Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Three Thousand Year Mistake

And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judging in Beersheba. His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.”

So Samuel spoke all the words of the Lord to the people who had asked of him a king. He said, “This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” Now after Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the Lord’s hearing. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and appoint them a king.” So Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”

~1 Samuel 8

Nearly three thousand years later...

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

~ The Declaration of Independence

Now that's whack. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Eucharist Stumbling Block

Here is another chapter from my book written around two years ago, probably my favorite chapter. I decided to post it after seeing Rick Santorum's speech from CPAC St. Louis. Mr. Santorum is calling for Christian conservatives to change the way they communicate, something which I wrote directly against in this piece. But I'm posting this not to show disagreement with Santorum, but rather agreement. Specifically, I believe we can win. Both Santorum and I agree that the Truth retains utmost importance. Both Santorum and I agree that we need to learn how to tell stories. I think there is a subtle difference between what I'm saying here and what Santorum is after though, but I'm not sure I stated it explicitly in this piece. I believe that God intentionally made the Truth a stumbling block preventing people from coming to it. He intentionally presented it baldly, without apology, equivocation or sugar-coating. But Santorum is right when he says 83% of the Bible is stories. The Truth can be presented baldly in story form. In fact, the story Jesus tells here (seemingly about cannibalism!) is even more ribald, even more offensive, even more shocking than the actual literal truth. So shocking that a major branch of Christianity, Catholicism, still believes the exaggeration of the story to be true itself and of utmost doctrinal importance.

If you look at how progressives have used story-telling, they often use shock and awe. In fact they seem to prefer it.  I think conservatives have grown wary of the method not because the method itself is wrong but because it has only been employed, in recent times, by our enemies. In short, I see two different Santorum's emerging in his new film adventure: the old Santorum who spurns R-rated movies and laments the sin and vice readily available on screens, and the new Santorum who is a fighter, recognizes we need to tell stories and that shock and awe is the best offense. You can see glimpses of this new Santorum when he exclaims "Why are we playing defense?" and observes that progressives are winning in the world of corporate policy because they are the ones willing to be the "skunk at the dinner party". Really, this is the old and new conservatism, not just the old and new Santorum. Like Jesus, we must be willing to be reviled, hated and maligned for never compromising what we know to be true. We must be willing to offend and to shock. That is what Jesus did, and that is what made the crucifixion and resurrection so emotionally powerful that it resonated throughout all history. For when those who hate us see that not only did we stick to our principles in spite of being unpopular, but also realize in the end that we were right, that is emotionally powerful enough to effect a conversion.

We must resist the urge to change the way we communicate by making it less offensive. On the contrary, we need to be more offensive. Yes, tell stories, but tell stories that give offensive truths. We need to exaggerate the offensive and emphasize it. That is the lesson from Jesus' evangelism we need to learn. We need the Truth, and we need to communicate it early, often and in ways that force people to confront their deepest prejudices. We need shock, offense and we need to incite emotional responses in any way we can, even if the response is hatred. If Ted Cruz's Tea Party reception is any indication, the new conservatives are finally ready to do this. We need to shout down the voices of supposed wisdom and push ahead. If the Truth really is on our side, we will win.

The Eucharist Stumbling Block

College was for me a time to meet new people with different perspectives, as it is for many young adults. It was the first time I had a Catholic friend, and we once had one of those famous dorm-room arguments about the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and something called “typology” of which I have little recollection. The episode is important to me because it made me look a lot harder at John 6, the primary passage Catholics use to support transubstantiation. The doctrine of transubstantiation says that when Catholics take the Eucharist at mass, a Christian ritual the evangelicals among us would call “communion,” the bread and the wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ Himself. They are no longer bread and wine. They are in actuality the body and blood of Christ when the Eucharist ceremony is performed. This requires an extraordinarily literal interpretation of the famous communion passages in the Gospels like John 6, as well as a suspension of disbelief of which I am not capable.

The question remains how to properly interpret the passage. Although my interpretation of it is not in any way groundbreaking, for it is the obvious Protestant one, it led me to a whole host of other Scriptures and in fact to a common theme running through the entire Bible. When a Christian sees a concept which is present in both the Old and New Testaments, he ought to take notice. As I did so, I saw what I regard more and more to be a disparity between this theme in Scripture and modern evangelical Christianity. It is the theme of the Stumbling Block and the Remnant. I capitalize both because I have come to view the Stumbling Block as another name for Jesus Christ, and the Remnant as another name for true believers.

John 6 begins with the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus miraculously fed the crowd who had come out to listen to Him preach. The lesson of this chapter begins here. Jesus did not feed them because they were hungry and poor. The purpose of the miracle was not some sort of “war on hunger” campaign. In fact Jesus goes out of His way to emphasize that His purpose is not to satisfy physical hunger but spiritual hunger. Jesus fed them because He did not want them to have to leave His presence (Matt 14:16). Like the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38–42), the crowd had chosen what was better, and Jesus wanted to validate that choice. This is why John 6 is so interesting to me. If feeding the hungry was Jesus’ mission, He could have spent His entire ministry turning stones into bread (Matt 4:3). He didn’t, so what was His mission?

The next day after the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus moves to the other side of the lake and the crowd follows Him. The previous day Jesus validated their correct choice to come out and be near Him. But this time Jesus rejected their choice. What changed? Obviously, the attitude of the crowd changed. Their reasons for following Jesus were no longer the right ones. As He explains: “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:26–27). But the crowd does not listen to Jesus. They begin cleverly arguing that Jesus ought to show them a sign, like manna from heaven, to prove who He is. They begin angling for a free lunch, and Jesus refuses to give it to them. Jesus launches into a long and somewhat tortured argument trying to bring their attention from food back to Him. But they have become fixated on food and as a result many of them misinterpret what He is saying. They begin to believe He is asking them to literally eat his body and blood. They say: “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60). In fact: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him” (John 6:66). Today many Christians would call that unsuccessful evangelism. Jesus, however, pointed to a higher standard than evangelism.

