A (Now) Open Letter to Reasons To Believe

Open letters are usually letters of critique. The letter I am making public below, however, is a letter of thanks to the creation science ministry called Reasons to Believe, founded by Christian astronomer Hugh Ross. I wrote the letter in April 2015 some time after reading Ross’s book, A Matter of Days. I am publishing it here because I desired at some point to write about why thinking about the physical age of the world is important for Christians, and realized that this letter already contained a good introduction to my thoughts.

Dear Reasons to Believe:

My purpose is simply to thank Dr. Hugh Ross and your ministry for the work you do, and to tell you about the impact Dr. Ross’s book A Matter of Days has had on my perception of the physical world.

I am 32 years old, and, by God’s grace, have always been a Christian. But growing up, it was fairly assumed that being a Christian and taking the Bible seriously meant holding to a young earth creationist model of origins, which I did. Like many young people, I found science very interesting. That interest in scientific topics never faded (though I did not study science in college). In high school I read Henry Morris’s Scientific Creationism, which is a heady tome for someone that age. Though much of it was beyond me, I basically understood the arguments from biochemistry against abiogenesis, which were extremely compelling. As time went on, I began to understand other things, like the rudiments of information theory; irreducible complexity in the cell, in organs and higher organisms, and even in ecosystems; and the case these discoveries made for intelligent design. If the creationists I was reading had done anything well, it was exposing the flaws in evolutionism.

But of course, there was also the issue of the age of the cosmos. Understand, I not only enjoyed reading creation science, I actually attended San Diego Christian College (formerly Christian Heritage College), cofounded by Dr. Henry Morris himself. Henry Morris, John Morris, Duane Gish, and Ken Ham were household names for us. I had from time to time visited the Institute for Creation Research museum. I was familiar with the arguments for a young earth and a global flood, which at the time seemed sufficient. There was no real argument for a young universe, though we all expected this to be forthcoming as science advanced. Until then we just assumed it was young and that explanations for its apparent age would emerge. For a while, I was quite excited about Russell Humphrey’s and John Hartnett’s white hole model.

It is only over the past year or so that I began to doubt the idea of a planet less than 10,000 years old. But after reading a useful little title by Keith Mathison called A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture [currently free for Kindle], I began to realize in a clearer way what I would have affirmed verbally all along—namely, that natural revelation from God in the physical world around us is a source of true knowledge, when properly understood, and that it may be helpful on some occasions in clarifying the meaning of certain things revealed specially in the Bible.

At the same time, I was losing faith in “appearance of age” arguments. These seemed to suggest that even if many lines of carefully considered data all converged to indicate an age of the universe or the earth of billions of years, these lines of data either must be completely misunderstood or they may be authored by God, despite being practically illusory. Even many YEC scientists were rejecting the “light in transit” explanation of visible distant stars, because supernovas greater than 10,000 light years away would requires us to believe the exploded star never really existed and that the perceived explosion was simply a light show God had made. This obviously has unsettling philosophical ramifications about God’s way of communicating, and our belief that the world we live in is real, and not an illusion, as the Bible says (and contrary to some eastern and new age views), and that God has given us senses that accurately perceive this real world, as the Bible assumes. Appearance-of-age explanations for other phenomena, whether geological or astronomical, are likewise problematic.

I began to research interpretations of Genesis 1-2 from Gorman Gray, Meredith Kline, and Mark Futato. This lead me to consider for the first time that a young-earth interpretation may not be the only interpretation that respects the text or authorial intent.

Still, I did not yet know just how compelling the evidence for an old earth was, nor how thin arguments for a young earth were. Besides, in all my reading of science articles from YEC sources, I had heard of this “Hugh Ross” character many times, and knew he was up to no good! But, after opening up to the possibility of an old cosmos, I was interested, hungry even, for more information. I began perusing Reasons.org. Eventually, I wanted to find out what RTB had to say about all this in depth. Still being slightly suspicious, and on a budget, I didn’t want to pay full price for Dr. Ross’s opus, so I “donated” ten dollars to RTB and got the book as a “free gift.” Sorry!

I devoured the book. I sometimes comment that I read it in “a matter of days.” It helped me understand the large volume of evidence for an old earth and universe. This volume of evidence is a real problem for a YEC interpretation of the Bible. YEC proponents often (rightly) point out that facts don’t interpret themselves, and that there are facts and then there are interpretations of the facts. This is true. But likewise there is the text of Scripture, and there are interpretations of it. A true interpretation of the Bible will submit to the Bible’s literary forms, and will integrate the whole, and will not turn a text on its head—words do have understandable meaning, and interpretation has definite limits. So I am not saying the Bible can be “interpreted” to accommodate just anything. On the other hand, this must also be true of natural revelation, since God is its author. Interpreting facts of nature in such a constrained way so as to make them basically incomprehensible also does damage to the idea of God as a revealer of truth, or about the possibility of science at all. And the Bible encourages science (e.g., 1 Kings 4:33). The more we discover about the universe, the more material we have for which to praise a mighty and wise God. There is no need for me to repeat back to you all of your own reasons to accept an old age of the earth. Suffice it say I have been convinced that the earth is old.

I used to view all of secular science with a degree of suspicion. Granted, many of these sources begin with a presumption of atheism. Not that all the contributors are atheists. I simply mean that they will only allow for naturalistic causes of all things. But now I find reading from Nature, National Geographic, or the Smithsonian can be much more exciting, because there is no need to be constantly denying the old-cosmos timeline that is everywhere present. There will always be the need to read all sources with a discerning mind. But maybe these scientists do have much to teach, often unbeknownst to them perhaps, about the glories of the Creator. Maybe they have much to teach about the realities around us—things we can learn. (John Calvin thought so.)

After finishing A Matter of Days I read the Presbyterian Church in America report on the hexameron cited in Dr. Ross’s footnotes. I will also read the Westminster Seminary report. Being Reformed (Baptist) in my own understanding of Scripture, I have much respect for these sources and what they say about the acceptable ranges of interpretation for Genesis. Thank you for pointing them out.

