Archive | October, 2009

Dear Pope, What is Up with Genesis?

In honor of Reformation Day, I am once again submitting my Papal complaint.

The primary reason that Catholics believe God provided the Roman Catholic Church as an infallible authority is for unity. Christ prayed in the upper room that His people would be one (John 17:21-22). This unification Christ prayed for would most certainly involve some degree of doctrinal solidarity. For the Catholic, the Magisterial authority made up of the Pope and the congregation of bishops along with the Pope serve to keep the peace and unity. In each contemporary situation, if there are issues of doctrine or morals that are causing division, the Magisterium is able to step in and make clear and binding statements of truth concerning the particular issue. Whether it is the issue of birth control or the reality of Hell, the Magisterium will draw from tradition and Scripture and infallibly reveal the truth. Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium; these are the three legs of the Catholic stool that give stability.

From the standpoint of the Catholic, the Magisterium holds the sole right to interpret the “deposit of faith.” This deposit is made up of Scripture and Tradition. Both are given by Christ to the Apostles. The Apostles in turn handed this deposit and authority to others forming an unbroken chain of “apostolic secession.” The Pope resides as the supreme authority as his secession is traced back to Peter, to whom were given the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19).

Since the Magisterium, headed by the Pope, has been handed this deposit of faith and authority, they alone can interpret Scripture with fidelity. In other words, if there is an issue about the interpretation of Scripture, private interpretation is not an option. While Catholics can read Scripture, they are not allowed to interpret it independently.

Contemporary issues that cause division within the church are many. People are divided over inerrancy, the gift of tongues, Open Theism, women in ministry, gay marriage, and many others. While these are significant and divisive, without question the issue that has caused more division in the church over the last century, Catholic or Protestant, is the issue of evolution. The last two blogs on it I posted have gone over 300 and 1000 comments.

While this is a scientific issue, it is also interpretive. How do we understand the early chapters of Genesis? Did God create the earth in six literal days or did He use an evolutionary process taking billions of years? How are we to interpret the word “day” in Genesis 1? Are there gaps in the genealogies? Did the snake really talk? Were Adam and Eve real people or symbolic representations of mankind in general? Those who take a more conservative approach, such as John MacArthur, say that the stakes cannot be higher. Some will say that if you allow for evolution, you have denied the inspiration of Scripture. Others will go so far as to say that if you don’t believe in a young earth, you have denied the reality of sin. The other side battles to protect their scientific integrity by offering alternative interpretations to the creation narrative. Whether it be the day-age theory, gaps in genealogies, or some sort of accommodating language hermeneutic, from their standpoint there are ways for them to interpret Genesis in a way that harmonizes with current scientific trends.

Either way, this issue is as divisive as any issue in the history of the church. The lines have been drawn. The questions is, can Rome come in and fulfill its primary purpose? Can the Magisterium draw from the deposit of faith and interpret the Scripture so that this matter is settled, bringing unity to this religious anarchy among those who claim Christ?

In 1996 Pope John Paul II did step in. This is what he had to say:

“Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical [Humani Generis], new knowledge has led to the recognition in the theory of evolution of more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory” (Message to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences [Oct. 22, 1996] 4. (emphasis mine)

“More than a hypothesis?” Is that it? Is that supposed to bring unity to the Church? With all the authority of his seat, with keys in hand, and shod with the authoritative hermeneutic of peace, the Pope clears the air by saying that evolution is “more than a hypothesis.” I want my money back! Continue Reading →

Manipulating the Evidence for the Greater Good?

I am going to post a video here. However, as interesting as the topic of the video may be, it is not the subject of this post. In fact, you really don’t have to watch the entire video to understand where I am going.

This video is about how much people know about things such as celebrities, NFL teams, and department stores compared to how little they know about God’s commands. While I know this is true and I don’t really need a video to illustrate this, I understand the impact that a video such as this can have to help confirm this belief.

