The Atheists' Anti-Evolution Conspiracy?

Conspiracy theoriesJames McGrath suggests that

anti-evolutionism is the result of atheist scientists infiltrating Christian circles, and offering lame and unpersuasive criticisms of mainstream science in order to discredit Christianity and hinder the spread of the Gospel.

Or maybe that isn’t what he means. Anyway, his post about fun with conspiracy theories is amusing and well worth a read.

Driscoll's two faces: God loves you, God hates you

JanusWhich does Pastor Mark Driscoll believe? That God loves everyone, or that God hates most people? Like the Roman God Janus he seems to have two different faces, and he can’t make his mind up which to present to the public.

Scott Bailey has quoted from a video by Driscoll, which was formerly posted at his church’s website but has since been taken down (annotations apparently by Zack):

Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you. He doesn’t think you’re cute. He doesn’t think it’s funny. He doesn’t think your excuse is “meritous” [the word he’s looking for here is “meritorious”]. He doesn’t care if you compare yourself to someone worse than you, He hates them too. God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you.

The sermon this is taken from is new, but there is nothing new in Driscoll’s sentiments. Here at Gentle Wisdom I reported him saying much the same in 2007, in my post What Driscoll really said about God and hate, which included

GOD HATES SINNERS. …

The whole “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” — that’s the wrong place to start. “God hates you and its going to go really really bad forever!” – hey now that is true…

But a completely different face of Driscoll is seen in his response when Fred Phelps and his family threatened to picket his church, a blog post from June this year with the long title Westboro Baptist Church, This False Prophet and His Blind Lemmings Welcome You to Our Whore House for God’s Grace and Free Donuts. (Thanks to Jeff commenting on Scott’s post for the link.) In this post when Driscoll writes:

God does not love everyone—in fact, He hates the majority of mankind, and has purposed to send them to hell when they die.

he is quoting, and then rejecting, the teaching of Westboro Baptist Church. Driscoll continues:

The whole ”read-the-words” of the Bible thingy is actually pretty good advice. And in reading the Bible, we see that it says everyone is loved by God, and though not everyone is saved, anyone who turns from sin and trusts in Jesus will receive eternal life. Additionally, we know that it’s not God’s hatred that leads people to repentance but instead his kindness (Romans 2:4). Here are some Scriptures that speak plainly about God’s love for people:

  • John 1:29: “John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”
  • John 3:16–17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
  • 1 Tim. 2:3–6: “God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men…”
  • 2 Peter 3:9: “He [God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Good teaching! Here Driscoll sounds almost like an Arminian, choosing to quote the Bible verses most commonly used to refute Calvinism.

Driscoll offers a more nuanced presentation in his recent FAQ: Predestination and Election. Much of this is a fair presentation of the issues between Calvinists and Arminians. In it he mostly avoids the “hate” word. But the generally Calvinist tendency becomes clear in the section “Answers To Common Questions About Predestination & Election”, which omits from its long list of Bible verses discussed the “Arminian” verses Driscoll chose to quote to the Westboro Baptists. Just before he confirms that his own position is more or less Calvinist (although he calls it Augustinian), Driscoll writes:

Does God love the non-elect?

Yes, he does, and does so with common grace (Matt. 5:45). Yet he also has a special affection for the elect. So, God loves everyone in a general way, and also loves the elect in a saving way.

In other words, as 4xiom interprets this in a comment on Scott’s post,

God brings a person into the world to be tortured endlessly as an object of his vindictive hatred, but his love for said person is clearly demonstrated by a brief period of ‘common grace’?

If Driscoll really believes what he wrote to the Westboro Baptists, why isn’t this material included in his FAQ? And why is there no explanation of how he apparently believes in two contradictory things, that God hates many people and predestines them to hell, and that God loves everyone and wants them all to be saved?

So why the contradiction? Could it be that Driscoll is just so naturally combative that he always takes the contrary position to anyone he is discussing these matters with? Perhaps more probably he does in fact take the moderate Calvinist position outlined in his FAQ, but sometimes in his preaching he gets carried away with “God hates you” type language and so goes against his own theology. That would explain why the offending video was taken down.