I have heard the standard of evangelism used to argue that Christians ought to be pacifists. Supporting war, they say, makes Christians and therefore Christ look bad and drives people away from the gospel. I have also heard the standard of evangelism used to argue that Christians should support wars designed to bring freedom to other nations. If these types of wars are successful, they say, and then those nations will be easier to evangelize. When I look at the world I see that both of these arguments have merit. Again, I could argue that evangelism drives me to go to bars and witness to people there, or that evangelism requires me not to go to bars and tarnish the image of Christ. I could go on to other issues, but suffice to say the standard of evangelism can be used to argue almost anything. When a premise can be used to argue both one thing and its opposite without any glaring logical errors, a red flag should go up in our thought process. This red flag reads “Wrong Premise.” Evangelism is the wrong premise for a Christian. We take a Person as our premise.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

See, I lay a stone in Zion,

a chosen and precious cornerstone,

and the one who trusts in him

will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone,


A stone that causes people to stumble

and a rock that makes them fall.
” (1 Pet 2:4–8)

Peter is quoting three Old Testament passages: Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14. Obviously Christ means something different to two different kinds of people. There are those who believe and those who do not. Paul quotes both of the Isaiah passages together as if they were one passage in Romans 9:33, just after quoting a passage about the remnant of Israel. Obviously these Old Testament quotations were very important to the theology of the early Christian church. Romans 1–8 is Paul’s main argument, which I discussed in chapter nineteen. Romans 9–11 was written to answer the question, “What about Israel?” Paul’s answer to this question is less complicated than some have tried to make it:

"God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. What then? “What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened. . . .” (Rom 11:2–7)

What’s that? Paul believes that there were actually two groups of people within Israel? Some of them were hardened and others were not? There was a remnant within Israel of true believers, while the rest were not true believers? But wasn’t Judaism a matter of following the law, of making the sacrifices and whatnot? Wasn’t Judaism an ethnic deal? Once born a Jew weren’t you in good with God for life? Apparently not. After all, Jesus said God could make sons of Abraham out of stones (Matt 3:9, Luke 3:8). Here we see the real source of the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. The question at issue was not trivial. What defines the true follower of God?

The Pharisees and teachers of the law claimed that the true follower is defined by following the Old Testament law. This made them the authorities over who was in and who was out. Naturally they would react strongly against anyone who directly challenged the source of their power. Jesus did so by saying that faith was the true defining line, not the law. Furthermore, Jesus claimed that anyone who had this true faith was enabled by the Father to see Him for who He really was: God’s Son. The obvious conclusion is that those with true faith would recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and those without would be blinded. This made Jesus the ultimate defining line between who was in and who was out, something the law could never do. Jesus never backed down from this teaching. In fact when given the chance, He always expanded and emphasized it instead of equivocating. It was the major reason the Pharisees conspired to kill Him.

As I survey the American evangelical community, I see what many people believe is the old and the new. The old mainline denominations are failing, dropping members like a leaky faucet. The newer generations see this failure and are trying to compensate for it. This process must first begin by pointing out the failures of the old in order to correct them. It is true that many of the old denominational points of view have become like the Pharisees, deciding who is in and who is out on the basis of doctrines other than belief in Christ. However, much of the criticism coming from the younger generations, at least much of what I have seen, is not healthy either. The problem is an overemphasis on evangelism as a standard. Much of the criticisms of the old by the new begin by elevating this standard even further when they ought to be subordinating it to a higher one. I do not want to pick on anyone individually, but a quote from Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins really caught my eye:

"A staggering number of people have been taught that a few select Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It’s been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear."

In other words, Mr. Bell is embarking on a highly questionable interpretation of the gospel’s teaching on heaven and hell because he feels the traditional teaching inhibits evangelism. We are supposed to think this evangelistic standard is a criticism of the evangelical community. How absurd. In reality it is a vulgar but logical extension of it. Many of the emergent standard bearers, when they reason at all, reason in just this manner. The imminent failure of the American evangelical church, they say, is the result of poor evangelism. The way we share the gospel must be changed and updated in order to reach the new generations. That’s not what King Josiah said when he led the spiritual revival of a nation. That’s not what Jesus did when people started leaving Him.

In John 6, Jesus intentionally drives people away because He knows they are following Him for the wrong reasons. Think about it. Why didn’t Jesus just change what He was saying when the crowd began to misinterpret it? Jesus could easily have said: “Oh hey guys forget everything I said. You thought I meant literally eating my body and blood. What a giant misunderstanding! No, no, no. I just meant that you should listen to my teaching that’s all. Maybe I should stop using metaphors so much.” Instead, Jesus doubles down over and over again on the same offensive rhetoric. More and more people leave Him because of it. Jesus never apologizes and never backs down, even though He certainly could have and not compromised anything concrete in His message. He could have tailored His message more closely to what the people were willing and able to hear. Why didn’t He? Didn’t He care about all those people? Of course He did. He just cared about finding genuine faith a lot more.

What follows is one of the most touching scenes in all of the gospels. You can almost see Jesus standing there by the lake, sadly watching the crowd leave. Then He turns to his disciples and asks, quietly, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” And Simon Peter blurts out, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” This is the motto of the Remnant; those who remain when all others leave.

There are many today who say that Christianity in these United States is dying. We are following in the footsteps of Europe, just a generation or two behind. It is nothing to God whether the United States remains a Christian nation or not. God will always preserve the Church. There will always be a Remnant. Perhaps it is time for us to pass the torch to other nations. Perhaps it is time for us to fade away, cut our losses and take on the historical role of the minority Christian, traveling in a hostile and foreign land. Many young and old say that, but I do not believe it. When I look at this land that I love, I do not see what God saw in Sodom and Gomorrah. I see righteous people of genuine faith everywhere I look. And I cannot believe that God is done with us yet. Not while we remain.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Movie Review: The Christmas Candle

A couple nights ago I was invited to a special pre-screening of The Christmas Candle, the film adaptations of Max Lucado's book. I briefly met Rick Santorum, the former presidential candidate and current CEO of EchoLight Studios, which made the movie. It is coming out in theaters November 22. I will refrain from spoilers.

My first thought of the whole experience was, "I've seen this movie before." Not the movie itself, but the message. I saw it when The Passion of the Christ came out. The Passion was a huge commercial success, both domestically and worldwide. It was a well done film. It did not, however, have a major cultural impact. There are two reasons, one of them obvious enough: It is very difficult and rare for a single film to have a major cultural impact. The other is less obvious but Christians should bear it in mind as they are exhorted to flood the theaters in support of The Christmas Candle. Everyone knew that Christians thought it a matter of Christian duty to go see The Passion, and because of that, there will always be an asterisk beside The Passion's success in the culture. In other words, The Passion's success didn't "count" to most people because the church-going public came out in droves to see it and then promptly disappeared, never to be heard from again. The movie industry knows that a similar but not identical audience shows up in droves regularly for animated family films from studios like Pixar, and that has made a major cultural impact for sure. Pixar and other companies know they will make bank on movies like this, and so they keep making them, one after the other. Parents know that several times a year they can take the whole family out to the movies for a good time without worrying about giving their kids nightmares, and the movie industry knows how to make can't miss blockbusters. There is no evidence of a similar relationship between the movie industry and Christian movie buffs. That permanent place in the film industry appears to be the goal of EchoLight Studios and they are banking on The Christmas Candle to kick it off.

