“So, why should Genesis be saved?”

When I was asked this question a few years ago, it was refreshing to hear; I don’t normally hear this question asked of Christians–not in private, and certainly not in the public media.  At the time I decided to offer just one of the many reasons Genesis is a fundamental and essential part of Christianity.  Now, I’d like to offer some of the other reasons, and some thoughts about why this question comes up.

Here are some reasons Genesis provides an essential part of Christianity; after we examine Renaissance Man’s presuppositions, we will examine these later in this post:

  • Genesis presents itself as a historical record, not as a myth.
  • It reveals God’s work at the creation and the resulting ethical imperatives.
  • It records the curses on Adam and Eve, and how they differed.
  • It records that patriarchy is a curse.

Genesis is a controversial book, mainly because it presents itself as a history that directly contradicts the prevailing historical narrative adopted wholesale in the Renaissance world.  If you adopt it as an accurate record of history–which it clearly purports to be–you will of course get a smirk from Renaissance Man, and possibly a blank look from some church goers.  It’s not the popular view.  This makes for strong social pressure (logical fallacy: ad populum) to relegate it to the myth category of literature.  In some professions like secular academia, you may be denied employment, your doctorate, a promotion or tenure.  So much for academic freedom.

More specifically, Genesis is controversial  because the first nine chapters claim to record some large scale, catastrophic events on a cosmic scale that don’t fit with the presuppositions about the cosmic past that Renaissance Man holds dear.  In the public media he labels these presuppositions as “science” or “scientific” in the hope that they will be swallowed whole, without any scrutiny or critical thought.

These presuppositions are not often brought out in plain view, because some of them are as intellectually flimsy as tissue paper.  Some contradict themselves.  If Renaissance Man brought these out in public discussion, their flimsy and occasionally contradictory nature might embarrass him.  Worse, they would be exposed as the un-scientific, religious dogma they really are.  So they are normally kept off stage, in a dark closet of the mind.

As near as I can tell, his hidden fundamental presuppositions seem to be:

  • There is no non-physical entity (or deity) operating both inside and outside of time and space, causing things to happen in time and space.
  • Chance (aka randomness) is an active force of physics.
  • Chance is powerful enough to cause the entire universe (all the particles and energy in it) to instantly come into being.
  • All the fundamental physical entities (particles, energy and forces) are self-existent; once they appeared, they don’t need an external driver to keep on existing.
  • As forces go, chance is now relatively weak and therefore it takes a long time to cause changes (like speciation and geological features) in the physical universe.

Let’s address each one in sequence.

There is no non-physical entity (or deity) operating inside and outside of time and space, causing things to happen in time and space.

In other (more theologically precise) words, no God may be both transcendent and immanent.

Negative statements like this one are difficult if not impossible to prove.  For example, to make certain of the truth of the negative assertion “There are no turquoise-colored M&Ms”, Renaissance Man must locate and visually examine all the M&Ms that currently exist–every last one, no matter where they all are.  Not impossible, but certainly a time consuming and probably difficult endeavor.

In the case of this first assertion, Renaissance Man does not have the means to look outside time and space.  He can’t construct a robotic probe to go there, much less take a look around.  Therefore, he can’t assert anything with confidence or logical honesty about this subject, nor even “There are no M&Ms outside of time and space.”

Now change the M&M to a non-physical entity in the here and now: a spirit being, for which Renaissance Man has no reliable detectors.  His probe, searching within time and space, could be “looking” directly at a spirit being and completely miss it.

For this reason, the “no entity or deity” statement is a foolish if not intellectually dishonest thing for anybody to assert (logical fallacy: asserting the conclusion, argumentum ad nauseam). In the words of David and Isaiah, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’.”

However, this is the hidden presupposition that Renaissance Man holds most dear, and because Genesis baldly asserts the opposite in its opening verse, he categorically labels these first chapters of Genesis as myth.  He does this repeatedly (ad nauseam), shouting down any competing claims to the contrary with name-calling, etc.  He has to; to do otherwise means he must seriously question this, his primary dogma.

Chance (aka randomness) is an active force of physics.

When we contemplate the common use of the word “chance” we see that it means “human ignorance of governing causes”.  To illustrate, when you throw dice, you may know the mathematical “equations of motion” that govern the movement of physical objects, but you have no way of knowing (a) the starting position of the dice you shake in your closed hand, (b) the exact forces your skin exerts on the dice as you toss them, (c) the timing of those forces and (d) the vector direction of those forces.  And since you would have to know all of a, b, c and d above in order to predict the end result, we call any throw of dice a “game of chance”.  Likewise, if we see two people bump into each other without having planned it ahead of time, we call it a “chance meeting”, meaning we are all ignorant of what causes may have brought about the meeting.

So, this one really should read “Man’s ignorance of causes is an active force of physics.”

I think this one is most amusing because, as Renaissance Man accuses Reformation Man, out of one side his mouth, of invoking deity to explain the as yet unexplained, out of the other side he awards physical powers to something he calls Chance, in order to (you guessed it) explain the as yet unexplained.  We might call this intellectual hypocrisy, but a kinder term is cognitive dissonance.

