Deistic Evolution?

For the past week or so I’ve been reading “The Language of God” by Francis S. Collins. Dr. Collins was head of the Human Genome Project when the mapping was essentially complete and so stood by President Clinton to declare the news to the world. Reading this book, I see that it was published not because of what was written, but who wrote it.

No doubt the science of this book is quite good. Much of what Dr. Collins writes is out of my field of experience, and I lack many of the fundamental pieces of information needed to grasp his explanations of biology and genetics. The quality of writing itself is quite poor for a published book, with constant and distracting repetition of words and details already used or provided. The theology is also quite questionable, for at least two reasons.

First, Dr. Collins takes pains at the outset to set himself apart from Deists, affirming the possibility of miracles, but then for the rest of the book shudders at the notion of God as the “God of the Gaps.” As a scientist he rightly rejects the notion that anything unexplained in science ought to be attributed to God, mostly for the very good reason that another answer may later present itself. In actual practice, though, Dr. Collins states that his “theistic evolution” involves God creating the universe and the principles that would bring about evolution, but then: “Once evolution got underway, no supernatural intervention was required.” In other words, Dr. Collins ends up affirming, at least where natural processes are concerned, the deistic view of God as “hands off,” the watchmaker God who wound up the watch and then set back to let it run.

Second, it is apparently essential to theistic evolution to believe in the static view of God, at least as Dr. Collins presents it. He repeats in his book that God is beyond space and time, and knows all events past, present and future. From the way it looks, he affirms the classic view inherited from Greek philosophy and developed in church history that God, but a single will, decreed the existence of the universe and all events. For open theists, who see in Scripture that God makes plans, acts providentially and at times even miraculously to bring His objectives about, and who can even change His mind, theistic evolution makes no sense. God knows all that can be known, but as the future hasn’t happened yet, He simply doesn’t know that. In this view, theistic evolution as presented by Dr. Collins could have just as easily resulted in intelligent reptiles ruling the earth, or a life-filled world devoid of sentience.

While I appreciate the fear-filled fleeing of scientists from a “God of the Gaps” to explain the unexplained, I’m severely disappointed that they can’t seem to find the “God of the Process” who does act providentially to bring about his purposes.

Reconciliation, Part Two

“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18 NRSV).

If reconciliation with God is such a complicated matter (only because we make it complicated), then the same event with other fallen people like ourselves must be thorny indeed!

One side must admit fault and seek the reconciliation but for this to be anything else than a partial peacemaking, the other side must then accept the request for forgiveness and admit his or her own trespass. It is nearly impossible that only one side is at fault, though it may even be that one side was purely the aggressor. A great struggle still may be in living out this newfound peace after the reconciliation. People, unstable as they are, are terrible likely to have another misunderstanding, and another “falling out” between the two is always possible.

And yet, here we are, called to seek peace and pursue it.

“Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NRSV).

Passing the Offering Plate

The latest tempest in the evangelical tea kettle is the so called “ATM for Jesus.” In truth, it’s an automated kiosk that churches can install in the narthex (entrance). The company behind this project is SecureGive, a private company started by a church Pastor and his wife.

I suppose it’s a scandal in the eyes of many simply because it involves a church taking in money. After all the dirty business of 80’s televangelists, any time money and church offerings come up, American society grumbles in suspicion.

Personally, I like the idea. For most of my adult life I haven’t carried cash in my wallet, and for the past several years haven’t even bothered to keep a checkbook with me. Why bother? Most places accept debit cards, and those that don’t usually have an ATM handy. Rarely, except at toll booths, do I need actual money in hand. Why should church be any different?

Traditionalists probably feel that passing the plate is an essential part of the worship experience. Certainly I can appreciate the satisfaction one may feel in physically placing money in a plate or basket, but I personally know that I feel the same satisfaction in doing an online contribution. An “ATM” would certainly be the same for me. Why not do as the churches with ATMs and simply keep both options available?

