John Lennox on the Book of Acts

One of our members has done me a favour by pointing out two YouTube videos by John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University. He is also a well-respected Christian apologist in the areas of science and philosophy.

In the two videos linked below he uses Luke’s own intentional literary structure for the book to point out the man emphases of two of the six literary divisions of the book.

In the first video, A Supernatural Invasion he discusses how Luke brings together the events of Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost to note that the main theme is “restoration in Jesus.” Restoration becomes a complex subject throughout the rest of Acts, as manifested in the work of the Apostles and other disciples. I thoroughly enjoyed his analysis of Peter’s two sermons.

In the second video, Christianity’s Worship and Witness he notices how the church begins to become distinctive from the Judaism of the day, while remaining rooted in promises to Abraham and the Patriarchs. He also notes that persecution begins as the religious authorities reject Jesus as their Messiah. His study of Stephen’s defence of the gospel is very illuminating in this regard.

Even his asides are often intriguing, but I won’t spoil them for you.

The original audience for these presentations was a group of pastors and church leaders, but I think most Christians would benefit from watching these videos.

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The Sanctity of Human Life

Sunday, January 21 was chosen by many churches to reflect on the “sanctity” of human life. Since we meet on Saturdays we took the liberty of discussing it a day early. Here are some of the biblical observations about human life that we discussed. (Bible quotes are from the New International Version throughout. Some of the links below seem to be intermittently wonky at the time of posting.)

 

Human Life in General

 In Genesis 1:26-28, 31 and in James 3:9 we are told and reminded that men and women are made in God’s image, unlike any of the animals. While we are not told exactly what that means, it must be very important in God’s eyes for us to be human.

 Even after Adam and Eve’s sin the image of God does not seem to be revoked, since it becomes the justification for the decree of capital punishment for murder, “for in the  image of God has God made humankind.” (Genesis 9:5-6)

 The phrase “be fruitful and increase (multiply) occurs 12 times in the Bible.

Twice it refers to animals, in Genesis 1:22  and in Genesis 8:17.  

 Once it refers to both humans and animals in a restored Israel: Ezekiel 36:11  

 

Nine times it refers to people that God is blessing, including:

 Adam and Eve: Genesis 1:28  

Noah: Genesis 9:1    and Genesis 9:7 

 Abraham: (“fruitful” and “increase” are in separate verses in this section) Genesis 17:1-7 

Ishmael: Genesis 17:20  

 Jacob/Israel: Genesis 28:3 Genesis 35:11   Genesis 48:4   Leviticus 26:9

And the remnant of Israel Jeremiah 23:3  

 In general terms this blessing means that God is pleased when humanity increases in number. More specifically, it is the first actual command by God to humanity as a whole. At no point is that command rescinded in the entire Bible. In short, God wants more of both humans and animals on this planet. This has implications for how we treat both life and death.

The taking of a human life means the destruction of a being that God has designed to bear his image to the rest of the created order. It is also in violation of his command to multiply humans on the earth (since subtraction is the obvious result). It should be obvious that deliberate killing, even when we call it euthanasia, is murder in God’s eyes.

 We can now turn to what many now see as a special case.

  

The Unborn

When abortion is the issue, the main question raised by modern jurisprudence and modern science is the question of when human life actually begins. Does it begin at conception or at birth, or at some point in between? Viability seems to be an uncertain standard for deciding about the humanity of the unborn. Perhaps a look at how God has related to the unborn might give us a clue.

 The stories of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Samson’s mother should help us see that conception and childbirth are of great interest to God. All of these mothers begin as unable to conceive children, but after a miraculous intervention, they bear children. God seems to care about reproduction in these examples.

 This perhaps shows that God cares about these individual mothers (and sometimes even the fathers), and about Isreael, but does God notice or care about unborn babies?

 Somehow God seems to know something about Samson, which he announces to Samson’s mother through an angel. This particular baby would begin to save Israel from its oppressive neighbors, and would need to avoid haircuts and grape or alcoholic products. This even before the child is conceived.

 Here are some other examples of whether God sees or cares about the unborn: 

In Genesis 25:23 God knows the character of two unborn babies, Esau and Jacob.

In Psalm 51:5-6 David believes he was sinful even in the womb.

In Psalm 139:13-16 David says, “God saw me in the womb, where He made me.”

In Isaiah 49:1-6 God knows Israel’s deliverer even before birth.

In Jeremiah 1:4-5 God knew Jeremiah even before forming him the womb.

In Luke 1:13-17 John the Baptist has the Holy Spirit even before birth.

 Here is the one that should really give us pause concerning deliberately harming an unborn child from the same law that gave us the 10 Commandments: Exodus 21:22-23.  Notice that causing even accidental serious injury or death to an unborn child in Israel results in the same penalties as deliberate harm or murder to an adult.

Human life is literally sacred because human beings are made in God’s image. Clearly God sees both the elderly and the unborn as human, and therefore worthy of protection. To deem them as unworthy of life or to deny them of their humanity is truly more than a crime – it is what God calls sin.

