Theology Among the Weeds

thistleIf only grass grew as well as weeds. I’ve seen weeds grow a foot or more in the time it takes the grass to grow a couple of inches. The weeds can completely fill in any bare spots in your lawn while the grass is ever so gingerly encroaching.

Sin is like weeds. Of course, this is not a new comparison, but it hit me while I was pulling weeds in my yard the other day. I hate redoing work, and I’ve noticed that my yard wouldn’t look so desperately in need of mowing if it weren’t for the weeds towering over what’s left of the grass. Of course, mowing the weeds doesn’t get rid of them any more than it gets rid of the grass. I tried several weed killers that made the weeds go limp for a few days before they rose again triumphant, like the mythical phoenix from the ashes. And so I went old-school: laboriously pulling each and every weed I came across, and throwing them in a burn pile, maniacally daring them, “Grow back now!” But in this war I wage against the infiltrators of my lawn, I recently noticed how sneaky and varied some of my adversaries’ tactics were. Some give up without a fight, but have been fairly successful in overrunning me with sheer numbers. Others tenaciously gripped the soil and were prickly all the way down to the ground, so that I had to wear thick gloves. Many of the weeds had firm roots, but they were still the weak link on the more fibrous, tough stems. But then some broke off above ground with almost no resistance. It was almost impossible to pull them and not leave the root behind. And by not getting the root, it’s almost guaranteed that one will come back to fight another day. So what did I take away from this excursion into the enemy-controlled territory of my yard?

  • Some sins are simple to not do, taken one at a time, but they are many. They’re all the little things like snapping at your spouse and cutting someone off in traffic. They’re the thousand decisions we make every day to not “love others as Christ loved us”. They’re so easy to commit that we stop thinking about them, and they become the template of our lives. Before long, our yard is defined more by the thousands of little weeds that we let overrun us, than it is by the grass we were supposed to be cultivating.
  • Other sins won’t be so easy to uproot. I’ve wondered if some weeds had the root structure of an oak tree before! But even if it’s easy for you to fight a temptation (anger, for instance) doesn’t mean it is for everyone. So be truthful in calling a weed a weed and a sin a sin, but with love, respect, and encouragement for the person fighting that battle. And if they’re struggling, help them; don’t sit back and criticize them for their struggle.
  • Some sin has prickly defenses to discourage us from trying to root it out. Lust is a prime example. Any guy that’s ever realized the damage porn was doing to his marriage (before it was too late) is probably familiar with the sting of the barbs, throwing away the videos and magazines and hearing the parting taunt “Don’t throw me out, you know you can’t make it without me….”
  • I like the look of my freshly cut lawn from this weekend, but unfortunately, I can’t tell where the weeds are now until they start to grow back. For a few brief days, my yard looks pretty good. But the problems I didn’t eliminate will come back, over and over and over, until I finally root them out. Some sin appears to be “taken care of”, but is still lingering below the surface, waiting to return.
  • If you let the weeds go too long, they go to seed, and multiply. Worse, they can spread to your neighbor’s yard and earn you frowning glares. Sin multiplies readily in your life if you let it become habitual. Worse, the Bible warns that “bad company corrupts good morals.” Don’t be the bad company that drags someone else down.

So there you have it. Today’s blog brought to you by dandelions, thistles, foxtails, about 10 other weeds I don’t know the names of, and … several hours of boring, tedious lawn maintenance! But seriously, remember that it’s only faith in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice that justifies us, and only the power of the Holy Spirit in us that allows us to conquer the weeds of sin.

Laughing at the Cliff’s Edge

Cliff Danger Sign“I can’t tell you why somebody would walk past those signs and not pay any attention to them.”[1]

That was part of a response from a Park Service spokesman after a recent death in Point Reyes National Park in California. The cliff at Arch Rock had developed a large crack along the top along a popular trail, and multiple warning signs were posted telling people to stay away from that area. Yet dozens of people were seen continuing past the signs that day, until the cliff finally gave way, and 2 hikers fell 70′ amidst a shower of boulders and debris. One died while the other survived with critical injuries, amazingly enough. Why indeed do people not take warnings seriously? Why do they think that a warning might apply to everyone but them? It seems so obvious in hindsight, but maybe that attitude is more prevalent in our daily lives than we’re comfortable admitting. Maybe that cavalier attitude manifests itself in our overall worldview and philosophically filters what we take seriously  and what we consider inconsequential. Consider the following small example.

