hose.” This morning we heard three presentations about best practices for boards. The first presentation educated us a little about the Sarbanes Oxley Act and what it means for the PCUSA. The other two challenged us to better understand our role as a board and to give effective oversight.
This afternoon we heard from Governance Task Force, Mission Funding Task Force, and the Mission Work Plan Task Force. These are all very much works in progress. Here are links to the material we looked at:
Mission Work Plan
Nothing to present to you online.
I am not going to recap what these proposals suggest. I will tell you a lot of hours and much effort has gone in to them. Nevertheless, my personal take is that we are not being bold enough. Steve Martin of the Board of Pensions emphasized the importance of asking bold questions that take us out of group think. I am on the Mission Work Plan task force and I can press my issues there. To the other two task forces I would put one question:
Why do we need an Office of the General Assembly AND a General Assembly Council, funded by two different revenue streams?
If these questions have not been dealt with first, then all the rest seems pointless. I can’t think of any other organization where I give through two different funding streams. The people in our pews experience their giving as “giving to the church” not as per capita and mission. This is part of the reason it is so difficult interpret the mission to the church.
The deeper question is why do we have OGA and GAC instead of one board that oversees the work of the church? This makes flexibility and efficiency in decision making nearly impossible. I would like answers to these questions before all else.
This evening we had division dinners and there were was a book discussion on Eugene March's "Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love." We did not get back from our dinner until after 9:00 so I missed that one. Time to read papers and wrap it up on Saturday.
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This morning we gathered for breakfast and then it was off to committee meetings. We began at 9:00 am and went well into the afternoon. I am on the Mission Support Services committee otherwise know as the “bean counters.”
Just as the name suggests, our agenda is usually not filled with a lot of glitzy, exciting work. Much of the time is spent reviewing financial statements and compliance with legal standards. It is important work but not the type of work that makes headlines.
Some tidbits include a potential buyer for the Mary Holmes College property. We learned that FEMA has done some minor renovations to some of the vacant buildings and they are presently housing about 200 Katrina victims. Menaul School is selling some real estate. We approved an adjustment to endowment fund fees. We learned more about the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and improvements that are being made to improve our accountability as a corporation. We reviewed financial statements. We heard reports about work with our partner churches in Pakistan, particularly as it relates to property issues. We heard reports about our conference centers and took action on some technical issues. We learned about the rapid growth of in internet contributions to Presbyterian Disaster assistance. We heard about efforts to revamp the denomination’s web presence into the backbone of our communication and resource distribution functions. We also learned from the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program about a growing problem of pastors not being able to afford housing near churches where they are called and strategies that might include a return to the day when congregations owned a manse. This is just a sampling.
We had worship before supper and then heard and participated in a report on the Peace, Unity, and Purity Task Force for two hours in the evening. Task force members Mark Achtemeier, Gary Demarest, Jean Stoner, and Barbara Wheeler, interpreted the report and led us in a brief small group discussion process. There wasn’t much presented that wasn’t already in the report or widely available if you have already been following the task force developments. The small group discussion was more of a personal nature and would not be appropriate to discuss here. However, I would like to share a personal reflection.
Parker Palmer wrote in one of his books about meeting with his counselor. He told his counselor of a recurring dream he had of being chased by faceless monster. The dream was filled with his desperate attempts to escape. Palmer’s counselor suggested that when he had these dreams, he should try to turn around and confront the monster so he could see what it was. When the dream returned, Palmer summoned the courage to face the monster. When he turned around to face the monster he was stunned to see that it was himself.
There was deep brokenness in his life. He had convinced himself that if he just ran a little harder, performed a little better, and distanced himself from those things that disturbed him, he could break free. Instead, he learned he had to turn around face the “monster” and embrace it as part of himself. There is considerable fear and shame in embracing the monster but Palmer learned it was the only way he could begin to find peace, unity, and purity within his own soul. I know whereof he speaks.
Mark Achtemeier referenced a portion of the report where the talked about Jesus’ prayer that we may all be one. He didn’t pray for us to be alike or to be in agreement. It is not our agreement that makes us one, but rather Christ who calls and unites as one, even when we choose not to live like it.
We Presbyterians have a rich history. Not so long ago we found ourselves at the center of the culture and we took considerable pride in that. Now we find ourselves ever receding to the margins. Why? Because this or that faction of the church is dragging us down! If we can just defeat that faction, run a little harder, do a little better, keep putting on a positive face, we can break free. But like a recurring nightmare we find ourselves desperately running from the monster.
Have we been to full of pride about our past? Are we living in shame over our diminished status in the cultures eyes? Who is the monster we are so terrified to face? Is there courage enough to stop, turn, and face the monster? It is a terrifying and shameful thing to contemplate. It requires public confession that we are broken. The good news is there is a God who is passionately in love with broken people and delights in using our brokenness to reach the world.
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My day began with the Restricted Funds Oversight Committee. We met for four hours this morning and wrapped up business for this round of funding. Official notifications will be sent within a couple of weeks to all those who applied. The report of the Committee will be given to the full Council on Saturday. (If you applied I would encourage you to please wait for official notification by mail and not call staff. The letters will give more details.)
This committee, which began a few years ago, has usually made grants of small amounts to applicants. A couple of more recently established funds are resulting in grants that, in some cases, top six figures. The RFOC will be implementing new procedures shortly for the application process, and for oversight functions, for larger grants. More on that to come in the next few weeks.
The GAC Plenary kicked off at 3:30 this afternoon. Each GAC member was supplied with a laptop and the business was conducted using the Les system, which is still under construction. We received a brief orientation. This system is the one to be used for the General Assembly meeting next summer. We are the test group for the early versions of the system. I really like it but I have heard some complaints. As with any technology, there is a learning curve but I think this is going to be a great asset to the church. Kudos to the staff that have been developing it!
The meeting this afternoon featured reports by the Moderator of GA, Moderator of GAC, Stated Clerk, and the GAC Executive Director. All gave reports that seemed to be about moving boldly into the future. Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase, referencing the book Tipping Point, mentioned five things that will need to characterize the church as we move forward:
Council Moderator Nancy Kahaian reminded us that God always is on the move toward new things in the world. She cautioned against dropping anchor and trying to stay put, or simply trying to recreate some new model of an idealized past. We need to be radically focused on, and devoted to, following Jesus.
GAC Executive Director John Detterick speculated that the GAC of the not to distant future will be smaller, focused more on mission standards than programming standards, active in networking like-minded people, and may be geographically dispersed throughout the country. He also noted that there are almost certainly more budget cuts and staff reductions ahead. But he also expressed optimism because the present GAC, more so than at any time in his seven year tenure, appears to be ready to take on the challenges. His biggest concerns were that the staff would be too reluctant and the elected GAC members would not be bold enough.
I think all three of the speakers are expressing what I have been sensing; that we are at a rapidly accelerating turning point in the denomination. There has been much hard work by Council task forces but I share the concern that we are not being radical enough. At this meeting, we are getting a first comprehensive look at where the task forces are headed. I serve on the ’07-’08 Mission Work Plan Task Force. We are coalescing around the need for clear priorities using outcome based objectives. The ’05-’06 Mission Work Plan was a tremendous improvement and I believe the new work plan will go well beyond it. There will still be much room for improvement after that.
I know many are concerned that we are just a rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. I appreciate this concern. I was a little unsettled at my first GAC meeting a year ago by the seeming lack of urgency for resolution to major problems facing the denomination. I confess I still have some concerns, but what I do see is a considerable awakening to what is happening among several GAC members. Furthermore, I believe the leadership gets it.
On a closing note, the Joining Hearts and Hands campaign now stands at $18,662,211. That amount is expected to be $23,000,000 by month end. That will move the campaign past the halfway mark to $40,000,000.
We eneded our day with worship.
As I have asked with each post, please keep us in your prayers. Tomorrow I will be in the Mission Support Subcommittee all day. Tomorrow evening we will have a discussion about the Peace, Unity, and Purity Task Force report.
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I left Kansas City this morning at 4:00 am Pacific time and arrived at the Sacramento Sheraton Grahnd Hotel at 12:45 pm. I Checked in and went to Restricted Funds Oversight Committee meeting at 1:00. Except for a one and half hours for supper, the seven members and two staff worked until 9:30. The Governance Task Force, the Mission Funding Task Force, and the Personnel Subcommittee were also meeting today.
The Restricted Funds Oversight Committee receives grant requests from across the denomination from churches, presbyteries, synods, and other denominational entities, for funds that have donated and restricted for specific purposes. For an overview of the restricted fund process you can go to the PSUSA site for GA Restricted Funds. If you want to see a list of the funds go to this link: GA Unassigned Funds List.
