Saturday, 30 January 2010

Kenyan Magazine

Some of the Reformed Baptists in Kenya have launched a new magazine to try to reach potential leaders who are hungry for Bible teaching. You can download and read it for free online here:

Friday, 29 January 2010

Hear the rumble of the mad-man

Richard Dawkins has his latest in the Times - "Hear the rumble of Christian hypocrisy". His points are many and all over the map. The main one appears to be that Christian theology is inherently a glorification of meaningless retribution - a furious God who delights to inflict unnecessary punishment. This is accompanied by scores of other asides showing how really, really angry the thought of God makes Dawkins. Revealing.

Dawkins' arguments make me think of a mad-man climbing into a ring with a heavyweight boxer. Because the mad man runs around furiously, throwing punches everywhere with rapid-fire, eventually you suppose one must hit. In just a few paragraphs, Dawkins goes over much of the whole map of Christian theology with great bravado - surely one of those punches connected?

In reality, the real boxer would just tip-toe around for a few seconds as he got a good look at the mad-man, and then lean forward with one mighty, all-sufficient knockout blow, and the mad-man thuds onto the mat with no likelihood of getting up.

All that Dawkins writes is predicated on what comes at the opening. According to him, no other explanation is needed for the Haitian earthquake other than the physical explanation. Two tectonic plates bumped and ground over each other; result, earthquake. That's it. As Dawkins says, "a force of nature, sin-free and indifferent to sin, unpremeditated, unmotivated, supremely unconcerned with human affairs or human misery."

That's the logical outcome of Dawkins' own atheism. The world is self-contained, and physical explanations not only describe what happens, but are also entirely sufficient to account for what happens. No ideas of personal agency should be sought. This is not the way that anyone deals with the events of their own life, though, or indeed how Dawkins does. "Yes, officer, I know that he's dead, and that the autopsy shows cyanide poisoning. But this is all just the outworking of chemical laws. Cyanide is fatal, so he died - why look for another explanation? No need to arrest me."

The problem with Dawkin's position is that, according to him, human beings are also a part of nature. Thus, they are constrained by the same laws as the rest of nature. We evolved ultimately from impersonal matter, according to fixed biological principles. Hence Dawkin's own screed in the Times is not something to take seriously - it's just the law-bound outworking of his own biochemistry. All the ranting about hypocrisy and other moral crimes is not to be treated as meaningful; it's only what the natural principles at work within him made him do.

For Dawkins to impute wickedness to the personal intentionality of Christians who disagree with either him or Pat Robertson (which I do) is no more or less rational than for Christians to impute any particular activity within the world to God's personal intentionality. Dawkins is self-refuting. If we use his own measure, he's not to be taken seriously. His thoughts aren't meaningful; they're just what nature enforced upon him. Tip-toe, tip-toe, tip-toe.... THUD.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Ordinary Day At Office 1, Marathoning Missionary 0

I wasn't totally ready for today. Up at 5.30am for Heathrow airport on Monday, then flight to Kenya, arriving finally at our hosts the other side of Nairobi past 11pm local time; the next day, a long bus journey (all with small kids!) up to Eldoret. Just time to unload, unpack, print off, pack again, in time for today: rising at 3.10 a.m. UK time in order to be teaching Galatians at theological college at 5.10 a.m. Explaining the north and south Galatian hypotheses at just after 6 a.m. is a new experience. The marathon didn't finish me off, but this nearly did - lunchtime I just walked into the staff room, rested my head on the table, and feel asleep!

Hopefully my body-clock will be more in sync next week. It's all for Christ, and he is worthy. This is not a complaint. It's a fantastic privilege to travel across the world and have these opportunities. It's a different life to many Christians, but actually precisely the same in the big issue: the only question that really matters is "will I moan and grow discouraged, or will I remember what Jesus has done for me and press on?"

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Marathon: Ouch!

My blog gets encumbered with my occasional running notes, because I haven't got a better place to put them yet!

Today I ran the Portland (Dorset) coastal trail marathon ( This means lots of steep climbing and descending - some bits quite technical and tricky - and on the exposed coast mostly. This was my 2nd marathon (the first was a road marathon in 2007). Great day, lots of fun, especially so because lots of family were there too. It didn't start so well; I woke coughing at 4.49a.m., and when I eventually turned on the light to get up I found there was a power cut which also meant there was no heating - Brrrr! The briefing took a long time and I had to queue for the toilet, which also meant I set off having done no stretches and was beginning to feel as if my cold had spread out of nose/throat into my head at large. But on the plus side, the weather was basically perfect for January: mild, no rain and as little wind as you can get when running on the channel coast. My Runner's Knee from 5 weeks ago (the last run of more than 7 miles) did not make an appearance, and the trail running kit all worked really well.

