Christian Distinctives: Monday Monologues, October 7, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Christian Distinctives.

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Christian Distinctives: Monday Monologues, October 7, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Creation Living: Monday Monologues, September 30, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Creation Living.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

To listen, click on the link below:

Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Creation Living: Monday Monologues, September 30, 2019 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Run_2019

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A Steward’s Prayer

Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, Lancaster PA
Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, Lancaster PA

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Father of All Creation:

We praise and honor you for you created and sustain us even when we are forgetful and negligent of our stewardship duties.

Forgive our neglect of the created world that we live in and depend on for our very lives.

We thank you for life and your Holy Spirit that sustains us and grants us every good and precious gift for existence and ministry.

We beg your patience with us.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, send us gentle reminders of our obligations to those around us and to your beautify earth. Sustain the freshness of our air and the cleanliness of our water. May our dispositions remain as temperate as your weather. Grant us shelter from the inevitable storms of life and may we extend your Gospel to all who would listen.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

A Steward’s Prayer

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

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Creation Living

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in ChristBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

How does creation fit into your spirituality? 

Myself, when I am anxious at the end of the day, I retire with a good book to my front porch to enjoy a cool breeze, listen to the birds, and watch the sun set through the trees. Here God’s presence comforts me.

Spiritual Roots to Ecological Sensitivity

One of my earliest and most enduring influences was Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. He begins:

“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner to civilized life again.” (Thoreau 1960, 1)

He goes on to explain:

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce to its lowest terms…” (Thoreau 1960, 62-63)

The idea of a Spartan existence, which he immediately related to reformed spirituality paraphrasing the Westminster Shorter Catechism, always had a special appeal to me:

Q: What is the chief end of man?

A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (PCUSA). 1999, 7.001)

Exposed to the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden and to Thoreau, I have always implicitly associated creation with spirituality.⁠1 However, it took a recent reading of Holt (2017, 31) to remind me of my own spiritual roots in this regard.

Genesis describes the earth as God’s creation (Gen 1:1) over which the Holy Spirit hovers (Gen 1:2). We are created in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and given the mandate to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). Later, God created the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:8) and put man into it to “keep it” (Gen 2:15). Reluctant gardeners, perhaps, Adam and Eve sin (Gen 3:6) and are driven out of the garden (Gen 3:24). It is therefore correct to say that original sin not only separated us from communion with God, it introduced tension into our relationship with creation and our intended stewardship role.

The Apostle Paul speaks of this tension, writing:

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8:22-23)

In the hours immediately before his arrest, Jesus retired to the Garden at Gethsemane to pray. Some have interpreted this retreat to Gethsemane as a kind of return to Eden.

Ecological Anxiety

In recent years anxiety about the fragility of our earth’s environment has reached a fever pitch. Where nineteenth century anxiety focused on limits to the quantity of food available to feed a growing population, recent concerns about global warming might be described as prophecy of an ecological Armageddon. How should Christians respond to these concerns?

Few scientists question that the earth is warming. The opening of Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans which was  icebound in the nineteenth century, reminds us that global warming is taking place. Less certain is the question: what can be done about it? In my experience as a Washington economist, the more heated the debate, the less obvious the solution.

What is Our Mandate?

Because the science and politics of global warming are not easily discerned, I do not profess to have all the answers or the ability to direct a solution. My personal limitations, however, do not relinquish me of responsibly as a steward of creation. As Christians we should refuse to play the victim or the villain or to claim that we are powerless in any endeavor. We can do a number of things:

  • We can pray for the Holy Spirit to sustain us and our planet.
  • We can inform ourselves and others about ecological matters.
  • We can reduce our consumption of energy and products known to create environmental hazards.

Following Thoreau, we can live a Spartan lifestyle as a spiritual discipline, mindful of God’s provision and thankful for his protection. Waste not; want not.

