Friday, February 21, 2020

A Christian Worldview: How Did We Get Here? Part I

Earth is a very friendly environment for life, even in places that seem completely inhospitable. Virtually anywhere one goes on or near the surface of the planet, life is teeming. In the biosphere of this planet the chemical processes of life find a safe haven for their action and interaction. And yet, whereas biogenesis is rampant on the planet, abiogenesis is non-existent, not even in experiments designed in its favor. Is that a problem?

It isn't for me, but then I'm a believer in biblical creationism. For the atheistic evolutionist, however,  it is an insurmountable wall. If the evolutionist does not have a plausible, credible, demonstrable theory for how chemicals progressed from soup to life, they have nothing but a realization that species adapt because of breeding and mutation. They do not have an explanation for the origin of life, therefore no explanation for the origin of species, nowhere near an explanation of where we came from, and certainly no reason to pitch concerns about a Creator over us out the window.

There are really only two possibilities to explain the origin of life on earth: it arose by chance chemical reactions or it arose as the result of purpose. Those who favor atheistic or naturalistic explanations favor chance, folks of a more spiritual bent prefer purpose. The promoters of chance must embrace an existential nightmare springing from the meaninglessness of life, the promoters of purpose are faced with the weighty matter of whose or what purpose brought life into being. It seems to me the chance promoters have a bigger challenge that requires a greater faith!

The basic building block of life as we know it is protein. Nucleic acids, enzymes, sugars, lipids, as well as liquid water, are essential, but everything truly alive is made of protein. The precursor molecules of these organic materials have been shown to self-assemble in both natural environments and experimentally, so it seems a simple matter to serendipitously get the right zap, and presto chango, life sparks into existence. But that didn't happen, it couldn't have happened, it will never happen because it's impossible. Why?

Probabilities for one thing. Life, even in its simplest forms, is actually very complex. It's not just the order of elements in biochemical compounds that matters, it's also the shape of the molecule. Chirality, as much as anything else, is what allows the proper shape to be possible: in living things amino acids are left-handed, sugars right-handed. To function in the processes of life, compounds must be made of the right stuff in the right order and in the right shape. If not, processes go wrong or don't function at all.

That said, what are the probabilities I mentioned? Given a rich chemical soup containing an infinite supply of amino acid residues, the odds of a single, specific, small (150 residues long) functioning protein self-assembling is more than astronomical--1 in 10 to the 1064th power (my thanks to Dr. Meyer). To get a sense of that magnitude, there may be no more than 10 to 86th atoms in the entire universe! Even if there were natural, chemical ways in which these odds could be lessened they still would not become anywhere near probable, and we're only talking about one, small protein. Life requires multiple proteins, generally much longer.

The likelihood of one small, specific, functioning protein self-assembling in a chemical soup is, for all intents and purposes, impossible.

RNA-world theories hardly fare better. Order in sequence is still necessary for function, particularly since protein synthesis is ultimately required to produce life as we know it. Even if the can is kicked down the ally a way, it still has to be picked up to clean up the situation. From my layman's perspective, the specificity of functioning proteins is still the hurdle (biologically and probabilistically) that a naturalistic origin of life must get over, even if dealing with RNA which could eventually, conceivably code for them. I cannot see where experiments that demonstrate RNA's capacity for "natural selection" address the twin peaks of specificity and function or deal with the probabilistic issues within the time available since the beginning.

The truth is that the only thing we know for sure about the generation of life is that it takes life to make life. 

Given the extreme complexity in the chemistry of the cell and the time available for random sampling in any chemical soup (whether for proteins or RNA) the odds of useful, functioning, biochemicals self-assembling by chance are so insignificant as to be impossible. If all the universe were nothing but the chemicals needed, put into the most advantageous environment imaginable, the odds for self-assembly by chance would not be reduced significantly enough to change the impossibility. Life was undoubtedly created on purpose.

Even if one does not buy into purpose, the fact that life isn't coming into existence naturalistically on Earth now still has to be dealt with. The environment is very friendly now given the ubiquity of life now, and yet new life isn't spontaneously developing so far as anyone can tell. Whatever was happening to start life on Earth isn't happening now, despite how life-welcoming Earth is. We only see the unbending rule that life arises from life.