But most importantly, thank you for pointing out the facts of God’s world. God’s people are to be a truth-seeking people. Truth is truth. Believing in a God of truth and revelation, and in an intelligible world created by a law-giver who gives us sensory perception and the laws of logic themselves, and who upholds the universe by fixed and uniform laws, we can pursue the clues of nature methodically to come to accurate conclusions. The irony is that it is the Christian alone who understands the basis in God for math, logic, uniformity of nature, and language. It is this pursuit of truth that concerns me most. It is this, I fear, that YEC proponents may be giving up in order to adhere to their tradition. Dr. Ross’s book was a real eye-opener for me, and I pray that RTB can continue to impact the world for Christ by pursuing truth in all spheres, both theological and scientific.




The Donald and the Fury

Donald Trump is not the problem with democracy; he is the revelation of the problem with democracy. He stands for all to witness as Exhibit A of the tendency of democratic governments to move in a direction toward a kind of populism that elevates nationalistic bromides, identity- and/or envy-politics, and alluring but impossible promises over reason, individual rights, and civil discourse. The rise of Bernie Sanders exhibits this phenomenon also, but Sanders, for all his fallacious and dangerous philosophy of governance, is at least not the boor that Trump is. And in the case of Trump, it seems to be his very boorishness that is winning him the most votes.

Trump has been despicable, insulting and belittling others, denying true accusations, and being boastful. He is an egomaniac (of Obama-like proportions), plainly lacking any discernable core values or driving sense of life other than his own aggrandizement. He is a bigot, an unprincipled opportunist, a buffoon, a serial liar, and generally just an all-around ass. These observations make it difficult for me to understand his success in the primary elections up to this point. I have tried to look at it from different angles, but from every one, Trump seems just as unqualified to be President as ever. Perhaps even more mystifying is that his bad behavior does not appear to affect his support or to influence his supporters. Trump supporters are a stiff-necked people, more determined to vote for him the more distasteful he becomes.

Trump’s success has hit me rather hard, both as an American citizen, and as a registered Republican. As a Republican, I am embarrassed—embarrassed that Trump can be winning so often in the primary election cycle, gaining support from so many other self-identifying Republicans. This tells me that something is wrong with the voter base of the party. Apparently, there is a large swathe of Republican primary voters who don’t identify with the party for the same reasons I do: for a belief in limited, constitutional government, a distrust of executive power, for balanced budgets, private property rights and individualism, etc. Rather, they just want someone to yank the power from the other side, not someone who will try to scale it back. And you see endorsements for Trump coming from every angle as well: from the shock-talking Ann Coulter, to the mild-mannered Ben Carson. Carson’s endorsement was especially surprising to me. (It turns out he has been promised a place in the Trump administration.) Neither of these people, apparently, were as conservative as I thought. For Ann Coulter in particular, endorsing Trump has served to show her true colors: did she really want smaller government or just nationalistic right-wing government (more in line with European conservatism than American classical liberal conservatism). I think Coulter long ago got so caught up in her extreme persona, she lost her roots, such as they were. To me, the Trump endorsement proves it. And Breitbart.com has also drunk the Trump Kool-Aid (not that I have followed Breitbart in years).

As an American citizen, I am beginning to lose my faith in the democratic process. The rise of Donald Trump evinces the idea that any clown can win the highest office in the land if he just riles up enough discontent. Both Sanders and Trump operate by arousing envy and dissatisfaction. For Sanders in particular, mob bloodlust against a pre-picked class of people is his go-to stump speech. For Trump, we see a similar M.O., though, being himself among the group of Sanders’ fall guys, he picks on migrant workers and Muslims instead. Hence his asinine promises to build a giant wall along the southern border (and make Mexico fund it) and to deport all 11 million illegal residents. Who believes this gas? Apparently a lot of people, which is my point. Meanwhile, cooler heads and sensible candidates like Rand Paul and John Kasich get left in the dust.

This upsurge in support of a rascal is disillusioning but probably not a permanent shift in American politics. It will come and go. However, rather than cause depression, it serves as a reminder that my ultimate allegiance is not to a democracy, but to a monarchy, in which an absolute Autocrat reigns with supreme and unquestionable authority over all. I speak of the Kingdom of God. And while God rules sovereignly, he also rules with goodness, kindness, wisdom, and grace. He rules over earthly rulers as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He puts heads of state in office and takes them out. It was the will of God that George W. Bush and Barack Obama be presidents of the United States, and the next President likewise will only have his magisterial authority on loan from God.

God does not promise only to put good people in power. But we can be sure that whoever comes into power is there, in the end, to serve some (often mysterious) purpose of God’s. If I lose sight of this, I have cause to be depressed, but in light of God’s sovereignty, I can press on with those things I do have control over, like trying to live faithfully day in and day out, regardless of the politics of moment.

For further reading on the Donald, try:





In fact, just go to thefederalist.com, search “Trump,” and start reading articles. The Federalist represents, for the most part, exactly the kind of insightful, principled, and engaging conservatism that appeals to me (as opposed to the hot-headed, cringe-inducing variety). It may be the best op-ed news site on the Web.

Rediscovering the NIV

Choosing a Bible translation to read is something any Christian who cannot read the biblical languages must do. And that means most of us. For some people groups, there may be only one translation of the Bible, so the “choice” is not so difficult. For English speaking Christians, the wealth of versions available may make the task confusing. Personally, I have been attracted to a few different translations over time, but as of recently, seem to be landing where I began—the New International Version—and this comes as somewhat of a surprise to myself. I have decided to write an overview of how I got here.

In middle school in the mid-nineties, I had a New International Version Bible my parents got for me. It was a paperback Bible that I took to church, with notes and anecdotes geared toward teenagers. Then, I didn’t think too much about one translation versus another. When I got into high school, I began to take my faith more seriously, and to study the Bible exegetically. Our pastor David Jeremiah preached from a New King James Version. I was looking for a more “serious” Bible version, which to me at the time, roughly meant more literal (or “formally equivalent”—formal equivalence means attempting to retain the form of the original language, including a more word-for-word approach to translation that often transfers over word order even if it sounds awkward in the target language). The NKJV is one of the more formally equivalent translations, and I began using one probably in around 1997 or 1998.