References

Holt, Bradley P. 2017. Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Meadows, Donella, H. Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III (MMRB) . 1975. The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books Publishers.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confessions. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Thoreau, Henry David. 1960. Walden and Civil Disobedience (Orig pub 1854). Edited by Sherman Paul. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Footnotes

1 I went on to earn a doctorate in agricultural economics, possessed as it were of a strong desire to deal with the world food problem following the 1970s concern for limited resources and limits to growth (MMRB 1975). This background does not make me an environmentalist, but it gave a deep appreciation for our role as stewards of creation.

Creation Living

Also See:

Value Of Life

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Holt Chronicles Christian Spirituality, Part 1

Holt reviewBradley P. Holt.[1]2017. Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I began writing about Christian spirituality in 2013, I was deeply frustrated with the church’s superficiality and lack of interest in theology. My seminary professors strived to teach me the pastoral arts and how to read and interpret the Bible, but as my relationship with God deepened, I wanted to know still more. Ultimately, my writing helped to address some of these concerns and to share what I learned with others. Still, my soul doth pine for more.

In his book, Thirsty for God, Bradley Holt shares similar concerns:

“…a conviction that Christianity is not only Western religion, that the old books are still worth reading, and that Christians are often unaware of the great resources available to them from sisters and brothers of distant times or places.”(xi)

The depth of Christian spirituality is often lost when pastors focus almost exclusively on the double love command (love God; love others; Matt 22:36-40) reaching out primarily to “seekers” rather than addressing the deeper spiritual yearnings of the majority of their congregation. Holt describes this yearning as: “the living water of God fresh and sparkling and pure”, a thirst (5)

What is Christian Spirituality?

The word, spirituality, often conjures up the image of an exotic Eastern sect where adherents dress funny, chant strange phrases, live in communes, and find religious excuses to use drugs. While it has been years since we last observed such people hanging around airports handing out pamphlets, this backdrop has spoiled many people’s images of spirituality.

Holt reminds us that the root of spirituality is the biblical word, spirit, that in Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma) means breath or wind (6). Holt sees three uses—capacity, style, and academic discipline—but goes on to cite the Zondervan Dictionary of Christian Spirituality definition: “Christian spirituality is the domain of lived Christian experience.” (6-7)

Perhaps more interesting, Holt see biblical spirituality comprised of four basic relationships: “relationships to God, to self, to others, and to creation.” (31) In my own writing I have followed Nouwen (1975, 20) in focusing on the first three so the fourth attracted my attention. The relationship with creation is, of course, highlighted in Celtic spirituality’s attention to nature and the life and witness of Saint Francis of Assisi who was known to preach to birds and animals. Creation has more recently come up again in discussions of environmental concerns.

Background and Organization

Bradley P. Holt is a professor emeritus at Augsburg University, where he also studied as an undergraduate. He is a graduate of Luther Theological Seminary and received his doctorate at Yale University. Holt writes in ten chapters:

1.    What is Christian Spirituality?

2.    The Bible and the Four Relationships

3.    The Beginning of a Global Community

4.    The European Era

5.    Protestant and Catholic Reform

6.    The Modern Era

7.    The West Since 1900

8.    The Non-Western World Since 1900

9.    Interfaith Spirituality for Christians

10. Christian Spirituality and Ecology (ix)

The chapters are proceeded by acknowledgments and an introduction and followed by an afterword, appendix, and several indices.

The Spiritual Side of Creation

Creation formed perhaps the most interesting aspect of Holt’s treatment of spirituality, who writes:

“God intends humans to care for the earth, not destroy it, and that an exclusive other worldly focus on salvation in Jesus can distract us Christians from our responsibilities to the creation.” (264)

Although I have devoted the past six years to writing about Christian spirituality, this point escaped me, but not because I was unaware of his point. For me, it was an idea that simply occupied another room in mind, not labeled spirituality.

One of my earliest and most enduring influences was Henry David Thoreau’s Waldenwho begins:

“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner to civilized life again.”(Thoreau 1960, 1)

He goes on to explain:

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce to its lowest terms…”(Thoreau 1960, 62-63)

The idea of a Spartan existence, which he immediately related to reformed spirituality paraphrasing the Westminster Shorter Catechism,[2] always had a special appeal to me. Exposed to the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden and to Thoreau, I have always implicitly associated creation with spirituality.[3]⁠ However, it took a recent reading of Holt (31) to remind me of my own spiritual roots in this regard.

