Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Dawkins' God"

I finished reading Alistair McGrath's book "Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life." Here are my thoughts on this helpful book:

This book is a helpful response to much of Dawkins' earlier work before his massively popular 'The God Delusion'. This book was originally published before "The God Delusion" and was republished in 2007 after 'The God Delusion' came out but it does not interact with 'The God Delusion'. However, one will find it a beneficial critique of Dawkins as a whole.

First, McGrath is both a scientist and a theologian. He is an expert on the history of idea and the history of both theological and scientific development. He respects Dawkins as a scientist where Dawkins makes reasoned and empirical observations but is quite honest about when and how Dawkins 'jumps the shark' into irrational critiques of religion with little or no logic, historical depth and empirical research to the extent that he even makes assertions trends established by the best scholarship and research. McGrath points this out through the work.

McGrath begins with a discussion of evolution and the role of genetics, including Dawkins' "the Selfish Gene". He then goes on to show historically and philosophcially that evolution did not entail the rejection of God. The reader may be surprised to find numerous 19th century theologians who accepted evolution along with scientists established at the forefront their field who either believe in God or believe that Darwinism cannot adjudicate on the issue.

McGrath shows how Dawkins' critique of William Paley misses where most Christians have stood on issue of God's relationship to the universe. Beyond that, he shows how scientific theories are often advanced by 'trust' in a prevailing theory until there is a paradigm shift. This undercuts Dawkins' notions radical empiricism as the only means of science. Indeed, McGrath shows that Dawkins himself is stuck in a sort of idealist 19th century worldview that is peculiar to a time period where naive notions about the Enlightenment and prosperity abounded. Such notions have long since been tempered by World Wars, the failure of atheistic regimes, such as the USSR, and the philosophical critiques of modernist utopias.

Finally, McGrath shows the almost utter worthless of 'memes,' cultural replicators analogous to genes. He dismantles it from scientific, historical and sociological perspectives. McGrath helpful points that religion and science have not historically been at odds and Christianity is more complex that Dawkins' belittling and "infantile" caricatures. For example, McGrath points out that no serious Christian theologian has ever held that faith is blind trust in contradiction to all evidence as Dawkins posits.

While not the last word on these issues, McGrath steers us away from the rocky shoals of Dawkins' reductionist, straw-man and disrespectful arguments, directing us to the deeper seas where the issues are debated with deeper seriousness, mutual respect and academic integrity.

One thing I would add is that McGrath's biography is helpful for those who wish to explore the issues. He brings a whole host of scientific, historical and sociological studies to the forefront. Obviously it cannot be exhaustive but it is a culling on the expertise of the various fields. This is McGrath's strength--not only is he a scientist and a theologian--he has an incredible understanding of the history of science and ideas. We see how they develop, fashion and progress. He is able to point out where we have been snookered by Dawkins' illogical and largely ahistorical arguments.

As the cover blurb says: "McGrath challenges Dawkins on the very ground he hold most sacred --rational argument--and disarms the master." Indeed, reading McGrath is often like hearing the boy in the crowd shout "The Emperor has no clothes."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Getting Ready for Sunday

This Sunday, our sermon will be on the the ten plagues. Why did God let the horrible plagues come upon the Egyptians? What was he doing?

ESV Exodus 12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

ESV Numbers 33:4 while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the LORD had struck down among them. On their gods also the LORD executed judgments.
So it's a bit of show down especially since, as we noted last week, Pharaoh had questioned the ability of the LORD:
ESV Exodus 5:2 But Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go."

Here's a bit of theme music to get you ready:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kingdom of God Overview

I was recently asked to write a summation of what I thought the 'Kingdom of God' was in Scripture. To boot, I was asked to keep it to one page. That's difficult especially considering you could easily write a tome on the kingdom of God in the Gospels alone. Here's was my summation:

I believe that the Kingdom of God is a theme that is pervasive to the whole Bible. To understand the kingdom of God we must begin in Genesis 1 and 2. I believe that God establishes His sovereignty over all creation by creating heaven and earth. God is a high king who establishes His throne in heaven with every intent of fully manifesting it over all the earth. On earth, He begins to establish His reign over creation by placing humanity in the garden of Eden with the command that they subdue the earth. In Genesis 1 and 2, Adam is established as a king, prophet and priest in order to bring creation into submission that God’s glory might pervade all of His creation. Had Adam obeyed he would have achieved victory over the serpent thereby prosecuting God’s reign. Had Adam obeyed he would have been secured in eschatological glory unable to fall (cf. the Reformed concept of the fourfold states of man and the Book of Revelation place the tree of life in heaven). Finishing His creative work, God rested in heaven setting up his vice-regency in man on earth success would have meant things “on earth as in heaven”.