I attended a Christian college beginning in 2003. I was still using the NKJV, and had a compact version I took to chapel. This had been my daily Bible for years at this point. However, I began to learn more about manuscript transmission and traditions, and realized that the textual basis for the KJV and NKJV New Testament does not conform as much as to what was originally written as the textual basis used for most 20th-century English Bibles. I began to think about switching to something else. As a literalistic translation, the New American Standard Bible was one of the foremost competitors in my mind. But a new Bible translation was gaining popularity and endorsements from many of the Christian leaders I respected and being adopted in churches and by people I respected. This was the English Standard Version, whose translation committee was chaired by the venerable J. I. Packer. I began reading it and in time made the switch to the ESV.

While an essentially literal translation, the ESV sanded out some of the rough edges of the NASB, and certainly of the NKJV. I used the ESV as my primary Bible for ten years, from about 2005 to 2015. And I don’t regret it. The ESV is a quality translation of the Scriptures.

Still, the ESV can at times be stiff in its rendering. I am no linguist, but my college degree is in English literature, and I have a great appreciation for elegant prose and poetry. The ESV, while doing better in this area than the NASB or NKJV, can nonetheless sound stilted. (Mark Strauss, in a friendly manner, points out many amusing examples in an article on the ESV.) The more I wanted something that translated into natural English, the more I realized I might look to another version. Indeed, I was starting to be convinced that a literal rendering is not always the most precise way to translate, in terms of successfully carrying over the meaning of the original language—which is, lest we forget, the objective of translation.

And so, I began reading the less-known New English Translation. This was a less literal translation (more “dynamically equivalent” than formally equivalent), but I found it to be precise, and the translators’ notes that accompany it were illuminating. I poured over them for hours, and I will love having my NET full-notes Bible to refer to. I decided to give this translation a shot at becoming my primary Bible in place of the ESV. I read the NET as my main Bible for a full six months. As to the epistles of the New Testament and history sections of the Old Testament, I really enjoyed the NET. It used much more natural-sounding language than my trusty ESV, but did not sound informal. Where it tended to fall short was in poetic and prophetic passages, which make up a very large portion of Scripture. The Psalms sounded dryer—less beautiful somehow. Something about the cadence of more traditional translations was diminished. There were also a few very specific translation choices that disappointed me. Let me give a few examples.

  • The NET translates “man of God” as “prophet” often in the Old Testament. Since the Hebrew word for prophet is also used in the Old Testament, it seems there may be some reason for calling a prophet a “man of God” on various occasions.
  • The NET often translates “those who fear the Lord” as “the Lord’s faithful followers.” This example removes something, it seems to me, about the emphasis of the phrase. No doubt those who fear the Lord can be described as his faithful followers, but the fear of the Lord is a major theme that is not to be missed. If you thought that the translation might be misunderstood by an English-speaking reader today, you could always render it something like “those who revere the Lord,” which seems to me to clear up the meaning while retaining more of the original nuance.
  • The NET also frequently translates “my soul” as “me” in the Psalms. Meaning for meaning, this is acceptable, but the poetic expression of saying, for example, “My soul also is greatly troubled” (ESV) rather than simply “I am absolutely terrified” (NET) has a great force to it that I am sad to lose.
  • Finally, the NET translates “under the sun” in Ecclesiastes as “on earth,” an accurate but dry reduction of the original poetic line from the Teacher in that profound book.

It was these few complaints that made me turn to the New International Version to see how it handled the poetic and prophetic passages. I found that the familiar beauty of the traditional renderings was there in full force, but often with even greater clarity or elegance than in the more literal translations.

  • For example, 1 Kings 12:2 in the NET says “But God told Shemiah the prophet ….” In the NIV we have, “But this word of God came to Shemiah the man of God ….” Here the NIV follows the form of the Hebrew a lot closer than the NET. The NIV does this as long as the original form sounds natural in English and will be understood.
  • Psalm 6:3 in the NIV reads, “My soul is in deep anguish.”
  • The NIV also retains “those who fear the Lord” in the many places it shows up in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 25:12 reads “Who, then, are those who fear the Lord? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose” in the NIV as opposed to “The Lord shows his faithful followers the way they should live” in the NET. This is because the NIV is in general more literal (and hence “traditional”) than the NET, but less literalistic than the ESV.
  • And in Ecclesiastes, as we would expect, the Teacher muses and laments over the meaninglessness of life “under the sun.”

So, I began reading about the NIV translation philosophy and history, and its initial and current reception by conservative evangelicals. I watched Douglas Moo’s talk on Bible translation given on the 50th anniversary of the commissioning of the original NIV translation committee. What I found was very positive and gave me new appreciation for the work of the NIV translation team both in the 1960s and today. I had not considered the NIV for a long time because I thought I had “out grown” it in a way. I had come to imagine the NIV was for beginner Christians. I think now that I was wrong about that. By translating into natural contemporary English, the NIV is often more accurate than word-for-word translations, for indeed a too-literal translation is not a complete translation from the old language into the target language. It’s like a 90% translation, where all it has translated is the lexicon, but not the form and style, from one language to another. On the other hand, playing too loose with the original words will reduce the perception of the wordplay and word pictures God may have wanted us to see. The NIV (and I realize this is the very cliché that almost every new Bible translation claims about itself), but the NIV really does balance accuracy, rich expression, and readability very, very well. Rediscovering the NIV has been like running into an old friend you had almost forgotten about, and finding you could rekindle the friendship.