The Monday after Easter, my atheist colleague at work brought me the comic from his daily desk calendar for the past Friday (Good Friday). As he dropped it on my desk, he said, “you can throw it away if you want, but I thought it was funny.” What was the comic? A picture of Jesus with the caption, “A real miracle would’ve been turning water into less expensive gasoline.” OK, haha.  I get it, and I realize it’s just a comic. It doesn’t really offend me, but it does sadden me a little. It seems like it exemplifies that same philosophical filter that helps us ignore the physical and spiritual warning signs in our lives.

That comic (and the many, many others like it) didn’t put forth any serious reasons for doubting the existence of Jesus or the New Testament’s claims about His life and His deity. It didn’t show the historicity of the gospel narrative to be false. It didn’t show the biblical narrative to lack explanatory depth or consistency. It simply assumed all of those objections to be the case and then mocked the opposing view. Of course, it wasn’t written to build a case against Christianity. It was, after all, just a joke, and a one-liner at that. But, unfortunately, many people stop at the jokes and never investigate to see if they’re on target or not. And when people assume that just because someone has made a joke about God, that He is a joke unworthy of serious consideration, that is itself the cruelest joke, with dire and very permanent consequences. The comic made light of an actual miracle by saying that a “real miracle” would’ve been doing something 2,000 years ago that only a modern gasoline-dependent society could appreciate, and that is technically simpler than turning water into fine wine.[2] In so doing, it asks us to laugh off the actual miracle instead of asking the question the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ miracles were forced to seriously consider, over and over again: namely, “What manner of man is this?” The “gospel” literally means “good news”, and to laugh off the gospel accounts in the Bible misses two signs: 1) the warning sign telling us that God not only exists, but will also hold us accountable and judge us by His perfect standard; and 2) the sign pointing us to safety, to the only way to satisfy that unyielding justice. That sign points to Jesus, and it is not just good news, but the greatest of news.

Certainly, there is a time and place for laughter[3], but when we joke about something serious, and we let our jokes keep us from seeing the danger we’re in, we really are laughing at the cliff’s edge.


[1] http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/03/23/1-dead-after-cliff-collapses-at-calif-hiking-trail/ accessed April 12, 2015.
[2] Turning water into wine would be the greater miracle than turning it into gasoline, as basic gasoline is primarily 3 elements (hydrogen, carbon, & oxygen) while basic wine has those (in the alcohol alone) plus nitrogen and at least 11 other elements in the form of minerals. And this wasn’t just barely wine, but was “good wine”. See John 2:1-11 for the actual story.
[3] Ecclesiastes 3:2, NASB.

“All roads lead to Rome”?

5-road-roundaboutMany atheists will say that all religions are the same, that “religion” as some broad homogenous category “poisons everything”. Religion is not true, contradicts reason and science, is detrimental to us,  and should therefore be abandoned, they say. Relativism, a current philosophical fad which claims that nobody is objectively “right” (except the relativist, apparently), also claims that all religions are the same, but instead that they’re all equally good. Sincere belief in any of the different world religions (or even your own made-up religion), will get you into heaven/paradise/nirvana/etc.

