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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Evolutionary Theory I: Why is it so Popular?

Not Without Some Reason
A recent e-mail  ridiculed evolutionary theory and dismissed it with a joke. But we ought to be more serious and  ask why it is believed so widely. We can't see the weaknesses and fatal flaws of evolution until we understand it. In a future blog I will explain what I see as evolution's fatal flaws, but in this blog, I try to understand its wide appeal......

But what is evolution?

Unbeknown to many, evolution is the dominant integrating principle in all university historical science (the science of the past) from physics to biology. At base it says that everything in the cosmos can be explained according to physical principles at work today - without the intervention of God. Given chance and natural law, this universe will gradually develop and appear.

So when you ask, Where does the universe itself come from?, evolutionary theory is the explanation: slight instabilities in the Big Bang led to the natural development of stars and galaxies. Where do planets come from? Clouds of dust around new stars accreted to form planets.Where did life come from? Molecules got together to form the first primitive cell; cells in turn clubbed together to form the first multi-cellular organism and so on and so forth.

Here are some reasons evolutionary theories are so widely held....

Reason #1: The human mind needs an integrating principle
We have amazing minds which refuse to leave any sea of facts uncoordinated. We simply can't collect data  without asking the question, How does A relate to B and C? We do this with people, for example: we take the things they say and do and use this data to work them out, we do this to families, communities and nations. Every subject you study at university, involves some attempt to correlate otherwise disparate facts.

Reason #2: Scientists need an integrating Principle
Scientists are no different. They want to know how this fossil relates to that one, this rock to that one, this star to that one, this galaxy to that one,  and then up the explanatory tree, how this theory relates to that theory. The theories of evolution provide such an integrating principle and this satisfies the human mind of the scientist.

Reason #3: Evolutionary Theory Has Explantory Power
Evolutionary theory appears on the surface to possess explanatory power. Where it draws this power from is another quetsion. I'll work this out further in a future blog, but there is an almost sinister parallel between evolutionary theory and creation theory. I would argue that evolutionary theory draws its explanatory power by being pseudo-correct. I am thinking of biological evolution here which teaches that common features point to a common ancestor. Take one example: the fact that so may animal limbs are based on the pentadactyl (five part) structure (wings, forearms, legs, etc, all have five components, see fig.) points to a distant common source, they say. But there is another explanation: similar features could equally be explained by a common designer. One Mind instead of 'reinventing the wheel' simply tweaks it in a multitude of directions to produce a leg here, a wing there. Amazing ingenuity, remarkable economy. Common Designer is just as sensible an explanation as Common Descent. Perhaps evolutionary theory draws its explanatory power by providing a false explanation of a true phenomenon.

Reason #4: The human soul needs a Creation Myth
Much deeper than all of this, the human soul needs a Creation Myth - I mean by that some Big Story in which it can locate itself and make sense of the cosmos and world. Since we live in a scientific age, it is no surprise that our culture has created a scientific creation myth.

Reason #5: Evolutionary theory is the only option available to an unbelieving mind
Scientists do not generally abandon one theory until a better alternative is available. But in the case of evolution, due to the false constraints some scientists place on science, there is no other theory available, and hence scientists will never give it up. Evolution is accepted simply because there is no other alternative. This mode of thinking in any other field would be regarded as dangerous - that a theory is doggedly pursued and no other alternatives are considered. Why is no other theory possible? Many scientists believe (against the founders of western science) that divine intervention renders a theory nonscientific. And thus the only alternative to evolution is ruled out before it has any chance even to be thought about or tested.

Reason #6: More effort has been expended shoe-horning the data to fit evolution
As a consequence of Reason #5, most of the energy of scientists has been spent attempting to squeeze the data to fit the theory of evolution. If that much energy had been expended on The Alternative, evolution would long be dead and buried.

For these six reasons, evolutionary theories remain the dominant explanation of origins.

The real reason some scientists will not consider The Alternative is that it involves a God. According to Paul we suppress the knowledge of God. According to Jesus people prefer darkness to light, because their deeds are evil. 

