Sunday, October 30, 2011

What God Thinks of Us

    What does God think of us? We might be tempted to answer, without giving much thought to the question, that, of course, He loves us, He understands that we are only human, and He forgives us. In a sense that answer would be correct, but it also overlooks a great deal. The fact of the matter is that there is a grave crisis in our relationship with our Creator, that this crisis was occasioned by our disobedience and rebellion, and that we are on a course that leads to eventual destruction.

    You say, how can that be? Part of the problem is that we do not see ourselves as God sees us. We think that we are basically alright – decent, law-abiding citizens, minding our own business and causing no offense. If we can manage to forgive each other then why cannot God forgive us?

    What God sees, however, is very different.

"The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,

To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.

They have all turned aside,

They have together become corrupt;

There is none who does good,

No, not one.

                    (Psalm 14:2,3; NKJV)

    Why the difference in perception? The answer is that God measures by a different standard than we measure ourselves.

    We tend to have a sociological morality: we judge ourselves by the standards of society. We look at each other, and if everyone else seems to be doing something then we feel comfortable doing it ourselves. And how does everyone else know what is right and what is wrong? It is usually something we absorb from our culture: we learn it from our parents, our teachers, the government and the mass media. Thus as long as we are trying to get along with others, we have little trouble convincing ourselves that we are decent, moral people.

    Unfortunately we forget one little thing in our neat rationalization, and that is God. He is our Creator, and He is our Judge. So the real question is, what does He want?

"He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God."

                    (Micah 6:8)

Here it will be seen that God expects something from us. We are ultimately accountable to Him for our actions. He is the One who determines what is "good." And what does He say is good? The text mentions three things.

    First of all, we are to "do justly," or to "do justice" (NASV) as it might more literally be translated. We are to respect the rights of others, bound by the principles of equity. We are not to harm or mistreat others in any way, but are always to give them their due.

    Secondly, we are "to love mercy." The word translated "mercy" is the Hebrew word "chesed," and it basically means kindness shown to others. We are to have a heart-felt regard for the well-being of our fellow human beings and be ready to help them whenever possible. It is nothing less than criminal to look upon the suffering of others with calloused indifference. Rather, we should readily respond to their need. And we should "love" to do this. It should be our joy and delight to help others.

    Finally, we are to "walk humbly" with our God. To "walk" is a biblical metaphor for the way we conduct our affairs as we go through life. Here we are to "walk . . . with God," that is, we are to maintain communion with God and strive to live lives that are pleasing to Him. And we are to do this "humbly" – in the full recognition that He is the Creator and we are the creatures, that we are entirely dependent on Him and must live our lives in submission to His will.

    God did not create us so that we would be lone rangers in the wild west of life – tough, self-sufficient, always looking out for "number one." He created us to have a relationship with Him and with our fellow human beings. That, in turn, requires a certain attitude on our part, an attitude of humility, justice, and compassion. And that is what God requires of us all.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Legacy of the Counterculture

   The summer of 2009 marked the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock, the legendary rock concert that became one of the defining moments of the 1960's. On August 15, 1969, hundreds of thousands of young people descended on a farm near Bethel, NY for three days of music that featured some of the leading rock musicians of the day. The huge crowds overwhelmed the organizers, and then a rain storm turned the site into a sea of mud. Conventional law and order broke down, and the participants formed a temporary community of their own. For three days the counterculture of the '60's was in full bloom.

    But what exactly was the counterculture? And what is its significance for today? One of the most interesting and provocative descriptions from the time was the best selling book The Greening of America, written by a then forty-two year old Yale law professor named Charles A. Reich. The book came out in 1970. In it Reich described a cultural revolution that, he predicted, would transform American society.

    Reich called the counterculture "Consciousness III," Consciousness I being the culture of 19th Century America and Consciousness II representing the corporate mentality of the 1950's and early '60's. Consciousness III, by way of contrast, was pure Utopianism. To hear Reich tell it, Consciousness III promised "a higher reason, a more human community, and a new and liberated individual" (p. 2, 1971 Bantam ed.).

    For the most part what Reich offers us is a distinctly secular vision for the future. It is full of human potential but practically devoid of God. It is not hard to see the influence of Neo-Marxism, Existentialism, and American Pragmatism on Reich's thought, and beyond that we could trace the influences back even further to Immanuel Kant and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But this secular Utopianism was the main problem with the counterculture, and the main reason for its ultimate failure.