And then the movie started, and all of that went away. The Christmas Candle is a genuinely heartwarming fairy tale about a town with a special Christmas tradition, and a brand new pastor who tries to change it. His efforts have both positive and negative results, and even though the film is set in 1890s England, it feels not just relevant, but intensely relevant to today. There is a new technology called "electricity" that is changing the world and making everyone's lives better, but those resisting it see some of their worst fears realized and their most cherished traditions and beliefs threatened.

The major themes of the movie are faith, doubt and prayer, and the primary doubting figure, again realistic and relevant to today, is the pastor himself. The new pastor goes on a mission to show his congregation what he believes in: helping each other. Instead of hoping, praying and waiting for a miracle, the pastor inspires the church to help each other in their every day lives, and thus wins their hearts. But he also goes a bit overboard in challenging their beliefs, and as the movie progresses, we eventually come to understand the source of his disbelief, and it is very human indeed. The interplay of faith and doubt in the story is beautifully done, and it is not diminished by the fairy tale aspects of the movie. At all times the audience is invited to understand the allusions being made. This process is gentle, inviting and beautiful. It is not preachy, and I can't see any non-believer being made uncomfortable by the movie itself. Rather, I see them being drawn into hope that the faith of the townspeople is rewarded.

That's the movie, and I encourage the reader to go see it. It remains to be seen whether Christians promoting the film will be true to its spirit. The film is very gentle in handling virtually all aspects of faith and doubt. There are characters on every part of the spectrum here. There is the doubting Thomas who has trouble believing but never quite stops believing either. There is the one who never had faith and comes to it. There are the simple believers, who seem incapable of disbelief and are at times comic in their simplicity, but have a strength which cannot be denied or overcome. There is the one for whom faith and tradition is his birthright, and he forsakes it, even after having seen a miracle with his own eyes. There were several moments like this in the film where I could clearly identify lessons from Scripture, but the film barely even registers on the Richter scale of preachiness. Mr. Santorum and EchoLight are marketing the movie, at least to Christians, by asking us to name a film we've seen in theaters around Christmastime that is actually about the Christmas story like this one is, but halfway through the movie I suddenly realized not only had there been almost nothing about the Christmas story, I had not even heard the name of Jesus Christ mentioned even once. As if on queue, there was a montage of the pastor reading Bible stories to a bedridden man diagnosed with "consumption". (I love the historical accuracy here. We now know the most of the time "consumption" diagnoses were in fact tuberculosis, a disease virtually unknown in modern first world countries due to widespread childhood vaccination.) The pastor reads these stories, and as far as I could tell, that was the only time in the entire movie I even heard Jesus' name despite several scenes of sermons in church. But the story is chock full of Scriptural allusions that are clearly to be seen by those who know it, yet are an organic part of the story for those who may not. In the end, the Christmas story emerges as a surprise, a relief and a victory, much like the original.

It is important that Christians do not overdo this. It is important we do not think of this as our only chance. Christians are starved for movies like this, and like all starving people there is a temptation to partake more than is healthy. Rest assured, Rick Santorum and the obviously competent, sensitive and good people at EchoLight Studios are in this for the long haul. The Christmas Candle is only opening in four hundred theaters, and it may never break a thousand.  It's release date of November 22nd puts it into direct competition with the second Hunger Games movie. Obviously if the evangelical community gets behind this film, it will be successful, but an independent film that opens in four hundred theaters is successful if it makes a profit and exceeds expectations, even if it marks Susan Boyle's acting debut. It doesn't have to move mountains, and it probably won't. The goal here is not to make the life or death of this movie the final battle on which all depends. It ignores Hollywood; it doesn't try to defeat it. It portrays real people with real faith and real prayer. It is not the end, regardless of what happens at the box office. It's the beginning. I'm happy to say this beginning is very good, much like the original.  

Now that's whack.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Ass, the Elephant and the Rattlesnake

I believe in the two-party system. The Tea Party I've been involved with has the two-party system listed among its core principles right alongside the rule of law and fiscal responsibility. But conversations I've had with them show an increasing frustration with the Republican Party. They are openly discussing the circumstances and events surrounding the period in American history when the Whig Party fell apart and was rapidly replaced by the Republican Party. It is becoming clear to them, to me, and to conservatives everywhere that the level of political organization required to make a difference within the Republican Party might as well be a new party all by itself. This group is serious. They have been the instrumental force in electing six real conservatives to the Texas State House of Representatives since they formed in 2009. At times they have faced election challenges from coalitions of establishment Republicans and Democrats. The Texas state legislature is now clearly divided into three groups already, and establishment Republicans often vote with the Democrats against conservatives Republicans as a matter of course. The Republican Speaker of the House maintains his power only because he can count on all the Democrats voting for him, and that's not just me saying that. I was told that in person by my own House Rep. With that power, he appoints all the committee chairs which have the power to block any bill they want. The Democrats are not so crazy to believe they can turn Texas blue when, despite being the minority, they already have more power in the state legislature than conservatives.

In the relatively short time I've been observing the goings on in the Texas state capitol, I've been appalled at the way Republican leaders treat conservatives and at the way they act generally. We saw some of this at the national level when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor proposed a bill that would allow House Republicans to vote to defund Obamacare knowing that the language in the law easily allowed the Senate to separate it out and vote on funding Obamacare and the government separately. It quickly became known as the trick bill. Conservatives revolted and the Republican leadership retracted the bill, but they got what they wanted anyway when Senate Republicans intentionally failed to use the power that they did have to prevent Senate Democrats from stripping the defunding language out of the House bill that did pass. Unfortunately, shenanigans like this are no longer unfamiliar to this observer of state level politics. The story that came out recently about how John Boehner, the U.S. Speaker of the House, tried to make a deal with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to exempt Congress from Obamacare rings true to me. John Boehner allegedly commented that when he was in the state house he used to slip stuff like that into bills secretly and pass them all the time. Eventually they got exempted anyway because the executive branch simply ignored what the law said and exempted them illegally. Texas State Representative Charlie Geren, a Republican, sponsored a bill to make it legal for the state and anyone else who feels so inclined to scrutinize and harass conservative grassroots organizations in the same exact manner as the IRS has been over the last few years. This bill even contained an exemption for unions, no doubt a condition placed on its passage by Democrats in return for their votes. Not only does Mr. Geren and the establishment Republicans in Texas not fight against it, he fights for it. This bill passed both the House and the Senate, forcing Governor Perry to veto it. I can tell countless other stories of how the established powers in the Republican party have played hardball with conservatives and made deals with Democrats. They now routinely threaten conservatives with Democratic votes, even going so far as to organize Democratic votes against conservatives in elections and referendums. I've seen that over and over again at the state level, and it does not surprise me one iota that it translates to the federal. The refrain rising from conservatives across the nation is that Republicans do not fight for conservative principles. I have seen much worse than that. They fight against conservative principles. They are afraid of conservative principles. It's time they start being afraid of conservatives.

