Friday, January 30, 2015

"The Lost World of Adam & Eve" a review of John Walton's latest book

("The Lost World of Adam and Eve" by John H. Walton, IVP press, 2015)

It will take some time for the ideas presented in this bravely written book to trickle down into our mainstream thinking, but I hope not too long -- our future might depend on it.  Will this book be controversial?  For some, more than likely.  Why will some people wrestle with this book?  It turns many of our commonly accepted concepts about Adam and Eve on their head.  By blasting you with a healthy dose of disequilibrium in nearly every chapter, all the while adhering to the authority and infallibility of the Scriptures, this book challenges many Evangelical beliefs about the Genesis account of Adam and Eve.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve is a follow up book to Walton's superb Lost world of Genesis One, where he made the case the Creation account was about setting up the Cosmic Temple for God to take up residence and dwell in.  You will not have to read his previous book to comprehend this one.  

The subtitle raises a question. The Lost World of Adam and Eve is subtitled, "Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate."  Walton refuses to engage the scientific community based on technological evidence in this book.  And, he doesn't take anyone to task who might disagree with the Biblical account of our origins, i.e. Richard Dawkins et al.  Therefore, it's harder to answer what problems Walton is solving (if you are looking for who Walton is debating) since he doesn't list clearly the opposing views or opposing groups who debate the Biblical narrative.  Still, his book is valuable and extremely useful to enter the discussion of origins with an eye on the scientific evidence and the Biblical text.

In the introduction of his newest book, Walton will make the case that science isn't the enemy of faith and scientific conclusions do not pose a threat either.  It's not until chapter 21 that Walton discusses at any length his understanding of common descent and the role evolution possibly plays in the debate.  Though he makes no effort to employ science in the book or use scientific explanations to back his ideas, he writes, "The fact that some wield science as a weapon against faith is no reason to think that science or scientists are the problem.  The philosophy of naturalism is the problem."  His goal is to help us read the Text of the Bible, letting the Bible speak for itself, free from the blinders of tradition or cultural presuppositions and to read the Bible without the fear of science disproving the Bible.  His conclusion and summary at the end of the book is powerful and persuasive.  

The greatest value of the book was I had to simultaneously open my Bible as Walton shook me out of my complacency with my "knowing" the story.  Each chapter (besides the introduction and the conclusion) is a proposition.  There are 19 propositions in all, with one written by N.T. Wright.  Several times I would read a proposition and say to myself, "No, that's not right, it can't be right." and then as I read on as Walton unpacked his thoughts, I would open my Bible too, and sure enough what Walton said made perfect sense.  

Each chapter could be viewed as a stand alone essay, but I wouldn't recommend reading the chapters randomly.  The book builds up momentum not so much through stringent interlocking sequential moves, but it's methodology reinforces itself along the way.  And, the conclusions in some of the chapters refer back to previous chapters which would be distracting if you didn't already read them. 

With a Louis Agassiz style of methodology, Walton looks closely at of the Genesis narrative through the lens of its vocabulary within the literary context and genre, its unique grammar and syntax, at the Ancient Near East mindset and other cultural influences on the original audience, and he harnesses a rich lexical comprehension based on up-to-date research, all to make many convincing points.  Granted, at first blush his points almost all seem counterintuitive.  

A few examples might help here of Walton's ability to make us rethink what we know by raising multiple questions such as: Does Genesis chapter one make a case for Creation ex nihilo?  Are the people in Genesis chapter one Adam and Eve?  Was Adam really formed from dust and was Eve really shaped out of a rib?  Was the serpent in the Garden when he tempts Eve?  Was Adam a landscaper/farmer or was he a priest in the Garden?  Was our first sin disobedience, or was our real sin wanting to bring order to the world on our own?  You will see quickly this is not a book to skim through to back up or prove points you already believe, it is instead a book to read slowly to shape your ability to think about the text more accurately.