    Reich, in common with many Western secular thinkers for a century or more before him, rejects the idea of universal truths and absolute moral values. What is real is the here-and-now - - man in his concrete existence. Standards and norms are man-made and artificial. Reich puts it like this: "Of all the many ways of life known to history, Consciousness III seems the closest to valuing life for its own sake. Almost always, men have lived subject to rigid custom, to religion, to an economic theory or political ideology. Consciousness III seeks freedom from all of these. It declares that life is prior to all of them. . . It values the present, not the past, the future, or some abstract doctrine of mythical heaven." (p. 426)

As a result, Reich says, ". . . the individual does not accept the goals or standards set by society" (p. 247). And, "because there are no governing standards, no one is rejected. Everyone is entitled to pride in himself, and no one should act in a way that is servile, or feel inferior, or allow himself to be treated as if he were inferior" (p. 243).

    In retrospect there was something absurd about the central premise of the counterculture. One cannot get to idealism, spirituality and human potential through a secular philosophy that denies the transcendent and eternal. A life-style of sex and drugs and rock-n-roll hardly amounts to a renunciation of materialism. In the final analysis, the only escape from materialism is God.

Far from ushering in a social Utopia, the legacy of the '60's was catastrophic.  In the last four decades we have reaped the bitter fruit of the revolt against standards and norms: a soaring divorce rate, the disintegration of the family, widespread substance abuse, and rampant crime.  Satan has paid us royally for our folly.  And yet the underlying philosophy of the counterculture lives on in the academic community in the form of Post-Modernism and Political Correctness.

    "For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshl desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved." --  II Pet. 2:18, 19 (NASV)


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Case for Moral Absolutes

The famous American philosopher John Dewey once said that "moral judgment and moral responsibility are the work wrought in us by the social environment . . . All morality is social" ("Morality Is Social," from Human Nature and Conduct). Nearly all secular philosophers would be more or less inclined to agree. And, indeed, for most people morality is basically social: it is the result of social conditioning. They are trained by their parents to behave a certain way, and as they grow older they become aware of certain demands imposed by society. But according to Dewey, this is all there is to morality. Morality is basically sociological.

But is this really all there is to it? Or is there something else – some eternal, unchanging standard of right and wrong that transcends the changing patterns of human culture? Dewey, and many other secular thinkers, would emphatically say "No"! But what they routinely overlook is the obvious, viz., God. If God exists, then doesn't His will count for something?

If God exists the whole secular philosophy of accepting life as it is, without making any value judgments, collapses. For if God exists, a Supreme Being Who is both infinite and personal, then everything He created has purpose and meaning, and everything that exists ought to conform to His will. Thus there is an "ought" as well as an "is."

And God obviously exists. We are surrounded by evidence of intelligent design. We live in a rationally ordered cosmos, and the rational structure of reality must ultimately have come from an intelligent being. We know through common sense and everyday experience the difference between intelligent design and random selection. If someone were to dump a boxful of bolts on a table they would land in no particular order – there is no discernable pattern. That is what is meant by "random." But if we count out the bolts in groups of ten, and then arrange the groups in ranks and files, that is intelligent design, and the design is readily evident. A human mind has obviously imposed order on the original chaos. The presence of rational order is the evidence of intelligent design.

Such rational order abounds in nature. Why does the human body have perfectly formed and functioning organs, connected in complex systems? Why is there so much symmetry in the body? How did we acquire intelligence? None of these things arise spontaneously from unformed and impersonal matter. Natural selection can explain how the unfit become extinct, but it cannot explain how the favored species came into existence. Nature is simply too complex to be the result of an impersonal biological process. The existence of a Creator is thus undeniable.

But how can we learn the content of morality? How can we know what the will of God is? The first part of the answer is that every human being is born with a conscience that gives him an intuitive knowledge of right and wrong. We instinctively recoil at atrocious crimes such as rape and murder. Soldiers are often traumatized when they are called upon to take human life in combat. Philosophers and psychologists have puzzled over this phenomenon. Dewey, as we have seen, tried to argue that it is purely the result of social conditioning. Others have maintained that it is a social instinct bred into the race. But the Bible says that even the pagans "show the work of the law written in their hearts" (Rom. 2:15 NKJV). The evidence is plain and simple: they accuse each other of wrongdoing and defend themselves in return. But why? It is because they have an innate sense of right and wrong.