After coming off Chesil Beach

The first mile includes a 500ft climb. Not too long later there's one so steep that I did it hands-and-knees when coming up the second time. The course is the half-marathon course done twice, each of which is basically a lap of the "Island" of Portland in Dorset (including round Portland Bill at the tip), and then 1.5 miles on Chesil Beach. 200 entrants. Chesil Beach is excrutiating - it's large pebbles which give way under foot; very heavy going, and murder for your quads. After coming round the first time (2 hrs 15 mins), I thought I had bitten off too much by not entering the half marathon. But gratifyingly those around me were now slowing down too. After the first 3 miles of settling down, I was overtaking someone each mile or so - but from half-way someone was overtaking me about every 400 metres until I stopped the rot!

When 20 miles came I felt pretty finished; this is at Portland Bill and precedes 4 miles of climbing, the first of which is steep. It was refreshing to see so many beefy looking men reduced to staggering - it wasn't just me the first-timer! Once I'd got up the first mile (and through the mud-bath-like bits of the next section where running seemed pointless; as bad as Chesil Beach it was so sticky!), I resorted to running 0.2 miles and walking 0.1 in repetitions. Eventually I got up to running (well, jogging) continually again; then came Chesil Beach. Here, the method of 0.1 running/0.1 walking meant that nobody overtook me on the section, and I overtook about 5 or so; they were running less! One of my support party did comment that they had tried and it was really hard/painful work running on the beach, and that was without running 23 miles beforehand!

Chesil Beach - how your quads feel after this is indescribable... first time, 16 miles to go!

After that second encounter with the beach, there was only perhaps 0.5 miles towards Weymouth, then the turn around and about a mile back to the event HQ/finish line. Adrenaline and will-power (please please let me finish asap!) was enough to run this all the way. And eventually, the finish line:

About to finish

26.88 miles by my watch - the organisers do say that their courses can go over the 26.22 standard. All in all, it took me 5:06:33. I thought I might be near 4:30, but I had not appreciated just how gruelling such a marathon is. The results aren't out yet; this would have got me 66th last year though I'm not sure if there were 200 starters then like this year. The winner was in an awesome 3:27 - 7:42 minutes/mile is one thing on flat roads, but with huge climbs, twisty-turny technical sections and Chesil Beach it's pretty amazing.

Great day. I'm not sure I'd have entered if I'd known what a big step up it was from a road marathon, but as I finished it of course I'm really glad I did - a unique experience and fun to share with the family.

As you'd expect, marathon running is another of the great proofs of the reality of God. Ontological argument, teleological argument, marathological argument, 1 2 3. No species that could have evolved on a Darwinian basis would seek personal challenges to stretch himself, taking it on "because it's there". Running round in large circles has no point in itself. Neither is the ability to do such things of any particular value for surviving as the fittest - the couch potatoes live and breed just as much as the hill-runners. Trail marathoning is an activity exclusively for human beings made in God's image. And it was thrilling to enjoy his creation whilst doing so - especially seeing the vast ocean, the dark clouds and the intrusions of bright light through them. This was all in the first few miles, of course. After that my brain was not processing much more than "Mmmm, Lucozade." :-)


Tomorrow I hope to run a trail marathon, this one:

I injured my knee 5 weeks ago but I think it's recovered, though I haven't done any runs beyond 7 miles since then. The weather and whether I'm going down with a cold are the main concerns - it rained a lot and was foggy today and visibility was down to the other side of the road!

Blog news - there's a widget in the top right on the website now that should allow you to receive new blog posts by e-mail, if you'd like that.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The reason for natural evil

On the BBC news website right now, one of the most read stories is on the question "Why does God allow natural disasters?".

In it, a philosopher surveys various options and possible answers. Amongst which, he somehow neglects any mention of any option that involves the Christian doctrine of the Fall. As in, the answer on pages 1, 2 and 3 of the Bible - the book that shaped the foundations of our civilisation. Sigh. Why we want to consider that option anyway? Typical BBC.... line up a panel of "different views", but make sure that the Judeo-Christian one is either not heard or represented by someone who is stitched up as the fruit-cake (in this case the former). Though perhaps now ignorance of Biblical thinking is so widespread that it was not intentional this time - who knows?

Why does God allow natural disasters? Because man rebelled against him, and God's curse on mankind included a curse on the creation. All men sinned when Adam did, because he had been appointed our federal head. This entails that we cannot say that natural disasters come upon people who are more evil than others. They can come upon all mankind, because all mankind was "in Adam".