There are nearly thirty funds to be addressed this year and nearly 150 grant requests. Requests ranged from $500 up to about $175,000. (Only a very few are for more than a couple thousand dollars.) Our staff person Shelly Lewis did a masterful job organizing the information and tabulating data in a variety of informative ways. Each member has had the paperwork to review for about a month and it was clear from the start of the meeting that everyone had done their homework.
I am not at liberty to discuss much of what happened today. We have made a first pass through most of the requests and we had discussion this evening about oversight issues. We convene in the morning to finish our work. We have a 2:00 deadline to meet and then plenary for the GAC officially starts at 3:30.
Keep us all in your prayers.
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By the time you read this post, I should be on my way to Sacramento for the fall meeting of the General Assembly Council. Some of you are not Presbyterian so you have no idea what that means. Unfortunately, many of us who are Presbyterian don’t know what that means. So I thought I would give a brief refresher course.
Then General Assembly meets every two yours with delegates from all the presbyteries that comprise the Presbyterian Church (USA). They set the policies and priorities for the denomination. So who watches over things during the two years between general assembly meetings? The General Assembly Council.
The General Assembly Council is the board for the PCUSA Corporation and meets two or three times a year. We are responsible for oversight of the policies and priorities the General Assembly has put in place. We have oversight of GAC staff and financial operations.
Right now there are 48 presbytery members, 18 synod members (I am from the Synod of Mid-America), the current and past General Assembly moderators, the moderator of Presbyterian women, 2 youth members, and 2 ecumenical advisory members. There are four major divisions of the General Assembly Council:
The first three are programmatic and Mission Support Services, on which I serve, deals with financial and legal concerns. In addition, there are some smaller committees. I serve on the Restricted Funds Oversight Committee and I a am presently on the ’07-’08 Mission Work Plan task force. Here is a link that gives a roster of the GAC members:
People frequently get confused about who the GAC. The people I have described are the GAC elected officials. People also use “GAC” to refer to the staff and offices at the headquarters that do the ongoing work. When I tell people I am on the GAC, more often than not, they think I am staff person living in Louisville.
Furthermore, there is the Office of the General Assembly which answers directly to the General Assembly and the GAC does not give oversight to these operations. Per capita contributions fund the Office of the General Assembly and Mission giving funds the GAC.
The GAC does not officially convene until Wednesday afternoon. However, I am going out a day early to do my duties on the Restricted Funds Oversight Committee Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. The Agenda for the GAC meeting is at this link:
If you want to view the actual business you can go to LES and read the documents:
There is much work but it helps that there is such a dedicated group of people. I hope to report daily on my experiences. I will see how it goes. There are many difficult decisions to make. Please keep us in your prayers.
Posted at 08:00 AM in Presbyterian Church, USA, Presbyterian Mission Agency (formerly General Assembly Mission Council) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
This article was in yesterday's Telegraph. Here is an excerpt on specualtions about the answer to the question the article rasises:
President Bush has repeatedly said that he sees America's role as being to spread "freedom" - short-hand for free trade and free elections. Contrary to popular belief, armed intervention is probably the least effective (and least used) American device for achieving this. Trade agreements (in Central America) and financial support for democratic movements (in Eastern Europe) are achieving much more. So the American empire spreads peace by peaceful means. As more and more governments embrace a version of the American model of liberal democracy, so the number of wars declines.
That's the kind of argument US neo-conservatives love. The trouble is that American intervention has been responsible for ending dictatorships or wars in only a handful of cases. As much, if not more, credit should probably go to the much-maligned "international community" - not only the United Nations, but the World Bank, the World Trade Association and other agencies. There are currently more UN peacekeeping troops deployed round the world than ever before. Particularly in Africa, the international agencies, as well as some European governments, have done far more to end wars than the US, which could not even sort out strife-torn Liberia, a country originally founded by Americans.
Yet maybe there's a third explanation for the recent peace "wave". Maybe local people, regardless of foreign intervention, are simply opting for peace because they're sick to death of fighting each other. War, after all, is attractive only to a minority of people: bored young men and the cynical politicians who see violence as a route to power and its perquisites. That's why only a handful of the post-1989 civil wars lasted longer than seven years.
Time, tumult and the science of survival (Requires Login)
This article appeared yesterday in the Chicago Tribune by Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne. It doesn't say a whole lot new but I thought it was a good illustration. I was particularly interested in this quote:
But creationism, currently repackaged as intelligent design, is not an argument of the same character. It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one. It might be worth discussing in a class on the history of ideas, in a philosophy class on popular logical fallacies or in a comparative religion class on origin myths from around the world.
But it no more belongs in a biology class than alchemy does in a chemistry class, phlogiston in a physics class, astrology in a psychology class or the stork theory in a sex education class. In a class on 20th Century European history, nobody would want to grant denial of the Holocaust the status of one half of a "let's teach both sides of the controversy" treatment.
The none to thinly veiled implication being that people who believe in creation are not just wrong but stupid dults. These guys are the quintessential Ontological Materialists trivializing anyone who does not share there philosophical commitments and lumping them with young earth Scientific Creationists. They are the mirror image of the Scientific Creationists who see all others as the enemy of God and scripture. (See Science and Chrisitanity (Part 14) )
I just finished reading a book by Robert Inchausti called Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, and Other Christians in Disguise. It is a surface scan of twenty-five Christian intellectuals who stood against the forces of the modernist era:
William Blake, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Soren Kierkegaard, G. K. Chesterton, Nikolai Berdyaev, Fydor Dostoyevsky, Boris Pasternak, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, Jack Kerouac, Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Jr., E. F. Schumacher, Wendell Berry, Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye, Jaques Ellul, Ivan Illich, and Rene Girard.
Inchausti gave a summary of what he thought these thinkers had in mind toward the end of the book:
Christian thinkers, of the kind I am examining here, aren’t all that interested in defending their faith, so much as seizing upon revealed reality in its highest expectation and tension toward the future. Their thinking is not strictly “apologetics” but something more engaged—and attempt to “say” what the world looks like as seen through eyes transformed by the living God. In other words, Christian scholarship is witness – not necessarily of doctrinal or dogmatic truths but of concrete realities made visible through a belief in them. It is the product of sensibility detached from worldly ambitions and nurtured by an intellectual freedom that grows out of the gratuitousness of love.
For them, the kingdom has already come, so the shadow side of things – injustices, the perversity, indeed the implacable reality of sin in all its endless variations – is not something to be particularly worried about or capitulated to. Theirs is not a “warrior politics” or a “pagan ethos” like the kind advocated by Robert D. Kaplan, who sees nothing wrong with exploiting others’ weaknesses in order to accomplish “great things.” Like their prophetic and Romantic precursors, “the orthodox avant-garde” want to give hope to the hopeless and pause to the proud. Yet they are also radically suspicious of their own motives and assumptions, suspecting themselves almost as much as their adversaries, loving their crooked neighbor with their own crooked hearts. (181-182)
The book does not cover any one person in depth but gives just enough to whet you appetite and let you see the broad landscape of those who resisted the forces of modernization. I find it very useful wanted recommend it to any one who might be interested in Christian intellectuals.
I came across this post at Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank. Sherman Kuek has been writing about the relational nature of our faith. This is his summary. I hope to go read the whole thing this week. Here was one quote that caught my eye.
"All too often, we have sought to express the propositional dimensions of faith to (or even impose them upon) others without first having introduced them to the person about which this body of propositions speaks. In essence, we are demanding that people believe what we say about someone they have not even known."
I have written several times about the foundationalist nature of theology and scripture in modernism. Liberal theology looks for a universal experience common to all humanity as its foundation for theology. The universal experience becomes the interpretative lens for doing theology and usually reduces scripture to a high expression of the universal experience, but it ceases to be truly authoritative.
The conservative method views scripture as a theological erector set. Scripture is a disconnected set of theological truths that must be formed into an all encompassing, bomb proof, systematic theology. This tends to elevate the resulting system as the lens for doing theology and the system takes on an authority over and above the scripture itself.