Even the most skeptical philosophers themselves cannot entirely escape from this. If morality is essentially sociological and there is no transcendent standard of right and wrong, then how is it possible for anyone to pass judgment on an entire society? For it is society that determines the standard. If there was a social consensus in Nazi Germany that genocide was a desirable policy, then who is in a position to say that it was wrong? There is no room for individualism or non-conformity. Yet philosophers pass judgment on society all the time. Try as they might, even they cannot escape universal moral norms.

But conscience is not our only source of knowledge concerning morality. There is also direct revelation from God Himself. In Heb. 1:1,2 we are told, "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son . . ." In the distant past God communicated to men through inspired prophets – their writing are contained in the Old Testament (cf. II Tim. 3:16; I Pet. 1:10-12). The climax of divine revelation came, however, when God sent His own Son into the world. Jesus Christ was the prophet "par excellence," and His teachings, in particular the Sermon on the Mount, are the definitive statement of Christian morality.

Seen in this light morality is not a complicated philosophical problem; it is a simple matter of doing what God said. As human beings we are accountable to our Creator. In the end He will be our Judge. We do, in fact, live in a moral universe. Justice and human rights are grounded in God's eternal, immutable will. Any sane and rational person would not wish to have it any other way.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Did the Founding Fathers Create a Christian Nation?

Was it the conscious intention of the Founding Fathers to create a Christian nation? David Barton of the organization WallBuilders certainly thinks so. With the zealous spirit of a crusader he has devoted his life to telling a side to American history that often gets overlooked in the public school classroom. Yet as often happens to crusaders, Mr. Barton is sometimes prone to overstating his case.
In his DVD series American Heritage Mr. Barton argues that the Founding Fathers set out to create a uniquely Christian nation. If what Mr. Barton means by this is that the founders took it for granted that America already was a Christian country and that they had no intention of changing that, then he is certainly right. But, if he meant that they were engaged in a bold new experiment to create a government that was uniquely based on biblical principles, then I think he goes too far. The record simply does not support his contention.
The main problem here lies with the Constitutional Convention. Significantly, they did not even open their sessions with prayer. (At one point Benjamin Franklin, of all people, suggested that they do so, but his motion was never adopted). The final document, in contrast with the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, does not mention God at all, except for a single pro forma reference to "the year of our lord" at the very end. God is not even mentioned in the constitutional formula for the presidential oath for office. In Madison's Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention there are no references to biblical passages that I can see, nor are there any in The Federalist Papers.
But was the Constitution based on biblical principles? Barton points to several examples that correspond to such principles, but neglect to mention several other instances in which the Constitution actually contradicted Scripture. For example, in the original document:
Article I Section IX provided for the importation of slaves for a period of twenty years, in violation of Ex. 21:16 and Dt. 24:7. The debate on this provision was particularly revealing. Luther Martin of Maryland argued that "it was inconsistent with the principles of the revolution and dishonorable to the American character to have such a feature in the Constitution." To which John Rutledge of South Carolina replied, "Religion and humanity had nothing to do with the question. Interest alone is the governing principle of nations." The final provision was a compromise, not a solution based on biblical principle, and it was a dark omen of what lay ahead.
Furthermore Article IV, Section II provided for the return of runaway slaves to their masters, in violation of Dt. 23:15,16. This latter provision was not overturned until 1865, at the very end of the Civil War. We also note that Article VI, section 3 states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the United States." In other words, nothing in the Constitution would prevent an atheist from serving as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in clear violation of Ex. 18:21.
The Framers of the Constitution were a diverse body of men representing competing interests and constituencies. They were trying to find a practical way to set up a workable federal government. Some of the delegates were personally religious, others were not, and it would be a mistake to overestimate their piety. It should also be borne in mind that a large number of the delegates, especially from the middle and southern states, were members of the Episcopal Church, and did not see the need for a scriptural justification for the practices of their own church, let along the federal government. Barton seems to be trying to make them all out to be Presbyterians!
Barton stated that our country has been blessed with uninterrupted peace and stability as a result of our Constitution. But this assertion overlooks the ugly fact of the Civil War, which arose largely over constitutional issues, including the fugitive slave provision mentioned above.
The basic flaw in Barton's argument is that of taking the opinions of some and making them representative of all. America, however, has always been a diverse country. Heavily influenced throughout its history by Christian values and ideals, nevertheless it has often fallen short of those ideals. And thus the struggle for justice never ends.
Apparently Mr. Barton's underlying concern in all of this is the way that the U. S. Supreme Court handles precedents in deciding cases, and thus the original intent of the Founding Fathers is of crucial importance (or at least it should be, in my opinion). What we know about the Founding Fathers is this: most Americans at the time were Protestants, and most Protestant denominations then were fairly orthodox in their theology. The Founding Fathers were conscious of being the heirs of 1700 years of Christian civilization. They also knew that the colonists brought over with them the English Common Law, and beyond that the Fathers relied on the concept of Natural law as the ultimate basis for government. They believed in divine providence, and most of them believed that religion and morality were necessary for the functioning of a republic. They spelled out their conception of government in the Declaration of Independence, which forms a kind of national creed. And ever since then reformers have appealed to these principles in their efforts to create a more just and humane society. It was never the intention of the Founding Fathers to repudiate Christianity or to detach the law from morality.
But we must be careful to state the facts accurately. If we misrepresent the truth, and are eventually found out, our whole cause will be completely discredited. I also think that there is a danger to the Christian community in making America out to be more Christian than it really is. Most of our fellow citizens are lost sinners and on their way to everlasting destruction. If anything, America today is "one nation" - under God's judgment. By asserting that America is a Christian country, we obscure the fact that much of what America does is not Christian. The country is, in fact, a mission field and we run the risk of our salt losing its savor, at the very time that the country needs the savor most!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Is Christian Fundamentalism Intolerant?

