jasonbwatson

January 20, 2018

The Sanctity of All Human Life

Tomorrow is national Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is held on the Sunday closest to the date when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973. In the United States, and indeed around the world, the sanctity of life has become a political issue. Legislatures and courts debate and rule on whether life is indeed sacred and whether or not life can be ended at the whim of a mother or the wish of an old or ill individual. But I am not going to address it politically. It does not matter if you are Democrat or Republican or Independent. I am addressing the sanctity of life because it is a biblical issue. It is, quite simply, a matter of knowing and defending biblical truth.

Since 1973, when abortion became legal under Roe v. Wade, approximately 60 million babies have been aborted in the United States. I live in the Midwest, so to try to put that into context, that would the equivalent today of the combined populations of South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Texas.

If each of those babies was represented by an 8×10 photo, their photos would cover 765 acres, almost the exact size of New York’s Central Park, or enough to cover the National Mall five photos deep. Or, put differently, it would be enough photos to paper over Mt. Rushmore.

The good news is that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate is now the lowest that it has been since abortion was legalized in 1973. The not-so-good news is that it cannot truly be considered celebratory to finally kill less than one million babies a year in the U.S. As Jamie Dean put it in WORLD, “When we mark finally killing less than a million children in a single year, such a victory seems as tragic as it is sobering.” Every life saved is worth celebrating, and every woman who chooses not to abort is to be commended and encouraged. But to say that we finally killed fewer than one million children in a year serves really only to show us (1) how depraved and murderous our nation had become and, (2) how much further we still have to go.

According to the American Life League, thirty-two Planned Parenthood facilities closed in 2017. That is wonderful news. Not so wonderful is that Planned Parenthood still operates more than six hundred facilities within the U.S. and partners with twelve other countries around the world. The May 30, 2017 issue of The Washington Times reported on Planned Parenthood’s annual report, released nearly six months late at the end of May. In that report, Planned Parenthood reported that saw fewer patients but performed more abortions than in 2016. How many? According to their own report, 328,348. That is about 900 a day, 37.5 per hour, or one every 1.6 minutes—every day of the year. And you and I helped them do that, since the federal government supports Planned Parenthood to the tune of $500 million annually. That is despite the fact, by the way, that the organization reaped a $77.5 million profit in 2016. Planned Parenthood has infiltrated public schools across the country through sex education curriculums—and in some of those schools it is Planned Parenthood staffers that teach the material. Due to the explicit nature of that curriculum and those sometimes teaching it, Planned Parenthood has tried to go a step further and get itself a permanent space in public schools. In Reading, PA, for example, Planned Parenthood proposed opening a health clinic inside Reading High School. The Reading school board postponed its decision and eventually rejected the idea, but that it was ever even seriously considered is incredibly alarming.

Many who defend Planned Parenthood, and particularly tax payer support of the organization, like to tout all of the other services the organization provides—things like birth control, HIV services, patient education, pelvic exams, cancer and screenings. Does Planned Parenthood do some good things? Sure. So, did Adolph Hitler. Think that’s an unfair comparison? Hitler was responsible for the execution of approximately six million Jews. According to an October 2016 report on CNS News, Planned Parenthood had, at that time, executed 6,803,782 children since 1978 through abortion.

I could go on providing many more facts and figures about abortion in the United States—and around the world—but my primary purpose in this post is not to confront you with those staggering numbers, as important as I think that is. My primary purpose is to explain, from Scripture, why human life—every human life—is sacred. Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion, and abortion is an enormous portion of the fight to defend the sanctity of all human life, but it is not the only portion. A biblical view of the sanctity of life means recognizing, defending and advocating for the sanctity of all life from conception to natural death.

Genesis 1:27 reads, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Humans are created in the very image of God. We are God’s image-bearers. That, by itself, ascribes tremendous value to each and every human being. Nothing else in all of creation bears the very image of God—only humans. Man, woman, boy, girl, every human being who has ever been conceived has borne the image of God.

Now one chapter later, in Geneses 2:7, it says, “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

There are two important truths in this verse that I want to focus on. The first is the statement that God formed man. In chapter one of Genesis the emphasis is on the fact that God created everything—the universe, the earth, the skies, the oceans, the mountains, the trees, the animals, humankind—out of nothing. God created everything ex nihilo, from nothing. Nothing in creation is the result of a cosmic explosion that conveniently resulted in parts coming together just so to form the world and the universe around us, and human beings are certainly not the result of incredible accident and happenstance.

According to a BBC report entitled “The 25 Biggest Turning Points in Earth’s History,” this is what happened 4.5 billion years ago:

Earth grew from a cloud of dust and rocks surrounding the young Sun. Earth formed when some of these rocks collided. Eventually they were massive enough to attract other rocks with the force of gravity, and vacuumed up all the nearby junk, becoming the Earth.

Then, after all of that collision and whatnot, life emerges:

Nobody knows exactly when life began. The oldest confirmed fossils, of single-celled microorganisms, are 3.5 billion years old. Life may have begun a bit earlier than that, but probably not while huge rocks were still raining down on Earth. Life may have begun in warm alkaline vents on the seabed, or in open water, or on land. We don’t know, and we don’t know what the first organisms were like.

There are many other fantastic claims that follow, but then, 65 million years ago,

…a huge chunk of rock from outer space smashed into what is now Mexico. The explosion was devastating, but the longer-term effects were worse. Dust was thrown into the upper atmosphere and blocked out sunlight, and in the ensuing cold and darkness Earth suffered its fifth and last mass extinction.

And then, finally, humans come along:

Almost immediately after the dinosaurs were wiped out, mammals evolved the ability to nourish their young inside their wombs using a placenta, just like modern humans. Soon, some of these early placental mammals evolved into the first primates. They would ultimately give rise to monkeys, apes and humans.

This is all balderdash! Human beings were created by God, in His image. Genesis 2:27 says God formed man. God shaped and molded humans to be precisely what He wanted and He designed. It is the metaphor of the potter and the clay, applying pressure where necessary, pushing, pulling, pressing, forming. This Hebrew word is not used in connection with any other creature. Joseph Benson said it “implies a gradual process in the work, with great accuracy and exactness.”

God created the universe, the world, and humans. He created humans in His likeness and He formed humans to His precise desires and specifications.

But the second key truth of Genesis 2:27 is that God breathed into man the breath of life.

According to the Cambridge Bible, “The preceding clause having explained man’s bodily structure, the present one explains the origin of his life. His life is not the product of his body, but the gift of God’s breath or spirit.”

It says God breathed into man the breath of life. The Hebrew word from which we get “breath of life” literally means “the soul of lives.” God breathed into humans a soul—a soul that is different from any other aspect of creation, from any other animal. Humans are both physical and spiritual, both temporal and eternal. God formed our physical aspects and then He breathed into us our spiritual nature. Job references this wonderful truth. In Job 27:3 you will see Job said, “as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils….”