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A Shroud of Mystery

One of the strangest things I had ever heard of in my early Christian life is the supposed burial shroud of Jesus Christ, popularly known as the Shroud of Turin. It didn’t take me long to dismiss it as just another Roman Catholic faux relic. From reading the Gospel of John I had the impression that Jesus had been wrapped in multiple cloths, with a separate cloth covering his face. This suggested to me that a single body-length cloth could not have been what Jesus was buried in. Finally, reports of a medieval carbon 14 dating in the late 1980’s seemed to put a nail in that particular coffin as far as I (not to mention most of the world) was concerned.

That is, until a friend of mine loaned me a book by Dr. Kenneth E. Stevenson, Image of the Risen Christ: Remarkable New Evidence About the Shroud (Toronto: Frontier Research Publications, 1999). The information in this post will be based on Stevenson’s book because he was one of the original study team sanctioned to examine the shroud. As the official spokesman for the team, he is in the best position to comment on the scientific findings.

It turns out that most of the actual science about the shroud was never directly released to the general public, but rather to several obscure technical and scientific journals designed for specialists in their fields. Because of this, the opinion of the general public is based on a limited amount of information, provided primarily by people with an interest in either disproving or doubting that it might be what its seems: the burial cloth of Jesus.

Where Did the Shroud of Turin Originate?

But where did it come from, and how did it come to be associated with Jesus? It turns out that there is a series of extra-biblical stories and legends that may connect the shroud to Jesus of Nazareth.

It was “discovered” in the 1300’s in France, but there is evidence in art history that it was known before. Based on study of Byzantine icons, the shroud image must have been known in the 500’s AD., when the image of Christ in the churches became more standardized. (p.32). The image that changed how Christ was represented is known as the “image of Edessa” or “the holy Mandylion,” a cloth found in 525 buried in a wall in Edessa (now Urfa), Turkey. In 944 it was taken to Constantinople, where it was rarely displayed, but revered as the true likeness of Christ.

In 1204 the Mandylion disappears in the sack of Constantinople by a marauding mob of crusaders from Western Europe. Historian Ian Wilson proposes that the Knights Templar hid the shroud. As King Philip tries to destroy the Templars, he burns to death, among others, leaders Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey de Charnay, whose name is virtually identical to that of the man who mysteriously turns up with the shroud in the mid 1350’s. Perhaps the same family?

In legend it is said that Abgar V, first-century ruler of Edessa, was stricken with leprosy. He wrote to Jesus in Palestine, asking him to come and cure him. Jesus is said to have sent a letter declining to come, but promising to send a disciple instead. Jude Thaddeus arrives some time after Jesus’ death and resurrection, bearing a holy cloth imprinted with the image of the Saviour.

Abgar V really existed, and we know that his area was evangelized shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. There is a tradition that a holy image of the Lord was associated with this evangelization. Unfortunately his son Mannu reverts to paganism and persecutes the Christians, and the image disappears from history until the cloth is discovered in the wall of the city centuries later.

Now we have a historic link, however tenuous, with Jesus’ time and locale.

Scientific Study of the Shroud

A team of scientists and historians, invited by the Vatican, studied the cloth in 1970’s and 1980’s. Dr. Stevenson is among them from the outset. Among their discoveries that did not reach the public:

Pollen samples from the cloth indicate that it had spent time in Israel, Turkey and France before resting in Turin, which is backed up by a legends about where a remarkably similar cloth (by different names) was kept in ancient times.

Gilbert Raes, whose field is ancient textiles, concludes that the weave is consistent with the Middle East in the first century A.D. Microscopes show traces of cotton, which was not used in Europe, but was common in the Middle East. He concludes that the loom on which it was made was a first-century Middle Eastern loom and that the cloth is a genuine first century cloth.

Conclusion: A European forger would have had to go to a great deal of trouble to pick up cloth woven in the first century on a loom in the Middle East, and pick up pollen spores from non-European plants to rub into it. That would have been very unlikely unless the forger had been able to link the various legends together and then gather the proper materials to create the forgery.

Even if a particularly clever forger had access to all of the materials and information above, that would only account for the materials used, and not how the image was put into the cloth. This is where the real problem for the forgery theory begins.

The image itself has been applied in a way that resembles a photographic negative, in which the light areas and dark areas are the reverse of what one would expect of a painting. It seems highly unlikely that a medieval artist would have conceived of reversing the lights and darks until the advent of modern photography.

Even that isn’t the worst problem for the forger. How did he get the image there in the first place?

There is no dye, ink, stain, paint or acid residue on the cloth. The image is somehow imprinted on the surface of the fibres, but not the interior, defying explanation. Modern science has yet to be able to reproduce that kind of image by any known method. Any methods touted as successful by outside researchers have failed to reproduce the quality of the image and have failed to affect only the surface of the fibers. In addition, most have left residues or scorch marks that were not found on the original shroud.

