The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Serve the poor, serve the Earth

Helping the poor and caring for the creation often go hand in hand. From Scott Sabin of Plant With Purpose: The Connection Between the Poor and the Earth.

Here are a couple quotes:

I frequently get asked how we, as Christians, choose between caring for the poor and caring for creation, as if we have to choose one or the other. As often as I have been asked that question, it still catches me by surprise because my own concern for the earth first grew out of a concern for the poor.

As someone told me recently, creation care seems like a cause for bored middle-class Americans who want to have chickens in their backyard, whereas the poor don’t have the luxury of worrying about their environment. The idea is that environmental issues are primarily aesthetic and fall pretty high up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

However, if you live in a world in which water comes in plastic bottles and food comes from the supermarket, it is easy to see the environment as purely decorative. In the US, we have been able to use our material wealth to purchase several layers of insulation from the earth. Therefore, I believe we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in rural communities throughout the world. They recognize that there is a direct connection between environmental quality and the most basic of needs: food, water and air.

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We quickly learned that the problem was not one of ignorance, but rather a lack of opportunity. I have had more than one poor, illiterate farmer give me an elegant description of how a watershed works. But, as I was told recently in Haiti, they also have a saying that translates to “Either this tree must die or I must die in its place.” Nonetheless, they are aware of the long-term stakes and would do more to care for the environment if they had the opportunity.

Thus, helping to create opportunity – serving the poor – helps to serve the environment and helping to restore the environment serves the poor. Both activities serve the Creator. We need not make a choice between the poor and the earth.

HT: Flourish

Grace and Peace

January 31, 2011 Posted by | Creation Care, Environment, International Development, Missions, Nature, Quotes | | Leave a comment

Seven years of Opportunity

The rover Opportunity has been on the surface of Mars for over seven years now. From Astronomy Picture of the Day for January 29th: Opportunity at Santa Maria Crater.

Credit: Mars Exploration Rover Mission, NASA, JPL, Cornell

The panorama is much more detailed on the APOD site.

The description from APOD:

Celebrating 7 years on the surface of the Red Planet, Mars exploration rover Opportunity now stands near the rim of 90 meter wide Santa Maria crater. Remarkably, Opportunity and its fellow rover Spirit were initially intended for a 3 month long primary mission. Still exploring, the golf cart-sized robot and shadow (far right) appear in the foreground of this panoramic view of its current location. The mosaic was constructed using images from the rover’s navigation camera. On its 7 year anniversary, Opportunity can boast traversing a total of 26.7 kilometers along the martian surface. After investigating Santa Maria crater, controllers plan to have Opportunity resume a long-term trek toward Endurance crater, a large, 22 kilometer diameter crater about 6 kilometers from Santa Maria. During coming days, communication with the rover will be more difficult as Mars moves close to alignment with the Sun as seen from planet Earth’s perspective.

Grace and Peace

January 30, 2011 Posted by | Astronomy, Geology, Space Exploration | , | 2 Comments

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Noah’s flood

The ESV Study Bible is a theologically conservative Evangelical work, and is certainly one of the most comprehensive study Bibles ever produced. It has been out for only three years, but it looks like it will be a highly influential reference work for decades to come. 

One potential positive impact of the ESVSB relates to its treatment of the doctrine of creation. The ESVSB does not take a stand on geological issues such as the age of the Earth or the extent of the flood. In both of these cases it offers cautionary notes that could open the doors to old-Earth interpretations for many readers. The authors of the study notes, though firmly committed to the inspiration of the Scriptures, believe that it is not necessary to hold to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation of Genesis.

My hope and prayer is that, just as the Scofield Reference Bible led many to accept the Gap Theory (rather than young-Earth interpretations) a century ago, so the ESVSB will introduce Christians of our day to alternative viewpoints on Genesis 1, such as the analogical days and day-age interpretations.

This is my third article on the ESV Study Bible’s coverage of issues related to the doctrine of creation. My first two posts were:

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Introduction and Introduction to Genesis

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Genesis 1

ESVStudyBibleThe ESV Study Bible‘s notes on the extent of Noah’s flood are not as comprehensive in some ways as were the notes on Genesis 1, but they still contain a lot of useful information to help the reader better understand the text. I have already noted that the ESVSB’s introductory notes to Genesis state that one should be cautious and not read too much into what the text of Genesis 6-9 says about the extent (global or local?) and work of the flood. The ESVSB Introduction to Genesis states:

One must take similar care in reading the flood story. The notes will discuss the extent to which Moses intended to describe the flood’s coverage of the globe. Certainly the description of the flood implies that it was widespread and catastrophic, but there are difficulties in making confident claims that the account is geared to answering the question of just how widespread. Thus, it would be incautious to attribute to the flood all the geological formations observed today…

The notes on 6:17 discuss the extent of the flood:

Although God intends the flood to destroy every person and his remarks have a strong universal emphasis, this in itself does not necessarily mean that the flood had to cover the whole earth. Since the geographical perspective of ancient people was more limited than that of contemporary readers, it is possible that the flood, while universal from their viewpoint, did not cover the entire globe. Indeed, Genesis implies that prior to the Tower of Babel incident (see 11:1–9), people had not yet spread throughout the earth. Many interpreters, therefore, argue that a huge regional flood may have been all that was necessary for God to destroy all human beings. The expression “all the earth” (7:3; cf. 8:9, “the whole earth”) does not exclude such a possibility: later, “all the earth” came to Joseph to buy grain (41:57), in which “all the earth” clearly refers to the eastern Mediterranean seaboard. In support of the view that the flood covered all the earth, other interpreters point out that the text says that “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered” (7:19) and that the water was “fifteen cubits” above the tops of the mountains. If “the mountains of Ararat” (8:4) refers to the range that includes present-day Mount Ararat in Turkey (elevation 16,854 feet or 5,137 m), the amount of water necessary to cover it would be at least 16,854 feet above sea level.

