Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Now the Same Point From an Atheist

Living in denial may offer a comfortable way to avoid the ultimate dilemma.  However, eventually one must face the difficult truth that the faith which we confess simply does not square with true evolutionary theory.  You cannot have it both ways.  Even theistic evolution cannot solve the core issue:  Why does Jesus have to die if a literal fall never occurs?  As an atheist Austin Cline may best see the logical inconsistency with retaining a traditional Christian viewpoint and trying to hang on the evolutionary conviction.  In an article entitled "Does Evolution Contradict Christianity" he writes:

The central message of Christianity is that Jesus' death and resurrection pays for our sins — we deserve death and eternal punishment, but Jesus paid the price for us. To paraphrase Paul: without that, the Christian faith is in vain. Without these sins, there would be no need for Jesus to be punished and killed. The question then becomes: is this notion of sin tenable from a naturalistic perspective? We have to approach it from a naturalistic perspective because our central question involves evolution, and the process of evolution is supposed to describe the development of our species in a purely naturalistic manner. 

If the evolutionary account of human origins is true, then there was certainly no literal Fall from Grace — no Adam and Eve disobeying the Christian God and no Original Sin. But without Original Sin and expulsion from the Garden of Eden, then there is no reason to think that anything called "sin" (which is supposed to be disobedience to God) suddenly entered the world. If sin instead "evolved" into our ancestors through the natural development which God set into motion, why would God hold us accountable? A naturalistic development of sin should mean that insofar as we are "naturally" sinners, we simply are what our creator caused us to evolve into being. 

Mr. Cline goes on to point out the further inconsistency with trying to insist on metaphors for the sin event while still maintaining the need for a literal death and resurrection:

All of this is obviously true if the Bible is read literally as the fundamentalists do, but what if the Bible is read metaphorically or allegorically? The problem is that it's difficult to argue that a metaphorical Fall required a literal death and resurrection. One might argue for a metaphorical death and resurrection, but few if any Christians believe in that and doing so would mean rejecting some very important, orthodox facets of Christian theology. 

Some might argue that "sin" should be read as simply "transgressing moral codes" and "original sin" is really the "original self-awareness" of moral codes, but whose moral codes? If we are the creators of the moral codes, then what we have is the assertion that God needed Jesus to die because we have trouble following rules we create for ourselves. Not only doesn't that make much sense, but it doesn't look much like traditional Christianity anymore. 

Within the framework of evolution, sin does not appear to have any tangible, real existence. We are supposed to have sin, but did Neanderthals? Homo Habilis? Homo Erectus? Is is possible to logically argue that this "sin" was dependent upon some specific piece of genetic code which evolved into our species? There is evidence that other primates, like chimpanzees, not only have rudimentary rules within their groups but also an awareness of when they are and are not following them. Are chimps sinning? Did Jesus die for them, too? Should we be sending missionaries to them in zoos and jungles? 

Some might also argue that "sin" is still "disobedience to God," but only where it concerns those moral rules God has given us. This eliminates the Fall of Original Disobedience, but it still has problems. For one thing, these same people are unlikely to argue that the moral rules from God have reached us unadulterated by human interests — so the situation begins to look a lot like the previous. For another, it would be hard to argue that disobeying this limited set of rules would justify a literal death and resurrection. Again. 

None of this can be easily argued. Sin, our alleged disobedience to God, appears to be nothing except one more religious concept created by some human beings and imposed upon other human beings. That, however, would mean that Jesus died for nothing, and no devout Christian can really accept that. 

Why can an atheist see this so clearly and theologians like Dr. Becker cannot? Or could it be that Dr. Becker truly does realize the consequence of adopting evolution yet knows that a denial of the cardinal truths it engenders simply comes at too high of an ecclesiastical price?  Or could it be that facing the truth of this dilemma is too painful for Dr. Becker and he must work to reconcile that which cannot be reconciled simply for his own peace of mind?  I don't know.  What I do know is that the choice is clear, and blending the two will not work because in the end you will be forced to explain away what you know you must keep to maintain the integrity of the Christian faith.   Either you adopt naturalism or you maintain a true biblical viewpoint.  Those are the choices. 

