GeoScriptures — Hebrews 11:1 — Christian faith is not blind faith

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. — Hebrews 11:1 (NIV 1984)

A couple weeks ago, I was on a flight that landed in dense fog in Salt Lake City. I had a window seat, and the first thing I could see on the ground as the plane approached the airport was the asphalt a few seconds before the wheels touched the runway. The visibility along the surface was sufficient to keep the runway open—commercial pilots cannot land completely by instruments; they must be able to see a certain distance ahead on the runway—but the clouds were considerably more dense a short distance above the ground as the plane approached the airport.

The pilot was flying by faith. He or she had confidence in the various instruments that guided the plane through the dense clouds. This is the most common way we use the word “faith” in our day to day conversations. When we say we have faith in something or someone, we almost always mean something like “trust” or “confidence,” and almost never mean “blind faith,” which would be faith with absolutely no evidence to back it up.

Faith is only as good as the object in which one puts their faith. Commercial passenger airplanes are extraordinarily reliable. If they had a success rate of 99% almost no one would fly on them (and having flown a few hundred times I would likely have died in a plane crash quite a while ago). According to planecrashinfo.com, your chances of dying in a plane crash on a flight of the thirty safest airlines is about 1 in 29 million! To board an airplane is an act of faith, but it certainly is not an act of blind faith.

Christian faith is this “confidence” sort of faith. Theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer put it this way in his book He is There and He is not Silent (Appendix B):

One must analyze the word faith and see that it can mean two completely opposite things.

Suppose we are climbing in the Alps and are very high on the bare rock, and suddenly the fog shuts down. The guide turns to us and says that the ice is forming and that there is no hope; before morning we will freeze to death here on the shoulder of the mountain. Simply to keep warm the guide keeps us moving in the dense fog further out on the shoulder until none of us have any idea where we are. After an hour or so, someone says to the guide, “Suppose I dropped and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog. What would happen then?” The guide would say that you might make it until the morning and thus live. So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support his action, one of the group hangs and drops into the fog. This would be one kind of faith, a leap of faith.

Suppose, however, after we have worked out on the shoulder in the midst of the fog and the growing ice on the rock, we had stopped and we heard a voice which said, “You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are from your voices. I am on another ridge. I have lived in these mountains, man and boy, for over sixty years and I know every foot of them. I assure you that ten feet below you there is a ledge. If you hang and drop, you can make it through the night and I will get you in the morning.”

I would not hang and drop at once, but would ask questions to try to ascertain if the man knew what he was talking about and if he was not my enemy… I would ask him what to me would be the adequate and sufficient questions, and when I became convinced by his answers, then I would hang and drop.

This is faith, but obviously it has no relationship to the other use of the word. As a matter of fact, if one of these is called faith, the other should not be designated by the same word. The historic Christian faith is not a leap of faith in the post-Kierkegaardian sense because He is not silent, and I am invited to ask the adequate and sufficient questions, not only in regard to details, but also in regard to the existence of the universe and its complexity and in regard to the existence of man.

Christian faith is an informed step into the fog. It is not based on a rational or logical line of thought, but it is rational. It is firmly grounded in the creation and history; it can give better answers for why there is a universe and why it is the way it is, and what the meaning of history is, and why we humans are the way we are, than the alternatives such as atheism or pantheism, or even other non-Christian theistic religions such as Islam.

One must be careful to note that Christian faith is not something we stir up within ourselves. I cannot claim that I came to God because, genius that I am, I figured it all out. Michael Patton describes Biblical faith as “Warranted faith brought about by the Holy Spirit.”

The faith that God calls on us to have is neither blind nor irrational. And while we believe our faith is the most rational choice that we can make given the evidence, rational alone is not enough. The Bible says that without outside intervention, we are antagonistic to spiritual truths. If we rely on naked intellect or personal effort alone, even as Christians, we will never truly be able to rest in God. The most important component to our faith has yet to be revealed. What is this element? It is the power of the Holy Spirit. The third member of the Trinity must ignite our faith. Yes, he uses rationale , inquiry, evidences, personal effort, and our minds to do so. But these things alone can only get us so far. In order to have true faith, the power of the Holy Spirit must move within us, releasing us from the bondage of our will.

Also note that it was not the strength of my faith that enabled the airplane I was on to get me from Billings, Montana, to Salt Lake City. I could have had a very weak faith in airplanes, and it still would have done the job. It was the reliability of the airplane and its crew and maintenance personnel that enabled me to make it to Utah alive. Likewise, my faith in God and his Word is not perfect. But mustard seed sized faith in God is sufficient to help me through the fog of life, and to cling to the Creator of the universe who is willing and able to bring me safely to the final landing.