Some, no doubt feeling the intrinsic foolishness of this game, have tried to shift the meaning of the term “Chance” from deity to how scientists label the Unknowable.  Personally, I don’t think any real scientist ever says “We can’t understand it, so no use trying to explain it; let’s call it ‘chance’ and move on to something else.”  But some non-scientists try this maneuver.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Here is a verbatim excerpt that illustrates this phenomenon:

The tools of science have been effective at illuminating each individual step on this long and winding road. But many things exist in nature that science does not even try to explain. Those are labeled “chance.” When a scientist “claims that something occurred by chance”, that is an admission that there is no explanation. I hasten to point out that this does not mean that some a causal factor is missing and has to be provided by God. What it does mean, though, is that events occur in nature that fall outside the explanatory purview of science. These events are either genuinely without explanation or to be explained from a perspective outside of science. This offers no proof of God’s intervention, of course, for it may indeed be that the events are without explanation. But such inexplicable aspects of creation at least erect explanatory boundaries for science and preclude global generalizations about what it all means.

I mentioned above that the story of evolution was underdetermined by virtue of the large portion of the story that is simply missing. In a more profound way, all of nature is underdetermined. The natural order, as disclosed so remarkably by contemporary physics, is not a closed system of interlocking mechanical parts, as the Newtonian worldview mistakenly implied. Rather, events unfold in ways that are not entirely specified by the laws of physics. The most famous statement of this under determination is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, a precise mathematical articulation of exactly how much we can and cannot know about the world. In one of the most general laws in all of science, Heisenberg’s principle sets clear limits on how accurately we can know the behavior of particles, such as electrons. An electron passing through a small hole, for example, will have its path altered by the interaction with the whole. We can know what the trajectory will bend by a certain amount, say ten degrees. But we cannot know in which direction; whether the electron goes left or right, up or down is determined by “chance.”

Karl Giberson, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, Harper One, 2008, p. 220.


“Man’s ignorance of causes is not a lack of information, it’s an active force of physics, pushing electrons around, and scientists are not interested in any explanations.”

Right.  But let this bizarre dogma stand; we have yet to examine it’s amazing expansion.

Chance is powerful enough to cause the entire universe (all the particles and energy in it) to instantly come into being.

Here we see the intellectual hypocrisy of Renaissance Man, alluded to earlier, in its full glory: Chance functions in the exact same way a deity does in ancient creation myths.  Renaissance Man prostrates himself in front of his deity Chance while claiming to be free of the (amusingly childish and primitive) worship of deity; to Chance he allocates the power to generate the material universe out of nothing, in a single instant, and at the same instant specify the precise numerical values for cosmic constants that produce a stable, diverse, and life-capable cosmos.

Of course, he must camouflage the hypocrisy, so he douses it liberally with technical-sounding language: “quantum mechanics”, “singularity”, “random” etc.  My favorite is “Scientists believe…”  In the quote above, you see an invocation (out of its proper context) of the mystical sounding “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle”.  This principle has nothing to do with chance or unknowable causes; it is about knowing both the location and the velocity of very small particles.  It has no bearing on the discussion above, but it is invoked by name for its mystifying function.  The intent of all this techno-mystical language is to intimidate all who lack sufficient technical education to penetrate the conversational fog artificially induced by use of these terms.

For example, “singularity” is routinely used as if it refers to something concrete in physics, like forces and particles, but in reality it does not; instead it only refers to a point on some axis where the mathematics breaks down, technically akin to dividing by zero.  Dividing by zero might get you an F on a math quiz, but it has no physical impact on particles or forces, and it certainly does not create them; neither does a singularity.

Once again, in its opening statement Genesis baldly challenges this religious dogma: God, a personal and infinite being, and not chance, caused the universe to come into being. Therefore, says Renaissance Man (using a faulty dilemma fallacy), Genesis cannot be anything but a myth.

All the fundamental physical entities (particles, energy and forces) are self-existent; once they appeared, they don’t need an external driver to keep on existing.

To their credit,  ancient Greek philosophers struggled to explain the continuing existence of the material universe; they understood that this is not a given.  Some today will admit that this is the most vexing philosophical question ever: Why is there anything?  It is vexing to the professional philosopher because no matter how an entity came into existence, no one can find a reason or cause to force it to continue to exist.  Not, that is, without resorting to deity.

But undeterred by the professional philosophers, Renaissance Man has an answer: these things have in themselves the power to exist.  This power (aseity) is intrinsic to all physical entities, he says.  So, although Renaissance Man insists there are no deities, especially those deities in the rivers, mountains and thunderstorms that are so amusingly primitive, he awards not just rivers and storms but every particle, force and every bit of energy as having the god-like power of self-existence.

Ooops.  It’s deus (so to speak) ex machina on a cosmic scale.

Although you don’t find it explicitly asserted within Genesis, it is easily and logically deduced that the God who created the universe must also sustain it moment by moment. In the latter part of the Bible, this implicit statement is stated explicitly: “He upholds the universe by the word of his power” and “In Him we live and move and have our being.”

As forces go, chance is now relatively weak and therefore it takes a long (long) time to cause changes (like speciation and geological features) in the physical universe.