The gloves are off. Conservatives are not going to play nice anymore. We have had it with these people. We fear the Republican Party itself may be not be salvageable, not because of anything we did, but because it's leadership not only refused to fight for what they publicly say they believe, but have fought dirty against it. And they have the gall to blame conservatives for the Republican Party's low approval ratings. Well they are right. Conservatives are to blame for the Republican Party's low ratings, because we're the only thing the party had going for it. The party turned its back on us, and now we are turning our backs on it. It's the natural consequence of the way Republican leaders have treated us. We are not going to support the Republican leadership anymore. We are playing the long game now. We will let Democrats and Republicans continue to duke it out over all their little ridiculous squabbles and pissing contests. In the meantime, we will be busy doing what so-called Republican "leaders" have failed to do and building a governing majority of conservatives from the ground up, and there's no guarantee we will be wearing the name "Republican" when we come out on top. 


Now that's whack.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Two Creation Accounts

Think of this as a footnote to my last post. Normally I spend a lot of time on these posts because I don't much enjoy writing, but I am well versed on this particular issue and it writing about it is no trouble at all. You'll recall, or you can go back and read, that I listed four ways that theistic evolutionists (TEs) and old earth creationists (OECs) try to reconcile the Genesis account with evolutionary theory and/or an old earth, respectively. I dealt with the fourth that Genesis is and was always interpreted as an allegory rather than a historical narrative by quoting the Church Fathers on the subject. Now I want to deal briefly with the objection that there are two creation accounts in Genesis and they contradict one another. But first there's another interesting example of people trying to prove the Bible wrong by arguing two accounts of the same thing contradict each other.

Everyone knows there are four gospels accepted as Scripture, and atheists and opponents of Christianity have been arguing for centuries that these gospels often contradict each other. The irony is that at other points, arguments against their value are made by saying they copy each other, and thus are not independent sources. If, as these people say, they do present different and even contradictory information, then you pretty much have to admit that these are independent sources.  Why would the same source contradict itself, especially after copying itself at other points? Thus if contradictions do occur on relatively minor details, then it is evidence in favor of the major details, because it is evidence that multiple independent sources confirm the same basic story.

Probably the most obvious of these "contradictions" is the differing accounts of the manner in which Judas Iscariot died. At the beginning of Matthew 27, it says that Judas was sorry for what he had done, returned the thirty pieces of silver he had taken for betraying Jesus and hanged himself. Then the priests to whom he returned decided they could not take this blood money and instead bought a field with it to use as a burial place for strangers. In Acts 1, however, Luke says that Judas "fell headlong" and his body burst open. It also says that Judas bought the field, not the priests, though the name of the field was the same.

Well shoot, I guess the gospels are not the divinely inspired Word of God, Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, and all that stuff he said about being the Messiah is hogwash all because Matthew and Luke disagree on the manner in which Judas died. If you believe that, then we're done here. You can stop reading. Goodbye. For the rest of us who prefer not to be children, there are two other ways of approaching this.

The first way is clarifying what "divinely inspired" means. I don't know about you, but I don't hear voices in my head from the Holy Spirit. Some of the prophets clearly did, but much of Scripture is not written that way. Divine inspiration doesn't necessarily cover all the minute details, just the broad strokes. So we can chalk up these little detail issues to human error, but the point of the story and the major details that are agreed upon are true and divinely inspired. I don't particularly like this approach, but there are many theologians who take that road and do not reject either the divine inspiration of Scripture nor even its infallibility, saying that the doctrine of infallibility was never meant to be so absolute that it could be proven wrong by minor errors.

Another possible way to explain this is that there were two sources. Both Matthew and Luke were writing from sources at times. In fact one of the interesting things about the book of Acts is that Luke switches from the pronoun "they" to the pronoun "we" at one point during Paul's journeys, indicating that he joined the expedition at a certain point. It's quite possible to imagine that there was more than one story going around about how Judas died, and that these stories are not, in fact, contradictory at all but merely represent a different point of view. Suppose one source came upon the Potter's Field and saw Judas' body hanging from a tree by a rope. He would assume that Judas had hanged himself. Suppose another source came by much later and saw Judas' body lying on the ground with his innards spilled out. He might assume the dude had fallen so bad he couldn't get up. Both of them saw something real, but at different times. Suppose Judas did hang himself, but later the rope, or the branch, or his neck broke and his rotted corpse fell to the ground and burst open. Suppose one source heard that the priests bought the field because they couldn't use the blood money. Suppose another source heard that Judas bought the field himself, because the priests lied and spread a false story about the field to hide their involvement with Judas, just as they lied and spread a story that the disciples stole Jesus' body.

I prefer the latter explanation, but neither one would cause me to question that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead or that he was the Son of God, nor would it lead me to question that the gospels are an accurate history of what actually happened. In fact, as already mentioned, the two different accounts prove that Matthew and Luke had independent sources for the same event, strengthening its historicity, not weakening it. Likewise, minor disparities in detail between the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 would not make me question the story of creation, the Flood, the genealogies or any of the rest of it. Perhaps some minor details are wrong, but missing a billion years here and a billion years there is not some minor detail. And happily, there happens to be a much simpler explanation than even the one I just gave for Judas' death.

The first creation account goes from Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 and includes the famous six days of creation and the seventh on which God rested. It says that man was created on the sixth day, male and female, and prior to that the only observer of the events was God Himself. The only possible way we could know what happened before human beings existed is if God told someone directly. Keep that in mind.

The second creation account starts immediately after that and goes from there to the end of the second chapter, Genesis 2:4-25, and chapter three begins the story of the Fall. This version of the story begins with a more detailed story of the creation of man and woman. Here, man is created from the dust of the ground and woman from a rib taken out of the man, hence the name "woman". This version of the story provides the basis of the Biblical teaching on marriage, that man and woman are to become "one flesh", since they in fact were one flesh quite literally. It also relates that God planted the Garden of Eden, gives its location, says that the man and woman were put there to live, and that God told them not to eat from a certain tree.