Assessment

Part one of this review gives an overview while part two will provide more detailed examples.

Bradley P. Holt’s Thirsty for Godprovides a thorough overview of Christian spirituality with a rich, annotated biography of significant authors in the field. Western and non-Western authors are discussed. Among the Western authors, Holt is balanced in his treatment of Protestant and Catholic influences. Although he writes for an academic audience, his writing is accessible and informative.

References

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confessions. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Thoreau, Henry David. 1960. Walden and Civil Disobedience (Orig pub 1854). Edited by Sherman Paul. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Footnotes

[1]https://www.augsburg.edu/faculty/holtb.

[2]Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (PCUSA). 1999, 7.001)

[3]I went on to earn a doctorate in agricultural economics, possessed as it were of a strong desire to deal with the world food problem following the 1970s concern for limited resources and limits to growth (MMRB 1975). This background does not make me an environmentalist, but it gave a deep appreciation for our role as stewards of creation.

Holt Chronicles Christian Spirituality, Part 1

Also See:

Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

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Lament over Creation

Diane's flowersBy Stephen W. Hiemstra
 
Heavenly Father,
 
I mourn over your creation
that displays your glory,
but here on earth often seems
like flowers out of focus.
 
Why is the water unfit for drinking and the air neither fresh nor clear?
Do song birds still sing or have obese house kitties carried them away?
 
I miss the pleasure of gardening and hearing kids playing in the yard.
 
Yet, you are the God
that brings the sunshine and the rain that waters the land.
The dragonflies know your name and
even the stars and moon display your light.
 
Holy Spirit,
in your gentle wisdom,
restore balance to the heavens and earth
before our provision
becomes the stuff of myths and legends
long forgotten in a distance past.
 
In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Lament over Creation

Also see:

Prayer for Healthy Limits 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Presuppositional Ethics

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Much of our ethical training is unconsciously absorbed from our surroundings at home, in church, and in society. Even when we are given formal ethics training in our offices, it typically focuses on the minimum legal requirement for the office to escape legal liability under specific rules, regulations, or laws. The real business of ethical behavior is seldom discussed, taught, or even codified. Even the Christian faith itself is more caught than taught, as an old saw goes. In philosophy, this implicit knowledge is referred to as a presupposition.

Most of the time in philosophy and theology, we assume a cognitive approach to learning. The presumption is that human being are essentially rational and that faith itself is a rational undertaking. The Bible suggests, however, that this cognitive approach has two important limitations when we discuss ethics and faith.

Creation Influences Thought

The first limitation arises because we are created, male and female, in the image of a triune God. Being created to live and reproduce in families implies that we experience the world in community. Much as we want our independence, our thoughts, feelings, and language are not entirely our own.

Being created in the image of a triune God reinforces a focus on community. The Bible portrays God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a complete community in the godhead, as Jesus references after the Last Super: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26) In imaging a triune God, we image a community, something we can neither fully embody nor understand. By contrast, a unitary god is fixed, stable, and offers mostly an opportunity for self-projection, where a triune God is dynamic, engaging, and alive.

In particular, the language we speak shapes our perceptions of reality in fundamental ways, not the least of which is that it reflects the culture we live and worship in. Our attitudes about gender, work, faith, and many other things are embedded in the words that we use and do not use. We are not alone in this world even in our own thoughts and feelings—we carry our community with us wherever we go.

The Hebrew Heart

The second limitation of the cognitive approach arises out of who we are. The Hebrew mindset assumed in the New Testament saw mind and body as different parts of a unified whole, whose center is the heart (cardia) while the Greeks distinguished mind and body as separate. Confusion arises when we assume incorrectly that the New Testament sees the heart as a body part and we treat heart and mind as separated, like the Greeks and most secular people.

