Creationism, the Rapture, and Impeachment

Bryan-Seven-Questions-in-Dispute-p124_2.jpgIn recent weeks, former Bush speechwriter David Frum and Vox founder Ezra Klein have taken their stabs at answering an oft-asked question since November 2016, namely: How did it come to this?

More specifically, how does a narcissistic, quasi-fascist authoritarian who openly flouts the most basic standards of human decency and traditional morality still command the unwavering and nearly unanimous loyalty of the Republican Party and its base of evangelical Christians?

Using those articles as a springboard, combined with some reading I’ve been doing on the side, here’s my answer: Because supporting Trump is the natural extension of the same habits of thought evangelicals have developed for much of the past century.

In his article on Devin Nunes’ uncritical embrace of nonsensical conspiracy theories to defend Trump during the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, former Bush speechwriter David Frum described the “closed knowledge system” that dominates modern conservative political thought.

“The prisoners and victims of this system live in a dreamworld of lies,” he writes. “Yet it would not quite be accurate to describe them as uninformed. They are disinformed, and on a huge scale.”

This may be something new for Frum to witness in the conservative political world (perhaps because he was the beneficiary of it while working in the Bush administration), but for those of us who grew up in the conservative religious world, reliance on a “closed knowledge system” that leaves its inhabitants not uninformed but very much disinformed is quite familiar.

Continue reading Creationism, the Rapture, and Impeachment

The Fizzling of the Cambrian – and Creationism

Image result for cambrian explosion creationismYou may or may not be aware that one of my research interests is the response of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians to the theory of evolution. It was actually my whole master’s thesis.

So in studying how Christians have tended to oppose the teaching of Darwinian evolution (in which all living species are descended from a single common ancestor through natural selection and genetic mutation, among other processes) over the past century, one of the key arguments they’ve used against it is the existence of the Cambrian Explosion.

The argument is typically made this way: “Darwinism argues that all of life has gradually evolved from a single common ancestor, but they can’t explain the Cambrian Explosion, where the fossil record goes from basically no living species to an incredible amount of diversity in a very short time.”

This argument had two prongs: One was negative – the explosion is something evolution cannot explain; therefore, it chips at the foundation of support for the theory – and one was positive: The explosion is the fossil record’s evidence of God’s special creation of a limited number of “kinds” that then evolved to the current diversity of life. This idea, let’s call it young earth evolutionism, is still propagated by Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum and Ark Experience, as scientific creationism.

Here are some examples from my research: Continue reading The Fizzling of the Cambrian – and Creationism

Evil: Always the Problem

ehrmangodsproblemMy wife pointed out a hole in the eschatology outlined last week in my review of N.T. Wright’s How God Became King. Namely, if Christians are called to make things better, to prepare the world for the arrival of the kingdom of God, which was inaugurated by the ministry and death of Jesus and proven by his resurrection – in other words, if God is currently king of the world to which he will return and physically rule at the end of time as we know it – then why does the world suck so much?

In other words, theodicy. Evil is the problem with this system.

But here’s the thing: Evil is the problem with every system.

Believe God is an all-powerful judge, waiting to destroy the world with fire and brimstone after rapturing his true followers to heaven? Believe God is the sympathizer-in-chief, stooping to identify personally with the grieving, the wounded, the outcast? Believe God is radically loving and gracious, to the extent that each and every person eventually will be welcomed into his presence?

Good for you. None of it explains the existence of evil.

Continue reading Evil: Always the Problem

A Lesson for the Church from the Horse and His Cousin, the Boy

“My good Horse,” said the Hermit, who had approached them unnoticed because his bare feet made so little noise on that sweet, dewy grass. “My good Horse, you’ve lost nothing but your self-respect. No, no, cousin. Do not put back your ears and shake your main at me. If you are really so humbled as you sounded a minute ago, you must learn to listen to sense. You’re not quite the Horse you had come to think, from living among poor dumb horses. Of course you were braver and cleverer than them. You could hardly help being that. It doesn’t follow that you’ll be anyone very special in Narnia. But as long as you know you’re nobody very special, you’ll be a very decent sort of Horse, on the whole, and taking one thing with another.