Naturalistic explanations for life's likely singular origin reach for scenarios that properly belong in the realm of imagination. The Bible, on the other hand, sets forth the scenario we see in reality--life was started at some point in the past and then ceased coming into existence--and it did so long before anyone ever did a scientifically sound abiogenesis experiment or knew just how ubiquitous life was. According Genesis 1:31-2:3, God exerted creative force in putting all creation into place, with all of its life, and then he ceased from his creative work. No more energy or mass and no more life was created afterwards.

Truth comports with reality.

Therefore, a Christian worldview perceives everything, including life, as arising from the hand of God on purpose. That is how here got here and that is how we got here. We all are creations purposefully made by God and our existence is lived in the light of our Creator who is over us. Are you ready to live life knowing there is a God who purposefully made you and to whom you must answer? Are you ready for truth?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A Christian Worldview: What Is Truth?

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

In a world where truth is asserted on the basis of consensus, or conversely, to be hyper-individualized, is there actually such a thing as truth? The contemporary search to uncover truth has led humankind to use immense computing power to sift massive amounts of data via complicated and often secretive algorithms. Has it brought anyone closer to the truth? Who knows? Regardless, it seems to me that each person does have a conception that certain things are true, and that truth conception influences their lives—their decisions, direction, interactions, relations, and values.

This series is about the development of a Christian worldview, and in that matter the basis for one's conception of truth is foundational. In the above snippet from the Gospel of John the word used for truth [Koine: aletheia] communicates a basis for understanding truth objectively, namely, that truth aligns with reality. Whereas Pilate demonstrated a relativistic view on the subject, Jesus had a very definite position on the existence of truth, and that truth had to correspond to reality. Jesus came to tell the truth; the thing that was actually so, the thing that was perseveringly so, the thing that cut across that which wasn't so.

If a Christian worldview is about seeing life through Jesus eyes, then Christians who have such will also have a robust concept of truth, just like Jesus. According to that kind of view, whatever a person may say, or believe, or promulgate may not actually align with reality. It is possible to be right or wrong, true or false, justified or unfounded, even in matters of morality, religion, and ideas. Christianity itself rises or falls on the reality of a single truth claim, that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead. If that event did not actually comport with reality, then Christianity is false and claims that it makes concerning morality and metaphysics would be called into question.

If truth doesn't have to comport with reality we devolve into a wonderland where the difference between fact and fiction is indiscernible. Imagination would rule the day, until a two pound hammer fell on the imaginer's head from a scaffold and ended the dream. Consciousness may be a weird, subjective thing but it cannot shrug off reality or the environment in which it arises will end up turning on that consciousness and biting it on the rear. We don’t get to make up the world we want and call it truth, we’re stuck with the world as it actually is.

Even metaphysical and moral "truth" has to comport with reality, the ultimate reality that is... God. The metaphysics and morality of Judeo/Christianity arose from that ultimate reality speaking for itself. The unseen creating God told people what his supernatural power did and what his omniscient wisdom knew was right. Jesus Christ represents the most direct sample of this occurring, so to have truth in one's morality or metaphysical concepts those have to align with Christ and what he said.

Because truth comports with reality, it also will function within reality, it must. If something is true, it will work. Nicolas Copernicus (1733-1543 CE) famously dealt with this certainty in dealing with retrograde motion of the planets. I deal with it all the time, especially in the charismatic circles I run in. Doctrine that comports with reality, particularly the reality of Christ, will work in reality. Doctrine that doesn't comport won't work and is bad doctrine. Inevitably, bad doctrine leads to bad practice.

Understanding the truth and looking at life on the basis of it is the heart and soul of a Christian worldview. Living by that perspective keeps followers of Christ from going off the rails; it keeps them from being deceived; it keeps us from being lost in the dark. It helps us to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus. Show me a claimant to Christianity that doesn’t have this robust concept of truth and I’ll show you someone, undoubtedly, not living according to Christ. So dear reader, how are you living?

"Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth."

"...you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Christian Worldview: How Is It Adopted?

The concept of worldview deals with the way a person or a group of people look at life and living. It can be applied to the impact of language, or culture, or ideology, or at the level of the individual which focuses it upon a very personal and unique space. For purposes of this series, it is that last consideration I will be addressing--the context of the individual. Together, we will explore what it means for the individual follower of Christ to have a thoroughly Christian worldview.