So what is the alternative? I just finished reading “The Character of Theology: A Postconservative Evangelical Approach,” by John R. Franke. He gives a one paragraph summary of how the authority of the Bible can be understood in a postmodern era:
N. T. Wright suggests a model of biblical authority that moves along similar lines. He uses the analogy of a five act Shakespeare play in which the first four acts are extant but the fifth has been lost. In this model, the performance of the fifth act is facilitated not by the writing of a script that “would freeze the play into one form” but by recruitment of “highly trained, sensitive, and experienced Shakespearean actors” who immerse themselves in the first four acts and then are told “to work out a fifth act for themselves.” The first four acts serve as the “authority” for the play, but not in the sense of demanding that the actors “repeat the earlier parts of the play over and over again.” Instead, the authority of the extant acts functions in the context of an ongoing and unfinished drama that “contained its own impetus, its own forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in the proper manner but which required of the actors a responsible entering in to the story as it stood, in order to first understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together, and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency.” Wright then suggests that this model closely corresponds to the pattern of the biblical narratives. (p. 162. Franke is quoting from N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?" Vox Evangelica 21 (1991): 7-32. The quotes are from pages 18-19.)
I gave my own interpretation of this perspective in three posts when I first began to blog in June.
Generous Orthodoxy will begin a discussion of Franke’s book next week. They apparently plan to go through the book a section at a time and I get the impression they expect to be at it for weeks. You still have time to get the book and wade in if you want. I want invite you all to join in.
“…In the almost thirty of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been and enquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate the faith to my co-workers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church doesn’t have the least interest whether or how I minister in my daily work.” (William E. Diehl. Christianity and Real Life. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976. v.-vi. Diehl was an executive at Bethlehem Steel.)
“Theology is not the private reserve of theologians. It is not a private affair for professors…Nor is it a private affair for pastors…Theology is a matter for the church. It does not get on well without professors and pastors. But its problem, the purity of the church’s service, is put to the whole church. The term ‘laity’ is one of the worst in the vocabulary of religion and ought to be banished from Christian conversation.” (Karl Barth. Theologische Fragen und Antworten, 1957, 183-184, quoted in R. J. Erler and R. Marquard, eds., translator, G. W. Bromiley. A Karl Barth Reader. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986, 8-9. I found the quote in R. Paul Stevens. The Other Six Days. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, 24)
“This then is the ‘new direction’ which a biblical perspective on the Christian laity requires of us today. It calls for a widespread recognition and honoring of the biblical vision of the unity of the laos of God, of the ministry of all members, of the priesthood of all believers, of the vocation of all Christians. It will be realized only if the ‘nonclergy’ are willing to move up, if the ‘clergy’ are willing to move over, and all of God’s people are willing to move out. For the ministry of this community is rendered first and foremost in the world and for the world. It is performed in the daily lives of its people, in their participation and involvement in the structures of a complex society, in their sacrificial obedience in ‘worldly affairs,’ in their mission to reclaim the world for the God who claims the world in love.” (Thomas W. Gillespie, “The Laity in Biblical Perspective.” Theology Today, v. 36, no. 3, Oct. 1979, p. 315-327. p. 327. Dr. Gillespie is a retired pastor, former president of Princeton Seminary, and a fellow General Assembly Council member.)
This fall I plan to launch into a topic I am deeply passionate about. Presbyweb linked an article called Neighbor Love, Inc., from Christianity Today, that goes right to the core of the issue. Here is a quote from that article.
First, the Christian's calling in the business world is not primarily about evangelism. Nor is it about being "nice." As good as those things may be, business is fundamentally about serving others. As Robert Sirico of the Grand Rapids-based Acton Institute writes: "When people accept the challenge of an entrepreneurial vocation, they have implicitly decided to meet the needs of others through the goods and services they produce. If the entrepreneur's investments are to return a profit, the entrepreneur must be 'other-directed.' Ultimately, business persons in a market economy simply cannot be both self-centered and successful." (Emphasis in the original.)
R. Paul Stevens, in his book The Other Six Days, makes a case for a Trinitarian view of call.
Father = Creation Stewardship – Being stewards of creation and co-creators with God.
Son = Kingdom Service – Carrying on the works of Jesus.
Spirit = Exercising Gifts – Using gifts for the growth and health of the Church and humanity.
All are called to participate in all three. The callings are integrated and yet each has identifiable aspects. However, in terms of how we spend the hours of our days, for the great majority of us, the great majority of our time is in Creation Stewardship. Accounting, farming, sales, factory work, teaching, art, plumbing, even (and especially) diaper changing, are Creation Stewardship. God gives us temperaments, gifts, life experiences and passions, which together constitute a personal call. That personal call shapes how it is that we live out the Trinitarian call above. I once heard “call” described as the place where our deepest passion meets the world’s deepest need.
Here is the problem. I have gone to many presbytery meetings. Every time a new Minister of Word and Sacrament comes before the presbytery, they are asked, what is your call and how did you discern it? Bam! Without missing a step, they can give you a direct answer. I have been an elder for years now. Guess how many times I have been asked about my call? Zero! Oh, I have been asked about how I became Christian and my past service in the church, but call? Nope.
What would happen if pastors turned to their congregations and one by one asked them what their call was and how did they discern it? Other than naming their occupation and maybe saying it seems like it is where God wants them to be, how many could really answer that question? I would be surprised if 5% could give a coherent response. We say we believe in the Reformed idea of call. We lie!
The principle calling of Creation Stewardship has at its core, economics. How do we effectively and justly produce and distribute resources for greatest enhancement of individuals and societies? Creation stewardship existed before the fall, after the fall, and will be present for eternity. This co-creative stewardship is at the very heart of what it means to be humanity created in the image of God.
The scandal is that, as far as I can tell, our seminaries and denominational hierarchies are at best indifferent about calls to business and economics, and at worst, hostile and derisive of these calls. It never ceases to amaze me the utter cluelessness with which many clergy make pronouncements about economic issues, often advocating actions that, if implemented, would have disastrous effects for society, well beyond economic concerns. Especially when it comes to poverty, the question is asked in terms of why are some people poor? Wrong question! The question presumes that having some wealth is the norm. We are all born without anything. We all start in poverty. The question is where does wealth come from?
It may be a month before I get to this topic but I just wanted to give you fair warning.
About three months I ago I posted the following definitions:
Delusion – a false or mistaken belief or idea about something. psychology - a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of psychiatric disorder.
Illusion - something that deceives the senses or mind, for example, by appearing to exist when it does not or appearing to be one thing when it is in fact another.
Delusion and illusion are central themes of scripture. Delusion is a perfect description for fallen humanity. Communally we create illusions that reinforce our delusions. This is not to say there isn’t good in human cultures. For a counterfeit to be successful, it must contain enough of the substance of the real thing to give the appearance of being the real thing. Our human cultures are facsimiles of the real thing but they lead us away from God and not to him.
God is not content to leave us in our lies. He disillusions us so we can see him and ourselves for what we are. Jesus is the ultimate disillusionist. As head of the Church, he calls us to individually and corporately be disillusionists as well.
We are called to be in authentic community. Authentic community simultaneously exposes illusions and offers a window into the reality of the Kingdom. Maybe you have heard the adage that says, “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.”
At the interpersonal level, tension must be raised about the efficacy of the illusions we live under. We are to be tools of creating that tension as Christians. This does not mean we are combative or belligerent. On the contrary. Our disillusioning should be characterized by an unsettling sense of love and marching to the beat of a different drum.
When the tension is raised, we are called to point the way to Jesus and the authenticity that can be found in him and his Kingdom. This is evangelism; the telling of the good news of the Kingdom among us.
Unfortunately, most of liberal Christianity is hesitant to say anything definitive about Jesus. They would rather be in dialog, find common ground, and combat “universally accepted” notions of social injustice. This is their “good news of the Kingdom,” or evangelism.
Conservative Christians focus inordinately (often exclusively) on personal salvation, usually motivated by a desire to resolve personal tensions in ones own psyche. Personal inner peace and freedom from the consequences of sin are the driving issues. This is their “good news of the Kingdom” or evangelism.
Neither of these scenarios leads to a world where every person, every social structure, every principality and power, every realm, is brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. One leads to social justice based on human wisdom and the other leads to psychological healing. The Kingdom comes only by people answering a call to radical discipleship. It comes by lovingly and relentlessly disillusioning others, and ourselves, so we can fully embrace God and his mission in the world.
I can't say that often agree with Anna Qunidlen, columnist at Newsweek. But she had a great quote in the latest edition. The article is Don't Mess with Mother.
"In the aftermath of Katrina, one displaced person after another told TV reporters that at least they were alive, their family was safe, the stuff didn't matter. If only that were the ethic for the long haul. Consumption used to be the name for a mortal wasting disease. It still is."
Yesterday I wrote that few people seem interested in my “sharing of the gospel” because I am giving answers to questions they aren’t asking. They are content enough with their own lives. They do not feel the tension about being cut off from God. Culture has sufficiently diverted their attention. Yes, there is the occasional existentialist who seeks to live in the tension, but they are few and far between. So what to do? I believe the answer lies in apologetics, but before you run from your computer screaming, let me say something about what I believe to be genuine apologetics.
