Do Christian Missionaries Destroy Native Cultures?

Chau - Christian missions

John Allen Chau, presumed dead at age 26.

With the recent killing of an American “adventurer and missionary,” the legitimacy of Christian missions is being questioned again. The missionary in question, John Allen Chau, illegally made his way to an isolated island off the cost of India, to share the message of Jesus with the island’s inhabitants – one of the world’s last “uncontacted” tribes. The Sentinelese tribe, known to be hostile and violent toward outsiders, reportedly killed Chau and buried him on the beach.

Anthropologists and activists are concerned that contact with Chau himself, as well as contact with any outsiders who may wish to recover his body, could endanger the survival of the Sentinelese tribe by introducing pathogens against which the tribe would have no immunity. There is abundant historical precedent to warrant such concerns. In addition, raging within secular culture are philosophical concerns that raise a number of interesting questions:

Do Christian missionaries destroy indigenous cultures?
Do they impose, forcibly or otherwise, western beliefs and values on indigenous people?
Do they operate from a position of assumed superiority, culturally, religiously, or racially?
Do they threaten, or do they enhance, the physical survival and well being of indigenous peoples?
Is it fundamentally arrogant, or even immoral, for missionaries to assimilate with
“unreached” people groups with the ultimate intent of sharing a foreign, spiritual
message with them? Shouldn’t isolated people groups instead be left undisturbed?

There is no question that, historically, missionaries have often been wrong-headed in their approach to sharing their messages. One sorrowful, infamous example is the case of Catholic Franciscan priest and bishop, Fray Diego de Landis. As a Spanish missionary to the New World, whatever good he did was eclipsed by his harsh and coercive methods against the Mayas. His most infamous accomplishment may have been the burning of the entire Maya library due to the books being filled with what he believed to be “superstition and lies of the devil.” Only 3 Mayan documents survive – a great loss to our understanding of Mayan culture.

Having said that, let us not imagine that the committing of cultural and racial atrocities has exclusively been a religiously motivated pursuit. For nearly a century, Darwinian evolution widely held that dark-skinned people were less evolved than Caucasian people. As recently as the late 19th century, some 5.000 to 10,000 (Australian) aboriginal graves were desecrated, and “specimens” shipped, to British museums. In some cases Aborigines were murdered to obtain parts for study. (See David Monaghan, “The Body Snatchers”). As late as the early 20th century, targets for eugenics and forced sterilization included dark-skinned races.

Thankfully, both theists and atheists, religion and science, have come a long way since then. The modern missionary movement is smart and sensitive. There is nothing innate to the whole of scripture to justify the earlier missionary atrocities.

When Worldviews Collide
Nonetheless, there is certainly a clash of worldviews at play here, and that’s not going to go away. Secularists will continue to think that Christian missionaries have no business “invading” the lives of isolated people groups for the sake of spreading a myth. Followers of Jesus will continue to consider it a compassionate act to introduce isolated peoples to their universal Creator. What is different now is that both groups are concerned with respecting and retaining indigenous cultures and protecting the health and survival of these people.

One fact both sides can agree on is that isolated tribes are vulnerable to a number of modern threats, and that their existence is fragile. Missionary author Don Richardson claims that in the past 75 years, more than one tribe per year has disappeared from Brazil, from an estimated population of 4 million. Richardson claims thousands have been gunned down, blown up, or poisoned. The fact that the Sentinelese warriors have been observed firing their stone age weapons at a helicopter shows that they have no idea what they are up against.

The view of the modern missionary movement is that leaving tribal people undisturbed is not an option in the 21st century. It insists that it is better that missionaries get to remote peoples first because they value them as human beings created in God’s image. There are a host of potential outsider contacts who have no qualms about cheating, exploiting, and contaminating tribal people groups, and they are not asking permission: farmers, lumbermen, land speculators, minors, hunters, military leaders, road builders, art collectors, tourists, and drug dealers.

In thinking about indigenous cultures, there tends to be a halo effect around the way secularists view tribal people groups; as though their existence is peaceful, free, equitable, and humane. But all human beings are broken, and there is no ideal culture. Tribal cultures believe in the supernatural and are bound by strict beliefs about what their gods require. Critics of missionaries must grapple with the question of whether acceptance of an indigenous culture means acceptance of such practices as inter-tribal warfare, slavery, female genital mutilation, cannibalism, and other oppressive or self-destructive behaviors.