Worldview is really about the glasses one looks at life through. Glasses, because we are not speaking about seeing objectively through the native or natural lens that's part of the eye, but of something that is adopted by the seer or instilled by the environment, and through which one sees their all-compassing perspective of life. Belief in Christ is one such viewpoint, which when adopted is meant to impact the believer sufficiently to change, develop and instill an all-encompassing way of looking at life and living. The gospel is meant to cause us to see life, not through blue eyes or brown eyes, but through Jesus eyes.

So, it’s important to understand the means by which one adopts such a Christian worldview. Using a phrase like this may lead one to think that a believer merely accepts a series of propositions and endeavors, as best he or she can, to apply those precepts to their living. That is not at all the case, though I think sometimes Christians think that way and that teachers of the faith sometimes teach like that is the case. Whereas that certainly is the case in other ideologies, it is not at all the case in true faith in Christ.

Belief in Christ is about a quantum change in our nature. A metamorphosis so fundamental that the Christian, upon coming to sincere trust in Christ, becomes a new being--a creature different in its nature than it was before. That is not to say that the Christian decides this, or adopts this by choice and thereby makes it so, even if by remarkable effort. This change is the result of the introduction and infusion of a catalyst, a change agent, in this case a change person, namely, the Holy Spirit.

The simple truth is that no one can even come to Christ and believe in him unless that one is drawn by the Father (through auspices of the Holy Spirit, it seems to me). The conviction of heart and mind in regard to Christ which undergirds repentance, in my mind, comes through the Holy Spirit as well. It is the Holy Spirit interacting with humans that empowers them to have a faith which allows Christ to dwell in their hearts at all. It is that presence, power and action of the Holy Spirit which is the foundation of a Christian worldview.

The Holy Spirit is our lens. 

Christians do not see life in a Christian manner by mere choice, but through a lens actualized and activated by the Holy Spirit. The faith that responds to and partners with the Holy Spirit becomes an all-encompassing perspective on life for the one born again. If that is not present in one claiming the faith, there is no way that one can truly be in the faith. Actually being born again matters.

Are you born again? Do you have a Christian worldview?

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Looking Out from the God Mirror

I am the shadow of the Lord

Like a shadow attached to a person I am attached to God
I spring from him in the shape of him
I am nothing apart from him
Merely a projection separated from him

I am a reflection of the Lord
More than mere silhouette with more substance than shadow
Not truly freestanding but intimately analogous
I have no being apart from what I reflect

I am not really a person without him or apart from his person
To be what I am I must stay attached to the Lord
And gaze out from the mirror upon him

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Faith Versus Works

Not all works are equal, and even "good" works can be differentiated by quality. Some works are self-referent and so are not meritorious in the sight of God even if they accomplish something worthwhile. These are initiated by the self for the benefit of self and so are merely a selfish pursuit, even if they seem altruistic. They are only impressive among those who cannot see them for what they are, or those who do the same kind of works. They gain no favor with God.

There are works which are not self-referent. Those are inspired by God, bidden by God, and carried forward at his instigation, impetus and encouragement. Even though such works are not truly capable of being credited to the ones doing them, God rewards them as if they are. If God rewards them for being done they must be considered meritorious, despite the fact that in themselves they could never force him to declare their doers righteous on the basis of them.

No work is meritorious of salvation, regardless of whether or not it is rewardable by God. No work has the power to erase the record of works which are not meritorious (i.e. sin), only blood can do that and that by concession from God. So at best, God-instigated works can be rewardable with benefits (even eternally) but never with forgiveness or righteousness. That is not surprising because forgiveness is an act of mercy or grace, and as such can never be earned, else it would cease to be mercy or grace.

Faith is always referent to its object. It can be misplaced, as it would be if directed at self or at false gods, and thereby be without any value whatsoever to God. However, if its object is God as he is, particularly his character and power, God does reward it. There is nothing about faith in and of itself which would deserve such reward, the impetus for such lies completely in God's grace. Yet, because God responds rewardingly toward faith in him, such God-referent faith would have to be considered meritorious.

However, even saving faith is not meritorious of salvation. There is nothing in such faith which has the power to wash away sin and restore righteous fellowship with God, even though it is essential to salvation. It is merely the reaction (trust) a believer has toward God's words and deeds, and even then not unaided. God's word (of promise) is what invokes faith, while God's presence (or Spirit) is what aids it.