However . . . am I the only one who feels a little manipulated when I watch these type of videos? You know, the interview videos that put people on the spot. It is the Way of the Master type approach to tugging at heart strings. 

I will just leave it at that and ask you, Do you have the same problem with these type of videos or is it just me?

Bucer, Evangelism and Unconditional Election

For my church history class, I had to read Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition for a group discussion and report.  Andrew Purves examines texts considered classical to the pastoral tradition from five pastoral leaders through the church’s history and how they have understood and addressed their pastoral role.  One of the biographies was that of Martin Bucer.

Martin Bucer was a dominican theologian studying on the heels of the protestant reformation.  He was impressed with the earlier works of Martin Luther, which began making an impact on his theology.  His meeting with Luther in 1518 at Heidelberg, served as the catalyst that would change his life and solidify his position in the reformed camp.  He left the monastary in 1521 to become a parish priest and later would serve as pastor parish starting in 1524.  As the reformation fully blossomed, he would become of the leading pastors and theologians of the movement.  For twenty-five years until his exile to England, he made a significant impact on the theological colloquies and politics of reform in Germany.  Purves indicates that Calvin was very much influenced by the work of Martin Bucer.

According to Purves and not surprisingly, election and justification shaped the whole of Bucer’s theology and especially the doctrine of election.  Bucer embraced and espoused unconditional election, believing that salvation is completely the work of God choosing whom He will and has done so before the foundation of the worlds (Ephesians 1:4).  Election is God’s sovereign choice.  God is the one who calls, justifies, sanctifies and glorifies (Romans 8:29).  Sound familiar?

Bucer was also an evangelist and believed strongly that those who take the pastoral office should have as their chief concern salvation of the lost.  Not only pastors, but Bucer believed that all Christians were to be pastoral evangelists.  Purves notes:

“The evangelical heart of Bucer’s theology leads him to see evangelism as a primary feature of pastoral care, an evangelism directed both to those who have not yet heard and responded to the word of Christ the Lord, as well as those who have been part of the body of Christ but who have fallen away.  Not only are the lost sheep to be sought, but also the stayed sheep are to be restored.  In such a way, according to Bucer, pastoral care must have as a primary responsibility a concern for salvation of the sinners lost and strayed who are still God’s elect…Bucer insists that pastoral evangelism is to be pursued with the highest diligence and unremitted effort” (Purves, pp 88-89)

I think this is interesting.  Many non-Calvinist equate belief in unconditional election with apathy towards evangelism.  I think Bucer points to the fact, that belief in unconditional election should in no way deter evangelistic efforts.  According to Purves, he recognizes that election then is of no consequence and citing that the ones who are not elect will not respond.  But that should not be our concern because he believes that Christians should have such a compulsion in pressing the gospel, that the elect have no choice to respond.

Bucer’s position teaches everybody a lesson.  It should motivate the Calvinist to not rest on the laurels of unconditional election for an excuse not to evangelize.  It should motivate non-Calvinist to cease from mis-identifying Calvinism with apathetic or non-existent evangelism that rests on unconditional election.   He definitely serves as a model for all concerning evangelism.

PS:  I personally believe that every pastor should read that book.

Jesus with His Lights Turned off on Halloween

keepouthalloween
Will is dressing up as a ghost for Halloween. I was shocked. He has his Indiana Jones costume that he wears everywhere. I thought at least he would choose the Storm Trooper costume. I have given up on him being a superhero (Batman, Vigilante, Green Lantern, or any other DC character). Sigh… but a Ghost? Where did that come from?

My Fundamentalist right pinky toe started to speak.

Toe: “You know what is going to happen if he dresses up as a Ghost.”

Me: “No, what?”

Toe: “Satan.”

Me: “Say what?”

Toe: “Satan will have a foothold. You and your family will have compromised to evil.”

Me: “How so. I don’t get it?”

Toe: “Ghosts are demons. Or at least they are demonic. Therefore, your son is taking his first step toward practicing demonology. It is a form of Satan worship.”

