GeoScriptures – Matthew 13:1-23 – Pedogenesis and the parable of the sower

“And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” – Matthew 13:3-9 (ESV)

stelprdb1237727
A rocky desert soil (aridisol).

Some people are more receptive to the Word of God and the Gospel than others. Jesus explains the meaning of the parable of the sower in verses 18-23: The seed is the Word of God, the hard path represents those with no receptivity to the gospel, and the rocky and weedy ground represents those who have only a passing or shallow interest in the gospel. The good soil represents those who receive the gospel gladly and let it put down deep, lasting roots, resulting in varying degrees of crop-bearing.

We may be discouraged when those we know and love have hearts that are hard like a well-worn path, or who turn away because of peer pressure or worldly pleasures. In these situations, be encouraged that just as God has designed the physical world so that fertile soil can develop from solid rock, so also God works in hard hearts to bring people to saving knowledge of his Son.

inzeptisol
A poorly developed soil (inceptisol) that could develop into a better soil over time.

Pedogenesis (from the Greek pedon, meaning soil or earth, and genesis, meaning origin) is the process of forming a soil. A soil is a surface layer of unconsolidated mineral and organic matter that has been modified over time from its parent material. The concept of pedogenesis tells us that soils are dynamic features which change over time. Every soil on Earth has developed from pre-existing rocks or sediments. Some soils develop from solid rock, such as granite or limestone, and other soils develop from unconsolidated material like floodplain sand and gravel or windblown silt.

There are a wide range of types of soils on Earth, which can be broadly classified as tropical, desert, temperate grassland, temperate forest, and polar soils. Within a given region, or even within a 40-acre field, the properties of a soil change from place to place.  Each distinct soil has a history, and came to be what it is now by the influence of five soil-forming factors:

  1. Parent material – A soil formed from granite will be different than a soil formed from fine volcanic ash.
  2. Climate – Temperature and moisture strongly influence what kind of soil will form in any given place. A tropical soil is very different from a polar soil, and a desert soil is very different from a temperate forest soil.
  3. Relief – Soil formed on a shady slope will be different than a soil on a sunny slope, and both will be different than a soil formed in an adjacent plain.
  4. Organisms – The development of a soil is also affected by the community of organisms that live in or on the soil: plants, animals (such as earthworms), bacteria, and fungi.
  5. Time – Given enough time, solid rock may be weathered down to form a rich agricultural or forest soil.
stelprdb1237739
A fertile grasslands soil (mollisol) with an organic-rich topsoil (A horizon).

I like to think of the parable of the sower in terms of the soil-forming factors of pedogenesis. Just as bare rock can develop into an agricultural soil over time, so also hearts that are hard can be transformed into receptive and crop-bearing hearts through a process of spiritual pedogenesis. I propose five spiritual soil-forming factors which can transform a person from being barren rock or weedy soil into a fruit-bearing follower of Christ:

  1. Listening – We want to tell people about Jesus, but at the beginning we may simply need to be better listeners than talkers. Just as the starting point for a soil might be solid rock, we might need to be better at understanding the starting point of the people we are seeking to point to Christ.
  2. Love – Love is the climate that can take a heart of granite and modify it to be a fertile mix of sand, silt, clay, and organic material that allows the seeds of the Word to germinate and grow.
  3. Apologetics – Soils develop differently on different sides of a ridge. Apologetics is the branch of theology that provides evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity. In the physical world, soils do not move from one side of a hill to the other, but with spiritual soil development, we can help people move to a sunnier side of the hill help where they may see things from a new perspective.
  4. Community – Just as a diverse biological community of worms, roots, and soil bacteria can shape and enrich a soil, so a loving and serving Christian community can draw people in where their hearts and minds can become receptive to Jesus.
  5. Time – Whether it takes hours or decades, God can change hearts and minds about the gospel.

Ultimately, the softening of hearts and the conversion of souls to Christ is a work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be doing a work of spiritual pedogenesis in the unbelieving hearts of those around you.

Grace and Peace


Notes

This GeoScriptures essay is not meant to be an exegesis of the parable of the sower, but my own personal meditation on the text. No analogy is perfect, and I am certain that this once could be improved on.