The original shroud also contains what scientists call “three-dimensional data encoded in it.” This means it had to have been draped over (not wrapped around, like a mummy) a three-dimensional object to leave that kind of impression. Again, no process for leaving that kind of information is available to modern science. To imagine that a 14th century artisan could produce it staggers the imagination.

The scientists determined that the image could not have been painted or etched with acid using either ancient or modern technology. The closest thing to a theory about it is that it may have somehow been “scorched” onto the fabric. Nobody has been able to figure out how to do it without burning the fabric or going deeper than the surface. Perhaps a “burst” of radiation of a nature unknown to us could have been the cause. Whatever it was could not have been present in the body while it was still alive, because it would have killed the man. (There are many signs that he died of wounds, not radiation. More on that later.)

Conclusion: How the image got there is still a mystery that science has not been able to solve. It is difficult to believe that a 14th century forger had figured out a method that can baffle modern science.

 

The Carbon 14 Dating Issue

Dr. Stevenson points out that the highly-touted Carbon 14 dating of the shroud had several problems:

  1. Samples were not sent in a way that was double-blind. Researchers knew which samples were the shroud and which were the control fabrics, allowing bias to enter the testing.
  2. The labs that created the less-destructive technique that was used were eliminated from testing, leaving less experienced labs to do the testing.
  3. The method itself does not test well with artifacts of known ages, often 400 years or more off due to the “de Vries effect” and “secular variance.”
  4. The labs did not account for “bioplastic” film on cloth, which would make it appear younger. For instance, Egyptian burial cloths test younger than the mummies inside them by 400-1000 years. Now researchers know why. The exterior cloth would be invaded by bioplastic-forming bacteria, but not the mummy itself.

 

For all of the reasons above, we cannot allow the Carbon 14 test to be the ultimate determinant of authenticity, especially when so much other data points to an earlier date and the impossibility of reproduction by known methods, ancient and modern.

 

Evidence of a Unique Crucifixion

 

Mentioned earlier is the unlikelihood of death by radiation. The reason? The image shows remarkable anatomical detail of a sort that we do not see until the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Within that detail, the image itself shows clear signs of crucifixion.  Actually, they are signs of a very specific, historically-recorded crucifixion that was unique in several respects. Here are a few of the details.

 

  • We can see nail holes in wrists and feet. (Nothing unusual there in crucifixion.)
  • There are at least 120 gashes along his back and upper legs, complete with blood traces on the cloth. (Not always a feature of crucifixion, but definitely there in Jesus’ case.)
  • There is a wound that would have been between the 5th and 6th ribs on the right side, also with blood traces. (Very unusual for crucifixion, but definitely recorded for Jesus).
  • There are also signs of lacerations all over the top of the head of the person in the shroud, as if a “cap of thorns” had been placed on his head. (Only in Jesus’ case, so far as any records of crucifixion mention.)
  • The legs were not broken, but the knees had abrasions. (This suggests that the victim fell to his knees at some point while carrying something heavy, such as the cross. It also indirectly recalls that Jesus was so weak that Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross-piece for Jesus, who had probably fallen and could carry it no further.

In spite of the evidence of cruel death imprinted in the cloth, there is no indication of decaying flesh contaminating the cloth. Whoever the victim was did not stay in the cloth long enough to decay within it, as any other corpse would. If it is a burial cloth, it is unique in this respect.

 

What about the “head piece” that had me so convinced of the impossibility of it being for Jesus?  Scholars assigned to the shroud studied first-century Jewish burial customs. It turns out that Jewish burials usually used multiple cloths. Hands and arms were bound across the pelvis, with feet bound together. Another strip of cloth was wrapped around the chin and over the top of the head to keep the mouth shut. It didn’t cover the face (pp. 96-102).

 

So the “head cloth” described in the Gospel was more than likely used as a chin strap to hold the mouth shut, without hiding the face. (Modern morticians sew the mouth shut nowadays, as I discovered when I briefly worked in a funeral home. I suppose that nobody wants to see a corpse that looks like it is ready to speak at any moment.)

 

The image fades in the places you would expect that type of chin strap to be located. Go figure.

If not Jesus, who is it?

 

The research into ancient burial cloths highlights one more, very important question. Why is it the only such cloth ever discovered in the world? Jesus was not the only person buried in such a cloth, so why have there never been other cloths discovered that had a person’s image impressed into it?

 

Could that be because Jesus’ experience of resurrection from the dead as the Son of God is unique, and therefore created a unique artifact?

 

I think I’ll definitely go with a “yes” on that one.

 

 

 

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“For in Six Days the Lord Made the Heavens and the Earth”

I have been a fan of science and the scientific method ever since I was a child. My Dad made sure his home library was stocked with a great selection of books about nature and science. I was the only kid in my grade 6 science class to do a project about why some stars vary in their brightness. (It had to do between the balance between the gravitational force of the mass of the star being to small to completely contain the massive energy output of the nuclear fusion reaction within… But that’s another story.)