The first part of this note won’t make all old-Earth advocates happy, and is in line with the writings of Hugh Ross, a prominent day-age interpretation advocate. It does bring out some important considerations:

  • The importance of perspective: from Noah’s perspective, a vast flood in the Persian Gulf/Mesopotamian basin (if that is where the local flood occurred) would have seemed vast, covering everything as far as he could see. That doesn’t mean that the flood necessarily covered the entire spherical earth.
  • Clearly, “all the earth” doesn’t always mean “all the earth” in the Old Testament.
  • The flood did not necessarily have to be global in order to be universal in terms of humanity.

I’ve written more about the extent of Noah’s flood elsewhere.

The second part of the ESVSB note on 6:17 presents what many young-Earth creationists would consider to be a weak case for a global flood. Most of them acknowledge that the flood didn’t have to be over 16,000 feet deep to cover the entire planet if pre-flood mountains were not that tall. But even aside from that, there are other ways to read what the text says about the depth of the flood (click on the “elsewhere” link above).

The notes don’t say much more about the extent of the flood, and say nothing about its work. But enough has been said to show that the text of Genesis 6-9 does not require a global flood, and there is certainly nothing in the text that would lead us to assert on Biblical grounds that the flood laid down the sedimentary rocks that blanket much of the planet.

Grace and Peace

January 29, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Around the web 1/29/2011

Credit: Missouri Department of Conservation

Mountain lion in St. Louis County! — This doesn’t happen too often. A night-time wildlife camera captured a mountain lion in suburban St. Louis, less than ten miles from our home. We’re a little more used to opossums, raccoons, deer, and wild turkeys around here.

I don’t worry too much about mountain lions when hiking in Missouri. I’ve never seen one in the wild while hiking in the West (I’ve lived in Montana, Utah, and Colorado), but I suspect they have seen me.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mountain lion spotted in suburban St. Louis.

From the Missouri Department of Conservation: Chesterfield sighting confirmed to be a mountain lion.

Yellowstone Supervolcano eruption NOT imminent — From National Geographic: Yellowstone Has Bulged as Magma Pocket Swells. The ground within the Yellowstone Caldera has swelled upwards up to ten inches (25 centimeters) as magma slowly intrudes into a magma chamber 10 kilometers beneath the surface.

“At the beginning we were concerned it could be leading up to an eruption,” said [University of Utah geologist] Smith, who co-authored a paper on the surge published in the December 3, 2010, edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

“But once we saw [the magma] was at a depth of ten kilometers, we weren’t so concerned. If it had been at depths of two or three kilometers [one or two miles], we’d have been a lot more concerned.”

Apparently, intrusion into the magma chamber is somewhat cyclical:

Based on geologic evidence, Yellowstone has probably seen a continuous cycle of inflation and deflation over the past 15,000 years, and the cycle will likely continue, Smith said.

Surveys show, for example, that the caldera rose some 7 inches (18 centimeters) between 1976 and 1984 before dropping back about 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) over the next decade.

IBM Supercomputer wins Jeopardy — The 1997 computer victory over chess champion Garry Kasparov was nothing compared to this one. Chess is complex, but the logic of chess is nothing compared to the complexities of language as expressed in the TV gameshow Jeopardy. PCmag.com reports that the Watson supercomputer defeated two Jeopardy champions at the game, which means that the computer could understand the nuances of the categories and questions (actually the answers). The author believes that artificial intelligence (AI) will operate at human levels within two decades, and adds “I for one would then regard it as human.” He continues, “By the time the controversy dies down and it becomes unambiguous that nonbiological intelligence is equal to biological human intelligence, the AIs will already be thousands of times smarter than us.”

From PC Magazine: Why IBM’s Jeopardy Victory Matters (three parts) by Ray Kurzweil.

My questions:

  • Is there more to being human than being able to process information? (The Christian answer is “yes.” Humans are created in the image of God, and some things such as genuine emotions just cannot be programmed.)
  • How long will it be until someone falls in love with a computer? Until someone gets married to a computer?
  • What will stop the Episcopal Church or ELCA from ordaining computers as pastors? (Too bad these denominations don’t require baptism by immersion; that would prevent computers from being eligible for ordination).

HT: John C

Ski Joring Championship — Huh? From the Billings Gazette: World Ski Joring Championships in Whitefish.

The event involves horses and riders pulling a skier who navigates a course with a series of jumps and gates.

Somehow I missed that in the last Winter Olympics.

Stairs are more fun — I almost always take the stairs at work, rather than the elevator. I figure that I climb about 40,000 feet per year, which is more than climbing Mount Everest. But the stairs at work are not this fun…

Grace and Peace

January 29, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Fun, Geology, Montana, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why can’t I just believe the Bible?

I’ve had a number of young-Earth creationists ask me, “Why can’t you just believe the Bible?”

My answer is, “I do believe the Bible. I just don’t believe Answers in Genesis.

Their assumption is because I don’t believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, or that Noah’s flood created most of Earth’s geological features, and a long list of additional young-Earth shibboleths, I don’t really believe the Bible.