Some Quick Thoughts on the Age of the Earth

It occurs to me that if the earth were young, its age would be hotly debated among secular scientists, as they were torn between the weight of the geological evidence and the timespans necessary to permit biological evolution, which they would need to hold to as a foundation of their naturalistic assumptions. As it is, science at large has reached total unanimity regarding the age of the earth, and the debate rages only within the church (including among Christian scientists) whose members are torn between the weight of the geological evidence and the timespan restraints imagined by some to be required by the Bible. The very fact that the debate about the age of the earth is raging in the church and not the secular scientific world is a strong indication that the earth is old. Indeed, as old as scientists say it is.
This is not because scientists are smart and Christians are dumb. Nor is it suggesting that in other questions scientists do not argue among themselves. Rather, this is an observation about which group of people—the scientific community or the Bible-believing church—is finding within their ranks apparent conflict between observations of nature and another perceived restraint on the limits of their belief. If the earth were young, it would show itself to be so. But secular science could not easily agree with such a conclusion, since it would preclude evolution. Thus they would be doing the bickering, while Christians happily and harmoniously acknowledged the youth of the planet. On the other hand, if the earth were old, it would show itself to be so, and some Christians would find this difficult to allow, do to a particular interpretation of the first eleven chapters of Genesis; others would permit the record of nature to inform their Bible interpretation and argue that the earth is a few billion years old, in accordance with the scientific findings and not at odds with Scriptural teaching. Thus the church would be those at discord, while the secular world would go on with the understanding of a billions-of-years-old earth, not thinking twice about it.
 Now, all this is based on the assumption that the age of the earth will be evident in the examination of the earth itself, if done carefully and corroborated over a length of time. If one assumes the biblical notions that truth is absolute, that it is that which corresponds to reality (i.e., truth=facts), that the world is real and not an illusion, that real history preceded the present, and laws of physics are constant, then the age of the earth ought to be discernable via the scientific method.
 Interestingly enough, the Bible itself refers to the mountains several times as being “ancient,” “age-old,” or “primeval.” One of these instances is in a blessing given to the tribes of Israel by Moses near the end of his lifetime in Deuteronomy 33:15. This would have been in the neighborhood of 1405 B.C. Now, according to a strict young-earth timeline, adhering closely to the biblical timeline as calculated by Bishop James Ussher in his Annals of the World, Moses would have said this about 2600 years after the creation of the world. This would be pushing the lower limits of “ancient” or “age-old” in my opinion, especially given the fact that pre-Flood humans could live naturally over 900 years. But it gets more difficult. Young-earth creationists believe that the topography of the present-day earth was born out of the cataclysmic geological upheaval that occurred at the time of the Noahic Flood. This means, of course, that the age-old hills were not created during creation week, but in the aftermath of the Flood. This means that the hills were in fact no older than 943 years—less actually, since this is based on when the flood began, and does not take into consideration how long it took for the continental land masses to move and reshape the terrestrial landscape. Moses at this time was 120 years old. These ancient hills, then, were not eight times older than he was. Now, I might refer to Independence Hall in Philadelphia as old, but I would hardly refer to it as ancient. I get the distinct impression that Moses, the author of Genesis, believes these hills to be much older than 1000 years.

Pinning! What’s so Special About Windows Phone

Smartphones … It all began with the BlackBerry phone in 2003. Or perhaps with PDA devices earlier. But it with was the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 (was it really only seven years ago?) that the smartphone began to evolve into what it has become today—mini computer powerhouses with hi-res screens and an explosion of features and capabilities.

Today, BlackBerry is all but extinct, and there are three major players on the smartphone scene: Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone, with the latter being a distant third in terms of popularity. iOS and Android systems have a very similar look and feel. Windows Phone, on the other hand, is something different. All these systems have many, many capabilities in common, so what do I think makes Windows Phone special?

Live Tiles and the Start Screen

three screens

Here are screen shots of the the iPhone 5 home screen, the Android Samsung Galaxy 4S home screen, and a screen shot of my very own Windows Phone’s start screen. The iPhone and the Android basically present you with static icons with which to launch you into various apps. It works fine, but the screen itself is rather uninteresting. Windows Phone, uses tiles instead of icons. These tiles are “live” with activity, receiving updated information and presenting that information before you ever have to open the app. The calender, weather, and to-do list apps are great examples of the usefulness of this function. It makes the start screen itself useful, in addition to being a launching point to get to the other useful stuff. It’s dynamic and beautiful. And in fact, the screen shot does not wholly communicate what sets the Start screen apart from the other two home screens because the Start screen is busy with motion–tiles changing, animating, or flipping around with relevant bits of data for you to see at a glance.

The second thing that’s special about Windows Phone is the ability to “pin” almost anything to the start screen. Obviously, you can “pin” or position app tiles on the start screen. But different apps will allow you to pin other things so you can get at them quickly and directly. It’s hard to describe this without showing it, but for example, OneDrive lets me pin a particular folder to my start screen. Spotify lets me pin a favorite playlist to the start screen. Maps lets me pin a particular destination, which is really nice. Facebook lets me pin a Facebook group. Several sports apps let me pin favorite teams to the start screen. My timer app lets me pin a particular preset timer. The weather app, cities. My YouTube app, videos. I could go and on. Basically, any app can allow you to pin elements within the app directly to start screen so you don’t have to dig for them in the app any more. You can go straight to them. It’s really cool.

Windows Phone still only represents a small percentage of all smartphone usage, and it has done better outside the U.S. than in its own home country. But that’s too bad, because Microsoft has built something unique here, with a fantastic user interface that is quick and dynamic and easy to navigate.

Legislating Morality

Apparently, some people think it’s improper for the government to impose moral standards on citizens. After all, whose moral standards would be imposed? Who would get to decide which standards everyone else should live by? And would this be fair? Because not everyone individually adheres to or believes in the same set of ethical rights and wrongs, how can the government of a society that is supposed to respect individual rights and liberty choose a particular set of moral standards and demand that everyone live by them?

Well, I’ve got news for you: almost all legislation legislates morality … and we’re all okay with that.

Intent vs. Motive



This tweet from @ImusZero was a reaction to a headline in Reason Magazine (a libertarian political journal) that Pat Robertson had changed his mind about legalizing marijuana. He had supported it, but recently came out against it, saying that “little kids are getting high.” ImusZero says we should stop legislating morality and let God be our judge.

God is our judge, which is no light matter. It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But we have human judges too. And these human judges are appointed by God for the time being to carry out his work of promoting justice. But what about this stuff about not legislating morality? I responded that almost all legislation legislates morality. She later “liked” my tweet, making me think she misunderstood me as agreeing with her and saying that almost all legislation should be done away with.

