Thursday, October 10, 2019

BioLogos




For many years I have been a proponent of the BioLogos organization. They do a remarkable job of theological and scientific education. I encourage readers to take a tour of their site and read some of the many articles available. BioLogos represents an Evolutionary Creationism perspective on the origins of life. Here, in their own words is an explanation of what that means.

At BioLogos, we present the Evolutionary Creationism (EC) viewpoint on origins. Like all Christians, we fully affirm that God is the creator of all life—including human beings in his image. We fully affirm that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. We also accept the science of evolution as the best description for how God brought about the diversity of life on earth.

But while we accept the scientific evidence for evolution, BioLogos emphatically rejects Evolutionism, the atheistic worldview that so often accompanies the acceptance of biological evolution in public discussion. Evolutionism is a kind of scientism, which holds that all of reality can in principle be explained by science. In contrast, BioLogos believes that science is limited to explaining the natural world, and that supernatural events like miracles are part of reality too.

BioLogos offers an explanation of our universe that does justice to a theological understanding of a creator God, while also giving credence to the science of our day that explains much of how our world works. I know that this is a difficult area for many Christians to grasp and BioLogos has done an excellent job of walking people through the many arguments. I encourage my readers to spend time on their website and consider a viewpoint that may not be one that you hold today. There are many opinions among Christians about the nature of the origins of our universe. Let us not be afraid to consider each other’s perspective on these issues.

Beyond the BioLogos website, I would also recommend the following books:

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Uhtred, Son of Uhtred



Occasionally on this blog, I review television programs of note. When I do this, I am not endorsing the show in particular but rather speaking of a positive message within the show. One such show that I cannot endorse for all viewers is the BBC/Netflix series, The Last Kingdom (2015-2020). The show is a “blade-slinger” story set in the England of the late 800s CE and is about the conflict between the Saxon land holders and the invading Danes, Vikings, and Northmen (Norsemen) from Denmark and other points north. Uhtred is the hero (or perhaps anti-hero) of the story. He is a Saxon by birth who is born heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Bebbanburg at a time when Alfred the Great is seeking to draw together all of the Kingdoms of England under one king. Uhtred is kidnapped by the Danes and adopted into the family of Ragnar Ragnarson. Thus, Uhtred is known both as Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Uhtred Ragnarson, and simply Uhtred, Son of Uhtred and he grows to become the greatest warrior of England and supports King Alfred time and time again. But Alfred cannot quite accept that Uhtred will not accept his God and so he does not fully trust him and sometimes wishes him banished or even dead. Time and again Uhtred saves Alfred’s England, only to be mistrusted by Alfred. Season 3, Episode 10 offers brilliant dialogue emphasising darkness and light, good and evil, and the struggle of the two within the various people groups.

As King Alfred dies, Father Beocca, one of Uhtred’s most constant friends says,

“All that Alfred stood for is crumbling.
You, Uhtred, cannot be dragged into the shadows.
You must become the light….”

But as Uhtred is on trial in the open court of the palace, the following dialogue unfolds,

Beocca: Do you object to the people bearing witness to justice, Lord Aethelwold?
Aethelwold: I do not.
Lady Aelswith: Uhtred, the king swore that you were to die. Why the change in his heart?
Uhtred: Because he believed that I deserved his forgiveness.
Aelswith: Is that a boast?
Uhtred: Look to his chronicle. I am on every page.
Aelswith: That is a lie. You are not named, even once!
Uhtred: But I am there. Unwritten, Lady, but I am there! The warriors of Wessex know it. The Danes know it. And it is what the king has told me himself.
Aelswith: I have heard enough.
Uhtred: I am with him from the Somerset Marshes to Ethandun and all of the battles that have followed. We were bonded, him and I. He was the man that I could never be, nor did I wish to be. He was a man that I loved and despised but it was never less than an honor to serve him. He was my king. And he did not wish to go to his God without granting me what I have earned many times over! My freedom….

At this point, Edward, the heir to the throne of England is brought into the conversation. It is his first test as king apparent.

Uhtred: Perhaps your father chose not to announce my freedom for this very reason so that the people could witness their new king, Edward, dispensing justice. Fairly, I hope.
Beocca: Will you accept the decision of Edward Rex? I will. I give you my word….