The Pulpit Commentary puts it like this: “Man received his life from a distinct act of Divine inbreathing; certainly not an in-breathing of atmospheric air, but…a communication from the whole personality of the Godhead.”

Are you with me? You and I and every human being who has ever been conceived have within us the soul of lives, the whole personality of the Godhead, breathed into us by Almighty God! No other living creature ever has, does have, or will have that. It is that breath of life, breathed into us by God, that separates us, that makes us unique, that is the very reason that all human life is sacred.

Now, having established that, what does it mean for us practically? What does it have to do with abortion or euthanasia or anything else? What impact does that have on our worldview? Quite simply this: everything. The fact that human beings are created in the image of God, formed by God, and animated by the very breath of God, means that every—mark that, now, I said EVERY—human life is sacred. If you believe what I have just shown you from the Scripture you cannot be content with a theoretical knowledge of those facts alone. The application or implication of that knowledge must be a recognition and a defense of the sanctity of all human life.

That has several practical, real life implications.

First, we must be, in the contemporary political parlance, pro-life. You cannot believe that human beings are everything we just saw that they are and also believe that it is acceptable or permissible for any human being to, for whatever reason, decide that a human life in the womb is disposable. Abortion is a violation on the very character of God. It cannot be anything but that if you believe what we have just seen in Scripture. If God created and formed and breathed into humans, and humans are the image-bearers of God, then we dismiss that completely and disregard His character if we support the idea that an unborn child is disposable.

I am not going to go into the details of when life begins. Suffice it to say that both Scripture and science make it clear that life begins at conception. It is, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, an inconvenient truth for those who defend the right to abortion, but it is, nevertheless, the truth. There is no avoiding the fact that abortion is the killing of a child.

We are making progress in the United States in restricting selective abortions. For example, Ohio recently passed a law banning abortions of children with Down syndrome. That’s a wonderful thing—on one hand. On the other, think about the totality of what that means: if you are going to have a baby that the doctor says will have Down syndrome, you many not abort it. But if you are going to have a baby that the doctor believes will be perfectly healthy and you want to abort it anyway, you’re free to do so. Several U.S. states have laws banning sex-selective abortion. That’s good, too—on one hand. On the other, it means that abortionists must ask a woman if she knows what sex her child will be and then, assuming she tells the truth, tell her that it is illegal for her to abort her child based on that information. And what then are the odds that the mother will say, “Oh, that was my reason. I guess I will have to keep the baby.” I feel confident in saying the likelihood of that is zero. Do not get me wrong, I think any restriction on abortion is a step in the right direction. If nothing else, each restriction makes it all the more noticeably ridiculous that abortion is permitted at all.

Second, we must support options and assistance for those who find themselves unwilling or unable to care for a child once it is delivered. We cannot wholeheartedly and passionately defend the right of a child to be born and leave it at that. We must support assistance for the mother who does not want to have the child, but does anyway. We must support—prayerfully and yes, sometimes even financially, the woman or the family that gives birth to a child and keeps it but is not quite sure how to take care of it. We must support adoption—and the families who adopt.

Christians have been pro-life from the beginning. Indeed, in ancient Rome, it was their willingness to take in and care for the rejected newborns that marked them as unique and unusual. In his book The Christian Conquest of Pagan Rome, Michael Craven writes:

The Roman world was brutal and generally indifferent to suffering. Sympathy and mercy were weaknesses, virtues anathema to those of Rome. The ancient world was both decadent and cruel. The practice of infanticide, for example, was widespread and legal throughout the Greek and Roman world during the early days of Christianity. In fact, abortion, infanticide, and child sacrifice were extremely common throughout the ancient world. Cicero (106-43 BC), writing in the period before Christ, cited the Twelve Tables of Roman Law when he wrote, “deformed infants should be killed” (De Ligibus 3.8). Similarly, Seneca (4 BC-AD 39) wrote, “We drown children who are at birth weakly and abnormal” (De Ira 1.15). The ancient writer Plutarch (c. AD 46-120), discussing the casual acceptance of child sacrifice, mentions the Carthaginians, who, he says, “offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds while the mother stood by without tear or moan” (Moralia 2.171D). Polybius (ca. 200-118 BC) blamed infanticide for the population decline in Greece (Histories 6).

Historical research reveals that infanticide was common throughout India, China, Japan, and the Brazilian jungles as well as among the Eskimos. Dr. James Dennis, writing in the 1890s, showed how infanticide was common in many parts of Africa and was “well known among the Indians of North and South America” (Social Evils of the Non-Christian World, 1898). Suffice it to say, for much of the world and throughout most of its history the culture of death and brutality has been the rule, and a culture of life, love, and mercy has been the exception. It is to the cause of this exception that we now turn. . . .

These early Christ-followers did not organize special interest groups or political parties. They never directly opposed Caesar; they didn’t picket or protest or attempt to overthrow the ruling powers. They didn’t publicly denounce or condemn the pagan world. Instead, they challenged the ruling powers by simply being a faithful, alternative presence—obedient to God. Their most distinguishing characteristic was not their ideology or their politics but their love for others. They lived as those who were, once again, living under the rule and reign of God, a sign and foretaste of what it will be fully, when Christ returns.

They expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing the abandoned children of Rome and raising them as their own—an enormously self-sacrificial act at a time when resources were limited and survival was in doubt.

We must, today, be willing to practice the same sort of self-sacrificial actions.

Third, we must change the concept that a child is a hindrance to a woman pursuing her goals and dreams in life. U.S. track Olympian and medalist Sanya Richards-Ross wrote a book that came out last summer entitled Chasing Grace. In that book she wrote, “I literally don’t know another female track and field athlete who hasn’t had an abortion, and that’s sad.” I do not know how many track athletes Richards-Ross knows, but I assume that for someone who has competed on the world stage the number is high. And she is right, it is a sad statement. Sadly, though, it is not only female athletes who see potential childbirth as a roadblock to the accomplishment of their career goals. Planned Parenthood, on its website, lists among the reasons someone may choose to have an abortion these two: it’s not a good time in life to have a baby or they want to focus on work or achieve other goals before having a baby. A May 2017 post on Save the Storks cited a 2004 survey of more than 1,200 post-abortive woman that indicated that “three-fourths of aborting women have an abortion because a child would interfere with their life (work, school, etc.).” We must change this mindset. Women who do choose to give up a job in order to stay home and care for their children full time must be celebrated and encouraged. But women who choose to maintain a career and have children must also be celebrated for choosing life.