A Quote from Dr. John D. Morris

The quote that follows explains further the concern I expressed in a previous post regarding Evolution and the Christian faith.  Dr. John D. Morris is the president of the Institute for Creation Research and an avowed young earth proponent.  Dr. Morris' words demonstrate the incompatibility of Darwinian evolutionary theory and classic Christian theology.  One cannot embrace Evolution and not change the Faith. 

"Evolution and the Bible most seriously conflict at this point (their respective views of death, which are central to each viewpoint). If evolution (or even just the concept of an old earth, with death and fossils predating man's sin) is correct, then death is natural, death is normal, death produced man. Most importantly, in this view, death is not the penalty for sin, for it preceded man and his sin. But if death is not the penalty for sin, then the death of Jesus Christ did not pay that penalty, nor did His resurrection from the dead provide eternal life.
While belief in creation and the young earth may not be essential for salvation (many Christians wrongly believe and do many things the Bible teaches against), if evolution is right, if the earth is old, if fossils date from before man's sin, then Christianity is wrong! These ideas destroy the foundation for the Gospel and negate the work of Christ on the cross. Evolution and salvation are mutually exclusive concepts.
Many times evolutionists understand this issue better than Christians. In his article, "The Meaning of Evolution," atheist G. Richard Bozarth claims that "Christianity has fought, still fights and will fight science to the desperate end over evolution, for evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus' earthly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the son of God. Take away the meaning of his death. If Jesus was not the redeemer who died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing" (American Atheist, September 20, 1979, p. 30).
Thus the issues of death and time reveal the utter incompatibility of evolution, in any form, with Christianity."

From: "Evolution and the Wages of Sin" on the ICR website


At the end of A New Christianity for a New World, John Shelby Spong looks to the future and contemplates a possible scenario for the church of tomorrow. In a previous work the former bishop declared that Christianity must change or die, and now he takes the next step in that forecast.  While admitting that "many churches, if given choice, choose to die rather than change," he does not see a wholesale death of the faith, as such.  He believes that "faith-communities will emerge...inside our existing structures," eventually separating and beginning new forms.  Now one may rightly argue that these new "faith-communities" will bear no resemblance to Christianity as we now know it or it has been known since its inception.  The point is, that despite the radical overhaul and transformation of the existing church he looks for, the existing church will change.  Personally I think that the former bishop's predictions sell short the resolve of orthodox churches to survive even in a turbulent sea of revolution (as history demonstrates their past resolve through thousands of years of upheaval, persecution and change.)  His vision may very well become a reality, but not in a widespread fashion.  Such fringe movements remain on the edges. The "gates of hell will not prevail" against the church, despite Spong's dream of dragging it down the primrose paths of denial into that very realm. 

Spong's words reminded me of another prediction from the proponents of women's ordination within the LCMS.  On June 11 a fictitious sermon was posted on the The Creator's Tapestry site (borrowed from the Daystar Journal site), attributed to the "Rev. Stephanie Zimmerman."  Prefaced to that 'sermon' on the latter site was the following note:
The following is a sermon by LCMS pastor, Stephanie Zimmerman. She is perhaps your great-granddaughter, or a young woman who is presently studying at one of the Concordias. She is an ordained LCMS pastor who is preaching on some future Pentecost Sunday. And this is one of many such sermons being preached that day, as the whole denomination is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women in the LCMS. Consider how we celebrate the Reformation and you will have an idea of the feel that day will have.

The text is Acts 2:1-21. The title of her sermon is "As the Spirit Gave Them Ability" with a subtitle that notes the celebration of twenty-five years of  ordaining women in the LCMS. Stephanie is not the ordinand but one of many LCMS pastors who are women.

