Friday, December 28, 2012

Who are the Nephilim?

Prior to the 19th century there was no archaeological evidence for the people known as the Hittites in the bible.  Historians and critics of the day had declared the Hittites to be nothing more than a myth of the bible.  Likewise in the 1950's it was determined that the biblical story of the fall of Jericho was wrong, the city was destroyed much too early for it to have been taken by the Israelites.  And then after the evidence was re-examined it was determined that in fact the biblical account seems to be the most accurate.  The point is that there are a lot of things that the bible has been proven accurate about, but there are some things in history we still don't know, because there are simply no records to look to.

One of the perplexing puzzles of Scripture is who were the Nephilim?  The word is only used three times in Scripture, once in Genesis 6:4, and the other two times in Numbers 13:33.  Genesis says only this: "When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive.  And they took as their wives any they chose.  Then the Lord said, 'My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: hid days shall be 120 years'.  The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came into the daughters of man and they bore children to them.  These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown." (Gen 6:1-4 ESV)  And in Numbers we read, "And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them." (Numbers 13:33 ESV)

Early Greek manuscripts translated the Hebrew "Nephilim" as "gigantes" or "giants" based on the reading found in Numbers, and bolstered by the description of the Anakim as found in Deuteronomy (the word "Anakim" is used nine more times there).  However, the problem is that Genesis does not say that the Nephilim were giants, neither does Numbers.  Numbers says that Anak was a descendant of the Nephilim, and that he was a giant, and that his children were giants.  This does not necessarily mean that all Nephilim were giant themselves.

What Genesis does specifically say is that the Nephilim were mighty men of old, they were men of great renown.  Also it notes that the Nephilim existed in a time corresponding to the "sons of God" coming to the "daughters of man."  Genesis does not explicitly say that the Nephilim were the results of these unions, but rather that the Nephilim existed in the days when this was happening.  A common understanding of the passage is that the Nephilim were the result of this union, but the passage itself does not explicitly say as much, though perhaps the text intends that to be the point.  In either case we cannot authoritatively say that the Nephilim were all giants, but rather that the sons of Anak were giants, and Anak was from the Nephilim.

There are a myriad of issues in the text that need to be taken apart for us to figure out what is going on and offer any possible solution to who the Nephilim are.  But, no matter what answer we come up with one thing must be understood as certain: we will only be able to give an educated opinion.  Our opinion may be based on strong evidence, but ultimately this ought not be a point to divide over.  Paul himself says that arguing over endless genealogies is pointless and improper.  Therefore, while I intend to offer my understanding and interpretation of who the Nephilim are I also want to make clear that this is just my opinion, I am not saying that Scripture is adamant on this or that anyone should make a doctrinal issue out of the Nephilim, there simply is no biblical warrant for doing such.

A very common interpretation of the passage is perhaps the most straightforward: the Nephilim are the offspring of human-angel relationships where angels took human wives and produced these children with them.  Obviously in this case the angels might be better recognized as demons as the bible indicates that angels were not supposed to wed.  We see in Matthew 22:30 that Jesus makes clear that angels in heaven do not wed.  Therefore, if angels were taking human wives they would necessarily be abandoning their proper role in heaven.

Perhaps the main reason for thinking that the Nephilim are descendants of angels is because of the use of the term "sons of God."  This term is used twice in Job to indicate angels.  In Job 1:6 and 2:1 we see the term "sons of God" used directly in connection with angels.  Clearly, for the writer of Job, the term had a divine significance.  Thus, based on the clear indication of what is meant in Job, it becomes reasonable to read that understanding of the term back into Genesis 6.

Genesis 6:4 then becomes an explanatory verse for what we see in Jude.  In Jude we read of angels who were bound in chains because they left their proper dwelling.  Because the comments immediately following this section discusses Sodom and Gomorrah there is perhaps additional evidence of sexual immorality being implied against these angels.  If that is the case then perhaps what Jude is referring to are the angels who sired the Nephilim, who left heaven and took wives and brought forth children, all against the will of God.  Thus now these angels are awaiting punishment and humanity had to deal with the wickedness of their offspring.

While this understanding sums everything up very nicely, it also has a few major theological problems.  The first problem that must be addressed has to do with who and what angels are.  One thing is certain in Scripture: angels are not physical beings.  Yes, angels kill and destroy, yes they can be touched and can touch things, but they are not physical.  Angels are spirits according to Hebrews 1:14.  This is further reinforced by the fact that angels come into the presence of God, who is himself spirit.  Thus the idea of a spiritual being engaging in a physical relationship so as to bear a child seems contrary to what we find in Scripture.  (Yes, Christ was begotten by the Spirit as a special miracle of God, but unless we intend to become heretics we must remember that Mary was still a virgin, thus there was no physical relationship between God and Mary.)  There is no indication that God gave angels the ability to get women pregnant, unless we assume it in Genesis 6.

Angels are not physical beings living on some other planet or coming from some other place within the universe.  Angels are spiritual beings whose proper dwelling is heaven.  Thus in Jude what we see is Angels who abandoned their position before God and rebelled with Satan.  Even Revelation discusses the idea of 1/3 of the stars of heaven (which seem to be representative of the angels) being cast out of heaven, and Satan being cast out as well.  Angels are not physical, they do not have physical bodies, which is made clear by the fact of demons seeking to possess others, because they have no bodies of their own.

The second problem with the idea of the Nephilim being the offspring of angels is what is found repeated of all living things in Genesis 1.  Living things were made to reproduce after their own kind.  Now, exactly what "kind" means is somewhat vague, but it seems that there is a limitation to the variety that a thing can reproduce as.  So dogs produce dogs, cats produce cats, and fishes produce fishes.  But we see in nature there is some cross over, so that certain types of birds, fish, and other animals are capable of reproducing with what would normally be considered another species, but the possible variations are sill very limited.  Frogs do not reproduce with fishes or cats.

The reason this presents a problem for the Nephilim being children of angelic and human unions is because angels and humans are two different kinds.  In fact humans are a unique kind, there is nothing else like us.  Humans alone were said to be made in the divine image.  Thus for humans and angels to even be able to have children we would have to assume something that would radically change the whole of our understanding of Scripture and divine image: that humans and angels are the same kind of creature, in a biblical sense.  As man is described as unique by Scripture, and as there is on indication of angels being the same type as man (as Psalms says, man was created a little lower than the angels) it seems this presents a major problem for those who would say humans and angels were capable of having children.

Okay, but if the Nephilim were not the result of angelic and human relationships, who were they?  Here I think we can find a fairly simple answer that uses the information present in Genesis, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, and makes sense of biblical theology as well.  Let us begin with the question of who the sons of God are.

I noted that "sons of God" is used in Job to refer to angels.  However, there is one other place the term, "Sons of God" is used in the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 32:8 we read, "When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind,/ he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God." (Deuteronomy 32:8 ESV)  This verse doesn't seem to be of much help, until you consider the context of the passage.  Once we look at the context of the passage, the meaning of "sons of God" becomes clear.

In order to understand the context of this passage you need to know how Hebrew poetry works.  Hebrew poetry usually works through a repeated idea or through a central thought being brought out in different ways.  So in Genesis we read, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens."  See how the idea of God as creator is repeated, along with the use of the terms "earth" and "heavens."  Notice that to create balance the author even reverses the order of "heavens and earth" to "earth and heavens."  At the center of the whole passage, balanced between heavens and earth and created and mind, we find " the LORD God."  The point of the poem is to emphasize the divine power of God as creator, to bring him glory as the one who made all things.

So, in Deuteronomy 32 we read, "They have dealt corruptly with him; they are no longer his children because they are blemished; they are a twisted and crooked generation./  Do you thus repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people?/ Is he not your father, who created you, who made you and established you?/  Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations;/ ask your father and he will show you, ask your elders and they will tell you./ When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind,/ he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God." (Deuteronomy 32:5-8 ESV)

The term "sons of God" in Deuteronomy 8 matches the idea of 32:5, that God has rejected these people because of their sins.  They have become corrupt and wicked, and thus, though they were the children of God, now they are aliens to him.  Though he was their father they rejected him and forgot him, and now they have no claim with him.  Sons of God in Deuteronomy 8 shows the idea of the people of the earth in an early stage, those who God would use to develop as nations.

This use of the term should be the one given the most weight because the authorship of Genesis is the same as that of Deuteronomy.  That is, it is generally accepted as tradition that Moses wrote the first five books of the bible (obviously with a later editor).  If this is the case then we should use this instance of the "sons of God" as the guiding usage as it would be the closest correspondent use of the term in Scripture to what we find in Genesis.  Further, since we have additional information on the Anakim in Deuteronomy, thus showing a development of what is found in Numbers, we see how the books are tied together in concept, thus, in my opinion, giving more weight to using Deuteronomy as the best source for understanding the vague identity of the Nephilim.