Here are some dogmas of young-Earth creationism that are not in the Bible:

  • The Earth is only 6000 years old — There are several ways that conservative, Evangelical scholars look at the meaning of Genesis 1 in terms of how it relates to the age of the Earth. The young-Earth creationist interpretation only one of several reasonable interpretations that are consistent with what the text actually says.
  • No animals died before Adam fell into sin — Look at the relevant passages (Gen 3, Rom 5, Rom 8, 1 Cor 15). None of them say anything about whether or not animals died before sin entered the world. I wrote more about this topic here: Death before the fall — an old-Earth perspective.
  • The Flood was global — The text itself does not require a global flood. I wrote about this here: The YEC “Did God really say…?” tactic.
  • The Flood caused most of Earth’s geological features — Show me that in the Bible! I refuted Answers in Genesis’s best geological arguments for a global flood in my Six Bad Arguments From Answers in Genesis series.
  • Etc…

In each of these cases, young-Earth creationists either read something into the text that isn’t there, or draw dogmatic conclusions where dogmatism isn’t merited.

Answers in Genesis has claimed that they believe the Bible from the very first verse, with the implication that conservative, Bible-loving Christians who differ from them don’t believe the Bible from the very first verse.

The truth is that

  • Those who hold to the day-age interpretation really believe the Bible.
  • Those who hold to the analogical days interpretation really believe the Bible.
  • Those who hold to the gap theory really believe the Bible.
  • Those who hold to the revelatory day interpretation really believe the Bible.
  • Those who hold to the framework hypothesis really believe the Bible.

Like me, they just don’t necessarily believe everything Answers in Genesis has to say about Genesis.

Not everyone who holds to these positions is a conservative Christian who holds to Biblical inerrancy, but then not everyone who holds to young-Earth creationism is even a Christian (young-Earth Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.), so that is rather irrelevant.

I’ll close with my Creation Creed, a short statement of what I do believe about creation. This isn’t everything I believe about creation, but is a good summary.

As an old-Earth creationist
I believe that the universe was created by the triune God of the Bible
I believe that the Bible does not dictate when this creation took place
I believe in a real Adam
in a real garden
in a real fall into sin
in real consequences for that sin
and in Jesus Christ as the only solution for sin
Amen

Grace and Peace

January 28, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 3 Comments

The problem with fanaticism — it’s not what you think

“It’s OK if someone is a Christian, as long as they aren’t fanatical about it.”

We all know what they are talking about. Religion is OK to most people (except to Richard Dawkins and kin), as long as people don’t get fanatical about it.

Fanatics make the news, and it isn’t pretty. Fred Phelps and his band of funeral protesters. Islamic extremists blowing themselves up in a crowded subway station. Perhaps your relative, neighbor, or coworker who is rather pushy or judgmental in your opinion.

Fanaticism among believers is clearly one reason people are turned away from the Christian faith. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, has some good thoughts on fanaticism in his book The Reason for God:

“Pharisaic people [i.e. moral fanatics] assume they are right with God because of their moral behavior and right doctrine. This leads naturally to feelings of superiority toward those who do not share their religiosity, and from there to various forms of abuse, exclusion, and oppression. This is the esence of what we think of as fanaticism.

What if, however, the essence of Christianity is salvation by grace, salvation not because of what we do but because of what Christ has done for us? Belief that you are accepted by God by sheer grace is profoundly humbling. The people who are fanatics, then, are so not because they are too committed to the gospel but because they’re not committed to it enough.

“Think of people you consider fanatical. they’re overbearing, self-righteous, opionionated, insensitive, and harsh. Why? It’s not because they are too Christian but because they are not Christian enough. They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving, or understanding—as Christ was. Because they think of Christianity as a self -improvement program they emulate the Jesus of the whips in the temple, but not the Jesus who said, ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’ (John 8:7). What strike us as overly fanatical is actually a failure to be fully committed to Christ and his gospel.

—from Chapter 4: The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice (emphasis added)

God, help me to be a fanatically loving, forgiving, serving, understanding, and humble. Help me to be increasingly committed to Christ, and therefore to be fanatic about loving the people I come into contact with.

Grace and Peace

January 27, 2011 Posted by | Apologetics, Christianity, Ethics | , , , | Leave a comment

I touched Mars and survived!

I had the privilege of visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History a few months ago and got to touch a piece of Mars!

Naklha meteorite

The Naklha meteorite fell to the Earth near Alexandria, Egypt, in 1911, and is most famous for killing a dog (no human has been killed by a meteorite in recorded history). Click here for reasons why scientists believe this meteorite came from Mars rather than elsewhere, such as the asteroid belt.

I also got to touch a rock from the oldest piece of crust on the Earth. The museum has a sample of the Acasta Gneiss from the Canadian Shield, which is close to 4 billion years old.

Acasta Gneiss

Touching these was actually a rather moving experience for me.

Grace and Peace

January 26, 2011 Posted by | Astronomy, Geology | , | Leave a comment

Creation care quotes from Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II had much to say about the environment and human responsibility for good stewardship of the creation. Here are a few quotes:

“When man turns his back on the Creator’s plan, he provokes a disorder which has inevitable repercussions on the rest of the created order. If man is not at peace with God, then earth itself cannot be at peace.” — Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation

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“The seriousness of ecological degradation lays bare the depth of man’s moral crisis… Simplicity, moderation, and discipline as well as the spirit of sacrifice must become a part of everyday life.” — Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation

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“Around the world, we can see the results of exploitation which destroys much without taking future generations into account. Today, all men have a duty to show themselves worthy of the mission given them by the Creator by ensuring the safekeeping of that creation.” — press conference, Antannanarivo, Malagasy Republic

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“Christians will want to be in the vanguard in favoring ways of life that decisively break with the exhausting and joyless frenzy of consumerism.” — speech at Yankee Stadium

Quotes are taken from The Green Bible introduction: Teachings on Creation Throughout the Ages

Grace and Peace

January 25, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Creation Care, Environment, Nature | | Leave a comment

Another diminishing resource

Credit: Derek Jensen, Wikipedia: Helium

Helium. The second most abundant element in the entire universe. And a limited natural resource here on Earth.