This confusion implies that the cognitive approach cannot fully inform our faith because it is based on faulty Greek anthropology. As theologian James K.A. Smith (2016, 2) writes:

Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t inform our intellect but forms our very loves…His teaching doesn’t just touch the calm, cool, collected space of reflection and contemplation, he is a teacher who invades the heated, passionate regions of the heart. He is the Word who penetrates even dividing the soul and spirit; he judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb 4:12)

Inherent in this statement is the Hebrew view of anthropology cited above—note the two references to heart. What Greek would talk about “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”? Drawing attention to this anthropology, Smith (2016, 5) asks: “Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do?” If he had the rational mind in view, no such gap would exist but, of course, we all experience this gap.

This line of thought leads Smith (2016, 7) to observe: “what if you are defined not by what you know [the mind] but by what you desire? [the heart]” If our desires are reflected more in our actions than in our words, then this Hebrew anthropology leads us immediately into an inconvenient, but vital, discussion of ethics because our hearts are not lily-white clean as our words. It also forces us to discuss how we know what we know (the epistemology question) because our hearts are not so easily persuaded to follow even our own thoughts. Suddenly, much of the New Testament language sounds less churchy and more informed by an alternative world view, one decidedly not Greek.

Clearly, we cannot talk about thinking independent of feelings and we cannot think entirely independent of the communities that we reside and worship in. We need to proceed to treat them as interdependent, complicated as that might be. Still, as best we can, we need to understand better how we know what we know before we can even talk about our faith.

Ethical Teaching in the Psalms

An important example of ethics being taught through osmosis is found in the liturgical use of the psalms. Wenham (2012, 1-2) writes:

“It is the ethic taught by the liturgy of the Old Testament, the Psalter, that is the focus of this book. The psalms were sung in the first and second temples, and in the subsequent two millennia they have been reused in the prayers of the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church. As we will see, the psalms have much to say about behavior, about what actions please God and what he hates, so that anyone praying them is simultaneously being taught an ethic.”

Wenham (2012, 7) goes on to explain:

“This book, then, is an attempt to begin to deal with a blind spot in current biblical and theological thinking. I have called it Psalms as Torah out of my conviction that the psalms were and are vehicles not only of worship but also of instruction, which is the fundamental meaning of Torah, otherwise rendered ‘law’. From the very first psalm, the Psalter presents itself as a second Torah, divided into five books like the Pentateuch, and it invited its readers to meditate on them day and night, just as Joshua was told to meditate on the law of Moses (Ps 1.2; Josh 1:8).”

A key insight that Wenham offers is the effect of memorization and putting the Psalms to music on ethical teaching. In my own case, I can remember memorizing Psalm 23 and Psalm 100 many times through the years, even in different languages, and I prayed Psalm 8 daily as a centering prayer for about 10 years. I used to joke, be careful what songs you sing because once you get Alzheimer’s, they are the last thing that you forget—you don’t want to leave this world singing the Oscar Mayer Wiener jiggle!

Wenham notes that many Psalms are written in the first person. Repeating such psalms in prayer or song accordingly is like repeating a vow before God, yourself, and others. He writes:

“If we praise a certain type of behavior in our prayers, we are telling God that this is how we intend to behave. On the other hand, if in prayer we denounce certain acts and pray for God to punish them, we are in effect inviting God to judge us if we do the same. This makes the ethics of liturgy uniquely powerful. It makes a stronger claim on the believer than either law, wisdom, or story, which are simply subject to passive reception: one can listen to a proverb or a story and then take it or leave it, but if you pray ethically, you commit yourself to a path of action.” (Wenham 2012, 57)

Because many of us grew up singing hymns and liturgy inspired by Psalms, this tradition helped insulate us from less reflective and negative influences that seem so pervasive today—it’s not just the Oscar Mayer Wiener commercials.

References

Smith, James K. A. 2016. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.

Wenham, Gordon J. 2012. Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Presuppositional Ethics

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Isness

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

“The earth was without form and void, and
darkness was over the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God was hovering
over the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

How do we know that we exist?