Interesting prediction.  The 'sermon' unfortunately resounds with frequent snipes at current LCMS policy and leadership, so it's certainly not a positive attempt at bridge-building to those with whom they currently disagree.  Obviously they are assuming that those who oppose the ordination of women will simply die off and be replaced bit-by-bit with a more 'progressive' leadership.  While I have been among those who have pessimistically predicted we would arrive at a similar point some day, I would also admit that this is a risky prediction.  Politics swing from one side to the other in the LCMS, and one cannot forget that the liberalizing trends of the latter half of the last century that were curtailed.  While we have a ways to go, commitment to our current confession remains strong in many quarters.  That said, even if the LCMS should swing over and adopt this change, it would effectively cease to be the LCMS as we know it.  The ordination of women, as testified in the ELCA, brings with it additional changes which would further erode other practices and doctrines (e.g.: sexuality and marriage.)  As with Spong's prediction I am inclined to think that such forecasts are at this point more 'wishful thinking' than true predictions born of serious research and study.  

On a side note:  One thing I fail to understand is why opposition to certain teachings and practices must always be accused of doing so out of fear.  Our so-called Pr. Zimmerman declares: 
In the early decades of this 21st Century, the LCMS was at a low point in its brief history.  At a time of dramatic social change and turmoil worldwide, Missouri Synod leaders used the fears of people to manipulate and dominate through their own particular and official interpretation of scripture.  Their primary targets at that time were women and their main objective was to keep them out of the pastoral office.  But the motivating fear in their ferocity against and denial of women pastors was their fear of homosexuality. 

For many of us opposition to the ordination of women is based entirely on our commitment to a faithful and accurate interpretation of Holy Scripture.  If there is any fear involved it is a 'holy fear' of offending the God whose Word this change would violate.   Furthermore, attributing opposition to women's ordination as coming from a "particular and official interpretation of scripture" is to ignore the painfully obvious witness of the church's history stretching back two millenia.  The orthodox fathers of the faith opposed this practice and we have recognized their opposition in studying the issue ourselves.  Finally, why must the discussion degenerate into having someone become a "target"?  Why this paranoia?  And more so, why must we further cloud the issue by dragging in issues that while related are not determinative in the argument (e.g.: homosexuality)?  This little diatribe attributes unfair and inaccurate assumptions on the part of those with whom they disagree.  It is unfortunate that those who decry a so-called unwillingness to have an open discussion would muddy any possibility of future discussion with these aspersions of character. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Results of Evolutionary Belief for Christians

Many Christians attempt to hold in tension a belief in Evolution and a commitment to the creator God.  At best this results in a felicitous inconsistency. Despite embracing a doctrine with the potential to unravel the foundation of their faith, they fail to follow through on the logical consequences, content to allow two disparate concepts to stand together as if they agreed.  On the other hand some follow where the logic leads and end up in place quite different than where they began.  Such is the case with John Shelby Spong.  In his book A New Christianity for a New World he demonstrates where the path leads once one entertains a denial of the Creation account and embraces Evolution in its place:  "I now regard the traditional Christian interpretation of the account of the fall of humanity, told in the narrative of the Garden of Eden, as the ultimate example of distorted negative thinking.  I prefer to look at the wonder of humanity and to celebrate the incredible gift of self-conscious life that has emerged form our earliest living ancestor, which as nothing more or less than a bit of protoplasm constituting a single cell in the midst of the sea" (150).  Spong openly now denies many cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, not least of which is the very divinity of Jesus and his salvific work on the cross.  That the former bishop still considers himself within the boundaries of Christian faith remains an incredulous assumption.  The point here, though, concerns where the path begins and ends once the decision is made to place scientific theory above biblical truth or to allow the former to define the latter. 