From the February 2011 print edition of National Geographic (page 22): the US Government’s helium reserve has dwindled from 32 billion cubic feet in 1991 to 19 billion cubic feet in 2008.

The United States’ (and the world’s) main source for helium has been from natural gas wells in Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Helium produced by radioactive decay in granitic rocks beneath the Great Plains seeps upward and is trapped in the overlying layers of sedimentary rocks along with methane produced within the sedimentary layers. Helium production from those fields has been declining.

The American Chemical Society has a page on the discovery of helium in natural gas in the late 1800s, a few years after the element was discovered through a study of spectral lines in light from the sun. According to the ACS page, townspeople in Dexter Kansas wished to celebrate the drilling of a “howler” of a gas well by lighting the gas flow from the well to create “a great pillar of flame from the burning well will light the entire countryside for a day and a night.” The problem was, the gas wouldn’t light. Further investigation by geologists and chemists revealed the existence of helium in the gas.

What does the downward trend in helium supply mean for the future? The National Geographic article suggests $100 for a helium party balloon.

Grace and Peace

P.S. I couldn’t find the brief article online.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | Environment, Geology | | Leave a comment

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Genesis 1

The following item was originally posted on The GeoChristian in November 2009, and I have added it to my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries, with some editing.

I am re-using this post about the ESV Study Bible for a couple reasons. The first is because the ESV Study Bible is a theologically conservative Evangelical work, yet it presents a wide range of interpretations of the opening chapters of Genesis. The authors of the study notes, though firmly committed to the inspiration of the Scriptures, believe that it is not necessary to hold to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation of Genesis.

My other reason for using this post over again is because I feel that I didn’t really follow through on my original intentions. I had planned a multiple-part series on the doctrine of creation as presented in the ESV Study Bible, but ended after only two posts (this is the second of those). I plan on extending this series in the upcoming months.

ESVStudyBibleA few weeks ago, I looked at what the ESV Study Bible had to say about the doctrine of creation in its introduction to the book of Genesis (click here). The ESV Study Bible Introduction to Genesis gives an overview of the various interpretations (calendar-day, day-age, etc.), a discussion about the relationship between Genesis and science, a statement on the historicity of Adam and Eve, and cautionary notes about interpreting the account of Noah’s flood.

The ESV Study Bible is the product of theologically conservative Biblical scholars who are committed to the inerrancy of the Bible, but it clearly does not advocate young-Earth creationism. It does not endorse any of the old-Earth alternatives either, though the notes seem to point in some places to the “analogical days” interpretation (for example, see the notes on 1:3-5 below). I think this is highly significant. Just as the influential Scofield Reference Bible of 1909 lead many to accept the “gap theory” and dispensationalism, so the conservative credentials of the ESV Study Bible could open up the eyes of many to the merits of old-Earth interpretations in general, and more specifically, the analogical days interpretation.

Here are some highlights from the notes on Genesis 1 (emphasis in the original):

1:1-11:26 Primeval History — In contrast to the patriarchal stories, however, other ancient nonbiblical stories do exist recounting stories about both creation and the flood. The existence of such stories, however, does not in any way challenge the authority or the inspiration of Genesis. In fact, the nonbiblical stories stand in sharp contrast to the biblical account, and thus help readers appreciate the unique nature and character of the biblical accounts of creation and the flood. In other ancient literary traditions, creation is a great struggle often involving conflict between the gods. […] Reading Genesis, readers can see that it is designed to refute these delusions. There is only one God, whose word is almighty. He has only to speak and the world comes into being. The sun and moon are not gods in their own right, but are created by the one God. This God does not need feeding by man, as the Babylonians believed they did by offering sacrifices, but he supplies man with food. It is human sin, not divine annoyance, that prompts the flood. Far from Babylon’s tower (Babel) reaching heaven, it became a reminder that human pride could neither reach nor manipulate God. These principles, which emerge so clearly in Genesis 1–11, are truths that run through the rest of Scripture. The unity of God is fundamental to biblical theology, as is his almighty power, his care for mankind, and his judgment on sin. It may not always be obvious how these chapters relate to geology and archaeology, but their theological message is very clear. Read in their intended sense, they provide the fundamental presuppositions of the rest of Scripture. These chapters should act as eyeglasses, so that readers focus on the points their author is making and go on to read the rest of the Bible in light of them.

1:3-5 — By a simple reading of Genesis, these days must be described as days in the life of God, but how his days relate to human days is more difficult to determine.

1:6-8 — Water plays a crucial role in ancient Near Eastern creation literature. In Egypt, for example, the creator-god Ptah uses the preexistent waters (personified as the god Nun) to create the universe. The same is true in Mesopotamian belief: it is out of the gods of watery chaos—Apsu, Tiamat, and Mummu—that creation comes. The biblical creation account sits in stark contrast to such dark mythological polytheism. In the biblical account, water at creation is no deity; it is simply something God created, and it serves as material in the hands of the sole sovereign Creator.