Fourth, we must forgive, accept, and love those who have had abortions. Abortion is a horrific evil and one that violates the very character of God in a way unlike many other sins. But God does not rank sin. God forgives those who seek His forgiveness. And we must do no less. There is great truth in the cliché that we are to hate the sin but love the sinner. We should hate abortion with a passion. We should do anything we can to oppose it and to try to eliminate it. But we must just as passionately love those who have experienced abortion. Please hear me on this: while abortion is an assault on the character of God, so too is an arrogant, judgmental attitude that refuses to show love and forgiveness toward those who have had an abortion!

Fifth, we must recognize, articulate and defend the truth that every life is sacred. The word “every” leaves nothing out. What this means in practical terms is that there is no differentiation among human beings; no individual and no group is any more important or any more valuable than any other individual or group. All humans were created in the image of God, fashioned by Him and received the breath of life from Him and therefore all human life is sacred. Let me be even more clear:

  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on gender—male and female are equally sacred
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on race – every human life is sacred regardless of whether that life is Asian, Latino, African, Caucasian or any of the innumerable hyphenated options
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on ability, whether physical or intellectual – every human life is sacred regardless of intelligence level or physical capability—or limitation. That means the one with the IQ of 50 is as sacred as the one with the IQ of 180. The one with a physical handicap is as sacred as the one with incredible athletic prowess. The one that is blind is as sacred as the one with 20/20 vision.
  • The sanctity of human life is not dependent on age. The child that was just conceived moments ago is as sacred as the infant that was born last month. That infant is as sacred as the kindergartener, as the high schooler, as the college graduate, as the 40-year-old, as the retiree, as the senior citizen, as the one who is approaching the age of 100. There is no biblical support for the idea that any life ever ceases to become worth living until such time as God Himself makes that decision. Murder is wrong. But so is suicide, assisted suicide and euthanasia. The Bible does not differentiate between the sacredness of the individual that is still fully coherent and capable of caring for him or herself and the one that has lost most of his mental faculties or is confined to a wheelchair or a bed.

I realize that it is difficult from our finite human perspective to accept and understand why some things happen the way they do in this life. Why are some children born with incredible limitations or disabilities? Why are some born healthy and then experience an illness or an accident that strips them of some of those abilities that they once had? Why do some live to a ripe old age with full physical and mental capabilities and others seemingly lose all memory or rational ability at a relatively young age? I do not know the answers to those questions. Accepting that God is sovereign and allows what He allows for reasons that only He may understand is indeed a large part—though an incredibly difficult part—of faith. But I do know that the Bible makes it unmistakably clear that every life has value and purpose. Let me give you quickly just eight verses out of many that could be shared:

  • Psalm 139:13-14 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
  • Job 10:11 says, “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.”
  • Leviticus 19:14 says, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • And then Leviticus 19:32 says, “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • Luke 12:7 says, “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
  • Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory;it is gained in a righteous life.”
  • Exodus 4:11 says, “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”
  • In John 9, His disciples asked Jesus why a man was blind—whether it was he or his parents that had sinned, and Jesus responded, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Every human life is created by God, formed by God, and given the breath of life by God. Every human life is sacred.

Ephesians 5:7-11 says this:

Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

We can expose them through our words, but we can also expose them through our actions, and we must. We are to be salt and light in the world, and that includes defending the sanctity of all human life.

Our responsibility, as children of God and His ambassadors in this world, is to honor and respect the dignity and sanctity of every human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. We must do this through our words and our deeds, within our churches, our homes, our communities, our state, our nation and the world.

Someday, the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday may be unnecessary. I certainly hope so. I agree with Russell Moore, who wrote, “I pray regularly that for my future great grandchildren, a Sanctity of Human Life Sunday would seem as unnecessary as a Reality of Gravity Emphasis Sunday.” But unless and until that day comes, we are called to defend the sanctity of human life—every human life—because God has given every human the very breath of life.

November 19, 2014

The signature of God

For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by signatures. When I was in elementary school I obtained a book that purported to list the home addresses of nearly every current and former Major League baseball player. The book was intended as a resource for those who requested autographs by mail. I began writing my letters, enclosing a baseball card and a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) and waited for the mailman to bring me my treasures. Some players actually did sign the cards and send them back. Others sent a postcard or something like that, some never responded at all. Later I learned that some players would have other people sign for them. I also learned that there is a device called an autopen, which is a machine that uses an actual pen to replicate someone’s signature. These are often used by members of Congress to sign constituent mail. If you learn what to look for, autopen signatures can be fairly easily differentiated from the real thing.

I am still fascinated by signatures. I suspect I am not the only person who has ever played around with multiple variations of my own signature and/or practiced replicating (that sounds so much better than forging) the signature of others. I got pretty good at some of them, too. My mother used to let me sign her name to my practice record for band when I was in high school. I got good enough at my brother’s that he let me sign a check for him one time. I have this habit–some might say odd habit–of tracing the lines of a signature with my eyes, sometimes even with my whole head, as I try to determine the exact strokes that were used to create the signature.

Anyway, enough about my quirks! An interesting fact about signatures is that they represent authority and have value. Even for someone who is not famous or “important,” a signature can accomplish incredible things. Simply scrawling one’s signature (and I have seen some that would be generously described as a scrawl!) can secure the purchase of an item, authorize the transfer of funds, give permission for medical treatment and much more. Indeed, it is amazing how many things cannot take place until the right person’s signature is placed on the right line!

Signatures have actual value when they belong to someone who is famous. Just the signature itself, on even a scrap of paper, can sell for a considerable amount of money in some instances. A signature can exponentially increase the value of an item that would otherwise be worth considerably less. As alluded to above, I enjoy collecting the signatures of baseball players. Anyone could purchase an authentic Major League baseball for $20 or so. They are not particularly difficult to come by and they are not particularly expensive. If, however, one of those baseballs has the signature of a great baseball player on it, that very same baseball could sell for several hundred dollars or more. Interesting, is it not? After all, the baseball itself could be used to play baseball. Once the signature is on it no one in his or her right mind would actually hit the ball with a bat or play catch with it, so the utility of the ball goes down dramatically. And yet the ball becomes significantly more valuable, even though no one will do anything but look at it, simply because it has someone’s signature on it.

I happen to have a large greeting card from the 1960s that, in and of itself, would be worth next to nothing now. This particular card, however, is signed by almost the entire Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. My father’s cousin was on the team, and my father’s aunt was the recipient of the card. She later gave it to my father, who has since given it to me. I do not have any idea what it is worth, but its value is significant.

Signatures have sentimental value, too. When we receive a card, a note or a letter with the signature of a friend or loved one, it has special meaning. I have only one letter that was ever written to me and signed by my grandfather. My grandmother usually wrote and signed letters and cards from them to me, but once he typed out a note and signed it “Grandpa.” The note itself is not all that significant, but because it is the only time he ever signed a note for me it is quite special.