So what's the problem? Are these two stories contradictory? The atheists and theistic evolutionists say they are, because in the first story plants are created on the third day, three days before the creation of man. The second story, however, seems to say there were no plants when man was created:

"Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
~Genesis 2:5-9

It's important to note that evolutionists, either atheists or theists, are not arguing that plants were not around before man. They believe they were by a long shot. They are arguing that this is a contradiction in the story, and that consequently we should not believe it is true (atheists) or that it was written as an accurate history (theists). But it seems to me that the same exact argument ought to be and in fact has been used against the historical authenticity of the gospels. Atheists enthusiastically use the same argument against the gospels, arguing that they contradict each other at various points and therefore we shouldn't believe them. But theistic evolutionists are in a tough spot as they usually are, since they are required to sarcastically attack Genesis' supposed contradictions but defend the supposed contradictions in the gospels. Sometimes it gets uncomfortable riding the fence. I know I learned not to do that when I was a young boy. Some things are just better left unsaid.

But let's suppose we are not atheists, nor are we fans of using double standards when interpreting the Bible. You could at this point invoke the first kind of solution, that this is just a human error and the rest of the two versions are perfectly compatible and inspired. Or you could say that when God made plants on the third day, he made them as seeds. They just hadn't grown up in the three days between when God made them and man.

A better explanation is that the plants being referred to in Gen 2:5 are not all plants but rather refer only to cultivated plants, or plants that we would call "crops", that is, plants grown specifically for food. They are called here "shrubs of the field" and "plants of the field" and the further explanation is given that they aren't around yet because "there was no man to cultivate the ground". Also, why would the author feel the need to mention that even though there was no man to water the plants, the ground was watered anyway by a mist that rose from the earth? Why would the ground need to be watered if there were no plants at all? The passage goes on after the creation of man to say that God planted a special garden for him to live in. Well duh. He would have to eat starting the first day, and he didn't exactly have time to plant and grow crops. He would have needed something to eat right away, and God provided it for him in the garden. The focus of the Genesis 2 creation account is on man and his beginning situation. The author is merely reminding people that man did not have cultivated crops available in the world yet, and that is why God made the Garden of Eden for him. It makes perfect sense. It does not mean that there were no plants at all before the creation of man. Neither does it contradict the Genesis 1 creation story, since these plants were still created on the third day, they just weren't in a garden and easily accessible for a couple of hungry people until said people were created.

But why are there two stories? Well, why are there four gospels? Answering these questions does not mean we should therefore question the historical accuracy of these texts. That's a non sequitur. But if we think about it for a bit, there seem to be two obvious historical sources for a creation story: God Himself and Adam. After all, they were the only two observers present for most of it, and the story in Genesis 2 starts with the creation of Adam, so that's an obvious candidate for Adam's version of the story. Plus since Genesis 5 records that Adam lived to be 930 years old, we know that he was still alive when Noah's grandfather was born. He had a lot of time to tell it, and the problem of stories changing over time would not have been nearly as big as we might think since people lived so long back then. In real terms, even Abraham may have been only a few generations removed from someone who heard the story from Adam himself, and the Hebrews lived in Egypt for four hundred years after Joseph's generation, and Joseph himself lived to be 110. So it's entirely possible that as Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah directly from God, he already had heard Adam's version of the creation story, passed down from generation to generation. Imagine his amazement as God begins the part of the story no man had heard before. Imagine his wonder at being the first human being to know what happened before God created man, and writing it down. But then he asks God whether he can write down the other version of the story, the one cherished by his people for generations. How could he leave that out, since it was such an important part of their tradition and had been preserved and taught so carefully? And God allows it, since there is nothing wrong with it. Perhaps he makes a few corrections, perhaps he lets Moses write it as is because it's not wrong. And there you have it.

At any rate, it's not the only time the Bible tells the same story in more than one way. I've already mentioned the four gospels. There's also Daniel's different visions, where the visions become successively more particular and detailed versions of the same time period, having started out as broad brush strokes. And no one who grew up being forced to read the Bible through once a year can fail to forget that much of 1 & 2 Chronicles is a re-run of 1 & 2 Kings. No such person can forget the tedium of Numbers 7, where the same exact thing is repeated twelve times in a row, just with a different ridiculous name at the end. Ugh. Why couldn't they repeat David and Goliath twelve times instead of this crap? *sigh* Repetition is quite common in the Bible. The prophets will often rephrase the same message over and over and over in different ways. Some poor twelve-year old kid might believe the purpose was to make it marginally less boring, but no such luck. Repeating something three times is often used in the prophetic books as a way of emphasizing it. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty," and all of that. Yes, I get it. God is holy. Sheesh. Repetition, far from showing something to be less trustworthy or even false, is used to denote its extra importance. But of course, the people firing their shots at creationists don't really care about the Bible, so they never make the same argument against other passages. Only this one. Only Genesis 1 and, less often, 2 attracts this criticism and so-called "argument". Only the creation story gets this level of scrutiny. I think we all know why, and it has nothing to do with a faithful attempt to interpret the first chapters of Genesis.

Now that's whack.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Truth About Early Christian Views on Genesis and Creation

In the last couple hundred years or so, some Christians have begun arguing that Genesis is not really a historical narrative intended to give the best account possible of the history of the world from creation up to ancient Egypt, from which we have other records verifying dates and the passage of time. There are all manner of "theories" about how to pretend that Genesis all along was an allegory and compatible with a modern, supposedly scientific understanding of the beginning of the universe and the time that has passed since then. They are, of course, not primarily engaging with the text itself. They are primarily scientists first who go to the text attempting to reconcile it with their particular scientific understanding of the world, an understanding which did not exist until at least the 18th century and could never have had any influence whatsoever on the worldviews of the author of Genesis, or any of the Biblical authors at all. Yet some Christians insist upon imposing their modern views on an ancient document.

There are several ways in which they usually proceed. I'll briefly list some of them:

1.) The Day Age Theory - This theory states that the days in Genesis chapter one are actually ages that could be any length of time up to and including billions of years.

2.) The Gap Theory - This theory says that there is a several billion year gap between the first verse of Genesis one and the second verse.

3.) Two Creation Stories - Supposedly, the two different creation accounts in Genesis one and Genesis two contradict each other, and therefore we shouldn't believe either one...or something. 