A Case Study
Richardson tells the story of the Wai Wai tribe of Brazil, which had been reduced to its last 60 members less than a generation ago:

     This was due largely to foreign diseases and the Wai Wai custom of sacrificing babies to demons in attempts to prevent these diseases. Then a handful of UFM missionaries identified themselves with the tribe, learned their language, gave it an alphabet, translated the Word of God, taught Wai Wai to read and brought modern medical care.

      Far from denying the supernatural world, the missionaries showed the Wai Wai that a God of love reigned supreme over it and had prepared a way for them to “stay right” on a deeper level than they had ever dreamed. The Wai Wai now had a rational, even delightful, basis for not sacrificing babies to demons. The tribe began to grow, and today is fast becoming one of Brazil’s more stable tribes. Wai Wai Christians are now teaching other dwindling groups of Indians how to cope with the 21st century through faith in Jesus.
(Perspectives, “Do Missionaries Destroy Cultures?” – Don Richardson)

The world is now filled with such stories of positive change. Jesus was not “white,” and His message was never to promote Western culture. Relational unity with God transcends all cultures, and can be expressed through all cultures.

Find Out More
If the topic of missions interests you, I would recommend a 15 week long class called PERSPECTIVES. The class takes students through the biblical, historical, cultural, and strategic aspects of “the world Christian movement.” All of the issues discussed above are thoroughly addressed, and much more. It’s a great way to learn about what God has been doing throughout human history, and how you can participate.

Mollie and I took the course in 2018, and loved it. Perhaps my favorite part was hearing a different live speaker every week. Most of the speakers are, or have been, missionaries in the field, with stories and insights to share. The course includes a workbook and a 750 page reader composed of articles by 150 scholars and practitioners.

PERSPECTIVES is a bit of a commitment: the cost is $250, and there is reading homework between weekly meetings. There is usually a $50 early bird discount available. If you’re unsure about committing, you can attend the first two classes for free. Attendees choose between 3 levels of participation, the least committal being the “key reading” level, the highest being the college credit level.

PERSPECTIVES is an inter-denominational event hosted by various local churches. For more information click here for the WEBSITE. Click here to see a short PROMO VIDEO.

 

How Creationists & Evolutionists are Evidentially on Equal Footing

creationism vs evolutionism debate

The Science of Rock-Scissors-Paper

In my ongoing discussion with “skeptics”, my “skeptic” friends often appeal to the fact that the vast majority of living scientists, and educated people in general, hold to a belief in microbes-to-man evolution. I do recognize that this is the case.

My “skeptic” friends uniformly assume this must be because the scientific evidence is so overwhelming that only someone with a strong, predetermined, religious bias would seriously hold to creationism. Since relatively few hold to young earth creationism, they sometimes wonder if we think there is an anti-creationist conspiracy in academia keeping the truth of creationism from getting out.

I would like to enthusiastically offer my layman’s observations on those two assumptions.

ASSUMPTION #1: Creationists have a predetermined faith position into which they must fit all scientific data. They do not follow the evidence wherever it may lead, (like real scientists do).

It might surprise some that I actually agree with this assumption. Creationists are, in fact, quite open about their bias right out of the gate. Creationists do begin from a faith position that they choose not to question.

The fascinating point that I want to make here is that materialist evolutionists do exactly the same thing. Not something similar, but exactly.

Belief in microbes-to-man evolution is a faith position, complete with its own dogma that may not be questioned if one is to remain in good standing in academia among one’s peers. This isn’t merely my opinion. It is a fact that we can all observe. I will prove this shortly.

I will also point out that this notion shouldn’t be taken as an insult, but it is. It is insulting to materialists and “skeptics” only because they don’t want to see themselves this way. They’ve spent a lot of ink and pixels “accusing” the other side of acting from faith, while positioning themselves as standing strictly on scientific evidence. I am repeatedly told that there is no evidence for God. What nonsense.

Most often in my discussions, I no longer even attempt to prove that creationism is correct. That is far too ambitious a goal. My aim now is simply to get materialists to admit that they are also acting from a faith position when it comes to beliefs around the origins of the universe and life. I say we’re on equal footing. (Actually, as a theist, I believe that my position is the more rational of the two since my position is at least possible, but I’m trying to seek common ground).

But they will not budge. They have made the stakes for themselves too high.