What I really meant is that she had no clue what she was saying. Laws against rape, embezzlement, kidnapping, dog fighting, dumping toxic chemicals in the river, and drunk driving all legislate morality. They impose certain moral standards on everyone. But these are obvious laws to have, you might say. Clearly, these things cannot be allowed, and they’re not like a personal choice to smoke a joint. They may not be like the choice to smoke a joint*, but they are all matters of morality. Whether rape or polluting the river are wrong are moral questions. Even whether they are “bad for society” is a moral question, for what is “bad” is a moral question. Is the spread of disease bad? Why? On what grounds do you say so? Are peace and order good? That’s self-evident to most, but it is also a moral question, and ultimately, one must ask whether one’s foundational beliefs can provide the scaffolding for such assertions. They may be called goods because they promote happiness, but why is happiness good? And if happiness is the basis for morality, that leads to conflicts, as someone may derive happiness from doing that which hurts someone else.

In the end, some general moral principles must be reached, moral judgments must be made, and those, through the law, must be imposed upon everyone. We can argue legitimately about what should and what should not be enforced. But to make the general claim that we should stop legislating morality is utter nonsense.


* There is a difference between “mutual acts” in which everyone involved is involved voluntarily, and acts in which there are willing and unwilling parties involved. ImusZero may believe everything in the first category should be allowed, though not all those things are necessarily good. My saying that they’re not all good is itself a moral judgement that she may not agree with, depending on her definition of good.

Irrelevant Doctrine?

If you think of theological “doctrine” as irrelevant, you aren’t thinking of the right doctrine. Or maybe you’ve heard the right doctrine served up in dull and uninspiring ways. If so, I’m sorry this has been your experience, because doctrine is the very thing that ties you to the story of God’s saving power. Looking for something that makes the Bible relevant to your life? If that’s your primary goal, you may actually have a hard time finding it. But if you simply study its teaching, then it’s importance to you personally will not fail to jump out.

The Bible records a lot of history. It tells us story after story about things that have happened. Those things are interesting. They are often fascinating. But so is a history of World War II. So is the Lord of the Rings, for that matter. The stories in the Bible are not just true stories, however. They are a purposeful weaving together of the acts of God on behalf of his people, in anticipation of the coming Messiah, of the coming Messiah himself, or of the acts of the apostles after the Messiah had come. But what of it? What does that mean for me?

Well, these are stories of God acting to save his people from their sins. Are you one of God’s people? How do you know? That’s a doctrinal question, and the answer is not in the story, but in its explanation. Doctrine explains the meaning of the story and our part in it. For example, here’s story: The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. Okay, great. Now here’s doctrine: So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith …. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

The doctrine takes the historical fact and applies it to YOU. The doctrine tells us what the story means to us personally. Let’s take another example. We know Jesus was delivered up to Roman crucifixion by Pontius Pilate. We know that he was subsequently raised from the dead. That’s interesting—especially that last part. And it’s a great story. But without the doctrine it remains mostly disconnected from us in time and space. So now, let’s allow the apostle Paul to apply the doctrine. Jesus, he says, “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The doctrine, which gives us the meaning of the story and reveals where we come into play and how it affects us, is what draws us in and makes the ancient history our story too. Jesus was raised, yes … but he was raised for OUR justification. Ah, now that’s doctrine!

John MacArthur: What if my Adult Child Comes Out as a Homosexual?

The following video posted by Alpha and Omega ministries is a ten-minute discussion of John MacArthur’s answer to the question, “What do you do if your adult child comes out as a homosexual?” As we would expect, both John MacArthur and James White understand and articulate the appropriate response to such an event. As we would also expect, MacArthur has been getting criticized on the Gay Voices page of the Huffington Post website. The kind of hatred, ignorance, and incivility sure to be represented in that forum are so predictable that I’ll kindly save myself the ulcer and forego visiting the page for myself. Besides posting Dr. White’s video, I wanted to make a comment. Dr. MacArthur is receiving criticism from many angles for his biblical answer, to be sure. One of the things that many people will hate about his stance is precisely what I admire: MacArthur’s refusal to idolize his own children.

I have heard stories of people, including one Republican politician as well as others, who believed in natural marriage until their own children professed to be gay. The “change of mind” caused by such a revelation is difficult for me to understand. I would ask, “Before your child was homosexual, you were aware that other people’s children were homosexuals, right? So how could your own child’s sexual orientation possibly affect your belief on the subject? What new light could it throw on the foundational premises that upheld your original conclusion?” The answer? The “foundational premises” were actually missing, and these people had not really “concluded” that the natural view of marriage was the correct one—they simply believed it by default, by tradition, by inheritance, or because it was expedient. But expediencies change, and empty tradition* can be challenged by any change. If your belief about marriage and sexuality is ungrounded in facts and argument, then it can be easily toppled without facts or argument—but simply by a new situational pressure or an emotional reaction. Such as your own child’s sexual orientation. But of course, someone, your child or someone else, being gay is not an argument. It’s just a fact. The fact needs to find its place in the arguments.

John MacArthur is right. He refuses to seat his own son or daughter on the throne of God by favoring his affection for them over God’s instructions. In an environment where “love” is misunderstood, MacArthur’s obedience to God and love for his hypothetical gay child will also be misunderstood. But don’t be surprised if the world hates you … just keep loving them back.

*Empty tradition may even include traditions that are true and have plenty of factual basis for practice, but whose bases have been forgotten or neglected and are now running on sheer momentum, either for the community or the individual.

Does Reading the Bible Make You More Liberal (or More Conservative)?

I was pointed to an article last week with the intentionally surprising title “10 Reasons Why Reading the Bible Makes Us More Progressive.” By “progressive,” the author, Benjamin Corey, means “liberal” or left-of-center in the modern American political sense. His thesis is that taking the Bible more seriously will actually tend to move you in a leftward direction politically.

If this is true, it is something many evangelicals need to consider. For those of us for whom the Bible is the lodestar of our worldview, the implications of such a question are important. Unfortunately, Corey’s ten points did not seem as thoughtful as they should have been. In my view his conclusion about the correlation between reading the Bible and progressivism is unwarranted. So, in the spirit of critical thought and friendly engagement, let’s look at the 10 Reasons.