Os Guinness, in his tape series on apologetics, says apologetics has taken two paths in the Twentieth Century. There is a liberal version and a conservative version. Guinness says the liberal version could be described as, “Dialog, don’t debate.” Since much of the modernist liberal project has been about uncovering foundational common experiences shared throughout humanity, dialog would lead to a higher level of understanding of God as we share with each other. The problem is that this emptied the gospel of any distinctive content, so there really was no point in evangelism in the traditional sense of the word.
For the conservative community, the mantra became “Proclaim, don’t persuade.” The idea was not to engage people in dialog but to proclaim truth. People will either respond to truth or reject it, but there is no point in “throwing your pearls before swine” by seriously conversing with deluded sinful people. An important part of this project has been an almost hyper commitment to scientific-rationalism as conservative apologists have sought to "out reason" the rationalist with their systematic defense of the Bible. The result has often been a grossly over intellectualized pursuit that has little or no interest in unique people who are trying to make their way in the world.
Furthermore, apologetics is often understood as a defense of God and scripture. Guinness suggests that God needs no defense. No where in scripture is there a case of God defending his actions or asking anyone else to do so. On the contrary. If anything, God is the prosecuting attorney, challenging human behavior and calling people into account. God unmasks illusions and then challenges us to make wise choices. Apologetics is basically the unmasking of illusions. It is “giving a word back” to the illusions that others place before us.
How does the unmasking of illusions take place? When a person is open and teachable, direct communication often works fine. We see this many times with Jesus disciples. For the one who may be less open to God, questions are frequent option. Think of Jesus and his interaction with the woman at the well or with the rich young ruler. Parables and story telling is another avenue. Remember Nathan engaging David in a story and then springing a trap at the end, where David convicts himself. Jesus constantly used parables with great effectiveness, much to the aggravation of the religious leaders who often got the point all to well. It is quite easy to tune out someone’s rational presentation but when you are asked questions and enter into stories, it bypasses the rational defenses and engages at a much more profound level. Guinness notes that, with hardening hearts, God eventually turns to prophetic warnings and even street theater as with Jeremiah. Finally, to the truly hardened heart, God gives only silence and lets us experience the consequences of our choices.
We who know Jesus have something to offer that goes far beyond rational arguments and theistic proofs, but most people can not and will not hear what we have to say because of the illusions they live with. We may come across the occasional person who is of the 2-3% of people open to hearing a straightforward conversation about the gospel but they will be the rarity. No, the first response must be the compassionate and respectful confrontation of illusions. We start by conversation and asking questions. The reality is that most people have not genuinely though through maters of life, death, purpose, and eternity. The mere probing of these areas with questions and parables often raises tension within the mind. No critical remarks or arguementative "proofs" are needed. When the tension over illusion becomes great enough, then there is the opportunity for proclamation and telling of our own experience.
However, this also means we have to be prepared and be willing to probe our ourselves on core issues. The beauty of apologetics, seen as genuine conversation, questioning, and story telling, is that we will learn much about ourselves as well. God will reveal things to us about ourselves through conversations with those who do not yet believe. We will find illusions lurking around in our own minds that must be addressed. In this sense, the interaction with the not-yet-believer becomes a partnership journey instead of polite conversation or a theological debate.
Apologetics breaks up illusions for both parties. Evangelism turns us to Jesus; hopefully bringing one to faith and the other deeper into faith. We need an evangelism apologetics fusion.
As of last Friday, General Assembly Council documents are available online. Go to www.pcusa.org/gac/ and click on the "Les" icon. Login as a "public" user and you can see all the business that is coming before the GAC next week in Sacramento. I would be interested if you have any comments on the business before the GAC.
Next week I will fly to Sacramento early on Tuesday morning the 20th, and I expect to return late on Saturday. I hope to use this blog to give daily updates on what I see and do at the meetings.
Posted at 03:31 PM in Presbyterian Church, USA, Presbyterian Mission Agency (formerly General Assembly Mission Council) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
I read an interesting article last week called Rabbinic Questioning – A better way to Evangelize. It was adapted by Randy Newman from his book Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did. He writes about using effective questions (in contrast to spouting off explanations) as a better way to do Evangelism.
I found this particularly interesting because of a tape series I heard years ago by Os Guinness on apologetics. He said almost everything Newman said except he was talking about apologetics not evangelism. This dovetails with a conclusion I have been coming to over the years: “Evangelism” and “apologetics” are an unhelpful segmentation of Christian witness.
When I hear “evangelism,” my mind turns to images of telling another person why they out to be a Christian and inviting them to become one. Maybe it is a rational presentation of the gospel story, maybe it is a personal testimony, or maybe the “Four Spiritual Laws” formulistic approach, followed by an invitation. Of course, a Billy Graham Crusade comes to mind as well.
Apologetics is most closely aligned in my mind with the idea of defending the faith. The apologist has an answer for every question. Theistic proofs are studied and mastered. An arsenal of arguments exposing flaws of competing positions is developed.
The problem I have with this notion of evangelism is that I find very few people have any interest in my faith or the Christian story. If I tell them my story, they are usually happy that it works for me. The problem I have with this idea of apologetics is that I believe the Word of God is full of mystery, paradox, and nuance. I also see my objective as introducing someone to the lover of my soul not to win an argument. So what to do about evangelism and apologetics?
Os Guinness observes that human beings are in a dilemma because of our fallen condition. On one hand, our lives gain eternal meaning and purpose only from God, but because of our sin, we are isolated from God and don’t know how to come back into relationship. We can’t live in isolation from God so we create culture to give meaning and purpose to our existence. But, if we look too closely at culture, we come to see that what the culture is offering is an illusion (although it is a powerful illusion.) We can’t live in isolation from God. We can’t fully embrace the culture if we probe too deeply. So what do we do: Diversion.
Guinness suggests that the cultural sham of meaning is sufficient enough to hold most of society most of the time, as long as people don’t dig too deep. To keep people form going too deep, the culture offers diversion. Maybe it is materialism. Maybe it is inordinate focus on family. Maybe it is single minded focus on some type of achievement. Then there are the less socially sanctioned diversions, or self-medications, like additions to substances, sex, or gambling.
Because of these effective diverting tactics, most people are sufficiently content. They are not asking the question for which we are offering an answer through Jesus Christ. They do not sufficiently feel the tension between the reality of their lives and the sham the culture is offering. At most, maybe 2-3% of the population is in sufficient enough tension that they are actually asking the question. Often this occurs at times of traumatic life change like a divorce, death of a loved one, or financial ruin. So must we wait for trauma to hit before we can effectively get people to where they can hear the gospel?
This is where I think we need a new understanding of apologetics. The root word that apologetics essentially means “giving a word back.” More about this tomorrow.
Russell Smith has a great post where he has compiled links to a varitety of articles on the PUP Report. Instead of doing a book study at GAC we are going to have a dialog about the PUP study. I was about to start hunting down all the reviews I can find. Thanks to Russell, my work load just became a whole lot lighter. Thank you Russell! Here is the link:
The Three Rs: Revision, Reform, Reconcile (Requries Login)
The is a Viewpoint in the Presbyterian Outlook by Rev. Jin S. Kim. I think is has a very interesting take on issues before the PCUSA. Here are a couple of paragraphs from his article:
But if we do have a schism, and if the choice is to join the Sadducees or the Pharisees, which should we choose? This is a serious dilemma, especially for those of us who come from racial ethnic minority communities. We are daily confronted by social injustice and struggle with issues of racism, inadequate healthcare and employment, immigration issues, racial profiling, sub-standard public education, affordable housing … the list goes on. Like the white liberals, we care deeply about matters of justice, but unlike them, nowhere among the racial ethnic communities does the issue of homosexuality rise to the level of urgency as have the other issues listed. And by and large, we ethnic minorities are marked by a deeply evangelical, orthodox and spiritual faith.
So on the issue of ordination standards, we share similar orthodox convictions with our white conservative brothers and sisters. But where are they after we stand and vote with them on the ordination amendments? In the face of massive poverty, war and disease around the globe, and the disintegration of the family, rampant consumerism and hedonism in American society, I can't help thinking that the elevation of sexuality as the dominant ecclesial debate is a uniquely Western fetish.
More than a month a ago, I posted a link to Anthony Smith’s blog called Musings of a Post-Modern Negro. He was beginning a series called “Postmodern Black Church (or a church where a Negro can feel at home)” Well it took awhile but recently he began posting on this topic. The first three posts are linked here:
He also had a great post on his definition of racism:
If emergence is ever to go anywhere, this is the kind of conversation that has to happen. I’d invite you to check out what he is saying and to read the comments as well. You may not like some of it but hey… you are reading my blog. How much worse could it be?
