Friday, July 28, 2006

Book Review: Astronomy and the Bible

We are often exposed to “scientific” articles, books and television programs that ignore and even mock the Bible’s clear teaching concerning the Creator. Because of this, Christians are sometimes intimidated, especially in a culture which insists that science is the sole propriety of secular humanism; but if the study of Physics, Biology and Astronomy should do anything to the Christian, it should increase our own sense of wonder and awe for the One who simply spoke the vast cosmos into existence by His powerful Word (Hebrews 11:3, Psalm 33:6). Instead of avoiding these subjects, Christians must understand that genuine science is the propriety of God, and is therefore to be enjoyed by His children, both for personal edification, as well as for outreach and evangelism to the lost. With this in mind, I will be introducing book reviews (from time to time) on various scientific works that can be used by brethren in order to increase their understanding of the sciences in an age of scholastic misinformation.

One such book is Astronomy and the Bible, Questions & Answers, by Dr. Donald B. DeYoung.

Dr. DeYoung is Chairman of the Department of Physical Science at Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana. He holds a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics, as well as an M. Div. from Grace Seminary. DeYoung’s approach to the subject of Astronomy is clearly Biblical. Refreshingly, he deals with many of the sticky questions that normally surround modern cosmology, but with the priority of Biblical authority. Within the brief span of just 176 pages, DeYoung manages to raise and answer one hundred popular questions dealing with Cosmology and Physics. In particular, he addresses the most common questions dealing with:

  • Geocentricity (Is the earth at the center of the universe?).
  • The Anthropic Principle (a term which speaks of the uniqueness of earth’s habitable environment).
  • What is the big bang?
  • What is the age of the universe?
  • Should man be in space?
  • What is background radiation?
  • What’s wrong with studying astrology?

This small sample of his one hundred questions provides a preview of DeYoung’s very helpful review of Cosmology and Physics. Many of the questions that he raises are designed to bust certain modern myths. Others are designed to clarify matters that are often misunderstood in the popular culture. I find that his simple answers are thorough enough, and yet simple enough, to equip believers for personal edification as well as for sharing the Gospel with others. You don’t need a Physics degree in order to read and understand this book! At the same time, this work will certainly challenge your thinking about many discussions that have fallen prey to secular humanism. I offer it to you with my highest recommendation.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

We’re All Gonna Die...

Several weeks ago theoretical physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking posited a question on Yahoo!Answers about the survival of the human race. At first, many believed that it was a hoax since they assumed that the question was posted by someone pretending to be the famous author of “A Brief History of Time.” But it was not a hoax. The question really was posted by Dr. Hawking and it was quite simple: “How can the human race survive the next hundred years?” The responses to his question have been impressively voluminous - with 24,785 answers as of the date of this post. Not only has his question drawn a great deal of attention, but it has also garnered a wide variety of proposed answers. I am always fascinated when scientists contemplate this question - it is an indirect acknowledgement of mankind’s limitations. It is also an affirmation of this plain truth - that we live in a very hostile universe, from the most distant galaxies to the very inhabitants of planet earth. Above all other dimensions of hostility in this universe, mankind is the greatest manifestation of hostility because he is the hostile enemy of God (Romans 5:8-10) and this is why men are in constant enmity with one another (Romans 3:15). Therefore, the warfares and crimes of men are simply a secondary illustration of mankind’s primary enmity with the Creator. This is the most serious and obvious hostility that we see illustrated on a daily basis. But there is yet another aspect of hostility in this universe in which we live:

(1) First of all, there is space itself. The average temperature of space is 2.73 Kelvin, or -454° fahrenheit. A human body subjected to such an extreme temperature would freeze instantly. However, even if you could remove the problem of temperature itself, the vaccum of space, along with the absence of breathable air, would kill you anyway.

(2) The nearest star to planet earth (the Sun) is a raging beast. Left to itself, it would eventually become a red giant before it collapsed into a white dwarf. In such a red giant phase, it would expand to such an extent so as to engulf the orbits of Mercury, Venus and the Earth. But even before this could ever happen, it would have increased in its energy output enough to destroy all life on Earth anyway.