So why all of this discussion of signatures? Here’s why: because just like a person’s signature can represent authority or add value and meaning to something, so God’s signature on a human life makes that life exponentially more valuable. Scripture teaches that each and every life is wonderfully created by God, meaning that every human bears God’s signature and is deserving of dignity and protection; every life is sacred. If evolution were true, and we all emerged over billions of years from ooze or monkeys (or monkeys that evolved from ooze), and if “survival of the fittest” were the reality for human worth, none of us would really be worth much. In and of ourselves we are kind of like that baseball I mentioned above…we have a little value perhaps but not really all that much. We might be useful in a utilitarian sort of way, able to accomplish some basic tasks. Our real value, though, comes from the fact that God created each of us uniquely and according to His purpose and design. Each of us bears His signature on our lives! I repeat, our value and worth is not in what we do or even so much in who we are, but rather in the fact that we bear the signature of God.

October 29, 2014

Self-Contradiction

On Monday of this week Pope Francis addressed the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, where he made some startling statements about God and creation. I am not Catholic, but the statements of the Pope carry tremendous weight among Catholics and are often carefully considered by non-Catholics as well, in no small part to determine the course of the Catholic church and its adherence to Scripture.

In his comments, Francis said, “When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything — but that is not so.” I do not think he is calling God a magician here, but his use of the magician as an illustration could be seen as poignant or inappropriate. Regardless, the real problem is his statement that God was not able to “do everything.” Indeed, this goes well beyond an assertion that evolution, even theistic evolution, is consistent with the Bible. Instead, it asserts that God is not omnipotent. By suggesting that God was not able to do everything, Pope Francis is suggesting that God is not God–or at least is not God as the Bible presents Him. Jesus Himself said, in Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27 and Luke 1:37, that nothing is impossible for God. God Himself said, in Jeremiah 32:27, “Is anything too hard for Me?” This, of course, was a rhetorical question, with the understood answer of “no.”

Now, Francis’s remarks grow confusing in his next paragraph because immediately after suggesting that God did not create everything, he said, “He [God] created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.” If God created human beings then the macroevolution espoused by Darwinists is not true, since it holds that humans evolved over millenia from non-humans. Indeed, Francis continues to try to straddle the fence, saying later, “creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the creator who gives being to all things.” Francis’s comments will no doubt confound evolutionists, too. If God created human beings, where does the “millenia and millenia” come from? The only possible explanation is the “gap theory,” which holds that there is a significant gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, meaning that God created the heavens and the earth, and then there was a long expanse of time before the six days of creation. There are significant problems with this theory from a biblical standpoint, not least of which is that it presumes the existence of death and dying before sin entered the world.

In keeping with his self-contradiction, Francis says that God is not a “demiurge.” This is an unfamiliar term, meaning, in Platonism, the one who made the world. In Gnosticism it refers to a supernatural being who created the world in subordination to God, and may also have been the originator of evil. Whatever Francis may have in mind, he seems to be saying that God did not create the world as we know it, even though he just said before that that God created human beings, and he says immediately after that God is “the creator who gives being to all things.”

Immediately thereafter Francis said, “God is not a divine being or a magician, but the Creator who brought everything to life. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.” And thus the contradictions continue… God is not a divine being? I cannot even imagine what Francis has in mind with that statement, so I will not try to guess. It simply makes no sense, particularly given the other statements Francis is making at the same time. And if God is not a divine being then what, one is left to wonder, is He? The opposite of “divine” is “earthly, ordinary, ungodly or unholy.” If God is not a divine being, then, He is not God! And again, Francis follows his statement that God is not a divine being by saying that God is “the Creator who brought everything to life.”

About the only thing that Francis says that is correct is that evolution is not inconsistent with the notion of creation–if by that he means microevolution within a species. Given the convoluted statements he made in the rest of his address, though, one has to seriously question whether or not that is what he had in mind. If he had evolution between species in mind then not only is he wrong, but he is contradicting himself again since he already said that God made human beings.

These comments from Pope Francis serve to reinforce the danger that comes from getting ones understanding of God from the decrees of a earthly leader. This is not specific to Catholicism, by the way. Protestant denominations have various structures of leadership, whether it includes a denominational president, district bishops or simply the pastor of the church. All of these individuals are human and therefore fallible. Our faith must be based on the Word of God, not on anything that man has to say. God has gifted many humans with the ability to teach, and those teachers whose teaching is consistent with God’s Word can help us to understand the Scriptures. We must always test the Scripture against the Scripture and the teaching of humans against the Scriptures. When there is an inconsistency the Scriptures must always “win.” And when the human leader teaches inconsistently and self-contradictorily, one must question whether the teaching should be given any merit at all.

September 10, 2014

Contend for the Faith

Last week World Net Daily ran an article entitled “‘Christian’ singer: Jesus may have lied about Adam, Noah.” This article looked at comments made by singer Michael Gungor, lead singer of the worship band Gungor, in an episode of The Liturgist podcast posted on August 12. In that episode, titled “Genesis & Evolution,” and which you can listen to here, Gungor suggests that Jesus may have been wrong when He discussed Adam and Noah, or possibly even intentionally lied in order to accommodate His audience.

That’s a troubling thought to say the least, so let me allow Gungor to speak for himself: “Even if Jesus knew that Noah and Adam were mythical, but knew He was talking to people who thought they were real, that’s another possibility. Jesus was just referring to a story he was part of to these Jewish people that know that story.” You read that right, and that is an unedited quote from the podcast. Gungor is suggesting that Jesus may have knowingly referred to Noah or Adam as real people even though He knew they were not. Perhaps even more troubling than that is that Gungor also said in the interview that Jesus may have legitimately believed that Adam and Noah were real people and was wrong. Said Gungor: “And even if He was wrong, even if He did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ.” Gungor also said in the podcast, “It wouldn’t freak me out if He was wrong about it.”

There is plenty in the above paragraph to raise serious concern among Christians. First, to suggest that Jesus may have lied is a serious red flag for a professing Christian to make. If Jesus did lie then Jesus sinned. If Jesus sinned, then He was not a perfect sacrifice. If He was not a perfect sacrifice, then He could not pay the penalty for your sins or mine or anyone else’s–including His own. If He could not, and therefore did not, pay the penalty for sins then no one who has professed and accepted Christ as Savior is truly saved because the one in whom they have placed their trust was incapable of saving them! Suggesting that Jesus lied is to completely contradict all of Scripture and the entire basis of Christian belief. In other words, this is no small matter.

Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is a well-known verse, and understandably so since it reveals our need for a Savior. But if this verse is true then what Gungor is saying, whether he intended to or not, is that Jesus, too, fell short of the glory of God. Look at the full context of Romans 3:23, by reading verses 21-26 (from the ESV):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

If Jesus sinned, and therefore fell short of the glory of God, He could not justify Himself, let alone anyone else (verse 24), meaning no one could have redemption in Christ Jesus (verse 24), God could not have “put [Him] forward as a propitiation” for our sins (verse 25) because a sinner would be unable to provide propitiation (atonement) for sins. As a result, Jesus could not be the justifier (verse 26) and no one who received Him by faith could be just (verses 25 and 26).