Are all religions the same? Do “all paths lead to Rome” (or heaven, in this case)? Both the atheist and relativist claims seem to break down under closer examination. The atheist claim that religion poisons everything ignores all of the tremendous benefits to humankind done in the name of Christianity (i.e. hospitals, insane asylums, and orphanages were all distinctly Christian inventions to care for “the least of these” who were very disposable in Roman and Greek culture[1]). Simultaneously, they magnify things Christians (or those claiming to be Christians) have done in opposition to Christ’s teaching, or group together actions of other religions with Christianity to get a negative “lump sum”. By that logic, we could lump Rolls-Royces and the old Yugos together and say all cars are worthless junk. Clearly, that would be a hasty generalization. Meanwhile, the relativist claim is self-refuting. Mutually exclusive worldviews can’t all be true. Jesus Christ stated in no uncertain terms, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; nobody comes to the Father, but through Me.”[2] Yet Islam claims Jesus was only a prophet – honorable, but nothing more.[3] B’ahai claims He was a “manifestation of God, but not, in essence, God”. Judaism views Him as a blaspheming rabbi who claimed wrongly to be God and was justly killed for it. Other religions are happy to claim Jesus as only a prophet, teacher, or sage. Likewise, while religions will generally agree that things like murder and stealing are wrong, they disagree significantly on key issues like the nature of God (or if there even is a “God” or gods, e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism) and the nature of an afterlife (i.e. individual entrance to heaven, or absorption into the Brahman and subsequent annihilation of individuality).  These simply cannot all be true.

I want to give one example that I think simultaneously addresses both the atheistic view of all religion being equally bad and the relativist view of them all being equally good.  The difference between Christianity and Islam can be best exemplified by their views on death: The faithful Christian says “I don’t seek death, but my death would be a worthwhile sacrifice if more people came to accept God’s free gift of  eternal life through Jesus Christ”, while the faithful Muslim seems to say “My death would be a worthwhile sacrifice if it condemned more unbelievers to death while guaranteeing my life in Paradise.” Big difference there. One seeks the benefit of others at the potential cost of one’s own life, while the other seeks one’s own benefit at the cost of others’ lives. Some may say that’s an oversimplification, but I think it corresponds well with the reality being observed in many parts of the world right now. For instance, Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”, and the apostle Paul said that such was his love for the Jews that he would be willing to be accursed – to forfeit his own salvation – if that could guarantee the salvation of his kinsmen. Compare that self-sacrificial spirit to Islam’s “blessings of the shahid” (martyrs), where dying in battle for the cause of Allah guarantees your entrance to Paradise, 72 virgins, riches and honor, and the ability to intercede for 70 of your relatives.[4] This is not hyperbole, but a guarantee of salvation for someone and their whole family at the expense of others.

In the end, all religions are not equally good or equally bad. Rather, one is true, and we must exercise discerning judgement so as not to be deceived. As the apostle John tells us, “test the spirits to see whether they are from God.”[5] The first step is recognizing the implications of one of the 3 fundamental laws of logic, the Law of noncontradiction, and not falling for the copout that all religion is the same.


[1] Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, (Zondervan, 2001), pp. 151-169.
[2] John 14:6, NASB.
[3] See Surahs 5:72-75, 5:116-117 in the Qur’an, among others.
[4] Compare Romans 9:3 for the Christian with the following Muslim hadiths, here, here, herehere, and here.
[5] 1 John 4:1, NASB.

“Breadth and Depth”

Breadth Depth“Breadth and depth” is a term used to denote the knowledge expected of applicants for the Civil Professional Engineer exam. The morning exam tests for general engineering knowledge over a wide area (breadth), while the afternoon exam wears you out in one area like structural or water resources (depth). I took an online class on structural connection design last fall from Dr. Bill Thornton, one of the leading experts in the world in that area, that reminded me of this distinction. While he is a very capable engineer in general, I probably would not have signed up for the class if he had been teaching on concrete design, or timber design. I’m sure he could’ve taught me a thing or 2 in those areas as well, but the draw of his class was that he has devoted much of his long engineering career to one specialty, structural steel connection design, and become a world-renowned expert in that area. He has exemplified having a wide general knowledge base and a thorough specialty knowledge. What lessons are there for us here?

While academic and professional learning is beneficial, and striving for the higher end of the spectrum is admirable, there is an area of learning that can yield rewards far beyond one’s career, even into eternity. In Paul’s final letter before his execution, he tells Timothy to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”[1] But how do you handle accurately something with which you aren’t familiar? Your first time using any new tool, toy, computer program, or any other unfamiliar item is often pretty clumsy. How do you get better? You study it and practice it. So then, as Christians charged with the solemn responsibility to “go and make disciples of all nations”, we have to ask ourselves, are we striving to develop “breadth and depth” in our spiritual knowledge? It seems there is a spectrum of different degrees of knowledge possible, both in the secular sense (like Dr. Thornton’s career) and in the spiritual sense (like our daily walk with Christ):