To my knowledge, the last statement to truly address evolution by the PCUSA was in 1969 from the PCUS. The conclusion from the study is presented below. You can also find it at the PCUSA website under Evolution Statement.
EVOLUTION AND THE BIBLE
Primary Reference: GA Minutes 1969: 59-62
Conclusion from the Study
Neither Scripture, our Confession of Faith, nor our Catechisms, teach the Creation of man by the direct and immediate acts of God so as to exclude the possibility of evolution as a scientific theory. Scripture states that "out of the ground" the Lord God formed every beast, Genesis 2:19, and "of the dust of the ground" the Lord God formed man, Genesis 2:7. Genesis 1 teaches that according to the Word of God there came into being Light, Firmament (called Heaven), the Earth and the Seas. Then, God said: "Let the waters bring forth" and "Let the earth bring forth." After the creation of Light, the Firmament and the Earth, after the Earth and the Waters brought forth plant, aquatic and animal life, then God said: "Let us make man." This man, Adam, meaning both a man and man, is by nature both individual and corporate. The name Adam is simply a generic term for man brought forth from the Earth. Genesis 1 describes Creation as taking place in six days; however, it is not necessary to understand the Genesis account as a scientific description of Creation. Our Confession of Faith says:
"It pleased God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom and goodness, in the beginning, to create or make of nothing the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.
After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls . . ." (Chapter IV).
The Larger Catechism answers the question "How did God create man?" as follows: "After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female; formed the body of man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of man; endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image . . ."(Q. 17)
It may be that the Westminster Divines understood the "six days" as well as such phrases as "of the dust of the ground" and "the rib of man" in a literal sense; but, as they were merely using the words of Scripture with no intention to argue the theory of evolution (of which they had never heard), we are free to interpret their words in a different sense, just as we now do the words of Scripture. Nowhere is the process by which God made, created or formed man set out in scientific terms. A description of this process in its physical aspects is a matter of natural science. The Bible is not a book of science. As John Calvin said, commenting on Genesis: "To my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere." (Genesis Commentary — on Chap. 1, verse 6).
If the Confession of Faith, or the Catechisms, appear in some manner to support the position of the General Assemblies of 1886, 1888, 1889 and 1924 this is not because of Scripture itself but rather because Scripture was interpreted with 17th Century perspectives and presuppositions.
Some form of evolutionary theory is accepted by the majority of modern scientists. The Darwin Centennial celebration, composed of fifty outstanding experts on the various phases of evolutionary theory, expressed the meaning of evolution as follows: "Evolution is definable in general terms as a one-way irreversible process in time, which during its course generates novelty, diversity, and higher levels of organization. It operates in all sectors of the phenomenal universe, but has been most fully described and analyzed in the biological sector." (Evolution After Darwin, edited by Sol Tax, University of Chicago Press, containing the University of Chicago Centennial papers and discussion, 1959)
Our responsibility as Christians is to deal seriously with the theories and findings of all scientific endeavors, evolution included, and to enter into open dialogue with responsible persons involved in scientific tasks about the achievement, failures and limits of their activities and of ours. The truth or falsity of the theory of evolution is not the question at issue and certainly not a question which lies within the competence of the Permanent Theological Committee. The real and only issue is whether there exists clear incompatibility between evolution and the Biblical doctrine of Creation. Unless it is clearly necessary to uphold a basic Biblical doctrine, the Church is not called upon and should carefully refrain from either affirming or denying the theory of evolution. We conclude that the true relation between the evolutionary theory and the Bible is that of non-contradiction and that the position stated by the General Assemblies of 1886, 1888, 1889 and 1924 was in error and no longer represents the mind of our Church.
We re-affirm our belief in the uniqueness of man as a creature whom God has made in His own image.
Galileo Galilei's encounter with the Church is the quintessential example of the quest for scientific truth being subverted by powerful gatekeepers of dogma. The Church has long since lost its gate keeping status but that does not mean that powerful gatekeepers have disappeared. In fact, a powerful new community of gate keepers has emerged in my lifetime. Here is how it came about.
The Manhattan Project of World War II was one of the most significant scientific feats of the 20th Century. An incredible level of cooperation across institutions and disciplines rendered the atomic bomb. President Roosevelt was so impressed by the achievements of this team of scientists that he asked MIT Engineer and White House official Vannevar Bush to pursue the possibility of ongoing scientific research sponsored by the federal government.
Bush came back with a report called Science: The Endless Frontier. The report extolled the ability of government to address a host human dilemmas through the coordination and funding of scientific research. In response, President Truman signed in to law legislation that would create the National Science Foundation which would answer to the office of the President.
By 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower was expressing concern about the growing involvement of the federal government in science research. In his farewell address January 17, 1961, he said:
The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present -- and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must always be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become a captive of a scientific-technological elite.
The National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy have become major sources for scientific funding. Funding is awarded based on the scientific paradigms and priorities of the government. Initially funding focused on health and military research. During the 1960s, Kennedy promoted his ambitious plans to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade and Johnson declared War on Poverty, conjuring up the idea of the united war effort during WWII. Coordinated scientific efforts played major roles in these programs.
Meanwhile, Rachel Carson published her book in 1962, entitled Silent Spring, which more or less ignited the modern environmentalist movement. Then Paul Ehrlich published his book Population Bomb in 1968, where he predicted depleted fuel resources, massive famines, and host of other disasters based on scientific assessments. Four years later came the Club of Rome report Limits to Growth. It echoed and expanded on similar themes including a proposal to divide the world into ten governmental units to "manage" the scarce resources for the world. A few years later in 1980, the Carter Administration produced the Global 2000 Report which repeated more of the same. So, what happened over the past 25 years? World population grew at a much reduced rates than anyone predicted, hunger and famine have been dramatically reduced, and even with the present fuel shortage prices in the United States we are still below 1970s inflation adjusted prices.
By the end of the 1980s, many of the global disaster prophecies were beginning to look pretty silly. Government was still declaring its new wars on social issues. The latest was the War on Drugs. With looming global disaster fading from the scene as "war targets," grounded space exploration, and free market mechanisms successfully addressing many economic issues, new justifications were needed for science expenditures. Fortunately, a new global disaster emerged on the scene: Global warming.
During the 1990s, with assistance of a more than sympathetic administration, global warming became the funding topic of the day. The United Nations was already very much on the bandwagon with this concern. Just as with past administrations in the USA, the government set the paradigms and parameters for funding.
Now, if your organization's funding is at all government dependent, how likely are you to report back to the government that the scientific paradigm they are using is bogus? If you like working at scientific research and like to eat, it is not likely. Thus, a reinforcing feedback loop has been created. The government keeps funding research and they keep hearing what they want to hear. But it doesn't end there.
For a research scientist, an essential activity for advancement is peer-reviewed publications. How does this work? A journal receives a study for potential publication. It is submitted to leading scientists with expertise in the field the study addresses. Who are these expert reviewers? Most often, they are the ones who have been successful at working the government funding game to get money for research. (Journals keep confidential who reviews what studies.) Guess what happens when research comes along that threatens the paradigm, which is the government's paradigm, which is in turn the ultimate source of the reviewer's salary? Consequently, challenge to paradigms becomes daunting far beyond just the intellectual and factual challenges. Challenge the dogma of the gatekeepers and you learn what Galileo learned.
The global warming paradigm, as funded by the government, is described well by Patrick J. Michaels in his book Meltdown.
The earth's surface temperature is influenced by human activity, and changes that are being measured today are largely consequences of that activity. We are developing the ability to quantify those changes from basic physical principles, and have determined that the major cause of recent climate change is the emission of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuel. Improved quantification of those changes will give policymakers improved guidance on what might be required to slow, stop, or reverse those changes.
The evidence is not bearing this out. A better paradigm that describes the facts is:
The earth's surface temperature is influenced by human activity, and changes that are being measured today are largely consequences of that activity. We know, to a very small range of error, the amount of future climate change for the foreseeable future and it is a modest value to which humans have adapted and will continue to adapt. There is no known, feasible policy that can stop or even slow these changes in a fashion that could be scientifically measured.
The fact is that most of the alarmist stories about global warming in publications like Time, Newsweek, and major newspapers are refuted almost as quickly as they are published. The same is true for publications like Science or Nature. Sometimes they are refuted as misrepresentations of the findings by the very researchers who conducted the studies. These refutations are rarely published or given the same consideration as the alarmist stories that make the front page.