(3) Then there is the constant threat of incoming asteroids. What most people do not know is that there is a branch of modern cosmology that is growing rapidly and is focused on tracking asteroids that may pose a risk to Earth. NASA itself is increasing its budget for the NEO program (Near Earth Orbit Program) in order to track possible risks. What has sparked interest in this subject recently are the several near misses have have occurred in the last three years, including a number of asteroids that were completely undetected because they approached the Earth from our astronomical blind spot - the sun. In fact, one astroid came so close that it passed between some of our orbiting satellites and the earth itself (2004 YD5).

Based upon the current models of cosmology, we’re all gonna die - eventually. Of course, as Christians, we know that the present Heavens and Earth will be destroyed - not by natural causes, but by the Creator Himself who will subject all of creation to His final judgment. But what is interesting to note is that the modern scientist understands that humanity cannot endure this hostile Universe - even if he survives the next 100 years, mankind will face some form of catastrophe, they surmise. But instead of looking to the Lord, who has promised to create a new Heavens and new Earth (Revelation 21:1), men are trying to find ways to establish a new earth by their own strength and wisdom. Below is a video of a BBC program (Space with Sam Neill: New Worlds) which surveys some of this very form of scientific fantasy. It proposes how we could possibly make other planets and moons habitable for our use in the future. Frankly, it’s a bunch of science fiction which denies our ultimate fate as fallen humans, but I would encourage you to watch the program and even consider how you might use it as a witnessing tool with unbelievers that you know. Without the Lord, this BBC program is depressing and hopeless! But this is why I would suggest that it would be a helpful tool to use with others for the sake of the Gospel. It is 30 minutes long and at times a bit frustrating to watch, but when you have a moment, I would encourage you to take a peek at it.

My review of this film:

Romans 1:22-23: 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Armoury - Unblogged

In lieu of blogging this week, I managed to construct my schedule such that my son and I could step away for two days of some father & son time. All this came about because Sandra and our four girls hosted a fellowship and sleep-over for the young ladies in our church - a good time to get out of everyone’s way.

Micaiah and I had a wonderful time together. On the first night of our two day camping trip, Micaiah asked if he could share a devotion from his readings in Pilgrim’s Progress. With Bibles opened, we talked about Christian’s encounter with Adam and his three daughters - Lust of the Flesh, the Lust of the Eyes, and the Pride of Life (1 John 2:15-17). We then discussed the believer’s perpetual battle with sin and our continual need for grace.

Our times in prayer and in the Word were the highlight for me. But along with this we managed to find time to play checkers, throw a baseball and yes - do some fishing. This final activity was a good lesson in God’s sovereign blessings. The first day that we fished, we brought back nothing. On the second day, we caught nine fish (we could have kept them all, but we threw back five). We gave thanks for His provision and then headed home to our Beasley ladies. So all in all, The Armoury was utterly Unblogged for the week - But it was a great trade-off!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Psalm 33:6: By The Word of the Lord...

Psalm 33:6

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.

The Cassini Photo Essay

Simply Beautiful...

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Church Songs for Whiny Brats

A few days ago I came across The Sacred Sandwich’s satirical advertisement for “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, American Edition.” You’ll just have to visit it to believe it. What was funny about it is the fact that it truly captured the modern church’s “whimpiness” in many ways. We in America really are strangers to persecution - and we often fail to recognize that fact. I especially chuckled when I read this imagined review from Christianity Today:

“Read this modern version of a Reformation classic and see why Christianity Today calls it ‘a thin book perfect for rolling up and using to smack whiny Christian brats upside the head!’"

Their satirical advertisement was not only funny (at one level), but it was also rather sad. What was sad about it was that it is more true to life than it should be. I must confess that it is too easy to be a whiny brat in our affluent, American culture. As Christians, we must guard ourselves against the superficiality and shallowness that saturates our culture. We must guard against shallowness in our relationship with the Lord; shallowness in our doctrine; shallowness in our relationships with brethren and with the lost; and we must also guard against shallowness in the books that we read, the movies that we watch and songs that we sing and listen to. In this last area, I would suggest to you that the church has been steadily losing ground for many years. Especially when it comes to church hymnody, the church has been systematically substituting doctrinally sound songs which the modern mush that the masses love to hear. Even when it comes to theologically sound hymns, many today are redacting their contents, one verse at a time. Tim Challes recently posted on the interesting habit that some worship leaders have of failing to sing all of the verses in a hymn. This common practice in the church runs the risk of reducing, or even altering, the message of a hymn. But there is another problem with the modern church’s approach to ancient hymnody, and it has to do with how hymns are actually published. Many times hymns are published in an abbreviated form such that the worshipper is unaware that the hymn has already been truncated - even before the worship leader gets to it. Last Wednesday evening, during our Bible study and prayer meeting, I led our flock in that classic hymn, The Church’s One Foundation, by Samuel J. Stone. In part, I did this after thinking more about Sacred Sandwich’s satire on Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, American Edition:

(1) The Church’s one foundation Is Jesus Christ her Lord she is His new creation by water and the word; from heav’n He came and sought her To be His holy bride; with His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.

(2) Elect from ev’ry nation, yet one o’er all the earth; Her charter of salvation: One Lord, one faith, one birth; One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food, And to one hope she presses with ev’ry grace endued.

(3) ’Mid toil and tribulation and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace forevermore; Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest, And the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.

(4) Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One, And mystic Sweet communion with those whose rest is won; O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we, like them the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with Thee.

This is the most common version of this hymn in print today. I have a collection of over 50 hymnals from the past 100 years and I can attest that nearly all versions of this hymn (with very few exceptions) contain the above four verses; and I’m sure that everyone who is reading this is familiar with them. What you may not know is that The Church’s One Foundation was one in a series of 12 hymns written by Samuel Stone amidst a great torrent of doctrinal controversy. Stone was so concerned about the weak doctrine of the church, and the encroaching error that was threatening it, that he resolved to write 12 pedagogical hymns that were designed to remind the children of God of what our calling and mission in life is. Consider the following summary offered by Osbeck in his work 101 Hymn Stories:

“[The Church’s One Foundation] was written by a Church of England pastor, Samuel J. Stone, in 1866. It was during this period that there existed much turmoil within the Anglican Church over a book written three years earlier by one of the influential Anglican Bishops, John William Colenso, in which this liberal bishop attacked the historic accuracy of the Pentateuch. The book, The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua, Critically Examined, was vehemently opposed by another Anglican leader, Bishop Gray. Soon the theological dispute between these two leaders became a widespread controversy throughout the entire Anglican Church. Samuel Stone was deeply stirred by this matter and in 1866 wrote a collection of hymns, Lyra Fidelium (”Lyre of the Faithful”), containing twelve creedal hymns based on the Apostles’ Creed to combat the attacks of modem scholarship and liberalism which he felt would soon divide and destroy the church. This particular hymn was based on the Ninth Article of the Creed, which reads, “The Holy Catholic (Universal) Church; the Communion of Saints: He is the Head of this Body.” It was Stone’s conviction that the unity of the Church must rest solely with a recognition of the Lordship of Christ as its head and not on the views and interpretations of men.” [Osbeck, K. W. (1982). 101 hymn stories. Includes music and index. (243). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications.]

The background of The Church’s One Foundation is fascinating. Part of the original pedagogy of Stone’s hymn deals with the difficult subjects of doctrinal heresy, false brethren, suffering, church schisms and persecution from within and without.

You caught all that in the four verses listed above...right?

Maybe not. Actually, the verses that are typically left out of The Church’s One Foundation are the very ones that we whiny-brat-Americans need to hear the most. Let’s look at this hymn once again, but this time with the verses that are typically omitted:

(1) The Church’s one foundation Is Jesus Christ her Lord she is His new creation by water and the word; from heav’n He came and sought her To be His holy bride; with His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.

(2) Elect from ev’ry nation, yet one o’er all the earth; Her charter of salvation: One Lord, one faith, one birth; One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food, And to one hope she presses with ev’ry grace endued.

(3) ’Mid toil and tribulation and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace forevermore; Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest, And the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.

(4) Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?” and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

(5) The church shall never perish! Her dear Lord to defend, to guide, sustain, and cherish, is with her to the end; though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale, against or foe or traitor she ever shall prevail.

(6) Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One, And mystic Sweet communion with those whose rest is won; O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we, like them the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with Thee.

Verses 4 and 5 are absolutely loaded with difficult, but very real truths: doctrinal heresy, false brethren, suffering, church schisms and persecution from within and from without.