Reading Spong reminded me of the ongoing debate in the LCMS and in particular the more vocal supporters of Evolution in the synod such as Dr. Matthew Becker.  Aside from the issue of women pastors addressed in my previous post, Evolution easily occupies second place in the list of concerns regarding this theologian.  My concern ultimately rests on the impact embracing Evolution has on the cardinal doctrines of the Faith.  Can one embrace Evolution and not ultimately end up denying such teachings as Original Sin?  For Spong the answer is "no."  His chapter heading says it all: "Original Sin is Out."  Yet where might Becker fall in this discussion?  In his article "The Scandal of the LCMS Mind" Becker acknowledges the impact belief in Evolution has in defining these doctrines, yet insists that no damage comes to the orthodoxy of their statements even in revision:

Of course a “figurative” interpretation of Genesis 1-9 (not to mention the many other passages in Scripture that speak of God as creator, of the world as God’s creation, and of the new creation) does entail a revision of the traditional “creationist” manner of articulating the doctrines of creation, anthropology, and sin, and many Christians are deeply uncomfortable with such a prospect.  This “discomfort” is at least as great as the discomfort many 16th-Century Christians must have felt in view of the revision to traditional teaching that the Copernican Theory entailed.  As then, however, so also now: such modification would not necessarily undermine an orthodox understanding of creation, human beings, sin, and grace.  For example, scientific data about the reality of physical death in the animal and plant kingdoms prior to origin of human beings (e.g., fossils of animals that lived long before the origin of human beings) must lead those who interpret the Bible in light of scientific knowledge to restate the nature of God’s good creation prior to the advent of human sin (e.g., such a good creation must have included the reality of death prior to the existence of human beings) and the character of the historical origin of sin (e.g., the advent of sin is to be traced to the first hominids who disobeyed God’s will but not necessarily to their having eaten from a tree in an actual place called the Garden of Eden several thousand years ago).

In reaction to this statement one is tempted to respond with "Come again?" It seems that Becker is caught in that bind which many prefer not to resolve, yet which must be faced with all the implications it entails.  How do we define Original Sin without a real Adam and Eve clearly violating a direct command of God?  What "Word of God" do we attribute to those misty years to which these early "hominids" could respond in faith?  And how does one explain suffering and death without sin?  Becker clearly does not desire to go where Spong has led, but is there a true 'middle path' for him and the like-minded to take instead?  Again, the logical path lies before us with its choice.  I fear that travel down the Evolutionary road only bodes great evil for all that we hold near and dear within our Faith, if those traveling it remain fully aware and honest with its direction as did Spong. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Ordination of Women and Dr. Matthew Becker - Again

Dr. Becker clearly wants a reaction.  His continued rhetoric on the topic of women's ordination begs for a response.  However, one wonders whether the powers that be in the LC-MS have paid any notice, which, I suspect, is what he most desires.  He seems to be a rather lone voice in the wilderness on this one - at least in the cyber-wilderness of the Missouri Synod.  It is tempting to respond, yet the approach of Dr. Becker makes it hard to address the issue without falling into the morass of emotionally-laden rhetoric.  He appeals to all those crushed spirits denied what their hearts have told them was good, right and salutary.  They have felt the call, so who can deny them?  He lists testimonials and sympathetic cheers to bolster the appearance of a groundswell of support from the grassroots.  An accusation of legalism makes an attempt to cast a disparaging light on the opposition.  Add to this an appeal to the Hebrew form for Spirit in the feminine voice for scriptural ammunition, only to admit a neutral form in the Greek.  We proved what?  God is still the Father and Jesus is still the Son.  His use of the Trinity unfortunately falls short of convincing us to adopt female pastors.  So this will suffice for a response from this corner.  The discussion has spent itself long ago, although looking to Germany Dr. Becker admires those who continue the seeming dialog, no doubt with the hope that given enough time the tides will turn in his direction.  Given his logic it seems that all theological topics should be open for debate.  Perhaps for this we can eventually adopt a 'fill-in-the-blank creed' so as to always remain current with the prevailing winds of change...