The United Nations, progressives (often championing collectivist solutions), the press, and significant pockets within the scientific community, are intermeshed in support of the paradigm. Their interlocking vested interests are highly resistant to challenge.
The solution to global warming by these gate keepers are things like the draconian Kyoto Protocols. One of the Protocols' provisions is that the United States reduce its carbon dixoide emission levels to rates 5% below 1900s averages. Why not 10%? 25%? 2%? There is no rationale because no direct link can be shown between the emissions and the environmental effects.
As Christians we have a responsibility to be environmental stewards. We also have a responsibility to discern truth. Our stewardship should spring out of our appreciation for the world God has given us rather than from alarmist half-truths and errors that aim to limit open and free societies out of fear. The global warming movement is less about science and more about people, wittingly and unwittingly, seeking limitations on free societies based on foundationless fear. Let the church not make the same mistake it made 400 years ago by standing with dogma, whatever its source, against scientific inquiry.
I started blogging a little more than three months ago for several reasons. But what makes a successful blog? I read this post this morning and thought it was excellent.
So what are we to make of Christianity and science? I think a helpful analogy would be to think in terms of two books from God: scripture and nature. Scripture is testimony of God’s involvement in the world and reveals his plan for creation, including us. Nature is physical evidence of God’s work in the world.
Without getting too metaphysical, I think it is important to ask what the difference is between the natural and the supernatural. When we say “natural” we usually mean something that we see repeatedly and consistently. When we say “supernatural” or “miracle,” we refer to something that seems inconsistent with what usually happens for which we have no explanation. For instance, people coming back to life is supernatural… or is it?
What if God suddenly raised everyone from the dead and then began bringing people back from the dead right after they died? We might not be able to explain what was happening but if it continued over time we would no longer call it supernatural. It happens every time and therefore it is natural. What if gravity is actually supernatural, but because it happens all the time, we call it natural? Supernatural is simply extraordinary events that we can’t explain. Does that make the natural any less permeated with God’s presence?
We have received divine revelation in scripture about God and his plans for humanity. We also have before us the wondrous handiwork of God in the physical world. We know God exists and is involved, but science is the study of the physical evidence of how God works in the world. Revelation does not tell us how the physical realities of the world work and science does not tell us about God’s purposes or operations beyond physical realities. So precisely how do the two interact? Why not ask how Jesus could be fully God and fully human? How can God be three in one? It is a paradox.
The drive of the Modernist era has been to force an “either or” solution. For finite beings with limited mental capacity and perceptive abilities, to believe that we can grasp how an infinite and omniscient God interacts with creation is more than a little arrogant. To conclude that because science cannot measure God that God is not present is the height of arrogance. It doesn’t mean that these topics shouldn’t be probed, but a considerable dose of humility is in order.
For centuries, the Church stifled learning and understanding of the physical world because of its unexamined iconoclastic presumptions about how the world works. As many of those presumptions were proved false, the church resorted to threats and inquisitions to retain power and authority. The Church discredited itself before much of the world. The Church succumbed to its own hubris.
Meanwhile, the Enlightenment, flamed by the recalcitrance of the Church, gave birth to a new type of hubris. As science broke free from the prison of Church influence it began to quickly gain authority. Scientists made remarkable breakthroughs that dramatically improved the lives of everyday people. By the 19th Century, philosophers like Auguste Comte (1798-1857) touted positivism, and the new science of sociology, as the future religion of humankind. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) championed the concept of Social Darwinism. (It was Spencer, not Darwin, who coined the phrase “the survival of the fittest.”) This trajectory in social scientific thinking led to the Eugenics Movement in the United States and Germany during the first half of the 20th Century. However, the most notorious of this band of intellectuals has to be Karl Marx (1818-1883).
Marxism is essentially a Christian heresy. It promises a coming utopia. It views humanity as moving toward an unstoppable conclusion. It demands complete loyalty. It views the people as the “body,” except instead of having Christ as head, impersonal market and evolutionary forces are taking the “body” to completion. Of course, as we have seen, the individual counted for very little.
Science is not an institution in the same sense as the Church. Scientists can not achieve the same level of tyranny the Church achieved. Yet, from the mid-19th Century (at least) leading scientists, scientific communities, and social thinkers have championed science as the final authority on all matters and legitimized some of the most horrific events in human history.
Evolution played a part in many of the destructive ideologies of the 20th Century. So is evolution the culprit? If I want to make a counterfeit $20 bill, I would be well advised to use a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the center that looks as close to the real thing as possible. If I want to create a counterfeit religion, wouldn’t I want it to look as much like the real thing as possible? Scientific research points overwhelmingly toward evolution as process in the book that God has given us about the physical world. Would it not make sense to incorporate this mindset into any godless counterfeit ideology I develop? This doesn’t make evolution wrong or evil.
It seems to me that the answer lies in embracing the paradox of the two books God has given us. Scripture, apart from science, leads to a stagnate culture. Science, apart from scripture, can lead to a host of horrifying consequences for humanity corporately and individually. Science, and its application through technology, is coming to be seen less as a savior and more as a tool that can either enhance life or destroy it. Its luster as the high priest of knowledge is beginning to fade.
One of the things I see today as a minor theme within the Emergent Church movement is hostility toward reason and science. This strikes me as an over reaction. The answer to an over inflated esteeming of science is not its trivialization. In fact, the scientists I know are among the most awestruck, humbled, and mystical people around. The answer is to bring the study of the physical world back into balance with the personal word God has given us in scripture, incarnated in Jesus Christ, and attested to us by the Holy Spirit.
When it comes to resolving issues between science and Christianity, there are more than two views. This true about evolution. I recently read Evolution from Creation to New Creation by Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett. They identify four major positions and place them on a continuum. Here is a very brief summary.
Scientific Creationism – Advocates believe the world to be only a few thousand years old. A worldwide flood occurred that altered the face of the planet. Divine creation brought new species into existence, not macro-evolution.
Intelligent Design – Accepts most of what scientists say about the age of the universe, the operations of physics, and so on, but believes that only an intelligent being could have brought about life and new species. Macro-evolution by natural selection is, mathematically improbable, if not impossible.
Theistic Evolution – Believes that God was the creator of all that is and has superintended the development of creation. Believes that macro-evolution has occurred and is the process by which God brought life to where it is today. God is present and at work in the world today.
Ontological Materialism – Rejects the idea that anything other than natural forces are at work in the universe. Evolution has been a product of natural selection and there is no super intelligence impinging on the natural world.
While there is considerable overlap between Scientific Creationist advocates and Christian Fundamentalism, they are not one in the same. Furthermore, proponents like Henry Morris and Duane Gish want to be engaged on the basis of their science and not their faith. Morris has noted in the past that his main works challenging evolution do not even mention the Bible. Nevertheless, critics frequently dismiss Scientific Creationists because they have underlying religious perspectives. To which Gish, Morris, and company, rightly respond by asking, “And other scientists don’t have religious perspectives?” Peters and Hewlett point out that these folks are offering scientific models. In scientific circles, it ought to be enough to critique their science without disparaging their religious convictions. Of course, this cuts the other way. Scientific Creationists are not free to dismiss other scientist because of their religious beliefs.
The Intelligent Design camp is little more amorphous. There are some Scientific Creationist who represent themselves as Intelligent Design advocates, probably to gain a wider hearing. But the leading minds of the Intelligent Design advocates affirm most widely accepted scientific knowledge. Keeping in mind a continuum, we could place people like Philip Johnson closer to the Scientific Creationist part of the continuum. He seems often to imply that the scientists are intentionally engaging in fraud. Then, there is Michael Behe who fully respects the scientific community but questions macro-evolution based on irreducible complexity. He is closer to the Theistic Evolutionist Perspective. So there are differences within the group.
The Theistic Evolutionist perspective also includes a wide range of adherents. Toward the Intelligent Design side of the continuum would be none other than Fundamentalist icon B. B. Warfield and scientist Kenneth Miller. Toward the Ontological side of the perspective would be the more mystical Tielhard de Chardin. Some Theistic Evolutionists have speculative theories about how the teaching of scripture and the knowledge of scientists interrelate. Others tend to see the interaction as a divine mystery that may be beyond our human ability to understand. They embrace science and faith as a paradox.
The Ontological Materialist allows for no involvement by supernatural forces in the natural world. Thomas Huxley and Richard Dawkins would be of this perspective. Stephen Jay Gould suggested that science and religion occupy two separate non-overlapping domains, which on the surface sounds accommodating. However, in practical terms, Gould maintained that God may not interfere in any historical event that might otherwise be accessible to science and only communicates by revelation. Thus, he effectively reduces the scope of religion to fantasy.