Grace and Peace

Abnormal normality

From Francis Schaeffer:

“Non-Christian philosophers almost universally agree in seeing everything as normal, assuming things are as they have always been. The Christian sees things now as not the way they have always been. […] The distinction is that as I look about me I know I live in an abnormal world.”

Genesis in Space and Time, p. 97 (Chapter 5, The space-time fall and its results).

The books that have most influenced me

Here are my “top 10” books that have had an impact on my life. Some of them have impacted millions of other people; a few may not be on the “top 10” list of anyone else on the planet.

I would put the Bible as the #1 book, but it needs to be on its own list. None of the following books would even be in the same category in terms of their influence in my life.

  • Knowing God, by J.I. Packer — This was the first major Christian book I read, back when I was twenty years old. It laid an excellent foundation for my life and doctrine. A lot Christian books are fluffy or ephemeral; this one will still be read centuries from now (if the Lord’s return is delayed that long).
  • Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis — Another 20th century author whose works will still be read a few hundred years from now. Lewis’s work helped to solidify my faith as a college student.
  • Operation World, by Patrick Johnstone (new edition is by Jason Mandryk) — This is subtitled “The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation.” This book helped to establish a lifelong desire to pray and work for the day when people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9 NIV) would stand before the throne of Christ.
  • The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer — “The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One.” I received this as a graduation present from Grace Bible Church in Bozeman, Montana.
  • The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer — Bonhoeffer, martyred by the Nazis, offers the most Christ-centered theology of life and discipleship I have read.
  • Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Ronald Sider — The title is a good description of the book. Not all would agree with Sider’s policy solutions (some would say too liberal or even socialist), but the heart of the book—an overview of poverty in today’s world and in the Bible —is solid. This book opened my eyes and heart to the deep poverty that much of the world lives in.
  • In Six Days, by Charles McGowen — I read this short presentation of young-Earth creationism when I was in tenth grade in high school, and was thoroughly convinced. Now I can see that just about everything in the book was utterly, totally, completely wrong, but it did get me started down the path that led to me majoring in geology and writing this blog.
  • Earth, by Frank Press and Raymond Siever — A university textbook on my “most influential textbooks” list? When I was a college Freshman, a friend was majoring in geology, and he had this book. I paged through it in his room, and changed my major to geology (though not right away like I should have).
  • Evolution: Nature and Scripture in Conflict? by Pattle Pun — I was still a young-Earth creationist when I started studying geology as an undergraduate. This book, from an old-Earth Christian perspective,  may have helped prevent me from having a crisis of faith when I saw that most of what I had read in YEC literature quite simply did not work as an explanation for the geological record.
  • Pollution and the Death of Man, by Francis Schaeffer — To care about the Earth is not something we should do in addition to Christian discipleship; it is part of Christian discipleship. Schaeffer is still very popular among conservative Evangelicals, but most of them, unfortunately, have not read or taken to heart this work.

I would like to add a few honorable mentions:

  • Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, by Ralph Winter (ed.) — Why do we do missions? How do we do missions? Etc.
  • Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell — Some parts of it are better than others, but it certainly had a strong influence on me in my college days. Today I would recommend The Reason for God by Timothy Keller instead.
  • A Survey of Bible Doctrine, by Charles Ryrie — Not quite my theology on some points any more, but still a good introduction. Today I would recommend Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.
  • For the Beauty of the Earth, by Stephen Prediger-Bouma — Much more comprehensive than Schaeffer’s Pollution and the Death of Man.
  • Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer — The best book on having fellowship in Christian community.
  • The Silence of Adam, by Larry Crabb — Christ-centered perspective on being a man. Realism rather than triumphalism.

Pick one and read it!

Grace and Peace


For the opposite end of the spectrum, here are a few dishonorable mentions. These are books that were highly recommended to me, and I just couldn’t force myself to complete them:

  • Revival Lectures, by Charles Finney — Sin, sin, and more sin. Repent of everything before you can come to Christ. Sin no more if you want to stay in Christ. Spiritual perfectionism. About a third of the way into the book I started to ask myself, “Once I do everything Finney wants me to do, what do I need Jesus for?” This is Christ-less Christianity. To Finney, Christ is an example, but not a sin-bearer.
  • The Bondage Breaker, by Neil Anderson — A demon behind every problem. Extraordinarily speculative. But the solution is Jesus, not finding and casting out demons.

