Dec

27

2012

John Dickson|10:00 PM CT

Deliver Us from 21st-Century Blindspots

More than once, my friends and colleagues have raised a question mark over the study of history or historical background of the Bible. They appreciate the "apologetic" dimensions of history---demonstrating the credibility of the Gospels, and so on. But their concern is the use of history to help us interpret the Bible in a normal expository setting. "All we need is the Bible," they say. How does a Reformed evangelical argue with that!? The simple answer is: what we actually need is the Bible understood in the way the original authors intended. And as soon as we say that, we need a whole bunch of tools---linguistic and theological, as well as historical---to help us cling to Scripture alone.

In other words, we need a bit of good history to read the Bible well, just as we need some linguistic knowledge to look at the squiggles on a page in the first place and recognize their meaning as words and sentences.

Value of Background

The main value of "historical background"---an expression I dislike---is that it provides us with another set of lens that keeps us from reading the text, focused only on the thought-forms, assumptions, and questions of our particular culture. Good history is medicine for the ailment of cultural "citizenization." Let me explain.

To a great extent we are all citizens of our time and place. I don't mean citizens in a national or ethnic sense---though this plays a part. I mean that the way we look at the world is shaped decisively by the key social influences in our lives, our family, education, income level, the friends we mix with, the suburb live in, the media we absorb, the Christian tribe we align with, and so on.

The process of "citizenization" is so subtle, yet so complete, that is difficult, if not impossible, for any of us to think objectively about our way of seeing reality---to discern which parts of our culture are true and good and which parts are accepted simply because we are accustomed to them.

One of the slightly disturbing things about being a student of history is coming across aspects of previous cultures that are shocking and horrible (by my standards) but which went virtually unnoticed at the time. In the first-century Roman world, we could think of slavery, infanticide, pederasty, and torture. I'm not primarily disturbed that first-century Romans failed to see this evil as evil; I'm concerned that my culture perhaps does equally horrible things that, because of my "citizenization," I cannot view clearly as sin.

If I were born in 19th-century Australia, would I really have thought twice about the fact that women and Aborigines were denied the vote? I like to think so, but I doubt it. Or if were brought up in 18th-century Britain, would I have seen anything wrong with the economically crucial trade in human lives? I fear not.

If we ponder this problem long enough, we are left with one of two conclusions about our contemporary culture. Either we have evolved to a point of cultural purity, where we have removed all blemishes of human society, or there are disturbing elements in our society that, because of our cultural position, we cannot see---elements that future generations will look back on the way I look back on 19th-century Australia, 18th-century, Britain or 1st-century Rome.

Protecting Us from Us

Here, then, is one of the main benefits of history for the reader of the Bible: Studying history protects us from reading God's Word only through the lens of the present century.

You don't need to buy into the whole postmodern perspective to admit that we all read the Bible as "citizens" of our particular time and place. I am not suggesting there is no meaning in the text other than the meaning we bring to it. But nor can we imagine that we are completely objective when we read the text. Africans spot things in the Bible that the Chinese don't immediately see; the Chinese see things that we in the West don't immediately recognize; and, of course, we in the West perceive things that African and Asian Christians overlook. The questions of one culture are different from the questions of another culture, and none of us can avoid bringing those questions to the text---nor should we.

Here is the broader value of studying history: it gives voice to the questions and perspectives of times and places other than our own. This is my defense of history when people ask, Why bother studying the past? Studying history is an act of "democracy." I'm listening to the many voices of the past rather than to the few voices of this "blip" we call the 21st-century Western world.

Second Pair

Every Bible reader comes to the text with a set of lenses, whether African Pentecostals, Sydney Anglicans, or American evangelicals. Knowing some biblical history gives you a second pair of lenses. To be sure, God's Spirit speaks truly and clearly to us from the pages of Scripture. He does so, however, through what the Westminster Confession calls the "ordinary means." I think most of us would understand "ordinary means" to include some knowledge of biblical language, theology, and history.

In my view, New Testament specialists ought to have a grasp of Greek language, first-century history, and systematic theology. Equally, they should use these tools to shed light on Scripture, never to avoid its meaning. The lens of history, properly employed, does not obscure the text; instead, it gives us sharper vision to see what is really there---what we perhaps have overlooked because of our cultural lenses.

John Dickson (PhD, Ancient History) is the author of numerous books, including The Christ Files (Zondervan) and If I Were God, I’d Make Myself Clearer (Matthias Media). He is senior research fellow in the Department of Ancient History (Macquarie University), co-director of the Centre for Public Christianity, and senior minister of St Andrew’s Church Roseville in Sydney. He is married to Elizabeth and has three children.