Nevermind that the force that allegedly created the entire universe once upon a nanosecond has now become so weak; we will let one that stand for now.  This one arises because of one Darwinian dogma: There is a physical mechanism or force that, over long periods of time, causes new and useful information to appear spontaneously in the DNA and RNA of living reproductive cells.

Because he’s not sure what force or mechanism might actually do this–no scientific experiment has yet revealed a viable candidate–Renaissance Man reverts to his undercover deity Chance, and couples it with a second entity that he also treats as a deity:

Lots (and lots and lots) of Time.

Small amounts of time are not enough; there must be lots of it, so that Chance can work its magic.  This religious campaign is built on our innate reverence for large numbers.  On camera, when explaining the long periods of time required, Dr. Carl Sagan used to repeat in slow, worshipful tones the mantra “millions and millions”.  Sometimes he would glorify it further: “billions and billions”.  [Incidentally, his voice sounded exactly like a Benedictine monk reciting the Pater Noster.]  Dr. Sagan loved talking about Chance, but he really loved talking about Chance coupled with Lots of Time.

Man has a long history of ascribing creation powers to the coupling of two mystical entities.  In the Babylonian Enuma Elish creation epic, Apsu and his mate Tiamat are described as “mingling their waters together” and giving birth to new things.  Like Apsu and his mate,  Chance and LotsaTime work together creatively.  “Together,” says Renaissance Man “Time and Chance could do anything–and they must have, you see.  Just look around at all the diversity.  Time plus Chance is the only possible explanation.”

Renaissance Man, while snickering at one moment at the quaintly primitive idea of mating deities, in the next moment asserts that the coupling of Chance with LotsaTime is the cause of the diversity in the universe we see today: diverse plants and animals; diverse elements like iron, silver and technetium; diverse galactic features; and diverse geologic features like oceans, canyons and mountains.  He may not call them deities, but like Apsu and Tiamat mating in the Babylonian epic, in his cosmology they function as deities in every way.

Unfortunately for Renaissance Man, this boat is sinking.  Month after month, in thousands of petri dishes, aquariums and cages around the globe, species stay the same.  Every ten days, no matter how it is picked on (natural selection speeded up), the fruit fly produces only fruit flies.  Euglenas and parameciums refuse to produce anything but euglenas and parameciums.  Worse yet, day after day, in millions of databases around the world–each one simulating the RNA and DNA database in our chromosomes–no new useful information appears.  Occasionally, a data base suffers from corruption (like a birth defect, or cancer in our cells); but never has any new and useful information appeared ex nihilo in a database.  The database in your smart phone does not randomly produce new and useable (perfectly functioning) apps; on the contrary, occasionally it encounters corrupted data, and must be rebooted to eliminate the resulting malfunction.

On a huge scale, science is demonstrating the largest null result of all: no new species are appearing in our scientific experiments; no new randomly created apps are appearing in our smart phones.  No one has been awarded a Nobel prize for demonstrating in a scientific experiment the origin of a completely new species by natural selection.

Because Genesis describes all the diversity of life and the material world as the result of the personal craftsmanship of a creator operating both inside and outside of time and space, and not the coupling of the deity Chance with the deity LotsaTime, Renaissance Man must reject it–for him, Genesis cannot be saved.

This sketch illustrates why Renaissance Man rejects the first nine chapters of Genesis a priori.  We now turn to some reasons these nine chapters are an essential part of Christianity.  In other words, here’s why Christianity collapses without them.

  • Genesis presents itself as a historical record, not as a myth.
  • It reveals God’s work at the creation and the resulting ethical imperatives.
  • It records the curses on Adam and Eve, and how they differed.
  • It records that patriarchy is a curse.

Genesis presents itself as a historical record, not as a myth.

Good scholarship requires that we treat a document according to what kind of literature that the wording in the document presents.  We distinguish between documents whose purpose is to inform from those whose purpose is to entertain.  When we find phrases like “Once upon a time in a land far away…” or “It was a dark and stormy night…” it means the document presents itself as fiction (myth, fable etc.), and we can expect to be entertained and amused. When we find a high percentage of word pictures, metaphors and similes, it means we are dealing with poetry.  When we find a high percentage of name-calling and logical fallacies, we can be sure we are dealing with polemic or propaganda.  When we find a high percentage of definitions and logical arguments we can be sure we are dealing with serious didactic.  Therefore, when we find “this is the written record” and “this is the record” repeated periodically in these nine chapters, it means we are dealing with historical accounts.

Further, these nine chapters present themselves as eyewitness accounts, the strongest possible historical record.  Even in the first chapter, where the scope is cosmic in proportion to what follows, an observer is identified near the surface of the rotating earth, seeing the surface-specific phenomena of sunrise and sunset.  This observer is identified as a person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, “hovering near the surface of the waters”.

The events described in later sections–even the very unusual ones–are credibly within the personal experience of the person whose name appears after “this is the record of…”. That person’s death is typically recorded shortly after their name appears as having a record, as we would expect if their surviving descendants picked up the narrative, appending their own record to their ancestor’s.  The complete absence of myth and fable language is striking.  If Renaissance Man insists that these are myth or fable, he will need to produce arguments that demonstrate conclusively that they could not possibly be reliable eyewitness accounts–otherwise, he is merely asserting his conclusion.