Using Deuteronomy helps to explain why the term Nephilim is used as well.  The term itself most closely means "fallen ones".  In context it does not seem that the term Nephilim is used of a specific people, that is a group descended from just one man.  Often we see groups identified either from their ancestor, such as the Anakim (sons of Anak) or based on their location, such as the Caphtorim (who come from Caphtor).  In the case of the Nephilim, assuming my understanding is correct, we see a people described by their condition.  The Nephilim would be the fallen "sons of God" who were the powerful men used to build civilizations and who groups were named after.

Thus Anak would have come from the Nephilim and had a people named after him.  But he was fallen, no longer walking in the way of God, but twisted and concerned with his own glory.  He was a giant of men and used his power and strength to establish himself.  In this he was a man of great renown, a man of power on the earth.  But he was also a man who rejected God and repaid God with evil.

This use of Nephilim further makes sense when you consider where it first occurred in Scripture.  Remember, when the bible was first written there were no chapter and header divisions.  Thus the earliest manuscripts would have gone straight from chapter 5 to chapter 6.  Chapter 5 of Genesis is the record of the genealogy of Adam.  Adam is made by God, he fathers Seth, Seth fathers Enosh, who fathers Kenan, and all the way down to Noah, who fathers Shem, Ham, and Japheth.  Then immediately we read about the "sons of God" going after the "daughters of man" and we read about the flood coming and the Nephilim being on earth.  It would make sense for the Nephilim to refer to fallen men who came out of the Adamic line who abandoned the knowledge of God and instead pursued their own names.  They thus bring forth the Nephilim who will establish nations (based on the fact that they are the ones who will establish names for themselves) but their fallen nature is shown in their rejection of God.

The idea of the Nephilim in Genesis 6 also shows how the repeated idea of creation and fall has become part of the cycle of life.  Adam was created, he sinned and fell and caused the whole earth to become cursed.  Now his children, instead of pursuing godliness and seeking to reform the earth, continue in the fallen nature of the world around them.  Where there was perhaps some hope that godliness could reign through the establishing of godly offspring slowly taking over the whole earth, instead, as men multiplied, they saw what they desired and took it for themselves, just as their father did.  (Notice the use of the words in Genesis 6: "saw" "attactive" "took" "chose".  These words echo what we see in Genesis 3 of Eve seeing the fruit to be attractive and then taking it because she wanted it.)  So the pattern of sin in the world is re-emphasized with there being only one recourse to God: he will wipe the world clean and start anew with Noah.

So, the Nephilim were not angelic or demonic children.  The Nephilim is a group designation given to the fallen men who would go on to be the founders of various nations.  These were men who abandoned the worship of God for the worship of themselves, and thus epitomized the fallen reality of the world.  They were powerful, they were renowned, and whole civilizations would be named after them, but in the end they were merely men.  And God would eventually wipe the stain of these men off of the earth through a weak people, descended from an old man and a childless woman.  And God would eventually remove the stains of these people through the foolishness of the cross and the weakness of preaching; and those who were fallen would be lifted by the gentle hands of the Son of God, so they one day they might be called the sons of God, all to the glory of the Father.

Monday, December 24, 2012

If you only had one chance: conclusion

If you found yourself trapped on an elevator with someone for an hour, what would your conversation look like?

I suppose you could use that as an example of the opportunity that my friend asked me to write about.  She wanted me to write a step-by-step guide for witnessing to someone when you only have one opportunity and the person is a complete stranger.  For many Christians this situation can arise while doing street witnessing, or door-to-door visits in a neighborhood.  But, regardless of where the opportunity arises, the fact is that we will face this opportunity on a regular basis, if we are normal Americans.  When you go out to eat, when you talk to a cashier at a grocery store, even when you chat with someone via an online game, you have brief interactions with someone you may only see one time.  So, if you were going to take that opportunity to witness to the person in front of you, what would that look like?

I did the last post on the first of three divisions: Be prepared.  This post will address the last two divisions in my step-by-step recommendation: Witnessing, and Afterwords.  Most of the time will be spend on the first of those two divisions: Witnessing.  This is the part that scares most people, but I've already written that this is the easiest part, assuming you have done the necessary preparation.  If you are prepared, knowing Scripture, being in regular prayer, and trusting God, then the witnessing itself is the easy part of the event.

The witnessing is the easy part because it should be something you do naturally.  Consider it this way, for a Christian the news about what Christ has done should be the easiest thing in the world to talk about.  I don't mean that you necessarily need to tell about all the things you've done and how God has radically changed your life (not every Christian has that testimony) but rather that telling someone that Christ stands ready to forgive all who come to him should be a simple matter.  Someone told us about the gospel, and we believed what they told us.  So likewise all we have to do is tell others, even if in our own stumbling way, and trust God that they will believe.

But how do we actually do the witnessing?  It is easy to say, "Go talk to someone about Christ," but it is a different thing to actually do that.

The first step in witnessing is the first step in any relationship: develop rapport.  If the person you are talking to is dismissive or closed off to others then you will have a hard time talking with them about the gospel, so you have to find a way to open the conversation.  There are basically an infinite number of ways to do this, from the blunt and direct approach, to asking leading questions, to engaging in intentional conversation that will slowly let you work your way to what you want to talk about.  Which of these methods you choose will depend on your personality, the situation you are in, and what the other person seems to respond to.

One of the things we discussed in personal evangelism classes, and something I have used myself in talking with others, is a developing a number of questions that can be used as bridges to the gospel.  For instance, you could ask someone what is really of worth, how they think people get to heaven, who the most important person in history is, or even if they consider themselves to be "good" people, and why that matters.  There are lots of questions you can ask that will open up doorways to discuss the gospel.  Using these questions is one way of developing a rapport that will then lead to a discussion involving the gospel.

This step is probably the hardest part of doing one-time witnessing, because we live in day where more and more people are less and less connected to those around them.  It is easy to get on a bus or a plane and see that everyone has some kind of electronic device or book in their hands.  In such situations it can be very hard to develop rapport because people have walls up and do not want others to get into those walls.  For this reason we must be both brave enough to breach the defensive walls of those around us, but also polite enough to know how to do this in a way that is not offensive, lest we ruin the chance to speak to the person about Christ.

Once you've established rapport, everything else becomes easy.  Once you open your conversation you should be intentional about leading your conversation to the gospel.  Again this can be a blunt statement like, "I know you're busy, but I'd like to tell you about what I think is the most important thing in the world, do you have a minute?"  But, it can also be a much more subtle conversation that allows you walk up the gospel rather slowly.  Depending on how much time you have with the person and how good you are at conversation you may be able to take a much longer path to the gospel, or you may have to be very blunt.

If you've taken the time to know the gospel as Scripture lays it out, and you've developed rapport with the person you are talking to, then you simply need to lay out the gospel to that person.  Again, this can be a rather simple presentation, such as telling the person that everyone is a sinner (guilty of crimes against God), and because of that, God, being holy (meaning worthy of perfect devotion) has condemned all men for their crimes.  But, because God loves humanity he has made a way for all who will to come to him through his Son.  Jesus, the Son of God, lived a perfect life, then died the death of a criminal, so that our crimes could be placed on him.  But, because he was innocent of any crime, death could not ultimately hold him, and so he rose again from the grave.  Now, everyone who puts their trust in Jesus and loves him (obedient love, not mere lip service) will find forgiveness for their crimes against God through his kindness to us.  And one day we too will be raised from the dead just as he way.  This is a somewhat simple but understandable presentation of the gospel.

One thing you have to be careful with is the words you use.  Remember, we have a lot of words that don't have the same meanings to everyone.  For instance if I were to say people are sinful, people would take that in different ways.  If I were to say that all men are guilty of crimes against God, then that makes more clear what I'm talking about.  I may have to explain what crimes specifically we are guilty of, but "crime against God" carries less cultural baggage than a word like "sinful" does.  The best thing to do when talking about Christ with someone you don't know is to try not to use words that may have vague or specialized meanings.  If you want to be clear about the gospel, then use clear language that the other person can understand.  Be careful with what words you choose.

An older way of discussing the words you want to use is to be "winsome."  Intentionally craft your words so that the other person wants to listen to what you are saying.  Asking someone, "Have you ever stolen anything, even something as simple as an extra few minute of break time, from your employer?" is better than saying, "Look, you're a thief.  I know you're a thief because all people steal."  In the second case you will likely cause the person to become guarded.  In the first instance you let the person talking to you tell you about themselves, something that most of us like to do.