  • James K

    Hear, hear! I have often been encouraged and corrected in ministry by my reading history, both secular and sacred. Secular history, being someone else's contemplation on general revelation, forces me to reflect on my own world view, and consider challenges to it. From sacred history, I find the Fathers of the first four centuries particularly helpful as conversation partners in ministry. Not because I always think they see scripture rightly, but, as CS Lewis points out, "They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us." (From his Preface to On the Incarnation, at http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/history/ath-inc.htm)

  • http://baliset.blogspot.com Nathan Zamprogno

    I applaud this article for its intent, but can't help having mixed feelings about it.

    Now 39, I spent 20 years in the Australian pentacostal church, in the "Hillsong" mold. I even spent several years on the staff of such a church as I contemplated a career in ministry. As ex-minister Dan Barker would say, no one could doubt I was saved, and was sincere. However, the church movement God had planted me in was a mile wide in its good intentions, and an inch deep in its superficiality towards Scripture.

    I no longer believe. I want to, but the idea of giving assent to many of the things I used to, and sacrificed my life towards, now makes me cringe in embarrassment, as though I was being asked to publicly profess a belief in the tooth-fairy. Letting go is hard, very hard, but I've concluded it feels like growing up because that's what it is.

    Anyway, I'm prompted to respond to this piece because the issue you raise was one contributing factor (among many) to my loss of faith.

    You are correct in identifying that we are predisposed to examining the Scriptures through the lens of our citizenship of our own age and culture. Yes, we look askance at the (purportedly Christian) mores of other ages, who remained complicit in slavery, holy war-mongering, or who exhibited a mode of morality that (in retrospect) seemed far more grounded in that culture than the edicts of the Bible. Without stating my own view, I'll state it as simply a overwhelming probability that the Church's current views towards same-sex relationships will seem as bigoted and embarrassing in fifty years from now as antimiscegenation looks like to us now. Why, I know a Federal politician, very conservative and Christian in all things… very *white*, who votes trenchantly against gay marriage, in complete ignorance of the irony that her own marriage to a black man would have itself been illegal (or at least frowned upon) only a few generations ago.

    I do not detect any clear moral imperatives in any Scripture that are not mitigated, partially if not wholly, by cultural interpretation. In the same way that preachers once justified slavery, or plenary indulgences, and today condemn euthanasia, gay marriage or abortion, may very well in a future age turn to the same scriptures to warmly approve of each.

    And please don't tell me that would be impossible in any reading of the Bible, because worse inversions have been made in the name of Jesus Christ in the past, with a straight face, and enforced upon the masses as canon law the contradiction of which invited torture before death and damnation afterwards.

    And neither suggest that the flaws I draw your attention to lay with "The Church" and aren't a true reflection of God, or "what the Bible really says", because that's precisely the point you appear to be making. God seemed happy to have generations of followers believe these things as eternally and inviolably true. Why?

    You suggest people should look at Scripture with a modicum of first century Greek, or systematic theology behind them. I cheer you on. Better than twenty years of sermons which were little more than thinly disguised motivational tracts and self-aggrandising preening. I just completed a (secular) degree in History and Philosophy, including the Sociology of Religion. I've seen the history of the Church, and I've compared Christianity dispassionately with other modes of religious belief.

    Who can't help but have a crisis in their faith when looking Christianity through this lens?

    • Jin Kim

      Nathan,

      I understand your concern and your reasons for losing your faith. But, may I suggest a different perspective of the Bible events that trouble you so.

      There is no instance in the Bible where conversion takes place and instantly the person becomes a saint. Conversion, although it may be instant with heart pounding emotions and tears, is not a one-time magical event where the person becomes a perfect little Christian. Conversion is a long arduous journey for the soul with many ups and downs. Conversion is a series of baby steps that may never end up with the soul being a "perfect" Christian. Because of sin, God accepts us the way we are and where we are in culture and society. Although God expects us to be holy and perfect like Him, He understands that it is a long arduous process for us and He is patient enough to work with us where we are personally and where we are as a society. This is why we see slavery and other morally corrupt practices in the Bible. God knows that things won't change overnight. As we get to know the nature of God more and more and as our relationship with God deepens, God will expect more and more from us and from our society. God will expect us to change and slowly, but surely start to drop morally corrupt practices individually and as a society. God will start to "prune" us to perfection. But, God will always accept us as we are.