With the fall of man, God begins His eternal plan to manifest His glory in His creation through the vice-regency of humanity. He begins His “mission” to make his own glory known in creation and fulfill on earth the eternal covenant the Father and Son made before creation. This covenant begins to be worked out through a series of covenants made to humans. All of the Old Testament covenants serve as steps towards the coming kingdom of God. For example, in the Abrahamic covenant we see God promising the ‘seed’ of Abraham would bless the whole earth. While it is clear this is fulfilled in Christ alone (e.g. Gal 3), the Old Testament works this vice-regency through Israel. Christ comes as the fulfillment of the true Israelite but as we wait God is constantly manifesting His eternal reign through episodes of redemption and judgment of Israel and judgment upon the nations. In the Davidic covenant we see God’s promising of the vice-regency through the Davidic line. The promise of the New Covenant is the promise of the reestablishment of God’s people and the final eschatological blessings of redemption and reign.

In the New Testament, we see that central to Jesus’ ministry is the coming of the Kingdom. The kingdom is present in the King. Jesus promises that this kingdom will expand slowly, like leaven, and pervade the whole world. Jesus also promises that the Kingdom can only come if the rival kingdom of the god of this age is first bound up. The miracles of Jesus are signs of the kingdom and they serve an eschatological purpose of showing God’s people that ‘the time has come’. Jesus’ death and resurrection secures the kingdom (and citizens for that kingdom) and assures us that Jesus is the ‘New Man’—(e.g. Paul’s Second Adam). The resurrection is proof that God has established Jesus on the Davidic Throne (e.g. Acts 2; Psalm 110:1) and through this person God will judge all of creation (Acts 17). Thus, in Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection the kingdom of God is not postponed but inaugurated. The blessings of the kingdom are presently experienced through union with Christ. At present Christ serves in heaven as our high priest but also reigns at God’s right hand—as the second Adam (cf. 1 Cor 15; Hebrews 2; Psalm 8). This reign assures us that the kingdom of God is already.

When a person becomes Christian they are transferred into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col 1:13). The Holy Spirit is a sign and seal of our kingdom inheritance. The ultimate glory of humanity (our ‘fourth state’) still awaits us however the Holy Spirit is a down payment and seal that we will receive. There is of course a ‘not yet’ that awaits us in the kingdom. This includes our future state, as noted, but also the final victory of God over the kingdom of this age. Christ secures this victory based upon His first coming—the cross, resurrection and ascension—nevertheless it is real victory that still must be enacted. So Christ reigns (presently, now) until such a time as he can turn over the kingdom to his Father (cf.. 1 Cor 15).

The reign of Christ and the summation of that reign will conclude with the triumphant return of Christ to conquer and cast away his enemies, a real earthly presence in a millennial reign, a final judgment, a consummation where God restores all creation and His glory dwells throughout all of His creation. In the final eschatological state, God’s throne/temple/heavenly city descends bringing God’s presence-glory into all creation. Thus, God’s reign becomes manifest on earth rather than in just heaven. We exist eternally in resurrected bodies in the new heavens and new earth. We dwell with Christ as co-heirs. Thus, God’s original intention in Genesis 1 and 2 is fulfilled but it is done in such a way as to bring full glory to the triune God particularly as the Son is the full image of God’s glory and as the Spirit resurrects our bodies into eschatological glory and unites even more fully into fellowship with Christ Jesus.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Why Vulcans and Intellectuals Don't belong in the Big Chair"

Here's something for the Star Trek part of this blog.

At Pajamas TV, there is an analysis of the recent comparison of President Obama to Spock by some in the media.

Say what you want about the political side of things and the intellectual side of things, but he definitely out Star Treks those who have made the Trek comparison.

The best line is in this analysis of Gene Roddenberry's project is how Roddenberry created "the template for the only genuinely American mythology of the modern world."

I personally think that leadership involves an intellectual component. Without making any comments on our President, I simple note the sum total of leadership is not intellectualism alone. A leader needs to think and be reflective. Kirk was not unintelligent. but he had a gusto that Spock lacked. But leaders do need a certain bravado, a certain willingness to, 'pull the trigger' if you will. Sometimes the intellectual can be undone by endless analysis. A leader also needs moral conviction which is never something ascertained by intellectualism alone. Granted, a moral conviction should be arrived at through analysis and thoughtful processes but thoughtful processes do not alone a conviction make. Conviction comes from character and character is forged in trials and perseverance not simply study.