Unlike Hinduism and many other religious traditions, Christianity is rooted in a strong tradition of accurate written history–so strong that the sins, mistakes and foibles of its leaders and heros are faithfully recorded.  Among religions, only Judaism shares this trait with Christianity.  The flow of actual events–events that range from minor household events such as cooking a meal to the wars between kings and nations–this flow is used by the God of the Bible to reveal Himself and His agenda.  He repeatedly points to the history of His interaction with the tribes of Israel, for example, as revealing His character and His will for His people.  For this reason, Reformation Man has a high regard for the flow of events, and for accurate records of those events.

It reveals God’s work at the creation and the resulting ethical imperatives.

Given this high regard, and the acknowledgement that no one can logically rule out the possibility of God existing outside time and space, Reformation Man finds the unusual and occasionally extreme events described in the first nine chapters to be logically consistent with the first statement.  In other words, a God who exists outside of time and space can conceivably create the not only the universe, but time and space; if He can do that He can do anything.

Reformation Man also acknowledges the ethical implications of creation: if we owe our existence to this Creator, and we see the very good context He created for our existence, we are ethically obligated, at the bare minimum, to both acknowledge His good nature and to give Him thanks for creating us and the good universe.  A corollary also follows: that from His good nature, if we want fully to experience His good we should comply with His ethics.

It records the curses on Adam and Eve, and how they differed.

This information is critical for Reformation Man, because in the curses we find that Eve and Adam, although equal in their value before God and in their responsibility for creatively executing their joint mission, did not have identical roles in the cosmos.  This difference in roles turns out to be the means by which God saves His people.

Adam and Eve jointly shared the image of God, and they shared a joint mission:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

However, after the two sin and God curses them, a distinct difference appears: because Adam sinned, through him the entire material universe is also cursed.

Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field…

Although she was the first to sin, God’s curse on Eve does not have this sweeping scope. Paul explains how this difference in assigned roles both brought sin and death to all men, and how Adam’s unique role is essential for Christ to save us:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

In a letter to the Corinthian Christians Paul sums this up:

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive… Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

The complete absence of Eve’s name in these passages and the emphasis on Adam alone tells us that God assigned Adam, as the first human, a representative role that Eve did not share.  When we go back to the curses in Genesis 3 and see that his curse affected the material world, we see that Adam not only represented all of humanity before God, but also the material universe.

This unique role is how God saves not only humans but His creation: He assigns the same unique representative role to Jesus, the last Adam, and He assigns His people to  Jesus’ constituency.  Now, those still in the constituency of the first Adam are under the sentence of death, but because Jesus obeyed perfectly and died for their sin, the people in His constituency are given eternal life.  Through this “last Adam” the material universe will also be saved; the good news for mankind is good news for the universe.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.

It records that patriarchy is a curse.

This one is a problem for all those evangelicals who are attempting to sprinkle holy water on Genesis 3:16 and turn patriarchy into a blessing for women.  They do this by calling attention to “the creation order” (that is, Adam was created first, then Eve) and somehow making that a universal principle; they want to extrapolate this order (involving just two actual persons) to all men and to all women.  They award all women a subservient place to all men.  I am not making this up.

This is partly done by talking about a husband’s authority without first talking thoroughly about his responsibility.  That is, the issue is approached completely backwards.  Only after responsibility has been thoroughly examined and clarified can authority be properly understood–responsibility provides the necessary context for authority.  Man’s sinful heart, however is always seeking autonomy–escape from his responsibilities to God, so that he can wield his authority freely.  Just like Lucifer.

This universal application and the resulting subservience view requires some dodging of the meaning of the Hebrew term ezer in Genesis 2:18, but that is another blog post.  Suffice it to say that the rule of a man over his wife is a curse, and nothing but a curse; no scripture has ever revoked it.  Instead, scripture points Reformation Man to a uniquely supernatural partnership in marriage, that frankly is just as outrageous as anything else in the Bible: a three-way partnership of a man, a woman, and the Holy Spirit.  This partnership makes the invisible reality of the Trinity become visible in the ordinary lives of husbands and wives, as they practice making truly joint, truly three-way decisions without resorting to the distortion of patriarchy (or matriarchy).

But that is another blog post.



Last fall my wife and I completed our private celebration of a very brief 35 years of Christ-centered marriage, with some flowering shrubs for the front lawn, some new porch furniture, and a dinner out overlooking the river with the trees on the hillside turning spectacular colors reflected on the water.