The good news is that Christ's redemptive work is also cosmic in its scope - and those who are "in Christ" by a covenant not only have to suffer the effects of Adam's ruinous choice, but also receive all the benefits of Christ's perfect righteousness in his life and death. Thus the Bible promises us that when he winds it all up, there will be a curse no more.

Natural disasters are a confirmation that all is not well in the world. People inevitably ask "why does God allow..." because natural disasters have the inevitable effect of making us think of our Maker. They are a huge red flag that there's a big problem between us and him. In that sense, they can have a positive effect - as long as we look in the right place for the answers; not in philosophy, but in the person and the work of Jesus Christ.

Ed Balls on smacking

There's a story on the BBC news website right now about the exemption whereby some schools, if open for less than 12.5 hours a week, are not covered by the government's ban on smacking in its own schools - which was later extended to cover private schools also. (Creep, creep - always the clever politician's way with unpopular measures - do it slowly).

Ed Balls, the relevant government minister, has made a statement that goes far beyond the issue at hand, however:
"The use of physical punishment against any child is wrong; it is outside the law and is not fair to children. I do not think that we should tolerate any use of physical punishment in any school or learning setting in which trusted adults are supposed to be looking after children, not abusing them."
These two sentences are a catalogue of non-sequitors and straw men. But I'm also wondering at the context - the physical punishment of children in the UK is not outside the law, but specifically allowed (with the proviso that no lasting mark must be left).

The words "or learning setting" also send chills down my spine given that Balls has been targetting home education lately, seeking to hand various parental rights over to the state.

But my main points here would be this: I don't believe there's any rational argument against physical punishment of children which doesn't ultimately apply against any punishment of children. And then again, if it applies to any punishment of children, likewise it does to grown-ups. Punishment inherently is painful in some sense, otherwise it is not punishment. And all the arguments made that physical punishments are wrong have their point in the pain, not in the physicality of the pain. If infliction of physical pain is automatically "abuse" as it is here caricatured, then why not any other form of pain and hence any other punishment? The division is arbitrary.

The anti-smacking arguments prove too much. In my opinion smacking is much kinder than pyschological forms of punishment which leave lingering unpleasantness. An explanation of the crime that the child can understand and see the wrong in, an explanation that wrong should be punished, a quick smack, a cuddle and then back to joyful learning and play - that's all it has to be. The real problem is that this implies ideas about justice, crime and punishment that the secular mind does not like and that's why they want to get rid of it. Yes, some parents might go too far - but "thin end of the wedge" arguments make appallingly bad law. Shall we ban all knives from your home and kitchen because some people use them for murder? Ban cars because there exist bad drivers?

The problem with stigmatising the "kind smack" as described above as "abusing" children is not simply that it drags a simple smack into the category of child abuse and makes it look bad. It's also that it trivialises real child abuse. We know little children who really have been abused in horrific ways. For Mr. Balls to lump what they've suffered in the same category as a loving tap on the wrist is a gigantic insult, and a belittling of the real horrors they have endured.

Apostacy From Islam

Did you know...
All schools of Islamic law specify the death sentence for an adult male Muslim who chooses to leave his faith. Most give the same punishment for women. The law also imposes many other penalties on apostates, and provokes powerful hostility towards them amongst Muslims.
And did you also know...
But change is possible. Some liberal Muslim scholars have argued that the apostasy law should be abandoned, so that people can leave Islam without fear of reprisals. In late 2009 a group of mainstream Muslim leaders in Britain asserted that “people have the freedom to enter the Islamic faith and the freedom to leave it”. These voices will be strengthened by non-Muslims also calling for repeal of the law.

Learn more about Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo's latest book which is on this topic, here.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Church Website

In 2009 the Internet in Kenya was finally connected to the rest of the world via a cable (instead of a satellite).

This might mean that the Internet really takes off in Kenya in the next few years. This depends on what happens with prices. As yet they haven't come down much, though speeds have greatly improved. We'll see.

But, in case it does take off.... our church in Eldoret now has a website. And in case it doesn't take off, perhaps someone elsewhere in the world will enjoy a sermon or two from it. If you don't speak Swahili, there's only the odd sentence to pass over here and there.

If you do speak Swahili, please accept my sincere apologies for my crimes against your language. It's only a few sentences here and there to pass over. Hopefully it'll one day culminate in a time when I speak it properly, gramatically and not in an English accent! :-)

Anyway, here it is: Grace Baptist Church, Eldoret -

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Who are you?

Who, or rather what, are you from an atheist point of view?

A man says that he is a rationalist and refuses to believe anything without sufficient evidence. Then he goes on to add that he thinks there is no such evidence for anything outside of nature, and therefore he is an atheist.