The final step in the actual witnessing event is to make sure you exit the conversation in a graceful manner.  What I mean is that if you are going to take the time to witness to your waitress (please make sure it is not a busy time and you are not keeping her from other tables), then leave her a tip that shows you actually care about her.  If you took 5 minutes talking with her about Christ, and 45 minutes eating at the table and leave her a 5% gratuity, she isn't going to be very grateful.  Think about the impression you leave behind when you finish your conversation.

This final step can be all the more important if the person gets hostile in reaction to your conversation.  Remember, we are supposed to love others.  Don't treat the person as some notch on your spiritual belt of righteousness.  When you witness to others your motivation needs to be out of a deep love for humanity and an understanding that hell is real and those who don't come to Christ are facing very real and eternal danger. If you do not have love then you don't have much business going out and talking about the God who is love, and his love in sending his Son, his very heart, to earth.

If you've done the work to be prepared to witness, and you've taken the opportunities that God has given you to be a faithful witness, then there is one last step after witnessing to someone.  This it the step I call Afterwords.  Literally it is what you do after words have been spoken.  This step brings us full round to the first step.  After you have witnessed, pray to God on behalf the person you spoke with.  Bring intercession for the person and offer a supplication to God that the seed planted might grow into a fruit bearing plant.  Remember, the point of prayer is to ask the Father for those things which will glorify the Son, and this, being the delight of the father, he will do.

If you are living your life in a way that glorifies Christ and reflects your commitment to his holiness, then the steps I've outlined above should be fairly simple.  Unfortunately there is a lot that can be said about witnessing.  There is not shortage of books on the subject.  This is unfortunate because there is no way I can exhaustively cover everything in a few blog posts.  But, if you want a series of steps you should follow to make the most of the opportunities you have to speak with someone one time and share the gospel, these are the steps I would follow:  Prepare; Witness; Afterwords.

But, in all that you do, do it for the glory of Christ.  It is not the gifted speaker or the know-it-all guy who will accomplish the works of God, but it is the faithful servant who loves God and speaks the truth.  Moses, who spoke the Word to a whole nation and confronted one of the most powerful kings in the world in his day, said that he could not talk.  Paul tells us that people said that his words were weak and that he wasn't a good public speaker.  Yet, God tells us that he made the tongue of man, and that it is not powerful words but the work of the Spirit that brings his results.  So do not be afraid, but glorify Christ in sharing the good news about him every time you get the chance.

If you only had one chance

I had a friend on Facebook ask me if I would put together a step-by-step instruction guide for witnessing to a lost person who I would only meet one time.  This is probably the most common form of intentional evangelism most Christians will participate in.  However, just because it is so common doesn't make it the best form.  So, I'd love to put together a step-by-step guide, but first I want to discuss the goal of evangelism and the best way to evangelize.  Most of us will meet many people throughout our lives, and a large number of those people will be brief encounters, so it is important for us to think about how we would share our faith in the short time we have.

I stated that I don't think that the best form of evangelism is witnessing to strangers.  I'll stand by that position and I'll explain why.  Most of the evangelism we see done in the New Testament (there just isn't quite as much in the Old) is done over time.  Yes, Paul went and argued with people, but usually he met with them multiple times in his discussions.  And yes, Jesus shared with people, but usually he stayed with them for an extended time in talking with them.  One time meetings with strangers robs evangelism of one of its most important aspects: the ability to test the truth by experience.

The goal of the Christian should be to witness to others.  The proclamation of the gospel is our goal, and that means we need to live lives that prove the gospel to be true.  While no one will know that we are following Christ if we never tell them, at the same time know one will know what it means to follow Christ if we don't show them.  Words are easy, a Lothario can woo a woman with empty words, but an Orpheus will travel the very halls of death to win back his bride.  If our goal is to win others to Christ, then our lives must reflect the love of our savior that our words proclaim.

Unfortunately in short, one-off meetings you will get a very limited amount of time to prove your character an thus demonstrate the love you have for Christ.  You may have opportunity to tell someone of Christ, which is of utmost importance, but they will have little time to form a judgment about the truth of what you say from that meeting.  This is the unfortunate limitation in all brief encounters.  You cannot develop a relationship with commonality, and you cannot establish commonality without time and shared experience.  Therefore, while brief and fleeting meetings are altogether common, and present opportunities to share the gospel, they are also limited in what can be accomplished.

Okay, so brief opportunities aren't the best, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't use every opportunity we have to share Christ.  So what should we do with the brief opportunities we have?  Our answer can be broken down into three major steps that each have smaller parts within those steps.

The first thing we must do is be prepared for the encounter.  Peter tells us to be prepared at all times to give a defense for the hope within us.  Specifically in 1 Peter 3:15-16 we read, "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."  Obviously this passage expects that there should be some relationship between those asking and those giving a defense, for it expects that those who accuse should also have the ability to judge our character, but there are still parts of the passage that can be applied to the opportunity of a onetime encounter.

The first step of witnessing to anyone, whether someone you have a relationship with or someone you don't know is to be prepared to actually witness.  Therefore our first part of witnessing must begin with preparation.  That preparation starts with what Peter tells us here: honoring Christ the Lord as holy.  The use of the term "heart" indicates not that Peter is talking to us about an emotional commitment, but rather a whole person commitment.  Our whole person must be devoted to the holiness of Christ our Lord.  This is the beginning of our preparation to witness.

You may know all the right words, you may know facts and figures, you may even have all the tracts and tools you want at hand, but despite all of that sin in your life can be a hindrance to your opportunity to share Christ.  The encounter you have with a bank teller right after you get done rudely cutting others off in line or cursing under your breath because you just realized you are going to get back to work late after lunch will likely not be an opportunity for you to share Christ, because your failure to live as though in the presence of a holy God have just put the lie to everything you might say.  But, even more insidiously, sin in your life that happened previously, that you are still struggling with, can be a hindrance in that you may allow the feelings of guilt and shame prevent you from speaking the truth of Christ.  I don't hear note that unresolved sin can make your words ineffective because Paul said that the only thing that mattered to him was that Christ was preached regardless of the reasons for why people were preaching Christ.  Thus I believe that the Word of God will be faithful to complete the task God has set for it, but that an unfaithful witness harms us in other ways that hinder the gospel's affects.

So, if we begin with living our lives as though we truly are living for a Holy Christ, then what should the next step of preparation be?  Here the answer must be knowledge of the Word of God.  We must be students of the Word so that we can proclaim that Word.  How can you tell others of the good news of Christ if you don't know it yourself?

You may say that you can simply tell others of what Christ has done for you, but the fact is that if you don't know the Word, you don't know what Christ has done.  If you are unfamiliar with the condemnation of the Law, then you cannot fathom the mercy of God's grace.  If you do not see yourself as a sinner who was due the righteous wrath of a holy God, then you will not be able to share what exactly you have been spared from for the sake of Christ.  One of the most familiar illustrations of Christ was the idea of removing the plank in your own eye before you could remove the saw dust from the eye of your brother.  If you have not seen the reality of your sin in the mirror of Scripture, so as to remove that plank from your eye, then how can you look to the speck in someone else's eye and tell them how to remove it?  Knowledge of Scripture is not ancillary to witnessing, rather it is crucial.

On top of this, we read that the gospel of Christ is what saves us.  But what is the gospel?  The gospel is the message of Christ, the good news, that was passed down in the bible.  The gospel is that God is holy and made all things for his glory, but that man rebelled against God and so brought sin and death into the world.  Because all men are sinners, all men deserve to die, because we have all rebelled against the one true, holy, and perfect God.  Yet God, in his love for us, sent his Son, the Lord Jesus, to live a perfect life of holiness to God and then to take sin upon himself by dying upon the cross.  Because the cross was the fulfillment of the curse of sin, and because that sin was born by Christ, all those who come to Christ can have their sins forgiven in him.  This forgiveness was proven by the fact that Christ raised from the dead and so conquered death that reigns through sin.  Now, all those who trust in Christ are saved by the power of his blood cleansing us from sin.

This is a more detailed explanation than is perhaps necessary, but I wanted to at least briefly touch on a lot of the issues that the gospel contains.  But, understanding the fullness of this gospel means understanding Scripture.  If you are not a student of Scripture, while you may be able to tell people that there is forgiveness to be found in Jesus, you will not really be able to understand what that means.  That means you will fall short of sharing the full gospel and will only be able to share part of it.  You don't have to share a detailed step-by-step explanation of the gospel that starts in Genesis, goes through the Mosaic Covenant, explains the outworking of God's plan through the prophets, and gives a detailed account of how wisdom is found in God.  But, you do need to know the basics of the faith and at least a general understanding of what Scripture has proclaimed about the forgiveness found in Christ; and that knowledge can only be found in Scripture.