Of course, my experiences with a cappella Church of Christ people has taught me that some see the offering in worship as an absolute. They primarily cite a passage from 2 Corinthians 9 in order to support the idea that the offering is an essential part of corporate worship. Hogwash! This passage is about giving, but giving not in a worship setting and not to support the ongoing work of a church. This particular passage is dealing with the specific issue of impoverished Christians being helped by believers in another region. It’s a beautiful passage, but one that should not be distorted into a “pattern” for weekly worship.

Again, I’m all in favor of taking up an offering, I just wish people were more flexible about simple changes like this. It’s not really such a big deal.

Gringo Culture in Brazil

I’ve just read an article about “gringos” in Brazil. A good point can be made that Brazilians, Hispanics, Chinese and others are far better about taking their culture with them and reproduce it than Americans, Brits and Canadians are. When I lived in Brazil, it was rare and difficult for me to meet up with Americans to chat (except briefly at the English school), let alone form a center of our culture.

I live near Newark, New Jersey. A section of the town called “Ironbound” is heavily populated by Brazilians, Portuguese and Hispanics. It feels like walking into an urban South American neighborhood to visit there. It might have been nice to have had a piece of North America when I lived in Uberlandia, Brazil.

Now I find out that there’s actually a site that helps connect expatriates in Brazil. At least it’s something.

Reconciliation, Part One

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 NRSV).

Reconciliation sounds pretty, and indeed it is the path to healing and restoration, but it is also a very hard-edged reality. Justthink about what reconciliation means in practical terms.

First, one party usually has to take the initiative in seeking a restoration of the relationship, which requires humility. The person or group taking the initiative may be completely in the right, or maybe not, but in either case humility is needed to “come hat in hand” and seek peace. In a very dramatic way, this is what God has done through Christ. Humility was God becoming a baby, growing up, living, suffering betrayal and abandonment and dying a shameful death.

Second, one or both sides will have to make concessions. In order for a reconciliation to truly work, guilt from whatever side must be admitted and assumed. It all has to be laid out. In the case of God and humankind, God has absolutely no fault, so it is the task of sinful humanity to admit guilt. Simply put, humanity needs to be reconciled to God, not God to humanity.

Third and finally, this reconciliation must be lived. It is not a mere moment or event, but rather an ongoing process of accepting the restored relationship and not only maintaining it, but also building on it. The consistent testimony of Scripture is that God is changeless in His faithfulness, and so His promises are to be believed. A redeemed person, though, continuing in the light of this restoration, is said to be persevering in the faith. It is rather like running a race: If you go only halfway and then quit, you lose.

The Great Pumpkin

This afternoon after work I stopped by a party supply store. After a long and irritating day at work, I couldn’t keep a smile from my face as I walked around looking at the Halloween supplies. I’ve always enjoyed this holiday, and not just because it’s also my birthday.

Many Christians consider it wrong to participate in this annual event, and I respect their opinion. I, for one, find no offense in it, and rejoice to take part.

If I could, my dream costume would be as none other than the Great Pumpkin. One of these years….

Not Innocence

“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:13-16 NRSV).

It is quite popular in modern Western society to associate childhood with innocence. I was a child for a time, and now have children of my own, and so I reject this silly notion. Children are not innocent in the sense that they are incapable of evil, but rather in that they are not fully culpable.

A passage like the one I’ve quoted above from the Gospel of Mark does not teach us that children are innocent. It teaches that children are helpless or at least dependent, and this is how we must be towards God.

Of Apes and Men

Google has a news feature that I love. It pulls news articles from widely varying sources and groups them by topic on a single page, and it refreshes every few minutes. Nice. Sometimes it pulls odd articles from obscure locations, though, and I don’t know what to make of them.

Take “Are we Chimps or the Sons of God?” From the blurb in Google News I expected a serious article about reconciling faith and science. What I got was a meandering article that touched on evolutionary theory and crash landed with a fuzzy example of a miracle at an Orthodox sanctuary in Jerusalem. I came away totally confused about whether the person believes in Creationism or some form of evolution. At best I think he might be defending evolution of other animals but not of humans, but I can’t be sure.

Read it for yourself.