Perhaps that's you. But before we examine what you think, can we be allowed first to ask - what exactly is this "you" that is doing the thinking?

That we exist as self-conscious, self-aware beings is as basic a fact about our own existence as there can be. Beyond the mere firing of neurons through my brain, somewhere there is an "I" that actually experiences all that is going on around me. The materialist/atheist picture is of a giant biochemical machine that responds to stimuli and exists basically to pass on its genes to the next generation. But this picture does not even have in view one of the most basic facts of our own existence that we can be assured of: namely, the fact of our own existence as a distinct, personal subsistence. Or in English, I am me, and I am not you and you are not me. There is an "I" which transcends mere mechanical functions to actually observe and experience them.

Despite the ongoing replacement of all my body tissues through various biological processes, yet there is I am sure (as sure as I can be of anything at all), that there is an "I" which has continually been since my earliest remembered moments onwards.

The imagined atheist universe cannot account for personality - i.e. the existence of distinct personal self-conscious subsistences. It only allows matter/energy in constant re-arrangement. An impersonal and non-conscious machine is the most it can rise up to. Our most basic experience - of existing - tells us that the atheist universe does not exist.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Doomsday Fever

In the Daily Mail this week, Christopher Booker has an article with some insightful observations on the modern phenomena of mass panic. It is quite interesting to survey a list such as this:

  • HIV
  • BSE / CSV ("mad cow disease")
  • The Y2K / "Millennium" bug
  • The salmonella scare
  • SARS / bird flu
  • Carcinogens in food
  • Asbestos poisoning
  • DDT
  • This last year - swine flu
Of course, each of these is/was a real problem, and there have been real fatalities. The point is, though, that in each case the presentation from government and media was in terms of a very high probability (certainty?) of immense number of deaths - pandemics to rival the bubonic plagues that killed 1/3 of Europe, etc. - unless urgent and wide-ranging, expensive action was taken. The current one is global warming; again we're urged that unless we act in a big way right now, then apocalyptic doom may no longer be possible to prevent. This observation on its own, of course, does not prove one way or the other that global warming is no more of a real problem likely to kill more than a few dozen people (as the cold snap in Britain has in the last fortnight) than mad cow disease - but it certainly ought to give us pause for thought and mean that we should require a higher standard of proof than simply "the experts and the governments agree".

What's also remarkable about that list above is that they've all come up in quite a small amount of time - within the last decade or two. Have I missed any? That's an awful lot of doom - amazing we've managed to avoid not just one or two of them, but the whole lot!

Meanwhile, all kinds of real disasters that have decimated the West - the massive rise in family breakdown, sexualisation of childhood, pornification of mainstream media, progressive mortgaging of our children's futures to pay for present over-spending, the collapse of community life, the plummeting standards of state education - have all gone on at a pace observed often with just a sad resignation or futile grumbling. None of these though has been an immanent doomsday scenario, but rather the slow but sure undermining of foundations one brick at a time.

I remember when a child watching the news. I didn't really understand the disease of HIV; but it seemed pretty certain from the tombstone graphic and the grave tones that accompanied every story, that pretty much most of the world would be dead of it by the time I was an adult. HIV is a significant problem in my adopted country of Kenya; but it's not apocalyptic doom, and it's an extremely easy disease to avoid. That's why it's a significant problem in Kenya - sadly adultery and fornication aren't things that a good number of people people have sufficient desire to avoid.

My point though is not just this armchair commentary. It's to ask why the Western public and media evidently feel such a deep resonance for scenarios of immanent apocalyptic doom?

I think that a Christian answer to this question would need to mention at least two key factors. We need to go a lot deeper than just the simplistic "people are sheep, not as clever as me" kind of response. I haven't particularly noticed that the communities who pride themselves on being rationalists and skeptics have been particularly immune to these things - in fact, it seems to have been as our governments have gone more secular and left-ward that these things have increased.

At the root of it (this is the first key) is man's alienation from God. Try as we might - iPhones, career paths, the X-Factor, fantastic hobbies and adventures etc. - nothing can stub out the basic sense of unease which is in every human being. The fear of death, the Bible says, holds all of mankind in bondage - though it manifests itself in very different ways. Man cannot escape the basic sense that all is not very well - and in fact that something very massive is quite wrong. But because until he is born again he has no will or desire to confront the basic problem - personal sin - or to seek out the God who is his true need, the real solution to this sense cannot be found. And so it must manifest itself elsewhere in life. Man has a residual knowledge that something is very wrong - but if he won't admit what it really is, this knowledge will have to poison his rationality in all kinds of other areas instead. If you won't fear God, you'll have to fear an awful lot of other things.