And the tragic human outcome of evolutionary theories is sheer and utter hopelessness. We discover a vast discrepancy between the inevitable philosophy of life which flows out of evolutionary theory (that in the end we are the aimless and pointless products of time+chance) and the longings of our hearts, which tell us there must be meaning and significance to life. 

We all long for meaning and significance (X factor reveals that, if nothing more). Where does this longing come from if evolutionary theories are true?

We'll talk again.....

Monday, 25 October 2010

Gospel+ among we Evangelicals

Trouble in Amish Country
Ephraim is a young father who, along with his friend Jess has been excommunicated from his Amish community. Three hundred years ago a small band of believers from Europe settled in Pennsylvania in an effort to establish a pure Christian community. But while the motive was good, since the method was bad, it was bound to fail; and so it did.

Over time a thousand man-made rules entered the community and eventually defined the community. The German Bible they brought with them, which was 'the only true Bible' became unintelligible to the vast bulk of the community. Eventually the Gospel was smothered by tiny little rules such as no phones in homes, men must wear trouser suspenders in a certain way, no cars, certain clothes for church, ad infinitum.

Lessons from Amish Country
The blunt fact of the matter is that any true Christian community can drift over time from the Gospel in exactly the same way. Often for good reason, layers of tradition creep in and soon the Gospel is lost from sight. The tragedy is this: if you add to the Gospel in the end you subtract from it. That is the message of Galatians and the lesson from the Amish community.

Here are five all too common Gospel+ issues around today.....

Gospel Plus #1:  Gospel plus KJV
Some true Christian communities have made translation the real test of Gospel faithfulness. Normally it's the KJV which is held up as the only translation. Proper, true Christians are those who not only believe the Gospel but also read the KJV. The antidote to this plus is to read the original preface of the KJV translators, where they explain the limitations and fallibility of their translation.

Gospel Plus #2: Gospel plus temperament
This is altogether more subtle. It works generally like this: Unless a church worships in a certain sombre mood - which altogether excludes any kind of humour, their worship is not true worship. This is dressed up in religious language such as reverence and respect, but at root can be traced back to the natural temperaments of the leader(s). We may sometimes lack due reverence to God, but those who think reverence = sad and stony faces must remember that we no longer worship around a fearsome mountain burning with fire (Hebrews 12).We have come, instead to "thousands of angels in joyful assembly."

Gospel Plus #3: Gospel plus Creation Science
Some Christians and churches establish a certain interpretation of Genesis as a touch-stone of Gospel fidelity. Unless you believe the world is 10,000 years old, you are not a proper Christian, for example. This binds the conscience of believers and excludes many true Gospel preachers - not least of which would be men like Tim Keller of Redeemer, NY. All believers hold to the first article of faith, "I believe in God the Father, Creator of the heavens and the earth." And many of us are totally and radically against the poor theory of evolution. But there are aspects of the doctrine of creation which must be left to a Christian's conscience, not brought into the inner circle of Gospel truth.

Gospel Plus #4: Gospel plus Tradition
This takes place when Christians believe that some church tradition is so important, that you can't be a proper Christian if you don't hold to it. This may be a mode of worship, form of church government or some other tradition. Tradition is good, necessary and inevitable. (Church tradition is merely the way things are done; even people who change things all the time have tradition: "We don't have a tradition" is a tradition!). But when it is elevated to the status of the unchangeable and a test of orthodoxy, we are in danger of losing the Gospel.

Gospel Plus #5: Gospel plus middle class traditions
No, seriously. Many Western churches are made up of middle class Christians who unwittingly add the ways of their class to the Gospel. Middle class people think and plan a long way ahead, for example. It is too easy for this characteristic to be expected of all believers and to think of those who don't plan ahead as second class believers. Middle class people prize order and formality and easily look down on folk who's homes and lives are not so orderly. But where is advanced planning and a tidy home Gospel issues? No wonder men like William Booth had to start churches for ordinary folk who were rejected by many in the churches.

All these five and more can threaten the Gospel by subtly over time obscuring it.

Ephraim realised that in the end many of his fellow Amish were trusting in their traditions rather than Jesus. As he began to read the Bible for himself, he saw that his community was ordered by a bunch of man-made rules rather than the Bible. Returning to the Gospel brought him and his family great joy and freedom.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Why Preaching is Not Enough

I am convinced that all true preaching must contain a prophetic element. Prophets saw what no-one else did: the discrepancy between the way things were and the way they ought to be. They spoke out against the difference. This we see in the ministry of The Prophet Himself. Moneychangers in the temple courts were just the way things were and everyone came to accept it. But not so the Son of Man who overtruns their tables.

Courage then, was the other string to a prophet's bow. Lots of it. For the moment you point out the difference, expect fireworks from 'the establishment'. And so it was that many of them became outcasts among the very people they were called to serve.

All genuine preaching must likewise contain an element of the prophetic if it is to fall in line with the Scriptures. Now you're prepared for what is to follow.

A noble tradition
Many of us come from a  tradition which greatly esteems the role of preaching in the life of the local church. This must be good for it lines up with a priority in the New Testament where we read the first Christians dedicated themselves to the apostles' doctrine.

The Word is the Church's sword of the Spirit and her double-edged sword; we leave it in it's scabbard at our spiritual peril.

A tradition that needs renewing
In a day of widespread ignorance of the Word, this emphasis needs renewing in many contemporary churches. Five minute epilogues tagged onto a meeting as a last thought will never grow the church.  

A reactionary tradition
In reaction to these surrounding trends, people in the preaching tradition become entrenched and insist that preaching is virtually the only important thing in church life. I have heard it said that all a young believer needs is to come twice on Sunday and once mid-week and they will grow in Christ......

.........the trouble with this kind of thinking is that it is nowhere to be found in Scripture. If preaching alone was the way in which a believer grows in grace, we could all join an online church where we would hear a sermon preached each Sunday, or listen to sermons on the radio. If preaching alone is required to grow a Christian, let's just give a set of Spurgeon's sermons to each new believer and instruct them to read two per Sunday and one per midweek.

A sometimes ugly tradition
The tragedy, learnt from observation and Scripture is this: preaching alone does not make Christlike Christians. In fact one can find just the opposite to be true: believers who have come from the most preaching orientated churches are often  unChristlike.

Let me explain.

They know truth, they can argue doctrine, but they have all too little grace about them. Put them in a situation where they disagree with someone and they soon get angry and upset.

They have grown in knowledge but not in grace. They are not like Jesus in character, and you wonder what kind of a witness they are in their neighbourhoods and places of work.

No, preaching alone is absolutely insufficient to grow to spiritual maturity.

A sometimes harmful tradition?
I would venture further. This preaching-alone tradition could actually be harmful. First, if all we insist on is preaching, we may well generate hypocrites: believers who are outwardly religious (in and out the church faithfully three times a week) but whose real lives are an unreformed mess.

Secondly, we could end up with "Preacheritis". This is an undue attachment to the preacher (whose role has been so highly elevated). Numerous Christians and churches have got so used to one preacher, so dependant on one man that they really are in danger of man-worship.

A tradition in need or reform
Against the view that preaching is all you need is the clear insistence of the New Testament that believers grow by being connected to a body of believers which in turn is connected to the Head, who is the source of all Life. We grow together as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16). The image we are given is of a body with many different parts each contributing their different functions to the whole (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12). This makes each of us a one dimensional believer needing the support of everyone else. I need encouragers and teachers and admonishers and a whole range of gifts to grow.

A fuller ecclesiology
What the preaching tradition needs is a fuller ecclesiology - a fuller doctrine of the church. We need to see that the church is not a pyramid with a pastor/preacher at the top, but a body with eyes and ears and legs and hands all contributing to the movement of the whole.

A fuller discipleship
Then we need a more profound discipleship model, based on the training of the Twelve and the work of the Apostles. We grow when in relationship with others we can see our faults more clearly and observe other graces more closely. Where we can have all our rough edges rubbed off.

You can tell Christians who come from preaching-only churches. They are good at theology but often poor at relationships and community life. They speak out against the sins of immorality and sabbath-breaking but are  oblivious to the equally wicked relationship sins such as judgementalism, a critical spirit, slander, bitterness and anger!

What the church needs is knowledgeable and Christlike believers who will then be salt and light as they hold out the word of truth in a wicked and perverse generation. Believers who will grow in both dimensions: grace and truth.

Here is how Wesley described the 'preaching is all you need' theology:

“How much regular preaching there has been for these 20 years in Pembrokeshire! But no regular societies, no discipline, order or connection; and the consequence is that nine out of ten of the once awakened are now faster asleep than ever. Preaching like an apostle, without joining together those that are awakened and training them in the way of God is only begetting children for the murderer.”

The problem may be that Christian leaders who have a vested interest in  perpetuating preacheritis won't teach these things....

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Paul's Great Passion and Deep Discontent

A Missed Opportunity
A few years ago I attended a pastor's get-together where the invited speaker told us that God's new agenda in England was big churches. He himself was already a member of an exclusive group of pastors of 600+ churches and he believed that this was what God was up to in our day.

I was screaming inside but like The Scream, some stupid fear silenced me. Where, O where, I cry, is one half verse of holy writ to support such foolish and ignorant baloney?

As you will know congregation numbers are rare in the NT; thus, when mentioned they are pregnant with significance. We read that the church in Acts grew from 3000 to 5000 - why? To show us the dramatic powerful nothing-but-Godness of the church. After these dramatic numbers we hear virtually nothing about numbers..... We have not a  clue how large the churches of the NT were. And not one church is rebuked for being small.

The real problem with 600+ club mentality is plain and simple worldliness; they are taking their cue from Fortune, not Scripture.

When we come to Scripture we see an altogether different set of priorities. Take Paul for example: his priority was Christlikeness.

The great heart of the apostle Paul
I have often read Paul's passionate letters and wish I loved like he did. I wish I loved Christ the way he did, and I wish I loved  people as Paul did. His heart beat - and often burst - with divine love.

But consider one little verse, Galatians 4:19. Paul has been astounded at the desertion of his Christian friends from the Gospel of grace to a no-gospel of works. (I once heard Stuart Olyott describe the 'strange mathematics' the Gospel obeyed: add to or subtract anything from the Gospel and it turns to zero - mathematicians work out a Gospel algorithm if you can!).

In his distress over them Paul says to his dear children "I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you."

Mother in labour love
What an amazing expression! Paul thought of himself as a mother in labour who must suffer pain to see her child brought to independent life. In the same way Paul struggled and worked painfully to see these young believers come through to real new life, which he describes as Christ being formed in them.

The challenge to Pastors and Leaders
Two challenges emerge from Paul's example. First, the sheer amount of hard work, toil, pain, suffering and energy he exerted to see them grow in Christ. This cleverly crafted letter is one example of that energy, which came from God.

The other challenge is the the end for which Paul worked: Christlikeness.

He was deeply unsatisfied with mere "churchanity" "profession" "numbers" or however we might describe believers merely gathered on a Sunday morning. He wanted to see Jesus formed in them; he wanted to see Christ likeness emerge in their character and obedience in their lives. He was discontent with mere profession, unhappy with mile-wideness which was inch deep.

In sum he had caught the spirit of his Master who commanded the church to make disciples of all nations baptising and teaching them to obey everything he had commanded.

In our age of numberitis we do well to return to spiritual priorities like these.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Wanted: Christian Murderers

Should all killing come to an end?
In our enlightened western culture, we have long - and rightly - given up on a philosophy which drove the crusades, namely the right or even duty of Christians to take up weapons and 'fight for the truth'. That was Old Testament thinking, when Israel was a theocracy under the direct rule of God, and when the very survival of God's people as a nation required armies and fighting and war. (I'd like to see how long the Dawkins's of this world  - who criticise the wars of the OT - would survive in that environment without bearing arms: as long as it takes for them to be discovered by an enemy: we're talking minutes).

All that fighting disappeared with the coming of the Prince of Peace - not least because the people of God no longer were located in any single nation, but were now spread throughout every nation of the world. Since the coming of  Jesus we no longer take up the worldly weapons of warfare to fight spiritual battles and swords and armour, blood and guts are a thing of the past.....

....or are they? Is there no place at all for killing?

Quite to the contrary, the New Testament insists that Christians assume the work of murderers. Not of people, we hastily add, but of sinful desires which wage war against the soul.

A Missing Truth
According to the Scriptures, we are called "by the Spirit put to death the misdeeds of the body." (Romans 8:13). A Christian is someone who has "crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires." (Galatians 5:24). We may have done away with outward bloody battles, but we new covenant believers are still called to bloody messy warfare, just as intense, just as brutal as anything we might see in Lord of the Rings.

Perhaps our easy going age filters out truth that doesn't resonate with its spirit. And so we don't  preach on battles, outside - or inside.

The result of this failure to murder, says Paul, is death. If we do not put to death our sinful desires we will 'die'; it's either them alive or us alive. Death in NT-speak is much more than r.i.p. type of death. Death is sadness, death is joylessness, death is quench-the-spirit ness and death leads to Doubting Castle and Giant Despair.  If we don't put the misdeeds of the body to death we will die in all these ways, and  more.

So many Christians who talk about the Spirit, never mention this aspect of his work; his sanctifying work, his enabling us to put to death the misdeeds of the body. It's why I take so much Spirit-talk in the western church with a big pinch of salt. Unless the first part of his title and personhood "Holy", is acknowledged, you at best distort him, at worst blaspheme him.

How does it work?
Putting sinful desires to death is no different from putting any living thing to death; I mean when does a living entity like being put to death? It will struggle like mad to stay alive. So will sin. John Stott in his commentary on Galatians chapter 5, helpfully develops the metaphor of crucifying sin like this.

We must be pitiless with our sins.  Crucifixion was reserved for nasty people, and we must regard our sin - even our pet sins - as wicked entities to be put mercilessly to death. Do we regard greed and lust and dissension as evil wicked things? We ought to if we don't. And in spite of all the protests and struggles we must pitilessly put sin to death.

We must expect pain. The old man will yelp and scream with the pain as we murder him. So connected to the old man are we in this present age that killing the old man will sometimes feel like killing ourselves, or at least like killing someone dear to us and we will feel pain. We must not give up just because we feel pain!

We need to be decisive. You didn't hang about with a murderer hooing and haaing over whether or not to crucify him. You followed one instruction and as brutal or as nasty as the event would turn out, you went ahead with it until he breathed his last. So too with sin, we must make the decision "greed is going to be killed", "lust will die", "divisiveness must go", "jealousy and envy are history", and then proceed with the bloody business of murder.

Rewards for genteel folk
You say, all this is too much for we poor sanitised westerners. Well you can't do it on your own, that's for sure. You need to pray for the Spirit's powerful coming-along-side you. But the rewards are nothing less than life, which means light and joy and happiness and clarity and usefulness.

So decide today to become a Murderer for Christ.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

God's Grand Design - second light

The real agenda
The thinly disguised real agenda behind Stephen Hawking's latest book "The Grand Design" is to show that science has now replaced philosophy and religion as the arbiter of the Big Question - Is there a God? And more importantly to declare to the world science's answer to the question, "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going" (p.180). A reader is helped if they understand from the outset that this is the grand design of the book.

A second helpful sidebar for any reader is to understand that over the last few decades science has marvelled at the fine-tuning of the universe. Wherever we look, whether it's at the incredible uniqueness of ordinary water to the remarkable way the constants of nature are tuned to just the right value, we find evidence that everything is 'just right' for life. This of course, to the normal mind, points suspiciously to the work of a Grand Designer. But to other minds, it points to the need to work even harder at getting rid of him. 

Within the second paragraph he dispenses with the philosophers "philosophy is dead" (page 5), and deals similar blows to religions, but in more subtle ways. First, to ridicule religion, he (this should probably be 'they')  brings up the creation or nature myths of ancient cultures (e.g. Viking, p.15, Boshongo people p. 123). The sheer folly of these does not need a condemnatory note, and thus all religious views are damned together. Clever trick. Then to condemn One Religion further he mentions the old chestnuts Bishop Usher (p.124) and the Galileo affair (p. 87). The ground is thus cleared for the demonstration of science's grand new declaration. Here is how it works........

A brief history of the grand design
You and I are fortunate to live at a pretty crucial and sensible set of sizes and speeds. (I Wonder Why?) What I mean is this: If we lived in the tiny world of elementary particles, we would experience very weird effects. For example, we could not travel in our quantum cars at any speed we wanted to but only at say 10, 20, 30 and 40 mph! 11,12,13.....mph would all be forbidden speeds. If, on the other hand we were really heavy people (think sun mass and beyond), gravitation would begin to warp the space around us, and if we moved around at speeds close to the speed of light, strange things would happen to time and space and mass. But at our sizes, masses and speeds, everything around us is sensible. (I Wonder Why?).

Crazy things happen down at small sizes (quantum effects, which no-one really understands) and it is here that Hawking plays his games.

First of all he assumes that the universe began with the Big Bang - in this way you can get the whole universe to play quantum games. Secondly, he employs Richard Feyman's interpretation of quantum mechanical effects "sum over histories". Thirdly, he invokes M theory which is the current attempt to reconcile theories of the really big (relativity) with the theories of the really little (quantum). What comes out is the multiverse theory with knobs.

The multiverse theory says that way back at time not far away from zero, countless universes were born. Each of these universes possesses its own set of different numbers (the numbers that shape the laws in that universe). If you tweak these numbers much differently from what they are in our world you can't have life. So we assume that most if not all of these other universes are infertile. How does this help dispense with God? It means that there is nothing very special about the finetuning of our universe. It is just a fluke. If you throw a dice enough times your bound to get 6, if a near infinite amount of universes are created at once, at least one of them must contain life!

The 'knob' on Hawking's theory is that by clever substitution of time as just one other dimension of space, we can dispense with the idea of time-at-the-beginning altogether.

Some big problems
There are many problems with this book. My primary one is that the book assumes final science. It assumes that theories such as the big bang and M theory represent final science. This is a fatal assumption made in every age of rapid advance by the guys at the top. Even the most preliminary study of the history of science will reveal that the theories regarded as firm today will be the stuff of comedians tomorrow. The Big Bang Theory, for example, is under attack by reputable scientists (see Of course no establishment scientist will tell you this, for their whole reputation is based on today's science. (Reader understand that scientists work in the same way as anyone else, proud of their reputations, etc. They are just as human as anyone else, subject to the same protection of personal influence and reputation.)

Secondly, the authors fall into old explanations of historical episodes, for example the Galileo affair. They need to study other trees in the field of knowledge; a good start would be Patricia Fara's Science: A Four Thousand Year History. (Better still, pre-order The X Club: Power and Authority in Victorian Science, Ruth Barton. This is interesting: it seems to take women authors to prick the balloon of male dominated science and bring out the uncomfortable truth).

Thirdly, other equally knowledgeable scientists are already wading in to water down the 'findings'. Roger Penrose, for example: "unlike quantum mechanics, M-theory enjoys no observational support whatever"; it is widely believed that these other universes would be forever beyond observation and therefore proof.

My theological reflection on the book was, here is yet another classic illustration of Romans 1:18-20. So loud is the voice of the Creator that no-one can deny his Grand Design. So dark is the human heart that he will do anything to suppress the knowledge of that God, even use wonderful science as a weapon to suppress that knowledge.

This is not a science book, it's a religious book. This is not science, it is a terrible abuse of science. It is one thing to explain the wonderful findings of modern science, it is quite another to turn them into weapons of  warfare.  For all such misuse of science, "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.."