     We have tried so far to demonstrate that Islam is, indeed, a violent and intolerant religion, and that these tendencies in Islam stem from the fact that its program is essentially theocratic.  There is no separation of church and state; the power of the state is enlisted to support the cause of Islam.  Physical force is used to enforce a regime that consists mainly in external rules of conduct.
     But what about Christianity?  Does it not also have a long history of persecution and violence?
     As we have tried to show in our last post, there is no basis in the New Testament for the use of force to defend the faith.  The persecutions, Crusades and pogroms that marred much of later church history were aberrations.  Jesus Himself never countenanced any such thing.
     What is especially interesting, however, is how the Protestant Reformation and the later Evangelical revivals served to promote a rebirth of religious freedom.
     The dramatic turning point in Western attitudes towards religious freedom came on April 18, 1521.  Martin Luther had been asked to recant his writings.  Appearing before the Holy Roman Emperor and the assembled princes of the Empire, Luther defended his writings, and then concluded his remarks with this famous declaration:
         "Since then your all-gracious majesty and princely grace desires a simple answer, I want to give you one, simple and straightforward, namely this: unless I have been convinced by the testimony of Scripture or by rational argument, then I remain convinced by the authors I have quoted, and my conscience remains bound by God's Word.  For I believe neither the Pope nor the councils alone, since it is well-known that they often err and have contradicted themselves.  I can and want to retract nothing, since it is neither safe nor advisable to do something against one's conscience.  God help me.  Amen."
(It is debatable as to whether or not Luther actually uttered the words, so often attributed to him, "I cannot do otherwise, here I stand . . .")
     What Luther did, in effect, was to assert the right of private conscience over against public authority.  When there is a clash between God's will and human authority, God's will must always take precedence."We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29; cf. 4:19,20, NKJV).  God's Word limits human authority.
     Unfortunately, it took a while for the implications of this truth to be fully realized in Western thought.  Both Luther and Calvin presided over state churches.  The Lutherans and Reformed persecuted each other and they both persecuted the Anabaptists.  With the onset of spiritual awakenings in the 17th and 18th centuries, however, the implications of human accountability to the divine will began to appear.  Sincere believers, whose hearts had been touched by divine grace, often found themselves in the minority in most countries.  There were inevitable clashes with the civil authorities over matters of religious policy.  In the English speaking world Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists and Quakers agonized over where their duty lay, and eventually the latent principle  emerged: the individual conscience must be free to obey God, and the civil authorities may not intrude.  The colonies of Rhode Island and Pennsylvania were founded on the principles of religious liberty, the British Act of Toleration was passed in 1689, and the First Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1790.
      True evangelical religion can never countenance religious persecution.  To the unawakened sinner human society is all that there is.  He is all too willing to conform to prevailing standards.  But in a religious awakening people develop a heightened awareness of God, and they begin to realize that the edicts of the state cannot be confused with the will of the Deity.  It is manifestly not true that "vox populi" is "vox Dei."  Political leaders are often venal and corrupt, their decisions often unjust and unwise.  The true believer becomes all too painfully aware of an irreconcilable conflict between what God wants and what the government wants, but he knows that his undivided loyalty belongs to God alone.  To allow any other authority to interpose itself between the individual conscience and God is tantamount to idolatry.
     A spiritually awakened Christian is also aware that a genuine religious conversion can only be the result of an operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the individual sinner.  Spiritual life can only be imparted by God Himself.  The state is completely powerless to effect spiritual change.  Thus a rebirth of genuine piety leads inevitably to a restriction of the government's power.  The only workable modus operandi is a separation of church and state.
     The state is charged with the responsibility of maintaining civil order, and we owe it obedience in matters of external behavior.  But in matters of faith the conscience must be free -- free to obey God as He speaks to the individual soul.  Where there is no freedom of conscience there is the worst form of tyranny.  Freedom of religion is one of our most priceless treasures.
     The "New Atheists" sometimes claim that religious Fundamentalists are a threat to political freedom.  As far as Christian believers go, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Is Islam a Violent Religion?