I gave five broad categories of soils, which is what I presented in my middle-school textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home. Soil scientists in the United States use a more advanced classification called Soil Taxonomy, which has twelve soil orders, with names like mollisols, ultisols, aridisols, and spodosols. These soil orders may be divided into suborders, great groups, subgroups, families, and series.

Aridisol picture — public domain, USDA, http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/survey/class/maps/?cid=nrcs142p2_053594

Inceptisol picture — public domain, USDA, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Inzeptisol.jpg

Mollisol picture — public domain, USDA, http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/survey/class/maps/?cid=nrcs142p2_053603

Copyright © 2019 Kevin Nelstead, GeoChristian.com

How can I say I believe the Bible if I don’t believe it all “literally?”

Someone on a social media site recently asked me, “How can you say you believe the Bible and then in the same breath declare that [Genesis 1] may not be literal?”

My answer:

“Is everything in the Bible literal? I would say that not even everything in Genesis 1 is literal, and I say this for reasons that flow from the text of Genesis 1 itself. God’s speech is not the same as human speech, so God’s speech is not necessarily “literal.” God’s rest is not the same as human rest (humans rest because they are tired; God rested because he was done), so God’s rest is not necessarily “literal.” And, as Bible-believing scholars have pointed out throughout church history, the days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily “literal” days, being that the sun did not appear to mark the passage of days until day four. So for me to interpret the days of Genesis more loosely than you do does not mean that I do not believe the Bible. It does mean that there is more than one way to honestly interpret the meaning of the opening chapters of Genesis.”

Grace and Peace

Facebook comment thread: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=679429282226469&id=224603031042432

RTB review of Earth Science textbook

Reasons to Believe (old-Earth Christian apologetics organization of Hugh Ross et al.) has a nice review of my new textbook Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home.

“Overall, Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home is an outstanding textbook to add to an old-earth science curriculum. Compared to a few years ago, we now have a rich well of resources to draw from for teaching science to young students, whether it is in formal classrooms at a Christian school or in homeschooling environments. As a matter of fact, this particular book, while excellent at teaching concepts for its intended middle school audience, could even be used at the community college level. Anyone looking for an earth science textbook for junior high or high schoolers should definitely consider this book. The straightforward writing keeps the focus on the science. Yet, as students might discover, science (as a study of God’s creation) should engender the soul and the mind to worship the Creator.”

Thank you to Dan Bakken for taking the time to review the book, and to Reasons to Believe for publishing the review.

Grace and Peace

Biologos interview

The folks at Biologos.org have interviewed me regarding Earth Science: God’s World, Our Home, my new middle school textbook published by Novare Science and Math.

http://biologos.org/blogs/chris-stump-equipping-educators/new-science-textbook-celebrates-ancient-age-of-earth-from-christian-perspective

earthscience

Lessons from the friendship between a Christian and an atheist

Faith_of_CHIn the early 2000s, a new movement of vocal atheists arose, committed with religious fervor to the propagation of their faith that there is no God, and imagining that the world would be a much better place if religion would just go away. One event that vitalized this crusade of “New Atheists” was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, undertaken by Islamic radicals. After 911, many secularists lumped all religious believers together as part of the problem of violence throughout the world.

There were four leading New Atheists, sometimes named the Four Horseman of the Non-
Apocalypse. These were Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. Each of these authored books attacking religious belief as nonsensical and dangerous, including the best-selling The God Delusion by Dawkins.

Christopher Hitchens’ best-selling book attacking religious belief was God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens, like the other New Atheist evangelists, was involved in a number of debates with defenders of religion. What many people do not know is that Hitchens developed close relationships with some of the Christians with whom he debated. One of these Christians was a man by the name of Larry Alex Taunton, a Christian apologist (defender of the faith) with an organization called Fixed Point Foundation. In 2010, as Hitchens was suffering from terminal cancer, Hitchens and Taunton held their one-and-only debate in my home town of Billings, Montana. Why Billings? Apparently Hitchens had never been to Montana, and the debate gave him an excuse to travel there.