ASSUMPTION #2: Creationists believe in an academia/media conspiracy designed to keep the truth from getting out, (like flat-earthers do).

This one I don’t agree with. It’s completely unnecessary to believe in such a conspiracy. The truth is much simpler than the existences of a secret conspiracy.

The truth is this: creationism is so embarrassing that it renders a conspiracy unnecessary.

Seriously. Creationists believe in an earth only thousands of years old, that God created human life fully formed in His image, and that a historical guy named Noah preserved humanity on an ark in a global flood that shaped geology. Anyone who claims to believe any of this in a secular academic setting commits career suicide.

It’s not a question of whether or not there is corroborating scientific evidence for all of this, (because there is), it is a question of academic respectability and peer approval. Creationism is not intellectual-sounding, and we all want to be thought of by others as intelligent people.

Furthermore, to even admit the possibility that science might corroborate these stories would amount to, not only scientific evidence for the existence of God, but even worse, it would amount to evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible. The secularist establishment will never allow that if it can be avoided. And it can be avoided by having faith that science will someday fill in the existing knowledge gaps.

The problem with questions of origins is that ALL of the possibilities are embarrassing! It’s just that we’ve been conditioned to accept the evolution story as somehow more plausible and intellectual. But it’s not. It’s ridiculous. As of today, it’s essentially belief in magic.

Just to be clear, materialist evolutionists believe that all of the life that we see today – from daisies, to hummingbirds, to blue whales, to Vladimir Putin – all of this accidentally arose from a single-celled organism – one ancestral genome – billions of years ago; blindly and mindlessly. Yet I would assert that we all innately know this is not how the real world works.

Someday science will fill in the gaps…
Perhaps. But until that day, can we admit that microbes-to-man evolution is a faith position?

Evolutionary science asserts that everything we see can be explained by natural processes. But as of this writing, that assertion is demonstrably untrue. In fact, at the most fundamental points, naturalism lacks known, scientifically observable, natural processes that can explain what we see:

  • There is no known, observable, natural process by which the material universe could have accidentally created itself.

 

  • We have known since the 19th century, from scientific experimentation, that life does not spontaneously arise from non-living matter. Yet materialists must believe that it does.

 

  • Even if simple living organisms could have accidentally appeared, there is no known, observable, natural process by which such organisms could have blindly evolved into doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs over time. Mutation (genomic copying errors) and natural selection are insufficient to account for this.

 

  • We know from genetic science that the human genome is deteriorating at an observable rate. Not only can mutation/natural selection not explain how complex information got into our deteriorating genome, it can’t even explain how it could have remained there up until the present time.

Accidental existence shouldn’t even be on the table as a serious option until it can be shown to be possible by natural processes. This is simply holding evolutionists to their own claims.

Yes, this too is dogma
I promised to prove that dogma exists in the realm of evolutionary science. Of several dogmas, here is perhaps the most crucial, authoritative doctrine in secular science: deep time – the belief that the universe is 13.8 billion years old, and that the earth is 4.5 billion years old.

Let us be clear. There can be no theory of microbes-to-man evolution via mutation and natural selection without these billions of years. This is absolutely non-negotiable for naturalism or materialism if one wants to remain a rational believer in those things. Regarding the scientific method, an evolutionary scientist may not, cannot, will not, consider a young earth conclusion even if the evidence should point to that conclusion.

The theist’s job, then, is simple: Any evidence that points to a young earth is essentially hard evidence for a belief in God. And there is a great deal of it, from diverse scientific fields. (See a variety of examples here).

To clarify: creationists don’t have to prove the earth is only 6000 years old. It may be 10,000 years old. It may be 100,000. It may be 500,000. Some evidence indicates it may be one or two million years old. This is still far, far too little time for microbes-to-man evolution to be possible. This fact leaves evolutionists in the hopeless position of fitting all scientific evidence that comes in into a deep time scenario. Much of it does not. The fact that soft dinosaur tissue exists today in supposedly 65 million year old bones is just the tip of the iceberg. The universe continues to surprise us.

Without deep time, rational atheism is dead. The dictionary defines dogma as, prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group.” If you are a materialist, you may object to calling belief in deep time “dogma.” I would ask you to explain why it is not.

Science has its limits, particularly when discerning unobservable, unrepeatable, distant historical events. The creation-evolution debate is ultimately not about what science says. It’s really about what each of us wants to believe, because science says “both.”