But what does it say about Driscoll as a preacher if he is so little in control of what he says that he makes unintentional public statements like this? With this hate speech he is not only denying his own theology, he is bringing the Christian faith into disrepute. At least Fred Phelps is consistent in how he spews out hatred. If Mark Driscoll really doesn’t have the same beliefs, why does he sometimes say the same things?

Book Review: The Politics of Witness, Allan R. Bevere

The Politics of WitnessAgain I thank the publishers, Energion Publications, for sending me a review copy of The Politics of Witness by Allan R. Bevere. I have now found time to read it, and here is my review.

This is a slim book, with only 62 pages of main text. As such it can hardly claim to do full justice to the complex main issue it addresses: how, if at all, Christians should be involved in politics. Indeed it makes no such claim, but is presented as an introduction to the issues. Its North American perspective gives it some distance from my British one, but in today’s world US politics have to be the concern of us all.

In general terms this book is a useful introduction to the issue. It gives a clear presentation of how from the time of Constantine onwards the church has been compromised by its often close association with governments. It also clearly shows that, theologically speaking, it is not modern nation states but the church which is the successor of the ancient kingdom of Israel, and so material about Israel should not be used directly for modern political purposes.

Sadly, however, the book does have some serious weaknesses. One of them is related to its disconnected feel. The author is aware (p. xiii) that the book reads somewhat like a collection of rather loosely connected essays on one theme. These loose connections gloss over huge holes in Bevere’s arguments.

Most strikingly, his treatment of the biblical material in chapter 2 comes to an end in Mark 12, and so has nothing to say about the death and resurrection of Jesus or about the birth and early life of the church. There is not even a mention of the apostles’ practice and teaching relating to governors and officials. The first we hear of the church, in chapter 3, is when it is already compromising itself with the state, in the person of Constantine. It may be that in a book this size the material in the latter part of the New Testament could not be discussed in detail, but surely there would have been space for a brief mention of which passages needed further study.

As for the biblical material which is presented, I have some serious issues with Bevere’s treatment. In particular, he quotes (p. 10) Ezra’s instructions concerning the surrounding nations “never seek their peace or prosperity” (Ezra 9:12) without noting how this apparently contradicts what Jeremiah wrote to the Jews in Babylon:

seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Jeremiah 29:7 (NIV)

How can one resolve this apparent contradiction? One difference is that Jeremiah is writing to God’s people in exile whereas Ezra is addressing Israelites living in a restored theocracy. So if, as Bevere argues, theocratic Israel is not a model for modern nation states, Jeremiah’s instructions are surely more relevant for Christians today.

Bevere makes a similar error when he interprets Mark 10:35-45 (pp. 13-14) as relevant to politics. He claims that this passage is “more than a lesson on how the disciples should relate to one another”. But explicitly that is what it is. If principles can be found here which are applicable to how Christians relate to governments, then they can also be found in many other biblical passages which Bevere argues are relevant only to Israel and to the church.

Bevere also makes use of the rhetorical device of hyperbole to cover weak points in his arguments. For example, he writes:

For Jesus, one of the biggest failings of his people was the decision not to reject violence … Time and time again, Jesus continued to insist that God’s people could not be a light to the nations if they insisted on beating the nations over the head. On more than a few occasions, Jesus refused to be taken off and made king by the people in order to lead a revolt. (p. 13, emphasis added)

Well, the gospels present just one clear occasion when the people wanted to make Jesus king, John 6:15. It is possible, but unlikely, that his triumphal entry to Jerusalem could be interpreted in this way. But one or two occasions is not “more than a few”. I don’t remember Jesus ever addressing “beating the nations over the head”, but a few times, not “Time and time again”, he did teach his disciples to avoid violence. Bevere’s point could have been made much better by discussing these few passages rather than exaggerating their number and prominence.