4.) Genesis as Allegory - Under this view, Genesis, usually stated as chapters 1-11 only, is considered allegorical. The primary purpose of these chapters is theological in nature and the real historical narrative starts in chapter twelve with Abram.

I may deal with the first three, all inventions of the past couple hundred years or so, in more detail later on, but right now I would rather not spend a whole lot of time rehashing everything I've learned about this debate since I was a kid. I will, however, say that I have come to be interested in and to love science because of creation science.

In fifth grade, when my public school science class spent half the year making buttons and other trinkets out of construction paper and crayons (yes, crayons in a fifth grade science class) to sell at a fundraiser to save the wetlands or some such nonsense, I was learning about the greenhouse effect long before I'd ever heard of global warming because it was part of a creationist theory of the Flood. Thus, when the global warming debate came onto my radar, I already knew that water vapor, not carbon dioxide, was 95% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and any significant change in earth's climate due to the greenhouse effect would have to go through water vapor, not carbon dioxide, of all things, and I knew this because of my interest in creation science. I studied biochemistry in college because when I read Darwin's Black Box, given to me by my father, an M.D., I was fascinated by how the blood-clotting cascade and the eye works biochemically and wanted to learn more about it. So when people say that creationists are "anti-science" and that we want to stop scientific inquiry, my blood boils. I have learned far more, far more, about science because of my interest in creation science than from my formal education, which itself was largely inspired by the same interest. When my sorry excuse for a science class devolved into Arts and Crafts 101 "to save the wetlands", I was reading adult books on all sorts of wide-ranging scientific topics, watching debates on paleontology between evolutionists and creationists, and laughing when the natural history museum on my hometown university campus was finally forced to remove the ridiculous "artists' renderings" (the actual words on the exhibits, I remember them well) of various imaginary pre-human missing links like Nebraska Man, which was constructed entirely out of a single pig's tooth and debunked in the 1920s, and Piltdown Man, a skull constructed from an ape's jaw and a human skull, known to be a hoax since 1953, as well as a few sculptor's specials done exclusively for this particular exhibit. What an honor. This was the same museum I was referred to by a frothing-at-the-mouth atheist who refused when, as a student at said university, I offered to debate him and his entire atheist student group after receiving an email meant for their list containing materials useful for debating "IDiots", a common term of endearment for those such as myself. Atheists are not without their idols of wood, stone and plaster of paris, or perhaps paper mâché, or even the construction paper and crayons of my youth, or perhaps the worm-ridden banana peels leftover from my second grade science class on "garbology", a purportedly scientific field I have heard neither hide nor hair of ever since. The poor kid was lucky the idols had finally been removed by that time, or the conversation might have caused him a heart attack when the ridicule he dished out came back around. My family, far from being anti-science, took us to that museum all the time when my siblings and I were kids and loved to show us those exhibits. It forever implanted in my psyche that evolutionists are not value-free rational robots who only care about the truth. They understand and use propaganda, and they will lie, misrepresent the truth, and refuse to admit embarrassing errors for decades if they fear it will hurt their cause. They will persecute and destroy opponents even when they know they are wrong. Liberalism means nothing to them when their religion is being challenged. If it weren't for the efforts of creation scientists and later, intelligent design theorists, many of these embarrassing errors and outright hoaxes and frauds, like Ernst Haeckel's faked drawings of embryos, would have remained in textbooks to this day.

But since there are those who think that my scientific competence or lack thereof depends entirely upon my being a creationist or not, I consider it unlikely any discussion of creation science will make any difference to someone who has already decided that since I am not a "scientist", a group whose definition is conveniently left undefined, that I am stupid and cannot be trusted on scientific issues. I would, however, like to believe that these people would not distrust my ability to read.

So right now I'm only going to address one particular issue: what the early Church Fathers believed about Genesis. This is not an issue of immense importance to me, but it is one area in which the lies of theistic evolutionists can be easily demonstrated without dependence on technical arguments. Theistic evolutionists like Francis Collins flock like flies to a bug zapper to a single passage in Augustine to support their contention that the early church fathers did not believe Genesis to be a literal historical narrative. Having passed over the entirety of early church teaching on the subject by making a single reference, they argue that their view, that Genesis is really not a historical narrative at all, is actually the historical teaching of the Church and creation scientists are actually the upstarts who are misinterpreting the Bible. Augustine did allow that maybe, possibly, the days in Genesis 1 were not exactly twenty-four hour days, largely on the grounds that the "signs to mark seasons, days and years", meaning the sun, moon and stars, were not created until the fourth day, yet the days of creation obviously begin with the first day. At that point, theistic evolutionists declare that Augustine would have been perfectly fine with the Day Age theory and million or billion year long days of creation, as well as with the evolutionary creation story of molecules to man with no guidance whatsoever from God.

From here on out, I will let the early church fathers, starting with Augustine, do most of the talking. Keep in mind who is willing to do the research on this and report what they actually said and believed, and who is taking quotes out of context to twist their beliefs. Then, maybe, I could impose upon you to wonder whether or not they are capable of misrepresenting the scientific evidence in the same manner. I have to give credit to this book for providing me with many of these lengthy quotations. At least one of the editors, William Dembski, is an intelligent design theorist who accepts the old age of the universe, but also holds a Ph.D. in theology and an admirable degree of intellectual honesty, something I find sadly lacking in this debate. I have also provided links to the actual texts when I could find them, as well as the accepted date of publication.

"They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed."

St. Augustine, City of God, Book XII, chapter 10, "Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World's Past", 426 A.D.

Augustine here is criticizing the view that the earth is "many thousands" of years old rather than the six thousands years he explicitly states the Bible teaches. He provides an example of an extreme outlier that he might possibly assign some credibility to which amounts to something less than twenty thousand years, although he ridicules it with relish. Compare this to the passage where he says that maybe the days in Genesis 1 might not be exactly twenty-four hours long, by which he clearly means maybe twenty-five, or twenty-three, or something like that, and I think it's pretty clear what Augustine believed about the age of the earth and the Genesis account. If you have read Genesis, you would know that the six thousand year figure doesn't come from Genesis 1 but rather from the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 and the recorded ages of the early Hebrew patriarchs which occur sporadically through the rest of the book. Here is a good article on Augustine and creation.

