8.30.2011

Emotion and Intellect

I am not really good at debating creation vs. evolution, I’m just not. I think the one thing that both creationists and evolutionists can agree on is the simple fact that they are not going to change their position without some VERY compelling evidence. The Christian creationist needs their evidence to come from the scriptures else they will not accept it, the evolutionist needs their evidence to come through observation and the scientific method or else they will not accept it. The debate is a stalemate. Of course there are the occasional converts in both directions but by and large it is a settled point.

What I do find interesting however is the tendency of Christian creationist to appeal to the emotion and beauty, and the evolutionist to appeal to the hard evidence and scientific process. I think it is a fail on both sides.

It is typical in Christian circles to downplay the intellect. The Christian who reads many books, thinks deeply about doctrines that might not be essential is often derided in Christian circles as being high minded, or somehow wasting their time. They are often met with “The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” or “you just need to have a childlike faith”. I wish more people would have a childlike faith! My 4 year old is constantly asking questions, and every question leads to a new question, and he is inquisitive beyond what I can handle at times. The child does not settle with simple answers, they always dig further, always want more, they do not care about ‘essential’ vs ‘non-essentials’ they want it all and in that sense ‘child-like’ is very intellectual.

On the flip side, the ‘evolutionist’ downplays the emotion and takes it completely out of the equation. They typically argue from the third person perspective and distance themselves emotionally from the arguments they make. It is unfortunate, because in many ways they have a wonderful story to tell that is stimulating and engaging, if they were willing to tell it in such a manner.

As Christians we say that history is a marvelous story of creation and redemption, of sin and grace, of a final victory, and tragic defeat of evil. We get wrapped up in, and immersed in this great story, a story that we affirm is true. It is a highly emotional story, and the emotion is part of its appeal. Nonetheless there is an intellectual side of it all, how the sacrifices work together, the types and shadows, the doctrines, the laws, the history. It is a complete package, and it is a mistake to neglect the intellect because the intellect serves the emotion and vice versa.

On the flip side the evolutionist has a marvelous story to tell as well, one that they affirm is true. It is a story of a world governed by natural law that defeats the odds while functioning with in those laws to bring forth the wonderful complexity that this world has. It is a story of life forming against the odds, but still within the possibility of infinite time and space. It is a story of ever increasing complexity and innovation. Like every good story it has a tipping point, and the greatness of this universe begins to return to the nothingness it once was, and tragically it ends as it began in an infinitesimally dense small speck. Honestly that is a story that we can get wrapped up in as well, one that, if it were true, we are really a part of, really involved in its timeline, and truly affected by it. (Of course I believe that story to be wrong, but I would be a liar if I said it wasn’t interesting and compelling.)

What I am saying is that the biblical narrative is much more believable if it is engaged intellectually, but also that the evolutionary narrative would be much more believable if it were engaged with emotion.

The teachers who were most effective in communicating their subjects in my education were my high school Calculus teacher, and my physics teacher (probably resulting in me becoming an engineer). I have no idea whether they were Christian or not, and as far as the subject matter was concerned that is irrelevant. The reason they taught so well was that they balanced intellect and emotion in their teaching. My calculus teacher was genuinely excited about the order that could be expressed by numbers, she genuinely portrayed an emotional connection to the math she taught. Our physics teacher was much the same. He not only wanted you to grasp the concepts, he drove you to become emotionally involved in them. If it were all emotion without the intellect we would have learned nothing, yet if it were all intellect without the emotion we would have dismissed the knowledge we received the moment we received our grade card.

A great book to read on this topic is CS Lewis’ “Abolition of Man”, he expresses this tension far better than I ever could on a blog post.

8.22.2011

DeadPastorsSociety

I am now blogging at DeadPastorSociety with some twitter friends of mine. I will still be blogging here, but make sure you stop over there too, I post every monday.

8.10.2011

Hey Aaron, are you going to eat all that?