On the same note, a life goal of mine is to never read any of the Left Behind series or The Prayer of Jabez.

Environmental philosophies – some preliminary thoughts

I was reading sections out of Principles of Conservation Biology (Meffe et al., I have the 2nd edition) tonight just for fun*. The first two chapters lay a philosophical foundation for conservation biology, exploring various perspectives on environmental ethics and biodiversity.

In chapter 1—What is Conservation Biology?—the authors discuss the philosophical movements that have led to conservation efforts in the United States:

  1. The Romantic-Transcendental Conservation Ethic — The 19th century proponents of this position included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir. Nature was viewed as a place to escape from civilization, as something to be preserved in a pristine state. For the pioneers of this movement, there was a spiritual aspect to nature, which was viewed as a work of God, though not always “God” in the Christian understanding. This ethic led eventually to the creation of national parks and wilderness areas, and the preservationist philosophy of Muir and others is carried on today in many non-profit conservation groups such as the Sierra Club.
  2. The Resource Conservation Ethic — The first key proponent of this in the United States was forester Gifford Pinchot, who approached the natural world from a utilitarian perspective. This was a very anthropocentric (man-centered) view of nature; there are resources out there for humans to use, but they must be used wisely and efficiently so they will be available for future generations. One idea that flowed out of this was the multiple-use concept, where the land must be managed for many users simultaneously, such as for grazing, logging, recreation, and watershed protection.
  3. The Evolutionary-Ecological Land Ethic — Often referred to just as the “land ethic,” this was introduced by Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac in 1949. This viewpoint integrates what we have learned about the biological world in the past one hundred plus years, recognizing that natural systems are extraordinarily complex, interrelated, and dynamic. Any change we make to one part of an ecosystem can and will effect other parts of the ecosystem, sometimes in ways that are difficult to predict even with careful analysis.

What is a Christian to make of these perspectives? I see valuable lessons that can be drawn from all three, and have a few cautionary ideas as well.

The preservationists recognize that nature has inherent value beyond what is in it for human beings. From a Biblical perspective, it is good to remember that in Genesis 1:25, God declared that the creation was already “good” at the point when all was created except for the first humans. Because of this, not only do individual organisms have value (the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, Matthew 6:26-28), but so do populations, species, and entire ecosystems. Many preservationists tend towards non-Christian religious concepts such as transcendentalism and eastern mysticism, but that does not negate the observation that there are Biblical principles which are consistent with the preservationist ethic. My caution for Christians is to not confuse “creation care” with the gospel. It is good to protect animals and ecosystems, but doing so is not the good news of Christ, but part of the overall ethical package of Christianity.

The conservationists recognize that resources can be utilized by humans, but that this needs to be done in a sustainable way. The Genesis 1:28 mandate to Adam to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and rule and have dominion over it,” when understood properly should guide us to be good gardeners rather than wasteful exploiters of the creation. The creation is not ours; we are placed here as vice-regents, with God as the ultimate owner of all. My caution here is that there are voices in the Evangelical Christian community who call for “wise use” in a way that that is presented as consistent with the conservationist ethic, but whose proposals are no more than short-sighted exploitation of resources that leave nothing for future generations.

Many Christians might be frightened away from the Evolutionary-Ecological Land Ethic by the inclusion of the word evolutionary, but I think this is unnecessary, even if one rejects biological evolution as the explanation for the origin of the living world. The land ethic recognizes the extreme complexity of the living world that God has placed on this Earth. We should not be surprised that the infinite God of the universe would create a biosphere (by whatever means he chose to use) that contains intricacies within intricacies, whether at the level of cellular biochemistry or at the level of the interactions between components of entire ecosystems. This flows from the Trinitarian view of God: there is one God but he is not a simple God, and his nature is reflected in his creation (Romans 1:19-20). The caution, as the textbook authors bring out, is that one cannot leave humans out of the picture.

Of these, I am a Christian preservationist at heart, in that I marvel at the wonders that God has placed around us and see the creation as having value in itself, apart from what it can provide for us. I am thankful that there are preserved places that are readily accessible, whether they be in suburban St. Louis, or wonderlands such as Yellowstone National Park. I am also thankful for the wild places that are not as accessible to humans. As a youth, I went on several long backpacking trips through the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area in south-central Montana, which has close to one million acres of land that is closed to development of any kind. Though I spend more than 99 percent of my life outside of such places, it is comforting to know that there are places that reflect the intrinsic value with which God has endowed his creation.