"And from the foundation of the world the whole time is thus traced, so far as its main epochs are concerned. From the creation of the world to the deluge were 2242 years. And from the deluge to the time when Abraham our forefather begat a son, 1036 years. And from Isaac, Abraham’s son, to the time when the people dwelt with Moses in the desert, 660 years. And from the death of Moses and the rule of Joshua the son of Nun, to the death of the patriarch David, 498 years. And from the death of David and the reign of Solomon to the sojourning of the people in the land of Babylon, 518 years 6 months 10 days. And from the government of Cyrus to the death of the Emperor Aurelius Verus, 744 years. All the years from the creation of the world amount to a total of 5698 years, and the odd months and days."

Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, Book III, Chapter XXVIII, Leading Chronological Epochs, ~180 A.D.

Not much I can add here, except that theistic evolutionist Francis Collins in The Language of God claims that the first Christian to ever take the Genesis genealogies literally and calculate the age of the earth from them was Bishop Ussher in the mid 17th century. I have to believe Collins is simply ignorant. Otherwise he is a bald-faced liar.

"After these statements, Celsus, from a secret desire to cast discredit upon the Mosaic account of the creation, which teaches that the world is not yet ten thousand years old, but very much under that, while concealing his wish, intimates his agreement with those who hold that the world is uncreated. For, maintaining that there have been, from all eternity, many conflagrations and many deluges, and that the flood which lately took place in the time of Deucalion is comparatively modern, he clearly demonstrates to those who are able to understand him, that, in his opinion, the world was uncreated. But let this assailant of the Christian faith tell us by what arguments he was compelled to accept [this]."

Origen, Contra Celsum, Book I, Chapter XIX, 248 A.D.

Origen was another famous and authoritative early Christian source who clearly took this interpretation of Genesis for granted, considering it obvious that the only reason anyone would doubt this young age for the earth was because they wanted to "cast discredit" on Genesis. Origen also clearly supports the literal Biblical Flood and calls those who would question it "assailants of the faith".

"If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigations, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit: but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries. And there is no cause for wonder if this is the case with us as respects things spiritual and heavenly, and such as require to be made known to us by revelation, since many even of those things which lie at our very feet (I mean such as belong to this world, which we handle, and see, and are in close contact with) transcend our knowledge, so that even those we must leave to God.

For it is fitting that He should excel all. For how stands the case, for instance, if we endeavour to explain the cause of the rising of the Nile? We may say a great deal, plausible or otherwise, on the subject; but what is true, sure, and incontrovertible regarding it, belongs only to God. Then, again, the dwelling-place of birds - of those, I mean, which come to us in spring, but fly away again on the approach of autumn - though it is a matter connected with this world, escapes our knowledge. What explanation, again, can we give of the flow and ebb of the ocean, although every one admits there must be a certain cause? Or what can we say as to the nature of those things which lie beyond it? What, moreover, can we say as to the formation of rain, lightning, thunder, gatherings of clouds, vapours, the bursting forth of winds, and such like things; of tell as to the storehouses of snow, hail, and other like things? [What do we know respecting] the conditions requisite for the preparation of clouds, or what is the real nature of the vapours in the sky? What as to the reason why the moon waxes and wanes, or what as to the cause of the difference of nature among various waters, metals, stones, and such like things? On all those points we may indeed say a great deal while we search into their causes, but God alone who made them can declare the truth regarding them."

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter XXVIII, Perfect Knowledge Cannot Be Attained in the Present Life: Many Questions Must Be Submissively Left in the Hands of God, Part 2,~180 A.D.

An interesting passage from Irenaeus clearly stating that when it comes to man's knowledge, even of those things which he can clearly observe in nature, comes into conflict with God's knowledge of the same, he would take God's knowledge, as contained within the inspired and revealed Word of God, the Bible, over any and all human knowledge available. This view is the only rational conclusion if one does believe in God and that the Bible is His inspired word. Irenaeus, significantly, calls the inspired word of God "perfect", putting the lie to the contention that early Christians did not believe in the infallibility of Scripture.

 "His own Word is both suitable and sufficient for the formation of all things, even as John, the disciple of the Lord, declares regarding Him: "All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made." Now, among the "all things" our world must be embraced. It too, therefore, was made by His Word, as Scripture tells us in the book of Genesis that He made all things connected with our world by His Word. David also expresses the same truth: "For He spake, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created."

Whom, therefore, shall we believe as to the creation of the world - these heretics who have been mentioned that prate so foolishly and inconsistently on the subject, or the disciples of the Lord, and Moses, who was both a faithful servant of God and a prophet? He at first narrated the formation of the world in these words: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," and all other things in succession: but neither gods nor angels.

Now, that this God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul the apostle also has declared, "There is one God, the Father, who is above all, and through all things, and in us all." I have indeed proved already that there is only one God; but I shall further demonstrate this from the apostles themselves, and from the discourses of the Lord. For what sort of conduct would it be, were we to forsake the utterances of the prophets, of the Lord, and of the apostles, that we might give heed to these persons, who speak not a word of sense?"

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book II, Chapter II, The World Was Not Formed by Angels, or by Any Other Being, Contrary to the Will of the Most High God, But Was Made by the Father Through the Word, Part 5, ~180 A.D.

Another interesting passage from Irenaeus on the authority of Scripture, this time specifically mentioning Genesis.

"For as is the potter and the clay (matter being the clay, and the artist the potter), so is God, the Framer of the world, and matter, which is subservient to Him for the purposes of His art. But as the clay cannot become vessels of itself without art, so neither did matter, which is capable of taking all forms, receive, apart from God the Framer, distinction and shape and order. And as we do not hold the pottery of more worth than him who made it, nor the vessels or glass and gold than him who wrought them; but if there is anything about them elegant in art we praise the artificer, and it is he who reaps the glory of the vessels: even so with matter an God - the glory and honour of the orderly arrangement of the world belongs of right not to matter, but to God, the Framer of matter. So that, if we were to regard the various forms of matter as gods, we should seem to be without any sense of the true God, because we should be putting the things which are dissoluble and perishable on a level with that which is eternal."

Athenogoras, A Plea for Christians, Chapter XV, The Christians Distinguish God from Matter, 177 A.D.

Athenogoras here is making something of an Aristotelian argument that the forms of matter come directly from the artistry of God, as a potter shapes the clay. Athenogoras would never have accepted the idea that God merely created the forms of matter, including biological forms, through what theistic evolutionists dishonestly term "secondary causes" like Darwinian evolution, all the while arguing that Darwinian evolution is somehow still random, as if that wasn't a complete contradiction. The imagery is as clear as the argument. God shaped the forms of matter directly and artificially. He is the artist who sculpted all of creation with His own hands.