Now, even if we deny the possibility that Jesus lied, Gungor’s other option is also troubling–the idea that Jesus was wrong. While Jesus was fully human, He was also fully God at the same time, and therefore incapable of being wrong. If it were possible for Jesus to be wrong in holding that Adam and Noah were real people, it would necessarily be possible for Jesus to be wrong about other things, too. No small part of the reason why we can have such faith in God is that He is never wrong; He is incapable of being wrong. If Jesus was wrong, then Jesus was not omniscient; since Jesus and God (and the Holy Spirit) are one, if Jesus is not omniscient then God cannot be either. The little string that Gungor has pulled will unravel the entire Bible and all of Christianity; it is not a little matter!

Gungor states that when the Bible and science contradict, the Bible must be wrong: “[F]for thousands of years or at least hundreds of years, people in Christian history have been saying things like hey, you can’t try to read the Bible as a science book when science conflicts with the Bible and your reading of the Bible.” He continued, “Re-read the Bible. Change that, because you’re probably the one that’s wrong; and if you don’t do that you’re gonna look like an idiot. … The church made pretty big mistakes in the past … thinking the world was flat.”

The problems here are many, as well. First, the Bible and science do not contradict. Man’s interpretation of science, or man’s purported understanding of science, can contradict Scripture, but that is a different animal altogether. Second, if we start to put our beliefs in science, or data, or, more importantly, man’s understanding of those things, then we throw open the door for all kinds of reinterpreting of Scripture. These kinds of arguments have led to many beliefs that are simply not compatible with Scripture, from justification for abortion to the idea that homosexuals are “born that way.” Third, there is a difference between making a mistake and contradicting the Bible. Even if there were members of the church, or even the Church as a whole, who held at one point that the earth was flat, that is not even close to being the same thing. No where does the Bible specifically state that the world is round, for one thing. For another, that the earth is round is verifiable and observable. Evolution–even theistic evolution, which Gungor believes–is neither verifiable nor observable.

On September 1 Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis addressed this matter in his blog on answersingenesis.org. In it he included this statement: “Sadly, it appears that Gungor has adopted the idea that holding to the inerrancy of Scripture is treating the Bible as an idol. You see, in response to a recent Facebook comment about my views, Gungor wrote, ‘There is a trend in modern society, no more than a trend . . . a religion, an idolatry that elevates Scripture above Jesus.'” Ham’s blog included an image of the Twitter discussion that included this statement from Gungor. This is another troubling comment and provides alarming insight into Gungor’s “faith.” The Bible is how we know Jesus. Scripture itself refers to Jesus as “the Word.” John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:3, by the way, states, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” That would seem to be a solid counter to Gungor’s position on theistic evolution). I really do not comprehend the notion of elevating Scripture above Jesus; we know Jesus through Scripture and Jesus Himself quoted Scripture.

Ham correctly writes, “Michael Gungor has an influence on the youth of this generation and will lead them astray with such views.” Others agree with Ham, and are acting on those concerns; the World Net article includes this statement: “Gungor’s views have already cost him among fans, as at least one church canceled a concert, and a Wisconsin radio station removed itself from an event featuring Gungor, saying it ‘cannot be a party to introducing more doubt into the hearts and minds of young Christians already being fed doubt and lies by the world.'”

This is an excellent reminder of the needs for Christians to be discerning. Not everything or everyone who claims to be a Christian believes, teaches or promotes the Truth of Scripture. While Gungor may have written and/or may perform beautiful songs, his very public position on this issue necessitates that he be treated as an unbeliever, one in need of being reached with the message of the gospel. Gungor said that those who deny evolution will end up looking like idiots. I’m afraid that, if adhering to the dictionary definition of the word, it is Mr. Gungor who looks like an idiot. According to dictionary.com an idiot is “an utterly foolish or senseless person.” Foolish is an adjective that is defined as “resulting from or showing a lack of sense; ill-considered; unwise” or “lacking forethought or caution.” To suggest that Jesus Christ either was wrong in His understanding of the Old Testament or that He knowingly lied to audiences during His time on earth is nothing short of lacking sense and it is certainly unwise. Saying Jesus could have lied definitely comes with a real lack of caution.

Proverbs 14:7-8 says, “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.” We are not meeting words of knowledge from Mr. Gungor and his folly will undoubtedly confuse or lead astray many of his fans and followers. Gungor’s statements cause me to feel like Jude must have when he wrote his short but powerful letter. In verse 3 he says, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” We must contend for the faith, take a stand for the truth, in the face of Gungor’s foolish words. And we should pray for Michael Gungor.

July 10, 2014

Listening to the Other Side

Back in May Janie B. Cheaney wrote a piece for WORLD entitled “The debate is never over.” I was reminded of it yesterday when I wrote about Amanda Marcotte’s rant against those who hold to the position that unborn babies have a right to life. Cheaney began her column by quoting Barack Obama’s assertion that the debate over the Affordable Care Act “is over.” She went on to explain why that assertion was false and also why the tactic of declaring a debate to be over in the midst of that very debate is a tried-and-true, although entirely un-American, strategy.

I am not going to elaborate on Cheaney’s comments about Obamacare; you can find and read her column if you’re interested. But she made a point near the end of her piece that pertains to Obama’s declaration in the ACA, to Marcotte’s declaration on abortion, to many evolutionists’ declarations on creation and to any other debate in which either side tires of the debate and simply decides to say, “It’s over. I win.” Here is what Cheaney writes…

The nation that began with shouting and guns has–with one notable exception–developed a talent for settling disputes without guns, though always with shouting. Violent argument in pursuit of reasonable law is what we’re all about. But as dead set as we are on our own opinions, we must make room for listening and responding to what the other side actually says. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). In this country, debate is seldom over. If and when that day comes, what will really be over is the United States.

Cheaney’s point is that the United States is built around the idea that opinions and beliefs should be freely and passionately argued in the pursuit of law. Those on either side of the political spectrum who would rather just tell the other side to shut up and then declare victory are not only attempting to become philosophical bullies, they are undermining the very essence of what it means to be American. So rarely do we stop to think about what it would be like to be on the other side! Amanda Marcotte would never suggest the debate is over if the law of the land currently prevented abortion. Barack Obama would never have declared the debate to be over if Congress had voted to de-fund Obamacare. Evolutionists would never declare the debate to be over if every school board in the country decided that creation would be taught in the classroom as well as the theory of evolution. That’s the way bullies work, though; as long as they are the biggest, baddest, toughest and meanest it’s their way or the high way. Let someone bigger and badder some along, though, and their position instantly does a one-eighty. So I would ask Mr. Obama, Ms. Marcotte and others to kindly recognize that the debates are not over.