Me: “Say what?”

Toe: “Exactly, you have already compromised and you don’t recognize it. Next thing you know, Katelynn and Kylee will be dressing up as witches.”

Me: “To what end?”

Toe: “What?”

Me: “To what end? So what? Who cares?”

Toe: “I want a new master. You can just go watch Harry Potter for all I care.”

Yes, then there is  that. Christians on Halloween. Scared to celebrate. Some with more than their pinky toe doing the talking. You know the ones. They are the only ones in the neighborhood who have their lights turned off. “Oh, here come the kids. They are going to come to our door. If we open it, we will have compromised and, in effect, told them that Satan is my friend, that Satan is my pal. Turn off the lights and HIDE! It is the only Christian thing to do.Continue Reading →

A Personal Message from Michael Patton

Friends of the Ministry,

I have been teaching theology for over a decade now. I have been focused on The Theology Program and Reclaiming the Mind Ministries for the last eight years. My passion and excitement about making theology accessible has not diminished in the slightest. Two days ago I taught on dispensationalism to 150 people. Last night, I taught on “What are the Carnal Beliefs of the Christ faith” at the Credo House. Tonight, I will be teaching on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to online students all over the world. This afternoon I taught a group of pastors on the issue of “God in the
Old Testament” and how to prepare for the coming (present) objections. Thursday I am giving tours at the Credo House, leading them through an illustrated walk of church history. Friday I am teaching a group of children on the teleological argument for the existence of God (oh yes, you heard right!). Oh, and then there is the blog :) I am planning on starting new series on both Calvinism and Dispensationalism.

Friends, I do believe that this is what I was called to do for the rest of my life. I am so grateful for your encouragement, prayers, and support over the years. Many of you have been with me from the beginning of my ministry.

Let me give you another side to my life and ministry that I am progressively finding more difficult to bear in its current condition. Have you ever seen the comic where the preacher is standing outside the church saying, “Donate your money so that you can pay for us to keep asking you to donate your money”? Well, it is not exactly like
that, but over the last year, especially since the end of this summer, this is a description of how I feel. While I have many plans, including book requests from publishers, this situation has made it very difficult for me to concentrate on teaching, preparing, and moving the ministry forward. Every two weeks we have $15,000 worth of bills that have to be raised and I find myself sending out a series of “urgent” messages attempting to make up what is lacking.

I am completely committed to this ministry as long as the Lord allows. There is nothing else in the world I would rather do. In fact, I don’t really know any idea what I would do otherwise. There is nothing I am more qualified for.

However, I don’t feel that functioning in this “alarm” mentality is responsible or the Lord’s will. It is not responsible to those donating and it is not responsible to me or my family. Again, I am beginning to feel that I am getting paid concern myself with how to finance the ministry while the ministry suffers from lack of ministry! I hope you understand. I don’t think that any more than 10% of my time, thought, and energy should be focused on fund-raising and I don’t think we should exist in this “alarm” mentality. I can’t any more.

Therefore, I am making some decisions. As you may know, we are currently on a campaign to raise $250,000 worth of commitments every year. Our budget is $350,000 per year. Our store covers about 25% of that budget. If we are able to raise these commitments, then the ministry can move forward. If not, we will have to explore other options that will seriously change the current state and effectiveness of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries.

We need 250 people to commit to $1000 per year ($80 per month). Or we need just one person to commit to $250,000 per year! Either way, the result is the same! Any amount would be welcome. So far we have had committed $38,000.

Finally, we still have close to $15,000 worth of debt that we are behind on that needs to be covered immediately.

How to respond:

  • Prayer. I don’t just say this as a formality. I truly ask you to pray for us. Pray that the Lord would guide us to his will.
  • Monthly commitments. We need you to make you commitments here. Or you can email me with your intentions.
  • One time donations. Those can be made here as well.

You can find out ministry here. This site provides access to our financial statements including our 990. We are a 501c3 not-for-profit.