  • Shallow knowledge over a narrow area – Are you an “amateur Christian?” Is this Christian life just a Sunday hobby for you? John 3:16 is powerful, but the Bible is an inexhaustible gold mine of truth being overlooked if that’s as far as you’ve explored your beliefs. God will not be a hobby for anyone!
  • Shallow knowledge over a wide area – Are you a “jack of all trades and master of none”? Do you know a lot of different Bible stories and comforting verses, but only scratched the surface in terms of meaning, significance, and connection? All those separate stories are joined up below the surface as part of God’s big story. Dig deeper!
  • Deep knowledge over a narrow area – Are you a “specialist”? So fascinated with eschatology (end-times), angels, or some other narrow field that you’ve neglected all other areas? Focus on an area of study is great for growth, but just like an athlete that only trained one arm or one leg, unbalanced growth isn’t necessarily good. Diversify!
  • Shallow knowledge over a wide area & deep knowledge over a narrow area – Are you a “hybrid”? Both a specialist and a generalist? Have you dived in and become an “expert witness” in one area (i.e. the historical reliability of the New Testament), but are still able to answer general questions outside that area? Great! Now pick a new area to grow in!
  • Deep knowledge over a wide area – If you’re in this boat, quit reading my blog and start your own! This level of knowledge is a rare and special blessing not to be kept to yourself, so start applying all that knowledge! Every generation needs a Charles Spurgeon, or a C.S. Lewis to shed God’s light on all different subjects in profound ways. Is there a point where you’ve “made it”? No, not this side of heaven. But like I said earlier, God’s Word is inexhaustible, so never stop learning!

So which one are you? More importantly, which one will you become? “To whom much was given, of him much will be required.”[2] Here in America, one can easily, relatively cheaply, and with zero risk to one’s life, accumulate a biblical reference library that many preachers in other countries couldn’t amass in a lifetime, and might very well die for if they did. We have multitudes of Christian radio stations that are illegal in other countries. The internet has opened the floodgates of study materials, podcasts, blogs, curriculum (often free), and even online degree programs. We have more ability to study and understand God’s Word and share with others than humans have had since Jesus was here to ask in person. We are… without excuse.


[1] 2 Timothy 2:15, NASB.
[2] Luke 12:48, ESV.

“You Can’t Handle the Truth!”

cant-handle-the-truthIn the movie “A Few Good Men”, Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson famously go back and forth in court with Nicholson finally shouting back from the witness stand the classic line “You can’t handle the truth!” The truth can certainly be a powerful, devastating force at times. But what is truth? The Bible records Pilate asking Jesus that very question almost 2,000 years ago.[1] It’s a big question, but let’s look at one small aspect now.

Truth can be defined as the “ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience.”[2] This indicates that truth is not subjective since it “transcends perceived experience”. In other words, a statement is true when it corresponds to the object it describes rather than the perception of the observer. Hence, it may be described as objective truth. A color-blind person may incorrectly perceive some colors, but the actual color may be  independently verifiable by the wavelength of light being reflected from an object. That a particular apple’s appearance corresponds to what we call “red” is then objectively true regardless of how, or even if, we perceive it. Likewise, the statement that there is life on other planets may or may not be true; but if true, it will be because of such life existing and not because of our knowledge of it.

What then are we to make of claims today that “everything’s relative”, or that something may be “true for you, but not for me”? First, isn’t it a little ironic to use an absolute term like “everything” to deny absolutes? In fact, both of these statements are actually self-refuting. They “commit suicide” as Greg Koukl would say. What’s implicit in the relativist’s first statements is that everything is relative except their absolute statement. How convenient. But “everything” includes that statement, which puts it in the same category as saying “white is black”. Their 2nd  claim implies that statements may be simultaneously true and false for 2 different people, except for their statement that is assumed to apply equally for everyone. But I can simply apply the claim to itself and say that “true for you, but not for me” is exactly that – not true for me – and ignore it. Ideas have consequences, and because of this self-refuting nature, the concept of relative truth can lead to very real absurdities. Bob may sincerely believe that he can jump off a cliff and fly (without a hang glider or other aid), while his friend John sincerely believes he can’t and pleads with Bob not to jump. Is this a case of “true for Bob, but not for John”? Is John wrong to try to help his friend see his error?  Applying his knowledge of physics and its correspondence to reality to the situation tells John his belief that John will plunge to his death would actually be true for both of them, in spite of Bob’s sincerity to the contrary. That Bob cannot fly on his own is true for all people, for all time, and in all places. That is the nature of truth; we do not create it by our beliefs or statements, but rather discover it.