At the same time, though, I would like to ask those of us on the other side of those arguments–myself included–to remember the same thing. We have to be willing to listen to and respect the positions of those who disagree with us if we want them to listen to and respect us. We do not have to agree with them. We do not necessarily even have to be willing to compromise with them. But we do have to be willing to listen and to show respect if we want the same in return. No, we do not have to welcome Ms. Marcotte’s potty-mouthed insults, and certainly we could insist that we will listen only if she is respectful in her speech and tone, but we must all remember that we have to be willing to show respect if we expect to receive it. Mr. Obama and Ms. Marcotte and others may not see it that way but, if anything, that is all the more reason for us to listen and show respect to them. After all, the Golden Rule does not say “do unto others as they do unto you.” No, it says, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Quite a difference, isn’t there?

July 7, 2014

“Abandoning the battle for the Bible”

A few months ago the board of trustees at Bryan College in Tennessee decided that it would insist that all of its faculty members adhere to a clarification to its statement of faith that makes clear that God created Adam and Eve in specific acts of creation–not through starting a process from which Adam and Eve eventually evolved.

According to a May article on insidehighered.com, this clarification has been deemed by many to be “too narrow” and has resulted in the departure of at least two faculty members, a vote of no confidence in the school’s president by the faculty and a variety of student protests.

The article explains that the Bryan College statement of faith previously included this statement on Adam and Eve: “that the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death[.]” Now I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty clear to me. Then again, I believe the Bible means an actual 24-hour day when it describes the days of creation in Genesis. Apparently a number of those who claimed that they agreed with this statement in the past do not agree, since they have been squawking ever since the school made this clarification: “We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”

The article also quotes some talking points presented at the faculty meeting prior to the no confidence vote by Phil Lestmann, a Bryan professor mathematics and head of its natural sciences division, in which Lestmann claimed that the clarification “pretend[s] that a very complex issue is really very simple and straightforward” and “possibly put[s] the college into too small a scientific or theological box.” Therein, of course, we find parts of the problem. The issue in fact is “very simple and straightforward” when you believe the Bible means what it says. Only by reinterpreting it or by trying to make the Bible (God’s Word) fit with science (man’s interpretation or understanding) does any complexity come into the matter. Speaking for myself, a “small…theological box” is exactly where I would want to be, and want my school to be, assuming that box is the one claiming the Word of God to be inerrant. After all, Jesus Himself created a “theological box” that could not be any smaller–when He said “no man comes to the Father but by Me” he was not leaving any room for discussion.

Apparently the student government at Bryan has objected to the clarification because the school’s charter says that its statement of faith cannot be changed. An open letter from the student government appearing in a February issue of the school’s newspaper said, “We believe that it is unjust that professors who gained tenure, published research, and served faithfully under this old statement of faith will be either fired or be forced to choose between violating their consciences or providing for their families.”

I would suggest that what is unfair is the very need for the clarification in the first place. After all, fiat means “an authoritative decree, sanction, or order” or “an arbitrary decree or pronouncement, especially by a person or group of persons having absolute authority to enforce it.” The original statement of faith asserts “the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God.” To suggest that fiat, act of creation and was created allow for some understanding other than that being made clear in the recent clarification is simply absurd. The reality is that Bryan has apparently been lax in enforcing its own statement of faith until this recent clarification and some faculty members have not felt troubled by the fact that they were annually signing a statement of faith with which they did not really agree. If someone consistently drives ten miles over the speed limit without getting a ticket he cannot then cry foul when a law enforcement officer finally does pull him over and issue the ticket. Getting away with something in the past is no justification for eliminating consequences for it in the future.

In the May 3 issue of WORLD Marvin Olasky, with whom I do not always agree, made a poignant and powerful statement about the importance of this issue. “Many Christian liberal arts colleges assert that their goal is to teach students how to think and not what to think. That is laudable in most areas, but should it mean that colleges do not care if students graduate with the belief that the Bible is merely a book compiling man’s fallible teaching rather than God-inspired wisdom?” Olasky asks. He answers his own question thusly: “In such an environment, a Christian college that proclaims it will just throw out to students a variety of theories and let them decide, is abandoning the battle for the Bible.” Olasky is exactly right, and his point is precisely why it is so imperative that Bryan College, as well as other Christian colleges, Christian schools and churches establish clear and accurate statement of faith and insist wholeheartedly that they are adhered to; anything else is a surrender to man’s reinterpretation and is inconsistent with Scripture.

February 5, 2014

The Debate

On Tuesday, February 4 an historic event took place in Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. It was attended by more than 800 people and it was viewed live through Internet streaming by more than one million. Odds are, you already know what I am talking about. As I skimmed through comments on Facebook last night after the event was over it seemed that many people were referring to it simply as “the debate.”

The Debate was just that, an intellectual exchange of ideas between Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” and Ken Ham, co-founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis. Nye is an evolutionist and Ham is a young earth creationist. Their debate, at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, was over the question of whether or not creation is a viable model of origins in today’s scientific climate. To no one’s surprise, Ham believes it is while Nye believes it is not.

No doubt many individuals far more articulate than I will dissect the various arguments and elements of the debate, and no doubt from both sides. I can assert with equal certainty that individuals on both sides will also no doubt make derogatory comments about the individuals and the arguments on the other side, though history bears evidence that far more of these will come from the evolutionist side than the creationist side. I will leave the analysis of most of the nitty gritty details to others, and I do not intend to call anyone names.

On the contrary, I would like to commend both Mr. Ham and Mr. Nye for their willingness to engage in such a public exchange of ideas, placing themselves literally and figuratively in the spotlight on an international stage. Regardless of one’s convictions, beliefs and training, being on the spot, live, in front of millions, tasked with defending a belief system held strongly by millions as their sole at-the-moment spokesperson is not a position many people would envy or be willing to assume. The event no doubt benefited both men and the organizations of both men. Answers in Genesis, for example, reported more than two million visits to its web site in the month leading up to the debate. So sure, publicity was no doubt part of the motivation on both sides. I do not believe, however, that it was at the heart of either man’s willingness to participate in the debate.

As Albert Mohler pointed out in his blog post today, “Nye was criticized by many leading evolutionists, who argued publicly that nothing good could come of the debate.” Criticism is never pleasant, and when it comes from your own camp it is even less so. Kudos, then, to Bill Nye for his willingness to stand on a stage beside one of the world’s leading apologists for the biblical account of creation, and to do it on the creationist’s home turf.