Ok. I admit it. I’m a science geek. Not the kind that makes the great scientific discoveries – just the know-it-all kid who reads a lot about science and can usually explain some of its weird workings to work colleagues. That’s because I always took the hardest science classes in High School. In fact, science is the only subject I ever skipped a grade in in High School. I wasn’t so hot in physics, but biology and chemistry were as easy as breathing.

In grade 7 I stumbled across the story of an Austrian monk who was a contemporary of Charles Darwin. Gregor Johann Mendel was also a scientist. His science lab was the monastery garden, which he tended with loving care and a scientific mindset. In this garden he formulated a theory of inheritance that revolutionized science. In fact, he basically invented the science of genetics.

I learned from him that my parents did not adopt me. Yes, they both have brown eyes, and so does my one-and-only sibling. What they each have is two genes. Each has a gene for brown eyes and one for blue eyes. It turns out that I had a one-in-four chance of coming into this world with blue eyes. [OK, I admit that this is an oversimplification.] I beat the odds. (I even have Rh negative blood, also the only one in my family. Somehow I seem to be getting all the recessive traits.)

What I found really odd in school is how Mendel’s science came to be reconciled with Charles Darwin’s unscientific speculation about the origins of species and eventually the origins of life itself. Even to a grade 9 kid taking grade 11 biology it was easy to see how incompatible the two theories are. When I mentioned this to my biology teacher, she basically told me that the curriculum required that she teach biology from an evolutionary standpoint – she had no choice in the matter. I could believe what I wished, but had to pretend it was science in order to pass the exam – which I dutifully did.

While I was in Grade 10 I had a friend who introduced me to writings of the Worldwide Church of God. One thing that they did really, really well, however, is point out some weaknesses of the theory of evolution in a colorful and engaging way. One thing that they did not do, however, was deny that science might be correct about astronomy or the age of the earth. None of them had the science background to speak to issues like that.

Instead, they embraced a kind of “gap theory”. This idea allowed for a “gap” between the first and second verses of Genesis 1. It allowed for dinosaurs and a rebellion by Satan that destroyed the surface of the earth to the point that it became “formless and empty.” I thought that this was a valid reconciliation of science and the Bible. I could disbelieve in God-less evolution if God had created a humanity-free initial world and experimented with life-forms until he decided to create human beings in his own image.

That was until about three months ago. A friend loaned me a book called The Genesis Account by Jonathan D. Sarfati. In this book he points out many scientific, historical, theological and literary reasons to doubt the literal truth of a six-day creation of the earth and the universe. For a theological example, the Bible clearly states that death began at the fall of man in the story of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3. This is corroborated by Romans 8:18-23.

Historically, the church and all of its early theologians considered the Genesis account to be an accurate narrative of the creation. Only in the late 1700’s did any significant numbers of Christian scholars begin to doubt the literal truth conveyed in the Genesis account.

Literarily, I once believed that the account featured enough poetic devices to be considered a poem, based on what I thought was good scholarship. It turns out to be a fringe idea. The account is a narrative with built-in stylistic features that make it memorable – but it is not a poem in its basic structure.

But the one that really stopped me in my tracks was when he referred to something that has been in the 10 Commandments all along. He points out a clear statement in the Sabbath command (Exodus 20:11). “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” The sabbath command is literally based on a literal six-day creation! And that’s when I finally got it!

Here’s the thing. If you look at verse 1 of Exodus 20 you see who is speaking the 10 Commandments. “And God spoke all these words.”

So who do we believe? God, or a well-meaning group of highly intelligent men and women who have been taught to automatically dismiss the documentary evidence of ancient times in favor of reason that is based on the assumption that only what is happening now is what has ever happened?

When I was taking the Saskatchewan Justice course to become a security guard, they took some time to teach us about how to bring evidence to court. I was surprised to discover that the primary form of evidence acceptable to court is that of eyewitnesses. Their evidence could be presented either in person or in the form of sworn affidavits.

As nearly as I can tell, God is the only eyewitness to the creation of heaven and earth who has ever told us about it. No scientist, living or dead, was around at the time of earth’s formation. A group numbering 600,000 men, plus their spouses and families were gathered to witness this statement, and swore to believe, remember and uphold the words spoken by God in a formal ceremony in chapter 24 of Exodus.

So the only eyewitness to the creation gave his testimony in front of at least 1.2 million people, who as good as signed in blood to agree. The document was written on the paper of the time as well as etched on two stone tablets that were stored in the most holy and protected place in the country. First, in the the Tabernacle, and eventually the Temple in Jerusalem.

That testimony is included in one of the most widely distributed documents in the world: the Bible.

But what about the science that “proves” that the earth is billions of years old?

Now we come to the kind of evidence normally described as circumstantial. Only if a large amount of circumstantial evidence can uniformly point in the same direction can we say that it makes the case ironclad.