There are certain portions of scripture that just make me question the veracity of the word. Yeah, that’s right, there I times when I question the book. Let me give a prime example. Moses, in Leviticus, is laying out the Law of God regarding the sacrifices and it just happens that the really good meat is not going to be burned up entirely, but instead it just gets nicely roasted, and lo, Moses’ brother Aaron and Aaron’s family is supposed to eat it. The cynic in me finds that to be an awfully convenient law for Aaron. I mean, here you have all the people of Israel bringing their best animals to be BBQ’d for Aaron and his people to eat, and it is a law that they must do it. Hey, why don’t I come down from a mountain and tell my people they need to bring ribs to sacrifice and they must be soaked with Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce, and yeah, why not bring a drink offering too, Coca-Cola Classic would be ideal. Does that not seem just a touch sketchy? Certainly I am not the only person that has taken issue with this text?

Something I have come to realize though, is that the Old Testament only finds its true meaning in light of the New Testament, specifically in Christ’s work on our behalf. In other words, if indeed the Aaronic Priests were supposed to eat this sacrifice and it really was the command of God for them to do so, this command can only make sense to me in light of Christ’s fulfillment of that command. So before I go dismissing the early parts of Leviticus as Moses trying to make sure his family eats well I must deal with it light of the Gospel.

So let me walk you through my thinking as I came to this portion of Leviticus with my skepticism yet again in my bible reading.

Aaron is commanded to eat the sacrifices, the priesthood so to speak is required to eat the ‘perfect’ sacrifice in the sight of God. Hebrews reminds us that in light of the Gospel we are a kingdom of priests, and that all who are the redeemed are priests before God. In other words the Aaronic priesthood has been fulfilled, there is no longer a set group of priests called to consume the sacrifice, but all believers now enter into that role of priest. Moreover, we know there is no longer sacrifice for sin, other than the perfect sacrifice which has been offered, that is the Christ himself. Moreover Christ has stated:

John 6:53 (ESV)

53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

In light of Christ’s words contained in John’s Gospel we see a new picture arising. This hard command of Christ, that we must eat his flesh and his blood begins to make a little more sense. Moreover as we consider the Passover, when each family was to kill a lamb and leave none of it until the morning, begins to make sense, when you consider Christ as the Passover Lamb. The idea of consuming the sacrifice finds it’s full meaning in the fulfilled work of Christ and more specifically in the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Needless to say, the command for the Aaronic priesthood to eat the sacrifice no longer bothers me at all, in fact it informs my doctrine of the Lord’s Supper and grounds it in the Old Testament sacrificial system and gives me a more robust understanding of what Christ meant by His hard teaching in John 6. This new reading further bolsters my belief that the sacrament is far more than a mere memorial meal that calls us to remember the Gospel, but that the sacrament in some sense is a part of the Gospel itself. Look, this does not make the case for transubstantiation, or some modern priesthood that must drink the portion of the sacrament not consumed by the people. Not at all, at the same time it does insert some healthy mystery into the Supper, and reminds me that in some sense we truly partake of the Lord as we receive the sacrament. This understanding of the consumption of the sacrifice leaves me thoroughly non-baptist with regards to the meal.

Was it wrong of me to question the veracity of the Law or to at least be a little skeptical of it? It would have been wrong if I had no intent of squaring it up with the New Testament, however if I allow my skepticism to drive me to answers, answers that I know must be founded in the Gospel, that initial skepticism proves to be a vehicle that drives me to greater faith and understanding of deeply profound truths.

Studying the scriptures should be a fascinating and enjoyable process, but it ceases to be that if you never let yourself be disturbed by the truths that you cannot seem to square up. Often we want to say something like “well it is in the bible so I am just going to believe it” without realizing that we are refusing to step on the mat with a God who is calling us out to wrestle. Unfortunately we are far too content to simply come up with trite clich├ęs to answer deep questions that really disturb us.

I suppose this post is a small treatise for a healthy skepticism, but a skepticism that trusts that real truth can withstand our petty doubts.

8.08.2011

obvious is not so obvious

I am a big fan of stating the obvious, and I believe that as humans, for whatever reason, we need the obvious stated to us often. So this post is a bit of an exercise in the obvious.