     In his USA Today editorial, after discussing violent passages in the Old Testament, Tom Krattenmaker ( went on to discuss the Quran.  Here he noted that there were also passages "that appear to justify the most hideous acts of violence," but he criticizes those who ignore the "many peace-preaching" verses in the Muslim holy book, and who "pluck" certain other passages, "marshalling them as 'proof' that Islam is inherently violent."  His conclusion is that since the scriptures of both Christianity and Islam contain violent passages, "whether it's Christians or Muslims, stone-throwers ought to realize that their own houses are glass."  Or to put it another way, Christians should simply ignore the evidence that Islam is a violent and intolerant religion.  The plain fact of the matter, however, is that there is a difference between the two religions in their respective attitudes towards violence.
     The first and most obvious point to be made is that for Christians the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament, and the New Testament provides no basis whatsoever for the use of violence in the defense of the faith.  Jesus never intended for the church to become a theocratic nation-state as was Israel in the Old Testament.  He summed it up well when He told the Roman governor Pontius Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world.  If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here: (John 18:36, NKJV).
     Islam, by way of contrast, is a kingdom "of this world."  This became especially apparent after Mohammed had fled to Medina and consolidated his base of support there.  Faced with a growing threat from his opponents in Mecca, Mohammed drew the inevitable conclusion from the premise of theocracy: the use of force is justified in the defense of the faith.    Writing in Sura II (The Cow), Mohammed urged his followers to "fight for the cause of God against those who fight against you . . . Fight therefore against them until there be no more civil discord, and the only worship be that of God . . ." (2:186-189, Rodwell trans.).
     Are we cherry-picking certain passages from the Quran in order to make Islam appear violent?  Unfortunately, we are not.  The passage cited is part and parcel with Mohammed's theocratic agenda.  The whole system is based on retributive justice.  "O believers!  retaliation for bloodshedding is prescribed to you . . ." (2:173).  He then goes on, later in the same sura, to discuss the moral dilemma of waging war during the "sacred month," when there was supposed to be a truce among Arabs.  "To war therein is bad, but to turn aside from the cause of God, and to have no faith in Him, and in the Sacred Temple, and to drive out its people, is worse in the sight of God; and civil strife is worse than bloodshed" (2:214).
     Sir John Glubb (1897-1986), a British army officer who once commanded the Arab Legion, put it like this: "the Prophet, so patient, humble and devoted under persecution in Mecca, commenced to use power politics after his arrival in Medina.  Not only does he resort to war against the Meccans, but in Medina he drives the Jews into exile and arranges for his own opponents to be assassinated. . .
     "Their respective attitudes to the legitimacy of physical force has, ever since then, been one of the most marked contrasts between Muslims and Christians . . .
      "Muslims in general do not believe that men can be made righteous by moral example or by intellectual persuasion alone, but consider that force is also necessary . . . Once violence is admitted, it is all too easily abused." (A Short History of the Arab Peoples, Stein & Day, 1970. p.36).
     Islam, too, has its concept of abrogation -- certain earlier verses in the Quran have been superseded by later ones.  But the evident direction of Mohammed's thought was toward increasing violence and intolerance as time went on, lot less so.  There was once a time when Mohammed had a fairly favorable view of Jews and Christians as "people of the Book."  But by the time he wrote down Sura IX (The Immunity) he was denouncing both groups as those who "join gods with God" (i.e., polytheists) and told his followers "make war upon such . . ." (9:29 ff).
     It is true that Christianity does not exactly have an unblemished record when it comes to violence.  There have been persecutions, Crusades, and pogroms.  But these were aberrations -- they have no basis in the New Testament.  Jihad, unfortunately, does have a basis in the Quran.
     We will begin to make sense of events in the Middle East only when we understand the differences between their culture and ours.  It is a tragic mistake to assume that "Islam is a peaceful religion," not unlike Christianity, and that it has been "hijacked by a few extremists."  We have already squandered an enormous amount of blood and treasure to no avail  in the Middle East because of our cultural myopia.  What we think they want is not what they think they want.  We have gotten ourselves into a conflict that ultimately we cannot win.  The reason we cannot win is because we cannot change the culture of the region.  Let us take off our blinders and look at what we are actually facing.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