Corey’s Points Considered

1, 2, and 7). Let’s lump these together. His premise here is that reading the Bible makes you realize your shortcomings and develop a humble heart. The Bible shows us that we are full of flaws and the Holy Spirit convicts of us of our sin. It teaches us to be humble, quick to hear, slow to speak, and nonjudgmental. It preaches mercy and that justice and mercy are the more important parts of God’s law. Indeed, humility, gentleness, and mercy are important. Very important. They are characteristics that should be evident in every follower of Jesus Christ. We ought to be slow to anger, tenderhearted, patient, and forgiving. I absolutely agree with these things.

But what is the connection between these attributes and progressive politics? Corey states that, “the more I see others as being just like me, the more progressive I become because I move in a trajectory of love, tolerance, and am way less likely to pronounce judgment on someone else than I was before.” A trajectory of love, tolerance, and forbearance is admirable. How it makes you more progressive, though, Corey does not explain. We are left struggling to find the connection. He simply assumes a connection that he must also assume his readers see. I don’t. The implication here is that tolerance, mercy, and humility are found in greater degrees among liberals. This assumption I cannot allow him to get away with. It is simply false. Counter examples abound. And not only is this untrue, it is frankly small-minded and insulting. Is Corey close friends with many or any Republican voters? I don’t know. In any case, insisting on a link between humility and mercy and voting Democrat is a non-sequitor, if not a shameful argument to make.

3) In his third point, Corey says that the more you read the Bible, the more concern for the poor you develop. This also I hope is true for everyone who reads the Bible seriously. The problem I see here, though, is the false assumption that if you care about something, you must support a government agenda to deal with it rather than some other method. It is interesting that studies have shown conservatives probably to be more charitable than liberals in general. I will not argue that it’s because conservatives care more about the poor; conservatives and progressives both care about the poor but have different ideas about how to help them. Concern for the poor is important, and Corey is correct that it is preached all over the Old Testament. But, again, it has little to do with making someone progressive. It would only do so if you believed government was the best way to aid the poor—in which case you were progressive already.

4 and 5) “The more I read the Bible,” says Corey, “the more I realize ‘redistribution of wealth’ wasn’t Obama’s idea—it was God’s” and “the early Christians actually practiced this re-distribution of wealth.” These points and their explanations have holes, to say the least. Corey points out the Jubilee year and restrictions on gleaning your garden more than once, and the command from God that there should be “no poor among you.” He then points out the practice of the early church in the book of Acts of giving one’s wealth to the church leadership to distribute according to need.

The concern for the poor encoded in Old Testament law does serve as an example of sorts that laws against injustice and exploitation are warranted. The poor should not be taken advantage of. If Corey is a progressive, however, it follows that he would not want to implement the Old Testament law today. How far would he use it as a model for modern civil polity? For any progressive or conservative with an agenda, I foresee a lot of cherry picking when pointing to Mosaic law as a basis for modern policies. In the Reformed Christian tradition, there are those called theonomists that would see the Mosaic Law as the civil law that God desires us to put into practice today. This view is by far a minority view. The majority Reformed tradition sees the judicial (governmental) laws of Moses as expiring when the theocratic state of Israel expired, and not obligatory now. However, they are still seen as morally useful as regards their “general equity,” or overall moral compass. This latter use Corey must have in mind. Here, though, Republicans are plenty “progressive” enough. Only the strictest libertarians call for abolishing all government assistance programs in all cases. But even whether the Old Testament Law necessarily points to government assistance programs would be subject to interpretation. A direct link to progressivism? It isn’t there.

What about the practice of the church in Acts 4:34-35. The first point I must make is critical, but may actually surprise many evangelicals: the Book of Acts does not serve as a blueprint for how the church should be run. The epistles do. The books of Acts is a historical record of the church in a unique time in its history—the apostolic age between the Day of Pentecost and the destruction of Jerusalem. About this passage though, it should be pointed out that the communal giving is merely described, not commanded (is = ought fallacy?) , and that it is only mentioned here in two verses and nowhere else. A prescription for the church would be brought up again in more detail. Furthermore, even in this instance the giving was not mandatory. In the comments (some of which were to my encouragement very astute), someone pointed to Ananias and Sapphira to show that the giving was required. I will point to them to show that it was voluntary. From what Peter says in Acts 5:4a, it is crystal clear that Ananias retained his individual property rights, that the donation of proceeds was voluntary, and that the sin of his and his wife’s wasn’t holding back money, but lying about holding back money. Finally, this was a program of the church, not the state. The church today still has a ministry to needy church members which is administered by deacons. But many a staunch Republican gives gladly to the church and even serves as a deacon with joy. Now, church giving is mandatory, but this giving is to support the operation of the church, including its mercy ministries, and is not supposed to be a giving of all you have (in fact, in the New Testament no amount is specified beyond what we have decided in our hearts to give willingly and gladly); nor are Christians commanded to be dependent on the alleged redistributionary function of the church for their livelihood, which they would need to be if the Acts 4 pattern were practiced as described. Contrariwise, per 1 Thessalonians 3:8-10 Christians are supposed to be self-sufficient if able, so as not to use up the church’s resources.  The connection to progressive politics once again dissolves.

Further, he says “There weren’t any mandatory drug testing programs, just assistance according to need.” Well, I’ll simply point to 1 Timothy 5:3-16, since Corey did not mention it, and observe that while there was no drug testing, there were some sensible prerequisites for receiving aid from the church funds.

6) Corey says that Jesus taught that we should pay our taxes. Well, sort of, though he moved on with the question quickly to get to talking about his mission. But still, Romans 13 and other places teach us to submit to the governmental authority and paying taxes is part of that. Since all Scripture encompass the mind of Christ, it’s fair to say this is a teaching of Jesus. Does this realization make one more progressive? As with all the other points, it’s very hard to see how. Taxes are used to pay the cost of government. Even the most right-wing libertarian believes in paying taxes. Among all but anarchists the debate has always been how much and what are they should be used for, not whether they’re necessary. Sorry, but this point of Corey’s is just much too shallow.