Here are some of the reflections that this perspective has given me:

  • We constantly encounter a deep duality: the depth of our broken-heartedness, and the depth of His compassion, kindness and love.  Our broken hearts do not think our thoughts straight, feel our feelings straight, nor do they choose our choices straight.  So we are in regular conflict with each other.  Like two drunken sailors, sometimes we struggle to conduct the simplest conversation, or arm-in-arm we navigate our wobbly selves across the room, colliding with the furniture.  Falling down together, we struggle an inordinate amount of time to simply stand again, and bruise and slobber on each other in the process.  Our broken hearts twist feelings of disappointment into feelings of anger, and confuse our thoughts with faulty logic and bizarre assumptions.  We imagine choices to be wise and good, and only discover over time how foolish those choices are.  And yet in all this we see His hand at work, relentlessly binding up our broken hearts as a surgeon gently (but firmly) wraps shattered joint and bone.  His wrappings have both comforting softness and annoying rigidity.  But the rigidity is the very thing our brokenness cannot supply for itself, and what enables us to operate as well as we do.  And (to our amazement) this is apparently well enough to provoke a neighbor to say to my wife, “I’ve never seen a marriage like yours.”
  • The experience of Christ-centered marriage is an exotic alloy of our desires and His imperial calling; husband and wife are divinely appointed roles, energized by His love for us.  I constantly recall the deep impression that occurred on a spring morning nearly forty years ago, when our conversation over breakfast first revealed that her heart was fully oriented toward me.  As this pleasant shock began to sink in, I did not hear words, but the impression came clear and unmistakable, like feeling the ground heave in an earthquake: “She is Mine; I love her with My deep and everlasting love.  I have loved her from the foundation of the universe.  I appoint you to her care.”  (Me?  You trust me to care for Your Beloved?  This delicate and lovely creation in my clumsy and wicked hands?  Are…are You out of Your royal mind?)  The ensuing deep silence I understood: “I have spoken.  Stop babbling and get on with it.”
  • The experience of a Christ-centered marriage will never be like its pagan caricatures, in that woven in among the daily tasks of faithful life together we regularly discover profoundly supernatural surprises.  It is like paddling along in a tandem kayak, and suddenly becoming aware of a strange ripple at arm’s length; looking down you see swimming along just beneath you (and pushing the kayak) there is a whale.  Or hiking along, handing each other over the tricky footing, pulling each other out of thorny bushes, you break out of the trees with a grand vista of rolling hills, silver river bends and a blue horizon lit with crepuscular rays piercing the clouds.  I’m sure there are pleasant surprises in pagan marriages, but the surprises I’m talking about are the kind that stun you until you can only say “I’m sorry, God—I didn’t know You were this real.”  (This phrase has stuck with me over the years since I first heard Becky Pippert say it.  No other words capture so well the essence of these surprise experiences.)
  • There is a sense of being hobbits from the Shire like Merry and Pippin, both of us together caught up in some great story, the magnitude and significance of which we can only guess.  So we just do whatever good work presents itself, moment by moment, but all the time we are awed by the larger narrative unfolding around us and somehow building on our little deeds.
  • The experience of a Christ-centered marriage is not a form of patriarchy with some evangelical holy water sprinkled on it.  Patriarchy is a curse on women (we read in Genesis 3).  It will always be a curse on women, no matter how much we sprinkle it, and I have been a part of that curse.  Nor is Christ-centered marriage a 50-50 divvying up of decision authority, or alternating the decision power, with silent stalemates over the tough decisions.  Over the years, we have been learning a third way, which at this point I can only describe as mutually submissive joint authority.  This third way is the supernatural work, I am convinced, of the Holy Spirit doing His extraordinary thing in our otherwise thoroughly ordinary lives.  It is amazingly pleasant and satisfying.
  • There is a recurring sense of being new characters in an X-Men movie.  At odd intervals, we look at each other: “That was amazing!  I didn’t know you could do that!” and “I didn’t either!”

The adventure continues.

What Shadrach Knows: The Man of God Amid the Political Chaos

It is common experience among Christians watching the current chaotic political situation, and the general ethical degradation of secular society, to feel overwhelmed.  To grow concerned about our children’s future, and our own.  As we watch the pillars of a relatively civilized society slowly crumble before our eyes, hope can grow thin.  On the national stage, the shouting match between the left and the right grows ever louder and more bombastic as appeals to fear replace facts and sound reasoning.

“This way,” says a worried voice, “went the Weimar Republic.”

But Reformation Man does not worry.  Because Reformation Man sees the continuity between the believers in the Old Testament and those in the New, he knows that he can draw perspective by meditating on both their experience and God’s instruction to us all.  So we focus today on Shadrach, a young man captured by an idol-worshipping, thoroughly pagan empire and forced into its perverse, intrigue-riddled political service.

His real name was Hananiah, a name that contains the “yah” element that points to God’s personal name every time it was said.

As one of Daniel’s colleagues and inner circle of friends, Hananiah knew his role as a political agent.  What he knew, Reformation Man knows.

He knew, first and foremost, that he was appointed to service in the Kingdom of God.  He knew he had not earned this appointment; it was simply the decision of the King of All.

Abram had the same experience; when he heard God say “walk before Me”, Abram recognized the formal language used by the local Hittite kings as they periodically conscripted men and women into their political service.  This language forever severed the selected hearer from their village and their tribal life, and launched them into a new life as part of the king’s regional power structure.  Their limited conceptual horizon instantly expanded, from a few hills and valleys and a few herds of sheep and goats to thousands of square miles filled with farms, towns and at least one city.  Their personal loyalty to family and to tribe was instantaneously superseded by loyalty to the king.  Later, when kings had chariots, the language of “walk before” became “run before” his chariots.  But the appointment language had the same transformational effects on the recipient.  This invisible transcendent God used the secular Hittite language formula to let Abram know he was appointed to service in the royal power structure of an invisible kingdom, an infinite kingdom ruled by an infinite King.  What Abram knew, Hananiah knew: they were both appointed to political service in a kingdom of cosmic and eternal scope.