      So when you see such "un-Christian" activities among professed Christians or read about morally corrupt practices being accepted in the Bible, please remember that all individuals and societies are at different stages of their journey.

      Please don't be discouraged because God is always working.

    • http://www.arpnovascotia.com/covenant KJQ

      Nathan: I was very saddened reading your comments regarding this article as you related no longer believing in God and/or Jesus Christ. My family and I will pray for you tonight in our family devotions. I had difficulty with your statement that there are no moral imperatives in the Bible that aren't subject to cultural influences. The 10 commandments are pretty straightforward in relaying things which are immoral. Yes, the details matter, but I think everyone knows what lying, stealing, coveting and adultery are, regardless of what culture they come from.

      Please remember that all Christians are sinful and woefully inadequate at keeping God's commandments. That is actually testimony to God's glory and the amazing thing about His grace - we can't earn salvation by our own works - only Christ having lived a perfect life under the law (and paying for our sin on the cross) earned a right to eternity with Him for those who are His elect.

      The last thing I will say is that I was a scientist before coming to faith very late in life. Since the Bible appeared to conflict with everything I'd been taught (e.g. evolution), I struggled with my faith. I have since discovered the massive deception and willful lie that evolution is, and that creation (i.e. young earth, global flood) is true. I strongly encourage you to check out the web site creation.com as it has over 8,500 articles & papers showing how science actually support creation. If evolution is false (which it is), then there must be a God. The only God that makes sense of the world is the God of the Bible. I pray that God will open your eyes to see the truth.

      • sarath

        Brother KJQ,
        I have read your response to Nathan's post carefully. I can identify with the burden that you feel. But, brother, let us be clear about one thing: Jesus Christ all through his ministry never said: 'go and make a good argument about me to the world.' Argumentation is a small part of our life. He said: Go and tell this Good News to the world".
        People turn to God not because we put before them the best argument. They do when God chooses to do it.

        We love and live with a God who is sovereign. You and I are given only one job by our Saviour: Obey God and love our Neighbour. If Nathan has "spent 20 years in the Australian pentacostal church, in the "Hillsong" mold" we need to sit and listen to him and meditate on it. It is particularly important because, to the extent I understand Pentacostalism.....they emphasise 'experience' much more than argumentation....Let us wait for his response....

        • Lou G.

          Sarath, We're also told to always be ready to make a defense/apology/argument of the hope that is within us. While KJQ's response may not be directly helpful in addressing Nathan's original comment about losing his faith (I didn't see any mention of creation and evolution in it), your response to him here seems to take needless offense.

      • http://baliset.blogspot.com Nathan Zamprogno

        Dear KJQ,

        If you are a young earth creationist, I scarcely know where to begin. To argue with someone who has abandoned their reason so, like Ingersol said, is like giving medicine to the dead.

        Interestingly, you have identified another strand leading to my loss of faith. The first was this mutability of doctrine in the face of the Zeitgeist that this article's author laments. But the second was my acceptance of Ken Ham's imperative: "Either six-day, six-thousand-year-ago creation as described in Genesis is literally true, or the whole edifice of Christianity is false". This is perhaps the only thing upon which Ken and I agree, because assuredly, in all other things, Ken Ham is an drooling idiot.

        Neither the Universe, and not even the Earth, is six thousand years old. Science (proper science, not the pretend, fingers-in-the-ears, dinosaurs-are-alive-and-well-in-Borneo, Kent Hovind science) tells us through a hundred interlocking disciplines that the Cosmos is ancient, and that all life on Earth is related through descent from a common, primitive ancestor. The Large Hadron Collider, the genetic sequencer and the Hubble telescope reveal a universe of immeasurably more majesty and mystery than the "literal" gardens-and-snakes myth of the Bible.

        I used to think that some kind of harmonisation was possible, and that my life-long respect for Science could be reconciled with Christianity. I no longer believe this, because people who tell me that the Earth is 6000 years old make me recoil. I feel profoundly embarrassed for you, which is compounded by a realisation that you are completely unaware of how you bring Christianity into disrepute.

        I say this because I am frequently reminded of the words of Saint Augustine, who said:

        "Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.... Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by these who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertions"

        ...Well, that's still completely true today. If the Bible is truth, then to deny Evolution must be "reckless and incompetent", since Evolution, like the great age of the Universe, is undeniably true.