We can determine when statements about our material world are true (i.e. the law of gravity) by testing them. But what about immaterial truth claims? Are these actual truths or simply opinions? Can we test for truth? Yes. A true statement will always satisfy the 3 fundamental laws of logic[3]:
The law of identity – a statement is identical to itself and different from another statement. A thing is what it is. Saying “Hitler was evil” and saying “Hitler was good” are not equivalent!
The law of noncontradiction – a statement cannot be both true and false at the same time in the same way. For a very clear (if somewhat harsh) verification of this law, the medieval Muslim philosopher Avicenna proposed this demonstration: “Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.”[4]
The law of excluded middle – a statement is either true, or its negation is true. There is no middle state between existing and not existing.

There are other tests for truth, but these are foundational prerequisites, for no matter how coherent or comforting a claim is, if it fails these tests, it simply can’t be true. And this is how “relative truth” fails.


[1] John 18:38, NASB.
[2] “Truth”, Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language,  1996 ed.
[3] J.P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 132. See also D.Q. McInerny, Being Logical, (Random House, 2005), p. 26-28.
[4] Avicenna, The Book of Healing, Part IV, Metaphysics I, commenting on Aristotle, Topics I.11.105a4–5, published 1027.

Drama!

RetroTVWhat is one thing that all “reality TV” shows have in common (besides being unrelated to reality for the most part)? Drama, and lots of it! Making a “mountain out of a molehill” seems to be mandatory for all participants. But maybe that aspect isn’t too far from real life; between work, school, our friends, and our family, we may have the makings for a lot of drama in our lives, too. Some people seem to thrive on drama and make drama where there wasn’t any before. What is it that defines this type of personal drama? While drama has historically referred simply to performing or acting out stories before groups (i.e. theater), we usually have a little more in mind when we think of someone as a “drama queen”, for instance.

Drama is all about every little event being “big”, critical, life or death, whether in reality or the TV shows that lay claim to that title. Drama magnifies our little annoyances while simultaneously minimizing the sometimes big problems others are enduring. Drama focuses on the short-term rather than long-term because what seemed so important at the time often fades in significance with the perspective of time. But treating a small insult as the trivial thing it really is hardly keeps viewers “tuned in” to shows on the TV screen (or on the screen of our personal life). Yet Christ tells His followers to think long-term, seeking His kingdom and His righteousness, to expect trials and not dwell on them, and even to pray for those who persecute them.[1] The Apostle Paul tells us to bless those who persecute us and not to repay evil with evil, but rather to overcome evil with good.[2] Peter tells us it is better, if God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil and not to be surprised at suffering as Christians.[3] And the Apostle James tells us to “consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.” [4] What? Was he crazy? Putting up with trials may be admirable, but he didn’t seriously expect us to be joyful when things go wrong or people hurt us, did he? Actually, he did, because our joy comes from God, not our circumstances. And God can use our actions in those bad circumstances to cause a chain reaction beyond our best hopes.

Much of what I do as a professional engineer is built on applying Newton’s third law – that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. But with people, it doesn’t seem to be such a linear, predictable relationship. Our actions, unfortunately, often cause disproportionate  reactions that can spiral in a dramatic, but vicious, cycle. But what if we broke that cycle before it even started, and our responses played out the life-changing (good) drama that only Jesus Christ can work in us and in others through us? Imagine, for example, a reality TV show where the stars didn’t take every little thing and blow it out of proportion, but instead forgave the one who had insulted them. Imagine the “constructive drama” that would unfold by living out the forgiveness and grace of God in our daily interactions with people. Could that vicious cycle become a cycle of grace and love, of “provoking one another to love and good works”[5] with results exponentially good rather than bad? It could, but not in our own strength and wisdom. Been there, tried that, failed miserably. Maybe you have, too. That’s because only the Holy Spirit in us can accomplish that superhuman love for others that is really the distinguishing mark of a true Christian: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”[6] How does this Christian love react to drama? Paul provides a famous description of this kind of drama-quieting love in his letter to the Corinthians. Though often used at weddings, this love is to color all our relationships:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”[7]