Gen. 1:14–19 — This section corresponds closely with the ordering of Day and Night on the first day, involving the separation of light and darkness (vv. 3–5). Here the emphasis is on the creation of lights that will govern time, as well as providing light upon the earth (v. 15). By referring to them as the greater light and lesser light (v. 16), the text avoids using terms that were also proper names for pagan deities linked to the sun and the moon. Chapter 1 deliberately undermines pagan ideas regarding nature’s being controlled by different deities. (To the ancient pagans of the Near East, the gods were personified in various elements of nature. Thus, in Egyptian texts, the gods Ra and Thoth are personified in the sun and the moon, respectively.) The term made (Hb. ‘asah, v. 16), as the esv footnote shows, need only mean that God “fashioned” or “worked on” them; it does not of itself imply that they did not exist in any form before this. Rather, the focus here is on the way in which God has ordained the sun and moon to order and define the passing of time according to his purposes.

1:27 — There has been debate about the expression image of God. Many scholars point out the idea, commonly used in the ancient Near East, of the king who was the visible representative of the deity; thus the king ruled on behalf of the god. Since v. 26 links the image of God with the exercise of dominion over all the other creatures of the seas, heavens, and earth, one can see that humanity is endowed here with authority to rule the earth as God’s representatives or vice-regents (see note on v. 28). Other scholars, seeing the pattern of male and female, have concluded that humanity expresses God’s image in relationship, particularly in well-functioning human community, both in marriage and in wider society. Traditionally, the image has been seen as the capacities that set man apart from the other animals—ways in which humans resemble God, such as in the characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, and creativity in all forms of art. All these insights can be put together by observing that the resemblances (man is like God in a series of ways) allow mankind to represent God in ruling, and to establish worthy relationships with God, with one another, and with the rest of the creation. This “image” and this dignity apply to both “male and female” human beings. (This view is unique in the context of the ancient Near East. In Mesopotamia, e.g., the gods created humans merely to carry out work for them.)

1:28 — God’s creation plan is that the whole earth should be populated by those who know him and who serve wisely as his vice-regents or representatives. subdue it and have dominion. The term “subdue” (Hb. kabash) elsewhere means to bring a people or a land into subjection so that it will yield service to the one subduing it (Num. 32:22, 29). Here the idea is that the man and woman are to make the earth’s resources beneficial for themselves, which implies that they would investigate and develop the earth’s resources to make them useful for human beings generally. This command provides a foundation for wise scientific and technological development; the evil uses to which people have put their dominion come as a result of Genesis 3. over every living thing. As God’s representatives, human beings are to rule over every living thing on the earth. These commands are not, however, a mandate to exploit the earth and its creatures to satisfy human greed, for the fact that Adam and Eve were “in the image of God” (1:27) implies God’s expectation that human beings will use the earth wisely and govern it with the same sense of responsibility and care that God has toward the whole of his creation.

My purpose here is primarily to look at the ESV Study Bible as it relates to topics such as Earth history. It is certainly an excellent study resource, no matter where one stands on the age of the Earth issue, and will help anyone to grow in their knowledge of God and his Word.

Grace and Peace

January 23, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Blog Recycling, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | Leave a comment

Fifty million little leaguers and pianists later

Almost twenty years ago I got into a discussion about abortion with a female coworker in the break room. I’m not sure how the topic came up; I don’t go around looking for controversial topics to debate with my coworkers.

She was in her mid- to late-twenties, and like me, was at the beginning of a rewarding career with good pay and benefits. I had overheard her before talking about abortion rights, and knew that she was rather outspoken on the topic. She knew that I was a Christian, so I assume she knew I was pro-life. She explained to me that she had had an abortion as a college student. She was pregnant by a man she didn’t really care about. She asked me, “Where would I be now if I hadn’t had an abortion?” She explained that she probably wouldn’t have finished her college education, and therefore wouldn’t have the good job she had now.

I don’t remember what I said, but I clearly remember what I was thinking. I remember thinking that things may have worked out just fine for her; she was intelligent and hard working and she may have found a way to get a start in a good career. Maybe, maybe not. But the thought that stood out most was another answer to the question “Where would I be now?”  She was thinking entirely in terms of career and economics. Now, these are important, but are they the only important things in one’s life? Are they the most important things? My answer to “Where would I be now?” —at least in my mind—was, “Perhaps you would be at a little league baseball game or at a piano recital.”

This frames the question in the right way, as a moral question—“What is it that is being done in an abortion?”—rather than “What’s it going to cost me to have a baby?” There is a cost to keeping a baby (and a cost to the moral decision to have sex in the first place), but the more significant question is “What is this thing inside of a mother’s womb?” What is inside the womb will grow up some day to be a little league baseball player, a pianist, a friend, a lover, a parent, someone who contributes to the world in unimaginable ways.

Or that life can be extinguished so someone can have a better career.

I didn’t say any of this. Perhaps I am too nice at times, not wanting to upset others. But I’m saying it now, and hope and pray that some other scared mother will choose to save her baby, and experience the blessings of parenting.

Grace and Peace

P.S. Today, January 22, is the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court decision that legalized most abortions in the United States. Since that time over fifty million abortions have been performed in this country.

January 22, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Ethics | , | Leave a comment

Video: 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes

A four minute video on world wealth and health that is a more interesting presentation of statistics than the norm:

The video ends on an optimistic note: everything is getting better and better, even for those down at the bottom. I would be more cautious: while life expectancy has improved for all but the poorest of the poor, there are still a billion people down at the bottom who have been left behind. And there is no guarantee that the trend will continue, as development runs into the walls of energy and water shortages, and with the ever-present risk of conflict, disease, and general human folly.