        • KJQ

          Dear Nathan:

          I am indeed a young earth creationist. I have to say that I'm very disappointed that you have resorted to ad hominem attacks as your earlier comments seemed to imply you'd be above that sort of thing. There are thousands of scientists past and present (myself included) who are YEC's. Do you REALLY believe this is a question of intelligence? You made several statements that are just not correct. Neither creation nor evolution can be proven using the scientific method because it only works in the realm of operatiotnal science, not historical science. Both creationists and evolutionists have the same data (e.g. fossils, sediment etc.) to work with. What is different is the presuppositions they have when interpreting the same data. I could quote hundreds of papers which show the serious problems with evolution, but somehow I sense you're not really open to examining the evidence since you attack the people rather than refute the evidence. If I'm wrong, I suggest you look into things such as how there can still be comets, why there isn't 95KM's of sediment at the bottom of the oceans, why there is so much helium in the earth's soil, why the sun is as bright as it is, why there are still rings around Saturn etc. etc. As previously stated, there are thousands of such problems for evolution covered on the creation.com web site.

          I brought up the topic merely in the hope that you'd be open to examining the "other side". Regardless, my family and I will still pray for you.

          • http://baliset.blogspot.com Nathan Zamprogno

            KJQ,

            I am a respectful debater, but I would feel like I was ignoring an elephant in the room if I didn't remind participants in this forum that Young Earth Creationism is not a widely held position. It has been denounced by Anglican & Catholic leaders (among others) as poor theology, completely aside from the fact it represents fake science. I myself worked full-time for 11 years at a non-denominational Christian School in Sydney and our "Teaching of Origins" policy rejects Young Earth Creationism completely. Thus, if I state it is a fringe belief, and an embarrassing one, I feel I have some justification. Your error, I suggest, is in confusing fundamentalist American Christianity for mainstream Christianity, and in mistaking the microcosm of glossily produced but content-free Creationist magazines with serious research and scholarship.

            Further, in your response, I detect a faithful rendition, without nuance, of the CMI/AiG/ICR mantra, especially "Both creationists and evolutionists have the same data … What is different is the presuppositions they have when interpreting the same data." Bluntly, this is laughably and demonstrably untrue. This is purely an ideological excuse offered in the absence of robust proofs. Creationists feverishly exclude data (even whole disciplines such as Evolutionary Developmental Biology, or "evo-devo") and typically confine their argument to precisely the kind of "arguments disproven a thousand times" you chose as your exemplars: comets, ocean sediments, crust helium, saturnian rings, or the mechanism by which the sun shines. I deduce how unserious you must be since some of these arguments appear in the "Arguments Creationists Should Not Use" section of the self-same creation.com website you suggest I consult. For the rest, long settled and comprehensive rebuttals can be found at the talk-origins website for each of these (presumably your strongest) examples. If this is your defense of the Gospel, you are a poor ambassador.

            I do not intend to be drawn off into such case by case rebuttal over things contention over which only exists in the pages of Creationist literature, and not among legitimate scientists. Instead, I return to my main point, which is that people who offer up Young Earth Creationism as a proof of the veracity of the Bible are a minority even among Christians, and send droves of intelligent, empirically minded, scientifically literate, spiritually seeking people away in gales of laughter, ensuring both their contempt and their non-conversion.

            • Jim Kim

              This is the sad state of Christianity.

              Why do we feel the need to have a scientific debate with non-believers. This is such a tempting trap set by the devil to get Christians off focus from the true will of God.

              But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (I Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)

              This whole debate about evolution vs. creation is just too foolish to me. It's like 2nd graders debating about string theory vs. quantum gravity. No matter how advanced our science and knowledge of the universe gets, we will NEVER come close to scratching the surface of its secrets.
              We may eventually understand some mechanisms of life and the universe, but we will NEVER understand the force of life that brings inanimate masses to life.

              Our job as a God-fearing people is to have a spiritual relationship with our creator and just thank Him for all the miracles and gifts given to us for FREE. I'm sure that our creator will reward us with all knowledge once we are in heaven.

            • anaquaduck

              The Christian scientists that you belittle are legitimate scientists...& they are the ones revealing Scripture & science. Many people relate to the notion of being deceived regarding a big bang, missing links, etc. Let’s not forget the scientific world is divided on various theories. With CMI you get two sides of the story & gracious responses that reflect the faith, much better than a mainstream media release that lasts a moment with no follow up or a poster on the side of a bus that passes by. Your idea that Roman Catholic & Anglican leaders agree with evolution therefore...is hardly scientific or good theology for that matter.