The other key factor in my opinion more specifically that there is a residual cultural awareness of sudden apocalyptic doom. This is because in fact sudden and global apocalyptic doom is a real phenomena. It's just that it's not going to come from swine flu - it's going to come when God suddenly intervenes to judge the world on the Last Day. This event was made known to man from the very moment he fell. In history, its prime warning was in Noah's Flood. The Bible itself (2 Peter 3) anticipates men scoffing and trying as much as they can to forget this immense event - but it cannot be done.

Once, God destroyed the whole world in a sudden deluge that came with no announcement other than the ignored and rejected preaching of godly Noah. Peter tells us that the same will be so on the day that Jesus is revealed in fire. Sudden global doom will always be a belief that keeps surfacing in the culture. Rejecting Christianity, the West is doomed to worry itself silly over a succession of non-dooms (serious as each danger might be in its own right).

In other words, man does not have a choice - he must, somewhere in his belief system, believe in apocalyptic world-wide doom. The only choice is which he's going to believe in - the real thing, or an endless succession of impostors. It's wired into our make-up and into our history - it's real. We can't get away from it because we can't get away from ourselves. Let he who has ears to hear, hear!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Every parent's nightmare

This is why parents in the UK need to be concerned over the government's increasing awarding of new rights over children to itself at the expense of parents (all under the explanation that it's in the child's best interests, of course):

According to the head of a home-schooler's legal body who have come in to help, it's the worst case of government abuse he's ever seen. This comes in the week in which the House of Commons in the UK is having the second reading of a bill which will award education authorities a new right to enter your home and interview your child - without you present. More about that and what you can do here and here.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Baptist churches, membership and the Lord's Supper

Historically Baptist churches have had to wrestle with the question of believers who don't follow Baptist teaching and yet who become, or want to become, involved with the church in some way. Of course this is not a new problem - churches of every persuasion have to wrestle with this. It's not an easy problem and the number of potential variations on the issues that may come up in practice can be almost endless. Here's something I penned in trying to explain the broad range of options and positions to a friend that may be of use to others also...
Some [Baptist churches] are the "strict Baptist churches"; their practice is that you must be baptised as a believer to become a member, and only members of the church (or visitors who are members elsewhere) can take the Lord's Supper.

Then there are the "open communion" Baptist churches, which have "strict" membership, but allow anyone who professes faith to take part in the Lord's Supper. i.e. non-members are welcomed to the supper.

Then there are the "open membership" Baptist churches, which insist that the church's teaching and leadership will always be Baptist, but that sincere believers of different persuasions should not be kept outside of the membership.

The "strict Baptists" can say that they are trying to follow the Bible's teaching on baptism and membership most closely (the Bible teaches believer's baptism and that the Lord's Supper is a privilege for members who have made themselves subject to church discipline).

The "open communion" Baptists can say that they have a Baptist church and so maintain Baptist doctrine, but avoid excluding true believers of different opinions from fellowship. (On their bookshelves Strict Baptists have heroes of the faith that they learn from, but would not actually sit down at the Lord's Supper with them - but would say that those people were excluding themselves by not following the Biblical path).

The "open membership" Baptists think that church membership should not be more difficult than salvation (both strict and open communion Baptists have to admit that there are godly, obedient people going to heaven who yet cannot join their churches - and perhaps those people are more obedient and useful than those who are members!), and so whilst Baptist doctrine is taught and required for leaders, it is not made a test of membership and fellowship. (Though members are required never to contradict the taught doctrine - it is a Baptist church, not a choose-your-own doctrine church!).

I think that William Carey was a strict Baptist, Spurgeon was an open communion Baptist, and John Bunyan was an open membership Baptist.

Personally I think there should be a distinction between what the church teaches, and what individual members have so far managed to understand and apply. I think that to require that the members should have maturity in every area of belief before they can join is not right. Should baptism be made absolutely compulsory so that nobody can join the membership at all without agreeing, yet if they fall into error in other areas (e.g. working on Sunday, or poor family relationships) it is a matter for us to address as it arises within the membership? Is a correct understanding of baptism more fundamental than all of the other areas in which our members can fall short? Is it a heresy such that they must be kept outside the church like as if they were believing salvation by works or anti-nomianism?