HT: Don R


This graph, along with many others, is available in an interactive format at gapminderworld.org. For example, the GDP per capita/life expectancy graph from the 200 Countries video can be stopped or run backwards, and you can point to individual dots to see what country is represented. For example, I followed the “South Africa” dot and watched it move from 61 years life expectancy in the mid-1980s to 50 years at present (a result largely of the ongoing AIDS crisis).

The X and Y axes of the chart can be changed to all sorts of things related to health, population, economics, education, the environment, and others. For example, here is a graph showing the relationship between adult female literacy rates and child mortality rates. The graph shows that Chad has the lowest adult female literacy rate (21%) and the highest infant mortality rate (209 child deaths per 1000 births).

Data can also be portrayed as a map. This map can run showing population changes from 1555 to 2030:

Grace and Peace

January 22, 2011 Posted by | Geography, Health, International Development | Leave a comment

Around the web 1/21/2011

A few items from the many tabs I have open in my browser…

Credit: Tracy, Wikipedia: Woolly Mammoth

Mammoths in the meadows? — Japanese researchers hope to replace the nucleus of a fertilized elephant egg cell with the nucleus of a woolly mammoth, then implant the cell in an elephant’s womb to create a living woolly mammoth. This is much more feasible than the scenario in Jurassic Park, as we have what should be pretty close to intact woolly mammoth cells, recovered from frozen carcasses in Siberia. From Yahoo News/AFP: Researchers aim to resurrect mammoth in five years.

Moral blind spots — What things do we accept as normal that future generations will look at as morally reprehensible? Kwame Anthony Appiah asks that question on the Washington Post site: What will future generations condemn us for? Appiah comes up with the following list:

  1. Our prison system
  2. Industrial meat production
  3. The institutionalized and isolated elderly
  4. The environment

Amy Hall at Stand to Reason Blog comments, “I think Appiah misses the key element of these past atrocities [slavery and lynching]: they involved a denial of intrinsic human value in a particular group of human beings.”

What would I add to the list? Global poverty — Over a billion people without adequate food, clean water, sanitation, education, security, etc.

A missions leader I know recently wrote:

In a world that is cruel to the marginalized, where cycles of poverty keep generations in often hopeless circumstances, where basic needs like clean water, sanitation and a meal a day can be only dreamed of and where corrupt governments, officials and institutions deny basic justice we need to be reminded of the heart of God. The prophet Micah said it cogently: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Global Warming Trends — NASA reports that 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year on record: Earth Observatory — Different Records, Same Warming Trend.

Diamonds do not form from coal — Geology.com addresses this common misconception: How Do Diamonds Form? (Somewhat related: a refutation of the young-Earth creationist assertion that carbon-14 in coal proves that the Earth is young can be found here: Carbon-14 in Coal Deposits).

Religious discrimination in academia — From The Evangelical Ecologist: Stars Shine on Christian Researcher — The University of Kentucky discriminated against astronomer C. Martin Gaskell because he is a Christian, and they left an e-mail trail as proof.

Cleansing the internet — I think this is a great idea: having the default internet service pornography-free. If you want porn, you would specifically have to ask for it as part of your internet package. This could happen in the near future in the United Kingdom. From Cranach: Default blocking of all internet porn. This would not be censorship, as a person who wanted access to pornography as part of their internet package could still request it. One reason I think it would be a great idea: young people in our society are exposed to way too much sexual content that they are not ready for, as in this news report: Calif school eyes accounts of sex by 2nd graders.

Grace and Peace

January 21, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Ethics, Geology | , , | Leave a comment

Renewable by 2030?

From National Geographic: Going “All the Way”: With Renewable Energy?

In a world where fossil fuel provides more than 80 percent of energy, what would it take to go completely green? Could the world switch over to power from only the wind, sun, waves, and heat from the Earth in only a few decades?

The article explores what it would take to get 100% of the world’s energy needs by 2030, and looks at a few of the obstacles. The researchers highlighted in the article propose doing all of this without reliance on biofuels or nuclear energy.

I believe that we must switch to renewable energy sources, and the sooner the better. Our present over-dependence on fossil fuels is bad for the economy, bad for the environment, and bad for national and world security. The solution isn’t “drill baby drill,” and it isn’t just sitting around and letting the market take care of our problems (the market tends to be rather blind to the future on things like this). We need energy policies that have our great-great-great grandchildren in mind, not just the next election.

Here are a few of my thoughts and questions:

  • Why try to go 100% without biofuels?
  • Why try to go 100% without nuclear? I’m not a huge fan of nuclear energy, but recognize it as a useful transitional energy source.
  • Being that wind/solar/waves/geothermal only account for 3% of our energy now, is it realistic to aim for 100% renewable by 2030?
  • For a more realistic target, could we aim for 50% (or some other number) dependence on renewable energy sources by 2030?
  • Many of these renewable technologies require other resources that are in short supply, such as rare earth elements. What will the negative consequences of a rapid move to 100% renewable be? (And what are the negative consequences of the status quo?)

Grace and Peace

HT: The Green Life

January 21, 2011 Posted by | Energy, Environment, Technology | , , , | 7 Comments

EFCA Theology Conference — Genesis 1-3

A brief note about the Evangelical Free Church of America Theology Conference was posted on Facebook this morning:

EFCA – Evangelical Free Church of America With wit and wisdom, Dr. Kaiser opened the EFCA Theology Conference with three principles required by a study of Genesis 1-3 which must inform our theology of creation.
1) This world had a absolute beginning (“in the beginning, God created the universe”).
2) The method of creation was “God spoke it into existence.”
3)… There was a climatic event in history prior to the fall of Adam evidenced by the appearance in the garden of “the serpent.”