Pre-Existence

My memoir, Called Along the Way, begins by recounting a childhood dream:

“As a child, a dream returned to me over and over where I felt suspended, neither awake or asleep, but paralyzed as if lost in time and place. Everything was fuzzy: neither light nor dark, hot nor cold, silent nor voiced. My limbs had a tingly feeling, like an arm that had fallen asleep or a leg that refused to support your weight. To describe it as a dream suggests that I might wake up, but this dream lingered refusing me the opportunity to stir, as if I faced a decision. Yet, what decision?”

Hayaski (2016) describes such childhood dreams as memories from the womb.

Glimpses from the Edge

The idea that we exist implies a change in our state of being and some awareness of it. When I work out, some mornings I run through my routine doing mat work with little thought about it, requiring a bit more effort on some days than others. Other days the same routine becomes impossible, not for lack of strength but because my mind is distracted—it is as if I were watching a video of my body and lost all connection to it. 

At one point, I reflected on my frequent experience of depression on Saturdays. Why was Saturday evening frequently the most difficult period during the week? Then, it occurred to me that after a hard week of work I almost always found myself physically exhausted on Saturday. I was not depressed; I was tired. 

Descartes famous dictum—Cognito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) could not be true—because my awareness of existence does not depend entirely on my physical or cognitive state.

Identity Formation

The meta narrative of scripture offers an interesting interpretation of who we are. We are created in the image of God. Almost immediately thereafter, we sin, breaking the only commandment of God—do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The rest of scripture is the story of our reconciliation with God. 

This brief sketch, often repeated, is a coming of age story. A coming of age story, like the Parable of the Prodigal Son, describes creation, the need to establish an identity independent of our parents, and, then, a lifelong desire to reunite with them. The Prodigal Son is ironically a narrative about becoming an adult.

The older son in Luke 15 provides insight into the postmodern dilemma. The older brother never established an identity independent of his father and, as such, became a biblical example of co-dependency. He serves his father out of fear and resents both his younger brother and his father. He never attains true maturity as an adult and never learns to love his father. The older brother’s failure to launch leaves him immature, bitter, and unable to function as an adult.

Existence as a Continuum

Existence exists in a continuum from physical being to fully formed adult. Our parents are the immediate instrument of our creation and maturity by God. Alive or dead, awake or sleep, young or old, we are created beings, but our awareness of existence comes through relationship. This awareness starts with intimacy, then grows through tension and re-establishment of intimacy in independence. 

For the Christian, in relationship existence has a qualitative aspect that defines who we are and forms the foundation for all that we do. Being created in the image of a sovereign God means that we have almost limitless room for growth into that image. Because God is good, our growth into the image has an inherently ethical trajectory.  Because relationships are fragile, the need for the mentoring of the Holy Spirit through prayer, scripture, and the church is intensive and ongoing.

This is the foundation of Christian ethics.

References

Hayasaki, Erika. 2016. “Traces of Times Lost: How childhood memories shape us, even after we’ve forgotten them.” The Atlantic. November 29.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2017. Called Along the Way: A Spiritual Memoir. Centreville: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Isness

Also see:

Preface to Living in Christ 

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Monday Monologues: Creation, August 20, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, www.StephenWHiemstra.net
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I pray about baptism and talk about creation.

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: Creation, August 20, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Arguments about Creation

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Discussions about the rationality of faith in the twentieth century invariably focus on the Genesis account of creation: its biblical interpretation, the Darwin discoveries, and the political context. Let me consider each in turn.

What Does Genesis Say?

The first chapter in Genesis paints a picture of God as divine creator who calls the universe into being with words spoken over a period of seven days. While much is made of God as a sovereign, king of kings, the language is not one of command, but of invitation: “Let there be.” God is a gentle sovereign who ruled by virtue of creative activity, not conquest nor purchase, nor chance, and in his first specific act of creation, created light—a metaphor for virtue (Gen 1:3). 

The first verse offers a summary: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) Who created? God created. When did he create? In the beginning. What did he create? Heaven and earth—everything. 