“And now, if you and my other four-footed cousin will come round to the kitchen door we’ll see about the other half of that mash.”

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My oldest daughter and I continue reading through the Chronicles of Narnia. We’re in Book 5 (not Book 3, as the abominable new numbering system would have it), The Horse and His Boy. I’ve read each of these books many times, but there’s always something new to notice. This time I noticed the strange way in which the hermit of the Southern March addresses the talking horses Bree and Hwin: Cousins.

I notice this because, earlier, I’m sure I always took this as a squishy “brotherhood of life” kind of term, or one that signified the extraordinary closeness between humans and talking animals in Narnia and Archenland. But now, having made my peace with evolution as the method with which God chose to create the world and humanity, that phrase takes on a new light. Indeed, we know C.S. Lewis himself accepted evolution and did not think that a particularly big deal theologically speaking: “I don’t mind whether God made man out of earth or whether ‘earth’ merely means ‘previous millennia of ancestral organisms.’ If the fossils make it probable that man’s physical ancestor’s ‘evolved,’ no matter.”

But I don’t mean to make this a big post about C.S. Lewis and evolution, merely to note that when Lewis has one of his human characters – arguably the wisest one in the book – refer to horses as “my cousins,” he is perhaps giving us a way to look at the world and life around us. Indeed, how would we treat our planet and our fellow inhabitants on it if we thought of them as part of our family and not merchandise or product to be consumed?

Our family tree does not just include our own family members, but every person on the planet, plus hundreds of thousands of years of hominids, plus millions upon millions of animal species, some of whom are closer relatives than others but all of whom are our cousins.

In the same way, our church family tree includes far more than we perhaps acknowledge. One of the eye-opening things about the Christian History class I just finished is how closely related all of us who claim Jesus as Lord truly are. It’s easy enough as a New Testament restorationist, two significant movements (the Reformation and the Restoration) removed from the Catholic Church, to belittle the doctrines that branch of the faith still holds dear – things like transubstantiation or indulgences or purgatory or the assumption and perpetual virginity of Mary. They’re so illogical! They’re crazy! There’s not even a hint of them in the Bible!

Yet not so much if you follow the evolutionary patterns of the church’s first 1,300 years – and, further, not so removed from us.

Continue reading A Lesson for the Church from the Horse and His Cousin, the Boy

Why Christians Should Be Environmentalists

One of the churches in town recently hired a new preacher – a young guy, around my age with kids my age. I was curious because this church has long had an older preacher and been on the conservative end of the spectrum. I didn’t expect them to hire Rob Bell or Brian McLaren, but new blood isn’t a bad thing, and I decided to check him out.

His name’s Wes McAdams, and he runs a blog called Radically Christian – which sounds promising for us progressive types until you realize he’s setting up New Testament restorationism as a radical break from the Christian norms of today. It’s a neat construct, but pedestrian conservative pseudoevangelical theology with a cappella worship doesn’t scream, “Radical!” to me.

One of his posts caught my eye, however, and that’s where I’m really going with this. The post is called, “3 Reasons Why I’m Not an ‘Environmentalist‘”.

It leads with this disclaimer:

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say, I love this planet and everything God put on it. I love the trees, the hills, the water, the animals, even the air; and I’m all for us keeping these things clean. But, I can honestly say, I’m not an “environmentalist.”

The reasons are, sadly enough, the reasons I used to give for why we needn’t worry about climate change or deforestation or any of the other ills humanity continues to inflict on our planet:

  1. God is in control
  2. The earth’s purpose is to be used, not protected
  3. It’s going to be destroyed anyway

Continue reading Why Christians Should Be Environmentalists

Our Postmodern God

This post is a response to Tony Jones’ call for progressive theological bloggers to write a post about God. So here goes …

That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.