One of the first “geologists” to propose a very old earth was Scottish physician James Hutton, who published his Theory of the Earth in the late 1700’s. His theory presupposed that the Bible account was not reliable – that there was no biblical flood, for instance. His work was repackaged and popularized by Charles Lyell, a lawyer and friend of Charles Darwin, in a book called Principles of Geology. The subtitle of the book indicates his philosophy: “Being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth’s surface with reference to causes now in operation. In other words, if it isn’t happening now, it didn’t happen in the past. (No worldwide flood.) Thus the modern version of geology was born.

Notice three things. These are what modern geology is based on.

  1.  It is, in Lyell’s own words, “an attempt to explain.” It was not observational science, using all resources, including historical documents and observations. It was an interpretive framework that limited the investigation by dismissing historical observations that if finds inconvenient.
  2. It was devised by a physician, not a geo-scientist. That doesn’t automatically disqualify it, but it does make me wonder. There were geo-scientists around who did not agree.
  3. It was promoted by a lawyer who was a friend of the originator of the theory of evolution.

What scientists do not report to the general public is that there are problems with a “uniformitarian” approach. For instance, nowhere in the world do we see coal in the process of being formed. Why not, if the same forces are always at work? The same goes for oil.

Another problem is something called “polystrate fossils.” We have some in Nova Scotia, and others have been found in many other locations, such as Australia and New Zealand. We see fossilized trees upright through many layers of rock strata that theoretically should have taken millions of years to deposit. There is no way that a tree could survive intact long enough without rotting away under the conditions needed for sediments to deposit.

When it comes to scientific circumstantial evidence the true kicker for me in the case of radiometric dating. That should conclusively prove the age of rocks and fossils, shouldn’t it?

Creation ministries tried to see how accurate dating by radioactivity in the rocks is by sending samples of volcanic rock from the Mount St. Helen’s volcano in 1984 and several from Mt. Ngauruhoe in New Zealand that erupted in 1949, 1954 and 1975. In a bit of a dirty trick, they sent the samples to an ordinary lab that routinely does dating for “real” scientists, but did not tell them the origin. None of the rocks had been formed before 1949.

The youngest age measured “scientifically” in the New Zealand samples was < 270,000 years, with other techniques yielding a range of up to 3.5 billion years. I suppose that < 270,000 years is technically correct, but it sure makes me wonder how accurate the technique is. The Mt. St. Helen’s rocks measured at between 340,000 years and 2.8 billion years, depending on the technique used.

The opposite problem occurs with carbon dating of coal. Using coal samples from the US Department of energy that were variously dated between 37 million and 318 million years old, scientists used a C14 test. The thing about C14 is that it decays very fast compared to Uranium and other radioactive substances. In theory you can’t detect any C14 after about 90,000 years. Surprisingly, they found enough C14 to date the coal to an average of 45-60,000 years. (Now there are other problems with C14 that I won’t go into here, but suffice it to say that the millions of years are impossible to sustain.)

The only hope for evolution, slender as it is, is if the world can be shown to be billions of years old. I can no longer believe that. The science that we have been taught makes a lot of pronouncements, but proves nothing of the sort.

For myself, I would rather rely on the eyewitness account of the God who actually did the creating.

The Apostle Peter prophecies about a time like ours, when he says,

3  Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.   4  They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”   5  But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.   6  By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.   7  By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. [2 Peter 3:3-7 NIV]

Earlier in the same letter he notes that God not only judges, but also redeems.

2:5   if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others;   6  if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;   7  and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless   8  (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—   9  if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.[2 Peter 2:5-9 NIV]

Make no mistake. Jesus is returning. When he does, there will be both judgment and redemption. The only way to experience redemption rather than judgment is to come to Jesus while there is still time.

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Pentecost – A Law Written on the Heart

A very long time ago, a man named Moses was called by God to lead His people, Israel,  out of slavery in Egypt. They left on the day of the Passover meal, and crossed the Red Sea three days later, just before God closed the sea over the Egyptian army.

That closure, at dawn on the third day (very likely the day of the week we now call Sunday), signaled the end of their captivity and a new life of freedom.

Seven weeks later (at least according to Jewish reckoning) God had gathered them at the foot of Mt. Sinai. In God’s own voice (amid frightening displays of thunder, lightning and fierce trumpet-like blasts) God called out his laws for the people of Israel to observe in the land He would give them. That set of laws is recorded in Exodus 20-23. They ratified their acceptance (as told in the next chapter) by a sacrifice involving the sprinkling of sacrificial blood, called “the blood of the covenant.”

Basically, if they honored and obeyed God and kept His laws, they would prosper and be blessed in the land He had given them. If they did not honor and obey them they would be exiled from their land and cursed even wherever they were scattered until they came back to God wholeheartedly. They would go from blessing to irreversible cursing.

He called Moses onto the mountain and etched that law onto two stone tablets – representing God’s copy and the people’s copy – and had Moses store them together in the Ark of the Covenant inside the Tabernacle made for God.