Good to be forced to think deeply so we can serve faithfully.

Dr. Walter Kaiser is a noted Evangelical Old Testament Scholar. Wish I were there.

Grace and Peace

January 20, 2011 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, Old-Earth creationism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arthur C. Clarke and GPS

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke was not only one of the first persons to conceive of geostationary communications satellites, he may have also been the first to come up with the idea of the Global Positioning System (GPS). From the Winter 2010/2011 issue of ArcNews: Rendezvous with Reality — Arthur C. Clarke Sees the Future.

Author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke was known worldwide for his science fiction writings, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rendezvous with Rama, but he was also one of the most important visionaries of the last century-most notably, he originated the concept of the geostationary communications satellite in 1945. In 1956, however, Clarke wrote a letter to Andrew G. Haley, president of the American Rocket Society, where he described one potential use for a geostationary communications satellite, to create a “position-finding grid whereby anyone on earth could locate himself by means of a couple of dials on an instrument about the size of a watch”-what we now know as GPS.

The print edition of ArcNews contains a copy of the origin letter along with a transcription. Here’s part of what Clarke wrote:

My general conclusions are that perhaps in 30 years the orbital relay system may take over all the functions of existing surface networks and provide others quite impossible today. For example, the three stations in the 24-hour orbit could provide not only an interference and censorship-free global TV service for the same power as a single modern transmitter, but could also make possible a position-finding grid whereby anyone on earth could locate himself by means of a couple of dials on an instrument about the size of a watch. (A development of Decca and transistorisation.) It might even make possible world-wide person-to-person radio with automatic dialling. Thus no-one on the planet need ever get lost or become out of touch with the community, unless he wanted to be. I’m still thinking about the social consequences of this!

I like that: “No-one on the planet need ever get lost… unless he wanted to be.”

For some reason, the PDF version of ArcNews has a couple of advertisements on page 27 in place of the article on Clarke.

Grace and Peace

P.S. Note that the link to Global Positioning System above takes you to a U.S. Government site written in Chinese. A sign of the times.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | Geography, Maps, Technology | , , | Leave a comment

Airplanes of the future?

From FoxNews: NASA Shows Off Planes of the Future

Grace and Peace

January 20, 2011 Posted by | General, Technology | Leave a comment

Quote from T.S. Eliot — nature and theology

From T.S. Eliot’s essay, “The Idea of a Christian Society”:

A wrong attitude toward nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude toward God.

Grace and Peace

January 19, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Environment, Nature | Leave a comment

Operation World — missions and the Earth and environmental sciences

One of the most significant influences that directed me into missionary service (my family served with ReachGlobal—the international mission of the Evangelical Free Church of America—from 2002 to 2008) was when we purchased a copy of Operation World back in the early days of our marriage. This book is a day-by-day prayer guide to the nations. For example, April 4 is Chile, and June 19-July 4 is India. This book helped open our eyes to both the needs and opportunities to advance the Kingdom of God through evangelism and related ministries around the globe.

The 7th edition of Operation World came out just a few months ago, and God is using it to get me thinking more about missions.

The first section (January 1-11) contains an overview of what is going on in the entire world. As on the pages for individual countries, the section on the world begins with answers to prayer:

  • “The unprecedented harvest of new believers continues across Africa, Asia and Latin America, in contrast to the relative stagnation or decline in the rest of the world.”
  • “The concept of Christianity as a European ‘White-man’s religion’ is demonstrably a myth. Though sometimes small in number, all but concealed, or mostly members of a minority people group, there are now Christians living and fellowshipping in every country on earth.”
  • “Evangelical Christianity grew at a rate faster than any other world religion or global religious movement.”
  • “The gospel took root within hundreds of the world’s least reached people groups.”
  • “Give thanks for… A more holistic understanding of evangelical mission within the Church. Ministry that cares for orphans and widows, uplifts the poor, brings liberty to the oppressed and sets captives free reflects the heart of God.”
  • And many other answers to prayer: the growth of non-western missions, cooperation between missionaries from different countries and denominations, Bible translation (95% of the world has access to the Bible in a language they know).

Being that this is “The GeoChristian,” I want to draw attention to some ways that Christian ministry around the world is affected by the Earth and environmental sciences (and thus how Christian Earth and environmental scientists can minister to the world). Here are some Earth and environment-related quotes:

Increased levels of consumption, especially when adopted by the billions of people in Asia, may push the already-stretched resources of the world over the brink. The world must be weaned off its reliance upon fossil fuels and extraction economies (mining, logging, fishing, others), and more sustainable alternatives must be developed, especially as massive new economies in the Majority World push hard to catch up to the West.

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Threats to human health, including disease. HIV/AIDS has been the high profile disease of the past 20 years, but treatments, increasing awareness and changing behaviour patterns see infection rates declining. Cancer continues to take many lives all over the world. New, resistant strains of old diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis, are spreading. HIV, SARS and H5N1 are examples of recent pandemics; fears abound of new ones, more virulent and deadly. Less glamorously, diseases associated with malnutrition, poverty, unclean water supplies and lack of sanitation are even greater threats to children—pneumonia, diarrhoea, TB and others. Included in this is malaria, which kills as many people globally as AIDS and has a similarly devastating effect on economies. Air and water pollution probably contribute to as many deaths annually as all of these diseases combined.

