October 19, 2017

Evolution: Scripture and Nature say Yes!  Chapter 2- Opening God’s Two Books

Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes  Chapter 2- Opening God’s Two Books

By Denis O. Lamoureux

As Denis’ military tour of duty came to an end he was faced with several opportunities; one of which was the military would pay for his medical school for him to become a dentist.  A nice deal ending in a lucrative career.  But being the evangelical zealot he was at the time, he got down on his knees and heard God calling him to be a creation scientist so he could attack the “evilutionists” in secular colleges and universities and save the poor naïve college students from Satan’s lie.  He even tried to go to medical school which lasted for 3 days and he calls it his “Jonah experience”.  Spit up on dry ground, he reconciles himself to God’s will to preach to the heathen.

To “equip himself for battle”, Denis planned to get a PhD in both theology and biology.  So he first began his PhD studies in theology school.  And it was here that the props holding up his creation science began to be toppled.  As he says:

“Like all theology students, I discovered that interpreting the Bible is more complicated than what we learn in Sunday school.  Only weeks into my first term, one of the world’s greatest theologian stated in class that ‘the biblical creation accounts were obviously written in picture language’.  I knew that this professor was a marvelous Christian.  Many of his books were very helpful in my walk of faith.  I had even met people who came to the Lord through his writings.  But his claim that the creation accounts had ‘picture language’ rocked me.”

This assumption of concordism; that God has revealed scientific information in the Bible that concords with what we moderns now know is really the foundation of young earth creationism.  After all, God is the creator of the world and He is also the Author of the Bible.  Therefore, to expect harmony between the Book of God’s Words (the Bible) and the Book of God’s Works (nature) is a reasonable assumption.  Only a God who is powerful and transcends time could have given modern scientific facts to the ancient authors of Scripture.  In the Science and the Bible course I used to teach at my previous evangelical church this is the first assumption I challenged my students to think through; before I raised or discussed any issues of actual science.  I would ask the class, “What is the genre’ of Genesis 1-2 and how do you know that?”  The next question would be, “What is the science that is presented in Genesis 1-2; is it modern science or ancient science?”

The genre’ question is not as obvious, especially in English translations.  It is more obvious in the Hebrew; from my Science and the Bible post, Lesson 4 :

It is well known that in Hebrew thought the number seven symbolizes ‘wholeness’ as a characteristic of God’s perfection. A well-known example is the seven-candle lamp stand, or Menorah, which has long been a symbol of the Jewish faith and is the emblem of the modern State of Israel.  In Genesis 1, multiples of seven appear in extraordinary ways. For ancient readers, who were accustomed to taking notice of such things, these multiples of seven conveyed a powerful message. Seven was the divine number, the number of goodness and perfection. Its omnipresence in the opening chapter of the Bible makes an unmistakable point about the origin and nature of the universe itself. Consider the following:

  1. The first sentence of Genesis 1 consists of seven Hebrew words. Instantly, the ancient reader’s attention is focused.
  2. The second sentence contains exactly fourteen words. A pattern is developing.
  3. The word ‘earth’—one half of the created sphere—appears in the chapter 21 times.
  4. The word ‘heaven’—the other half of the created sphere—also appears 21 times.
  5. ‘God’, the lead actor, is mentioned exactly 35 times (7 x 5)
  6. The refrain ‘and it was so’, which concludes each creative act, occurs exactly seven times.
  7. The summary statement ‘God saw that it was good’ also occurs seven times.
  8. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the whole account is structured around seven scenes or seven days of the week.

The artistry of the chapter is stunning and, to ancient readers, unmistakable. It casts the creation as a work of art, sharing in the perfection of God and deriving from him. My point is obvious: short of including a prescript for the benefit of modern readers the original author could hardly have made it clearer that his message is being conveyed through literary rather than prosaic means.”

There is also the well noted parallelism of the days; again indicating a literary structure rather than just a narrative account.

As to the question, “What is the science that is presented in Genesis 1-2; is it modern science or ancient science”, Denis notes that theology school forced him to rethink how God inspired the Bible.  It became evident to him that scientific concordism was NOT a feature of the Bible; rather there was an ancient understanding of the physical world.  The ancient Hebrews did not have some special “divine” insight on the cosmology of the universe; rather they had the same understanding of all ancient peoples at the time.  And this understanding can be clearly seen in the Genesis passages:

  1. The earth is the center of the universe. That is why it can be created before the sun and the stars.
  2. Day and night are created before the sun is created.
  3. The sky is a “firmament” (Hebrew raquia- a beaten copper pot) a solid dome.
  4. There is an ocean above the firmament and an ocean below the earth.
  5. The earth rests on pillars.
  6. The sun and the moon are set or hung in the firmament/sky/heavens.
  7. The moon gives its own light.
  8. The stars are lesser lights.