Selfish drama can’t survive that kind of selfless love. Until next week, God bless! 🙂


[1] Matthew 6:33, John 15:20, Matthew 5:44, NASB.
[2] Romans 12:14, 17, 21, NASB.
[3] 1 Peter 3:17, 4:12-19, NASB.
[4] James 1:2-4, 12, NASB. See verses 3 & 4 for why we should be joyful in trials.
[5] Hebrews 10:24, KJV.
[6] John 13:35, NASB. Also see “The Mark of the Christian”, a powerful little book by Francis Schaeffer from 1970.
[7] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV.

The Bookcase

BooksThis week’s entry is the posting of a new page on this site called The Bookcase, a collection of some of the reference books I’ve found useful in my studies. Hopefully, you may find something beneficial for particular questions you might have as well. As this will be a growing list, I’m posting it as a permanent page rather than a weekly post. Check it out in the menu at the top of the page! If you have specific questions and want recommendations, just ask. Thanks 🙂

Irreducibly Complex Bridges

20100703-bridges7This week, I want to take a break from the series on defining Christian terminology to look at something from the talkorigins website that an atheist friend sent me a while back claiming to show how Michael Behe’s term “irreducible complexity” (IC hereafter) is “plainly silly” using an example of a stone bridge. If you’re not familiar with any of this, Michael Behe wrote a book in 1996 called “Darwin’s Black Box”, questioning evolutionary theory and proposing that some observed biological systems defy evolutionary explanation because they are “irreducibly complex”. Behe has defined this term as “a single system which is necessarily composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning.”[1]

Think of an engine stripped down of all unnecessary parts. You can’t remove parts like the pistons, the spark plugs, the crankshaft, etc, without making the system nonfunctional. The theory of evolution rests on functioning (specifically, self-replicating) organisms reacting to unguided mutations and subject to natural selection to filter the resulting set for specimens with improved survivability. But natural selection doesn’t work on a nonfunctional system as there’s no improvement to select for. Appeals to “neutral evolution” where a mutation doesn’t have to have an actual benefit are just an appeal to chance, which is already stacked against evolution as most random mutations are harmful.[2] In our engine example, this means that adding a crankshaft to some cylinders won’t fulfill any function that could allow the engine to survive while the other parts like pistons and spark plugs are being gradually added. If you’ve ever had some daunting DIY repairs to do on your own car, you know there are some repairs where you can replace one component each night after work and still get to work the next morning while the overall repair is in progress, and then there are those long weekend projects where the car will be “dead” until the repair is completely done. An IC system is likewise dead until it’s complete.

Now, with that background, the talkorigins site has an interesting critique of Michael Behe’s idea of “irreducible complexity” where the author suggests that a “Mullerian Two-Step” defeats Behe’s entire argument. Is this “Mulllerian Two-Step” a dance move named after scientist H.J. Muller? Well, kind of – it does sidestep the key issue. In the words of the talkorigins author, “Only two basic steps are needed to gradually evolve an irreducibly complex system from a functioning precursor: 1) Add a part. 2) Make it necessary. It’s that simple. After these two steps, removing the part will kill the function, yet the system was produced directly and gradually from a simpler, functional precursor.”[3] The author’s argument is that a bridge composed of 3 stones may have a topping stone added, which does not add any functionality to the bridge, allowing the removal of the original middle stone, making the added topping stone necessary to the function of the bridge (see the illustration from the talkorigins page below).