So then, to be prepared to share we must live lives of holiness and know Scripture.  But, there is one more thing we must do as well.  We must be trusting God.  This goes with the first point and is sharpened by the reading we do in the second point, but it also stands apart from the other two.  Trusting God means being confident in what we say, being in prayer on a regular basis, and being prepared that whatever happens, God is the one in control of the situation.

If we are not in regular prayer then we will be weak when opportunities to share come to us.  Prayer is part of our faith.  It is something we are commanded to do and it is the conduit through which God chooses to put his power into effect.  Christ, in John 14 and 16, commands us to pray to the Father so that he will glorify himself in accomplishing those prayer.  The goal of these prayers, as shown in these sections (I didn't link verses because you really should read both chapters to get the context) is not for us, but that we might be seeking to bring glory to God.  Thus our prayer lives should be about opportunities to glorify God, and so should include the witnessing we do and seeking that God would work his power through our witnessing.  If we are witnessing, but are not in prayer, then we are missing part of the point: The Father delights to use our prayers as a way to bring glory to the Son, whose body we are on earth.

If we are living lives of holiness as Peter commands, studying Scripture as we ought to, and being in regular prayer to God, then we can expect that God will glorify himself through us when the opportunities for us to share our faith arise.  If we are doing all of this, not as some simple "3 steps to prepare to witness" but as a matter of our true lives and who we are, then we will be prepared for the opportunities as they arise.  This is the final step of trusting in God, of actually taking the opportunity when it comes, of putting aside doubts and hindrances, and of being bold in proclaiming Christ in every opportunity we get, and it won't be forced or awkward, but it will be the natural outflow of a love born of understanding the great kindness God has shown us.

This is the first part of witnessing, just being prepared to be a witness.  It is actually the hardest part because it requires a full life commitment to the holiness of Christ and a devotion to the Word of God as being able to accomplish his will.  The second part, which will be the next post, is easier, though it is often the part we make the hardest.  The second part is the actual witnessing, and the third is what we do afterwords.  But, if we glorify Christ in our lives, then telling others about him in those "chance" encounters becomes far easier than many of us think.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why I believe in a literal six days of creation: Part 2

So, I said in my last post that I would lay out the positive case for a literal six days of creation.  The goal of this post will be to at least partially fulfill this promise.  The reasons for believing a literal six days of creation are complex and require a thorough biblical theology to explain.  Therefore, in order to establish the reasons for believing in a literal six days of creation I will attempt to look at the text, and then look at how the rest of Scripture deals with this text and the ideas in the text, and then demonstrate that the strongest argument for reading this text is to understand that Scripture is arguing for God literally making the earth in six days.  This is not to say that there are no other ways to read the text of Genesis 1, and I will attempt to address the other ways of reading the text some throughout the section, but I do intend to argue that a literal understanding of the six days of creation is the best way to read the text.

Let us look at the text then:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And 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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens 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. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1 ESV)

This is the full text of Genesis 1.  Obviously the argument rests on the question of whether "day" in each of these verses is a literal day, or if it could be metaphorical.  Basically the argument for the metaphorical interpretation says that "day" in this instance could very well mean "period of time" or something similar.  This is based upon the fact that the Hebrew "yom" (y-oh-m) can mean both a literal day and a period of time.

That the author of Genesis uses "yom" in a metaphorical way is quite easily demonstrated just by looking to chapter 2 where we read, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens."  The author clearly intends "day" to refer to everything that happened prior, so that where we previously see "day" used 7 times (by the beginning of chapter 2 we have the seventh day) here all 7 of those days are included in one reference.  The author of Genesis clearly uses day to indicate metaphorical days, and thus could have intended "yom" in the first chapter to be metaphorical.

However, in the case of Genesis one we see strong evidence that "day" is not meant to be metaphorical.  What we see is the word "yom" used with the phrases interpreted "evening and morning" and each "day" is numbered.  In every other  happens in Scripture, so that a day is linked to an evening or a morning, or a day is numbered, it always means a literal day.  For instance, there are no metaphorical instances of the words "evening" or "morning" in any other passage in Genesis, and in each other passage where you read of a "first," "second," "third," etc., day, it always refers to a literal day.  Thus, if the author intended to use the term metaphorically he did not indicate it in the text by the words he chose.

Some argue that the metaphorical nature of the text is obvious because the sun and moon do not exist until day 4, therefore the days cannot be literal because you cannot have an evening or a morning without a sunrise and a sunset.  However, this argument misses the point that the only thing necessary for an evening and a morning is a fixed point on the earth where light is focused that there is darkness and light in succession.  Thus the sun is not necessary so long as light is being provided by some other source, which is what the creation account indicates in Genesis.  Yes, today we need a sunrise and a sunset for evening and morning because the sun is the source of light for our earth, but when creation was occurring we see the statement that God was the source of light, in that God spoke and light existed independently of the sun.

To back up the claim that God operates as an the independent source of light we can turn to Revelation where we see the profession that there will be no sun and no moon, for God himself will be the source of light.  (Rev 21:23; 22:5)  Even if one were to argue that Revelation is intending this in a metaphorical sense, the argument for God as light is made throughout Scripture.  Thus the argument from Scripture is that God serves as the light of creation in a very real sense.  In Genesis the most logical understanding of the text is that God was acting as the source of light for creation establishing his presence prior to the creation of the sun and the moon.

So, we have the use of the term "day" in conjunction with the words "evening" and "morning" along with specifically numbered days.  All of these terms in Genesis 1:1-2:3 indicate literal days in the text.  To argue that there is contextual evidence to indicate a metaphorical use of "day" in Genesis 1 is to beg the question.  First you have to assume the metaphorical interpretation and then you can find the evidence from reading the text.  However, if you do not assume the proposition of a metaphorical interpretation in Genesis 1, you cannot find evidence to support a metaphorical interpretation.  The same is not true for the literal interpretation whose evidence exists even assuming a metaphorical interpretation and then looking for evidence to the contrary.

Along with the terms we already looked at there is a second point, going back to Genesis 2:4.  Genesis 2:4 reads "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth."  This sentence is important because we see it repeated throughout Genesis.  In Genesis 5 we read of the generations of Adam.  In total this term is repeated 11 times in Genesis.  In every one of those instances the author lays out an actual genealogical list to go with the words and in each section he gives real details of events that happened implying that these lists are to be taken literally.  Thus this term links the story of creation to the rest of the history given in Genesis.  While some people think the lists of genealogies are mythological, the text does not treat the histories in this way.  Thus the textual evidence is that the creation story is to be understood along side the history of Genesis, and that the history is to be understood in a literal sense, which means the creation story should be understood just as literally.

But, we do not only have to rely only on Genesis to help us understand whether the days of creation were literal.  We can also look to Exodus.  In Exodus 20:11 we see Moses tell the Israelites that they were to keep the Sabbath because the Lord created the heavens and the earth in six days and then rested on the seventh.  Thus the law of the Sabbath in the Old Testament is based on a literal understanding of the days of creation.  Arguing for a metaphorical seven days would undermine the reasoning behind the Sabbath because one could say, "God didn't really create the earth in six days and rest of the seventh, that's just a metaphor."

The reason this evidence should be compelling is because the traditional understanding of the authorship of Genesis is that Moses wrote it just as he wrote Exodus.  Since Moses is recognized as the author of both of these books his understanding of the days of creation as revealed in his statement on the Sabbath should carry significant weight.  Moses relied on the literal interpretation of creation to give understanding to the requirement of rest on the Sabbath, therefore we should pay attention to his reasoning.

This understanding of creation not only plays out in Moses and the Law, but in all the rest of Scripture.  As I indicated in my discussion of the first day of creation, God created the universe in a way that imbued history with meaning.  If we read the creation story as a literal story imbued with meaning we see why the seven days of creation are so important.

I already discussed day one, but I'd like to zoom out and discuss the whole creation narrative.  Many people have noted that the form of Genesis 1 is a kind of poem.  There is a repetition and agreement within the creation narrative that speaks to balance.  What you have is days one to three, then days four to six.  Each of the first three days corresponds in some way to the last three days.  On the first day you have light and dark, on the fourth you have the sun and moon.  On the second day you have the seas and the heavens as well as the dry land and earth, and on the fifth day you have the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, who multiply to fill the earth.  On the third day you have vegetation on the earth and fields and grass, and on the sixth day you have the ground animals and man, who will eat and tend to the vegetation.  Thus the first three days are mirrored in the last three days, demonstrating a poetic ordering of the universe.