No wonder they are often left out of most modern hymnals!

This reality of hymnal redaction makes it an even greater challenge for the modern worship leader to know whether he is dealing with a complete hymn or not. Many times he is not, and therefore it becomes necessary to have multiple resources with which to compare to his own resources. Such work may seem excessive - but it has become necessary in the modern day.

Samuel Stone wanted to leave the bride of Christ with the encouraging truths and sober warnings that she needed in order to face the many battles that surround her. But most modern publishers have taken it upon themselves to truncate Stone’s important message for reasons that are beyond me. Although I suppose that in a generation that seems to want to live in denial of the trials of life, along with the harsh realities of bearing Christ’s cross, such redactions should offer little surprise. For myself - I need Mr. Stone’s godly and sober reminders. I need to be reminded that following Christ means taking up His cross. I need to read this constant message in the Scriptures, and I need to meditate upon this truth in the songs that I sing. Yes, even the hymns that we sing should help us to remember that were are but strangers and aliens in this world. Because of this reality, we will face opposition for the Gospel that we proclaim; and for all we know, our generation may face persecution like that of the church’s past. Therefore, may the Lord make us His ready solidiers who stand in the strength of His might - lest we too become a bunch of whiny-Christian brats.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Book Review: One Blood

“If anyone wishes to know where the tadpole of Darwinism was hatched, we could point him to the pew of the old chapel in High Street, Shrewsbury, where Mr. Darwin, his father, and we believe his father’s father, received their religious training.” [The Sword and the Trowel, The Downgrade, April 1887].

The legacy of evolutionary theory has been around for more than a century, and its destructive influence has continued to make advances, not only in the culture at large, but even in the church. If there is a change at all, from Spurgeon’s day to the present, then it might be found in the way in which the church perceives and approaches this contest between evolutionism and creationism. In fact, in many ways, the modern church has capitulated to many of the tenants of evolutionary theory without even comprehending that it has done so - and this needs to change. It is this very issue that is addressed in One Blood, The Biblical Answer to Racism, co-authored by Ken Ham, Dr. Carl Wieland & Dr. Don Batten. Their approach to this subject is quite simple: Racism is an invalid ideology because there is no such thing as multiple races. Instead, there is just one race and it is called the human race. Thier assessment of this matter is fully developed in the book, but I would simply add here that the English word itself is often misused and misunderstood in the common culture. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (full edition), the term race refers to "A group of persons, animals, or plants, connected by common descent or origin." Based upon that definition alone, it is better to assert that there is in fact just one race since we all have our “common descent or origin” from one man - Adam. The principle text that guides One Blood is found in Acts 17 where the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel in Athens:

Acts 17:24-26: 24“God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25“Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings...”

The Lord made from one blood, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth. Clearly, verse 26 is the focal text of One Blood. Throughout this work, their approach is overtly biblical. Thus, every aspect of science, history, archeology, and biology is understood in view of the biblical record - not the other way around. Thier commitment to inerrancy is therefore refreshing, especially in a world of integrationist “scholars” whose design is to subject the Bible to what they see as modern “science.” But this is not the approach of Ham, Wieland & Batten. One Blood clearly shows that modern day racism has been fueled by Darwinian philosophy. When people in the modern day speak of racism, they are typically referring to the distinction of skin color, however One Blood clearly demonstrates that skin color is a useless and unbiblical distinction. It shows that skin color is simply a variation of the primitive skin pigmentation called melanin; in other words, the typical categories of skin color (white, black, brown or yellow) are just variations of this one skin pigmentation - melanin. They go on to point out that skin color is a very minor distinction between humans, since there is more He has made from one blood every nation of mengenetic variation between humans based upon eye color than there is between skin color!

Overall, I consider this to be a very solid and helpful work. It is also a work which challenges us to consider how we think of other people, and how we might reach out to them with the Gospel. I can tell you right now that if someone ever brings up the subject of racism - it is a wonderful Gospel opportunity (it certainly was an opportunity for the Apostle Paul with the proud and arrogant Athenians who were convinced of their own supremacy over the rest of mankind). Rather than talking to others about racism, feel free to speak to them about the oneness of the human race - how it is that we were made from one blood - the blood of the first Adam. This then presents the important opportunity to tell them about the shed blood of the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Starting with this review, I will begin the process of offering some book and DVD reviews in the future. I will try to focus on Biblical commentaries, theologies and scientific works in an attempt to offer some small contribution to the already ample supply of book reviews today.

