Thursday, June 24, 2010

Favorites in Apologetics: Darwin's Black Box

I'll be starting a new series of posts exploring those books that I consider the best of those I've read in various categories. Most categories will be on Christian themes, but there will be others in social, cultural, and political genres. There will be three to five entries briefly described in separate posts.

The first category is Apologetics, which includes everything from philosophical apologetics to practical apologetics.

Number One: Darwin's Black Box

The first entry comes with a bit of caveat: it is not apologetics per se. That is, the author doesn't present his material as a defense of the Christian worldview, but instead its main focus is as a rejection of the Darwinian explanation of origins, and a defense of intelligent design. I classify it as apologetics because presents a viable explanation of the existence and origins of things apart from a prevailing worldview, Darwinism.

In Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, Michael Behe introduces the concept of "irreducible complexity." According to Behe, Darwin's "black box" was the cell, past which Darwin could not detect any further sophistication or complexity because of the lack of more powerful microscopes.

Irreducible complexity is an idea that maintains certain biolochemical processes are too complicated to have arisen through mutation and natural selection. This degree of complexity -- even present in the component parts of cells -- requires that the whole system come into existence at the same time in order to work at all.

Behe's examples of this irreducible complexity, such as the eye and the heat/chemical defenses of the Bombardier Beetle, are fascinating, and should leave the reader more in awe of the creative design and power of God.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lumps, Flatbread & Church Discipline

With many canned Bible study curricula, it is sometimes more interesting to detect what passages of Scripture have been omitted than to study what is said about those passages that have not.

Occasionally these omissions are due to the theological/doctrinal bent of the writer, but sometimes merely reflect a lack of stomach to discuss hard truths that comfortable believers don't want to hear.

First Corinthians 5, which orders the excommunication of a sexually immoral man, is one of these passages. The study materials offered by a a prominent publishing house include 1Co5 in a section on "Christian Morality," but ignore any discussion of the entire chapter.

The discipline of members (the imperative) is inextricably bound up in the idea of who the church is, in Christ (the indicative). 'Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed' (1Co5:7 ESV).

The distinguishing characteristics of God's people in the Old Testament included radical devotion to a single God, demonstrated in strict dietary laws, sacrificial requirements, and, through the Passover, a sense of haste that mandated little time to wait on bread to rise.

Distinguishing characteristics of God's people -- that we are a 'new lump' -- have not been eradicated in the New Testament, but only modified: it is no longer ethnic identity that sets us apart, but grace and a life of obedience that flows from it ('And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise' Gal3:29, ESV).

We are no longer set apart, but have become indistinguishable from the world, when we live like the world and tolerate sin ('of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans' 1Co5:1 ESV). Our distinguishing characterstic is, of course, that we love one another (John13:35). But this love does not ignore the putrefying effects of unconfessed, unrepentant sin in the camp. Instead, it recognizes who we are in Christ, and in love seeks both to preserve the souls of men (1Co5:5) and to honor the name of Christ.

Monday, June 21, 2010

By Grace Alone

Sinclair Ferguson maintains that while Christians sing "Amazing Grace," we have largely ceased being amazed by it. In By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me, he offers an antidote to our general unamazement.

To illustrate the truth that none of us truly understands -- is amazed by -- grace until we understand our need for it, Ferguson offers a helpful explanation and application of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

A significant contribution is Ferguson's assessment of the security that grace affords the believer. In discussing Romans 8:31-35 ('who can bring a charge against God's elect', etc), Ferguson challenges the Christian not to look at the circumstances of life, or how much we might 'deserve' grace, and draw conclusions about our security and God's care from them. Instead, it is in grace -- Christ's substitutionary death on the cross -- that provides security regarding our standing before God.

Ferguson also suggests that one of Satan's 'fiery darts' with which he attacks Christian was employed in his attack on Job: attempting to have Job question the good character of God and attribute to Him the devil's machinations. In other words, trying to get Job to 'exchange the truth of God for a lie.' This is, after all, how Satan tempted Eve in the Garden.

As Christ-followers, we need to constantly preach the Gospel to ourselves.

"Sometimes we imagine that our greatest need is to move on to the 'higher' or 'deeper teaching of the gospel. But in fact, our real need is to get a deeper and firmer grasp of the main truths of the gospel." (Ferguson, By Grace Alone, 102).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

How the Worship of God is Like a Family Reunion

Is the worship of God for Christians a family reunion?