Mullers Stone Bridge Allegedly, this proves that an irreducibly complex structure can be developed from piecewise addition of parts in accord with evolutionary theory. Yet, if you notice, the original 3 stone bridge in his example is already irreducibly complex. No single stone can be removed from his “functional precursor” without destroying it’s function. All 3 stones are required to be in place and working together to have a passable bridge. So what does this devastating argument actually prove? Simply that one irreducibly complex structure can be transformed into another irreducibly complex structure with stepwise, evolution-like steps. This does nothing to explain away the original irreducible complexity, which is the core objection to unguided evolution.

When you see atheist claims to destroy/devastate Christianity (or anything else opposed to a materialistic worldview, such as Intelligent Design/Irreducible Complexity), step back and carefully look at a) the assumptions, b) the connections between premises, and c) the conclusions, and you’ll likely find the claims of obvious superiority exaggerated. Whether you subscribe to Behe’s arguments or not, this “Mullerian Two-Step” is based on a flawed foundational assumption that the precursor is functional but not irreducible also. Therefore, it simply isn’t a valid defeater for Behe’s theory.  Next contestant?


[1] Behe, M.J. 2004. “Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution.” In Debating Design: from Darwin to DNA, Ruse, M. and Dembski, W.
[2]
See footnote 2 of the talkorigins article for an admission of this inconvenient truth from H.J. Muller himself: “…for this reason we should expect very many, if not most, mutations to result in lethal factors ….” Other scientists have made similar admissions, and, of course, our own experiences of diseases like cancer seem to confirm this daily.
[3] http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/ICsilly.html, accessed 2015/03/03.

Translating Christianese, Part 6

repent sign 2As we roll on through the list of  “church talk”, we come to the word “repent”. Maybe you find that offensive. Maybe that word makes you think of “fire and brimstone” revival preachers or eccentric guys with signs on the street corner saying the end of the world is coming next week. But what does that word actually mean? Let’s look at that today.

Basically, to repent is to do a 180°, to think differently after something. But real repentance goes deeper than that, delving into our motivations. When we see various calls to repent in the Bible, some form of the Greek word  μετανοέω (metanoeo) is typically being used. This means to have “regret accompanied by a true change of heart toward God” and indicates regret after careful reflection, resulting in a wiser view of both past and future. [1]  A critical distinction here is between this genuine repentance and another word translated as “repent” in English: μεταμέλομαι (metamellomai). This word expresses “the mere desire that what is done may be undone, accompanied with regrets or even remorse, but with no effective change of heart.” It is often “nothing more than a selfish dread of the consequences of what one has done.”[2] This is the repentance of a man who turns from his criminal ways simply out of fear of of being caught, but given enough assurance of getting away with something, commits another crime in spite of his earlier outward signs of “repentance”. This isn’t meaningful repentance like the first (metanoeo). It’s only when we see our behavior from the perspective of God’s perfect standard that we begin to repent and understand our need for forgiveness. Otherwise, we view ourselves as “not that bad…”, at least “good enough…”, maybe even “pretty good”. Viewed in that light, our sin is simply minor shortcomings and “oopsies”. But in reality, we don’t have to be an ax-murderer or a Hitler to warrant condemnation. Every little lie, cheat, lost temper, every little thought or act contrary to God’s design, condemns us  by His standard of perfection. Understanding then, the magnitude of even our smallest offenses against such an unyielding standard, juxtaposed against the amazing, self-sacrificial grace and mercy  of God that offers us undeserved redemption and adoption as beloved children – repentance is the only logical response. But this repentance is authored by God; we can not work up this change in our own strength. Charles Spurgeon said “The Spirit of God enlightens us to see what sin is, and thus makes it loathsome in our eyes.”[3] It is not a single act, but a lifelong attitude of self-examination and seeking to be more like Jesus that is part of the sanctification process described 2 weeks ago. In the words of Spurgeon, “Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith.”[4]

This then is the repentance we speak of; not a condescending judgment, but rather an earnest plea to join us on the path we daily walk. Nobody’s perfect, and we’ve all said and done things we wish we could take back. We can all shed tears of regret with or without God, but only genuine repentance can provide hope with the tears. For “repentance and forgiveness are riveted together by the eternal purpose of God.” [5]


[1] 3340 – metanoeo, The complete Word Study New Testament, 2nd Ed, ed. by Spiros Zodhiates, 1992, (Iowa Falls, World Bible Publishers), p. 936.
[2] 3338 – metamellomai, ibid., p 936.
[3] Charles Spurgeon, “All of Grace”, Kindle Edition of Christian Classics: Six Books by Charles Spurgeon, location 1399. Also available at The Spurgeon Archive.
[4] ibid, location 1369.
[5] ibid, location 1332.

