Tag Archives: creation

Does it matter how we live in creation?

One of my cousins sent a video of a sermon by John MacArthur to a group of us on Facebook (here’s the video of his sermon, but I just read the text). It’s a sermon about whether or not we should be concerned about climate change. I had some serious concerns about what MacArthur had to say, and not only theologically/scripturally. My cousin didn’t want to have a group debate about this issue (neither did I), but he welcomed a private message laying out some of my theological/scriptural concerns. I thought I would post it here as well (I don’t include the personal/introductory material and I’ve lightly revised it).

I disagree with MacArthur on several points, though I should probably give it a closer read before I speak definitively (I read through the text of the sermon rather than watch the 1-hour video). So I will just highlight a couple of things. 

But first I will say that I agree that the future is in God’s hands. He is in control. I agree with that. My concern is that we shouldn’t use that truth as an excuse for irresponsible stewardship of what God has given us.

It seems that our starting points—MacArthur’s and mine—lead us in different directions. (To keep things easy to follow, I’ll number the thoughts.)

1. MacArthur says that the earth and everything in it was created for human beings to do with as they please, apparently even if it means abusing and harming creation. Now as long as it is in fact ours, I suppose one could argue that we can do what we want with it (though I would question the wisdom of doing so if it could lead to harm in the future). But I’m not convinced that’s what the Genesis account tells us.

Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over [all the animals].” I’m just learning and thinking about this, so this isn’t completely developed and I can’t explain it fully here, but there is a sense in which we are given rule over creation precisely as God’s image bearers. In other words, there is a sense in which we are representatives of God in his creation; we steward his “property” on his behalf. In Genesis 2:15 it says God puts the man in the garden “to work it and take care of it.”

So I would say the earth isn’t ours. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1). We are only caretakers. It belongs to God.

2. That, in turn, gives us a responsibility. And I do think we can mess it up very badly, even if I’m theologically sure that God won’t allow the human race to extinguish itself.

In fact, if you think about it, MacArthur’s claim that “we don’t have to worry because God will…” really only makes sense in the western context where we are so far (relatively) unaffected by the (potential?) changes in climate. It makes about as much sense as saying in church that “God will protect us from harm…” moments before terrorists barge in and shoot everyone—it certainly seemed true before the bullets started flying.

The world seems a safe place when we live in a country in which things seem fine and we have the wealth in place to offset and protect from any negative consequences. And yet there are wars and mass murders and epidemics and natural disasters. (What I mean is, God doesn’t always protect the human race from our foolish/evil/disobedient choices). I’m sure MacArthur recognizes the existence and problem of evil, but what he says in his sermon seems to ignore it.

3. MacArthur says that the bad things that do happen in creation are because of the curse, and by implication, therefore, they are God’s will. Creation, MacArthur says, would destroy itself if it human beings didn’t work it and rule it and subdue it. He doesn’t back this up with evidence, scriptural or otherwise, as far as I can tell. And it’s not entirely clear how he connects this with whether or not climate change is real (because there are few, if any, that I’m aware of that are actually suggesting we shouldn’t cultivate, explore, understand, or develop the earth—it’s just a question of how we go about it.)

But I note a couple of things:

First, when God addresses Adam after he has sinned, his words to Adam are, “Cursed is the ground because of you.” Now, I want to be careful to not read our modern issues back onto this ancient text more than the text allows, but I find it interesting that the curse on the ground is the result of human choice—that is, the problem with the ground is man’s fault. There’s some sense in which God doesn’t want it this way, but because of man’s choice, it is this way. God says what he created is good and he never takes that back, even with the curse.

But, second, even if what MacArthur says about the curse on the ground is true, the curse is not the way it is supposed to be. The whole story of redemption in the Bible is about undoing the curse. And, in fact, Paul teaches in Romans and other places that Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection has undone the curse—in Christ there is a new creation (1 Cor. 5:17).

So even if we grant MacArthur’s point, as Christians we should not be using the curse as an excuse for living as if the curse still applies. As Christians, we should live as if the curse has in fact been undone (because it has) in anticipation of the day when Jesus returns and makes all things new.

4. Finally, MacArthur brings up 2 Peter 3:10, which seems to suggest that in the end all of creation will be burned up. A pretty common approach among conservative Christians is to say, “It’ll all be destroyed in the end anyway, so why does it matter what we do to it? (Maybe our destruction of the earth will hasten the return of Jesus!)” I can’t remember if this was the approach MacArthur took in his sermon or not, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. 

There are a couple of things to point out here:

First, this passage isn’t as clear as this argument suggests. Yes, it uses language of heavens disappearing with a roar, etc., but there is a good argument that this is apocalyptic language to describe God’s judgment on the earth: everything will be exposed and laid bare before God (look at that verse in some more modern translations like NIV, NRSV, ESV, NLT). At the very least it seems clear that we should be careful not to be too literalistic about the image it presents. It may be more like metaphor.

Second, to say “It’s all going to be burned up anyway, so why does it matter what we do?” is a pretty consequential approach—that is, significant, with huge consequences—to take from a single verse in scripture (never mind the fact that the meaning isn’t as clear as some would like to think).