That this was the viewpoint of ancient peoples can be seen from the image in Luther’s German translation of the Bible that portrays an earth with a firmament and with waters above reflecting the imagery found in the text.

This realization that God accommodated the ancient viewpoint of the scripture writers in their description of creation was the evidence within the Bible itself that began to dismantle Denis’ dream of becoming a creation scientist.  When Denis realized that God allowed the inspired writers to use their ancient scientific ideas about origins to reveal the foundational message of faith that He alone was the Creator of the world; it relieved him of the necessity to choose between believing “God’s Word” from “man’s word”.  Once the false guilt and pressure of the false dichotomy that you were being faithless to God if you didn’t believe 6-day creationism was lifted from him; Denis was free to judge the science of evolution on its own merits.

Which is what Denis did next as he began his PhD in biology.  His studies in theology opened his mind to what the Bible really is, but he was not quite ready to abandon his plan to become a creation scientist.  He says:

I realized the Bible is not a book of science, but my original “Grand Plan” to destroy the theory of evolution was still alive and well.  I moved on to obtain a PhD in biology.  Since I was a dentist, I entered a university program to study the so-called “best evidence” for evolution- the evolution of teeth and jaws.  My plan was to collect scientific facts that disproved evolution, and once I graduated as a scientist, I would write a devastating book against Satan’s lie that life had evolved.

Well you can probably figure out what happened.  My soul was shaken to the core for a second time.  I began to see fossil evidence that indicated evolution was true… For years in Sunday school and at creationist events, I had been taught that there were no transitional fossils… During my scientific training, I saw, and even held in my hands a number of transitional fossils.  When I first discovered that these fossils existed, it was not at all comfortable.  I tried my best to explain their existence through an anti-evolutionary view of origins.  But I could not deny this scientific evidence in the Book of God’s Works, and eventually I accepted evolution.

A discourse on transitional fossils could obviously take up several posts.  A helpful Wikipedia entry on “List of transitional fossils”  lists the following as transitional fossils:

1              Nautiloids to ammonoids

2              Cephalopods

3              Evolution of insects

4              Evolution of spiders

5              Invertebrates to fish

6              Chondrichthyes

7              Bony fish

8              Fish to tetrapods

9              Amphibians to amniotes

10           Turtles

11           From lizards to snakes

12           Lizards

13           Pterosaurs

14           Archosaurs to dinosaurs

15           Dinosauria

16           Dinosaurs to birds

17           Bird evolution

18           Synapsid (“mammal-like reptiles”) to mammals

19           Evolution of mammals

20           Early artiodactylans to whales

21           Evolution of sirenians

22           Evolution of pinnipeds

23           Evolution of the horse

24           Human evolution

You can click on each entry in the list for a brief description and explanation.

In the book, Denis talks about fish to amphibian and whale evolution, since both are well represented in the geologic record.  But as a dentist, the persuasiveness of the evidence for evolution of teeth and jaws in reptile to mammals made a huge impression on him.  From the book the following figures:

Denis also studied embryology and the “Embryology-Evolution Analogy” made a decisive impact on his thinking.  Psalm 139: 13-14 says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…“ Every Christian understands this as a poetic picture of God creating each and every one of us through his ordained and sustained embryological mechanisms.   Nobody takes this “literally” as God coming out of heaven to miraculously attach an entire arm or leg to their developing body in the womb.  Every single one of us is here by virtue of a natural biologic process.  As Denis says:

Could it be that instead of coming out of heaven and miraculously placing each creature on earth, God “knit together” all living organisms through his ordained and sustained natural process of evolution?

Discovering the similarity between God’s creative action in embryology and evolution completely freed me from being afraid of evolution.  It became evident that science is the study of the Lord’s creation and all the natural mechanisms that he created, including the process of evolution.  Instead of being an enemy of Christianity, science is a gift from our Creator that declares his glory and reveals to us how He made the universe and life.

Denis wraps up this chapter by dealing with the supposed “calling” he received from God to become a creation scientist and attack evolutionists in universities.  He now believes that God “accommodated” his spiritual and intellectual level where he was at; trapped in either/or thinking.  He thinks that the Lord called him to get the education he did, not to attack evolution, but to attack atheistic interpretations of evolution and defend the belief that the world is his creation.