Friday, 8 January 2010

Why Darwinism is Atheism

I just came across this great quote from David Berlinksi (who isn't a believer in any particular religion). It explains very concisely why Darwinism is inherently incompatible with any form of Christian theism. I'm not sure what the word "human" is doing in the first clause.
A mechanism that requires a discerning human agent cannot be Darwinian. The Darwinian mechanism neither anticipates nor remembers. It gives no directions and makes no choices. What is unacceptable in evolutionary theory, what is strictly forbidden, is the appearance of a force with the power to survey time, a force that conserves a point or a property because it will be useful. Such a force is no longer Darwinian. How would a blind force know such a thing? David Berlinski, “Deniable Darwin” Commentary 101 (June 1, 1996).

I was careful there to say incompatible with "Christian theism" not with "theism". The above argument does not work against deism. Deism is the idea that God merely set the laws of the universe, wound the machine up, and then let it work itself out. Deism can be reconciled with Darwinism - no surprise, but Darwin was a deist in his own belief (which gives the lie to the idea that Darwin was just doing science). A deist can easily believe that God invented the algorithm and then left it to run - and perhaps also rigged the "initial conditions" that the machine operated under to make give the outcome a high, perhaps infallible, degree of certainty. But that's not Christian theism, where God creates ex nihilo by a divine intervention such that the creation itself is an exemplification of his infinite wisdom and intelligence.

10 ways to encourage a missionary... don't try all of these...

Going round the blogsphere today, "10 ways to encourage a missionary".

Mostly good, but treat the advice about sending stuff by post or photos by e-mail with care.... stuff sent to us by post can take many months and incur big customs charges, and not everybody's Internet is cheap or fast enough to receive big photos if you forget to shrink them (ours is happily).... so treat the advice about sending food or other presents by post, or photos by e-mail carefully!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Evidences for a young earth / universe

Via my e-mail...

Ever thought that there should be one article listing lots of evidences for a young world, with links to the articles that expand on them as appropriate? Guess what—Dr Don Batten’s landmark article, published months ago, does just that; it’s on 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

IVP's "Should Christians Embrace Evolution?" Reviewed

As author of one of the chapters in IVP's new book, "Should Christians Embrace Evolution?", I did receive an early draft of all the other chapters. But I did not make time to read many of them.

Now I've finally had the finished work in my hands for a few weeks. I may be biased, but I believe it is an extremely impressive and important book. I've already seen evidence that it has raised questions for people in circles where there had been little serious questionning of Darwinism before.

I want to encourage all my blog readers to read it and recommend it to others - whether you agree or disagree. I don't know of another work on the market like it. It's scholarly and thorough, with each chapter being written by an authoritative guide to their subject. This is the most substantial contemporary case put "on the table" by Darwin nay-sayers and essential to understanding the present state of debate. It is not a single author trying to cover many fields - each chapter is from an expert on their topic. To the end of persuading you to buy and read it, I'm going to briefly blog my way through the book to give a flavour of what's in there.

Today we'll just do the preliminaries. IVP have obviously shared this view of the importance of the book, and once you open the inside cover you'll find a raft of recommendations. An Anglican Bishop, a Bible college principal, professors of physics, philosophy, theology, law, humanities, mathematics and information science and a head of educational services for Scotland - it's a wide range. There's a common thread running through the responses - this book contains a serious and (for most of the recommenders) convincing Biblical and scientific challenge to "theistic evolution". The list of contributors and their bios follows. A similarly wide-ranging crew - four professors, a senior Cambridge research scientist, pastors and Bible college teachers, a denominational chariman of apologetics, a theological advisor to UCCF. Baptists, Church of Scotland, Presbyterian, Anglican, cessationists, charismatics - and an agnostic! PhDs in theology, environmental science, biology, aeronautics, medicine and chemistry. The charge made by many Darwinists is that only the ignorant doubt Darwinism. That charge itself is ignorant!

The foreword is from Professor Wayne Grudem, research professor of theology and Biblical studies in Phoenix, Arizona and author of a widely used Systematic Theology textbook. His own conclusion is: "I was previously aware that theistic evolution had serious difficulties, but I am now more firmly convinced thann ever that it is impossible to believe consistently in both the truthfulness of the Bible and Darwinian evolution. We have to choose one or the other." That's the case that the book will make.

The 3-page preface comes from co-ordinating editor Phil Hills, a pastor of 23 years. Its purpose is to set the background for the book. In recent years, the "New Atheists" have been making the charge that Christianity and science are fundamentally incompatible - and Darwinism has been their main battering ram. Many Christians have responded by trying to argue that Darwinism and the Bible can be made to agree, and have joined the "New Atheists" in the same strident demands that those who doubt Darwinism give up the fight and concede its truthfulness - even going so far as to treat those who don't as embarassments to the cause. The theology of these "theistic evolutionists", though, is novel and re-engineers key Biblical doctrines. Neither is the scientific case as strong as the rhetoric would make out. The purpose of this book is to set out the case that it is definitely not necessary, or even desirable, for a Christian to embrace Darwinian evolution, whether philosophically, Biblically or scientifically. Each chapter will make a strong case that on the issue at stake, a traditional Christian position holds more water than the new theology of the Christian Darwinists, and in particular its most recent prominent respresentative, Dr. Denis Alexander of Cambridge (via his book, "Creation or Evolution - do we have to choose?").