Edward: A heathen would not be trusted completely until he had embraced Alfred's god as his own. And yet it was a heathen he did trust most. It was the word of Uhtred that he respected most. Uhtred of Bebbanburg, I find the letter written by my father to be true. Alfred's pardon does stand. You are a free man, able to choose your own path.
Beocca: May I ask, Lord Uhtred, may I ask? Now that you are a free man once more, where will your path lead? I would like to know….
Uhtred: One day, Father, I hope that my path will eventually lead north to Bebbanburg, but now, I believe I am needed here….

Then as the followers of Edward prepare for another battle with the Danes of the North,

Uhtred: All of you, hear me. Yes, it is likely that the Danes will have greater numbers, but this is a battle that we can win. Though it will take all of us, every man and every sword, and we will fight with all the guile and wit that Alfred has instilled.
Edward: God is with us.

Then, to the soldiers prepared to march into battle:

Uhtred: A letter has been sent. It speaks out to every man in the kingdom, demanding that he answers the call and joins us on the road to battle. It says that this will be a battle that will be spoken of for lifetimes to come. It is a battle that no man can ignore, no man can stand by and watch. Every man must find a weapon and every man must fight! Wessex will always be the light. And no matter how heavy our swords become, we must fight. Fight! Fight and keep on fighting until the victory is ours! We march!

The episode closes with Uhtred giving a monologue:

It will be written in the Saxon chronicle that Edward did gain a great victory over the Danes, ensuring he would become King of Wessex. But other battles lie ahead, both with the Danes and within Wessex itself. A king must decide who he can trust and who he must discard. He must understand the minds of both his enemies and his friends. He must recognize that the truth of a man lies not in the land of his birth, but in his heart. A king must be a king on his own terms. He cannot be his father. He can only be himself. The chronicle will grow. Pages will be added. But Uhtred of Bebbanburg will not be mentioned. Although I, too, was victorious. My name is Uhtred, son of Uhtred. My name is Uhtred Ragnarson. Destiny is all.[1]

Uhtred is a marvelous character created by Bernard Cornwell and adapted for this television series. He is constantly torn between being Saxon and Dane. He is honourable, honest, and loyal to any vow he swears. He is not Christian, despite being baptised twice over, yet he is more honourable and shows more Christian character than most of the Christian men of England. Many of the “good Christian” men of the kingdom are horribly broken, sinful, filled with hatred, and murderous. Uhtred, on the other hand, leads well, serves well, takes life only as necessary, and is the most valuable right-hand man to both King Alfred and King Edward. He sacrifices land, wives, children, family relationships, and wealth to justly carry out the will of Alfred. At the end of the day, all of England believes Uhtred will be eternally punished in hell because of his rejection of the Christian religion, yet he is one of the truest men of his time. His fictional life, as portrayed in this series, causes one to ask questions about what it means to be honourable, just, moral, and a person of true character. May men like him call us to our best humanity and highest calling by God.



Friday, October 4, 2019

Can't Erase It



Jars of Clay, the band from Greenville, Illinois, has a song entitled “Can’t Erase It” on the If I Left the Zoo album. The lyrics are written below. It is a song that captures the angst of trying to be one thing when we know we should be something else. Read the lyrics, listen to the song, and read some thoughts about the song below.

Can’t Erase It

Follow the crowd and love everybody now
'Cause love is the best thing for you now
But you changed your mind you let everybody down
But down is the best place for you
It's easier that way you know it's

So wrong can't embrace it
wish sometimes for any other you
But you can't erase it and you won't escape it

Don't waste your time
Your words only confine you
To all of the things you've buried now
Don't ask them why
Their wisdom will leave you blind

But blind is the best thing for you
It's easier I know, you know it's

So wrong, can't embrace it
Wish sometimes for any other you
But you can't erase it, and you won't escape it

How long will you face it
Till the weight comes crashing down on you
'Cause you can't erase it, and you won't escape it

Songwriters: Charlie Lowell / Dan Haseltine / Matt Odmark / Stephen Daniel Mason
Can't Erase It lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group

Dan Haseltine, in an interview once said that this song is "About fighting our deepest desire to be who we are not." Why do we have such a strong desire to be something we are not? Because we want to fit in with the majority and just like when we were in high school, we have this strong desire to fit in with the cool kids.

There are many things that can get in the way of being who God has made us to be. The majority culture says, “You don’t need God, just 'follow the crowd and love everybody.'” We hear this very regularly on our various media sources and we begin to believe that this is the way to live. But it is easy to change our mind and not really want to “love everybody.” It is truly hard to simply boost ourselves up to a level where we can love everybody. Bitterness and anger are the result. On our own we cannot love everybody.