"The first formation of the human body could not be by the instrumentality of any created power, but was immediately from God...Now God, though He is absolutely immaterial, can alone by His own power produce matter by creation: wherefore He alone can produce a form in matter, without the aid of any preceding material form...Therefore as no pre-existing body has been formed whereby another body of the same species could be generated, the first human body was of necessity made immediately by God."

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, First Part, Question 91, Article 2, Whether the human body was immediately produced by God, ~1270 A.D.

A similar idea from an author who wrote a thousand years later. The doctrine of creation hasn't changed in one thousand years. Aquinas is a rich source from which to obtain knowledge of medieval Christian thought, and there is much more to be read on this issue from him if one is willing to understand these early Christians honestly, rather than use them to bash modern creationists over the head.

"But let us suppose that this also happened by chance; the circumstances which follow assuredly cannot be by chance - that the earth should at once flow with milk, and that the temperature of the atmosphere should be equable. And if these things plainly happened, that the newly born animals might have nourishment, or be free from danger, it must be that some one provided these things by some divine counsel. But who is able to make this provision except God?...

Therefore God, the Contriver of all things, made man. And even Cicero, though ignorant of the sacred writings, saw this, who in his treatise on the laws, in the first book, handed down the same thing as the prophets; and I add his words: 'This animal, foreseeing, sagacious, various, acute, gifted with memory, full of method and design, which we call man, was produced by the supreme Deity under remarkable circumstances; for this alone of so many kinds and natures of animals, partakes of judgment and reflection, when all other animals are destitute of them.' Do you see that the man, although far removed from the knowledge of the truth, yet, inasmuch as he held the image of wisdom, understood that man could not be produced except by God? 

But, however, there is need of divine testimony, lest that of man be insufficient. The Sibyl testifies that man is the work of God: 'He who is the only God being the invincible Creator, He Himself fixed the figure of the form of men, He Himself mixed the nature of all belonging to the generation of life.' The sacred writings contain statements to the same effect. Therefore God discharged the office of a true father. He Himself formed the body; He Himself infused the soul with which we breathe. Whatever we are, it is altogether His work."

Lactantius, The Divine Institutues, Book II, Chapter XII, That Animals Were Not Produced Spontaneously, But by a Divine Arrangement, of Which God Would Have Given Us the Knowledge, If It Were Advantageous for Us to Know It, ~310 A.D.

Move over Louis Pasteur! Lactantius beat you to the punch on spontaneous generation by a thousand years. Lactantius is specifically ridiculing the chance hypothesis of creation, arguing that God must have created not just the soul of men, but also their form. He quotes the Roman Cicero, who even without the assistance of Genesis, understood that man must have been created by God. Learned Christians in Lactantius' audience would have recognized the Biblical support for his argument from Romans 1.

 "Now, eighteen months after the first light, three months after the true day, but a very few days after the pure Sun of that most wonderful study began to shine, nothing restrains me; it is my pleasure to taunt mortal men with the candid acknowledgment that I am stealing the golden vessels of the Egyptians to build a tabernacle to my God from them, far, far away from the boundaries of Egypt. If you forgive me, I shall rejoice; if you are enraged with me, I shall bear it. See, I cast the die, and I write the book. Whether it is to be read by the people of the present or of the future makes no difference: let it await its reader for a hundred years, if God Himself has stood ready for six thousand years for one to study Him."

Johannes Kepler, Book V, The Harmony of the World, 1619 A.D.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite scientist, Johannes Kepler, who discovered the three laws of planetary motion which Isaac Newton later showed were consistent with his new theory of gravity in probably the most important unifying theory in the history of physics. Kepler and Galileo are the two fathers of the Scientific Revolution, but it was Kepler who foreshadowed Newton and the advent of modern physics and finally moved Christendom away from the geocentric view of the universe inherited, not from the Bible as the atheists insist, liars and deceivers that they are, but from Ptolemy (hence the Biblical allusion to Egypt) and Aristotle. It was Kepler who labored under Tycho Brahe, a man who compiled the best astronomical data available at the time but failed to interpret it accurately because of his Aristotelian philosophical views which required the earth to be at the center of the solar system. Brahe was extremely jealous of his data and refused to allow most to see all of it, even Kepler who was his understudy. Kepler only gained access to all of the data after Brahe died in a freak occurrence probably involving a burst bladder from drinking too much and refusing to violate decorum by leaving the table to take a much needed leak, which happened anyway in a much more painful manner than God intended. After Kepler inherited the excellent observational data from Brahe, he finished it and used it to arrive at an elliptical, heliocentric model of the universe which began the Scientific Revolution. Famously, Kepler initially did not try elliptical orbits because he assumed, falsely, that surely someone must have already tried something so simple and found that it didn't work. Kepler's words here would not have seemed like hyperbole when he wrote them. He was in a fight to the death with a non-Biblical, non-Christian point of view that had taken over the Christian world almost completely and held it hostage for over a thousand years. The Ptolemaic model and the Aristotelian worldview which bolstered it were a towering monolith that dominated the Academy of Kepler's day. There is no comparison between that and the one hundred and fifty years of Darwinian evolution. Christians should note that scientific revolutions can and do occur after even a thousand years of a theory's dominance. The question is never settled, and it will never go away, however much anyone might like. Scientists are and will continue to be curious folk, forever in search of better understandings of the world, an understanding never written in stone, a quality belonging only to the inspired Word of God, which has lasted for thousands of years and will last thousands more, or even billions, if it ever, indeed, comes to that.

Now that's whack. 

This is not about Obamacare anymore

You heard me right. Republicans, conservatives, tea partiers and libertarians need to STOP TALKING ABOUT OBAMACARE. We have won.

The game plan now is to start talking positively about funding the rest of the government, focusing on areas of bipartisan agreement. Both houses of Congress have already passed a bill funding the military and the House will continue to pass bill after bill funding every part of government that has bipartisan support, like the National Park Service, Veteran Affairs, etc., etc.

If we stop talking about Obamacare and make this about all those other things, things we will fund but the Democrats will vote down, or even veto like Obama threatened today, we will win this. The Democrats are the partisans, the ideologues, the uncompromising roadblock to funding the government. They are the ones holding government operations hostage to their ideological pipe dream. I can't stress this enough: STOP TALKING ABOUT OBAMACARE RIGHT NOW!

Focus on how you want to fund Veteran Affairs. Focus on funding the National Park Service. Decide which bill the House is going to pass and one by one, everyone talk about how we need to fund this thing to keep it going while the shutdown continues. Do this, and the legs will come right out from under the Democrats, one by one.

Now that's whack.