This appointment to heavenly citizenship and governance dominated all his thinking.  It especially dominated his approach to any role he played in the secular world.  For example, as an appointed official in the Babylonian empire, he subordinated all things Babylonian to his primary loyalty to the King of Heaven.  This subordination necessarily put him in ethical conflict with his heathen political colleagues as they pursued their secular goals.

It also put him in conflict with his superiors.  This meant he was constantly at risk of loss of his freedom and loss of his life. But amid all this ethical conflict and risk, Hananiah knew that the King of All, working from outside of time and space, had so arranged the circumstances, and had so used the evil of evil men to accomplish His purpose of sending Hananiah and many other men of God to labor for His holy purposes in the context of this heathen empire.  Hananiah knew he was instructed by the King of All to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  In other words, the King of All commanded His people to work toward what was good for the heathen city—and by extension, the heathen empire—despite its devotion to false gods and sinful practices.

They would grieve over the slavery of their heathen colleagues, some of whom became their friends, to their false view of the universe.  They would grieve over their broken hearted condition—thinking that was filled with false presuppositions and logical fallacies, feelings they could not feel correctly, and choices that were clearly not in their best interests.  They would grieve as heathen parents murdered their children as sacrifices to idols.  And they would grieve over the slavery of the Chief Executive, Nebuchadnezzar, to his false gods.  Even as he threatened them with death for not worshipping his gods, they probably felt compassion for his lost and broken hearted condition.

So also today, Reformation Man grieves to see the nation abandon the rule of law.  He grieves to watch the population abandon the earth-shaking assertion in the Declaration of Independence— “all men are created equal”—that so moved President Lincoln, that stood unique in the history of human governance, a direct challenge to the brutal patriarchy, tribalism, elitism and racism of all previous earthly governments.  He grieves to see the frightened majority abandon their heritage, principles of representative democracy and republican government, for just another shabby, self-serving elitist oligarchy, a United States of Mafia; Orwell’s Animal Farm bullied by greedy pigs.

But Reformation Man, like Hananiah and Daniel, is not discouraged; while he grieves, he revels in his service to the Good King.  He prays for the heathen nation, and seeks its welfare, just as he has been commanded by his Great Captain.  He asks his King to turn the hearts of the heathen bullies away from their evil and toward His good.  He applies his mind and energy to work out the best solutions to their problems.  He builds supporting arguments for heathen decision makers and stakeholders, not on the Bible they neither read nor acknowledge, but on what is in their best interests.  Up to the point where they demand his disobedience to God Most High, he serves them relentlessly.  He acknowledges the increasing risk to his freedom and his life in the darkening days, but he also knows his King will relentlessly transform even the worst man can do to His great good.  It’s what He does; it’s who He is.

And he knows that his King will resurrect him, along with Hananiah, Daniel and many, many others He has appointed to His service.  Together they will continue their proper service to the Great King of All, enjoying His great good, without the grief, without the death; just pure joy in creative, constructive governance over an elegant new universe.

“Most boys would not have liked it, but to me it was red beef and strong beer.”

Red beef.  Strong beer.  Things of substance and weight.  Intoxicating.  Energizing.  Things consumed by men who know they are men, as an intrinsic part of living their vigorous lives.

This line–one of my favorites–comes from C. S. Lewis’ description of his early life, when he encountered a singular man to whom the two Lewis brothers privately awarded a distinctive moniker:
The Great Knock.

The Great Knock was a tutor paid by their father to “cram” the two boys for the Oxford University entrance exams.  Lewis describes him as “the most purely logical entity I ever met”.   As part of their training, he knocked the two boys’ thinking about until they learned to use proper logic.

Logic is falling out of fashion these days.  Most boys don’t like it.

Here’s why.

In the last century of secular thought, while logic brought about many scientific and technological breakthroughs, it did not bring about the much anticipated personal peace and well-being.  Worse, it seemed to hasten the apocalypse of nuclear war; at best it predicted the eventual heat death of the universe and the ultimate insignificance of man.  Logic only led to depression.  Hope began to die.  People began to turn to other less rational ways to think in their desperation to find some hope and personal peace.

In the first “The X-files”  movie and TV series, Agent Mulder is the post-modernist, the anti-logic, feeling-and-intuition character.  He is in constant debate with Agent Scully, the modernist, the logical character.  “Forget logic, Scully!  Use your feelings!” says Mulder.

But the modernist’s problem was not with logic; it’s just a thought engine, and if maintained properly, it runs well.  The problem is what the modernists fed the engine–the assumptions and presuppositions that serve as starting premises.  If you start the engine with invalid presuppositions, as Renaissance Man does, you get invalid, grim results like a depressing future of nuclear war and heat death.

It kills the significance of our daily thoughts, choices and feelings.

Not so for Reformation Man.