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Energy research is possibly the highest profile and most globally important area needing technological progress. Fossil fuels are highly polluting, nuclear power dangerous and alternative energies—such as bio-fuels, solar, wind and wave—are as yet inefficient and inadequate. More than ever before, finding efficient, safe, non-polluting, renewable energy sources is attracting greater research and investment. A breakthrough in energy technology would transform the world’s economy and ecology.

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Water will be among the world’s most crucial issues in the future. Given that sufficient fresh water exists globally to sustain humanity (even if the locations of water sources and human population do not match up well), the salient issues on a global level are more about ethics, equity, distribution and consumption.

a) Access to clean water. Already, around one in six people lacks access to safe drinking water; by 2025, it is estimated that three billion will lack access to fresh water. Additionally, nearly one in three lacks access to adequate sanitation, and this in turn contributes greatly to disease, malnutrition and mortality, especially among children.

b) Current wastefulness. The developed world uses more than 30 times more water per person than the developing world. And the vast bulk of water waste is through inefficient agricultural systems, which account for 70% of humanity’s use of fresh water. Even diets (such as high consumption of red meat) that require much more water are a source of inequitable water use; the aspirations of most of the world to Western lifestyles, consumption levels and industrial output will generate even more waste and place even greater stresses on water supplies.

c) Future societal and demographic changes. The large majority of future population growth will be in areas where safe water is in short supply. This, combined with ever greater industrialization (greater demands for water) and urbanization (population moving further from clean water sources), means that demands on water supplies will be even more intense in the future.

d) Over-exploitation of limited water resources is poised to become a serious problem in the USA, Australia, southern Europe, South Asia, China and much of Africa. Aquifers are overtapped and rivers are running dry. Water-rich countries such as Canada and Russia are moving to secure their own vast supplies of fresh water. Tension and even conflict already exist over:

i. The Amu Darya/Oxus of Central Asia.

ii. The Tigris-Euphrates (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran).

iii. The Jordan (Israel, Syria, Jordan).

iv. The Nile (Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia).

v. The nations to the north and south of the Sahara Desert.

These factors combined spell out the inevitability of increasing tensions over limited water supplies, of greater pressure to reduce waste and make desalinization more efficient and of the drive behind massive levels of migration

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Demands for other natural resources, when combined with population growth and increasing levels of consumption, are at the core of what will make or break human civilization’s progress in the 21st century.

a) Energy consumption is still vastly dominated by non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. Until greener and more renewable sources can be developed to a level that makes them feasible alternatives, nuclear power might be the only other alternative.

b) Food production is another area where great changes are afoot. Genetically modified crops, the environmental impact of current agricultural systems and current trends in global dietary patterns all raise serious economic, environmental and ethical questions—from organic foods to raising cattle to fishing. The existence of food is not a problem for the world’s masses; at the heart of most problems are the amount of waste and the cost and difficulty of production and distribution. Growing crops for fuel, rather than food, intensifies these troubles.

c) Other natural resources are also being rapidly depleted. Some resources, such as old-growth hardwood trees, can be renewed, though not nearly at the speed demanded by consumption. Others, such as minerals, are non-renewable, yet they are being extracted and used at increasing rates.

—————————————-

Climate change is now generally accepted as having a human causal component. Population growth, rapid industrialization and increasing consumption have an undeniable environmental/ecological impact. The negative implications of possible global warming are: desertification, soil exhaustion, greater frequency of natural disasters such as flooding and drought, water table salinization, flooding in low-lying coastal systems, massive loss of habitat for millions of species and unprecedented human migration. The staggering scale of waste and pollution—from plastics to pesticides to hormones and more—affects our water systems, our climate and even our biology. Despite the fact that humans still know little about these complex dynamics, green ethics have almost become a religion in themselves, the adherence to which is demanded in much of the developed world. However, it has also fostered in the Church the rightful and necessary development of a theology of Creation stewardship and compelled Christians to reconsider how biblical our lifestyles are.

Water, energy, food production, climate change. These are critical subjects that will effect the church and the entire world in the 21st century. Will Christians be right in the thick of research, action, and advocacy, or will we leave that to someone else (while billions suffer)?

Operation World can be purchased from Amazon.com and many other places. Buy it and pray for the nations.

Grace and Peace

January 18, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Energy, Environment, Ethics, Future, Geology, Health, Missions | , , , | 3 Comments

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr. is celebrated in the United States for his vision and leadership in the civil rights movement. In my previous post, I argued that Christianity provides a much more solid foundation for human rights than secularism, and Martin Luther King’s Biblically-based arguments for equality illustrate this nicely. He did not argue that African-Americans should have the same rights in America as Whites because it just seems right (the secular “natural law” basis for human rights) or because society would work better that way (a secular “social contract” approach) but because God has created all humans with intrinsic dignity and worth.

One of King’s most famous works was his Letter from Birmingham Jail, which was written in response to clergy who thought King was being extreme in his quest for equality under the law. It is worth reading in its entirety, but here are some quotes I would like to share in honor of Dr. King’s legacy:

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

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Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

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Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

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We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.

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How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.

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Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.

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I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.

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I have tried to stand between these two forces [black complacency and violent black nationalism], saying that we need emulate neither the “do-nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.

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But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

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…too many others [white religious leaders] have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

May our eyes be open to the injustices that still pervade this world of sin, and may we be moved to prayer and action.

Grace and Peace

January 17, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Ethics | , , , | 2 Comments