The Apostle Paul made it clear that works and faith are not the same sort of thing. He treated them as diametrically opposed concepts. While it is true that both faith and works can be rewardable, it is also true that neither is meritorious of salvation. So even though God promises salvation to those who put their trust in Christ, it is the blood of Christ which does the heavy lifting.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What Does It Mean to Be Regenerated?

Regeneration literally means to be born again. That is a biblical concept beyond doubt (e.g., clearly here and here, likely here), but what it entails and when it occurs is much more in question. Calvinists see it occurring prior to it's recognition in people, many as occurring before faith. Arminians see it as occurring after faith, as a result of faith. Calvinists see it as the fruit of God's monergistic efforts, Arminians see it as the consequence of faith enabled.

But what does it mean to be born again?

Being born again is a work of God whereby the Holy Spirit enters into the very existence of a human being to abide, thereby infusing spiritual life into and establishing an intimate, mutual fellowship with that person. It is a transformative experience, but not so much that it so thoroughly changes the person that he or she does not retain his or her personal self-awareness. It is transformation by addition rather than subtraction, which allows the born again person to begin to to experience communication with God, to perceive life differently, to relate to people differently, to valuate things differently and to live differently than they did prior to the experience.  Before the experience, the born again are singular beings separated from God; afterwards, the born again are people with two natures with one connected to God.

Becoming born again is the result of a combination of faith and the Holy Spirit. We don't need to be born again in order to believe, that is over-stretching a metaphor (i.e. being dead in sin); we are born again because we believe (otherwise, God would make everyone believe). Human beings do have a God-given capacity to believe as is seen in the ability of natural people to believe in and trust all kinds of things quite apart from God. However, to believe in Christ we need an encounter with the Holy Spirit sufficient to convict us concerning Christ and waken us to something we could not waken ourselves to in our metaphorical deadness.

Ultimately, the natural self, the sinful self, will be changed in the born again, completely regenerated into a new nature like unto Christ's. That new eternal creature will possess a singular nature in unity with the Father akin to that which Christ shared with the Father as he walked on the earth. Then, we will be on the same page with God, never to go astray again. Ultimately, regeneration is not being renewed to Adam's nature prior to the Fall, but surpassing it, and being transformed into Christ's nature as the second Adam, the Son of Man.

Our born again experience in the Holy Spirit now is the down payment of that good thing to come.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

What Does It Mean to Be Totally Depraved?

The one point that Calvinism and Arminianism agree upon is that humankind is totally depraved. It sounds like an incredibly harsh judgment against the creature, one that is not apparent, particularly, when looking at individual cases. This description, however, is not meant to suggest that everyone is as "bad" as they could possibly be, but to describe their spiritual condition in relation to God. In a nutshell, this characterization refers to the disabling brokenness that sin and death has caused to human nature since Adam's fall.

When Adam forsook God and was justifiably cursed by him, his innate connection to God was broken and his physical being was stricken with death. Adam was cast from the presence of God (the place where God walked) and frustrated in his relationship to the biosphere and with others of his kind (Eve to start). The individual became an island unto himself (so necessarily sinful) with no ability to get back to God, nor to truly understand and relate to him nor, for that matter, to do so with his fellow human (as seen from Jesus' high-priestly prayer). Locked in a self-absorbed prison of death and decay separated from God, debauchery ensued. If God did not initiate contact with humans, no contact, no interest, no desire would be forthcoming from Adam's kind.

Hopefully, it is evident that humankind's depravity should not be seen as something that renders humankind incapable, even in their depraved state, of responding to the interjection of God. God showing up in a way that can be responded to is sufficient in itself to break any barrier that would have kept fallen, natural man in the dark concerning God. Such is demonstrated over and over again throughout biblical history (e.g. Noah, Abram, Moses, etc.). To posit a theory in which God has to fix the depraved human being (i.e. regeneration) before that one can respond to him is unnecessary and not validated by scripture.