Finally, if MacArthur and others are right about what this passage means, it doesn’t follow that it’s our business as humans to make that happen, to destroy the earth on God’s behalf. Just because the owner of the house we’re watching plans to pull it down when he returns doesn’t mean that we can just go ahead and do it for him before he gets back! (Especially if what I said of humans as caretakers is correct.)

There are a number of other things he said that I think could at least use a little pushback, but I won’t do that here!

This is Our Father’s World.

I haven’t written anything about creation/evolution in a while.  I’m not really going to in this post, either. At least not in terms of theories or possibilities. However, the BioLogos Foundation has been posting a series of short video clips on YouTube, in which a variety of Biblical scholars talk about various aspects of creation/evolution, theology and Genesis 1. The videos featuring N.T. Wright were interesting, but this one with Bruce Waltke (conservative OT scholar, connected with the NASB, NIV/TNIV translations) sparked some new thoughts in my mind:

Initially I had some reservations with his concern about church becoming a cult (or at least looking like one), because that seems like a poor reason to accept a different view. But I think that what he says in this context (as well as his specific definition of “cult”–a “group which does not interact with the real world”) is important.

I think that if the data is overwhelmingly in favour of evolution, then to deny that reality will make us a cult–some kind of group that is not interacting with the real world…To deny the reality would be to deny the truth of God in the world and would be to deny truth. So I think it would be our spiritual death.

The implication of the creation story is that this world is God’s world and it his creation. To deny or ignore the evidence* in creation of the method or process of creation is in essence to deny the message of the creation story. It would be to “deny the truth of God in the world”–to deny what God has done.

In other words, to deny the evidence for evolution found in God’s creation is potentially more dangerous to our view of God than to affirm it. “It would be,” says Waltke, “our spiritual death.”

If God created the world, and the evidence within the world he created points to an evolutionary process, then we must conclude that God may well have used an evolutionary process to create the world.

God and evolution are not mutually exclusive.** For some reason this isn’t self-evident to many Christians. In fact, many Christians, at least by implication, would say that they are mutually exclusive, and so to preserve the one, we deny the other (some scientists will do this as well, except vice versa). So, for some Christians, the evidence must be either non-existent, faulty, or misinterpreted.

The comments on blog posts about this video show a certain lack of self-awareness on the part of the Christians commenting with unequivocal rejections of evolution. The general response of the Christian skeptic is generally that scientists are reading the evidence however they want to or that they are imposing their views on the evidence. However, Christians have to have the humility to recognize and accept that we are often no different when it comes to interpreting the “evidence” of scripture. We are often imposing our view on scripture rather than letting scripture be what it is.

Another comment might go something like this: scientists are making the evidence say more than it can. This is normally in reference to coming to naturalist/materialist view of the universe based on the evidence–i.e. the suggestion that the evidence proves that God doesn’t exist. This is a legitimate concern, but not reason to deny evolution or the evidence for it altogether (evolution and evolutionism/materialism/naturalism are different things**). But, once again, are we able to recognize that same tendency within our own views? Particularly as concerns the question of creation/evolution, are we making the Bible say more than it can or was meant to say?

_________________________________

*the “if” in “if the data” is important. It’s important for two reasons: 1) most people discussing this issue in this kind of forum are not scientists. So we are dealing with what we think we know about the issue, which is probably not very much. 2) the “if” is not an implied denial of the evidence, but actually an affirmation of what is accepted by scientists generally (but, again, I need to be careful here, because I don’t know for sure), including scientists who are also Christians.

** it’s important to make the distinction between evolution and evolutionism–which is basically a distinction between science and worldview. When I say “evolution” I am referring to the scientific theory relating to the evolution of biological organisms. I am not referring to “evolutionism” or any of its worldview relatives. Unfortunately, many Christians conflate the two, making evolution a denial of God’s existence, which I think does a disservice to the scientific community as well as this whole conversation.

Death in Creation

A couple of years ago, I pondered the meaning of physical death in terms of the predicted result of eating the forbidden fruit. Given that in the Genesis story Adam and Eve lived on several centuries after eating the fruit, the prediction seemed wrong unless it was spiritual death of which God was speaking.

Bob Robinson recently posted on this topic, quoted two preeminent evangelical scholars (N.T. Wright and Douglas Moo), both of whom believe that physical death was a part of the original created order–or, at least, that if humans were immortal it was by grace and conditional (i.e. obedience to God prerequisite), rather than something innate or essential to humans.

Robinson refers to the seasons, which are a cycle of death and rebirth, and to the food chain of carnivorous animals. Some might argue that the seasons and carnivores would not have existed prior to the fall, so this may not be the best example.  But the point is that death appears to be essential to creation as we know it, including elements of creation which would not have changed after the fall.  I’m thinking, for instance, of reproduction.  I’m not well-versed in biology, but it seems to me that there is a pattern in nature of death preceding or accompanying new life: for example, a fruit must die and decay in order for its seed to be able to germinate and grow into a new plant, or for every sperm that successfully reaches its destination, millions die.