 

The Meaning of the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Eclipse-blg

This post is for skeptics scouring the internet for examples of religious people making claims about the meaning of the August 21st total solar eclipse.

I have a claim!

What is the religious meaning of the solar eclipse? Is it a sign? An omen? Should we start stockpiling food and weapons? Is the end near? Is the eclipse a heavenly metaphor about the Trump presidency?

Well, I think there is a “religious “ meaning, but it’s so obvious that most of us probably take it for granted. Here’s my claim:

The predictability of the 2017 solar eclipse is one more example showing that the universe was designed by an intelligent Creator with human beings in mind.

Notice that astronomers know the precise date on which the eclipse will occur. They can tell us the cities within the path of totality, and how long the total eclipse will last at each location. They can tell us how rare this event is for this continent and how many decades it will be before an event like this occurs in the contiguous US again.

Such precise predictions are possible because heavenly bodies move according to laws with such precision that their movements can be plotted out far into the future. It’s hard to imagine a naturalistic explanation for the existence of laws. Materialists would have us believe that a blind, mindless, cosmic explosion accidentally set the planets on their predictable courses, and that they have apparently sustained their clock-like movements for billions of years. I just find this too incredible to believe.

And then there’s this fact. During a total solar eclipse, the moon just barely covers the sun. This happens because the sun happens to be 400 times larger, but also 400 times more distant, than the moon. Does this remarkable coincidence mean anything? I don’t know, but it’s pretty cool.

From our perspective on earth, this couldn’t have been going on for billions of years because the moon is also receding from the earth at a rate of about an inch and a half per year. This also raises the question, “Can the moon be 4.5 billion years old if it’s been receding from earth’s surface at a rate of an inch and a half per year?”

I’m getting out of my depth here, so I’ll leave it at that and enjoy the eclipse. On a more personal and ominous note, when I learned that the solar eclipse falls on my wife’s birthday we had the following conversation:

Me: “Hmmm…I wonder if your birthday being on the date of the eclipse means that you’re the Antichrist.”

Wife: “No, I think it means that God thinks I’m special.”

Son #3: “That sounds exactly like something the Antichrist would say.”

Now I don’t know what to think. I’m open to suggestions as to what I should get my wife for her birthday. Please comment below.

You Should See This Movie…

Mike Vogel as Lee Strobel

I was pleasantly surprised recently when I went to see The Case for Christ. Grab your spouse or a friend and see it while it’s still in theaters.

As an artist who is also a follower of Jesus, I guess I’m supposed to be a movie snob, especially when it comes to “Christian movies.” I think I’m not supposed to publicly admit that I loved this movie. But I did.

The movie tells the story of atheist Lee Strobel coming to faith in Jesus. (Whoopsie. I guess I just gave away the ending. That’s part of why I didn’t have high hopes for the movie. I expected another predictable Christian film.)

But you know what? I knew how my dinnertime was going to end last night but I’m still really glad I sat down at the table.

The movie highlighted the Strobel family’s journey to faith, and the relational tension that ensued during the process. That story was believable, well-written, and well-acted. It felt like a love story to me, full of characters that I was moved to care about.

Some Things I Liked
Maybe it was just me, but the movie touched on a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately.

I’ve been dialoguing with some atheists for several months, and the portrayal of the atheists in the film felt familiar to me. I liked that the atheist Strobel wasn’t made out to be an evil character. He deeply loved his wife and was a great dad. He had a strong moral compass and sense of justice.

I’ve been doing some reading about brain science and social psychology. I’m fascinated with how and why people change their opinions when confronted with information that challenges their worldview. (Or how they don’t, as is usually the case.) It was fascinating to watch one person’s process, knowing that it was a true story.

A big surprise was a direct reference to the “father wound” issue. I’ve been a bit obsessed with this issue for several months, and I’ve come to think that it’s widespread and profoundly important. In the near future I’ll post more on this topic specifically.

Also, an important truism for me is that biblical faith is evidential. This idea directly contradicts what “New Atheism” preaches – that faith is “belief despite the evidence.” The “New Atheists” are demonstrably wrong about what the Bible says about faith. It was nice to see a correct perspective on the screen.

Finally, on an incidental note, The Case for Christ is not a white Christian film. The story takes place in Chicago and several black characters figure prominently in the journey. We see blacks and whites working, attending church, and doing life together. This isn’t talked about; it’s just assumed, as it should be.