Well, maybe so.  The skeptical critic would say Denis is engaging in a little retroactive special pleading.  But how many of us were young and foolish once and yet God guided us to where we are now despite our foolishness?  There is no doubt that Denis Lamoureux is a major voice helping Christians get beyond the either/or thinking and false dichotomy of the so-called “evolution vs. creation” debate.

Reformation 500: Christ Present in Faith

Translucent (2014)

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

2 Peter 1:2-3

• • •

To follow up on yesterday’s post, we turn to a book that discusses the so-called “Finnish” interpretation of Martin Luther. We’ve mentioned it here before — it’s called Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther. It features top Finnish scholars, with responses by Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson, American Lutheran and ecumenical theologians.

The Finnish school of interpretation is best represented by Tuomo Mannermaa, professor at the University of Helsinki, known for his book, Christ Present In Faith: Luther’s View Of Justification, in which he discusses the relationship between justification and theosis in the theology of Martin Luther.

Here are some excerpts from Mannermaa’s chapter, “Justification and Theosis in Lutheran/Orthodox Perspective.”

In the ecumenical dialogue between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Russian Orthodox Church it has come out that the idea of theosis can be found at the core of the theology of Martin Luther himself. My task here is to expound this idea of theosis in Luther’s theology and its relationship to his doctrine of justification.

Finnish Luther research has come to the conclusion that Luther’s idea of the presence of Christ in faith can form a basis for treating the question of divinization. The Lutheran understanding of the indwelling of Christ implies a real participation in God and is analogous to the Orthodox doctrine of participation in God, or theosis. When seen in the light of the doctrine of theosis, the Lutheran tradition is born anew and becomes once again interesting.

…Luther does not separate the person of Christ from his work. Rather, Christ himself, both his person and his work, is the ground of Christian righteousness. Christ is, in this unity of person and work, really present in the faith of the Christian (in ipsa fide Christus adest).

…For Luther evangelium is not proclamation of the cross and/or of the forgiveness of sins only, but the proclamation of the crucified and risen Christ himself. It is one of the main themes of Luther’s theology that only the crucified and risen Christ himself as present can mediate salvation.

…It is important to appreciate that the conquest of the forces of sin and destruction takes place within Christ’s own person – and, in a sense, in his faith. He won the battle between righteousness and sin “in himself” (triumphans in seipso). Sin, death, and curse are first conquered in the person of Christ; “thereafter,” the whole of creation is to be transformed through his person. And this brings us to a most important insight: salvation is participation in the person of Christ.

Central in Luther’s theology is that in faith the human being really participates by faith in the person of Christ and in the divine life and the victory that is in it. Or, to say it the other way around: Christ gives his person to the human being through the faith by which we grasp it. “Faith” involves participation in Christ, in whom there is no sin, death, or curse. Luther quotes John: “‘For this,’ as John says, `is our victory, faith.”‘ And, from Luther’s point of view, faith is a victory precisely because it unites the believer with the person of Christ, who is in himself the victory.

Theology doesn’t get any more Jesus-shaped than that. It’s all about Christ. He is both the favor of God and the gift of God to humans in need of rescue and transformation (Romans 5:15-17). He conquered the powers of sin, death, and evil in his own person, and then gives himself completely to us, to be received through faith. In the “happy exchange” Martin Luther described, Jesus took all our sin, corruption, and death upon himself, and in return gave us his very righteousness and divine life.

Reformation 500: Luther vs. the Protestants

Indeed, the most serious challenges in Luther’s theology may be to the Protestant tradition.

• Phillip Cary

• • •

In this month of commemorating the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, you would do well to check out the interesting article at First Things by Phillip Cary, Scholar-in-Residence at the Templeton Honors College at Eastern University: Luther at 500.

Cary’s claim is that Protestants as well as Catholics have a lot to learn from Martin Luther, but, surprisingly, he suggests that Protestants may have more to learn than their Roman brethren.

In particular, he argues that we cannot truly understand Luther and what “justification by faith” meant to him without a sacramental perspective. “Protestant theology needs a Catholic notion of sacrament in order to carry out its deepest intention, which is to put faith in the Gospel of Christ alone,” he writes.

As Protestant theology has developed since Luther, it has moved far from the understanding that God saves us through objective, external means of grace, and not through some decision we make or experience we have. Cary calls this “faith in Christ, not faith in faith.”

For Luther, we must believe that we are Christians because Christ said so in our baptism, not because we have made a decision or had a conversion experience or done something to make ourselves into believers. If asked whether we are truly Christians, the answer Luther teaches us to give is simply “Yes, I am baptized.”