God v. the Canaanites: a Miscarriage of Justice?

     In his October 10, 2010 editorial in USA Today, columnist Tom Krattenmaker discusses the presence of verses in both the Bible and the Quran that seem to sanction violence.  As far as the Bible goes he mentions one episode in particular, the conquest of Canaan by the invading Israelites, in which the native population was annihilated.  Mr. Krattenmaker calls the description of this in the Book of Joshua (he seems to be quoting Josh. 6:21, describing the destruction of Jericho) an "appalling account" and "not exactly inspirational."
     Mr. Krattenmaker makes reference to a book by Randy Frazee entitled The Heart of the Story, in which Frazee points out that the Amorites (one of the native peoples affected by the mass destruction)  were destroyed because of their sins.  Mr. Krattenmaker counters, however, by citing another book, Laying down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses, by Prof. Philip Jenkins, in which Prof. Jenkins argues that there is no evidence that the Canaanites were any worse than any of the other ancient peoples.  Prof. Jenkins contends according to Mr. Krattenmaker, that the Old Testament was written at a time when people had "a vastly different moral understanding of violence and its justification."
     Prof. Jenkins' contention implies, of course, that the biblical text is not divinely inspired.  Presumably it is a human production that reflects the commonly held values of its own time and place.  Thus, according to Prof. Jenkins' own moral understanding, God could not in reality have given the Israelites any such command to annihilate the Canaanites.  The biblical account reflects an unfortunate misunderstanding of what God actually expects.     
    For those of us who accept the Bible as divinely inspired, however, the Book of Joshua cannot be dismissed as "an appalling account" that arose from "a vastly different moral understanding of violence."  Mr. Frazee is right.  The Bible explicitly states that the annihilation of the Canaanites was a just retribution for their sins.  What these sins were is spelled out in Leviticus chapters 18 and 20.  It is significant that the evils mentioned center on licentious sexual practices and infanticide.  God calls these practices "abominations."
     But what of Prof. Jenkins' contention that the Canaanites were no worse than any other ancient people?  That may be perfectly true.  What is not true, however, is that God does not punish other peoples for their sins.
     God assures us in His Word that He is perfectly just.  We can see a partial demonstration of His justice throughout history.  Nation after nation has been destroyed by war, famine, natural disaster, and disease.  Where now is Assyria or Babylon, or ancient Rome?  All gone, in the dust bin of history, as are the Third Reich and the Soviet Union in more recent times.  But the complete and final demonstration of God's justice will not come until the end of history, when Christ returns to judge the entire earth.  Then each person will receive exactly what he is due,, and no one will be able to complain that he is being treated unfairly.  The Law of God has been revealed so "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19, NKJV).
     The question is, are we any better than the Canaanites?                                                                                                                                                  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Jerry Coyne: Good Without God?

  Prof. Jerry A. Coyne tells us that morality "simply cannot come from the will or commands of a God" (You can be good without God" – USA Today, Aug. 1, 2011).  What Prof. Coyne offers instead is a morality based on evolution and "secular reasoning."  Yet his article reveals the flaws and weaknesses of such secular reasoning: he tells us that it is "human-generated" and is flexible, which is to say that it is essentially a morality of convenience that is not, strictly speaking, binding on anyone.

