Obama’s education speech

I’m rather embarrassed by the reaction many conservatives have had to the upcoming Obama address to students in America’s schools. The topic will be the importance of education, and giving a speech like this is a very fitting role for the president of the United States.

Read pastor John Piper’s perspective:

I am stunned at the outcry against the President of the United States speaking to the youth of this nation about the importance of education.

I am embarrassed by the governor of my home state saying, that the president’s plan to address them is “disruptive . . . uninvited . . . and number three . . . I don’t think he needs to force it upon the nation’s school children.”

This speech seems, for me, to be an answer to a prayer that I have prayed for the president repeatedly.

Father, the condition of our schools and families is so broken that nothing seems to be working, especially for the poor in our urban centers. Help our president to have the courage to use his amazing place of influence to speak into this situation in such a way that boys and girls would take their studies seriously and put school above sport and homework above hiphop and graduation above gangs.

O, Lord, create a culture where it is not cool to fail. Give our President the courage to call all children, especially ones who feel hopeless about academic work, to fight for knowledge the way gangs fight for turf.

And as the President plans his speech, help him to feel as helpless as he really is to meet the greatest needs of the children, so that he turns to Jesus who alone has the answer for the ruin and the wrongs of our cities. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

I hope my daughter hears the speech.

From Desiring God: I Hope My Daughter Hears the President’s Speech

Grace and Peace

September poll — who reads The GeoChristian?

I’m averaging a little over 300 visitors per day at The GeoChristian, and am curious to know more of the make up of my audience. This is my first attempt at polling on my blog; I think you can vote only one time.


I am still seeking employment as either a geoscience or geospatial professional (or both combined in one position). Click here for a brief resume, or go to Ten reasons why you should hire me.

Dealing with an apparent Bible contradiction

“You cannot believe the Bible because it is full of contradictions.”

I’ve heard this stated many times; you have probably heard it as well. You may be one who uses “Bible contradictions” as one of the reasons for rejecting Christianity, or you may be a Christian who struggles because there are things in the Bible that seem to be inconsistent.

There are various kinds of “Bible contradictions.”

  • Internal factual — What were the names of the twelve apostles? How many angels were at the tomb when Jesus rose from the dead?
  • External factual — Was Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadnezzar? How could Quirinius have been governor of Syria when Jesus was born?
  • Doctrinal — Is there a doctrinal contradiction between Paul (save by faith) and James (saved by works)?
  • Ethical — Was it right for David and his men to eat bread consecrated to the Lord? What about the conquest of the promised land under Joshua?

Many of these are easy to deal with and have obvious answers. Most of the rest have plausible answers as well. There are a few that I really don’t know the answer to, but that does not mean there is no answer. These sorts of things really don’t bother me much any more.

THE CALLING OF THE DISCIPLES

Here is my story of how a “Bible contradiction” challenged my faith, and how I came through that experience with a much greater confidence in the Bible as the reliable and trustworthy Word of God.

I came to a full understanding of  the Gospel (good news) through the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ when I was an undergraduate student. The basic message that I came to embrace was that humans have broken their relationship with God throught their sin, that Christ (fully God and fully man) died on the cross as our substitute, and that by faith in Christ we take on his righteousness. Campus Crusade placed a strong emphasis on the truthfulness—or inerrancy—of the Scriptures. Shortly after this, I started attending an independent, fundamentalist Bible church, in which the inerrancy of Scriptures was a central doctrine.

A year or two later I was at home in the church I grew up in; this was probably in about 1982 or 1983. It is not that the gospel was never preached there; it was embedded in the liturgy and I know the senior pastor at this time believed this good news with all his heart. If I did not understand the Gospel before, it was because of the hardness of my own heart, not because it was not proclaimed.