We are cautioned again and again throughout the book against our natural tendency towards eisegesis.  Instead of imposing our ideas on the text, we should rigorously seek to uncover the intended meaning of the text.  By constantly guiding us back to what the text actually says instead of trying to add further details, Walton keeps us true to the text in ways that might make us squirm at first, but eventually they help us settle into the story as God intended it.    

Walton affirms the reality of Adam as a real person with a real past, but his thesis is the actual formation of Adam and Eve should be seen as archetypically instead of accounts of the method of how they were uniquely formed.   He clarifies he doesn't use the word "archetype" in the way it is used in literature, but in the sense where archetype embodies humanity into a group.  Also, though Walton believes they are historical personages, he shows that Adam and Eve are Hebrew names, and the Hebrew language wasn't on the scene when the first people were created, so, their names could not have been the Hebraic Adam and Eve.  

Walton affirms whatever happened in Genesis regarding the origins of humanity, it was God who did it, but the Bible wasn't explicitly clear on how God did it.  He slightly hints at an acceptance or an openness to Theistic evolution, but he definitely doesn't push it.  To put things properly in their cultural context, Walton references Egyptian texts, mentions the influence of the Mesopotamians, Sumerians, and Babylonians, and he has one of the most concise and comprehensible comparisons of the Genesis origins narrative to the Gilgamesh Epic.   

You might not agree with his conclusions on all the points he makes, but I doubt you will argue with his tactics.  Walton reminds us the Bible was written for us, but it wasn't written to us.  We are not the original audience, and the text can't mean what it never meant.  If we want to insist on a literal interpretation, that's fine, but it must be based on the Hebrew and not the English.  I can easily see this book being helpful in a class on Apologetics or Theology both in an undergrad as well as seminary setting.  But where this book becomes invaluable, is in teaching anyone about the proper methods of interpretation (academically or congregationally).    

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's not just kids leaving the Church it's adults too and here's why:

There's a lot of blogging buzz and ink being spilled over the Millennials leaving the flock in droves.  It's not just the kids leaving.  A lot of people of all ages are leaving the church.  When you see the national average attendance statistics and hear about the amount of churches closing their doors weekly, you know it's not just the kids walking away.  Here's why young, old, and in between are giving up on the idea of the church.

Hypocrisy and intolerance are the identified "symptoms" culture lists as to why the Church is losing ground or it is just flat out repugnant to so many people.  The real reason why we are running people off, on the inside and out, is because we've forgotten what the Kingdom is all about.

Isn't the Church the Kingdom or vice versa?  The Kingdom is bigger.  The Church is a subset.  We've tried to build a church that meets our standards and we overlooked the building code.  We've lost our focus on the Kingdom and what it means to live it out.  And, in the church we've had too many people trying to build up their own little kingdoms.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A dissenting view on the Super Bowl

I'm certainly in the minority; I can't get into watching sports and I feel like a cat someone is trying to play fetch with whenever people talk about sports.  I just don't get it, watching people chase a ball down a court in basketball, hit a ball in baseball, or watching players throwing a pigskin in football all seems like an awful waste of time to me.  What about soccer and hockey, even more boring.

The hype over the Super Bowl also makes no sense to me.  But, I do find it funny that most people say the best part of the Super Bowl is the commercials.  Watching the Super Bowl is about as stimulating to me as looking at someone else's vacation photographs.  

You might think, "Maybe it's the inflated salaries of athletes" that turns me off.  Naw, that's not it, though I do think it's a sad commentary on our culture when school teachers, rescue workers, our military, and many caregivers make so little in comparison.

It all just seems so boring watching sports, honestly, it's so boring and such a waste of time to me.  I think exercising and getting fit is great, but watching college/professional sports is about as interesting as watching a treadmill race.  

There are several benefits of not being obsessed by the Super Bowl, or televised sports in general.  While I might be outside several conversations since I'm not up to speed on the games, on the upswing, I don't get upset when my team loses since I don't ever have one.  And, I have better uses for my discretionary time.  