The concept of an ordered universe as revelatory of God is furthered in the New Testament when we read, "God is not a God of disorder but peace" and further "But all things should be done decently and in order." (1 Cor 14:33, 40 ESV.  I chose a different interpretation of the word "confusion" going with "disorder" in 1 Cor 14:33 as the Greek root is the same and the conceptualization of "not disorder" but "order" is better seen with this interpretation.)  This idea of God setting up an ordered universe is important as it underlies the argument of Romans 1, wherein we read that the attributes of God have been clearly revealed in creation.  The idea of God creating the universe in a way that displays his glorious attributes, including order and a beauty (as seen in the poetic balancing of creation) is thus supported throughout the rest of Scripture.

So, let us close the theological net here and lay out a reason for the seven days of creation as we see them.  Assuming the points above, that God seeks to reveal himself through his works, and assuming a standard Christian theology that Christ is the one God desires to glorify (for the Father desires to glorify the Son as the object of his love, and the Son gives that glory to the Father as the object of his worship and adoration) then we can draw forth a picture from creation that speaks to the beauty of God, the need for order in the universe, and results in the glory of God.

Here we go:  God created the world as way of exalting Christ, displaying poetic beauty, and establishing the law of love.  The first day speaks to the Son, as he is the Word of God and is the light of the world and the life of men.  From the first day we then see how the first week speaks to the beauty of God, as creation becomes a kind of poem with the days becoming mirrors of one another.  At the same time by specifically bringing about the various parts of creation on different days God shows his care for each part of creation and how important each aspect is to him.  Finally on the seventh day, God rests from the work of creation, thus establishing a pattern that man was to follow.  This shows the mercy of God in giving man rest by basing the pattern of rest on creation itself.  Thus those who refuse to give rest to their workers, or the rulers who do not allow their citizens to rest, or even the masters who do not allow their slaves to rest, are violating the rules of creation and not acting in love toward their fellow man.

The seven days of creation thus end up pointing to Christ a second time in the law of rest.  For man was created to work the world before it was fallen.  In a fallen world the work of man is all the harder and is now toilsome instead of purely joyful.  Man cannot rest for he is under the constant condemnation of God, to rest would be to give way to hopelessness as man would have to admit that he cannot escape his condition.  However, in Christ man finds his rest.  In Christ man is no longer striving and working for his salvation, and even the work a man does in his regular life becomes more enjoyable as he understands it as an act of worship for Christ and not merely toilsome labor for bread that perishes.  Christ becomes the bookends of creation, being the first part of creation, and the goal of all of creation.

To Christ be the glory, as the one who began creation, as the one who sustains creation, and as the one all of creation points us back to.  To argue for a non-literal reading of the days of Genesis seems to me to rob Christ of some of this glory.  To say that God did not create the earth in six literal days, despite all the text says, and to say that the literal beauty of matching poetic stanzas in the act of creation is only a literary creation, robs Christ of his glory.  To say that there were not seven literal days where Christ was both the beginning and the end of the story, to say it was all just a literary creation to point to Christ weakens the force of the text.  Rather, let us say that Christ was the beginning of creation, the Word as life, shining light in all creation, and Christ is the end of creation--the object of our faith, so that we can enter into the sabbath rest of our God.  Let us trust in him and see that Christ has imbued all of creation with his beauty so that history itself finds its meaning in him.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why I believe in six literal days of creation

Three statements about what I am not, one statement about what I am:  I am not anti-science; I am not insane; I am not an idiot; I am a young earth believer.  I think these things need to be addressed, though not actually in that order, in order to have a discussion on the age of the earth.  In order I intend to address the fact that I'm not insane, then that I'm not anti-science, then finally that I'm not an idiot.  Only once all of these points are answered will I then move on to laying out a positive case for my position.  With that being said, please be aware that this post will not get into the positive argument for a young earth, this post will instead only address the negative arguments; that one cannot be a young earth believer and still be intelligent at the same time.  This post will only address the three statements on what I am not, I will leave the next post to address what I am.

So, to the first point, am I insane?  Well, I think it would be hard for a truly insane person to answer that question in a way that would be convincing to anyone else.  But, I'm going to argue that I'm not insane, rather I have different presuppositions than others have.  This is where the really interesting battles in science are fought, for where we begin in an argument will often dictate where we end.  If we assume there is no God, or at least that the question of God is irrelevant to science, then we assume that we can find no evidence in creation to support that there is a God, so anything that might indicate the work of this God must instead be interpreted as deriving from some other non-God explanation.

But, if I assume there is a God, and that this God has spoken to the specifics of creation, then I begin to look at creation and wonder whether I can find evidence to support this.  I begin to look and see if there is evidence that the specifics given are true.  Similarly I should be looking for evidence to disprove the specifics given if I was interested in determining whether this God was trustworthy or not.  My presupposition both describes the evidence I am willing to look for, and the interpretive lens I will seek to examine that evidence through.

Because presuppositions are so important they naturally lead into the next question, as to whether nor not I am anti-science.  If my presupposition is that scientists are all evil and attempting to lead the world to hell, then I would be anti-science.  However, even as I sit here I think to myself, "I'm typing on a computer, sending information through the air to a wireless router that is then taking that information and putting it online on servers thousands of miles away, which are then interpreting that data and storing it so that you, an unknown reader, can access that information on your own computer, a highly sophisticated machine which could not have existed prior to the last decade (unless your computer is really, really old) without the advances of modern science."  In essence, what I'm saying is that I am not anti-science.

I think science and scientific investigation are both great.  I look to men like Sir Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, and Albert Einstein as geniuses who moved the world forward in great ways.  Science is a tool, or a process, by which lives across the world have been made better.  However, science has also allowed us to do horribly immoral things that we couldn't have done in prior generations, such as the development of bio-weapons.  Again, science is a tool, and the ability to engage in scientific investigation is a great gift from God that humans should engage in as part of our purpose for existence.

But, if I'm not insane, and I like science, why do I disagree with the pre-suppositions of science?  Am I an idiot?  No.  I have a different world view, a world view that says both that there is a living God, and that this living God has spoken to how he created the world.

But how do I address the scientific evidence for the age of the earth?  Ah, now that is a great question.  Obviously I don't disagree with the evidence itself.  To disagree with the evidence as it exists would be insanity; it would be a denial of reality.  To say that science can't say anything from this evidence would be anti-science.   To remain uneducated as to the evidence because I was afraid it would destroy my world view would be idiocy.  Therefore I must address the evidence directly.

As I understand scientific argument, the way for determining the age of the earth must be based on dating radioactive materials.  How this is done most accurate is through isochron dating.  Isochron dating checks a daughter element against its parent radioactive element, and against other isotopes of the daughter element itself that are also present in the same formation.  If you aren't familiar with chemistry, I will explain what all this means below.

Radioactive decay of an element produces a daughter element (uranium to lead, for example).  But, not all lead is evidence of uranium, there are some isotopes (or types) of lead that exist independently of uranium.  So, if I check for the amount of a lead isotope that derives from the uranium isotope present in a rock, and compare that number to the amount of lead that does not derive from the uranium isotope present and I do this over multiple rocks that all came into being at the same time in the same location I should find that they all agree on the amount of each isotope present, that is in terms of the ratios of the isotopes.  (I know this is difficult to follow, so I'll try an illustration.)

So, for an illustration, let's say you had a bottle of ink.  Now, the ink in your bottle is not particularly stable.  Some of it breaks down occasionally so that you end up with a mixture of strong and weak ink.  Now, into that bottle you then pour another kind of ink.  If I were to mix that all together so that it was all evenly distributed through the bottle, the isochronic method indicates I should be able to figure out how much of the original pure ink existed, even without measuring the whole amount in the bottle.

Here's how it works: I know that I (ink) decays into M (milky ink) and that S (strong ink) is an additive not related to M or I.  So, if I measure the amount of I, M, and S in a series of samples I expect that the ratio of M to S will be higher as the ratio of I to S is higher.  So, the more I in a sample, the more M in the sample, and the less S in the sample.  Now if my measurements of multiple samples all agree then I have a strong reason to believe that I can conclude what the original amount of I was.  The reason I can conclude how much I was in the original canister is because I can deduce the actual ratio of I to S in the canister, and the ratio of M to I in the canister, then once I do the math assuming how much M is present going back to I, I can tell you how much I should have been in the canister.  In this I have also determined the age of the canister because I had to do that to get how much should have been there.  (If you still don't understand isochronic dating then the only thing I can recommend is doing some research on it.  It is a difficult concept to grasp and I don't know how to make it easier.)

So, with this being the most accurate method of dating, what would I have to argue with?  Well, let's address assumptions in the argument and then figure it out from there.  The assumptions are: radioactive decay rates are known; these rates are unchanging; the elements we are measuring are evenly distributed; no additional amounts of the parent or daughter element have been introduced into the samples.  Not all of these assumptions are valid.