– The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

It’s struck me lately that the best way to think of God is to compare him to an elephant.

Specifically, I think of God like the elephant in the old South Asian tale of the blind men who each grab hold of a piece of him and describe the animal they think they have. One has the trunk and thinks he’s holding a snake; another has an ear and thinks he’s holding a fan, etc. Each of them is attempting to accurately describe what they know, and some do a better job than others, but none of them is exactly right – indeed, being exactly right would have been impossible if they had never seen or felt a whole elephant before.

Which is why I call God postmodern and why it would serve the church well to stop running in fear from the notion of postmodernism. Perhaps no era in the history of the world better suits the God we worship than the one that openly and completely questions the ability for anyone to fully grasp and explain truth.

Continue reading Our Postmodern God

Did Adam Have a Belly Button? (And Other Ridiculous Questions)

Adam and Mr. Lunt apparently had something in common.

I enjoyed Robert Gromacki’s The Virgin Birth, despite my many disagreements with his approach and assumptions about the inerrancy of scripture and Jesus’ sinlessness. But there was one line on Page 125 that, had I been drinking something when I read it, would have produced an epic spit take.

In a chapter entitled, “Jesus Was Truly Human,” Gromacki endeavors to describe, shockingly enough, Jesus’ humanity. Unfortunately, Gromacki doesn’t actually view Jesus as truly human in two rather large ways – first in the way Jesus was conceived and second, and more important, in the notion that Jesus could not have sinned even if he’d wanted to. Nevertheless, at the end of the chapter, Gromacki compares Adam to Jesus and comes up with quite the notion:

Contrasted with Adam, Christ’s humanity had a different expression. Adam was created and began an adult existence on the very first day he lived. The human nature of Jesus was conceived within a mother’s womb just like any other human being, but apart from human fertilization. Jesus experienced a fetal state, a real birth and normal development, but Adam did not. Christ had a navel; Adam had none.

Wait, what?

Continue reading Did Adam Have a Belly Button? (And Other Ridiculous Questions)

The ‘Big History’ of God’s Evolving Universe

Update: TED’s WordPress embed code actually links to the wrong video, so you’ll have to visit this link to watch it. Sorry for the inconvenience!

My wife and I like to wind down before bed by watching one or two TED Talks – partly because we’re that nerdy and partly because Netflix has begun streaming them in little 10-talk packages by subject. We’re working through the “Ancient Clues” packet, which has all sorts of fun talks about human origins and the like.

The talk above by David Christian, an Australian history professor, is perhaps the strongest argument I’ve ever seen for the nature of God’s work in the universe. He never mentions God – indeed, doesn’t give us any reason to think he believes in any god at all – but his treatment of “Big History” and the various “Goldlilocks moments” when conditions were just right for the universe to buck the law of entropy and produce greater complexity rather than greater disorder is an inspirational telling of just how intimately involved God is in his creation.

Continue reading The ‘Big History’ of God’s Evolving Universe

The Evolution of the Bible – and the Evolution of Us

Note: Some of this, especially near the end, is taken from the reading response I turned in very early this morning for my Amos class, but I’ve adapted it heavily for my blog audience.

As I was finishing the reading I needed to do for this upcoming short course on the book of Amos, it struck me that one of the older themes of this blog – seeing God as a multifaceted God of evolution – had cropped back up again.

Scholars disagree on how we got to the current text of Amos, but most agree Amos didn’t just get up and start preaching the words of 1:1, end with the last verse of chapter 9, then go home. Even a literal reading precludes that possibility, as it mixes oracles with visions, includes a narrative of confrontation between Amos and the high priest Amaziah, and seems to assume a significant time lapse over the course of the book. Besides which, we know Amos spoke his prophecies; at some point, they were written down, but we don’t know when or by whom.