Hitchens passed away on December 15, 2011, one year after his debate with Larry Taunton. Last week on March 24, 2016, Taunton returned to the Babcock Theater in Billings, the same stage where he and Hitchens had previously debated, to promote his new book about his relationship with Hitchens, called The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist. This book has earned praise from both Christians and skeptics, with back-cover endorsements from Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias and prominent skeptic Michael Shermer.

Taunton spoke last week for about an hour and a half, highlighting how he and Hitchens formed a friendship, and how that relationship grew to the point of taking long road trips together. I would like to highlight four key points that stood out to me.

1. Christopher Hitchens was a complex person. Taunton pointed out that while Hitchens was famous as a proponent of atheism and an adversary of religion, Hitchens was not defined by his atheism. Hitchens believed in truth and integrity, and was embarrassed at times by what he heard from fellow atheists. Taunton related a time when Hitchens appeared on a program hosted by atheist Bill Maher (of the documentary Religulous), and ripped into both Maher and Maher’s audience for their shallowness.

Christopher Hitchens’ complexity as a person is not unusual; I would say that most—perhaps all—people are complex. When we are conversing with a person, we should not assume that the persona they present is the complete package, and we should not assume that the person even fully understands all of their own motives and reasons for believing as they do. A person might say they believe there is no God because of some set of logical arguments, but in reality, their reasons for rejecting theism are something totally different, such as a desire to live without certain moral restrains, or that they have not really understood the other side. Likewise, a person might be a theist because they are convinced by the cosmological, moral, or design arguments for the existence of God, but deeper reasons come into play as well. Of course, as a Christian, I would add that there are spiritual influences at work beneath and above all of the human reasons.

2. The logical and moral implications of atheism are frightening. Many consider Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton, to be a consistent atheist. People, in Singer’s thinking, don’t have any more inherent value than animals, and in some cases have even less. The implications of Singer’s ethical system include infanticide and euthanasia. Hitchens was appalled by this line of reasoning, and was personally opposed to abortion and capital punishment. Hitchens was more concerned about discovering what was morally right and then working out the logical basis for his beliefs at another time, than he was about following the implications of atheism to their logical conclusions.

3. The importance of relationships. The key to pointing people to Christ is usually not having a better argument, but exemplifying what is written in 1 Peter 3:15, which states,

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (NIV)

Even though Hitchens had written a best-selling book with the subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything,” Hitchens was able to respect, honor, and be drawn to a Christian who displayed love, gentleness, and respect along with intellectual rigor. We cannot develop a deep relationship with everyone, but we can pray that God would put us in at least one key relationship with an unbeliever in which we can be a powerful witness for Christ.

We all have interests or backgrounds that overlap with those of unbelievers. I have a friend who is on staff at the headquarters of a major Christian ministry. In his role, he interacts with Christians all day, and did not have significant relationships with unbelievers. So my friend joined an African violet club. I had no idea such clubs existed, but it was a way for him to rub shoulders with those outside of his Christian world.

Christopher Hitchens also developed a friendship with theologian Douglas Wilson. One realm of common interest between these two men was their appreciation of the writings of British humorous author P.G. Wodehouse. Hitchens and Wilson could sit and give one quote after another from characters in Wodehouse’s fiction. This small area of overlap was a bridge that enabled the two men to have much more serious conversations and debates, sometimes while drinking beer together in a bar.

4. The importance of taking people into the Scriptures and pointing them to Christ. As Hitchens and Taunton developed a relationship, it became clear to Taunton that Hitchens had a somewhat superficial understanding of the Bible and Christianity. Eventually, Taunton challenged Hitchens to a Bible study. The two men went on a road trip and studied the Gospel of John together, which brought in topics from throughout the Bible as they conversed. This study occurred after Hitchens was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hitchens was not converted to Christianity—he said if he converted it would be because the cancer had gotten into his brain—but through his relationship with Taunton and others, Hitchens learned that Christians and Christianity were not entirely who and what he thought they were.