In fact, the assumption of an even distribution is the hardest one to prove.  Why?  Because that isn't the way rocks form.  Rocks form in an uneven distribution form.  That is, rocks form in a mixed way, with the amount of any given element not being uniformly distributed through the rock.  Thus when you measure for age using a whole rock you must have the whole rock.  That means you would have to access the entire formation, and then you would have to have a uniform amount of the elements present in every section of that rock.  In any other situation you do not have a uniform mixture.  The assumption underlying isochronic dating is flawed on a logical level, not on a scientific level.  If the logic were correct then the science would be correct.

In order to get around the rock issue you could simply do a test of a smaller area where you know that you could have different levels of the various elements.  The problem is that then you can't determine how much of the original element you had because the two samples came from a rock that not perfectly mixed in the first place.  If I find differing levels of elements in the samples then that indicates that the rock was not perfectly mixed, and I would need a perfectly mixed rock in order to determine the age of the rock based on the amounts of elements I have present.  This is what is seen in nature.

In other words, the best science for determining the age of the earth rests of an assumption that cannot be logically demonstrated.  This is not to say that the assumption is false, only that it cannot be demonstrated as being true.  Whether or not the assumption is accepted must be based upon the presuppositions of the person examining the argument.  Evidence does not interpret itself, rather it must be interpreted by the reader.

What is my point with all of this?  My point is not to say that those who believe in an old earth are wrong or foolish or anything else.  My argument is merely that there is room in the logical bedrock to erect the edifice of an argument for a young earth.  The presuppositions of the old earth are not so solid that they cannot be undermined, they are not so strong as to withstand all attacks.  Being a young earth believer does not make one an idiot, unscientific, or insane.  Being a young earth believer means starting with different assumptions and building on those.

In my next post I will lay out the positive case for why I believe in a young earth.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The end of "What happened in the beginning?"

So, in the previous post I talked about a couple of different ways to view the first day of creation.  On the one hand I noted that many Christians seek to understand Genesis in a way that harmonizes with science, so that what is discussed in the first few verses would be what science understands as the big bang.  But, I went on to note that there is another way to read this text.  In the second way we might read the text, which would be a more theological and bible-centered approach to reading the text we first needed to do a little further reading to understand the text, to really grasp exactly what the bible says happened.

Our goal in looking at this section is to see the picture of creation that God paints in Genesis.  In order to do this we must not only study the text, but try to approach in an educated way while at the same time preserving the power of looking at the text for the first time.  We must act as art critics who are well versed in the history of a particular movement and who know the rules of style governing that movement who are nonetheless looking at a particular piece for the first time.  We must look at the creation story in this way because there is an awe factor, a wonder that the text seeks to speak to, and for that reason we must not let the repetition of reading the text dull us to its impact.

So, with that being said, I hope you read the last post because I want to build on that post without having to repeat myself too much.  Last time I spoke of our goal of trying to understand what the first day of creation might look like, now I want to flesh that out and then speak to its meaning so we can really understand what happened when God said, "Let there be light."

As I noted last time, we must look to the text to understand what is happening, so let us do so again with a bit of education from reading the rest of Scripture as well.  When we read about God creating the heaven's and the earth we must understand that before God created there was nothing.  There was no time, no matter, there was literally nothing.  When God created the heavens and the earth the first thing he had to do was create the stuff from which the earth would be formed.  So, God created the heaven's and the earth, but the earth was without form and void.  There was as of yet no separation between heaven and earth, all of what would become creation was a chaotic abyss, comparable to a wild and untamed sea.

Thus, when we see that God created the heavens and the earth what God did was to make something that was other than him.  He did not "decide" to do this, he did not consider and make a plan, rather, in existing outside of time God simply did what he willed to do.  This is important for us to remember because it will affect the meaning of what really was happening in the text.  The plan of God was not something he had to think up, rather as God knows all things and has all knowledge he does not "remember" things or "forget" things, he is unchanging, he simply knows all things.  That means the plan of creation was something that existed within the mind of will of God outside of time so that when time began God simply was bringing to fruition what he intended eternally.

God first created something other than himself, for before there was creation all there was, was God.  Creation, if you will, was a hole in God, a separation he made in himself so that there would be something not him that existed.  Yet that metaphor breaks down because God is intimately in creation, imminent, in all things at all times upholding all of creation by the power of his word (as Hebrews tells us).  So, God created space, literally, as a space where he would fill and indwell, but as something that would also be other than himself.  But, as Scripture says, "The Spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters."  So that even as there was this other from God, he was there the whole time guiding and directing what would happen.

Then, God spoke and said, "Let there be light."  Up until now there was simply God existing and the chaotic creation he was about to bring order to, but with these words God suddenly begins to establish an order, and all throughout creation there was light.  The light was everywhere, diffused into everything, overwhelming all of creation.  This would be like standing in pitch black and suddenly an incredible light is turned on so that everywhere, all around you is nothing but light shining out, no darkness, no shadow, simply light everywhere all at one time.  And this was because God desired to have light, "and he saw the light, that it was good."

But, God's will was for an order in creation, and so God separated the light from the darkness.  Now the light was confined, it was in one area, shining in one place.  There was a cycle established: darkness was everywhere (for darkness is the absence of anything else, it is really nothing) and light came, and now darkness would follow light.  "And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day."  Now there is order, now creation is not only distinct from God, but is beginning to have form.  Instead of a chaotic and formless mass there is light and dark, there is space and something that light is shining on.  What the light is shining on will come into view in the rest of the creation week, but for now it is enough that we understand that in creating light God has differentiated creation from himself, for as the source of that light there are parts he shines upon, and there are parts he does not shine upon; there are parts of creation in the light, and there are parts in the dark.

But, there is something more here too. What we have discussed so far is the mere technical details with a little bit of the surface layer of theological understanding.  Now I want to posit what I think is a deeper theological reality of what we see happening in creation.  This part of creation was a mystery for the ages and is something that science will never be able to understand.  Understanding the creation story as I am about to lay out takes us beyond merely seeing one part of a painting to realize that the creation story is part of an amazing mural that God wants us to see as one contiguous piece of art work.

So then, let us look from Genesis to John.  In John 1:1-5 we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and  the Word was with God, and  the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:1-5, ESV)  This passage adds so much to our understanding of Genesis.

First what we see is that Genesis is a beautiful picture of the Godhead working in tandem.  Each person of the trinity is doing a distinct work, but all of them are present and are supporting and working with one another.  The Spirit of God is preparing the chaotic sea for the revelation of God, brooding over it, imbuing it with his presence so that God's will will be done.  Then the Father speaks, and his Word is Christ, so that Christ acts on the will of the Father, and the Father shows the Son what he is doing so that the Son acts as the Father wills.  And Christ brings forth the will of the father, so that there is light.  And in this God, in all his glory and all three persons in glorified, each one acting in accordance with the others.  The Father wills, the Spirit prepares, and the Son accomplishes the Father's will by the power of the Spirit.

But, there is one more thing happening in Genesis, something we may miss if we do not pay attention.  God has created and has begun history, but from the beginning of history God is telling a story.  God is telling the story of salvation before the earth is even formed, before man existed.  So God's plan was to act in history, but to act in a way that would show forth the story of salvation and how God would glorify himself from the very beginning thus imbuing history with significance.

Here is the story of salvation as seen in the first day of creation:  In the beginning Christ existed with the Father as God, and God spoke Christ forth, announcing his Son as the one would show forth his glory into creation.  The unseen God would be seen.  And Christ shown forth from the Father, light flooding into all creation so that there was no where that Christ was not, no where that was beyond him and nothing that existed that he had not brought forth.  The darkness that was upon the face of the abyss was wiped out, utterly defeated at the coming of Christ as he revealed the glory of the Father.  Then the Father, seeing the goodness of his revelation chose to bring that goodness into stark contrast, so he separated the light from the darkness.  But, though separate, the darkness would never conquer the light, for the light would always follow the darkness, every evening would be followed by a morning.  Though men would live through darkness, they would always be able to rejoice that the light of God was shining forth into creation, and in the light of God men find life.

Where before there was no life in creation, where darkness ruled because God had not revealed himself, now there was life.  In the revelation of God his presence brought life and that life was light, so that all might see.  Christ, as the Word, as the light, as the life of men, was the first declaration of God.  Before sin, before death, before man, God was already declaring that Christ would be the focus of creation.  His plan was to redeem, even before there was anything to redeem.  God's love is so great that he imbued the story of salvation into the very first day of creation so that we might read the Scripture and see that from the beginning to the end it is about Christ and his glory, as he brings glory to the Father.

So it is in our lives.  We are each "the new creation" if we have received Christ.  We were without form, and void.  We were the abyss upon which darkness rested.  But "the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep.  And God said, 'Let there be light,'  and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening, and there was morning," a new Christian.  In our walk coming to Christ is only the beginning of the story, the first day of creation.  History is our story, because history is His story, and we are in him, and Christ is the Word of God.