              It may seem laughable to take God at his Word, Noah would know all about that. Embarrassment is something many Christians feel also, but for different reasons. The Apostle Paul had no reason to be ashamed of the gospel & nor should anyone who has come to faith in Christ…The holy prophets of God had their opponents in their day, but by the Spirit God accomplished His purposes. Living in the last days a believer is expected to endure hardship & mocking, after all so did our loving & gracious King. Faith in human logic (as wonderful as it is at times/also a gift from God) does not deliver from the power of sin & death with all its deception. Jesus said…I am the light of the world (a good thing in a dark place) so what do you love most, light or darkness, Scripture’s wisdom or Humankinds….

              In defence of my Christian faith…On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

            • http://baliset.blogspot.com Nathan Zamprogno

              Jim Kim:
              I'd like to challenge your statement "Why do we feel the need to have a scientific debate with non-believers. This is such a tempting trap set by the devil to get Christians off focus from the true will of God."
              I'd like to ask if there is any other kind of real-life situation you could think of where a statement like "I can only preserve my ability to believe in 'x' by ignoring any evidence to the contrary" and be taken even remotely seriously thereafter?

              I contend this is a complete abrogation of your duty as a Christian. Does not 1 Peter 3:15 require you to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have"? Does not Matthew 22 tell us that Jesus identified, as a part of the greatest commandment, "loving God with all your *mind*"? Would not the God who gave you your mind, not intend you to forgo its use, as Galileo suggested?
              I think, when you say "No matter how advanced our science and knowledge of the universe gets, we will NEVER come close to scratching the surface of its secrets", that you are advocating ignorance and a lack of curiosity about the Universe that borders on the medieval. I don't take what you say as a call for modesty (yes, there's always more to know), but rather you are like the Jesuits, Cremonini and Libri, who refused to look through Galileo's telescope to confirm there were mountains on the moon.

              I think you set a snare for your faith (and anyone who takes your advice) when you say "we will NEVER understand the force of life that brings inanimate masses to life", because there have been plenty of people who pinned their faith on the lack of a non-supernatural explanation for… well, pick one: lightning, conception, biology, stellar formation, heredity, chemistry, gravity, fossilisation, neurology, epilepsy, vitalism, phlogiston, aether… should I go on?
              And when scientific explanations for each of those became irrefutable, what of people who took your view that the best way to preserve their faith was to ignore (or shrilly deny) that evidence? Yep, they got laughed at and consigned to ignominy, with the reputation of God suffering as collateral.
              I anticipate we will have a testable theory (and capacity) to create life from primordial chemicals within our lifetimes. By then, perhaps you will have conveniently forgotten your assertion.

              Anaquaduck:
              Your response is more respectable, but is still factually wrong. Creationists would have you believe there are evenly divided opinions on key scientific questions relating to the age of the Earth/Universe, or the ability of macro-evolutionary processes to explain the world we see, but in truth this is a bald lie designed to make you feel defensive towards Creationism and antagonistic towards so-called godless science. This "split" is confected, manufactured from whole cloth, a conscious deception inflicted *on you* for ideological reasons (and financial reasons as well; let's not forget Creationism is a lucrative scam as well). No, CMI do not present both sides of a debate, and no, they are not gracious about it. Further, these scientists-who-are-Christians don't publish their Creationist views in peer-reviewed journals and usually pontificate their absurd views well outside their field of qualification.

              This is what my view boils down to: Intellectual honesty only exists where there is an ability to weigh evidence and accept it is compelling *in spite of* the loss of certainty, community, comfort, psychological support, peer-acceptance or smugness that is necessarily lost in accepting the evidence points away from Biblical or supernatural explanations. I have done this, and I have paid that price (grudgingly at first, gladly in retrospect). I am suggesting that, based on your responses, you do not have that moral courage to admit that most scientific truths refute parts of your faith. Your sense of being, purpose and acceptance in a faith-community would unravel, and so, you are avoiding confronting those questions at all.

            • anaquaduck

              So there was all these chemicals flying randomly around after some kind of big bang…not sure what started it all. Somehow human science will get to the bottom of it, they have got it wrong many times before but rest assured, science knows best…Somehow a bunch of chemicals or gases collided (creating) something & from that something, something begat something. We the scientists are going to replicate this amazing past event here on earth. I read an article produced by CMI regarding Ernst Haeckel. The very next year my daughter was presented with that situation in Yr 12 science, NSW 2012. When she questioned the teacher, an explanation of exaggeration was given…thankfully we had the book to refute it for the sake of what is fake & what is not.