I don't think I will, nor am I even interested in changing anyone else's mind on the matter that sports are boring or a waste of time.  Will I watch the Super Bowl?  Probably, but not for the sake of the game, yes for the commercials, and, to eat and hang out with friends and family.

Friday, January 23, 2015

I'm indifferent about worship styles, but that's not what matters.

A close friend of mine shared a piece with me about one worship leader's "journey" away from contemporary worship.  Click here to read "my-journey-away-from-contemporary-worship-music"

My only real critique on the piece is this: What is theologically deeper than love?  The author address the shortcomings (in his mind) of the song "One thing remains" as an example of how in his opinion modern contemporary worship music is inferior to the traditional hymns.

I JN 4 says "God is love"
"[7] Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. [8] Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:7-8 ESV)

John's Gospel claims love motivated God to send Jesus to save us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 ESV)

And Paul says how love is the greatest virtue, "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV)

I truly have no preference anymore when it comes to worship music.  I like the newer songs, and I enjoy the traditional hymns.  Both offer a lot.  Ironically, even the old songs were new once... so they were "contemporary" when they were first sung. 

And who is to say our music is narrowed down to only theological instruction?  Emotions stir and motivate, and hopefully there is a place in our music to do both, to instruct and move us.  The sermon will hopefully provide what some people think our hymns should.  Realistically, with worship there isn't a contemporary or traditional dichotomy in God's mind, there is only the eternal.  

I see nothing dishonoring in either style of music, traditional or contemporary.  Both have their place.  And, both speak the heart language of people, you just have to figure out how to interpret them, and who needs which type to be reached so that no group is alienated.   To honor God and to reach the hearts of people, isn't that the goal of our music anyway?  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Thinking about thinking for yourself...

(Timesnews 1/16/15)

Whether it comes to religion, politics, or science, there seems to be an all knowing cohort of experts we’re expected to heed with our heads bowed low.  No one respects an armchair quarterback -- but just because you might be an “everyday average person” doesn’t mean you are oblivious.  

The most influential person in history was not considered to be an expert in anything by His contemporaries.  Jesus was scoffed at because He didn’t have any formal training: “About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching.  The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” (John 7:14-15 ESV)  And His closest followers experienced similar reactions, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 ESV)

Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”  I think he was using a little hyperbole, but the point is well taken.  Socrates was well known for admitting he knew he didn’t know all that much.  Similarly, it has been said more recently, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”  In other words, strive to learn more.

It’s interesting to me how much of what is accepted as “fact” changes within a generation, yet this transient state of “established fact” does not seem to hinder the sway experts hold over our society.  Do I believe in absolute truth?  I do, 100% yes I do!  Do I also recognize we are fallible and easily misled?  All too well, and that applies to the certified experts too.  

Our “experts” on Foreign policy haven’t slowed North Korea down from pursuing their nuclear dreams, so it’s ironic that hacking Sony over the “Interview” has gotten the President’s attention.  The recent barbaric slaughter of a dozen Parisians over publishing satirical cartoons and the following standoff with the gunmen certainly has the attention of the experts now.  No one could’ve predicted the dramatic plunge in oil prices or the ensuing stock market rollercoaster ride, yet the experts assure us they know the future of the economy.  I’m seeing a pattern some experts might want to ponder:  “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.”  (Ecclesiastes 9:11 ESV)  

This isn’t at all to say don’t trust people who have an expertise in their field.  We have very well trained medical professionals who go to great lengths to bring us healing; with nearly a decade of education and a lifetime of practice, these people dedicate their lives to saving ours.  We have educators who work hard to instruct our children and who personally sacrifice much along the way.  We have police officers who sharpen their instincts and hone their skills to keep us safe.  We need to respect the people who specialize in these areas, and who help keep our society going strong.

I’m saying don’t let “the experts” silence you, bully you, or intimate you.  It’s almost as if we have christened divine attributes on the gatekeepers of opinions in our society.  It’s sad to think we have ample access to more information than any previous generation, but then all too often as a whole we timidly forfeit our views.  You probably know more than you give yourself credit for and more than likely you can figure out a whole lot more.  You also are smart enough to know that one expert’s speculation often needs to be scrutinized if something isn’t quite adding up in your mind.   