If we follow the crowd, we are not being who we truly are. We are conforming to the image of what the crowd thinks we should be. If we follow the crowd, we will do things that we know are “so wrong” and we just won’t be able to embrace that they are right. We can’t erase the things we’ve done. We can’t escape the weight of going against God and against who he has made us to be. But there is one who can “erase it.” God says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Furthermore, “… his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:11, 12). Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate way for him to remove the weight of sin and erase our wrong doings: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

If we bury the wrongs, ignore the wrongs, or embrace the wrongs, the weight will crush us. Instead we must acknowledge and confess and receive release from the weight.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Horse and His Boy


In 2010 a band known as A Horse and His Boy released an EP entitled Trilogy. From that recording is a haunting song called “Kramer’s Wall.” Jackson Harper (formerly Seth Harper) calls himself a “scrappy Narnian” and thus identifies himself with a genre of literature and music that sees light and darkness, and right and wrong in a world of chaos and apathy. His images are highly influenced by C.S. Lewis’ writings and particularly the book that bears almost the same name as the band. He is a talented singer-songwriter from whom I hope we hear much more. I offer you the lyrics from “Kramer’s Wall” followed by my impressions from the song.

Kramer’s Wall
In the land of apathy
There’s a pretty girl who waits for me
I was standing there when she looked down
From Kramer’s Wall at the edge of town

I stayed ‘til all the rest were gone
And my pretty girl she stood alone
She wouldn’t leave, I asked her why
This my friends, was her reply

She said, shadows fly away from me
They cannot face the light you see
But if they come I’ll fight them all
So, I’m standing here on Kramer’s Wall 

What injustice had decreed
This lonely life she had to lead
I pitied her but didn’t stay
And the road I followed passed away

From that day on I had no rest
And my heart kept burning in my chest
I couldn’t stand my fatal choice
For every night I heard her voice

She said, if you are who I hope you are
You can never run too far
I will never let you fall
I’m watching you from Kramer’s Wall

I realized I would rather be
In chains with her than alone and free
She had shown the kind of love
The greatest ones had been made of

Her haunting words inside my head
Revived the heart I thought was dead
So, I took the higher call
And stood with her on Kramer’s Wall

I said, everything may come undone
The sky may fall and bring the sun
You and I are standing tall
Here on top of Kramer’s Wall

Nothing breaks a lover’s soul
Nothing makes the young grow old
Except the time that kills us all
But there is no time on Kramer’s Wall

I will never let you fall
I will stand with you on Kramer’s Wall

Music and lyrics by Seth Harper
Produced by Andrew Osenga
All rights reserved

At first glance/listen, it sounds like a simple “boy meets girl, boy ignores girl, boy can’t get girl out of his mind, boy goes back to girl, and boy pledges his love to the girl for life.” Simple enough, right? But, at second glance, there is more to this song. The girl is the real hero of the song and she is resolute in her stance against darkness. We get the impression that all of Hell could come against this woman and she would stand upon a crumbling wall until the last vestige of light was extinguished! Yet the darkness would never overcome, and the light would never be extinguished because of this valiant woman. 

The man in this song cannot escape the beauty and justice of this woman and the more he tries to walk his own path, the more she haunts and burns his heart. While others around them are lost in apathy, indecision, immorality, injustice, and indifference, the woman stands alone and draws others into her pursuit of justice and light. The man is drawn in and stands with her and then sees her for her beauty and grace. He pledges his love and the two of them now stand resolute against the apathy of the land. The two stand timelessly like Greek gods in perfect union and perfect defence, there on top of Kramer’s Wall.



Friday, August 23, 2019

The Church Planting Journey


Around 1995, a few pastors, and leaders (including myself) in my city began to meet to discuss church planting. The discussion starter was the resource kit known as The Church Planters’ Toolkit (1991) written by Robert E. Logan. We would read (and at least on one occasion watch a video) and discuss the principles within this remarkable tool. We applied these strategies and principles as we became a Church Planting Management Team and Church Planting Catalyzers. Later I spent time on the national board of Church Planting Canada with Murray Moerman and other national leaders and saw the same principles and strategies employed and encoded in the training manuals we used for planters and catalyzers. I came to realize why people were beginning to call Dr. Bob Logan the father of modern church planting.