Nineteenth-century source criticism was all about trying to uncover the various layers of Amos (and every other book of the Bible). The idea was to isolate the “true” historical Amos underneath the edits and redactions made by future generations compiling his spoken oracles into a single volume. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the problem lies in the assumption of those earliest scholars – the notion that the “true” Amos was more valuable than the rest because it was more historically accurate. That’s very modernist, and it’s very unfair to the text. We have the canonical version of Amos for a reason, however the evolution took place.

On the other extreme, traditional evangelicalism recoils against the notion that Amos is not written by Amos at one tim, in the eighth century B.C.E. The notion of finding “seams” within the text and arguing for a core set of oracles surrounded by later additions is considered heretical to the notion of the inerrant word of God. Such a process in composing the final text seems too … human.

Yet we know God uses humans and their imperfect methods to do his will. Simply because God doesn’t work the way we think he would in delivering his word to us doesn’t mean that’s not what he actually did (triple negative!). In other words, declaring off-limits the possibility of textual evolution doesn’t change the fact that the text did in fact evolve.

Continue reading The Evolution of the Bible – and the Evolution of Us

Some Truth Is God’s Truth?

Why do self-identified conservatives have such a seemingly strong aversion to science?

It’s something of a provocative question, I’ll grant, but it sure seems to be the case. These days (though not always), political conservatives reject anthropogenic climate change, despite overwhelming evidence of its existence. They object to raising taxes, even to close a deficit they argue is alarmingly large and argue instead that tax cuts bring in revenue, again rejecting the overwhelming evidence (and historical precedent) that indicates otherwise. They propagate stereotypes about the long-term unemployed and the poor who rely on the government’s safety net that statistics indicate are simply untrue.

For religious conservatives, it’s a similar story, except the objection to science is even more strenuous. The rejection of evolution comes with institutes and studies and counterfactuals. Children in Christian schools tend not just to be taught the harmonized creation story of Genesis 1-3 as a literally historical account of the universe’s origins, but also are given arguments against evolution – usually reliant on incomplete, inaccurate or misunderstood information about what evolution actually is and argues for. Similarly, there is the rejection of history and the creation of an alternate reality in which America’s founders were all born-again Christians and the Constitution does not enshrine a separation between church and state.

I’m painting with a broad brush, so I should pause to say that I recognize not all conservatives are this way. Some conservatives identify as such for other reasons. Others hold to the label even though I’d consider them moderates or even liberals. And no person is so monolithic in thought that they can truly fit perfectly into such broad categories as “conservative” or “liberal.” One can be a conservative, in other words, and still believe in evolution, climate change and tax increases (though that last item is becoming increasingly hard to maintain these days).

But in the conservative circles I was raised, that sentence was untrue. Climate change was a hoax, evolution was the devil’s attempt to write God out of our public schools, atheistic historians had distorted and sublimated the history of our country to a secular-humanistic agenda, and government was an insidious, nefarious force that threatened liberty at every turn and enslaved its citizens in a cycle of dependence.

Part of my journey (descent?) into liberalism was based on the fact that science led me there. The evidence that climate change exists, that sometimes tax increases and expansion of social services are exactly what we need to become a better country, that evolution is a plausible and convincing theory for the world’s origins – this evidence led me away from the closed-loop mindset of many political and religious conservatives, who reinforce their own sets of “facts” by simply dismissing anyone outside their groups as biased, wrong or evil. (I’m looking at Fox News and A Beka Books here.)

One of the biggest assumptions with which I was raised was that homosexuality was a choice. Unnatural. An abomination. Gay activists promoted an agenda to dupe our children and win acceptance in society so they could destroy marriage and thus the moral center of our nation and ring in a new era of libertinism.

So when Warren Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennslvania, reviews the current state of research (h/t Justin Lee) on sexual orientation and wonders why evangelical media haven’t reported any of it, my (somewhat snarky) response is: Why would they start now?

Continue reading Some Truth Is God’s Truth?