Centuries later, as the people of Israel and Judah moved further and further from following the God of their covenant, He sent prophets to tell them that God was going to send them into exile to far away lands as slaves to the non-Israelite nations around them. Afterwards, perhaps centuries later, He would gather them again from those nations and again enter into a covenant with them once again.

 But this time the rules would be different.

This time they would do something they had not done wholeheartedly before: actually obey and honor God.

Forever.

How would this happen? The prophet Ezekiel puts this way in Ezekiel 11:19

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

Somehow God would skip putting them onto stone tablets and would “write” His law on their “heart.” He would give them “a new spirit.” (We might translate that as a new “attitude.”)

The prophet Jeremiah, an older contemporary of Ezekiel, spoke of God entering into a “new” covenant with them (Jeremiah 31:31).

31  “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.   32  It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, ” declares the LORD.   33  “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.   34  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Jeremiah adds the element of God’s forgiveness of all their sins. He also mentions that this “law written in their minds” will give them knowledge of who God is and what God is like. This “law” will also make them God’s people and enable Him to truly be their God.

Ezekiel notes, in his famous “valley of dry bones” prophecy (Ezekiel 37:1-14) )that God intends something truly radical:

 11  Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’   12  Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.   13  Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.   14  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”

What a radical thing to say! God intends to put His own Spirit (!) into His people. If we take this passage literally, God gives His Spirit so that they can truly know that God has both spoken and done what He promised, including bringing people back to life!

(God had given Moses a small foretaste of what that may have been like in Numbers 11:4-35. Moses was complaining to God that the burden of leading Israel was too great for him to carry, so God tells him to gather 70 elders to the Tent of Meeting. He would put some of the Spirit that he gave Moses to the elders so that they would help Moses in his task. As God’s Spirit enters them, they begin to “prophesy,” an indicator of divine inspiration. The Spirit also chooses two elders who were not invited to the meeting. Moses is happy to include them in the group when he finds out. Moses even expresses the wish that all of the people of God might have access to the Spirit.)

Joel, another prophet, looks forward to the same culmination when he says (Joel 2:28-32):

28  “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.   29  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.   30  I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.   31  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.   32  And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.

 At some point in the future (from Joel’s perspective) God would put His Spirit on all people. Not just Israel. (If only Moses knew!)

The New Testament book of Acts records the reception of the Spirit of God, first on Jews (Acts 2), then on non-Jews (Acts 10). Why should God bother putting his Spirit in people who aren’t even part of the people of Israel?

God had promised Abraham that his “seed” (descendant) would bless all nations. And now the promise would be fulfilled when everyone who calls on “the name of the Lord” will be saved.

 After Jesus died on Passover, and was resurrected that first day of the week (three days later at dawn, just like at the Red Sea crossing), the New Covenant “law written on the heart” was inaugurated at Pentecost.

 Jeremiah had promised that those who have the Spirit will all know the Lord.

John 16: 7  Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.   8  And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:   9  of sin, because they do not believe in Me;   10  of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;   11  of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.   12  I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.   13  However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.   14  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.   15  All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.

 Knowing the Lord and having sin forgiven certainly implies a knowledge of how to live life properly before God.

 Rom. 214  for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves,   15  who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)   16  in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

 2 Tim. 1:7  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

 Rom. 8:14  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.   15  For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”   16  The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,   17  and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

(So why do we listen to teachers? Because Spirit-filled teachers impart to believers what the Spirit teaches them so that all may be blessed. Teaching is one of the many spiritual gifts given to believers by the Holy Spirit as He chooses. [1 Corinthians 12 and 14]).

 We know that “Jesus” is the “name of the Lord” from the witness of the early disciples of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.

The Spirit of God (a.k.a. “Holy Spirit”) is poured out on people of all nations, blessing them as promised to Abraham.

 He teaches us about who God is, what God has done through Jesus, what Jesus continues to do in His church through the Spirit, and what Jesus will do at His return.

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What Easter Represents Is Important

This post reflects our Wascana Fellowship meeting on Easter weekend. As a little bit of background, our fellowship traditionally celebrates the events associated with Easter at the time of the Jewish Passover, (sometimes called the “quartodeciman” dating) which happens a month later this year than usual. (This is due to the unusually early Easter this year.)

We acknowledge that the vast majority of Christians prefer to celebrate according to the Julian or Gregorian calendar dates as fixed by the Roman and Orthodox church traditions, and find no fault with their preference. What is represented by that tradition transcends the date assigned to it. For this reason we explored its importance in that session on Easter weekend.

As we were in the midst of studies in the first letter of the Apostle Peter, I thought it appropriate to start in that letter to outline the importance that the early disciples placed on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The letter begins with Peter calling them an “elect” people who have been called into a completely new life because of a world-changing event.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.           [1 Peter 1:3-4a | NIV]

Jesus gives a “new birth” that leads to an eternal inheritance. What makes it all possible, however, is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Without that, there is no new hope, no new birth and no eternal inheritance. For Peter, it is inconceivable to be a Christian without believing that Jesus lived, died, and was brought back to life.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. [1 Peter 3:18c-22 | NIV]

(Note: The unravelling of when and to whom Jesus “made proclamation” will have to wait for another post.)