So much for the preliminaries. Next time on to the meat. Here's the chapter list:

1. Evolution and the Church - Alistair Donald
2. The language of Genesis - Alistair McKitterick
3. Adam and Eve - Michael Reeves
4. The fall and death - Greg Haslam
5. Creation, redemption and eschatology - David Anderson
6. The nature and character of God - Andrew Sibley
7. Faith and creation - R. T. Kendall
8. Towards a science worthy of creatures in imago Dei - Steve Fuller
9. Interpretation of scientific evidence:
A. Homology - Norman Nevin
B. The nature of the fossil record - Norman Nevin
C. Chromosomal fusion and common ancestry - Geoff Barnard
D. Information and thermodynamics - Andy McIntosh
10. Does the genome provide evidence for common ancestry? - Geoff Barnard
11. The origin of life: scientists play dice - John Walton
Conclusion: Should Christians embrace evolution? - Phil Hills and Norman Nevin

Nothing of any value is ever achieved quickly

The title of this post is very black and white - an absolute statement. Nothing of any value is ever achieved quickly. Is it true?

To be sure, the winner of the X-Factor can achieve instant fame, usually a no. 1 hit and a tidy pile of cash. But this is not an achievement of any real value. The world has scores of countries, and every year they each have dozens of number 1 pop stars. Each gets their 15 minutes of fame - but being well known by your fellow humans has no significance at all in God's eyes and will count for big-fat-zero on the day of judgment. It won't even be worth discussing; man is the measure of nothing in God's economy. That which is highly esteemed amongst men is, Jesus said, abomination in the sight of God.

You can certainly wreck things quite quickly. A hasty word, a rash gamble, a foolish stubbornness - and years of work can come crashing down. But it's an unalterable law of our creation that to the opposite direction - to build up - is long and slow.

I think that Christians really need to be convinced of this; otherwise we will be wide open to temptations to discouragement. The West is the instant society - everything is expected now, with big flashing lights and high-tempo music accompanying it. Some of the things you can do right now are very impressive. We rightly enjoy the instant results. Being in the UK a few weeks, I've enjoyed instant Sat-Nav, and bringing up a list of nearby Indian takeaways, a map where to find them and ringing one to order - all inside a minute. But though these results are instant, it wasn't instant when seen from the other end. It's been years of development of phone networks, fibre optic cables, planning and launching communicaton satelites, gathering of hordes of mapping data and the technology to process it, the microchip and computational technology going all the way back to Charles Babbage's mechanical contraptions, and before that the peaceful society and developments in medicine and travel that laid the ground work. It's been the work, not of years, but of centuries of slow, patient development.

That is God's law. He has imposed upon his creatures an unalterable principle which insists that genuine achievement will only follow large amounts of labour. It's true of course that he's free to break his own laws when he pleases; he can send revival in a day instead of working through the plodding pastor's years of faithfulness, and he can send a genius who has a "Eureka" moment that leads to a quantum leap forward in a single hour. So we can allow a tiny caveat in that "never". But in the general run of things, God has ordained that genuine, worthwhile, real fruit (as measured by his own true standards, not the world's) is tied to long, patient and often painful perseverance.

We need to be convinced, because otherwise we'll get discouraged. A society that seems only to value the instant is a society that doesn't encourage the long-term. But developing our gifts and talents, serving and advancing in our vocation, raising children, cultivating a marriage, improving our minds, seeing our churches grow in grace and maturity and leaders converted and trained up - these are all long-term projects. They require us to ignore the distractions and discouragements if we're going to do a proper job of them. They require us to remember that the only verdict that matters is God's on that "Great Day". They require us to know that the next generation won't be shaped positively by TV glitz and a quick audience vote, but by persevering plodding. That's what to aim for. Nothing of any value is ever achieved quickly.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Christianity and Environmentalism

For much of this chain of thought and many of the ideas themselves I'm indebted to Andrew Kulikovsky, whose book I recently reviewed.

Christians are bound to be in favour of looking after the planet - we believe that God made it and (Genesis 1:28ff) gave man a special charge to care for it. We believe that creation was made "very good" (Genesis 1:31) and has real meaning and purpose. Christians have to be "environmentalists" in a certain sense. But does that mean they must be uncritical adherents of the modern environmental movement (MEM)? Are we bound to agree with all that comes out of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, etcetera?