The debate was well planned, well executed and–in a rarity for many debates these days–well moderated. Ham and Nye were civil to each other and respectful. Nye even told Ham after Ham’s initial presentation that he had learned something. (Interestingly, he never said what that something was, though, and it may well have been that Ham holds even crazier ideas than Nye originally thought).

I am a young earth creationist, as is Ham, and I believe that God created the world in six literal, 24-hour days. Odds are good that if you have ever read my blog before that you already knew that. If you are a newcomer, there you go–full disclosure, I agree with Ham. Actually, if you want truly full disclosure, I am a charter member of the Creation Museum and have supported both the museum and Answers in Genesis financially. So it will come as no surprise that I agreed with what Ham said in the debate and disagreed with much of what Nye said. That I went into the debate with my mind made up puts in no small company, though; the same can be said of both Ham and Nye as well as many, if not the majority, of the folks who watched the debate. As Mohler wrote, “If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.” No one expected Ham or Nye to be convinced by the other or to change his mind. Neither, I suspect, did either man expect to change the mind of the other. One thing that came through loud and clear in the debate is that reason will not change the minds of individuals devoted to either position. Sure, there may be people who have not made up their mind either way, and they may have been swayed, but the debate was more a presentation of data and dogma than an effort to win votes or converts. Ham, by the way, admitted that he would never change his mind, since his beliefs are rooted in the Word of God. Nye suggested that he would if evidence was presented to sway him, but he almost simultaneously stated that such evidence could not exist, so his seeming openness to change was not entirely legitimate.

There were a couple of things that the debate made clear to me that I will comment on. One is that Bill Nye has apparently never read the Bible. His comments about it, and his apparent shock when Ham stated that some of the Bible is history, some poetry, etc, served as proof positive that he is, at best, unfamiliar with the Word of God. One point in favor of those with a biblical worldview is that they are willing to listen to and even study the other side in their defense of their faith.

Two, Nye’s own comments made it clear that the evolutionist position relies just as much on faith as the creationist position does. There were at least two times during the question-and-answer section of the debate when Nye responded to a question by saying, “We don’t know.” Translation: no proof exists for what he believe on this issue, we just believe it. Interesting, given how strongly Nye and others on the evolution side of the argument criticize Ham and those on the creation side for clouding their understanding of science with “beliefs.” Ham made the point early in the evening that the evolution position is just as much a “religion” as the creation position; I never heard Nye comment on that statement.

Three, Bill Nye seems scared to death that schools might actually consider allowing creation to be taught in schools, or at least allow evolution to be questioned or “critically examined.” There were times during the debate when he sounded like a political candidate, appealing to voters to save the United States from falling behind in the world. This was not a new position for Nye; in a widely-seen video Nye made last year he said of those who believe in the creation position, “[I]f you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.” In other words, Nye is suggesting, if you believe in the biblical account of creation you cannot be an intelligent, practicing scientist. You cannot accomplish great things within the scientific community. This position was why Ken Ham made such a point of quoting, mentioning and even playing video clips from accomplished scientists who hold to the creationist viewpoint, including the inventor of the MRI machine. I confess, initially I wondered why Ham kept including these references and dwelling on this point, because it did not seem to be a major tenet of the argument to me. As Nye went on though it became increasingly clear that it is a crucial part of the argument and Ham knew what he was doing. Oddly enough, perhaps, it had never occurred to me that someone would think that if you believe the Bible you cannot also be good at science. How naïve of me!

Albert Mohler concluded his blog post this way: “The central issue last night was really not the age of the earth or the claims of modern science. The question was not really about the ark or sediment layers or fossils. It was about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared ‘reasonable man’ and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace.” I really could not say it any better. Nye insists he is reasonable, and by default that Ham is not (nor are those who believe as he does). Interestingly enough, the Bible describes godly wisdom as “reasonable.” James writes, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). I am thankful that Ken Ham demonstrated wisdom from above in his debate with Bill Nye; my prayer is that Bill Nye will come to know that reasonable wisdom from above some day, too.

October 26, 2013

Noah’s Flood

Do not read anything into the fact that this post is coming immediately after one entitled Arguing with Idiots. I do not think that David Montgomery is an idiot. I think he is misguided and confused, but I do not think he is an idiot. David Montgomery is a college professor; he teaches geomorphology at the University of Washington. He has written a few books, but his most recent is entitled The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood (2012, W.W. Norton & Co.). As I was perusing the books at our local library a couple of weeks ago I saw this book on the table with other recently-acquired titles. The topic struck me as interesting, and I decided to read it. The teaser inside the front flap reads, “How the mystery of the Bible’s greatest story shaped geology: a surprising new perspective on Noah’s Flood from a world-class geologist and a MacArthur Fellow.” Had to be interesting, I surmised, though I was fairly confident that I would not find Dr. Montgomery to be presenting a biblically-accurate case.

I will not hold you in suspense; I was absolutely right. The book is well written and is an easy read. I may be a nerd, but nearly 300 pages on geology is not really my idea of fun, so the fact that I found it easy to read and understand should be an encouragement to anyone who may like to read the book. However, if you want to read it with a purely unbiased perspective, read no further, because I am going to point out several areas of the book that trouble me. In other words…here is your spoiler alert.

Truthfully, the little blurb I already quoted above provides ample evidence of Montgomery’s flawed perspective. After all, Noah’s Flood is not the Bible’s greatest story. Not by a long shot. Anyone who thinks that it is obviously denies the veracity of Scripture and denies that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, lived a perfect life, died, was buried and rose again. But we’ll set that aside for now and just address several specific areas of Montgomery’s work.

Early on, in a chapter entitled “A Grand Canyon,” Montgomery writes about hiking out of the Grand Canyon and observing the fossilized plants and animals in the canyon walls. It struck him, he said, that all of the plants and animals he saw there are extinct, which prompted him to ask this question: “If all the creatures buried in that mile-high wall of rock had been put there by the biblical flood, then why aren’t modern animals entombed among them? That the vast majority of fossils are extinct species presents a fundamental problem for anyone trying to argue that fossils were deposited by a flood from which Noah saved a pair of every living thing.” This does not really pose any problem at all, of course, because the Bible does not say that Noah saved a pair of every living thing. What is says is this: “And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female” (Genesis 6:19, ESV). The Message perhaps provides some clarification: “You are also to take two of each living creature, a male and a female, on board the ship, to preserve their lives with you: two of every species of bird, mammal, and reptile—two of everything so as to preserve their lives along with yours.” My point is this: Noah was to bring two of every kind of animal, two of each species, but not two of every living thing, as Montgomery suggests. For example, Noah had to bring two dogs on the ark, but he did not have to bring two of every breed of dogs along. A “species” is a class, but there can be a variety within the species. German Shepherds, Dalmations, Pit Bulls, Golden Retrievers and yes, even Poodles, are all different breeds of dogs but they are all within the dog species. If Noah took two of every species on board but not two of every breed in actually makes sense that the fossils Montgomery founds in the walls of the Grand Canyon would be mostly extinct.