This is why we need the ongoing ministry of the sacraments along with the Word. Through them we hear the gospel promise regularly. We remember our baptism daily and celebrate it afresh with each new child or convert welcomed into God’s family. At the Lord’s Table, we hear Christ say to us every week, “This is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for you,” and in his body and blood we receive ongoing forgiveness and renewal as we encounter our Savior in communion.

Another important thing Protestants can recover from Luther, according to Phillip Cary, is a fuller, more robust and life-changing understanding of “justification.” In Protestant theology, justification is a forensic declaration — my sins are no longer counted against me, and I am judged to have a righteous standing before God.

However, Cary notes that Luther actually saw justification as theosis, not mere forensic standing.

What is often overlooked by later Protestant theology is that Christ’s righteousness is the righteousness of God. Recently a strong Finnish tradition of Luther scholarship has repaired this oversight and drawn the appropriate conclusion: that Luther’s teaching about union with Christ, followed by the wondrous exchange in which Christ shares with us every good thing that is his, implies a doctrine of deification. For the goods he shares with us include all that is divine in him, in which we participate—as the Church Fathers say—not by nature but by grace. In Luther’s terms, every divine gift is ours in Christ, who is ours by faith alone.

We are justified because by faith we are united to Christ as wife to husband, and because we are joined to him, everything that belongs to him becomes ours. In the words of David Bentley Hart, we must not think of justification

…in that rather feeble and formal way many Christians have habitually thought of it at various periods in the Church’s history: as some sort of forensic exoneration accompanied by a ticket of entry into an Elysian aftermath of sun-soaked meadows and old friends and consummate natural beatitude. Rather, salvation meant nothing less than being joined to the living God by the mediation of the God-man Himself, brought into living contact with the transfiguring glory of the divine nature, made indeed partakers of the divine nature itself (2 Peter 1:4) and co-heirs of the Kingdom of God. In short, to be saved was—is—to be “divinized” in Christ by the Spirit. In the great formula of St. Irenaeus (and others), “God became man that man might become god.”

This is at the heart of what makes possible what the Augsburg calls “the new obedience” of the Christian. United with Christ, we rise with him into newness of life and the faith which joins us to him frees us to love our neighbor. Freed from the reign of sin and death, united with Christ and therefore endowed with all that belongs to him, I am freed to love and practice good works in the world.

This challenges Protestants who impose a Law-Grace-Law model upon God’s people. Taught that they are saved by grace, many Christians are then plunged back beneath rules and expectations by which their relationship with God is judged.

We later Protestants have a lot to learn from Luther.

The Bible: An Ongoing Dialogue

In short, the very creation of Scripture stemmed from an ongoing dialogue between God and God's people, and of God's people with one another, as they sought to know God and God's workings in the world and faithfully to respond to … [Continue reading...]

18th Sunday after Trinity: Pic & Cantata of the Week

(Click on picture for larger image) Craig Smith comments on todays cantata, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (God shall have my heart, BWV 169). After the first two cantata cycles in Leipzig, Bach became discouraged with the … [Continue reading...]

Saturday Brunch, October 14, 2017: Random Edition

Hello, friends, and welcome to the weekend. Ready for some brunch? You know what I really love about a good restaurant brunch? Well, one thing is that you can eat as much as you want and no-one cares. It's not like lunch. You … [Continue reading...]

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (conclusion)

Ordinary Time Bible Study Philippians: Friends in the Gospel Study Seventeen (conclusion): The Last Thing to Say to Friends • • • Philippians 4:10-23, JB Phillips NT It has been a great joy to me that after all this time you … [Continue reading...]

Evolution: Scripture and Nature say Yes!  Chapter 1- Trapped in Either/Or Thinking

Evolution: Scripture and Nature Say Yes Chapter 1- Trapped in Either/Or Thinking By Denis O. Lamoureux We are going to blog through the new book by frequent Biologos contributor Denis Lamoureux entitled, Evolution: … [Continue reading...]

iMonk Classic: The One and Only

By Michael Spencer -- October 2006 For evangelical people, our authority is the God who has spoken supremely in Jesus Christ. And that is equally true of redemption or salvation. God has acted in and through Jesus Christ for the … [Continue reading...]

Gethsemani Impressions 2017

Gethsemani Impressions 2017 Here are some pictures from my recent weekend at the Abbey of Gethsemani. I did some experimenting with the art filters on my Olympus Pen-F, and ended up with this collection of images that evoke … [Continue reading...]