The Creation Scientists see the Ontological Materialists as their mortal enemies. They usually see old earth Intelligent Design folks and especially Theistic Evolutionist as either naïve or wolves in sheep clothing. They worry that these last two groups are on a slippery slope toward Ontological Materialism. Similarly, the Ontological Materialists have their harshest words for the Creation Scientists. They see the Intelligent Design and Theistic Evolutionist as grossly misguided and possibly wolves in sheep clothing. In debates you will frequently see the Creation Scientists pin the pejorative of "evolutionist" on anyone who does not embrace their position. The Ontological Materialist label anyone who expresses an honest conviction about God as a Bible thumping, young-earth, Creation Scientist.
From where I sit, and I am not a physical scientist, the case for evolutionary development looks very convincing. I see nothing in the Bible that precludes macro-evolution from happening. In fact, as I have laid out in the past few posts, there is an uncanny correspondence between the Bible and an evolutionary model. Yet, I have read Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box and his argument against macroevolution based on irreducible complexity. He makes a very persuasive case. So what to do with the dilemma? Darrel R. Falk has this wonderful quote from St. Augustine in his book Coming to Peace with Science:
“It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, while presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense. We should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn… If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well, and hear him maintain his foolish opinions about the Scriptures, how then are they going to believe those Scriptures in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven?” (34)
I suspect you may have discerned that I reject the Ontological Materialism position. You are right. I also reject Scientific Creationism. In my view, fewer things in our culture are doing more to undermine the intellectual credibility of the gospel than the linkage of Christian discipleship with the absurdity of young earth creationism.
I have sympathy for the Intelligent Design perspective. It is hard to see how natural selection could over come the issue of irreducible complexity. However, to simply declare “God did it” is not a falsifiable claim that can be tested and therefore not a scientific theory.
This would not be the first time that something that seems unfathomable was later explained through scientific inquiry. To dogmatically insist that evolution is wrong when scripture offers no evidence against it risks leaving the Church in Augustine's “ embarrassing situation,” that brings scorn on the gospel. About 400 years ago there was a similar problem with an earth centered universe and remember how that came out. For these reasons, I find myself to be a Theistic Evolutionist but toward the Intelligent design side of the continuum.
That still leaves at least two important questions for me. How do science and faith interrelate? How do we think about sin an suffering in the world?
As someone formally trained in demography, the phenomena of generational differences and social change are fascinating to me. I haven't posted anything on these topics yet but I hope to in the near future. To whet your appetite, I thought I would link this recent article. Enjoy.
The Genesis 1 account tells about creation from God’s perspective, revealing his motive for bringing all creation into existence. This second story addresses creation from the perspective of humanity. It is not a chronological listing of events. It is not comparable with the first story. Furthermore, the passage speaks of creating a garden for the man to live in and is not ulitmaltely addressing the whole of creation, although the opening verses make a segway from the earlier story.
Gen 2:4-25 NRSV
In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up -- for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground -- 7 then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die."
18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." 19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken." 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
Verses 4-9 seem to indicate a sequence. First, God formed man. “Formed” connotes the idea of sculpting out of something pliable like clay. Second, God created a garden and formed plants from the ground to fill the garden. Third, God placed man in the garden he created.
I make two assumptions here. First, that God had intended humanity from the start and was bringing all creation to that end. Second, that God created humanity over billions of years of evolution. God brought humanity into existence at just the moment God had “readied” a spot on the Earth for his existence. Life, which God formed/evolved into humanity, began at least 4 billion years ago, “…when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up.” All life (plant, animal and human) has a common ancestor according to this passage, namely “the dust of the ground.” This is what scientists conclude. There is no reason I know of that “formed” would nescessarliy suggest an instantaneous act.
God began forming man 4 billion years ago. A few hundred million years ago he began populating the planet with plant life. As God completed one little spot called Eden, he then brought the man to completion in Eden, thereby “placing him in Eden.”
Was Eden a real place? The story certainly speaks of it as a reality. Were Adam and Eve actual people? Who knows? I suspect they could have been. There seems to be something very intentional and different about the creation of humans in these stories. God breathed life into Adam after forming him. Might God have evolved homo sapiens over eons and then in some way altered (breathed life into) their existence, possibly altering their DNA? Verse 22 tells of taking a “rib” from Adam to create Eve. Hugh Ross makes the case that the Hebrew would not necessarily mean a literal rib, but rather that God took something of Adams substance. A biopsy might be a more appropriate analogy. Was this altered DNA tissue taken from Adam and incorporated into the substance of a female homo sapien? Who really knows?
My point is not to give a definitive explanation of how the creation stories must be interpreted. They clearly have theological content and are told in such a way as to emphasize the theological content. That must never be lost. Still, the stories read like they intend to be in reference to historical realities, which is very much unlike and other ancient creation stories known to us.
My point is that when we bring our theological/political agendas as the primary interpretative framework for looking at scripture, we usually mess it up. I believe that liberal Christianity dismisses even the possibility of the historical aspects I have raised because it is imperative that these stories be interpreted as mythical. Otherwise, it might call into question the liberal take on other parts of the Bible and, worst of all, it might give legitimacy to the views of more conservative Christians. Fundamentalist Christians dismiss a perspective like I have presented because evolution has been the primary club liberals have used to bludgeon their credibility. Allowing for evolution would be a start on the slippery slide to liberalism. I suspect many conservatives are looking for a “Scopes Monkey Trial” moment that shifts the culture their direction and puts “liberals” in their place. Discrediting evolution, and by extension, scientists in the adacamies, they will have turned the tide.
In short, liberals have carved out a position based on scientific-rationalism that can’t afford historical merit in the creation stories. The non-historical nature of the stories is what gives the freedom to interpret how they see fit. Fundamentalists have carved out a position based on scientific-rationalism that can’t allow for scientific knowledge concerning evolution. If they do, their rationally constructed, “air-tight,” systematic theologies are at risk. One embraces scientific-rationalism as tool for a "liberated" agenda. The other embraces scientific-rationalism in order to unseat scientitic-rationalism.
24 And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind." And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
chayya nephesh = living creature
behema = cattle
remes = creeping things
chayya = wild animals
Both chayya and behema refer to a variety long-legged landed quadruped mammals. Chayya are the wild animals that can not be tamed and behema refers to those that can be domesticated. In this context, remes means short-legged land mammals like rodents, hares, and armadillos.
These animals were the late comers according to scientists but this is not a comprehensive list. So why were these animals selected? Because these are the animals that would have the most impact on human existence. Again, who was the audience?
26 Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." 29 God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Verse 27 says God “created” humanity. This is the third time the Hebrew bara is used, indicating something done uniquely by God. With the creation of humanity, God brought creation to its apex. The whole story points toward God readying the Earth for humanity and then placing humanity as caretaker over what God has created. It isn’t clear from the story if God literally formed a man out of nothing or altered some living beings into Adam and Eve, but it is clear that something very unique occurred.
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
The astonishing thing about Genesis 1, when we compare it to science, is not its “errors.” When we account for the metaphorical aspects of the story and the nature of the intended audience, we see that it is a very accurate (not precise or comprehensive) description of the sequence of scientific events that have occurred. How did the writer of the Genesis story, writing millennia ago, manage to get the specifics of the Genesis story in just the right sequence with what scientists have uncovered in only the past few decades? There is nothing in the way the story is written to preclude evolution except for the uncertain meaning of bara with regard to the creation of nephesh and humainty. The question of evolution can not be answered from the Bible.
The scientist who are making these Bible affirming discoveries are the very scientists that many fault as anti-God and anti-Bible! Fundamentalists miss this because they are convinced that they can’t allow for non-literal days. Liberals miss this because they have closed their minds to the stories having any historical merit.
There weren't seven literal days or even seven equally long eras. I suspect that the author of the story divided the story as he did as a literary tool to reinforce the idea of the Sabbath. This is part of the poetic nature of the story. The story emphasizes God’s magnificent provision for us and his desire for us to enjoy relationship with him as co-creators in his world.
Time to look briefly at the second creation story.
On the first “day,” the collision of a large asteroid or planet changed the atmosphere from opaque to translucent. The Earth was enveloped in a large cloud of debris. Over the eons the debris in the atmosphere dissipated and went from translucent to transparent.
14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth." And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights -- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night -- and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
I think this is one of the most misunderstood passages in the story. The heavenly objects became visible on the Earth. Nothing was created or formed on this day. As the sky became transparent, the Sun, Moon, and stars would have become visible for the first time. Verses 16 through 18 are a parenthetical statement. Hebrew does not have the verb tenses we do, but if we read “made” in the past tense we see that the passage is addressing why God made the Sun and Moon, not when. The sun and moon had existed long before. Now they are visible.