For him, logic is a core part of lifelong training, a daily exercise, for several reasons.  First, the God presented to us in the Bible, if He appears a bit eccentric, is clearly rational.  He says things like “Come and let us reason together.”  He points out ludicrously illogical human thinking, and mocks it.  He offers sound logical arguments for people to consider, demonstrating how a properly maintained logic engine works.

Second, we have a bitter enemy whose weaponry consists entirely of lies.  They work like bear traps and anti-personnel mines.  They are carefully camouflaged, and some are crafted to have a delayed effect: years later, they mangle our lives.  If your enemy is the Father of Lies, it behooves you to know a lie when you hear one–or think one.

Third, we all have a parasitic sin nature that loves to cuddle up with lies.  Mine has never found a lie it didn’t like.  It rejects truth as if it were yesterday’s bran muffin.  What it can’t reject outright it attempts to distort or suppress.  We experience this in two forms: bizarre assumptions we adopt without ever pausing to question them, and as a host of logical fallacies we use as readily as we do paper towels.

Fourth, we all have broken hearts.  In Western culture, that terminology usually means we have painful regrets.  In the Jewish jargon of the Bible, it means something far more profound: the core of our being, from which arise our thoughts, our choices and our feelings, simply does not work right.  We have difficulty thinking correctly.  We choose foolishly, selecting choices that are clearly not in our best interest, in what Barbara Tuchman called “the march of folly”.  We feel emotions that are misfires: loneliness may not feel like loneliness–it feels like anger or depression.  Worse yet, sometimes we feel nothing at all.

Logic is a kind of brace, like a cast put on a broken limb, providing stiffness where our thinking process is weak, broken and prone to fail.  God provides His word as the means by which the Son of God binds up the broken hearted.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.  They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

For example, in the Bible God prohibits His people from lying or even “dealing falsely” with each other. He directs them to work at making the logic engine run well, and demonstrates how to do it. That means Reformation Man avoids using logical fallacies, even in his private thoughts; relentlessly, he hunts them down as dangerous enemies that threaten his well-being, and that of his fellow men.

But the God of the Bible also provides the right fuel for the engine, the valid starting premises we can’t figure out by ourselves.  Some of these premises, when we first encounter them, seem completely outrageous.  After years of thinking about them, some seem more outrageous than ever.   But they are the essential fuel.

Agent Mulder needs to embrace logic, but Agent Scully needs to fuel her logic engine with His truth.

Forgetting logic, and ignoring His truth means that Western popular culture is headed back to the Middle Ages, when superstition reigned supreme.  Combining the true presuppositions from the Bible with the biblical imperative to think logically, Reformation Men like Bacon, Kepler and Newton led Western culture to develop and implement the scientific method.  It actually resides intellectually on presuppositions found in the Bible.  These men used it as a reliable way to know how the material world works.  They led the way out of the dark.

But today, Western popular culture applies the term “science” to just about anything, including wild speculations about the past, as the certification of what is popularly acceptable to believe.  Something called Chance has been awarded god-like powers, and made a fundamental part of “science”, in spite of the fact that the term is shorthand for “man’s ignorance of governing causes”.  Superstition is growing unchecked.  The flow of events has grown into a dense fog in which Renaissance Man finds himself careering from one near catastrophe to the next.

In contrast, Reformation Man experiences what Christ was talking about:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

As in the late Middle Ages, today Reformation Man collaborates with Christ, who is binding up his broken heart; he works at thinking logically, and deliberately feeds his logic engine with the valid truths found in the Bible.  As he does so, his mind sees clearly, perhaps for the first time, and he is able to build up the devastated ruins left by a flailing, superstitious culture, the handiwork of Renaissance Man.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law of the Lordand on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Most boys don’t like it.

To Reformation Man, it’s red beef and strong beer.

The Women’s Advocates Set Fire to the Rain

I let it fall, my heart,
And as it fell you rose to claim it
It was dark and I was over
Until you kissed my lips and you saved me

My hands, they’re strong
But my knees were far too weak,
To stand in your arms
Without falling to your feet

But there’s a side to you
That I never knew, never knew.
All the things you’d say
They were never true, never true,
And the games you play
You would always win, always win.

But I set fire to the rain…

“Set Fire to the Rain” Adele

There is a reason this song went to Number One in so many nations.

The Elders asked my wife and I to mediate a marriage conflict between two members of our church; this couple had a long history of angry argumentation and locked wills during their 14 years as members.  As we began the mediation, the wife was eager and cooperative, but the husband was generally not responsive.

As we pushed the mediation process along, I took an opportunity to introduce Christ’s death on the cross as payment for all their sins, the foundation concept they would need to begin forgiving each other.

To my great surprise, the wife suddenly looked up at me with the unmistakable expression of a starving puppy.  In response, I expanded on the work of Christ on her behalf; wide-eyed, she devoured my words as if she had never heard them before.  The husband sat as before, with a bored expression on his face.