Skipping over several chapters about which I have no specific comment, I come to chapter 6, “Why the Church in America Cannot Speak Truth to Power”. I accept that there is a real problem in that many Christians involved in politics, on the left as well as the right, seem more interested in power than in the kingdom of God. I realise that Christians in politics will be misunderstood (as I have been!) as supporting the Constantinian system. I understand that any system of political parties tends to corrupt those who go into them with good Christian ideals. But I don’t think these can be used as arguments that no one should even try. It is not of course an easy path for Christians. But we are not always called to do what is easy.

So I find myself in agreement with much of the “(Not So) Modest Proposal” in Bevere’s final chapter. I agree that some Christians are called into national politics. I would also fully support Bevere’s point that this call

must be confirmed by the church just as much as the call to ordained ministry. (p. 60)

Christians who go into politics and in doing so cut themselves off (as President Obama has done) from a local church are stepping into a minefield with little protection. Those who do so with the backing and prayer support (although not the public political endorsement) of a local church are far better placed to avoid wrong compromise, remain faithful to their calling, and make a difference to their nation. So I am pleased to read that Bevere does consider this to be a proper Christian calling.

I’m sorry to sound rather negative about this book. Despite the weaknesses I have pointed out it is still well worth reading. But it is by no means the last word on a subject of great interest to me. I intend to continue blogging about this, taking up some of the themes from Bevere’s book.

Are atheists zombies?

The discussion on James McGrath’s post JesusWeen led me to consider the intriguing possibility that atheists, and in fact all people who are not Christian believers, might be zombies.

Zombies from "Night of the Living Dead"Now I am not here talking about the kind of flesh-eating “undead” which seem to be more and more prominent in our popular culture, and will no doubt feature prominently in this year’s Halloween festivities. There is even a Zombie Theology website, at which one of the leading contributors is my blogging friend Alan Knox. But then at that site there are some things taking a similar line to what I am taking here, such as the post When zombies go to Sunday School.

My point in this post relates to the concept of philosophical zombies. I was led to look at this by the mention of qualia in a comment by idmillington on McGrath’s post. This kind of zombie is defined as

a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except in that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, or sentience.

Well, they say “hypothetical”, but how can we know that there are not real zombies of this variety living among us? After all, the hypothesis is that they are indistinguishable from the rest of us. But would they really be, not just in their actions but also in their abstract thinking? If a being that lacked true consciousness were to engage in a debate about consciousness, surely its lack of first-hand knowledge would be reflected in its arguments. Would it not be more likely than a genuinely conscious human being to hold that consciousness is illusory?

Let’s turn to what the Bible has to say here. There is a consistent picture in Scripture, starting from Genesis 2:17 and traceable at least to Revelation 3:1, that people who go against God’s ways are spiritually dead, although their bodies and minds are alive. This idea is expounded most clearly by the Apostle Paul:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. … 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions …

Ephesians 2:1-2,4-5 (NIV)

Christian theologians have generally explained this in terms of the human being as tripartite: body, soul and spirit. On this basis, it is the human spirit which is dead in unbelievers, those who are not “in Christ”, even in those whose bodies and souls (i.e. minds and emotions) are alive. But when someone becomes a Christian, a major part of their “born again” experience is that their human spirit comes alive, as Paul seems to teach in the following verse, although its interpretation is disputed:

But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

Romans 8:10 (NIV 1984)

Can the human spirit be identified with consciousness? That is not impossible. But Christian teaching might suggest more an identification with conscience and intuition, and also that the spirit is the part of the human being which is in contact with God. So would an intelligent being which lacks a human spirit.be a philosophical zombie? Technically, probably not, but it does look as if there is some parallel between the concepts.

A better way to put this might be as foillows. According to Christian teaching, unbelievers and atheists, while not necessarily completely without conscience or intuition, lack the part of the human being which is in contact with God. This explains why they are unable to understand matters of Christian faith. As Paul wrote,

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV)

So please don’t be afraid this Halloween that atheists will break into your home in the night and suck your brains out. After all, some of them have plenty of their own brains. But bear in mind that they may be somewhat lacking in the more spiritual aspects of discernment. And remember that arguing with them is pointless, as they do not have the capacity to understand spiritual matters. Instead, pray for them, that the Holy Spirit will give life and light to their human spirits and show them the truth about God.

Grudem: Politics not really according to the Bible

Wayne Grudem: Politics according to the BibleA few months ago I had some quite positive things to say about Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible – although I had not read the book, and still have not. Already in my comments on that post I was less positive, and suggested that

this is by no means a book I could recommend.

I would now like to reaffirm that in stronger terms, in the light of Mako Nagasawa’s post Wayne Grudem’s Misuse of Scripture in “Politics According to the Bible”. Nagasawa claims, and provides good evidence to demonstrate, that

Grudem’s biblical foundations are deeply faulty, and … many Christians who read him are being led to very wrong conclusions and opinions.

The main criticism is of Grudem’s conclusion that the Bible affirms

the right of the individual to acquire as much wealth and private property as possible by all lawful and moral means.

Nagasawa argues that Grudem has misused the Old Testament passages on which he bases this conclusion. Indeed he writes that

Leviticus 25 demonstrates that God’s vision for biblical Israel was virtually the opposite that Wayne Grudem has for America. …

For people to have the unlimited ability to accumulate wealth and pass it on to their children is precisely the opposite of what Leviticus 25 says.

Nagasawa clearly demonstrates this point, and shows that this material from the Law of Moses cannot be used to support Grudem’s conclusions. Ancient Israel was nothing like the conservative vision for 21st century America.

Now, as Nagasawa recognises, there are serious issues with using these instructions for a theocratic state to support any kind of political vision for today, whether more like Grudem’s or Nagasawa’s. The more appropriate Old Testament material for us to consider today is about how individuals among God’s people were politically active in states which did not worship Yahweh. But when we look at the most prominent such individual, Joseph, and at how his government nationalised the livestock and the land in Egypt (Genesis 47:13-26), we find more support for Nagasawa’s position than for Grudem’s.

Steve Jobs did not change the world, Bill Gates might

Bill GatesWell done to Eddie Arthur for putting Steve Jobs’ achievements in their proper perspective with his post Steve Jobs did not Change the World, but Bill Gates Might. Why? Not because of Windows or any other Microsoft software, even if it is still far more used than anything from Apple:

But there is one way in which Gates might truly change the world; he is giving his money away. For years, he was the richest man on the planet, but through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation he is donating the vast bulk of his fortune to good causes around the world and encouraging other gazillionaires to do so, too. One thing they are investing in is malaria vaccines. If a cure for malaria can be found, this will change the world in a way which no shiny white telephone could ever do!

Steve Jobs, Preacher of a Secular Gospel

Steve JobsFor the last few days I have been watching the reaction to the death of Steve Jobs. Some has been over the top. Some has been very funny. Some has been both, like this one I found on Facebook:

Three apples changed the world: Eve’s, Newton’s, and Steve Jobs’.

As I commented on Facebook:

As for Jobs’ Apple, well, its significance is really only on popular culture, and without him the company will struggle to keep ahead of the Far East.

On similar lines, I found very interesting an article Steve Jobs: The Secular Prophet, written by Andy Crouch, an editor at Christianity Today, and published in the Wall Street Journal. Thanks to John Meunier for the link.

Crouch explores the symbolism of the Apple logo with the missing bite, and sees in the technology it represents an attempt to reverse the curse of the Fall:

Steve Jobs was the evangelist of this particular kind of progress—and he was the perfect evangelist because he had no competing source of hope. He believed so sincerely in the “magical, revolutionary” promise of Apple precisely because he believed in no higher power.

Thus he presents Jobs as a preacher of “the gospel of a secular age”, one which brings only “cold comfort”,

But the genius of Steve Jobs was to persuade us, at least for a little while, that cold comfort is enough.

Crouch continues by contrasting the Apple pioneer with Martin Luther King, who, unlike Jobs, articulated a real hope for the future.

For people of a secular age, Steve Jobs’s gospel may seem like all the good news we need. But people of another age would have considered it a set of beautifully polished empty promises, notwithstanding all its magical results. …

Whatever the limits of Steve Jobs’s secular gospel, or for that matter of Dr. King’s Christian one, our keen sense of loss at his passing reminds us that the oxygen of human societies is hope. Steve Jobs kept hope alive. We will not soon see his like again. Let us hope that when we do, it is soon enough to help us deal with the troubles that this century, and every century, will bring.

This is how Crouch ends his thought-provoking essay. While I might have liked it to close with a clearer endorsement of King’s true Christian gospel rather than Jobs’ version, it is good to see such matters being discussed openly in a secular journal.

The atheistic Buddhism of Steve Jobs might offer the best that humanity can achieve without God. But that is at best a pale shadow of what men and women can enjoy if they follow Jesus, and allow him to lead them into receiving all the good things which God provides for his people. To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13:12, now we may see an image of reality in an iPhone, but then we shall see face to face.

Gaddafi's Syrtis: nearing the end

It was more than six months ago that I posted Syrtis = Sirt: Danger on the Coast of Libya, predicting that this city whose sands were once a threat to the Apostle Paul would soon be a threat to Col Gaddafi. Well, things didn’t happen as quickly as I hoped then, as a few days later the advancing attackers were forced to turn back from Sirt. But while that town remained in Gaddafi’s hands, almost all the rest of Libya, including Tripoli, has fallen to those who rose up against him.

Col Muammar GaddafiBut now at last the end seems to be near for Gaddafi’s control of the city of his birth. The BBC reports that the NTC forces have now captured most of Sirt, although they “are meeting stiff resistance”. One of their commanders is quoted as saying

God willing, in two days maximum, all of Sirte will be clean.

May God indeed help to bring this about, and without further civilian casualties. It looks as if Gaddafi’s forces are determined to die fighting rather than surrender. As for the colonel himself, no one seems to know whether or not he is among the defenders of Sirt.

And when Sirt does fall to the NTC, that will be not so much the turning point of this conflict as its final act, with few if any more pockets of resistance remaining. Even if he is not personally captured, this will surely signal the end of any semblance of power for Gaddafi.

Clearly this desirable outcome would not have happened without the UN intervention, in which our own British forces played a major part. Does that end justify the means? In a case like this perhaps it does.

But I also see a huge irony in the way that our British government is continuing to promote, through the recent Defence & Security Equipment International exhibition, the sale of arms to the regimes of 55 nations, many of which are just as undemocratic and potentially oppressive as Gaddafi’s was. This has been defended by our government as hugely profitable. But the weapons sold might be turned against unarmed civilians as they were in Libya. So do the profitability calculations factor in the cost of the weapons that might be needed by UN forces to neutralise the ones sold, not to mention the human cost of any such conflict?

Joel Watts, Peter Wagner and a false dilemma

Joel WattsBlogger Joel Watts is also a student of rhetoric. In fact, if I understand him correctly, he is writing a master’s dissertation on rhetoric in the New Testament. Unfortunately he also seems to mastered a form of rhetoric which is not, I think, found in the New Testament, but is a favourite of politicians and other persuaders of less reputable types: the rhetorical use of the false dilemma fallacy. Here is what one writer has to say about this fallacy:

This fallacy typically involves asking a question and providing only two possible answers when there are actually far more. It seems to be a favourite of politicians, especially when trying to win support for a none-too-plausible policy.

Peter WagnerThis is exactly what Joel is guilty of in his post, in fact just in the title of his post, Is C. Peter Wagner lying or backtracking? Joel presents two statements by Peter Wagner relating to his alleged “dominionism” and asserts that these are contradictory, and therefore Wagner is either deceiving people about his real beliefs or repudiating his older ones.

The problem is that Joel has by no means demonstrated any inconsistency between the statements. What in fact seems to have happened is that Wagner has clarified what he meant by an earlier statement which had been misinterpreted. In 2007 he wrote (as Joel quoted):

our divine mandate is to do whatever is necessary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to retake the dominion of God’s creation which Adam forfeited to Satan in the Garden of Eden.

Some people, especially “dominionismists”, have misunderstood the words “whatever is necessary” as suggesting that Wagner was advocating illegal political action or overthrowing the Constitution of the USA. I’m sure nothing like that was ever in his mind. In that same letter he clarified that the intention was “to govern apolitically”, i.e. that the idea was not a political takeover.

But in view of the recent media furore over “dominionism” some further clarification was needed. I have already quoted from a letter Wagner wrote in August (the original link is now broken but the same text appears at this new link) which offers such clarification. Joel’s even more recent quote, from a TV show transcript, takes the same line as the August letter; the key part describes Wagner’s strategy as

In America, it’s democracy and working with the administrative, judicial and legislative branches of the government, the way they are but to have as many kingdom-minded people in influence in each one of these branches of government as possible.

This is absolutely not a contradiction or repudiation of Wagner’s view as expressed in 2007. This is precisely what he always meant by “whatever is necessary”: Christians exerting influence through their normal democratic rights of persuasion and seeking political office.

So, Joel, Peter Wagner is neither lying nor backtracking. He is simply clarifying what he always meant by “whatever is necessary”. You really ought to consider these matters more carefully before using your rhetorical skills to defame the character of your Christian brother Peter Wagner.

Thomas Hooker and John Eliot's house in England

A few days ago, as part of my temporary work, I found myself making a delivery at a house with a blue plaque on it. I was surprised to read that this old farmhouse was the home, from 1626 to 1631, of Thomas Hooker, described as “The Father of American Democracy”, and of John Eliot, “Apostle to the Indians” (i.e. the Native Americans).

Cuckoos Farm, Little BaddowThe house is now known as Cuckoos Farm, in the village of Little Baddow near Chelmsford – in England, not in Massachusetts. This is officially listed as a 17th century timber-framed and plastered house, although sadly the windows are modern. It is about five miles from my home in Great Baddow.

There is more information about Hooker and Eliot, and their residence on Little Baddow, on the website of the Little Baddow History Centre. I was already aware that Hooker, a Puritan, had been a lecturer at what is now Chelmsford Cathedral, and I had heard of Eliot as a Bible translator. But I did not know that when Hooker was forced to leave Chelmsford he opened a school in Little Baddow, with Eliot as his assistant.

There seems to be some uncertainty about the dates. The school in Little Baddow may not actually have been founded until 1630. By 1633 both Hooker and Eliot had separately emigrated to Massachusetts. But their Puritan heritage lived on in Little Baddow. A Congregational chapel built in 1707 near Cuckoos Farm is still in use, now as a United Reformed Church.

Thomas HookerThomas Hooker was indeed one of the pioneers of American democracy, of which, in John Fiske’s words, he “deserves more than any other man to be called the father”. He is also celebrated as “the Father of Connecticut”, as he was one of the founders of that colony, and a drafter of its Fundamental Orders, a precursor of the Constitution of the USA. It is interesting to see that, although himself a pastor involved in politics, he was also a pioneer in separating church and state: he opposed the practice in Massachusetts of allowing the church to control who was allowed to vote, and this was one of his main motivations for leaving Massachusetts to found a new colony.

John EliotJohn Eliot is in some ways of greater interest to me because he was a pioneer missionary Bible translator. His complete Bible in the language of the Massachusett Indians (Native Americans) was perhaps one of the first ever in the language of a newly evangelised people group. Eliot was also a pastor involved in politics. Indeed, he was the author of “the first book on politics written by an American and also the first book to be banned by an American government”. But his politics were very different from Hooker’s: he proposed a theocracy based on Old Testament models, and might perhaps be considered a forerunner of today’s Christian Reconstructionists or “Dominionists”.

It is fitting that these two pioneers are still remembered in the village where they spent several years. It is sad that their story is not as well known as it might be.