In answering "no" to this question, firstly we need to notice that the MEM's view of creation is significantly different to the Christian one. MEM thinking is all too often pagan, Gaia thinking. According to this way of thought, the biosphere is a wonderful, harmonious paradise where all creatures live in a wonderful egalitarian symbiotic harmony. Man's unique significance for the creation is denied, and more than that this man is actually seen as the enemy of creation. He comes into the blissful harmony of "Nature" (capital N) and starts spoiling stuff with his development. His basic actions towards the environment are actions of rape and pillage. The goal of environmentalism is to return us to the Gaian harmony where man lives in close harmony with Nature instead of exploiting it. This is painting with broad strokes, but that's the basic picture.

Christianity, however, believes that God made the world with immense potential and then actually gave man the "creation mandate" (Genesis 1:28ff) - a charge, a commandment, to develop and harness the latent powers that were in it. Man is intended to "exploit" (in the positive sense of the word) the environment. And he is intended to exploit it primarily in his own interests - not in the interests of all animal life as an equality.

Kulikovsky points out that the idea of man living in simple harmony with nature is a myth. Go to the places with least development and you'll find the places where the water isn't safe to drink, where little children die of preventable diseases, and most to the point where the heads of the MEM would never dream of trying to live. Where man has sought to bring the environment under his control for his good, there you find safe drinking water, good health care and many other blessings. The picture of a sweet harmony is a false one - it's the Biblical one that is found true in practice. None of this justifies wanton destruction, or selfish pollution - those things are ultimately against man's interests. It's a myth that it's the MEM way or no other way. An undeveloped need as Christians seek to apply Christianity to all of life is to develop an authentically Christian environmental movement, and not one that simply sells the pass to pagan thinkers.

Throwing down the gauntlet to Dr. Denis Alexander

Regular readers will know that in the last year and a bit I've written a full-length response to Dr. Denis Alexander's insistence that evangelicals must make their peace with Darwinism. That response, tidied-up is itself now available as a book. I also contributed a chapter to the (IMO, devastating) IVP-published response, Should Christians Embrace Evolution?

Well, today I received something on the latter an editor at IVP. Dr. Alexander has finished reading it, and wants to contact the authors. He says that he does not have the inclination or the time to respond to the book as such, but just wants to alert us of a few factual points for correction. Hence he wanted to know our e-mail addresses.

Dr. Alexander has a pattern of avoiding meaningful interaction with people who disagree with him, so I didn't want to let this pass. Here's the reply I e-mailed to him and the other IVP authors, and I await his response. I've cut the quote referred to in the first paragraph as that was Dr. Alexander's own e-mail and I haven't asked him permission to publish it. (It's my own response; not all the authors are young-earth creationists as I am).

Hi Dr. Alexander,

I'm glad you've read the book and want to talk about it. For my part (this is referring to what's quoted below), I would much rather you would find both the time and the inclination to make a response on the substance of it and not just have a little side-discussion about a few points here and there. I read your book and noted that the interaction with genuine present-day creationists and their writings was basically zero - it was all "some Christians believe" but these "some Christians" normally only had a limited likeness to the positions of actual mainstream Darwin nay-sayers. (Henry Morris got a couple of footnotes: living representatives of creationism as it existed in 2008 got none). Yet at the end of the book there was a stinging criticism of creationists as time-wasters who don't spend enough time dealing with the real problems in the world. The impression was that in your book you had actually refuted year-2008 creationism and not a "some Christians say", "Here's what I've heard some folk say as I've been on my travels" folk-creationism caricature. You can't have your cake and eat it - either interact with us and then say you've done so, or don't interact and then don't claim afterwards that you did.

You've had time in 2009 to do a tremendously large amount of pro-Darwin activity, so I find it hard to stomach the idea that you don't have time to interact in a deep way with the main response to your position that's on the table. If we're going to have this discussion, let's have it properly or not at all. You've written that you're concerned science should be done properly - well, let's do theology (what my chapter was about) properly too. Let's not just quibble about minors around the edge. If your concern is that a private discussion wouldn't be as effective as all the public activity that's keeping you busy then that's fine - let's have it in public. I think my position stands up to maximum robust public scrutiny and am sure you feel the same about yours. So what have you got to lose by taking the time to do it properly? I have a
blog and your institute has a website - anything you write to me or in the other direction I'd suggest the other person gets full rights to publish (in full, unedited) on our own websites. Then perhaps that'll sidestep your concern, if that is what you're thinking. Over to you!

(Obviously I'm just speaking for myself here, not any of the other authors).

God bless,