Montgomery, in a chapter entitled “The Test of Time,” also makes this odd statement regarding the young-earth creationist view that the earth is not much more than six thousand years old: “This curious belief comes from literally adding up years gleaned from biblical chronology to arrive at how far back the world was created.” Curious indeed. After all, if I wondered how long ago my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather lived why in the world would I use such a silly thing as his birth date to figure that out? Excuse the sarcasm, please, I could not resist. Montgomery actually does not have an issue with adding up years from biblical chronologies to determine such a thing as I just alluded to; rather, his problem comes with the belief held by those holding to a literal interpretation of the Bible that God actually created Adam on the sixth 24-hour day, meaning the world is only five days (or one hundred twenty hours) older than Adam. I am afraid a more exhaustive discussion of day in Genesis 1 will have to wait for another time. The bottom line is that Montgomery’s thinking is clearly aligned with that of Baron Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, whom Montgomery affirms just a few pages after the remark about adding up biblical chronologies. Buffon, Montgomery says, “did point out that there was no conflict between Genesis and geology of one did not take the days of Creation literally. He thought, just as some theologians had argued, that Genesis was written for uneducated people and should not be interpreted literally on matters pertaining to earth history. It was never intended to convey scientific truths.” I should probably just stop by review now, because it is abundantly clear that anyone adhering to that position will not come to any kind of conclusion even close to being consistent with the Bible.

Later, in a chapter entitled “Catastrophic Revelations,” Montgomery references the work of Georges Cuvier in the early nineteenth century. Due to Cuvier’s work, Montgomery says, the Stackhouse Bible was cautioning its readers as early as 1816 that Genesis only refers to the current state of the world, and that “there is nothing in the sacred writing forbidding us to suppose that [fossils] are the ruins of a former earth.” Nothing, of course, other than reading the Bible literally and believing that it says exactly what it means. “Geological evidence,” Montgomery writes, “was starting to shape biblical interpretation.” Therein, of course, lies the problem. When men take the findings of other men and determine to rework the Bible into those findings it is possible to figure out a way to make the Bible say or mean almost anything. God is clearly revealed through creation, there is no denying that. Scripture makes that abundantly clear. Accordingly, it is not possible for creation, or geological evidence, rightly discovered and accurately understood, to contradict the Bible. That, of course is what this is really all about. Montgomery titled his book The Rocks Don’t Lie. That, of course, is true. Rocks are inanimate objects and they cannot communicate verbally. The rocks cannot tell us anything in the sense that someone having a conversation with you can tell you something or in the sense that I am telling you something now. Rocks communicate with us only through our understanding of the evidence they contain. Accordingly, accurate understanding of what the rocks tell us depends entirely on accurate reading and interpretation of the evidence the rocks contain. That reading and interpretation is done, however, by humans, using methods developed by humans, and is therefore imperfect.

Montgomery spends a little bit of time addressing the gap theory, the suggestion that there is “an indeterminate gap between the first two verses of Genesis.” This theory is not original to Montgomery nor is it necessarily advocated by him; if nothing else, he does do an admirable job of tracing the various lines of thinking on Noah’s Flood through the centuries. The gap theory is essentially an attempt to have it both ways–to hold that the six days of creation are literal 24-hour days, but that they are not six consecutive days. This argument is really untenable, though, and requires a tremendously creative reading of the text. Such an interpretation would be akin to me suggesting that I was born, graduated high school, graduated college, got married, had a daughter and then had a son all in one week. Those six things did happen on six individual days, but they happened over a period of thirty years. Now imagine that basic premise extended over a period of millions of years and you get an idea of the feasibility of the gap theory. Quite simply, the gap theory requires inserting something into the Bible that is not there.

Later, Montgomery has a chapter entitled “Recycled Tales.” I am not even going to spend much time addressing the issues contained in this chapter; you can read it yourself if you want the nitty gritty details. This opening sentence of the chapter should give you sufficient indication of the chapter’s contents: “Centuries before George Smith discovered that the opening chapters of the Bible were reworked Babylonian tales, controversy over the authorship of the Bible centered on how to interpret it as the literal word of God.”

One of Montgomery’s more unusual assertions comes in this “Recycled Tales” chapter, though, and I think I need to address it. He writes, “Perhaps misinterpretation and quirks lie at the root of the belief in a global deluge. After all, repeated references to unicorns in the King James Bible demonstrate the potential for meanings to become scrambled as words were translated from Hebrew to Greek to Latin, and finally to English.” To his credit, Montgomery includes an end note after this statement explaining that “unicorn” in the KJV is an erroneous translation of the Hebrew word re’em which is far more accurately translated as a wild ox in almost every other English translation of the Bible. To suggest, however, that because some translators used “unicorn” to convey the unique one-horned animal referenced in the original Hebrew means that translators have perhaps also erred in translating a global flood is disingenuous. In fact, anyone reading Montgomery’s end note realizes this. How? He makes it clear that just about every other English translation of the Bible has corrected the translation of re’em so that they no longer refer to unicorns. In other words, he is asserting that more recent and more careful translation has corrected the KJV translation of that word to more accurately reflect what the Hebrew word meant. Interestingly, though, all of those more recent and more careful translations still refer to a flood. The Orthodox Jewish Bible uses the Hebrew word mabbul to reference the Noahic flood. What does that mean? According to Strong’s Concordance it means flood. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance it means a deluge. And according to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon it means a flood in the time of Noah, and possibly is derived from an Assyrian word meaning “to destroy.” This Hebrew word is used only to describe the Noahic Flood. Any references to any other floods in Scripture use a different Hebrew word. Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, in his commentary on Genesis from a Messianic Jewish perspective, says, “The Hebrew word for flood is mabul with a definite article, ha-mabul, meaning ‘the flood.'” So, KJV unicorns aside, there is no weight to the argument that the Noahic Flood may just be a mistranslation of original Hebrew.

I could go on in my review and refutation of Montgomery’s book but this has become quite lengthy already. Let me close by saying that Montgomery’s last chapter, entitled “The Nature of Faith,” is worth reading all on its own even if you do not want to read the entire book. I am not endorsing it by any means; this sentence gives you a final look at Montgomery’s perspective: “Even though we can no longer read the story [of Noah’s Flood] literally, we can still learn from it–all of us.” The value of the chapter comes in Montgomery’s acknowledgement that science probably does not have all of the answers, either. He probably diminishes the value and importance of faith, but he at least is up front about the fact that science is not necessarily flawless or completely authoritative. The chapter would be a great source of discussion for a high school or college class, a Sunday school class or even a book discussion group; I am sure it would generate lively and stimulating discussion.

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