I was puzzled: How could she be so starved for the gospel?  And how could he sit there ignoring her body language?  Then an appalling insight dawned on me: all week long, week after week, her husband was twisting the gospel into some vicious kind of shame weapon—and he was using it and our church to emotionally beat her down.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.  Avoid such people.  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.  Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.  But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

Fortunately, this man was not the first of his kind that I had encountered.  In fact, he was the third in a string of malignant narcissists we had become involved with.  They were an alarming crew; we were caught completely unprepared to deal with their vicious bullying.  But by a clear working of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, a pastor who served briefly at our church previously worked as a counselor in a state penitentiary—counselling men who had physically beat their wives, and were now in jail for it.  He coached me what to do in what he called “your assignment from God”.

I can never forget the moment when he asked me “Were the bruises high up—where she could hide them?”  Chilled to the bone, I then understood: even in his violent rage, the husband was coldly calculating.  And he was using the church as a weapon, to keep her emotionally imprisoned in shame.

Stunned, I recalled the passage where Paul prepared the young pastor Timothy for this very same phenomenon—narcissists infesting the church, and beating women up by twisting the gospel into something it is not, something brutal.

But there’s a side to you
That I never knew, never knew.
All the things you’d say
They were never true, never true,
And the games you play
You would always win, always win.

Paul’s instructions make it clear that we are to expect this obscene phenomenon as the norm, not the exception; worse, it would not only appear in the secular world—it would appear in the local church, and Timothy would need to get the church prepared for it.  As this truth sank in, I thought through our church governance.  Who could (and should) discipline these monstrous husbands?  Clearly, in the Book of Church Order, the Elders are charged with the necessary authority, and are held responsible to act.

When I tried to imagine in a mental movie how this discipline process would unfold, the enormity of the ministry gap hit me hard: it would never start.  I was appalled.  What shame-beaten woman would come to the Elders—a bunch of grumpy-looking old men whose names she hardly knows—on her own initiative, and explain her intimate and embarrassing plight?  And because it would never start, these narcissist bullies would continue to infest the church.

So I tried imagining a different process, where the abused woman was first enfolded by other women, with gentle hands and soft hearts, who could help her eventually to find a voice before the Elders.  They would start the discipline process on her behalf, because they would know how it worked.  They would know how it worked because Elders would train them.  And these women would have confidence in bringing the beaten woman before the Session, because once they were trained, the Session would formally commission them to this work.

The training of Women’s Advocates necessarily includes six elements.  First and foremost, they need to know the sections of the Book of Church Order that require the Elders to discipline unrepentant members; they need to know how the Elders are authorized and required to perform this distasteful but essential duty.  If the Elders will not do their duty, they are simply enabling the abuse; the Advocates need to know how to hold Elders accountable to Presbytery.  Second, because the women may be financially cut off by their abusive husbands, the Advocates need to know how to work with the Deacons to meet her needs.

Third, because the civil authorities have a God-ordained role in marital disputes, divorce and physical abuse, they need to know how protection orders are obtained, how separation and divorce are handled, and they will need to know their legal responsibilities to report physical abuse of minors.  Fourth, because the beaten woman is prone to co-dependency, the Advocates will need to know how to work with professional Christian counsellors.  Fifth, because her husband is creating conflict in order to beat her down with it, the Advocates will need to know the basics of peace making: the six scriptural tools and the diagnosis of identity weapons and idols of the heart.  They need to understand the redemptive role of biblical separation and the church’s role in civil divorce.

You can always tell when an idol is at work, because there are sacrifices.
     Ken Sande, Ruling Elder and author of The Peacemaker.

Last but not least, the Advocates need to know how to tenderly preach the gospel—the pure gospel in all its glorious facets and its comprehensive scope—in small, quiet spoonfuls.  They need to know how to climb down into this deep, dark emotional pit with these beaten women, and help each one find the rungs on the theological ladder—one rung at a time.  When her hands and feet slip off, the Advocates need to know how to guide them back.  They need to know how to help her wash the shame away with the gospel. They need to know how to loan her hope in the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in her.  In particular, they need to know how the gospel enables the biblical model of mutual submission in marriage.  They need to know the difference between male headship—personal responsibility to God for the spiritual quality of the marriage—and the horrible curse of patriarchy.  They need to know how Christ gently binds up the broken-hearted, and become His hands.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

The training must be done by a team of Elders assigned to this work by the Session, to ensure both initial and recurring training in all six elements.  The Advocates develop their own policy and procedure to guard against gossip while enabling effective help.  Legal counsel, especially a female attorney familiar with the statutes and the issues involved, should be a regular part of the training, as well as professional counsellors and certified conciliators.

As our first five Advocates completed their initial training and were commissioned before the congregation, they surprised all of us by expanding their ministry scope.  For example, they began serving the wife of a penitent pornography addict.  The Session had properly admonished him to continue his repentance; the Advocates gave her sustained support as she learned to deal with the way this addiction weaponized their marriage relationship and attacked her identity.  In the Advocates the Spirit had unleashed a new redemptive force, working in many ways we had not envisioned when we set out to create their role.

The shame- and fist-beaten woman is not without hope—she has a Redeemer.  The Advocates collaborate with the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ to do what seems to her impossible:

Set fire to the rain.

This post is dedicated to the first five Women’s Advocates–five women of courage, dedicated to serving Christ by serving in His body:
Joy, Anne, Anna, Christiane, and Tanya.