Not only is it inconceivable in Peter’s mind to be a Christian without that understanding, but Peter uses that fact to motivate the believers in Asia Minor (to whom the letter is addressed) to do two specific things. First, he asks them to live morally pure and blameless lives that will eventually bring honour to God. He then  asks them to cheerfully endure unjust suffering because of Jesus’ example of suffering and dying unjustly for the sins of everyone else.

As we address those points we can remember that Peter himself was an eyewitness to Jesus’ death and resurrection. On the day of Pentecost, the next Jewish holy day after the resurrection of Jesus, Peter had this to say to his pilgrim audience in Jerusalem,

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. [Acts 2:36-41 | NIV]

For Peter, Jesus’ resurrection proves that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the people of Israel. It also makes him Lord over all peoples in the world. When pressed about what to do about Peter’s proclamation, Peter tells them to “repent” and “be baptized,” which are biblical code words for changing your life for the better and entering into a covenant (one that includes obedience) with Jesus, who is the God of Israel.

In addressing his request to cheerfully endure unjust suffering, Peter notes that Jesus suffered unjustly to bring people to God, and therefore, to a lesser extent, our non-retaliatory endurance of evil against us may bring others around, too. He goes on to apply this specifically to wives and slaves as examples of following Jesus even if treated unjustly. The idea is that those who partake in Jesus’ suffering and disgrace also partake in his resurrection and glorification when he returns.

For Peter, the events commemorated on Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the very turning point of world history. Nothing else even compares.

The Apostle Paul, Peter’s counterpart in the non-Jewish Christian church, was of one mind with Peter about the importance of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascention to heaven. Writing to the church in Ephesus, he prays,

that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. [Ephesians 1:18-23 | NIV] (emphasis is mine)

Karen H. Jobes, writing in the Baker Evangelical Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Peter put it this way,

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a new religion or something separate from the redemptive work of Israel’s Yahweh. Rather; Jesus Christ is foundational to God’s redemptive work because the Father’s foreknowledge and the Spirit’s sanctifying work terminate in the covenant between God and people that was established by Christ’s blood (1:2). The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit does not draw one into some generic spirituality but into the covenant with God in Jesus Christ that stands as the culmination of God’s work and revelation throughout all history. By raising Christ form the dead, God created the eternal new life into which he gives people new birth (1:3). To believe in the resurrected Christ is therefore to have faith and hope in God (1:21).

Jesus Christ is the only human being who has completely cheated death – which is something only God could do. He is still alive. He is with God and he is God, ruling all of creation at his Father’s “right hand.” All he asks is that we trust him with our lives.

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Does Science Have Limits?

This post is the summary of a two-part Wascana Fellowship session from late last year, when I was too busy to post.

 

Part One: Limitations?

While doing research for the post about “understanding the times” I stumbled across a thought-provoking two-part essay by Roger Martin titled “The Limits of the Scientific Method in Economics and the World.” I think it is very worth reading. My summary and reflections will probably not do it the justice it deserves, but I will do my best.

He begins with a memory of a dinner presentation by a prominent economist in the wake of the stock market crash of 2009. Says Martin, “I was struck by how scientific he was, spewing myriad statistics, employing technical terms by the boatload, and praising his econometric model. It was ‘very sophisticated.” His “steady as she goes” forecast prior to the crash had been very wrong, as had those of every credible economist at the time.

Martin asked him after the dinner if he had changed his model after the crash. Amazingly, he had not even thought of it. For Martin, this illustrates “a fundamental blind spot in modern science.” According to Martin, “It has ventured far afield of its natural limits and is both creating problems and inhibiting progress.

The problem begins with Aristotle, who laid out the first formal conception of cause and effect. While science has made much progress since 400 B.C., his assumptions still underlie almost everything science does today. For the most part science works exceedingly well. When it comes to understanding natural laws and using them as a basis for technological advance, nothing works better than the scientific method. The ability to reproduce experimental results is a hallmark of the scientific method, as it should be.

The reliability of predictive models of any kind is based on the assumption that the field of study lends itself to a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Is that really the case with economics? Is it the case with any of the so-called “soft sciences” such as sociology or political science?

It turns out that even Aristotle was scientist enough to establish boundary conditions for his brand of scientific inquiry. Aristotle only applied his science to “things that cannot be other than they are.” This means physical objects with their physical properties. For those things that “can be other than they are” the scientific method is wholly inappropriate. This field of inquiry generally consists of “people – of relationships, of interactions, of exchanges.”

I would put it this way: people are unpredictable. People can be reliable or unreliable, power-hungry or altruistic, manipulative or caring, in powerful positions or dependent on others – the list goes on. All permutations are possible. People can also change, which complicates things even more.