I have to ask you all very directly, if you believe in this ministry or have benefited from it, please help keep it moving forward. I have utmost trust in the Lord’s sovereign guidance at this crucial turning point, but I feel it is important to let you know that this is a very serious message.

I thank all of you for your encouragement and I thank all of you who have already been partnering with us for so long. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to respond.

Michael Patton

michaelp at reclaimingthemind.org

Inferring Design from Anti-Design Scientists

In a recent debate on the topic of design, I expressed amazement at all the huffing and puffing by anti-design proponents. Though they assert that a design hypothesis is “unscientific,” they say things in other places that make me suspicious. That is, many of these naturalists express profound astonishment at the universe’s precision-tuning for life, life’s emergence from non-life, or at the remarkable “engineering” of biological organisms, organs, and cells. Why then do scientists of all stripes and disciplines repeatedly use design language while repudiating design as a legitimate interpretation of the evidence? 

Let me hasten to add that one doesn’t have to oppose the process of evolution in order to defend design.  Indeed, if evolution from a bacterium to homo sapiens took place, then it would be an excellent argument for design!  Noted cosmologists Frank Tipler and John Barrow calculated that the chances of moving from a bacterium to homo sapiens in 10 billion years or less is 10-24,000,000.  What kind of numbers are we talking about?  A decimal point with 24 million zeros to the left of 1.! [1]  We’re not even addressing the origin of the universe (something coming from absolutely nothing—whose chances of happening are exactly zero). Nor are we speaking of the fine-tuning of the universe (non-theist Roger Penrose calculates this as being one chance in 1010(123)).[2] Nor are we speaking of getting the precise DNA sequence of the necessary 250 proteins to sustain life (whose chances have been calculated as 1 in 1041,000).[3] We are stacking such outrageously remote possibilities on top of more outrageously remote possibilities on top of still more. The naturalist must stake everything on an anti-design random process to produce what we see today in all its beauty and complexity. Never before have I seen such faith!  If the design idea is a live option, however, all the shock evaporates.  After all, getting from nothing to homo sapiens in 13.5 billion years isn’t a problem if design has taken place. 

Let’s set that all aside now. Let me just focus on how naturalistic scientists actually help support that idea that design and science in nowise conflict.  Here is a sampling of quotations.

PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE

Atheist Steven Weinberg (physicist): “sometimes nature seems more beautiful than strictly necessary.”[4] 

Pantheist Eugene Wigner (physicist): The “uncanny usefulness of mathematical concepts” in the natural sciences is “something bordering on the mysterious” and “there is no rational explanation for it.”[5]

ORIGIN OF LIFE

Alfonso Ricardo and Jack W. Szostak (in a recent Scientific American): “Every living cell, even the simplest bacterium teems with molecular contraptions that would be the envy of any nanotechnologist….It’s virtually impossible to imagine how a cell’s machines could have formed spontaneously as life first arose.”[6]

Atheist Francis Crick (Nobel Prize winner, biologist): “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which had to have been satisfied to get it going.”[7]

Jacques Monod (biologist): “…we have no idea what the structure of a primitive cell might have been…. the simplest cells available to us for study have nothing ‘primitive’ about them.”[8]

BIOLOGY IN GENERAL

John Wheeler (physicist): “When I first started studying, I saw the world as composed of particles. Looking more deeply I discovered waves. Now after a lifetime of study, it appears that all existence is the expression of information (my emphasis)” [9] Continue Reading →

Is Truth Really Not Relative?

I came across this question on Facebook the other day – “what site do you go to find the truth?”  Because I know this young man to be deeply committed to Christ and to pastoring youth, I took the question to mean “what site most represents Biblical truth?”  Immediately, I responded with a site that I thought offered resources and articles by those whom I thought investigated topics thoroughly, objectively and consistently. This of course was based on my understanding of how Biblical truth should be examined and attained.  Afterwards, it dawned on me that not all would agree with me.