The truth is that what makes humans depraved in the first place is a lack of God in their lives. People are depraved in that they are like God (i.e. in his image) but are apart from and without God who's presence is what makes that image work properly. In their depravity, they have no desire to have God (as he truly is) in their lives. What they need they neither discern nor want. When God comes near in the mysterious ways that the Holy Spirit can, that lack is addressed at least to the level that the fallen human is able to see, hear, and respond to what wasn't there before. None of this requires any change in their nature and none is ever mentioned throughout the biblical record.

Human beings always had and have always maintained since the Fall the spiritual capacity to recognize God. That capacity was not such that it could independently discover God or engage him on the basis of executing that capacity in and of itself. God's direct intervention is necessary for each and every human being to come to know and understand him and his ways, but upon that divine intervention, awareness of what we otherwise would not have been aware becomes possible. However, if Adam in all of his pristine purity and perfection could ignore and forsake divine connectedness, than so can all his depraved sons and daughters.

Even the best amongst humankind is totally depraved, broken beyond their ability to help themselves--and yet even the most depraved among us can respond to the gracious visitation of the Holy Spirit. Depravity will continue to be an issue for us until Christ returns and our old dead, depraved natures are done away with once and for all, and new nature completely like unto Christ's is put in their place. That, of course, is predicated upon turning to Christ now. So let me ask you, have you responded to the Holy Spirit drawing you to Christ yet?

Friday, June 29, 2018

A. C.U.R.E.

The famous (or infamous, depending on your view) theological acronym TULIP has for centuries served the Church well in summarizing the basic tenets of Calvinistic soteriology. It arose from the disputations the Arminian school of thought offered back in the 1600's. The Calvinists carried the day at the Synod of Dort (the house was stacked) and walked away from that debate with what became known as TULIP: the Arminians walked away ridiculed with nothing but the truth.

There have been some good offerings for a similar acronym for Arminian soteriology (like FACTS), but I have never found them satisfactory because I didn't feel they were clearly descriptive. So, for the ailment of inexactitude, I'd like to offer a cure.

A.= Absolute Inability: mankind is so incapacitated by spiritual death, that none are able to turn themselves to God apart from the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit.
C.= Conditional Election: God has chosen to save all who trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
U.= Unlimited Atonement: the blood of Christ was shed for the sins of the entire world, and anyone who will can avail themselves of its effects through faith.
R.= Resistable Grace: The Holy Spirit's efforts at graciously influencing the sinner can be resisted by the sinner.
E.= Extinguishable Faith: the faith that the Holy Spirit's gracious ministrations made possible can be lost or shipwrecked by the person who had believed at one time.

I think this is a little more clearly descriptive than the FACTS acronym, especially for those who believe in the possibility of apostasy (and it doesn't have to be shared with a toy convention). It sure would be nice to have something as communicative as TULIP among those of us who actually got our soteriology right!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Faith Versus Fear

"For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me." Job 3:25 (ESV)

I've often told my congregation that the opposite of faith, at least in the active sense, is not unbelief but fear. Fear is the electromagnetic pulse that disables faith. How many times in the Bible is a divine encounter or a mission assignment prefaced by the encouragement, "do not be afraid?" 65, at least! The faith-stifling affects of fear can't be minimized and should not be ignored.

Fear is the Devil's calling card, his MO. It is his means of controlling the herd and driving it to the slaughterhouse. If the Devil can induce fear in people, he's got them. Like a venomous spider's strike immobilizes prey so it can be eaten at a more convenient time, so the apprehension and terror the Devil inspires allows him to throw his victims in his satchel at his leisure. Though it's completely speculative, I've always wondered whether or not he said something to Adam and Eve to make them hide from God in the bushes.

Fear of punishment, fear of death, fear of loss or failure--the Devil has game at any level and with any kind of fear. I cannot prove it factually (other than in Job's case), but fear, even secretly held in the breast, seems to be a harbinger of bad things to come. I've known people that wear their fear as a badge of honor, as if it proves they care. It only proves that they scare. Fear will not deliver us from any unfortunate end, but it sure seems able to deliver us to those ends.

Faith on the other hand, portends good things to those that possess it. Faith in God can move a mountain or calm the storm at sea. Faith receives healingwelcomes the promise of God, and moves the faithful to act. Nothing is impossible for one who has faith! Fear clamps chains upon the unbelieving, whereas faith frees the soul to lay hold of God with a grip that holds even through the passage of death.

The truth is that if we have laid hold of God through faith, we have nothing to fear at all, not even fear itself.