              We see humanity is flawed as far as character goes killing, maiming & abusing each other but what does it matter if we are all just a bunch of randomly produced particles clinging together. If it were not for my gift of faith & the people God has given me to nurture & be nurtured you are correct, I would unravel…so true, the Bible tells me so. Salvation is & always has been designed to work with humanity….

              I don’t agree with your expectations & predictions, from what I can remember even mathematically, Creator/ creation fits the mould more so than an imaginary man with a shovel shifting energy. Let’s face it, even the science fraternity shuts out those who don’t toe the line. If science was so explanatory there would be more agreement. Sure there is an overall agreement regarding evolution but get into the detail & things change. Creationists are not the only minority group in the world of science.

              As a last ditch effort I would recommend a book called “How then shall we live” by Francis Schaeffer. It may be a little out-dated for some but may be worth a read regarding the history or development of science throughout the trends of the ages. I much prefer Scripture but that’s the best I can offer.

              Is life about finding all the answers or is it knowing about God’s justice, love & mercy…& walking with Him. I think it’s a fair consideration regarding your diet of knowledge/science that reminds me of ancient Greece. The only thing is, there are things of the heart as much as there are things of the head, but this you probably already know this.

              Take care…

            • Jin Kim

              Nathan,

              I am afraid that you have misunderstood my point completely. I apologize if my earlier comments were not as clear. Let me clarify.

              What I meant by "not getting into a scientific debate with non-believers" was that no matter how long and how hard the two sides debate, there will be no resolution. Firstly, the debate itself will never be a purely scientific one where we debate over known facts. The force that drives all living matter in the universe has never been proven or even identified. So it makes the debate a purely hypothetical in a scientific sense. Secondly, the interpretation and the point of perspective of the known fact or mechanism of life is totally different. The believer sees it as a beautiful harmony of science put together by God and all of His grace and therefore, praises and thanks God. On the other hand, the un-believer sees it as a "solved puzzle" reinforcing his/her opinion that God indeed does not exist. There will never be a definite winner in this debate. As long as we as believers make the mistake that spiritual things can be explained by carnal things, we are being duped by the devil into wasting our time and focus away from God's true intent for us. You cited 1 Peter 3:15 to rationalize your need for scientific data to answer for belief in God. I can wholeheartedly assure you that this verse is talking about spiritual things and not carnal things.

              Now, the second point you made about my comment that I am advocating ignorance. This is not the case I assure you. I am merely advocating that all things should be done for the glory of God. That is, that we should strive to learn and to use the various wonderful gifts that God has given us for free. God has given us all of the universe for our benefit and use. When we use our knowledge to "un-lock" the mysteries of the world, we should learn to appreciate the greatness of our God rather than use it to prove that God does not exist. This is not the "laziness" that you seem to suggest that I advocated. God has given us freedom to explore His creations and in actuality, I believe He expects us to explore it. As we begin to "un-lock" the mysteries, we are to marvel and praise God for their beauty. I am sure it is a disappointment at the least for God, that His creatures are using His own creations as proof of His non-existence.

              When Jesus healed the various sick and lame, no one came back at Him asking how He did it. All praised and glorified God with appreciation and thankfulness. I believe that this should be our attitude towards all the miracles of creation. When we set out to prove that God does not exist by our scientific ways, we are partaking in the very same lie that Satan unleashed on Eve. Satan told Eve that she can be like God. Aren't we saying the same thing when people such as yourself declare that "we will have a testable theory (and capacity) to create life from primordial chemicals"?

              Be very careful where you drift off to Nathan.

            • David

              Nathan, methinks you are trying to create a strawman argument.

              You berate Christians who are using their God given intellect to examine evidences and marry the same with biblical narrative as being lunatics who are not doing God any favours when it comes to converting people- "people who offer up Young Earth Creationism as a proof of the veracity of the Bible are a minority even among Christians, and send droves of intelligent, empirically minded, scientifically literate, spiritually seeking people away in gales of laughter, ensuring both their contempt and their non-conversion."

              Yet you point out earlier that a creationist view is the only rational/logical view you can accept if you are to remain a Christian - "Either six-day, six-thousand-year-ago creation as described in Genesis is literally true, or the whole edifice of Christianity is false". This is perhaps the only thing upon which Ken and I agree".

              I agree with Jin Kim, debating the matter with you is pointless. You seem to know your scripture, sadly Matthew 10:14-15 comes to mind. I pray you will have a change of heart.