    Prof. Coyne tells us that "secular morality has a flexibility and responsiveness to social change."  We have seen this "flexibility" at work: it was the pragmatic morality of the great totalitarian states of the twentieth century. The only ones who dared to resist were those whose moral codes were not flexible -- religious believers who felt an accountability to God.

    If God exists then why shouldn't His will be normative?  Prof. Coyne gives the wrong answer to Plato's question.  God is our creator and judge.  Genuine morality is derived from His own character and from His creative design for us.  Our sense of right and wrong stems from the conscience which He Himself has implanted within the human soul.

    An atheist can be good because, as a human being, he was created in the image of God.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011



    Why Evolution Is True

    Jerry A. Coyne, Viking, 233 pages


    It is perhaps fitting that the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species should see the appearance of Why Evolution Is True by Professor Jerry A. Coyne of the University of Chicago. The work is a fine exposition of the theory of evolution, both clear and readable, and certain to make its mark in the ongoing debate. Prof. Coyne shows a familiarity with Creationist arguments (which he generally treats with contempt), and interacts with them throughout his own work.

    The book, however, does not really change the nature of the debate. Prof. Coyne mainly rehashes the familiar arguments for evolution, most of them drawn from Darwin himself, whom Prof. Coyne quotes frequently and appreciatively.

    Prof. Coyne insists that evolution is a "scientific fact." What is a bit confusing to us laymen is that scientists have their own criteria for establishing a "scientific fact." According to Prof. Coyne, a scientific theory is not necessarily something debatable. A theory is a set of propositions that explain a phenomenon. If the theory seems to explain adequately the evidence, and it is confirmed by subsequent discoveries, then it is considered a "fact." A scientist like Prof. Coyne knows this as the inductive method, unbiased, objective, and incontrovertible. A lawyer like Phillip E. Johnson recognizes it as an attempt to build a case on circumstantial evidence, an argument marked by circular reasoning and logical non sequiturs. There are two major weaknesses in this kind of argument. First of all, what if the evidence does not fit perfectly, if there is something that the theory cannot explain? And secondly, What if we cannot establish a direct causal link, the proverbial "smoking gun"? In this case the question is whether or not it is even possible for evolution to take place at all.

    On the first question, let us take for example the fossil record. Prof. Coyne recites the familiar argument we have all heard before. But does the evidence really support the theory? Prof. Coyne posits a very slow process of gradual change. But that would seem to call for a vast continuum of transitional forms. What we actually see in the fossil record on the other hand is what we see today: distinct species or "discontinuities of nature," as Prof. Coyne call them. He is honest enough to make this intriguing statement: "When you look at animals and plants, each individual almost always falls into one of many discrete groups" (p. 169). That is the indisputable fact. But which theory does it support, evolution or creation? We think the latter.

    On the second question, the question of causality, it is ironic that Prof. Coyne's most original contribution to the debate, his background in genetics, serves to undermine his own argument. In the second half of the book he discusses at great length how mutations enable species to adapt to their environments, sometimes even developing new features. But all of the examples he cites involve taking existing genetic material and modifying it or recombining it in some way to generate new characteristics in the species. Once it is apparent how this "microevolution" takes place, it becomes obvious why "macroevolution" cannot take place. Macroevolution, as Prof. Coyne conceives of it, would require passing over the genetic barriers that separate one species from another. Moreover, it would involve progressing from simple forms of life to more complex. As Prof. Coyne puts it, evolution is "the amazing derivation of life's staggering diversity from a single naked replicating molecule" (p. 233). Amazing indeed it is! It is impossible! This would seemingly require adding new genetic material where it did not previously exist. A mutation modifies an existing gene; it does not create a new one. Since each species has a set number of chromosomes, and the chromosomes come in pairs, in most cases the evolution from one species to another would require adding whole pairs of chromosomes. What Prof. Coyne has not explained is where the extra chromosomes would come from. Thus, while microevolution is quite explicable, macroevolution seems genetically impossible. The "murder weapon" in the case remains to be found.     

Thus, in spite of Prof. Coyne's fine effort to produce a very readable and informative book, we are pretty much where we began: Darwinism is still vulnerable to most of the same criticisms that were leveled against it in Darwin's own day. In fact, in some ways, Prof. Coyne's explanation of the genetics involved makes the Theory of Evolution even less convincing. But the book is a useful primer for anyone interested in the controversy.