Genesis chapter one is the story of creation.  The first day is the story of how God first separated creation from himself, ordering it and bringing forth light.  The first day is the story of how God would save all of creation, sending forth his Son as his image bearer to shine forth his glory into a world of darkness.  The first day is the story of every Christian, of how we were dead in our trespasses and sin and how the Spirit of God worked upon us so that as we heard the Word of God we were bathed in his light and life came into us and filled us and brought us out of death.  Genesis chapter one is the story of Christ.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What happened "In the beginning"?

I recently received an email from a friend of mine asking my opinion about what happened in the beginning of Genesis.  More specifically I was asked if I could explain "how" creation happened when God said, "Let there be light."  Before I attempt to answer the question though, I want to give a brief explanation of how I understand the question, and then address the question of how creation happened.

What does the question, "How did things happen when God said, 'Let there be light?'" mean?  Well, there are a couple of ways we can seek to understand creation.  The first way we can seek to understand creation is in terms of actually comprehending the mechanics of something coming into being from nothing.  This way of understanding the question is the more straightforward reading, but is very problematic.  The reason the question is problematic when understood this way is that the answer doesn't really help explain anything.  The answer to this question, in terms of understanding how light came into being, is that through his Word God literally caused light to suddenly exist, in all its wavelengths, and at one sudden moment.  As my wife put it, "Poof!  Suddenly there was light!"

But, what does that mean?  This is where the second way of answering the question comes in handy.  Instead of focusing on the mere mechanics of what happened (not that such a task is in any way "mere" for it is well beyond me to explain how anything comes into existence) what if we instead focus on the appearance of what happened?  That is, instead of saying, "How did this happen?" what if we instead seek to understand "What really happened?"

To address what happened we need to look at the text:

In the beginning, God Created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.  And God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Those who are familiar with the bible have probably read that text many times.  I know I have probably read that text dozens if not a few hundred times, and repeated it to myself more.  The problem with reading a text multiple times is that we become so familiar with it that we no longer see all of the amazing details in the text.  It would be like walking by a priceless painting every single day.  After a while you become inured to the beauty.  So I think it is with this text for many Christians.

So, how do we read this text?

There are two options I would like to explore.  In one option we can read this text through a modern scientific lens.  That is to say, we accept scientific theories on creation and we apply that view in order to understand what we are seeing here.  This is how many Christians read the text as they seek to understand how the bible and science are complimentary, not at odds with one another.

In this case what we see is a glimpse of what the "big bang" would have looked like if you had been an observer.  Suddenly and with a massive explosion of energy the creative will of God is released and the whole universe comes into existence: time, space, matter, energy, light, heat; everything that the universe would ever contain is suddenly brought into existence in one moment at one finite expression of God's infinite power!  What this looks like is light.  Dazzling light that fills all of space--for at this moment the only space that exists is what is filled with the energy of God--comes pouring forth from God's creative will.  And then as space continues to grow, God causes the energy to coalesce so there is a separation between light, where the energy continues to shine, and darkness, where there is space without light.

I don't know that many Christians would explicitly describe Genesis in this way, but in my experience many have argued that what we see in Genesis is a description of the big bang.  I have attempted to flesh out a little more of what that would mean.  If Genesis is a description of the big bang then this is what Genesis is describing.  But what if that reading isn't right?

Perhaps Genesis is speaking about what science speaks of when it talks about the big bang, but it wasn't written to explain a particular scientific theory.  Instead we need to think as though we were reading Genesis for the first time, and with a right understanding of the text as laid out in Scripture.  That is, we must remember our first curiosity with the text while at the same time being informed as to what the rest of Scripture teaches us about the text.

So, to the second part first, being informed about the text.  Let us look at the text as we have it and explain the parts of it based on what we know from Scripture.  "In the beginning" is speaking of the beginning of time.  This is not merely the beginning of creation, but the very beginning of time.  Before this point there is nothing, so we might say there is no before "in the beginning."  (Of course by nothing what we refer to is the physical universe, God himself did not come into existence and exists independent of time, which is what it means that God is eternal, he literally is outside of time, and yet also fully indwells every moment.)

So, in the beginning, at the start of time, God created the heavens and the earth.  Here also what we generally understand is what the text is speaking about. God literally created what was from what was not.  As Romans speaks of God calling dead men to life, Paul says that God "calls into existence the things that do not exist." (Romans 4:17)  So God here in creation actually calls what did not exist into existence.  That is his power and his will at work.

But, the first verse is really an introduction into what we are about to witness.  You see, Genesis 1:1 says that God created the heavens and the earth, but we see that God does not actually create the heavens until the second day.  On the first day there were no heavens.  Thus what Genesis 1:1 serves as is an introduction indicating to us that what we are about to read is the story of creation, specifically the creation of the heavens and the earth.  This is confirmed when we look to Genesis 2:4 and read, "These are the generations of the heaven and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens."  Genesis 2:4 technically is the end of the creation story of Genesis 1, Genesis 2:5 begins the story of man and his special creation as distinct from the broader creation story of the whole universe.  Thus Genesis 1:1 tells us what we are about to see and explains that this will be the calling into existence of the world that does not exist (as Paul would put it in Romans).

So, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth (this is where we start) was without form and void.  At this section we must remember again that "the earth" here is a discussion of all that exists.  There is nothing apart from "the earth" in the form it is in at this moment in creation.  There is no heaven, there is no light, there is nothing but this unformed, void "earth".  We see that "earth" is here a metaphor from reading just a few words down, "And the darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters." (My rendering.)  "The deep" and "the waters" are referring to the same "earth" from the last sentence.  This is the unformed mass of creation, undifferentiated, one big chaotic mass waiting for creation to bring it into order.

"And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light."  This is the moment when God begins to put creation into order.  Where before there was no form, and void, now there is light, something independent of the chaotic mass that exists as the "earth".  God saw the light was good, he separated the light from the darkness, he called the light Day and the darkness Night, and there was evening and there was morning, the first day.  This speaks to the ordering of the universe as God commanded it, where before there was darkness, now there is light, where before there was an undifferentiated mass of existence, now God has imposed order on time, so that evening follows morning and morning follows evening and a day, the first day, has come to pass.  What we see the text telling us about is the ordering of chaos as God brings his will to pass in creating all things.

But, there is so much more to this text as well.  We've only begun to scratch the surface of what Scripture tells us is going on here.  For that, let's look at a second post, discussing more in detail what the first day of creation means, and hopefully coming to see more detail in Genesis as a picture painted by God.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why pastor search committees are wrong

Well, after my last post I had some wonderful friends, and my beloved father, discussing various points with me.  One of my friends asked the all important question: Why is it wrong for churches to add qualifications to pastor?  I really wanted to tackle this question already, and in part I wanted to address it in the way churches look for pastors (at least many churches), which is through a pastor search committee.  The reason I want to tackle it in this fashion is because the way a church looks for a pastor will end up being determined by their view of who their pastor should be.  Ergo the issue of whether a church should have the right to add qualifications will necessarily work itself out in the manner in which a church chooses to look for a pastor.

So, I've already tipped my hand to the fact that I think the way most churches do this is just wrong.  The question really becomes one of "Why?"  Allow me to back up one minute here and note first of all that I intended my title to be a little too all-encompassing.  I recognize there are some churches that do form biblical pastor search committees.  However, I recognize also that these churches are few and far between and that the vast majority (and I do mean the vast majority) do not form biblical search committees.

So, why do I say pastor search committees are wrong?  Well, first of all because in many churches there should be no need for a pastor search committee.  Beyond that point the individuals chosen for the pastor search committee are often ignorant of what they should be looking for, and thus should not be there in the first place.  Finally, because of the second point, the qualifications chosen by most pastor search committees (this ties into the last post) are not biblical and thus the pastor search committee ends up making decisions based more on feeling than biblical reasoning.  Most pastor search committees are wrong because they are simply not biblical or biblically literate.

I know I sound like I'm throwing some harsh barbs here, but let me be clear: my only goal is that the church would be conformed to the pattern laid out in Scripture, in order that we might grow into the fullness of him who fills everything.  I'm laying out my charges clearly and bluntly so that there can be no mistake with what I am saying.  I recognize that I am destroying my own future of finding a church, as any who would read this blog would immediately reject me as I have rejected their model of finding a pastor.  In other words I'm arguing I should be taken seriously because I am figuratively throwing away any hope I have of being a pastor by posting so public a complaint against modern church polity.  (In case you think I'm exaggerating, trust me, by my own experience I can well guarantee you I'm not.)