It depends. There are some differences: not all of the family is here, at least not literally; worship here is weekly; and worship here is fraught with the challenges of sanctified people who are yet still sinners attempting to give proper praise to a holy God.

None of those things will be true in heaven, the eternal state: all of those resurrected in Christ will be present, it will be constant, and it will be perfect.

Even so, in many ways and in the truest sense Christian worship is a reunion, of sorts, though it is more appropriately characterized as "pre-union." With reunions, the family time together has passed, and its members reconvene to remember what once was. With "pre-unions," members of a body who never previously lived together convene in anticipation of a future time when all members will be permanently united.

Typically, earthly family reunions are scheduled together with the birthday celebration of the patriarch. Frequently that elderly relative is, well, elderly, and may be confined to the indoors or to a particular seat while the younger, more mobile and less arthritic members of the clan supervise the toddlers, tell spouses childhood war stories and secrets, and generally ignore the matriarch.

The patriarch, then, was a convenient excuse for all the others to socialize and enjoy the really interesting stuff.

If we are not very careful, our weekly episodes of Christian worship will resemble this family reunion, in which we gather ostensibly to celebrate the Patriarch, but find that our lateral, horizontal relationships and conversations are much more interesting than paying much attention to the old guy in the corner, who we think smells of moth balls, tells the same stories over and over, and is hard of hearing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I realize that this book has been out for some time, and I am notoriously behind the wave regarding when I read new -- or not so new -- books.

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, is one of those efforts that cause thoughtful readers to kill sacred cows and burst favorite bubbles of conventional wisdom.

The most useful contribution of Gladwell's work here is that he dispels notions that people are fixed in the life results that are heaped upon them by their economic condition, social status, or -- most significantly -- their cultural background.

Yes, Asians are better at math, but not for the reasons we typically suppose. And yes, New Yorkers make better air traffic controllers, but not because of common stereotypes. And yes, non-Asians can learn math just as well once we recognize and deal with the non-genetic reasons why work in rice paddies facilitates better math skills.

Gladwell's work has implications for education, cross-cultural communication, international business, and a host of others, and has powerful illustrations that are applicable to other contexts, as well.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Marks of the Christian Minister

In his commentary, John MacArthur suggests that 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 describes six characteristics of Christian ministers. Faithful servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries (1Co4:1-2)serve Christ by 1) admonishing, 2) loving, 3) begetting, 4) setting an example, 5) teaching, and 6) disciplining.

The Apostle Paul, in this letter, addresses the Corinthian church's attitudes that ran directly counter to his description of the Christian minister.

They certainly didn't want to be 'admmonished' for any poor behavior or attitude, for what business was it of Paul, after all, to pry into their private affairs? Any attempt by other men to point out error, with a view to positive change and conformity to the image of Christ, was seen as an affront to their 'liberty in Christ', the 'priesthood of believers', and --perhaps the sine qua non of Christian deferrals -- it was not 'loving.'

But Paul anticipated this response, and as he frequently did, combined two seemingly disparate and contradictory concepts in such a joinder that neither can be believed or experienced without the other: Paul wrote "to admonish [them] as beloved children."

What? How can that be? And, perhaps for many today, who have swallowed the world's line and suppose that loving children means never speaking harshly to them, let alone administering corporal punishment, it is a mind-blower to think that loving someone means admonishing them from time to time.

Furthermore, Paul did not merely mention the "rod" in verse 21 as a rhetorical flourish: he would deal with them as their level of repentance -- or lack thereof -- required, in order to preserve the edification of the body and the hallowing of God's name.

Admonishment is largely out of fashion in today's pulpit. The congregation considers the minister who attempts it ill-suited to serve them. Many preachers lack Paul's boldness to insist that it is included in his charge to serve Christ. And one can only suppose that our failure to recognize this mark of the minister has resulted in much leaven in the lump.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ministers as Kitchen Managers

"This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." (1 Corinthians 4:1-2, ESV)

Instructive is what these descriptions eliminate in our typical view of Christian ministers. Servants of Christ are necessarily not servants of man, though we typically use terms such as "servant-leader." Leaders in the church are certainly servants, but servants of Christ, and lead Christ's flock through serving Him. It is only in serving Christ and in leading his people that Christian ministers serve their congregation.

A minister should consider his service to the flock, but when the congregation views its minister as serving it, rather than serving Christ, problems arise.