I also recognize the value of the land ethic. Science is a tool that God has given us for understanding his creation, and one thing that is clear is that the living world is characterized by change and interaction. The land ethic allows us to see how the biosphere works, and how humans effect the living world. If we are to be stewards of the creation for God’s glory, for the good of the creation, and for the benefit of all mankind, then we need this scientific understanding.

I have reviewed a couple books on Christian environmental perspectives in the past. For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger comes mostly from a Christian preservationist perspective, though he does have a good awareness of ecological relationships. I’ll have to think a bit more about where exactly Francis Schaeffer comes from in his Pollution and the Death of Man, but he certainly had a strong aesthetic streak in him, so his views are mostly compatible with the preservationist ethic.

A Christian author who comes from a conservationist perspective would be Calvin Beisner. I have not read any of his works.

I’ll hope to write about what chapter two says about the “Judeo-Christian Stewardship Ethic” later this week.

Grace and Peace

*I know, probably less than 1% of the population reads college textbooks for fun, but so be it.

Francis Schaeffer — 25th anniversary of his death

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Christian author, philosopher, and pastor Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer is highly regarded in the Evangelical Christian world for his defense of the faith, his advocacy of pro-life political action, and leadership of the l’Abri community in Switzerland. Francis Schaeffer was also an advocate of environmental protection.

HT: World Magazine blog: Remembering Francis Schaeffer, by Scott Lamb

The following item was originally posted in January 2008. 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.

pollution.jpgI recently finished re-reading Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer. If you read only one book on why Christians should care about nature, this is the book. It is short, and fairly easy reading (by Schaeffer standards). It is not a book about “50 ways to be green;” rather it lays the Biblical and philosophical foundations for taking care of the Earth. Even though it was written almost forty years ago, it is still relevant to the environmental issues we face. Unlike many conservative Evangelical leaders, Schaeffer was willing to admit that we face an ecological crisis.

The book has seven chapters:

  1. “What Have They Done to Our Fair Sister?”
  2. Pantheism: Man Is No More Than the Grass
  3. Other Inadequate Answers
  4. The Christian View: Creation
  5. A Substantial Healing
  6. The Christian View: The “Pilot Plant.”
  7. Concluding Chapter by Udo Middelmann

The book also has two essays as appendices. “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” by Lynn White, Jr., and “Why Worry About Nature.” by Richard Means. These were two important essays of the late 1960s; the first was written to state the case that the environmental crisis is Christianity’s fault, and the second was written to present pantheism as the answer.

I gave a long quote a few weeks ago: “I looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness.”

Here are some more quotes:

Near the end of his life, Darwin acknowledged several times in his writing that two things had become dull to him as he got older. The first was his joy in the arts and the second his joy in nature…. The distressing thing about this is that orthodox Christians often really have no better sense about these things than unbelievers.

Our agreement with Means [an advocate of pantheism as the solution to the ecologic crisis] at this point centers on the fact that the hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too, a long, long time ago, before the counterculture ever came onto the scene.

Again, a pantheistic stand always brings man to an impersonal and low place rather than elevating him. This is an absolute rule…. Eventually nature does not become high, but man becomes low…. In the Eastern countries there is no real base for the dignity of man.

Far from raising nature to man’s height, pantheism must push both man and nature down into a bog.

A poor Christianity is not the answer either.

Much orthodoxy, much evangelical Christianity, is rooted in a Platonic concept. In this kind of Christianity there is only interest in the “upper story,” in the heavenly things—only in “saving the soul” and getting it to Heaven…. There is little or no interest in the proper pleasure of the body or the proper uses of the intellect…. Nature has become merely an academic proof of the existence of the Creator, with little value in itself. Christians of this outlook do not show an interest in nature itself.

We should treat each thing with integrity because it is the way God has made it.

The man who believes things are there only by chance cannot give things a real intrinsic value. But for the Christian, there is an intrinsic value. The value of a thing is not in itself autonomously, but because God made it.

But we should be looking now, on the basis of the work of Christ, for substantial healing in every area affected by the Fall.

But Christians who believe the Bible are not simply called to say that “one day” there will be healing, but that by God’s grace, upon the basis of the work of Christ, substantial healing can be a reality here and now.

Here the church—the orthodox, Bible-believing church—has been really poor. What have we done to heal sociological divisions? Often our churches are a scandal; they are cruel not only to the man “outside,” but also to the man “inside.”