            • KJQ

              Nathan:

              I won't trouble you or try and 'draw you off' into specific problems that evolution has in explaining other than to say the examples I mentioned were just that. As a scientist who specializes in computers science as applied to genetics, I find the most compelling evidence for young man/earth is genetic entropy, but I won't bore you with the details. Oh, I forgot, I and the (admittedly few) other researchers in my lab aren't "legitimate scientists", are we. Please don't tell my employer as they might take back all those outstanding achievement awards and fire me. You also know very well that creationist scientists who reveal their beliefs cannot get their research reviewed, let alone published, in any secular publications. That is why they had to set up their own peer reviewed magazines (e.g. The Journal of Creation).

              Jim Kim:

              The reason that we need to debate creation versus evolution origins sciences is twofold. First and foremost it is to strengthen the faith of believing Christians. Many a faith has been shipwrecked by pervasive evolutionary teaching. If Genesis is not true (e.g. no literal Adam and Eve and/or lots of death, disease & suffering prior to the fall), then the rest of the Gospel collapses. Jesus didn't need to come, He told lies and/or willfully mislead people referring to Genesis as literal history etc. etc. The fact of the matter is that those presenting evolution as fact have no credible explanations for the many 'exceptions' to physical laws (e.g. entropy) needed for evolution to be true.

              The second reason to have the debate is to silence the mouths of the unbelievers (to the degree that is possible). The best examples of this are when we point out that the naturalism is an a priori bias that they usually refuse to admit, pretending that they are unbiased and neutral; or their tendency to not mention suppositions when they do their research, such as radiometric dating.

            • sarath

              Brothers, I can only say that Christ said what he had to say on this matter...John 6:44.
              We seem to be taking too much of 'agency' upon ourselves to defend the faith.
              As to 1 Peter 3:15, 'to give a defense to everyone who asks you to explain the hope you have...', let our brothers who attack us come to us and ask: "what explains the HOPE you have, Brother?'

              We all need to be humble, bow down and pray....

            • Jin Kim

              KJQ,

              I agree with Sarath. It is not our job to convince un-believers into believing. It is our job to lead them to God and then just let the Holy Spirit do His thing. Remember it is not "works", but grace through faith.

              When you started your Christian life, did you start believing because there was convincing evidence of creation? I am guessing no. The Holy Spirit moved your heart and convicted you. That's when hearts start to soften and the conversion process sets in. So then, why do you feel the need to convert others in a way that even you didn't experience?

              Again, I stress that God is spirit. In order for us to have a true meaningful relationship with God, we need to look towards spiritual things and not carnal things.

              9But as it is written:
              “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
              Nor have entered into the heart of man
              The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
              10But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 1 Corinthians 2

              The only way to strengthen our faith is through the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship among believers. Science and general knowledge does not strengthen our faith. It may explain many mysteries of the carnal world, but it will never ever explain God.

            • anaquaduck

              I dont think anyone is denying the words of Jesus here, or the need for prayer & humility.
              In the first place Nathan did have 20 years within a Christian denomination & he intimated at still wanting to believe.

              Proverbs speaks of hearing two sides of the story & at times life can throw us a curve ball or spinner. The church after all has its dark stories & depressing situations.

              Sure we have an everlasting & true hope to be found in Christ, but we also need to trust in His grace. My life has mountain top views & treks in dark valleys where its hard to shake off the shadows of sadness & despair...

              If C.S Lewis(as an eg.) had not written the Narnia Chronicles we would be the lesser off for it.Christians are not called to deny their intellect but use it, such as any other gift they may have, learning how it all comes togther. The Apostle Paul spent much time debating/discussing. Id rather be doing other stuff but every now & then ideas converge & its an opportunity to share.

              The church can be a very confusing place at times with all its differences, a bit like OT Israel with one saying & doing this, another saying that, like a busy & complex market place.Thank the Lord for the Word & Spirit. Samson trusted in his God given strengths only to be fooled by deception among other things,thankfully(in the end)he was able to bring down those who looked to Dagon. A sad end for his family but an answer to Samsons prayer.

              My hope is in Christ & people coming to know more about Him, His justice, love & mercy.

            • KJQ

              Jin Kim:

              I never said that we can convince unbelievers to believe (did you read my last response to you?). For the record, I am a 5 point Calvinist who fully adheres to the Westminster Standards (unmodified). So I know that only God's elect can believe the gospel, and that regeneration precedes or accompanies saving faith, and that salvation is by grace, not by works, lest any of us should boast.

              That said, God in His infinite grace providentially leads many to Christian faith through many paths. Mine involved being active in science prior to becoming regenerate. Once I came to a saving faith, I had many struggles trying to reconcile apparent evidence for evolution with my faith. I examined at length theistic evolution and progressive creationism but have rejected both. Learning that the real issue is presuppositions/worldviews and not scientific facts, and that Genesis is indeed historical and literal regarding the creation account has greatly strengthened my faith. Yes, this knowledge is not a means of grace, but it is nevertheless gracious of God to grant it to me. It also greatly equips me in presenting the gospel to others because when they ask those hard questions (and they do) such as "what about starlight", "what about radiometric dating", I have plausible answers for them.

              I will say in closing (since we're off topic a bit) that I fully agree with the article in that ignorance of world and church history is a bad thing. Old heresies have become the majority in the church today because of ignorance of our history (i.e. the answers to those heresies are there to be read), and the strong influence of our post-modern, moral relativistic culture that has infected the church.

    • anaquaduck

      Living by the gift of faith has its struggles, even Satan masquerades as an angel of light, seeking to devalue the gospel. The Bible like many good things is often twisted, God displays patience unmeasured as worldly defiance seems to speak the loudest as the visible church appears weak & ineffective on the surface of things.

      Joseph ended up in an Egyptian prison mostly forgotten due to the manipulation of his brothers, year after year. Jacob & Jeremiah experienced heartbreak. But through it all God was working with a bigger perspective in mind.

      Society may change its mind as to what is holiness, but God wont.

    • http://www.xristopher.com Chris

      Nathan,
      If ever you are in Adelaide, SA, I would love to catch up for a beer or coffee. I think that you are on to some things. However, you seem to be denying the mitigated nature of your current views, the small circle from which you are now arguing and living.

      Contact me through my website.

      Yours,
      Chris

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    Excellent defense of the need for understanding history in order to understand the text.

  • Peter Keay

    I appreciate many things this article says. Indeed, we do need history, very much so. But I'm afraid too many ignore church history altogether in this quest for some kind of pure 1st-century outlook which addresses purely 21st-century questions. Until the very end (last paragraph) of your article, I thought that you had broader intentions, but by the end you narrowed down to "first-century history."

    To attempt to apply 1st-century answers to 21st-century questions without paying any attention to the time in-between is a primitivism that is, in my judgment, unwise at best. Church history, particularly the history of doctrine, is an immensely valuable study. So I think I'd amend one of your closing statments thus: "In my view, New Testament specialists ought to have a grasp of Greek language, first-century history, ...systematic theology," and the history of theology and NT interpretation from the first century to the present.

    Of course, I suppose we could go on adding elements ad infinitum :) "a grasp of Old Testament (to catch allusions and OT themes expanded in the NT), a grasp of Second Temple Period Jewish interpretation of the OT," and so on, so perhaps your list of tools isn't attempting to be as exhaustive as it sounds to be.

    But without at least *some* grasp of history beyond the 1st century, there will still be a huge number of 21st-century blindspots that we miss.

  • sarath

    This is an excellent piece by John Dickson. I congratulate him for bringing this up, and also being very gentle and respectful in his persuasion. Let me add that for many protestants after Apostle Paul comes Martin Luther. Some 1500 years are a black hole. As protestants, it is our loss if we don't read what the Church Fathers and Desert Fathers have written. If we don't learn from the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox traditions. Thanks John. Look forward to seeing more from you on this.

    • Peter Keay

      Couldn't agree more (see above) :)

  • http://www.corinthtoday.org paul Cummings

    thanks for this article. It's also got to lead us to some humility as well...as we often think that purely due to our advanced society we must be the most "enlightened period of the Church".
    Which gives rise to the arrogant certainty of things like End times theology and worship style, when in reality these things have been in holy-tension for centuries....

    • sarath

      Thanks Paul....you spoke my mind....I actually wondered why John didn't mention this in his article: CS Lewis had used a term called "chronological snobbery", in a very general sense. But, that is a very powerful term to humble us. That what happened in the past was backward and what is happening now is forward & 'progressive, and life is on a track from 'backward' to 'progressive'.
      We are totally mistaken.

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  • Lou G.

    I wonder whether TGC has considered John Dickson's recent work (published Dec. 25th), in light of this blog post on 21st Century Blindspots?
    http://www.amazon.com/Hearing-Her-Voice-Perspectives-ebook/

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  • sarath

    "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...".
    1 Peter 3:15

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