Taunton did not hold back when talking about the seriousness of these topics. Christianity is not just a philosophy to affirm or deny, but a call to faith in Christ. We are all moving towards judgment, and Taunton was blunt with Hitchens about his need to turn to Christ. Taunton let Hitchens know that he was praying for him, which Hitchens genuinely appreciated—not because Hitchens thought it would matter but he appreciated the gesture of friendship. Hitchens asked Taunton what he prayed, and Taunton told him that it wasn’t so much for physical healing but that Hitchens would come to faith in Christ. Some would be offended by this, but Hitchens by this point had a good enough understanding of Christianity to know that this prayer was a greater expression of Taunton’s love than a prayer for healing would have been.

I have not yet read The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, but there is reason to believe that by the end Hitchens no longer believed that “religion poisons everything.” Hitchens was able to say about Larry Taunton that “If everyone in the United States had the same qualities of loyalty and care and concern for others that Larry Taunton had, we’d be living in a much better society than we do.” Hitchens stated this knowing full well that it was Taunton’s faith in Christ that made him into the sort of person who would bring healing rather than poison to this hurting world.

May we as Christians all be this same sort of witness for Christ.

Grace and Peace

—————————————————

Notes

The Faith of Christopher Hitchens will be available from Amazon starting April 12th.

The debates between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens were featured on the documentary Collision.

The video of the clash between Hitchens and Maher can be found here: Christopher Hitchens gives Bill Maher’s crowd of leftist automatons a well-deserved finger.

 

 

Beginnings

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” — John 1:1

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” — John 3:16

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” — 2 Corinthians 5:17

Happy New Year from the GeoChristian!


All Scripture from New International Version 1984.

Life Priorities

It is time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year. My basic life priorities have not changed for over ten years:

Life Priorities:

  • To live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
  • To love my wife as Christ loves the church.
  • To raise my children as followers of Christ.
  • To be used to build and expand the church.
  • To be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially.
  • To maintain professional excellence in my work.

Rather than making New Years resolutions, I have created a document that that I keep in my Bible that expands on each of these six life priorities. Here are a few of my more specific goals:

Following Jesus
1. Read in the Scriptures daily – Use a one-year reading schedule for NT and read at least one chapter each day on OT.
2. Daily prayer – At least ten minutes of focused prayer time following time in Word.
3. Memorization – one new verse per week, with regular review of other verses.

These goals change a bit from year to year. Of these first three, I am consistent on my Bible reading, need to grow in my prayer life, and have not been working on memorization. But having the document with me gives me a plan for where I want to be, and I can start working on my weaknesses.

Here are some more:

Loving my wife
5. Be available on an almost daily basis for prayer, reading, and conversation.
7. Have fun together, including monthly dates.

Raising my children (my children are aged 19-26)
9. Provide them with good books and resources.
11. Weekly communication – in person, phone, Skype, emails.

Building and expanding the church
13. Writing on The GeoChristian to build up the body and point nonbelievers to Christ:
• Two significant blog posts per month.
• More evangelistic content
14. Be faithful in evangelism in ways that work for me: blog, book ministry

Physical, mental, emotional, financial health
16. A better diet – low sugar, more vegetables and fruit. Less beef, more fish and chicken.
18. Exercise five times per week for at least 30 minutes – elliptical, hiking, biking, walking. Work on upper body strength.
19. Money: buy little, live simply, save, give, reduce debt. Budget.
20. Regular reading for growth in the areas of theology, apologetics, origins, environment, geology, and history. Goal: Finish three books per month.
21. Language study — Review a language I already know to bring me up to proficiency (French, German, or Romanian) or learn a new language.

Miscellaneous
24. Organization:
•Planner, calendar, filing system, project lists
•Daily and weekly filing and evaluation
•Watch for time wasters, such as internet and idleness.
25. Monthly planning and evaluation time with my wife

I don’t call these New Year’s resolutions because this is a living document that can be pulled out at any time for review or modification. The “Life Priorities” do not change much or at all from year to year, but the details do change. Some of these goals (e.g. reading, language study) are mostly on hold until the book I am writing is complete.

Grace and Peace