Okay, so let's take these issues in the following order:  What qualifications should a man meet to be a pastor?  Who should be on a committee considering a man for the position of a pastor?  How should a church find a pastor?  If we address these three questions, starting with the first, then we will be able to lay out a biblical model for a pastor search committee.

So, to the first question: What qualifications should a man meet to be a pastor?  Here we have a very easy answer: the bible gives us the list of qualifications.  Let us look to the two passages that explicitly answer this question: Titus 1:6-9; and 1 Timothy 3:1-7.  Looking at these two sections, taken as a composite, what we read is:

"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task[, so] if anyone is above reproach, sober-minded the husband of one wife, he manages his own household well, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination (for an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?); he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered, quarrelsome, or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, respectable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, gentle and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction (able to teach) in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil." (Titus 1:6-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 modified from the ESV)

Note that Paul states in Titus "if anyone..." and goes on to explain the qualifications of an elder.  Note also that in 1 Timothy Paul says that a man who desires to be an overseer must meet these qualifications, and then goes on to list the qualifications he must meet.  But, in neither case does Paul say that the church has a right to modify this list or add to it.  Okay, but some will respond that the bible does not prohibit them from modifying the list.  But does it?

If we look to the opening verses of 1 Timothy we see that Paul tells Timothy to charge those in the church not to deviate from Paul's doctrine in the gospel.  Well, part of the doctrine of the gospel is that Christ is the one who sets up the church and provides for her the various leaders and members she needs.  So we read in 1 Corinthians 12:28, "God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, various kinds of tongues."  What we see is that it is God who appoints a man to be a preacher, a teacher, or any other role within the church.  Therefore, when the church considers, "Who should we call to be our [fill in the blank]?" the answer will be, "Who meets the qualifications God has laid out for that role?

For a church to assume the authority of adding qualifications to this role would be to assume that their understanding of who would be right for their congregation is more authoritative than Scripture.  So, for instance, a man might say, "You are looking for a pastor, I meet all the qualifications to be a pastor, and I am willing to come and serve at your church."  For a church to say to such a man, "We are not interested in having you, we want someone with different qualifications" would be tantamount to that church saying that they do not care that Scripture says he is qualified, they themselves want to determine who is truly qualified.  In many ways this would be like the ancient Israelites ignoring those who fulfilled the true office of prophet in order to listen to the other false prophets of the day.

But, what if a church needs a pastor, and there are a bunch of guys who all meet the qualifications of being a pastor, as laid out in Scripture, and all of them want to be the pastor of that church?  We'll get to that when we talk about a church actually calling a pastor.  For now let's address one issue at a time.  The simple fact is that Scripture lays out the qualifications, and Paul says that no one in the church is to deviate from the doctrines of the gospel, and one of those doctrines is that God is the only one with the authority to raise up and appoint the leadership of the church because it is the body of Christ.  Therefore, no church has the right to modify the doctrine of who is qualified to be an elder, either in relaxing the qualifications, or in making those qualifications more strict.

Okay, so with that out of the way (I hope it is out of the way, if not I'll write more on it once you, my gracious reader, let me know that I failed to carry my argument) let us get on to the matter of who should be on a committee considering a man for a pastor?  The answer to this question is actually the fuzziest of all the questions we'll be looking at in this post.  The answer is quite simply whoever is biblically informed, mature, doctrinally sound, and capable of exercising the discretion needed to make sure a man meets the qualifications as listed.  On this matter a church should exercise wisdom and discretion.  However, this is accepting the church as it is currently, not addressing the situation as it would be ideal.

The ideal answer to this question is: whoever the other elders are.  In other words the pattern laid out in Scripture is that there should be multiple elders in most churches.  Thus these men should be the ones determining who meets the qualifications of an elder, and they should be the ones to bring these men before the congregation.  From the perspective of doing a thorough review of the person the best option would be to then allow the congregation to verify the fitness of the man through asking whatever questions may be necessary (they may know of a weakness that the elders do not, or they may wonder themselves if the elders addressed all the potential weaknesses).  Thus the elders, recognizing that God has called a man to serve as an overseer, interview that man, examine his life, and once satisfied make that recommendation to the church.  The church then has the opportunity to interview that man and should, unless there is a flaw found in him, accept him as an elder based upon his meeting the qualifications as laid out in Scripture.  In this way the church, through the officers God has provided her, acknowledges the call of God.  (No, I'm not going to cite specific Scripture here because there is no specific Scripture that lays this method out, rather this is a biblical theology based upon reading Acts, 1 Timothy, Titus, and following the thread of God's calling through the Old Testament.  If you have a better method that actually fits with Scripture you are welcome to argue for it.)

Okay, but that last section certainly opens the question of when a church should call a new elder.  After all, if you already have three elders, how many more do you need?  And if we are addressing the question of when we also need to address the question of how the church finds this new elder.  It is great if we know the mechanics of how the church should verify a man as an elder, but how do they even find the man?  And what if, as I noted before, there are a lot of men all applying for the same position of elder?

To the first question we can apply the answer that many churches want to apply too frequently: It is up to the church.  Clearly you need to call an elder when you have no elders, but in a larger church the obvious answer seems to be, "Whenever the need arises."  For instance, no deacons were called in the church until that role was needed, and when the role was needed the church chose as many as was necessary to fulfill the role.  If you have a church of 50 members you probably don't need more than a couple of elders (perhaps one, but two is safer, we'll discuss why shortly), but if you have a church of 2500 you probably will need several elders to make sure the spiritual needs of the flock are being met.  Since it is the role of the elder to care for the flock spiritually you need as many elders as it takes to do so.

So, how does the church find this elder, and what if there are multiple men who all want to be elder at the same time?  Okay, let's address the first question in two ways, the first being the ideal, and the second being the real world.  In the ideal situation the way the church finds the new elder is through the body.  That is, if there is a need for an elder in the church, then it is reasonable to suppose that the same God who organized the body will provide for the needs of that body by raising up a member of the body to fulfill the role of elder.  A sign of a healthy church is that it is producing spiritually mature men who fulfill the requirements of being elders and is thus self-replicating.  In reality most churches couldn't function like this because most churches are not that healthy and haven't trained their members to be elders.

So, in reality the way a church finds an elder is through putting out word that they are looking for such a man.  Here the fact is there is no one right way to do things because the church has already failed in what should have been one of its primary tasks.  (I recognize that in persecuted churches things are different, but you probably aren't reading this post if you are in a church where your pastor was recently arrested in the middle of the night and the government has threatened to execute the remaining members. I'm not joking, we really need to be in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters.)  So, the best way to find a qualified man is to look where there are a multitude of qualified men: seminaries, larger churches, bible colleges, etc.  God has given Western churches a great blessing by establishing institutions where you can find a large number of men who meet the qualifications for being an elder in one place.

The problem is that "large number" part.  If a church is looking for an elder they are likely to draw a large number of men who all meet the qualifications of being an elder.  But how then does the church determine who the "best" man would be?  Well, again, there is no one simple answer to this, there are, however, multiple wrong answers.  One potential answer would be to follow the footsteps of the apostles and gamble.  If you read Acts 1 you'll note that the apostles replaced Judas by casting lots, accepting that there were multiple men who met the qualifications to be an apostle, and yet they only had one position to fill in order to complete the 12.  Thus it seems that it is perfectly biblical for a church to draw a name out of a hat or do some other random means of determining which of the multiple candidates God would call to serve them.  (I can see some people getting really upset at this already, but I'm standing on Scripture on this one unless you can show me I'm reading it wrong.)

The second option would be to limit the time frame and then simply do a "first come" sort of call, basically simply saying that the first man who meets the qualifications gets the call.  Or you could say the one who is closest because he would already know the community.  Basically there are a number of ways a church can make their decision, but they should have all of this ironed out before they even begin considering elders or else they and all those they consider will be in for one long headache.  (This is a major reason a church should seek to have multiple elders, so that if one leaves, dies, or can no longer serve for any reason the church is not without leadership while it looks to replace that man.  Thus at least two elders should be preferable for any church, so that the body may continue to function when faced with these kinds of issues.) 

But, most significantly, there are even more ways that a church may not determine who should be the elder.  No church, in any circumstance, has the right to add qualifications to the elder.  No church has the right to say one man has more education and therefore would be better, or more experience, or a larger family, or any other non-biblical attribute.  As we have already covered, the bible gives the qualifications for who may be an elder, and it is not in the purview of the church to change those qualifications even for the purpose of limiting the potential applicant pool.  A church who has failed in two tasks,of properly organizing itself with multiple elders so as not to be without an elder in the case of one leaving the church and of being self sustaining and generating elders within its body, does not rectify its failure by then failing in yet a third task and adding to the qualifications God has established in order to determine who may serve as elder of such a body.