The evolutionary timeline goes something like this.
1.0 billion years ago – Plant life appeared in the form of algae.
600 million years ago (mya) - Sponges, Jellyfish, and aquatic multicelluar animals began to appear
500 mya - There was rapid changes 600-500 million years and by 505 million years ago, there were aquatic vertebrates.
475 mya – Plant life began to appear on land.
450 mya – Anthropods, the first land animals appeared.
420 mya – Plants with spores appear on land
365 mya – Insects appear on land.
256 mya – Mammal-like reptiles appear.
250-65 mya- Age of dinosaurs.
55 mya – Earliest primates appear.
50 mya – Earliest ancestors of many of modern day animals begin to appear
5 mya – Human ancestors speciate from chimps.
150 thousand years ago (kya) – Most distant common female human ancestor based on mitochondrial DNA.
100 kya – First anatomically modern humans appear.
60 kya - Most distant common male ancestor based on Y chromosome.
20 And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky." 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
Day three talked about the beginning of plant life. On day five we see “swarms of living creatures” (sheres nephesh) and “birds” (op). Sheres refers to teams of small an/or minute animals. Usually means insects, amphibians, and reptiles. Nephesh usually means “soulish creatures.”
Verse 21 uses the word “created,” which is from the Hebrew bara. This is the second time the term is used in the story. The first was in verse 1 concerning the creation of the universe. Bara usually means an act special to God, as in creating out of nothing. Hugh Ross believes something unique happened with the creation of nephesh. These creatures exhibit emotions, passion, and will. Nephesh comes from the a root word that means breathing. God “specially” created creatures with the breath of life.
So what about the dinosaurs? Again, who is the audience and what is the purpose of the story? The Hebrews would have been clueless about dinosaurs and the inclusion of them would only have distracted from the author’s story. This wasn't a scientific inventory.
There is going to be a book dicucssion about The Charater of Theology: An Introduction to its Nature, Task, and Purpose, by John Franke, at the Generous Orthodoxy website starting on or about September 19. I just got the book yesterday and I hope to join the conversation. I thought I would invite you to join in as well.
I read Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context, by Stanley Grenz and John Franke, a short time ago. I understand this book builds on this earlier book. Warning. It is good stuff but it will strech your brain.
Scientists estimate that the Earth came into existence about 4.59 billion years ago. If we were to position ourselves on the face of the earth during the first few hundred million years of the earth, what would we see? Nothing. It would be pitch dark and we would be under water. We would need a boat, a protective suit with oxygen, and a light source. Scientists believe the entire planet was covered with water and the atmosphere was mixture of deadly gases. So thick was the atmosphere that no sunlight could reach the surface.
2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
“Formless void” is translated from the Hebrew tohu wabohu. Borrowing from Greek cosmology, some have taken this phrase to suggest Earth was a chaotic swirl of gasses and matter without form. Actually, taken at face value, the phrase essentially means barren and empty of life. Describing his vision of Judah after it is conquered, Jeremiah says:
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. Jeremiah. 4:23
“Waste and void” is tohu wabohu. Verses 2 is describing a lifeless planet covered in water with God hovering above, suggesting he was actively involved in the proceedings.
About 4.25 billion years ago, scientists suspect a planet, at least the size of Mars, collided with Earth. The impact altered the Earth’s axis and rate of rotation. It blew away much of the gaseous atmosphere. It also added certain minerals and ores to the Earth’s content. All of these alterations had a direct impact on the Earth’s ability to support life. The debris from the collision eventually coalesced into the Moon.
While the collision blew away much of the atmosphere it initially caused a massive debris cloud to envelope the earth. Had we been on the surface of the Earth before and after the collision, we would have noticed a transformation from an opaque atmosphere to a translucent atmosphere. Light would have been visible but we would not have been able to see anything in the sky.
3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Scientist believe that a little more than 4 billion years ago, atmospheric conditions emerged conduceive to photosynthesis. The troposphere formed. This is the layer of the atmosphere closest to the earth’s surface. Evaporation, condensation, and precipitation, (the water cycle) began to happen. If you recall from yesterday’s post, the atmosphere was the dome shaped area between the earth and the “waters above,” or sky, for the Hebrews.
6 And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
The word “made” in verse seven is asa which means to fabricate or manufacture.
At some imprecisely known time, scientists believe land appeared as one contiguous unit. Eventually it broke apart and drifted in to the various continents. Scientists have also found fossils indicating life in the sea dating back 3.5 billion years ago. However, there are other measures that date back to 3.86 billion years ago. Life far from any light, like that found in deep ocean trenches, indicates the possibility of life apart from photosynthesis, so it is possible that the first life extends back 4 billion years or more. The first spore produding plant life is a much more recent phenomena having its beginning about 420 million years ago.
9 And God said, "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it." And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
Genesis is not a science textbook. No mention is made of microscopic life. How would you explain microscopic life to an ancient audience? What would it add to the story? The story is focused on those aspects that directly affected the lives of the listeners. Plants would have been understood as requirement for animal and human life. Again, we must read the story through the eyes of the intended audience.
This passage is the first mention of life. It is important to note something that may escape our notice. It does not use bara or ex nihilo to describe the emergence of life. It suggests that life somehow came from existing material. If so, than a scientist, with the appropriate tools, would be able to observe how the event happened. A scientist would be able to observe the consequences of God’s action, but speaking scientifically, they would not be able to see God’s action. Is this evolution?
I just got back from a very busy time in Louisville and I am still cathcing up. Visiting the Reformed-Angler, I came across this post. He reflects on an article by Marj Carpenter. Good stuff!
Here is an interesting post by Andrew Jones. Excerpt:
"This is how I see it. Inside the emerging church, which is a vastly complex movement, there are probably 3 distinct responses to secular humanism and our current postmodern age:
1. A fundamentalist rejection and protest (isolationism, exclusivity)
2. An unthinking acceptance (syncretism, accommodation)
3. A prophetic response (contextual, missional)"
Who was the audience for the Genesis creation stories? The audience was Hebrew speaking Israelites living in the Middle East at least 2,500 years ago (depending on what you believe about authorship.) They did not have the concept of planets, solar systems and galaxies like we do. The “earth” equated to “the place where people live.” At the edges of the earth was water. There was also water above the earth and the atmosphere was the domed area between the land and the waters above. The heavenly objects moved across the waters in the sky.
If the creation of the world was to be written for the Israelites, it would have to be done in Hebrew. Hebrew is a limited and imprecise language. Compared to English, or even ancient Greek, the vocabulary was very small. Metaphors and context are often much more significant for interpretation.
The first and most obvious issue that has to be addressed as we begin the first creation story is timing. Scientists estimate the universe to be about 14.9 billion years old. The traditional interpretation of the story is that it took six literal days. Does the text actually say this?
Early Christian scholars like Justin Martyr, Irenaus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine, among others, did not think so. They tended to see “day” as metaphor for a period of time. Some assumed that each day represented a thousand years. There were early Christians who did affirm literal days but these affirmations were often to combat the Greek notion of the infinite existence of matter. Based on “air time” given to the issue, it apparently wasn’t a significant issue. Some also argue that Hebrews chapter 4 makes the case that we are still living in the seventh day of creation, clearly indicating that this was not a literal day.
The Hebrew youm is the word translated “day” here. It often meant a twenty-four hour day but it also had about eighteen other connotations. It could stand for the time between sunrise and sunset as well as an entire epoch in time. The fact is, there is no other Hebrew word that carries the idea of “long period of time.”
Hugh Ross also notes the peculiar wording of “and there was evening and there was morning, the first day,” rather than writing “and there was evening and morning of the first day. He suggests that “evening” and “morning” was a euphemistic way to say there was a fixed period with a beginning and end. With this understanding I turn to the text.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
“The heavens and the earth” is a euphemism for “everything.” The Hebrew word translated “created” is bara. It is used only three times in this account. The Greek translators translated this ex nihlo meaning “out of nothing.” While the Greek translation may not be absolutely precise, bara certainly gives the connotation of creating something utterly unique that only God could create. Basically, God brought into existence all that is.
Before I move on to verse two, which specifically addresses Earth, I want to ask you a question? When you and I read the following verses our minds eye often positions us out in space looking down at a globe as the described events are taking place. What would be the vantage point of the Israelite observer based on the understanding of the world I described above? The only vantage point they could imagine would be as one standing on the face of the earth observing what was happening around them. The crucial importance of this will become clear shortly.