One final comment on this concept of race (for those who are wondering): Most English translations contain a hanful of references which contain the word “race.” They do this in an attempt to convey the idea of a distinct genealogy. There are only a few occurrences of this word, but consider the example in Mark 7:26 which refers to the woman who was of the Syrophoenician “race” (genous). I believe that the translators’ better choice would be genealogy or descent (see Revelation 22:16). Lexically speaking, the English word “race” is far too broad in concept, and is therefore potentially confusing, especially in our current day

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Contemplating Our Religious Freedoms

As Americans, we are all very familiar with that great charter of American freedom known as the Bill of Rights. In particular, the first amendment is perhaps the most familiar to us whereby our right of free speech, assembly, press, governmental petition and religion, are all clearly affirmed. In short, we as Americans can go to church where we want and when we want. But in recalling this crucial American truth, it seems that the more fundamental question regarding our right and freedom to worship still remains unanswered. While we are all free to worship God (as American citizens), we must still consider whether or not God actually receives our worship. In other words, we may ask: “Are we using our freedoms in a way that pleases God?”

Consider for a moment the ancient precedent of worship among the Jews in 1st century Palestine. The Roman Empire afforded the Jews adequate religious freedom such that they could offer their worship in the temple in Jerusalem. Their Sabbaths and their many religious holidays kept the city of Jerusalem bustling with busy worshippers who came faithfully to the temple, enjoyingWhat is acceptable worship in the sight of God? their civil right to do so. Now, recall with me a day in which a young rabbi entered the temple in Jerusalem during one of the busiest holidays of the year: the Passover celebration, where nearly 3 million Jewish pilgrims would come in order to offer their worship to God. Amidst all the religious excitement, the hustle and bustle of this booming worship service, there was a serious, and even violent disruption: A loud commotion erupted with the sounds of coins dropping to the ground, the loud crack of a whip; sheep, cattle and numerous people fleeing the temple, while countless doves made their desperate escape from the temple courtyard. What happened? An unexpected visitor came and disrupted the services by exposing the unacceptable expressions of worship in the temple. The disrupter’s name: Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 2:13-16). Consider the following observations regarding this important event: 1. These Passover worship services were protected by the secular laws and leaders of Rome and 2. The worship rendered was deemed as acceptable in the eyes of the religious leaders of that time and place, however the worship that was offered in the temple was regarded as detestable in the eyes of almighty God. Why? Because these specious worshippers were not rendering true worship to the true God, rather they offered a form of worship that was created in the image of their own human wisdom and desires, thus converting the house of God into a shopping mall fully stocked with man-made religion.

So what is acceptable worship in the sight of God? How shall we exercise our American religious freedoms in the name of Christ such that God is honored by our words and actions? We can address these questions with many texts of Holy Scripture, but let us briefly consider one in particular, written by that ancient monarch: King David. In Psalm 15:1 David considered this same important question regarding the matter of acceptable worship. As the psalm unfolds, David reviews the answers to his question about the acceptable worship of a godly person. Four descriptions of a true worshipper are then given: 1. He (the true worshipper) has a God-centered life (v. 2); 2. He loves his neighbor by forsaking gossip and evil hypocrisy (v. 3); 3. He has discernment in all aspects of his social life and commitments (v. 4) and 4. He does not use people for his own gain, but has genuine love and compassion for others (v. 5a). Such a man will “never be shaken” (v. 5b).

In a sense, Psalm 15 sets aside all of the mechanisms of “doing church” and gets to the heart of true worship by examining the worshipper’s relationship with God and with man. It is all too easy for us to “do church” through the hustle and bustle of activities and programs, but God calls His children to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. As His children, we are free to worship Him only in the manner that He has prescribed in His Word - this is the only way that the children of God can please their Heavenly Father (Ephesians 5:1-10).

Originally published in the Winston Salem Journal with the title: What Religious Freedoms Do We Really Have?, July of 2003 - with this link printed for a more expanded look at Psalm 15: