Tuesday, April 29, 2008

1 Year of Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound has made it to the one-year mark. I want to thank everyone who's participated by reading, subscribing, and especially commenting.

In the near future you can expect a minor site redesign and a major series: What's the meaning of life, and what should we do about it? (A few friends may think this sounds familiar. Don't worry, it won't be.)

I'm also planning on returning to Leviticus, addressing an internet list of Bible difficulties, and running an occasional series called "spot the heresy."

I hope everyone will stick around and see what happens. And, as always, if you've got suggestions, comments, or questions, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Prayer and Action

Christians have these little sayings that sound more profound than they are, and we tend to repeat them uncritically.

One I hear frequently is, “The most important thing you can do is pray for us.”

Please don’t take me wrong. Prayer is a wonderful thing. One of the great mysteries of life is that God not only allows us to speak to Him, but He even listens and will at times act on our requests.

But Christians often speak (and act) as if, having prayed, you’re now absolved of any further responsibility.

I’ve heard this in relation to missionaries and parachurch organizations: “If you can’t give us money, you can pray, and that is, after all, the most important thing you can do.”

I’ve heard this from people who say they want to take this nation for Christ: Their chosen course of action is to “get together once a month and pray.”

Prayer is terribly important – vital to the Christian life and the work of the church. We must bathe all we do in prayer to ensure that we are aligned with and empowered by God. But if all we do is pray, what we’re really doing is sitting on our butts.

If you see someone who is naked and hungry and only pray for them when you have clothes or food, “what good is it?

In the introduction to Roaring Lambs, Bob Briner points out that, in Acts, before the church did anything, they prayed. He lists 19 such references to prayer in Acts.

The important thing is that, after they prayed, they did something. They did not pray and expect the church to grow. They prayed and then preached. They prayed and sent. They prayed as a preparation to action, not as a replacement for it.

When there is a need and there is nothing we can do, prayer is not inaction. We are taking our needs to the King of the universe – that is no small thing.

But if you only pray when you can give a dollar or write a letter of encouragement or give a blanket or call a Senator, then prayer is truly the least you can do.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Expelled or Flunked Out?

By now you’ve probably heard about – if not seen a clip of – the documentary Expelled which claims to demonstrate the bias against proponents of Intelligent Design by mainstream academia.

I’m skeptical of this film, not because I don’t support ID (I do), but because I don’t trust human nature. We have an unfortunate tendency to see what we want to see.

For example, one review of the film declares, “Ben Stein's extraordinary presentation documents how the worlds of science and academia not only crush debate on the origins of life, but also crush the careers of professors who dare to question the Darwinian hypothesis of evolution and natural selection.”

The documentary trots out Richard Sternberg and Guillermo Gonzalez as examples of this career ending bias. The former is presented as a researcher and journal editor who lost both jobs for publishing an ID friendly paper. The latter is an ID writer who was denied tenure in defiance of all logic and tradition simply because of his views.

Unfortunately, their stories might not be quite so ID friendly. Did Sternberg get fired, or did his appointment run out – and get replaced with a different position? Was Gonzalez denied tenure because of his ID writings or because he’d stopped writing about anything but ID?

I’m not equipped to track down the “facts” offered in these critical reviews, but I have to admit my gut says they’re probably closer to the truth than we’d like to believe. (If you can track down some of this, please let us know what you find.)

Humans have an unfortunate tendency to accept “evidence” that supports their pre-conceived notions uncritically. These days people are all too ready to declare themselves a persecuted minority; Christians are as bad as any, and most ID proponents seem to be Christians. These stories were immediately seized upon to demonstrate how the secularists were out to get us. Sometimes the facts get lost in the drama.

What is the truth regarding Sternberg and Gonzalez? I don’t know. Is there anything useful in Expelled? I don’t know. I haven’t seen it yet.

I do encourage you to go see it (as I plan to), but do so with a mind prepared to test everything and hold onto the true. We cannot stand up for the cause of Christ if we do not stand for the truth in everything – whether directly related, tangentially related, or unrelated to the gospel.

Primer on Intelligent Design
Is ID Science?
What's Wrong with Naturalism?
Another Problem with Naturalism

Friday, April 18, 2008

Capital Punishment Reform

I saw two stories on the same day that I can’t help but relate:

The first: “The U.S. Supreme Court this week hears arguments about whether the death penalty can be imposed for child rape…”

The second: “A 49-year-old man who spent nearly 23 years in prison for a rape he did not commit has been set free…”

If the latter doesn’t call for putting the brakes on the former, what would?

I don’t oppose capital punishment in principle. However, I’m growing more and more concerned about the way it is handled in the US.

How is it possible, in this age, for people to go to jail or worse without DNA evidence being examined?

When DNA evidence can make the difference between life and death, how is it possible for people to carelessly run such tests – or even falsify results?

How can attorneys let an innocent man rot in prison because of “attorney-client privilege?”*

Our system has some real issues. The people of Christ should be on the forefront of demanding better.

Some changes
I don’t want to call for abolishing the death penalty, but a freeze and some retrials, at least resentencing, are probably warranted. And there are a few common sense measures that are far overdue.

First, borrowing from the Bible, the death penalty shouldn’t be possible without the testimony of two or three eyewitnesses.

Second, it should not be possible without the state proving, via whatever empirical means are available (e.g., fingerprint, DNA), that the defendant was involved. None available? No death penalty.

Third, if they don’t already exist, harsh penalties should be set for tampering with or falsifying such evidence – treat it like negligent homicide or worse.

There are other issues that should be addressed also (e.g., with the public defender system, with the selection of district attorneys), but these don’t relate specifically to capital punishment cases.

Hate capital punishment? Help!
I know many people think the death penalty is wrong no matter what. We’ll have to agree to disagree. But if you think capital punishment is always wrong, you should help push for reforms that improve the odds that innocent people will never be put to death.

Pro-choice folks often say that pro-lifers should work to reduce the number of abortions. I agree. In the same way anti-death penalty people can get closer to their goals by working to improve the accuracy of capital punishment.

Whether you think capital punishment is acceptable, essential, or abhorrent, you can further the cause of justice by telling your legislators you want to see some simple reforms. (I know, I know, I said “simple,” not cheap.)

Christians are called to stand up for the poor, the weak, and the innocent. That includes standing for the unjustly accused.

How about you?
While I’m writing some letters, tell us what you will do, what else you think we can do, and if you can think of any other sensible reforms to the system to improve the odds that only the guilty are punished.

*OK, not really a death penalty case, but it really bugs me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Faith & Politics: Economy vs Morality

Voters often feel that they have to choose between their economic interests and moral or social concerns. Some politicians assume that people will choose their economic interests unless they feel that cause is hopeless.

I don’t think that’s true. Moreover, I don’t think that would be appropriate.

First, ask yourself which of these worlds you’d like to pass on to your children: The first is a world with great economic prosperity – every physical need and most wants are fulfilled. But in this world anything goes – crime is rampant, “sexual immorality” is considered an oxymoron, and ideas like honesty, faithfulness, and charity are considered old fashioned.

The second is a world where people work hard to make ends meet, put just enough food on the table, and have few if any luxuries. However in this world a child can walk down the street with no danger, marriage is strong, porn is unheard of, and people treat each other with love and respect whether they know each other or not.

Which world would you like to pass on to your kids? I think most people would choose the second. I know I would.

Beyond the legacy question, many hold the belief that it’s “better to be poor than a liar.” For Christians, if the choice must be made between prosperity and morality, the latter must be the choice.

Of course, I don’t think it’s necessarily an either/or situation. I think we can have economic prosperity and a solid, moral society. And so do many “bitter” voters.

This is also posted at RedBlueChristian

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Idols Shout to the Lord

Last night’s “American Idol Gives Back” ended with the finalists all singing Shout to the Lord (YouTube video). They did a nice job on one of my favorite praise songs.

Does it irk me that they removed the name of Jesus? Absolutely. Does it surprise me? Not a bit.

As another song says, “there’s just something about that name” – and in the US today, it’s a good way to start a fight. As someone else has observed, you can talk about God all you want, but when you bring up the name of Jesus, people get defensive. So they omitted it.

Who, then, were they singing to? “God,” of course. The generic American God who bears only a superficial resemblance to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The God of American popular religion helps those who help themselves; the God of Abraham helps the helpless.

The God of America weighs your good deeds and bad deeds; the God of the Bible calls your good deeds filthy rags.

The God of America just wants to be loved; the God of Moses wants to be honored and obeyed.

Most importantly the God of America will let you find your own way to him; the God and Father of the Lord Jesus expects you to take the way He made for you.

We no longer build our idols out of gold and stone, but idols today are just as fake and just as dangerous as they were in the days of David and Elijah and Isaiah. We have to keep our eye on who we’re worshipping because “there is no other name under heaven… by which we must be saved.”

So what do we do about this appropriating Shout to the Lord? It’s still a pretty song, and people will talk about it. Let’s make sure people know who the song’s really about and what it really means and what this “promise” is we have in Jesus.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sin, Death, and Evolution

Does the biblical link between sin and death mean that there could not have been death anywhere on earth before Adam fell? That is the argument I’ve seen used the most against the notion of theistic evolution. I am not an advocate of theistic evolution (I’m neutral to slightly negative on the issue at this time), but I think it’s a question worth wrestling with, so let’s think out loud about this topic for a little while.

First, let’s define some terms.
Let’s be clear about what “theistic evolution” means. Evolution is essentially descent with modification – the notion of small, incremental changes in DNA causing one species to slowly change into a new one across the generations.

By “theistic,” I’m referring to the notion that this was not an unguided, purely naturalistic phenomenon but one employed and directed by God.

Sin = death?
The idea that physical death is the result of sin is usually tied to two scriptures:

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12 ff).

“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17 ff).

These verses are not just terribly convincing when applied to that position. First, Rom 5:12 can be read as spiritual death (i.e., separation from God and proclivity toward sin) as easily as physical death – indeed, it is used to argue that sin causes spiritual death and by some of the same authors who use it for physical death.

Related to that objection is the fact that almost every other such usage of “death” in Romans seems to be clearly referring to spiritual death (e.g., Rom 6:16).

Next we have to consider that Adam and Eve didn’t die when they ate the fruit. Various explanations have been offered for this, but the most common seems to be that the death they were promised in Gen 2:17 was a spiritual death.

This seems to call into question the notion that physical death was the result of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit.

A sinless death
The next objection I might raise to this notion is: If physical death is the punishment for sin, how did Christ, who was without sin, die?

I can certainly see an argument being made that Christ died as a result of our sin, but that may actually open up a door for theistic evolution – I’ll explain in a moment.

Bon appetite
The final objection to this notion that I’ll raise is a scientific one: Life causes death. You cannot eat anything without killing something. A carrot was a living thing before you plucked it out of the ground as was that apple from the tree. If death did not exist before the fall, biology must have been completely different, and after the fall there must have been a complete transformation in how the universe works – a notion that, I think, goes beyond what the scriptures seem to say.

An idea
What if sin and death are linked because immortality is a bad thing for sinful creatures to have? That’s why Adam and Eve were blocked off from the tree of life.

What if death always existed because of the sin that would come?

We know that God had planned the cross before He created Adam (c.f., Ephesians 1:3-10). Is it within the realm of possibility that God created death because it would eventually be necessary?

If Jesus died for sins that He didn’t commit, if animals now die because of human sin, could animals have died because of human sin before there was human sin?

If so, then theistic evolution cannot be excluded from consideration a priori for theological reasons. That still does not mean it’s correct, but it would mean we may need to give it more serious thought.

OK, your turn. What are the holes? Where have I made an error in logic, theology, or hermeneutic? Let the sparks fly, and may we all be better for it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Links: Resources

= RedBlueChristian offers political discourse without the name calling. I am now an occasional contributor; some of my posts will also be posted here, some won't.

= Rejoice Christian Software is offering the Apologetics Study Bible for a mere $19.95. A great price on a valuable resource. (I have no idea how long this price will last.)

= Here's an introduction to Logos' new SeminaryLibrary.com. It sounds like an interesting tool.

= STR's Greg Koukl on faith:

on YouTube (HT: Joe Carter)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Daddy's Here

Who else would He be?

The first time I heard Psalm 46:10, I was less than impressed: "Be still, and know that I am God." Isn't that kind of obvious? I definitely didn't get the importance of that statement.

Now that I have kids, I think I have a better picture of what's going on. When one of my children has a nightmare or is scared by thunder or gets hurt, I gather her up in my arms and say, "Shhh, Daddy's here." She knows two things: She knows who Daddy is, and she knows he's here. She's safe now.

Psalm 46 starts "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." It describes the earth giving way, the mountains falling into the sea, the nations in uproar, and then says, "Be still, and know that I am God." When the world was going crazy around them, when they were in fear of their lives, He told them, "You know who I am. I'm here, and I am in control." If we can add some emphasis to the verse: "Be still, and know that I am God."

When the world is going crazy around us, whether we're in fear of our lives or just our sanity, when we most want to, we still don't get to see our Father in heaven, but He's here, and He loves us. His words to us are the same as they were back then: "The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress."

Daddy's here.