On this particular Sunday, however, the younger associate pastor was preaching. The topic was “The calling of the disciples,” and the pastor compared the account in John with that in Matthew. In John 1, Peter, Andrew, and others were introduced to Jesus through the ministry of John the Baptist, who was baptizing people along the Jordan River:

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). (John 1:35-42, ESV)

In Matthew 4, the calling of the disciples occurred on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Peter, Andrew, John, and James were working as fishermen, with no mention of the ministry of John the Baptist:

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22, ESV).

The pastor read these passages, and then commented, “These two passages contradict each other; we don’t know which of them gives the true story.” I don’t remember the rest of the sermon, but I was devastated. After church, I went into my bedroom, closed the door, and wept. The Bible was the foundation of my Christian faith, but what kind of foundation would there be if I didn’t know whether or not what I read was true? I agonized in prayer, read the passages again, and prayed more earnestly.

As I read the passages more closely, I noticed something important. This was not an either-or situation. The liberal pastor (by “liberal” I mean theologically liberal) presented it as a contradiction: that either Matthew gave the true story or John (or I suppose “none of the above” would have been an option to him as well). But there was another possibility that the pastor hadn’t seen: why couldn’t both passages be true? Why couldn’t these be two separate events?

As I read the texts more closely, it became more apparent that I had found a very natural solution to this apparent contradiction. What happened was that the disciples were first introduced to Jesus through the ministry of John the Baptist. John said, “Look, the Lamb of God,” and Peter and his friends went and spent some time with Jesus. Nowhere in John does it say that the disciples left everything at this point to follow Christ. Some time later these men were back in Galilee working as fishermen. Jesus walked up and said, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At this point they left their homes and work and followed Christ. There is absolutely nothing in the passages that causes any problem with this interpretation.

At this revelation, my anguish was replaced with joyful exuberation. My faith had been challenged, and by God’s grace my faith had been strengthened.

That evening, I was back in my college town, and went to the Sunday evening service at my church there (Grace Bible Church, Bozeman, Montana). The message from the pastor that evening was on the topic of the calling of the disciples! The pastor addressed the same “contradiction” and presented the same conclusion that I had come up with through tears and prayer. This was a mighty confirmation to me that I hadn’t just made this all up, that the Bible was reliable, and that my faith rested on a solid foundation.

CONCLUSION — HOW I DEAL WITH “CONTRADICTIONS”

This experience greatly strengthened my confidence in the trustworthiness and accuracy of the text of the Bible. There have been other challenging passages, but I have been able to work through most of them. Most of these have come through my daily reading of Scriptures rather than from being confronted with contradictions from skeptics.

Now when I am faced with what appears to be a contradiction in the Bible, I approach the problem with the following principles in mind:

  • My starting assumption is that I assume the Bible is right. This is not because I have a blind faith, but because my experience has been that once I understand the text, culture, and historical context, the Bible turns out to be accurate.
  • Another principle is to assume that the authors of the Bible knew their world, with its culture and history. Skeptics often assume that the authors of the Bible were idiots. They weren’t. I have to assume, for example, that when John wrote about the calling of the disciples, he not only remembered his experiences, but he was also aware of what had already been recorded about this event in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which were written before John wrote his gospel. When John wrote about the disciples meeting Jesus through John the Baptist, we have to assume that he was also aware of the calling of the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, because he was there!
  • We don’t know everything. For example, skeptics have charged that the lengths of reigns of the kings of Judah in the Old Testament make no sense. This went unanswered for quite some time. It has been shown, however, that the numbers make perfect sense once one considers that sons often served as co-regents with their fathers, so there was often considerable overlap in their listed reigns. The concept of co-regency was common in the ancient Near East, and there are precedents for counting years in reigns simultaneously. It is likely that a number of remaining difficulties in Old Testament chronology and archeology fall into this “we don’t know everything” category.
  • We cannot force our cultural concept of what is acceptable in narrative literature to match that of Biblical cultures. For example, there are a number of places in the Old Testament where stories are arranged in a non-chronological order. If you try to read Jeremiah, for example, expecting a chronological story of Jeremiah’s life and teaching, you will be hopelessly confused. The book of Jeremiah is arranged topically, with chronology being a secondary consideration. Likewise, none of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) is chronological, as far as we know. This is a source of many apparent contradictions that are not contradictions at all. Did Jesus cleanse the temple at the beginning of his ministry (John 2) or in his final week (Mark 11) (or did he do it twice?). Biblical writers felt free to rearrange events to make certain points. There was nothing dishonest about this, and only our own cultural biases would cause one to call this a contradiction.
  • Differences in wording are not contradictions. Did Jesus say, “Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6) or did he say “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt 5)? Either he said both on different occasions, or the writer paraphrased a bit.
  • Parallel passages are often written in different literary genres. Genesis 1 and 2 are not in the least bit contradictory. Either one of these or both of them are non-chronological, but that does not make them contradictory. A similar example would be Judges 4 and 5, which records the victory of Deborah. Chapter 4 records a narrative of this event, and chapter 5 records the battle in poetic form. One could find all sorts of apparent contradictions between the two chapters, but there are no real contradictions. Poetry is poetry, and narrative is narrative.