Translating Christianese, Part 5

With a lot of terms like faith, sin, holiness, righteousness, atonement, grace, justification, and sanctification in our toolbox of terms, let’s look today at 2 terms that incorporate these concepts and see what Christians mean by the terms “saved” and “born again”.

Some people hear Christian pleas for them to “be saved” and recoil from it, feeling that needing to be saved from anything is a sign of weakness. What are we being saved from? Is Christianity just “fire insurance” to save us from a funny-looking guy with a pitchfork in some underground cave called hell with a big lake of fire? Are we to be “saved from ourselves”? From sin? From the “world”? From our present misery? What if we feel like life is going pretty good right now,  and we don’t want to be “saved” from anything right now? But the question shouldn’t be whether we feel like we need saving, but simply whether it’s true that that’s what we need. When I learned to scuba dive in college, one condition we were warned about, particularly in our deepwater class, was nitrogen narcosis, or the “rapture of the deep”. That’s where the diver’s judgment and motor skills are impaired because of pressure effects on dissolved gases in the blood. The primary danger in this often euphoric state is that the diver doesn’t recognize the danger they’re really in. He may, in fact, have never felt better than when he is in the most danger. This is the reason the Bible says “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…”[1], and this is the reason for the Christian’s urgent pleas. The next breath is not guaranteed to any of us. So while we are saved from our own self-destructive behavior, and the power of sin in our lives, and sometimes from our present troubles, we are primarily saved from getting what we deserve: God’s perfect, unwavering, unrelenting justice. The result of that, apart from Christ’s atonement,  is permanent separation from God, which is what hell is (despite whatever jokes or caricatures you’ve seen to the contrary).  So are we simply after “fire insurance”? The Bible tells us that we were created to glorify God[2], and until we do so with our lives, we will always be missing the mark, missing our life’s purpose. So no, our salvation is tremendously important for this physical life as well as eternity. In fact, we are told that though physically alive, we were “dead in our sins” and only become truly alive when we are saved. How? Simply “that if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” [3] While all of the terms the last few weeks play a part in this work of salvation, this is where the rubber meets the road. 

If being saved is the result, being “born again” is the start of that process. The term comes from a passage in the Bible where a religious teacher named Nicodemus comes to talk to Jesus at night and admits that God is obviously with Jesus for Him to do the miracles He did. Jesus then tells him that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”[4] If this makes you do a double take, don’t feel too bad – Nicodemus did too. With the brain gears grinding and smoke coming out his ears, Nic asked Jesus how a man could go back into his mother’s womb. But Jesus told him this was a spiritual birth, a regeneration. In the words of Matthew Henry, “to be born again is to begin anew. We must not think to patch up the old building, but begin from the foundation.”[5] Mr. Henry’s analogy is appropriate; not only will plastering over the cracks in our walls not fix the problem, even major structural repairs to the framework of our lives won’t help with a foundation built on quicksand. Our lives apart from God are just pretty house facades covering rotten boards and cracked, shallow footings. It’s a total loss and needs to be gutted and rebuilt, but it all starts with the foundation. Only with new piles driven down to the bedrock that is Christ can our house be built securely.  But this starts with God regenerating us, making us spiritually alive and able to respond to His free gift of salvation. Only God has the power to initiate this in us.[6]

There’s a lot more that could be said about both of these terms (and others have!), but hopefully this has given you some new insight into these 2 common phrases. Questions or comments are always welcome. I may not have all the answers, but I’ll do my best to point you to the One who does. 🙂


[1] Hebrews 3:7 (ESV)
[2] Isaiah 43:7
[3] Romans 10:9 (NIV)
[4] John 3:3 (NIV)
[5] Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible in One Volume, ed. Leslie F Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1961), p. 1517.
[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1994), pp702-703.

At the intersection of faith and design