In the advent of relativism and post-modernism, the rallying cry of evangelicals is that truth is not relative.  God’s truth does not change.  Some would cite that the problem is that we are measuring God’s truth against shifting standards of our own making and compromising that truth (notice that I am avoiding labels).  Yes, I do agree with that.  I do hold to the fact that God Himself is truth (John 14:6) and His word is truth (John 17:17).  As a theologically conservative evangelical, I do uphold that God has communicated His propositional truth in a written format which is the Bible.  There is no subjective nature to what He has communicated.

The problem is that our truth is relative, or rather our measuring rod by which we understand truth.  It is our epistemology, if you will.  We will never be able to hold to an absolute, perfected standard by which we can most avowedly say “I have truth in all cases”.  Now before you go condemning me as one on the outer rings of E-darkness, what I mean by that is we will always have some sort of subjective tendency to our approach to understanding truth .  Why? Because we have a colander through which we sift our understanding of how to arrive at what the Bible is communicating.  We have presuppositions and doctrinal affiliations and life experiences that all weave their way into the fabric of our understanding.  In some cases, our understanding is sourced in extra-Biblical dogma and tradition that will dictate how we arrive at divine truth.

Any evangelical with a decent commitment to understanding what God has conveyed through His word, will contend that Biblical truth is the standard and our job is to understand what God is conveying.  “Biblical truth” in itself then becomes relative because we apply whatever methodology we have considered to be the arbiter of WHAT God has communicated, HOW God has communicated and HOW He continues to communicate.  Biblical truth according to God’s communication is accurate.  Biblical truth according to our understanding is less than accurate.  For this reason, I have even grown weary of the usage of the term “Biblical” because it generally means ‘according to my understanding based on my epistemology’.

What I am NOT saying, is that we cannot ascertain what truth is according to how God has revealed it.  What I am NOT saying is that there is no way we can know the sine qua non of Christianity.  God has not changed nor has His revelation nor His communication.  He revealed Himself progressively throughout Scripture, ultimately pointing to His revelation in Christ.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). We cannot adjust the work and person of the triune God to accommodate our mortal sensibilities.  Nor can we dismiss how God has spoken to us authoritatively which is His inscribed revelation, His written word.  Some do this, I believe, to their detriment.

Therefore, we do need an objective standard by which to determine what is appropriate to the means of God’s communication.  God did not condescend to reveal Himself to humanity so that we can apply whatever methods we deem reasonable to understand Him according to His communication to us.  To reduce the relativism of our understanding, the ascertaining of truth must be grounded in the reality of how God has communicated to us.  And I believe that communication is ensconced in language.  That means, as we read the Bible, we have to employ a hermeneutic that is consistent with the divine author’s intent transmitted through the human author’s intent to understand the language.

One of the most aggravating components of our modern Bibles is the fracturing of communication through segmented pieces known as chapters and verses.  What was designed to facilitate understanding actually can contribute to disjointed learning.  The tendency to spiritualize that fragmentation further moves an understanding of communication away from the center of its intended truth.  But as John Chrysostom espoused in reaction against overly allegorical renderings of the text, “attempts to understand must always be subject to the indispensable historical kernel that anchors the text in empirical reality”.  The reality is what God intended and who He is.  In his essay entitled The Biblical Concept of Truth, Roger Nicole argues that “the full concept of Biblical truth” involves three essential components to understanding the truthfulness of divine communication.

1) Factuality – the expression of truth that conforms to reality in opposition to lies or errors

2) Faithfulness – reliability on the person expected to perform according to a promise, in this case God.

3) Completeness – a summation that is definitive and provisional, which is specific to fulfillment in Christ

He contends that the three must be held in balance and stressing one over the other, or treating them in isolation, will lead to improper attention to the other strands.  This suggests an imbalanced understanding of what God has intended.  I do think this happens quite often because our subjective natures will motivate us to do exactly that, in my opinion.