The meaning of a statement can rarely be ascertained without the context of the statement. Let’s start with a simple statement:

“The grass is green”

If you are standing in the middle of a desert that statement is a statement of a miracle of sorts. If you sprayed your driveway with round up three weeks ago and are looking at the grass in the cracks it is a statement of disappointment. Without context you cannot know whether the statement is positive or negative in tone.

Because this blog centers primarily on theology let’s move to a more appropriate example. Let’s try this statement.

“Jesus is the way”

Is that a true statement? There is no way to tell without context. If someone asks me, how do I get to the grocery store, and I answer “Jesus is the way” it would be ridiculous. If someone asks me how can I get to hell, that statement would be even more unhelpful. To have any idea of what is intended by the statement “Jesus is the way” some sort of context must be given.

Again this is an exercise in the obvious, but it seems to become less obvious when we are dealing with the scripture. We have been taught, and rightly so, that every word of scripture is inspired, God breathed, and inerrant. Of course we cannot understand scripture without it’s context, we all agree with that, but I do not think we are near as aware of the danger of placing a scripture in the wrong context.

If I am giving directions to a grocery store, and the final information I give is: “The grocery store will be on your right.” That statement would only be truthful if you were approaching the store from the directions I gave. To say the “the store is on the right” is an absolute truth within the context of the directions, but outside of the context it could be the polar opposite of the truth. Nobody who read the entire directions to the store would argue with the veracity of the claim that the store was on the right.

Now the problem arises when we affirm something as an absolute truth while placing it in a context that makes that very truth a lie. This is not postmodernism, in fact it is quite the opposite. I affirm it is an absolute truth that the store is on the North side of the road, but ‘left’ or ‘right’ are relative to context.

Again we affirm that the scriptures are absolute, when understood within their context, but by quoting a scripture you are not guaranteed to be quoting absolute truth. This is where it gets a little bit more sticky.

Let’s take a super important question: “What must I do to be saved?” We want to answer that question with scripture, so what scripture should we use to answer that? We must use a scripture that is answering the same question. A common Evangelical answer to that question would be to quote Romans 10:9.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

This seems like a fair statement, by doing this we answer the simple question, with a simple scripture that contains absolute truth. However, does Romans 10:9 intend to answer the question “What must I do to be saved” or is it answering a different question? The context of Romans 9 through Romans 11 involves the salvation of Jews and Gentiles and it is answering a question regarding who is saved and why, but Romans 10:9 is not laying out the way to be saved. An honest reading of the whole context of Romans 9-11 would make that clear. It is not appropriate to use a scripture to deliver an answer that was not intended to be delivered by that scripture. Now we can disagree with the meaning of Romans 10:9 and what it means in context, but let’s at least be careful to examine what Romans 10:9 is actually answering before we drop it into our conversation.

I do not hold to baptismal regeneration, I am not Lutheran or Catholic on this, but the bottom line is that Acts 2:38 answers the question… “What must I do?” If you read Peter’s Pentecost sermon, and you see that the hearers have come to a place of despair, you see that their question is exactly the question we are dealing with. “What must I do to be saved?”

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Now we must do some leg work into what is meant by being ‘baptized in the name of Jesus Christ’, which might be something for another day, but at least by answering the question with Acts 2:38 you are answering the question in a way that is honest to the context.

So what about Romans 10:9, or even the entire “Romans Road” that so many people use to lead people to Christ? Is “Romans Road” evangelism biblical? Well it uses the bible, so in that sense it is biblical, but is it aware of the context? Look to the beginning of Romans:

Romans 1:8–13 (ESV)

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.

At the outset of Romans we see who this is written to. Believers! The audience is not the lost. That alone should temper our reading of Romans. Nothing in Romans is written as praxis on how to get saved. Yes it certainly speaks eternal truths regarding salvation, yes it answers why people are saved, and how people are saved, but it is answering those questions to people who already believe. In other words it is written to people heading west down the road who will indeed need to turn ‘right’ into the grocery store on the north. It is not written to those heading east.

We could go on and on with countless scriptures, Matthew 7:21-23 is another big one that abuses the context. (I’ve blogged about that before.)

I encourage you, before you quote scripture make sure that your usage of it is appropriate to the context it fits within.