The same thing is true psychologically. We load people with psychological problems by telling them that “Christians don’t have breakdowns,” and that is a kind of murder.

On the other hand, what we should have, individually and corporately, is a situation where, on the basis of the work of Christ, Christianity is seen to be not just “pie in the sky,” but something that has in it the possibility of substantial healings now in every area where there are divisions because of the Fall. First of all, my division from God is healed by justification, but then there must be the “existential reality” of this moment by moment. Second, there is the psychological division of man from himself. Third, the sociological divisions of man from other men. And last, the division of man from nature, and nature from nature.

One of the first fruits of that healing is a new sense of beauty.

We are to have dominion over it [nature], but we are not going to use it as fallen man uses it.

Man is not to be sacrificed…. And yet nature is to be honored.

Christians, of all people, should not be the destroyers. We should treat nature with an overwhelming respect.

Most Christians simply do not care about nature as such…. These are reasons why the church seems irrelevant and helpless in our generation. We are living in and practicing a sub-Christianity.

If we treat nature as having no intrinsic value, our own value is diminished.

To just list quotes does not do justice to the stream of reason that Schaeffer develops in this book. If environmental issues are important to you, this is a must-read.

Grace and Peace

“I looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness”

This item was originally posted in January 2008. 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. I also wrote a longer review of the book Pollution and the Death of Man in January 2008. This book is foundational for a Christian perspective on the environment, arguing that a Biblical Christian worldview provides the strongest basis for taking care of the Earth.

A story from Pollution and the Death of Man, by Francis Schaeffer:

Some years ago I was lecturing in a certain Christian school. Just across a ravine from the school there was what they called a “hippie community.” On the far side of the ravine one saw trees and some farms. Here, I was told, they had pagan grape stomps. Being interested, I made my way across the ravine and met one of the leading men in this “Bohemian” community.

We got on very well as we talked of ecology, and I was able to speak of the Christian answer to life and ecology. He paid me the compliment (and I accepted it as such) of telling me that I was the first person from “across the ravine” who had ever been shown the place where they did, indeed, have grape stomps and to see the pagan image they had there. This image was the center of these rites. The whole thing was set against the classical background of Greece and Rome.

Having shown me all this, he looked across to the Christian school and said to me, “Look at that; isn’t that ugly?” And it was! I could not deny it. It was an ugly building, without even trees around it.

It was then that I realized what a poor situation this was. When I stood on Christian ground and looked at the Bohemian people’s place, it was beautiful. They had even gone to the trouble of running their electric cables under the level of the trees so that they couldn’t be seen. Then I stood on pagan ground and looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness. Here you have a Christianity that is failing to take into account man’s responsibility and proper relationship to nature.

(quote from chapter 3 — Other Inadequate Answers)

What do “pagans” see when they look at us? Do they see people who place value on the creation and its creatures because God places value on them? Do they see people who use the Earth’s resources wisely because God has called them to be good stewards? Do they see people who create or people who destroy? Do they see people who live in contentment or people who are caught up in the destructive consumerism of our society?

Another way to ask the question: Do they see beauty or do they see ugliness?

Schaeffer stated that Christianity has failed to take into account two things in regards to ecology: What is our responsibility toward the creation? and What is our proper relationship to the creation?

How should we then live?

Grace and Peace

Francis Schaeffer on the age of the Earth

genesis_in_space_and_time1Francis Schaeffer on the age of the Earth:

What does day mean in the days of creation?

The answer must be held with some openness. In Genesis 5:2 we read: “Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.” As it is clear that Adam and Eve were not created simultaneously, day in Genesis 5:2 does not mean a period of twenty-four hours.

In other places in the Old Testament the Hebrew word day refers to an era, just as it often does in English. See, for example, Isaiah 2:11,12 and 17 for such a usage.

The simple fact is that day in Hebrew (just as in English) is used in three separate senses: to mean (1) twenty-four hours, (2) the period of light during the twenty-four hours, and (3) an indeterminate period of time. Therefore, we must leave open the exact length of time indicated by day in Genesis.

from Genesis in Space and Time, p. 59

Francis Schaeffer was a firm believer in the truthfulness of the Scriptures, and was open to understanding the opening chapters of Genesis as allowing an old age for the Earth. This wasn’t because he was some sort of compromiser, but because he saw it as a valid Biblical interpretation.

See Reasons to Believe: Notable Christians Open to an Old-universe, Old-earth Perspective

Grace and Peace