In case you didn’t know, we have a phenomenal public library here in Kingsport.  If there’s an area you need to learn more about, you can easily increase your own expertise on any subject.  The best way I know to expand your mind is through reading.  As Mark Twain quipped, “The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the fellow who can’t read them.”

Don’t let “the experts” rob you of your self-confidence.  You are created in God’s image.  This means you are a creative, thoughtful, intelligent being too.  Whether you listen to Michael Savage or Diane Rehm, you can and should think for yourself.  Make this year a year you stretch your thinking cap and gain confidence in your own ability to think.  Thinking might just be one of the greatest gifts God has given us, so let’s not abrogate our thinking to anyone else.  

PS: The library even has books that can help improve how to think...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Why The Walking Dead is like crack...

If you are like me, you can't wait for the next season of The Walking Dead to launch.  I have a confession to make.  We actually plan our Sunday nights around The Walking Dead... But, I wasn't always a fan when the show first was aired.

My wife and one of our four sons loved the show and would talk about it constantly.  I thought, and said as much, "How dumb?"  I wondered how a show based on zombies made it past one episode?  It didn't seem, from the outside, to have enough sustainable material and it seemed to be a repetitive mindless idea.  Kill zombies, stay alive.  How simple, and then how boring.  How did I go from avoiding the show to being an addicted fan?  I watched it one night with my wife when she asked me to, then I watched it another time, and then I was hooked.

The elements that have reeled me in are twofold: The sense of community shared within the main characters and the transformation of their mindsets as they endure their struggle.   Those two ingredients make for a real plot and character arc that I didn't have an insight into until I watched the show.

I think the show is so appealing on another more subconscious level too.  Us, the viewers, we live vicariously through the show.  What I mean is, we all want to be able to overcome and to survive whatever challenges life throws at us.  And, the show provides this for us, a chance to cheat death and to conquer the worst situations.  Also, as the characters battle through their post-apocalyptic scenario, they don't have house payments, the economy doesn't effect them, they don't get fired from their jobs, their factory doesn't get outsourced overseas, they don't have high insurance premiums... i.e., they don't have to deal with same problems or carry the same responsibilities we are all trying to escape from.

So, for an hour on Sunday nights, we escape the daily grind and win countless victories from our couches, and then we can't wait until the next week to watch it all over again.... It's so addictive it's almost like the show is laced with crack.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

God is on the ropes, really...?

Darwin didn't have an explanation for what sparked life, and as far as I know he didn't try to explain how life began.  An assistant professor at MIT supposedly has taken up Darwin's mantle and will fill in the gaps of Darwinism with the Statistical physics of self-replication and he'll explain biological self-organization with the very concept Christians have tried to use to disprove the possibility of evolution... 

Jeremy England will attempt to make the case that the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy, which is disorder, and where everything eventually goes to a steady state/equilibrium because energy disperses over time) can not just help life begin, the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics requires life will begin (given the right circumstances he adds).  My first thought as I read about England's theory was his work will probably end much like the once celebrated Miller-Urey experiments.  Click here on to read how far off Miller-Urey missed the point   

This idea isn't entirely original.  Back in seminary over ten years ago I was reading similar theories that claimed entropy didn't disprove evolution, because of how stalactites, tornadoes, snowflakes, and crystals form randomly.  Note, these non-living, fairly simple configurations of material do not go on to spawn more complexity.  The reality is, if you leave a box of nails and pile of wood outside, it won't jumpstart itself into a house, instead it all disintegrates because of entropy.  What England adds to discussion is that entropy not only won't eliminate creative capacities, it drives creativity.  