In 2003, I left a job as a Lab Scientist to plant a network of house-churches in Calgary where I personally put into practise the strategies and principles to which I had been calling others. Planting two churches in two cities in Western Canada gave me a whole new appreciation of the complexities of planting and the need for a good coach. I took coach training from Dr. Logan and hired him as my personal coach.

Now 25 years after my introduction to Robert E. Logan and his church planting principles, I have just read The Church Planting Journey[1] which Bob says is a translation of the earlier work for a contemporary audience working in a contemporary context. I am happy to say that this pioneer still has much to add to the church planting conversation. His insights from forty years of being a practitioner, planter, teacher, professor, and learner are here in this new work. One of many examples is what Dr. Logan has to say about assessing the original vision in terms of the fit with the planter and alignment with the mission. This section will be a great help to many who wrestle with the tension of adapting as they proceed. The end of each chapter offers a place for the reader to contextualize their own vision, cultural context, and prayer life which I pray planters and catalyzers will patiently use. This book is once again set to reignite the church planting conversation and I congratulate my friend in having the foresight to see the need. May Jesus Christ richly bless the reading of this book.



[1] The Church Planting Journey, Dr. Robert E. Logan, 2019, Logan Leadership; https://amzn.to/2ZnQIRc

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Desire


Terminology is important. It can unify us around an idea or it can be divisive. Listing a few words may help to explain what I mean: evangelicalborn-againProtestantbelieverChristianreligious…. Each of these words has been used to describe a particular group of people and draw a boundary around them to minimize confusion with people who do not fit the category. Each term can also be controversial and, depending upon the context and the emphasis upon specific traits of a group, can lead to division and the consequent desire to distance oneself from the category.

So it is that I find myself wondering how best to describe the process whereby myself and others have come under the influence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Even as I write those words, I recognize the impact and controversy of such words as influencegospelJesus, and Christ – but I trust the reader will understand what I mean.) Do I say that I am a Christian, a born-again Christian, a follower of Jesus, a believer, a Spirit-filled person? What terminology will best describe those like me? Of course, there is no definitive answer to this question because as soon as we come up with a term that seems to fit, we have already limited how the term might be used and to whom it will apply. Thus, some terms will work for a while before needing to be cast off and begin the process again. The term “born-again Christian” illustrates this well. At a certain time in history, one could call oneself a “born-again Christian” and everyone knew what it meant. It meant an emphasis on the change that occurs when one chooses to believe the message of Jesus and follow him as Lord in a public statement of faith, baptism, and a changed life that is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence. The term soon was overused by those who fit the category and by those who hijacked the term seeking to gain the approval of those who valued the term. So, those words have fallen out of use to a large extent.

No term will ever fit the description we need it to fulfill for all time, but there are some descriptions that will serve us well for a while (even if it might be for a short while). I recently read a blog by a friend who had an interesting way of describing his encounter with God and the subsequent change of perspective that occurred. He spoke of the day he “declared a desire to know God.”[1]It struck me that this is a helpful way to consider this journey in which we find ourselves. Too many of the ways we describe the Christian walk are about a final destination and a final form of being. A “desire to know God” speaks of a continual process while “declaring a desire” speaks of a definitive date when someone announces their determination. It has both that sense of once for all and a never-ending pursuit. Oh sure, it is not quite as handy and succinct as saying “the day I became a Christian.” But what it lacks in brevity it makes up for in specificity, clarity, and accuracy. 

After all, this life of faith is never complete this side of our death and resurrection into the final Kingdom of God. We are ever on the journey, ever desiring, and ever longing for more knowledge of God. Looking back to the day that I “declared a desire to know God” about 44 years ago, reminds me of how much more I know about God and how much more curiosity I still have about this Lord I desire to know and serve better. So, for now, I endorse the virtue of “declaring a desire to know God” and seek to press on with the journey with whatever terminology seems most helpful for today, tomorrow, and the tomorrows after that. May God richly bless you in your journey of faith and your knowledge of God.