This one verse radically changed the perception of time and space. In the Ancient Near East, the time that mattered was day and night, and the seasons—spring, summer, fall, and winter—that controlled the cycles of agriculture. The space that mattered was the boundaries on a particular kingdom or empire. Here in this verse, God stands outside of time and space creating both. There are no paths up the mountain to this god, because he transcends both. The god of Genesis must come down the mountain to us.

How do we know? The Genesis account comes to us as the confession of the church. In creating the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing), the god in Genesis is nothing like other gods of the Ancient Near East, which appeared more like today’s celebrities, movie stars, and athletes. God redefined what it meant to be a god. 

Not only was he sovereign; he was completely free of the constraints of this world.  When God told Moses from the burning bush: “I AM WHO I AM”  (Exod 3:14), what he meant was: I am the real deal—a real god, not like the wish-fulfillment gods that Pharaoh created and that we create to serve our own needs.

The Darwin Discoveries

The nineteenth century brought amazing discoveries about our world in agriculture, manufacturing, science, and medicine. While authors like Marx and Freud likened religion to being on drugs and being delusional, Darwin stuck to his knitting in exploring the biological world taking stock of the fossil record and the diversity of species. Theorizing that ancient species of animals evolved into those that we see today, his theory of evolution quickly became viewed as a competing vision of the creation account in Genesis. 

Political Uses of Evolution

From the spontaneous generation of life from inorganic compounds to the development of human species, Darwin gave Marxists and other secular religionists a creation account that erased God from the picture. National Socialists in Germany likewise picked up on Darwin’s survival of the fittest to posit the existence of a master race, the German folk, among humans. The attacks on the creation accounts in Genesis quickly elevated quickly into power politics on a world scale. If as Nietzsche philosophied, God is dead, then anything goes. With our gentle God out of view, the secular religionists quickly built concentration camps and fired up the gas chambers. Millions perished.

Returning to Genesis

Ironically, while Marx and Freud were atheists, Darwin was a practicing Christian. Think about it. God’s invitation in creation does not describe how the instrument of creation beyond the invitation. Borrowing a legal analogy, when Congress passes a law, it usually does not care how the President implements the law beyond offering resources and perhaps a target deadline. God could easily have used evolution to see to it that his invitation in creation takes place. When your father flicks on a light switch and announces—let there be light, you could say that he, like our Heavenly Father, has a sense of humor, even if it is a dad joke.

A Doubting Church

The problem in the nineteenth century arose as doubt in society seeped into the church. Rather than calling out Marx and Freud for slandering God and his church, the criticism sunk in. Some found refuge in philosophic defenses of God’s existence, while others labored to make sure that Christians experienced deep emotional experiences in the pews on Sunday with great music and a good sermon. 

This adoption of Greek anthropology, separating thinking and emotions, weakened the church and mimicked stereotypes of men as thinkers and women as emotional. Without ritual, without deep teaching, without deep commitment and church discipline, the church acted as if the Bible were little more than a source of bedtime stories for the kids. Without moral training that recognizes the tension in practice between different theological principles, like purity of the church and evangelism, churches began to split over affinity to one theological principle over another.

Science in Service of Faith

The fascination with science peaked in World War II. With the invention of numerous instruments of mass destruction—mass bombings, napalm, death camps, nuclear weapons, and political uses of psychology and euthanasia—people woke up to the need for limits on scientific investigation. 

Several aspects of science proved helpful in understanding our faith. One is to notice that the scientific method—felt need, problem definition, data collection, analysis, recommendations, responsibility bearing—starts with assumptions about what is needed. These assumptions about how our world works start with the words we use and our faith. Is it any wonder that numerous modern languages began with a translation of the Bible into the local dialect? The King James version of the Bible played that role in English; Luther’s Bible played that role in German.

The Big Bang theory of creation started from measurement of the direction and speed of partials in space that point to a partial time and place where the known universe began with a singularity—a single point. In an instant, the entire universe came into being. No one can say why, but the evidence that it happened is written in the stars. And guess what? The confession of the church in Genesis is completely consistent with this theory from science.

Who has the better story? Which story would you rather live into?

Arguments about Creation

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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