Now for the pastor, I am fully committed to the importance of study. A pastor must be intellectual. His ministry must be one of studying the Word of God. He must be able to weigh and exegete passages. This requires mental energy and intelligence. But a pastor cannot be a detached intellectualist. As much as he loves his books, he must love his people, God's people. I am saying this not because I have mastered this balance but because this is the goal of the Bible.

The apostle Paul was brilliant. He understood Scripture and could argue and reason intelligently for his day--although His message of Christ crucified was scorned by mere human wisdom. Yet Paul had compassion. He suffered with his people. He strove for the elect. He had a gusto, a conviction driven by the gospel. He was a leader. He was intelligent. But he was not an intellectual in the contemporary sense. At the risk of reductionism, anachronism and a whole host of other sins: Paul was a 'Kirk' and not a 'Spock.'

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Dawkins Delusion

Since I've been reading some works by the 'new atheists', I thought I'd post this humorous Youtube video.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

*Ecclesia Reformata* et Semper Reformanda

It is not enough to have the axiom Semper Reformanda but rather the cry of the church must be 'Ecclesia Reformata et Semper Reformanda.' In short, to say "always reforming" [semper reformanda] without the preceeding "church reformed and always reforming" [ecclesia reformata semper reformanda] is not only mindless and open-ended sloganeering but dangerous and unbiblical.

ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei (the church reformed and always to be reformed according to the word of God)--this is the slogan of the Reformation.

The sad thing is that most people like the slogan semper reformanda, it has come into vogue with revisionists and progressives. Their notion is little more than the 'church evolving' the 'the church reforming. Church evolving may take the Bible as its launching point but it seeks to head out into new uncharted territory. It is caricatured as bold and daring.

Reformation according the reformation is actually a sort of 'back to the Bible movement' in a way that doesn't discount the creeds or the church fathers. It does not neglect the voice of the church rather it submits it to the Scripture. But this "always reforming according to the Word of God" is seen as "repressive" or "regressive".

The church is not to be always evolving or even always emerging. It has been founded on Jesus Christ. Each generation may have its own struggles and its own challenges to be more obedient in light of particular struggles that may be more common in one age over others--but what guards the church is a zealous passion to be ever confirming to the Word of God so that we may bear the image of Jesus Christ.

I find most who use the phrase "Semper Reformanda" pushing an agenda that goes beyond reformation and using a phony claim to historical legitimacy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jiminy Cricket vs. Jesus Christ

Quite a ways back, I ran across this:

"Jimney Cricket(s)!" was originally a polite expletive euphemism for Jesus Christ. The name of the character is a play on the exclamation (which itself was uttered in Pinocchio's immediate predecessor, 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). Another example occurs in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. When the group first enters the Wizard's chamber, they are startled by the Wizard's sudden thunder-and-lightning display, and Dorothy (Judy Garland) cries, "Oh! Oh! Jiminy Crickets!" (Garland also says the expression in her 1938 film Listen, Darling)." (emphasis mine)

It made me think, most of people today view Jesus Christ as a sort of Jiminy Cricket--at least they see Jesus's theology pretty much the same as Jiminy's theology. Yes, I did say Jiminy has a theology and yes I do know what I'm doing--I think. The reality is that everybody has a theology. We have what we might call a worldview. We have a belief about life, its meaning, who or what 'god' is and what is ultimate. Even the atheist has a theology that god is non-existent and they orient their whole life around that worldview/philosophy. Jiminy Cricket may not be a theologian but he has a theology. He has a way that he views the world and he evangelizes it--calling us to embrace this view of reality.

The sad thing is that Jiminy's "When you wish upon a star" view of life is a lot like how most people view God and Jesus. No doubt that Jesus is kind and compassionate. Some of my favorite verses in the Bible come from Matthew 12. I have used them numerous times in various sermons to assure people that Jesus cares:

However, Jesus cares in more than just a sentimentalized Jiminy Cricket kind of way. Jiminy is safe. Jesus is not. Jesus make demands on our life. Following those demands can actual divide families and make enemies of the world, not because we are haters but because we have a higher loyalty. Jiminy is the kind of guy we keep in our back pocket to pull out when we need a little 'pick-me-up' of encouragement. Jesus is the kind of guy that challenges and reshapes our priorities. Jiminy fits in where we would have him. His kingdom message is basically: the world is our oyster. Jesus' kingdom message is one of Lordship--the reign of God.

The sad thing is that today, most of us have made Jesus into a Jiminy.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...