                        Robert W. Wheeler

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Church Needs God

   American Evangelicals today are deeply concerned about the state of our country, and with good reason.  The collapse of public morality, and the attendant breakdown of the family, are truly alarming.  Underlying this collapse are a number of seemingly intractable problems: a serious of adverse court decisions, a public education system stripped of all religious and moral content, a militantly secularist attitude on many university campuses. mainline denominations which have long since departed from the faith, and decadent values in the entertainment industry.
   Nor are these problems mere intellectual abstractions either.  Pastors must continually deal with the human wreckage that inevitably results from sin and vice.  Broken homes, a variety of addictions, ruined finances, and destroyed health are the tragic consequences of the permissive life-style that prevails today.
    Nor is the problem confined to the world outside of the church.  The symptoms of spiritual decay are to be found right within the church itself.  We see relatively few deep and lasting conversions, especially among adults.  Many who attend church on Sunday live like the rest of the world on Monday.  The divorce rate among professing Christians is nearly as high as it is among non-Evangelicals.  Many young people reared in Christian homes are lost to the church by the time they reach adulthood.  Even pastors sometimes become involved in scandalous sins like adultery, and congregations are frequently torn apart by strife.  In short, Christianity often does not seem to make much an impact on the very people who are the most directly exposed to it, viz., the people who are already there in the church building, sitting int he pews Sunday after Sunday.  It does not take any special gift of prophecy to see that unless there is a dramatic turnaround many of our churches will be extinct in two or three decades.
   There is, however, no shortage of proposed solutions to these problems.  The concept of a "seeker-friendly" church is especially popular today.  The church targets a specific group within the community, and then seeks to identify the "felt needs" of that group.  An appropriate "outreach ministry" is designed, and the church services are organized to accommodate the target group in every way possible.  The sermon is typically filled with pop psychology or financial advice, and if reaching young adults is the overriding concern, then "Contemporary Christian Music" is the order of the day.
   All of this can gain some very impressive short-term results.  But there is a certain superficiality to it, and it is questionable as to whether or not this approach is really effective in producing  lasting commitments and genuinely changed lives.
   What is often overlooked in discussions today about evangelism and church growth is what the Bible says about these things.  When Paul described the dynamic of his own ministry, or when he instructed others about how to conduct their ministries, he said not a word about any of the things that so engage the attention of the modern church.  There is no discussion of strategy, technique, or method.  Paul was not especially concerned about meeting felt needs, nor did he feel the necessity of having an elaborate musical program or a high energy youth ministry either.  Rather, he attributed the effectiveness of his ministry to one factor alone, and that was the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit.  Writing to the Corinthians he explicitly disavowed any reliance on purely human means of persuasion.  "I . . . did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom . . . And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that you faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (I Cor. 2:1-5, NKJV).  And to the Thessalonians he said ". . . our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance. . ." (I Thess. 1:5).                    
   For the apostle Paul, what produced results, strictly speaking, was not anything that he did, but rather something that God did.  It was the Holy Spirit, working int he hearts of men and women, convicting them of sin, opening their minds to understand the truth, and planting within them repentance and faith, that actually produced the conversions.  Significantly, the only human means enjoined in Scripture for the conversion of sinners is that of preaching, and the only means of securing the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon that ministry is prayer.
   There is one symptom of the church's malaise that is more alarming than any other, and that is the demise of the Wednesday evening prayer meeting.  Many Evangelical churches no longer have a prayer meeting at all, and the ones that still exist are poorly attended.  A handful of the elderly will gather together, ask God to "bless the missionaries," and pray for the health needs of their acquaintances.  Never are there tears of repentance, never any pleas for revival.  It is the gentle slumber of an apathetic and complacent church.
   What the modern church consistently overlooks is the role of the Holy Spirit in ministry.  The church does not need elaborate strategies or sophisticated organization.  The first century had none of these things, and we do not need them today.  What the church needs is God, and until we return to Him, we will continue the patter of short term success and long term failure.  We are faced with daunting challenges on every hand, but the church's long forgotten weapon is prayer.
                               Brethren, we have met to worship,
                                  And adore the Lord our God;\
                                Will you pray with all your power,
                                   While we try to preach the word?

                                All is vain unless the Spirit
                                   Of the Holy One comes down;
                                Brethren, pray and holy manna
                                   Will be showered all around.

                                                                        George Atkin