If I’m wrong on my biology, please correct me.  And I suppose, too, that the question must be asked, What is life?  Theologically, is it only those things which have breath that can properly be said to die or is life broader than that? Interesting topic, at any rate.

This Thursday the Providence College Lectures will be given by Dr. Glen Klassen, with the topic, “A Scientist Reflects on How God Makes the World”: “He will be exploring topics on how traditional ideas of creation are challenged by the scientific approach and will ask the question, “is there any middle ground between Creationism and Darwinism?”  Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to most of the day’s seminars.

Defending Genre in the Bible

Does [the Bible] match up with scientific evidence? Who cares? … I do not believe science, history or archaeology of any kind establishes the truthfulness of the scripture in any way. Scripture is true by virtue of God speaking it. If God spoke poetry, or parable, or fiction or a prescientific description of creation, it is true without any verification by any human measurement whatsoever. The freedom of God in inspiration is not restricted to texts that can be interpreted “literally” by historical or scientific judges of other ages and cultures beyond the time the scriptures were written.

In my view, both the scientific establishment’s claims to debunk Genesis and the creationists claims to have established Genesis by way of relating the text to science are worthless.

…Does the Bible need to be authorized by scientists or current events to be true? What view of inspiration is it that puts the Bible on trial before the current scientific and historical models? Has anyone noticed what this obsession with literality does to the Bible itself? – iMonk

iMonk’s idea might make some of us uncomfortable.  And, to be sure, archeological and historical research at the very least provides some affirmation of the Bible.

However, I think iMonk’s point is very important: we tend to argue for the authority of the Bible based on imported categories–categories set in a field which fundamentally has no place for such a thing as “inspired” scripture or anything supernatural in the first place–or by meeting some kind of external standard of acceptance.  But when we do that we are essentially handing the Church’s text to those who already reject it as anything but an ordinary book and saying, “Here: you decide.” This is a mistake.  The Bible is the Church’s text and need not be handed to those outside the church to be vetted by their external categories.

And this is true of other issues as well.  From what I’ve read of Stanley Hauerwas, for example, his MO is to refuse to debate ethical issues based on non-theological categories.  So in Abortion Theologically Understood, he suggests that for Christians the question of the rights of the mother or the rights of the fetus are the wrong basis on which to look at this subject.

It’s an interesting and refreshing way of looking at things: we are not required to think about ethics or theology or the Bible on someone else’s terms.  For most things these days those terms are what you might call “Enlightenment terms”, in which reason is, essentially, God. While I would never suggest that we should not use our reasonable faculties, I am beginning to wonder if sometimes the term “irrational”, a term with negative connotations, should be embraced a little more.

“Faith seeking understanding” (was that Augustine or Aquinas?) or “I believe so that I may understand” seem like irrational statements in our society.  But somehow those phrases carry a lot of weight and power.

Today Yesterday

Things went well today yesterday, I think, other than a few mishaps and distractions.

I was inspired by the Wendell Berry-inspired workshop at last week’s conference to speak about the implications for creation care that arise out of scripture.  The Bible does not have a green agenda; if it has any agenda, it’s a redemptive one, and there are implications for our view of creation in that.  My main points:

1.  Genesis 1: God looked at everything he created and saw that it was “very good”.  He never took that back.  The natural world isn’t just incidental to our creation, but is good in and of itself.

At the fall human relationship with the rest of creation was broken, which may well be why we find ourselves where we are environmentally.

2.  The created world is in some sense the voice of God (see Romans 1:18-20–“general revelation”).  I wondered if our current abusive approach to nature isn’t a new way of “suppressing the truth” about God.

3.  The redemptive work of the cross of Christ is for all of creation (Colossians 1:19-20; Ephesians 1:10; Romans 8:19-23)–if we expect to come out of the future resurrection with transformed bodies and yet still be ourselves, it’s reasonable, I think, to expect the same for creation.

It didn’t take long to realize that this was a HUGE subject and a couple of hours of preparation wasn’t giving it nearly enough and it was probably too much to cram into one sermon (especially when I had less time than usual).  It deserves a series, but that’s difficult to do when I only speak twice a month and in the very near future I will start to be bumped from the schedule for candidating pastors.

Oh well.  Live and learn.

I was thinking this week and again after this sermon about what pastors do if they realize they have spoken in error in a sermon.  I made a modern-day analogy a couple of weeks ago when speaking on 1 Corinthians 8 (the “strong”, the “weak” and meat sacrificed to idols) and it occurred to me this week that perhaps my analogous example was a poor one (I’ve decided it wasn’t).  After Sunday’s service I was talking to Phil and realized that perhaps I had made some lazy word choices that might have negative implications (it didn’t help that I was trimming the sermon as I spoke).

Now both of those instances are minor.  But what about a more serious error?  Do you just ignore it?  Bring it up next Sunday?  Issue a retraction?  Fix the error with the following sermons?  An interesting question.  (It is for me, anyway.)  Of course, I’m learning that not everything can be said in one sermon (or even a couple of sermons), so perhaps it’s possible to develop a progression of thought that deals with whatever has gone before.

(Have I ever posted about a sermon before?  I’ve been reluctant to do so.  Still am.  But I felt like posting something.)