These are a few things that help me as I wrestle with the issues of apparent contradictions in the Bible. With application of these principles, most apparent contradictions are easily taken care of. None of the remaining issues are unsolvable.

CONCLUSION #2 — THE ELCA

ELCA_steeple2
As the ELCA was voting on its unbiblical agenda, a tornado knocked the cross off of the steeple of the ELCA church next door to the convention center where they were meeting. ELCA may now stand for Every Liberal Crazy Agenda. "E" cannot be for Evangelical, nor can "L" be for Lutheran.

The sermon by the liberal pastor which pointed out the “contradiction” between John 1 and Matthew 4 was one of the most influential sermons I have heard in my life, though not in a way that the pastor intended. This sermon was preached in a church that was part of the American Lutheran Church (ALC), which was one of the denominations that merged to form today’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). The ALC officially stated belief in Biblical inerrancy, but that was widely ignored. The present apostasy of much of the ELCA—the recent homosexual ordination vote is just one expression of this—had its roots in abandoning Biblical authority decades ago.

This saddens me deeply. First, it saddens me because I grew up in the ALC/ELCA and see that much that was good has been lost. I would love to see the ELCA return to its Biblical Lutheran roots. Second, it saddens me because as an Evangelical, an important part of my heritage includes Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. In fact, unlike most in my denomination, I identify more closely with Luther than with Calvin.

A Lutheran’s perspective on the ELCA’s slide away from Biblical Christianity: How the ELCA Left the Great Tradition for Liberal Protestantism (from Christianity Today). This article points out how the liberals built certain things into the ELCA at its inception, such as a quota system for voting delegates,  that would ensure the triumph of their un-Biblical agenda.

Grace and Peace

Four Teens

As of today, we have four teenagers in the family. Our youngest turned 13 today; our oldest will be 20 in six weeks.

4teens

Having teenagers in the house has been a blessing in many ways. I have enjoyed the maturing relationships I have with each one, and seeing them grow in Christ.

Grace and Peace

Nietzsche Mints

nihilist_mintsFrom ThinkGeek.com: Flavorless Nihilist Mints.

Sigh. Life is without meaning. It is bleak, empty, and anything we assign value to is completely false. We could say, for instance, that these Nihilist Mints symbolize that blankness of meaning, but then that would be a contradiction as we would be saying that Nihilist Mints mean something. They don’t. They are so bleak, they don’t even have flavor. Nihilist Mints are flavorless, just like life. Epic sigh.

Spiritual growth in this life

“This life is not godliness, but growth in godliness; not health, but healing; not being, but becoming; not rest, but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way; the process is not yet finished, but it has begun; this is not the goal, but it is [the] road; at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being purified.”  —  Martin Luther

Grace and peace

HT: Cyberbrethren