Similarly, ministers are stewards of God's mysteries: that is, they are responsible for delivering God's revelation through exposition and application to those who hear it. Some, however, view the minister as a misguided kitchen manager, who, instead of serving up fresh, nutritious meals to his patrons, instead either hoards all the goods to attain a well-stocked pantry, or only serves the one course he finds interesting or easy to prepare.

The faithful minister serves up dishes from all of God's word, not just those that please the palate of his diners, or that land him a photo in the culinary arts journal.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Manna Points to the God Who Sends It

In Deuteronomy 8:3 Moses explained that God sent manna to the Israelites in the desert so that they would know that man doesn't live by bread alone. But, shouldn't the lesson that man doesn't live by bread alone be accompanied by hunger, not relief of hunger?

After all, didn't Jesus experience hunger in his desert fasting, to which he responded to Satan's temptation by quoting Moses? If Moses were right, then God would have provided Jesus with manna, right?

John Piper addresses this, too. "How does the giving of miraculous manna teach that? Because manna is one of the incredible ways God can, with a mere word, meet your needs when all looks hopeless." (A Hunger for God, p59).

Monday, June 7, 2010

Why followers of Jesus should stay at Motel 6

They leave the light on...

In 1 John 1:5-10, God declares, through his Spirit and through his servants, that he is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

God speaks truth about himself and about us, but we attempt to talk over him, to speak our own version of truth. Three times John describes the claims of darkness -- our speaking over what God has spoken: "if we say" we walk with God but walk in darkness; "if we say" we have no sin; "if we say" we have not sinned.

The one who follows God by walking in light, faithfully reflecting the glory of God -- 'glowing' with his glory -- will, first, declare God's character as light; second, reject the claims of darkness; and third, revel in exposure to God's light, confessing sin so that we are 'lit up' and rid of darkness. In other words, we speak not what we want to say, but what God has spoken about himself and about us.

As we flee darkness to dwell with God in light, he forgives, cleanses, and washes us in the blood of Jesus Christ.

Audio here.

Repentance & Eye-floaters

"Floaters" are bits of debris in the eye that resemble hairs when they enter the field of vision. They don't hurt, but can be quite the nuisance: when I am at the beach, I frequently mistake eye-floaters for sand fleas.

When one looks up or across the floaters 'jump' to that side of the field of vision, then slowly 'float' down to the bottom. The more violently one looks around, the more quickly they race around the field of vision, like cats chasing a mouse.

Sin is sort of like floaters. No sooner do we look toward God than the sin-floaters race around to compete for our attention. Believers, then, should be constantly repenting, constantly turning away from sin (floaters) and constantly turning our gaze toward God.

Paige Patterson on Courage

"The time has come for wimpy, conservative, Bible-believing evangelical Christians to get over their cowardice and to parley with God until they decide to be courageous enought to tell the truth to a watching world, then to get ready because God will give them an army to follow after. God bless us all."

--Paige Patterson, in Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gov. Jindal, build your berms

The Louisiana governor, charged with protecting the citizens of his state as much as possible from things such as ecological disaster, and also cognizant of his state's relation to others via the national government and the U.S. Constitution, is torn: build some sand berms to buffer fragile ecosystems from an advancing oil slick, or honor the looming figure of Uncle Sam personified at present through the person of President Obama.

Apparently gaining the approval of Uncle Sam is a process mired in red tape and the detached, intellectual conservationism of those who are far removed -- geographically and emotionally -- from the myriad oil-covered carcasses washing up on Louisiana's shore, and whose concern would only reach rational levels when the oil problem affected their consumption of imported shrimp and crawfish etouffee.

Let's just say, hypothetically, that Louisiana built its protective sand dunes without the approval of the feds. Would the present administration actually put itself in the position of bringing in U.S. military engineers to remove them?

Gov. Jindal, build your berms.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin': what Journey tells us about Jesus

Well, not much, really. But Journey's interest in satisfaction of that craving for physical contact does reveal something profound about man's interaction with the world through his senses.

In 1 John 1:1-4, great emphasis is placed on the tangible qualities of the incarnation of the eternal Word. Our craving for physical contact with the Divine, lost in the Fall in the garden of Eden, is satisfied somehow in the Word made flesh, and the proclamation of Him is vital for fellowship (communion) with the Father, with the Son, and with each other.

(Audio here.)