For those things that can be other than they are Aristotle recommends using “rhetoric: dialogue between parties that builds understanding that actually shapes and alters this part of the world.” Rather than applying the scientific method for things that it is I’ll-equipped for, Martin would rather see us applying novel new approaches that reflect the reality of things that can be other than they are.

In the next instalment he searches for a method that will be better suited to understanding people, relationships, and exchanges.

 

Part Two: A Better Way

As an alternative to using the strictly Aristotelian scientific method for the study of economics and business, Roger Martin looks to the work of Charles Sanders Pierce, a contemporary of William James and James Dewey In the early 20th Century. Sanders is generally referred to as a “pragmatist philosopher” whose work was actually admired by the much-better-known William James.

If economists were being Peircian… They would have taken all of our disparate knowledge and mingled it together creatively to ask: what on earth could be going on here? Rather than forgetting entirely that their theories were demonstrated o be totally lacking, and then going on to analyze some more and predict more based on those theories, they would have created a new hypothesis to explain what just happened. This would be what Peirce evocatively call ‘a logical leap of the mind’ and ‘an inference to the best explanation.’

All science can do in people-related fields is work with already existing historical data. In a wonderful turn of phrase, Martin puts it this way, “If you torture the data enough, it will provide an answer, if only to make the pain go away.” If the existing rule is dis-confirmed (such as in 2009), you haven’t learned much regarding the future, except that the rule is not operative.

When something new and unexpected happens what is needed is an inductive leap to a new theory that can be tested going forward (rather than backward). This resembles science at first glance, but is different in that you probably cannot prove the theory analytically with the data you now have. Instead, inquiring minds would need to discuss how to test the idea going forward.

In other words, the intent is not to establish scientific principles that can be used to predict the future. Rather, the intent is to use tools of both deductive and inductive logic to improve understanding of human nature and relationships. Innovative theories may lead to innovative ways of dealing with future problems that have not even arisen yet.

Aristotle might have argued that Peirce’s ” logical leap is a product of rhetoric: the dialogue between inquiring minds that attempts to create a future that does not now exist, rather than mindlessly crunching the numbers that do exist.”

Martin’s point is not to denigrate actual science (which works very well), but rather to rein it in to within its natural limits. He would like us to use what Peirce calls “abductive logic” (a combination of deduction and induction via discussion and observation). Nor is he arguing that abductive logic is never used in real science. Or even that novel hypotheses are never used in either natural or social science. (You need only read about Einstein’s novel notion that acceleration and gravity are equivalent to see that a great deal of science is based on inspired imagination.)

 

Part Three: My Reflections

I enjoyed Roger Martin’s essay because it speaks to some misgivings I have had for years about the realms in which the modern version of science is applied. My own misgivings naturally apply more to the realm of religion than economics, as noted in some of my previous posts about the theory of evolution’s grip on science as well as science’s claims about the when and the how of the origins of the universe.

I am glad that he has noticed that certain fields of endeavour do not lend themselves to scientific number-crunching. It is refreshing to see that not everything is reducible to numbers.

I suspect that the problem goes deeper than just whether scientific numerology is appropriate for some fields and not for others. Even within its own proper fields, science has often fallen prey to the kind of dogmatism that is usually attributed to religion. For instance, the real conflict between Copernicus and the church was between an Aristotelian view of the universe (a pagan scientific one that had been adopted by the church) and the Copernican mathematical view. The church had adopted as dogma the science of the day. Let it not make that mistake again!

That is not my only misgiving. Something that Martin does not mention is that relationships, interactions and exchanges intersect with not only the sociological and psychological spheres, but also the spiritual/religious sphere of life. To be clear: I doubt there will ever be a clear scientific basis for morality as Christians know it. Rationalisation of self-serving behaviour is too basic to human trait to be amenable to controlling our own behaviour by means of a code derived entirely by logic and without imposition by a higher power.

Another area I have concerns with involves the study of religion. In a conversation I had a few years ago with a University of Regina professor of Religious Studies I discovered that my Master’s classes in Religious Education would not transfer well into their program, because Religious studies is actually about “the phenomenology of religion.”

I do not believe that you can really “get” faith using scientific methodology. In my personal library I have three books about the history of Christianity in three different countries. Two of them are specifically about Evangelicalism. While it was helpful to see writers viewing Christians as posited contributors to democratic societies, it was glaringly obvious that none of the writers really understood the Christians they were portraying so positively.

They simply were not Christians themselves. They were studying a “phenomenon” from the outside. Other-worldly motivations or “spiritual gifts” such as “tongues” or “prophecy” will always seem like utter madness to the non-religious mind. It will seem especially so to the mind trained to recognize only mathematically or logically explicable phenomena.

The only “logical” explanation for faith is insanity.

That is why officially atheist nations tend to outlaw religion. Other nations will naturally prefer religions that can be controlled by the state.

The kind of faith that Jesus brought, taught and sought is not the kind that can be either controlled or explained. If you have ever wondered why Christianity is increasingly being blamed for all the ills – ancient and modern – in the world, just do the math.

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