England's ideas are not far from those of Lawrence Krauss who says energy and matter can spontaneously appear Ex Nihilo.  England, Krauss, and others have pulled a fairly cool sleight of hand over on people.  To say that life, or matter, or energy can spontaneously self-create and appear requires quite a leap of faith.  Not a leap of faith that's based on common sense or with rational proofs and good reason, but a leap of irrational faith.   

Along with other Darwinistic thinkers who claim we see patterns in creation that would seem to lend evidence to an Intelligent Designer, but we only see these because we are hardwired to formulate or to make sense out of these cosmic accents which are really just random, unguided processes.  Now, we have this next generation of mental gymnastics that will try to explain away the need for God as creator.  This clever trick is so slick, only a snake oil salesmen could truly appreciate how it works.   

So, with a shrug of the shoulders and disdain for the uneducated, we are told the complexity we see in nature is just an illusion.  We are told that the cosmic accident called the universe popped into existence, uncaused, and even though all the Laws of physics were in place, this hostile, blind, mute universe which breaks down and falls apart over time really sparks life in the very process we observe that causes chaos and destruction.

Not only can't Darwinism account for life, it can't provide a reason for the complexity and variation of living forms.  Mutation, time, chance, and change still would not account for the vast overabundance of life forms.  If you ask what guides the mutations or the changes, the thimblerig game shuffles once more, and the illusive pea is once more out of sight and we are mocked for insisting on making sense of the universe that appears to have purpose and meaning... 

The theory that entropy (which as we observe it undoes everything) actually causes life, is sown together about as tightly as the Emperor's New Clothes.  Lest I be misunderstood, I want to clarify that science & faith are not enemies.  And, I know, I'm just a theologian by training -- so I might not have the right to discuss science -- but wouldn't that imply that people not trained in theology shouldn't talk about God?  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

One of the most important life skills to find true satisfaction

Plenty of people like to play with puppets, in fact, you could say most people love puppets.  But on the other hand, no one really loves you if you are a living puppet.  No one wears a tag like in the picture above saying, "I'm a puppet," still, when people can push you around, you might as well wear the same tag too.

Do we have to "fit in" in society -- and is that such a bad idea?  I'm not talking here about accepting common sense social norms or cooperating with healthy customs.  For example: Personally, I don't like wearing shoes, ever.  But I realize there are times in our society where it's necessary to wear shoes to not offend people unnecessarily.  What I'm talking about instead of regular cultural obligations, is the dysfunctional habit of letting people have unhealthy amounts of influence over you.

What makes this all so hard?  Our number one need in life is to be accepted.  And, just like bullying, some people like to take advantage of what they perceive as weaker people.  That's why we cave to peer-pressure and do things we don't really want to do.  That's why we smile and pretend to agree with others when we really disagree.  That's why so many people are unhappy in their pursuit of happiness.   It's not only draining to seek acceptance when it's out of reach, it's an empty lie that you have to have everyone's acceptance all the time.   

How do I know if I'm a puppet?  Whenever you give people too much control over your life just to gain their love, acceptance, or approval, then you are their puppet.  When it comes to solidifying relationships, seeking employment, or trying to make an impression, if you feel you have to relinquish your actual personality, your real needs, and your true opinions, then you have forfeited too much. 

How do I regain control of myself?  Realize first of all, if I have to completely give up myself to have a relationship with another, it's not a relationship.  Instead of calling that a relationship, it's called domination or manipulation.  Secondly, one of the hardest skills people acquire in life is learning to be comfortable being themselves; being comfortable with yourself also includes accepting the fact not everyone will like you.  When you are someone's puppet, they will never respect you or truly love you.

To achieve true approval from others requires being true to yourself, being yourself truly.  If people don't like the real you, they won't really like you if you fold like a puppet to fit their whims...   You have more self-worth than that, than letting other people determine who you should be; but it might be hard to see that right now if you are filled up and animated by other people...

You will always find people to fit in with, people who have the same dreams and goals you have if you look long enough.  You can find true companionship and legitimate friendships when you stand up for yourself, and standing up for yourself is the one thing a puppet can't do.