8 and 9) Points eight and nine in Corey’s article address the Bible’s attitude toward immigrants and the environment. Here is where I think he makes his best observations, but still makes a logical jump. The treatment of immigrants is a recurring subject in the Old Testament, and always, as far as I know, in favor of the immigrant, the alien resident, the traveler. Foreigners in Israel were to be treated with kindness, not contempt. And I would affirm that despite the change in contexts, Christians must act this way toward sojourners today. That this principle will make you more progressive is a bit of a leap, however. Personally, I believe in a pretty open and welcoming immigration policy. But that would be the libertarian in me—not exactly a “progressive” influence. Moreover, it goes without saying that the situation of ancient Israel was much different from that of the U.S. or any other country today, where the advances in weaponry and transportation and the complexity of the world make the dangers associated with porous borders unfortunately very real. I am not advocating a closed-border policy. I am simply pointing out that the issues are not so simple anymore, and that therefore, Corey’s basic equation that compassion and magnanimity towards the foreigner must coincide with a particular immigration theory is not sufficient. Many with stricter theories of immigration are not uncaring of the predicament of those seeking to relocate, but instead sensitive to the impact and risks connected with unchecked borders. The answers are not so easy and are not directly correlated with how compassionate someone is.

On the environment, though, let me give Corey the win. Conservative Christians have in the past decade or two begun to talk about environmental stewardship and care for God’s creation more frequently and more mainstream. This is a very good development. But it did take the left-leaning environmentalist movement of the prior decades to jolt Christians from complacency, and many evangelicals are still snoozing. That is not to say the issue was never seriously addressed by religiously conservative Christians before. Exhibit A: the book that helped me reevaluate my own approach toward the environment was “Pollution and the Death of Man” by Francis Schaefer. This gem was published in 1970. Still, it was the exception, not the norm.

On the other hand, it is only fair to note that conservatives considered collectively certainly do not have a monolithic view on how the government should or shouldn’t interfere to protect the planet. I, for instance, believe in protecting the planet but am no friend of the Executive cudgel known as the EPA, an agency most progressives not only support but would employ even more aggressively. But, to concede, reading the Bible should lead us to understand our dominion role as one of caretaker and steward of the beauty, diversity, and delicacy of God’s good earth—and progressives discovered this first.

10) Benjamin Corey’s final point is his worst. He says that as he reads the Bible, he realizes that “God isn’t judging us by whether or not we get all of our doctrine right—he’s judging us by whether or not we get the ‘love one another’ part right.” Actually, reading the Bible leads to no such conclusion. The oddity here is that if reading the Bible drove you to that realization, then it is itself a doctrinal realization. It is true that God is not judging us on whether we get *all* our doctrine right, in the sense that neither our salvation nor God’s acceptance of us is based upon passing a theology test. We are not saved by our knowledge per se, and our knowledge should grow as believers, which means it was smaller when we were first born again. But deemphasizing doctrine is always troublesome. The reason is because apart from an accurate understanding of who Jesus is, the predicament of the human race, Jesus’s atoning work, and faith, we actually cannot truly come to Christ and become one of God’s children. Corey says God is “less concerned with us all sharing the same doctrine  but is heavily concerned with whether or not we love each other.” God is certainly concerned with whether we love each other. But is he nonchalant regarding us all “sharing the same doctrine”? Consider 1 Corinthians 1:10, which says, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Paul tells Timothy to watch his doctrine closely and to shun anything contradicting sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:10, 4:16). He likewise tells Titus he *must* teach what coincides with sound doctrine and to hold firmly to what he had been taught already, so that he could encourage others with sound doctrine and refute false doctrine (Titus 1:9, 2:1). In Philippians 2:2, Paul emphasizes both that we love each other and that we share the same doctrines. They’re both very important to God. In fact, Paul in Romans 10:2 laments the condition of his fellow Jews, because they had a fervor for God—but it wasn’t based on an accurate understanding! Romans 10:2 should be taken to heart. It does not mean are saved by our knowledge, nor must we memorize Charles Hodge to know God as father; but it does mean there is some baseline of correct knowledge about the gospel we must have in order to call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

“Doctrine” is not an academic theory. Doctrine is simply, “What does the Bible teach about this?” Even if the explicit verses about the importance of doctrine I gave were not there, we would still have to believe that doctrine is paramount for the obvious reason that if God communicates to something to us, it must be important to understand what he means. That is, we know doctrine must be very important from the very fact that we *have* a Bible to read.

Our love for one another is indeed, as Corey says, to be the calling card of the Christian church. It is our hallmark. It is how *the world* knows who we are. But how do *we* know who we are? Doctrine. Biblical Christianity posits a body of propositions to us and demands we believe them. That’s doctrine. Get it wrong, and you don’t have Biblical Christianity. And by the way, what this one has to do with political affiliation I do not know. There are Bible belt Republicans a plenty that go to church every week but care less about doctrinal matters than Benjamin Corey. This goes both ways. If Corey is implying care for doctrine for some reason made you more conservative (which he seems to be), then Corey’s whole thesis that “taking the Bible seriously” makes you more progressive would be a self-contradiction since “taking the Bible seriously” is just another term for doctrine!


So what’s my point? That, No Corey, reading the Bible should actually make you a good Republican? Not at all. My job was merely to complicate Corey’s simplistic reading of Scripture. In none of the above points did I swing the pendulum the other way and say that reading the Bible will actually push you towards the right. While this has of course been done often, I think that that too is a non-sequitor that needs to be abandoned. And that’s my real point in taking on Corey’s interesting article. I think he is making the same mistake in reverse. In many of his points, the problem was he simply did not give serious Bible readers who also vote conservatively the benefit of the doubt, and was too hasty in forging links between Biblical ideas and progressive ideology. His faulty assumption is that Christian conservatives must simply be conservative for tradition’s sake and if they would just study their Bibles more carefully and humbly, well …. Yet isn’t possible they have given the issues real thoughtful consideration, not casting off biblical authority, and simply come to more conservative conclusions? I would give the same benefit of the doubt to political progressives whose theological doctrine is orthodox—and yes, such people exist.

It is simplistic to use the Bible to advance a political agenda where the politics involved are not clearly hit upon in Scripture. And not many political issues are. Oh, there are moral issues coming into sharp focus now that the Bible speaks about, and that may have political implications. But the Bible does not say whether to increase or phase out Social Security. It does not tell us whether the Keystone Pipeline is a good idea. It does not explain Keynesian and Austrian economics and say which is a more accurate model of the real world. It really doesn’t. It isn’t because the Bible is insufficient. The Bible is a hundred percent sufficient for its purpose. Its purpose is to tell us a story about God, Creation, Fall, and Redemption, what it means for us, and what we must do in light of it. Trying to weave the Bible into politics gets hairy pretty quickly (see also, D.G. Hart and Carl R. Trueman). I am not saying there are no worldview implications derived from the Bible that will bleed into politics from time to time. But I am saying that taking the Bible seriously does not lead invariably to one contemporary American political affiliation or another. Conservatives have been rightly criticized for this kind of shoehorning, but they are not the only culprits. (I once visited a church where the pulpit was basically hijacked as a platform for a liberal political speech. I was furious—and not because I disagreed with the politics.) So now it’s my turn, as a conservative, to call a progressive to account for the same fallacious logic. Let us as Bible-believing Christians just knock it off.

Psalm 111:2

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”

The Bible leaves no doubt about the greatness of the works of God. Our experience should leave no doubt about the greatness of works of the Lord. And we who delight in God should also delight in what God has accomplished. Psalm 111 was read in church this morning, and I took particular notice of verse two. Here, the psalmist says that all who delight in the works of the Lord study the works of the Lord. The NIV says they “ponder” them, and The Message paraphrases the verse by saying, “God’s works are so great, worth a lifetime of study—endless enjoyment!” Indeed, for the child of God, to study God’s works is to take enjoyment in them as they reveal with greater depth the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Almighty.

Here is a call to consider, to chronicle, to analyze, and understand the works of God. I do not mean we can fully comprehend the reasons for all God’s works, the methods behind all his acts, the interworking of all his plans—or even discover everything God has done. But we can try our best. So long as we refrain from useless speculation about what God leaves hidden and train our minds to examine the works of God that he has revealed, we are doing the right thing and strengthening our ability to exalt God properly.

Studying the works of the Lord involves, as I see it, two broad branches of knowledge. It may involve more than this, as God is creator of all things, visible and invisible, and the ultimate cause of all history. God’s decree includes all things that exist and all things that occur. Hence history is a subject that deals with the works of God indirectly (i.e., via second causes). But when I think of the study of the immediate works of the Lord, I think of especially of theology and science.

Theology is the careful study of the special (Scriptural) revelation from God to humankind. Of course, theology includes more than God’s actions. It also includes God’s being as well as our relation to God, angelology, ecclesiology, etc. But all Bible study is theological in nature, and therefore to study the works of the Lord in the history of redemption is to study theology. The great miraculous works of God in the history of Israel may be more keenly in the mind of the psalmist here, though perhaps not exclusively. But it is clear that the verse applies to the entire portfolio of God’s works. If you are amazed or comforted by them, then study them. If they bring you wonder and delight, then study them. They speak to us about God’s love, God’s holiness, God’s power to save and to judge, and God’s plan for the ages. Study all the Bible says about what the Lord has done.

Science is the careful study of the general (natural) revelation from God to humankind. As such, as I have said previously, science is a kind of theology in its own right, examining, as it were, the artifacts of God. As R. C. Sproul has pointed out, general revelation is just as infallible as special revelation when it comes to conveying truth. Any fact we glean about nature is a fact gleaned about a creative act of God, and thus about God himself. Our interest in the great “works of the Lord” must extend to all his works, and this includes his works of creation. Certainly we see a biblical precedent for this. I remember the first time I realized that King Solomon was an amateur botanist, zoologist, and ornithologist who composed descriptions of local flora and fauna. This is revealed in a single verse in 1 Kings, which says “he spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish” (4:33). The NET Bible puts it in more modern terms: “He produced manuals on botany, describing every kind of plant, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows on walls. He also produced manuals on biology, describing animals, birds, insects, and fish.” Remarkable! Christians have reason to be more excited about science than anyone else, because they know the Maker of “all things visible” (the earth, the elements, life, the whole visible universe) and “invisible” (not only spiritual entities, but radiation, gravitation, magnetism, nuclear forces, energy, and possibly dark matter, plus whatever else may be out there). Delight to study these things.

Needless to say, general revelation is subject to misinterpretation, especially when approached from the outset with a rejection of special revelation (which is more explicit). But special revelation is subject to misinterpretation, too. Furthermore, like non-Christian scientists, scientists who do accept the authority and divine origin of the Bible can and do misinterpret natural revelation. This is the nature of science and the need for the scientific method. But this should not discourage the study of science, since it is still the study of the works of the Lord. Both scientists who do and scientists who do not believe the Bible will, as a result of their fallible science-study of infallible natural revelation, get things right and things wrong about God’s works. Likewise, those who are and who are not true children of God will, as a result of their fallible Bible-study of infallible special revelation, get some things right and some things wrong about God’s works. Wrong ideas about God’s works are to be corrected by ongoing study, whether in the realm of science or in the realm of theology.

By God’s grace, human beings have gained very much knowledge about the works of the Lord in creation by Christian and non-Christian scientists alike. Every fact published by any atheistic scientist, every new discovery disclosed in any secular journal by any institute or organization, adds yet another reason to awe at the glory of God. Even many who scoff at theism have discovered by their good research wonder upon wonder performed by God. There is no danger for the Christian in studying those wonders (scientific facts). Praise God for the good science happening globally. Nevertheless, Christians should not be content to leave the studying to the world. No, indeed! The psalmist says the works of God are studied by “all who delight in them.” Christians, that’s us. It doesn’t mean you personally have to be a scientist or a professional theologian. But if you delight in the works of the Lord, delight to learn about them, about all of them—facts about the miraculous redemptive works of God recorded in Scripture, and facts about the creative works of God recorded in the natural world around us. Even facts about the providential work of God upholding the cosmos and caring for his creation. They are all equally works of the Lord, on display for our education and delight.

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