[1]The full context of the remark can be found at the following link: https://stepbystepjourney.com/?p=5044, where Richard Dahlstrom says, “But on that day, I drive up and stand in the very spot where I declared a desire to know God 39 years earlier, and I’ll marvel at God’s relentless pursuit of me, God’s abundance poured out, and I’ll offer tears of gratitude.  “Look what God has done” I’ll say, as once again, the scent of hope fills me.” (I encourage my readers to read the entire blog which has many more insights to offer.) Richard Dahlstrom Step by Step Journey, “Longing for the Scent of Hope,” August 10, 2019.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Something Rather Than Nothing



Perhaps one of the biggest philosophical questions ever asked is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” When we look at the earth, the moon, the stars, our galaxy, the universe, gravity, light, and energy, we are struck with the immensity and complexity of this place in which we find ourselves. It is natural to ask questions about this universe and to ask how it is that this place actually functions and stays in motion. Science has done a good job of exploring and explaining much about our world. But we might also ask how it is that the universe exists at all. Philosophers have worked on a satisfying answer to this question for decades and still the question persists. We know that Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz spent much time thinking about this question and had what I would still consider the most satisfying answer to the question.

Leibniz who lived from 1646–1716 was one of the great thinkers and philosophers of his time but for many years was sadly overlooked. He was a contemporary of Isaac Newton and both of them discovered calculus independently of each other. Many of the notations and symbols used by Leibniz as he developed calculus are still used today. He was an inventor of mechanical calculators, refined the binary number system which is used in computers, and was a philosopher who specialized in rationalism and logic. He was devoted to his work yet known for his imagination, friendship, and good manners. I will save his answer to the big question until the end of this article but let us first look at a few of the other answers people have come up with.

Lawrence Krauss, a current author and physicist posits that gravity and the quantum vacuum worked together to generate the initial particles which resulted in a universe. He believes that it was inevitable that the universe would arise given gravity and the quantum vacuum. Stephen Hawking suggested a very similar argument in his 2010 book, The Grand Design. Although this answer may seem logical and satisfying to these two physicists, at a philosophical level, we would then want to ask, “Why must we assume gravity or a quantum vacuum or particles?” Why is there anything at all? Ultimately, this kind of answer remains highly unsatisfying to many.

Others answer Leibniz's question by saying that the universe has always existed. This was a common assumption until the early 20th Century when Alexander Friedmann and Georges Lemaitre noted that the universe was expanding and Lemaitre suggested that the expansion could be traced back to a “single primeval atom” or “cosmic egg.” This was the beginning of the concept of The Big Bang. Lemaitre, a faith-filled Catholic priest, was very much involved in convincing Albert Einstein and others that the universe had a beginning. Of course, the Big Bang model has gone on to be the prevailing model of the community of physicists seeking to describe our known universe. It elegantly describes the beginning of all things including matter, time, gravity, and the universal constants that have been detected.

Still others would suggest that our universe is a mystery and its origins are lost to us. In other words: we simply do not know why there is something rather than nothing. Bertrand Russel famously took this stance in a 1948 radio debate with Frederick Copleston. Such an answer has the effect of sounding clever and somehow satisfying but most would find that the satisfaction quickly fades. Some will be satisfied with answering a big question with a big shrug of the shoulders; most of us will not.

Leibniz also found such non-answers unsatisfying and searched his whole life for a better answer. He toyed with Russell’s response and worked to make more sense of it. In the end he found that such an answer would not satisfy his own intellect. He eventually came to an answer that was substantial and pleasing but was one that would ultimately contribute to his falling out of favour in the philosophical and scientific communities. His answer was one that took courage to voice. It was an answer that was both elegant and simple as science demanded, yet one which resulted in a major paradigm shift which many other thinkers are unwilling to make. His answer shifts one’s entire thinking process and causes one to consider the entirety of life. Leibniz’s simple answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing was, “God wanted there to be a universe.” It is a simple answer yet results in a lifetime of introspection and development, for if there is a great creator God behind the beginning of the universe, we will want to know more about God and how he communicates with his world. We will spend the rest of our lives seeking to know him.

References and Further Reading:

Hawking, Stephen, and Leonard Mlodinow. 2010. The Grand Design. Bantam Books.
Look, Brandon C. 2017. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/leibniz/.
Strickland, Lloyd. 2019. Answering the biggest question of all: why is there something rather than nothing? 08 08. https://theconversation.com/answering-the-biggest-question-of-all-why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing-65865.
Wikipedia. 2019. "Copleston-Russell Debate." Wikipedia. 08 11. Accessed 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copleston%E2%80%93Russell_debate.
—. 2019. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. 08 08. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gottfried_Wilhelm_Leibniz.
—. 2019. Lawrence M. Krauss. 08 08. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_M._Krauss.