So what do we do with our subjective tendencies to relativize Scripture according to our epistemology?  First, I contend that we have to distinguish between dogma and doctrine, holding the former loosely and examining the latter critically.   Second, never become so comfortably convinced in our determination of truth that we become unteachable, especially concerning the areas of essential doctrine.  To be honest, it bothers me when some so arrogantly and adamantly insist they have a corner on truth, and particularly when they are based on standards that inconsistent with God’s mechanism for how He has communicated His truth.   Third, I think we have to an increased awareness that our understanding will tend to be relative and subjective. That in of of itself will probably not completely relieve any imbalance on our part, but without it we might be rushing headlong down a dark and deviating trail.    Fourth, never lose sight of the starting point of divine communication, which is God not our understanding.  Lastly, have the humility to admit our fallibity and short-sightedness.

So instead of espousing a corner on Biblical truth, perhaps a more honest approach would be an investigator of Biblical truth, like the Bereans in Acts 17.  I think that would be a really honest thing to do lest we confuse any error on our part with absolute truth on God’s part.

The Sufficiency of Probability in the Christian Belief

For my intro students…

I often play this game with my kids that drives them crazy. Sitting in the room, with no one but us, while they are not looking I will slap them on the rear and act like I did not do it. They turn and say, “Daddy! I know you did that.” I say, “I did not.” ”Then who did it?” they respond (thinking they have settled the issue with this one question).  I say, “A guy ran into the front door and slapped them and then ran out.” They look at me like I am crazy. “Look!” I respond to their skepticism, “The door is not locked. It is obvious that someone could have come in since the door is not locked.” Upon further looks of skepticism, I have them go check the door to see if it is locked or not. Once they check and see it is unlocked, I have won the day. I have poked a hole and their certainty and even caused them to confirm it. No longer possessing the indubitably that I have required for their epistemic verification, they now have lost poise in their former confidence. In other words, I tricked them into thinking that one has to be absolutely certain about something before it can be believed.

Ideas about the value of certainty are currently on the theological stage of debate. With the postmodern push toward perpetual skepticism that gives way to necessary compromise and a redefining tolerance, along with many in the church responding by appealing to a fidist approach to the faith (ignore the evidence, just believe), Evangelicals are found scratching their heads, wondering why we are checking the door to see if it is locked.

“You can’t be certain that Christianity is true. Some have said that it borrowed from other ancient religions to get its story.”

“You can’t be certain Christ rose from the grave since his body might have been stolen.”

When a suspicious world says that we cannot be certain about anything because of the alternative possibilities, we find ourselves defending a position drunk with its own form of compromise. When people poke holes in our beliefs with arguments no better than “look, the door is not locked” we find ourselves missing the big picture, attempting to argue about the security of the door.

How did we get here?

The father of the so-called Age of Reason, Rene Descartes, was commissioned by a cardinal in the church to find a way of attaining a level of certainty that went beyond mere probability. With skepticism on the rise, probability was looked at as the ugly step-sister of the indubitability that accompanied absolute certainty. Indubitability equates to infallible knowledge—knowledge that can’t be wrong. Prove without a shadow of a doubt that God exists by mere intuitive resources. That was Descartes commission.

(Let me repeat as this may be a new word to some of you. Indubitability describes the impossibility of being wrong due to an exhaustive and infallible method of inquiry; beyond the possibility of question or doubt.) 

There was celebration at Descartes seeming defeat of the skepticism of his day. His “I think therefore I am” looked as if it provided a bridge to attain the type of certainty to which humans have never been privy.  His methodology, which became known as “the Cartesian method,” was adopted in large part by those in the West. And thus began the Age of Reason, where certainty—indubitable certainty—reined supreme.

Christianity was never bound by any sort of indubitably from a human perspective. We have never been required to check the lock on any door. In fact, no one actually can or does live by such a method in the acquisition of truth.

But alas, we often think we are supposed to. We have turned “the evidence that demands a verdict” into “the evidence that produces indubitably.” At least that is what we are pressured into doing. Continue Reading →