I don’t recall anything inappropriate for kids, but very small children might be bored with it just because it’s an adult conversation. At any rate, I say “two thumbs up”!

Speaking of kids, it you haven’t already done so, please sign up on my email list at my kids’ storybook website, RIGHT HERE!

The Genetic Apocalypse of the Human Race Made Simple

Poly-constrained message

Evolutionary theory holds that all of the diversity of life that we see – from dandelions to whales to hummingbirds to Vladimir Putin – all of this descended from a single ancestral genome. By accident. Somehow, life accidentally appeared from dead matter, and that first single-celled organism reproduced and, blindly and mindlessly, eventually led to increasingly “advanced,” “higher” life forms.

The biological process by which this all supposedly happened is this: random mutations plus natural selection. This is considered to be scientific fact in the sense that it is certain enough that it is no longer seriously questioned in secular academia. The assumption is that, over billions of years, the seemingly impossible has occurred innumerable times.

Materialist evolutionists claim that we know evolution is a fact because we can observe it occurring both in the laboratory and in the field. In saying this, they mean that we can observe mutations and natural selection giving rise to new species and newly adapted life forms.

Correcting a Common Misconception About Creationism
No one denies this. Natural selection and speciation are central to both creationist and evolutionist theory, but both worldviews disagree sharply on the role of natural selection and speciation. I would like to correct a common misunderstanding between the two worldviews. Here is where they disagree:

Creationists believe that mutations and/or natural selection can result in change and speciation within a given category of creature, but that there is a limit to what mutations and natural selection can accomplish. Dogs always produce dogs, and salmon always produce salmon. Mutations cannot create new genetic information of the type that is required to move an organism’s offspring in an “upwardly evolving” direction. For example, land bound reptiles could not have accidentally evolved into fully feathered, flying birds.

Evolutionists also believe that mutations and natural selection can result in change and speciation within a given category of creature, but they ascribe almost magical powers to the kind of change that mutations and natural selection can accomplish. Through gene duplication and other biological processes, they believe mutations can indeed add new genetic information of the type that would be necessary to move life from microbes to marimba players. For example, feathers accidentally evolved from scales via mutation, (or perhaps as some novel epidermal structure.)

100 years ago, microbes-to-mathematician evolution seemed like a viable possibility. Scientists had not yet discovered the astounding complexity of life at the cellular level, or seen the amazing complexity of the human genome. Within my lifetime we were told that humans and chimp DNA was about 99% similar. We were told that about 95% of our DNA served no function; that it was vestigial “junk DNA.” New research may be turning the tide of scientific opinion against these assertions.

In 2015, the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, said in response to a question about junk DNA. “We don’t use that term anymore. It was pretty much a case of hubris to imagine that we could dispense with any part of the genome — as if we knew enough to say it wasn’t functional. Most of the DNA that scientists once thought was just taking up space in the genome turns out to be doing stuff.”

The Inevitability of Genetic Deterioration
I don’t really watch football. Instead, I’ve been a lifelong fan of following the creation/evolution “debate”. I’m no scientist, but I like to think I’m a (reasonably) intelligent designer. I’m willing to be convinced that all of life accidentally, mindlessly evolved from a single celled common ancestor, but I would have to at least be shown some natural process that could accomplish such a fantastical feat.

Probably the most important book I’ve read in the past year has been a book by Dr. John Sanford, entitled Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome. I highly recommend it to everyone, regardless of your worldview.

You can Google Dr. J C Sanford to learn his credentials. He was a materialist, evolutionary geneticist for most of his career. He holds over 30 patents, and has over 80 scientific publications. However, his research has led him to conclude that naturalistic evolution as currently taught is scientifically indefensible. His book, Genetic Entropy, claims to demonstrate that the human genome is unavoidably deteriorating, and thus cannot possibly be millions of years old.

Sanford refers to the idea that man is merely the product of random mutations plus natural selection as modern evolution’s “Primary Axiom.” The Primary Axiom is universally taught in academia and repeated in mainstream media.

Here is a brief excerpt from the prologue of Sanford’s book:

Late in my career, I did something that would seem unthinkable for a Cornell professor. I began to question the Primary Axiom…The Primary Axiom is actually an extremely vulnerable theory. In fact, it is essentially indefensible…To question the Primary Axiom required me to re-examine virtually everything I thought I knew about genetics. This was the most difficult intellectual endeavor of my life. Deeply entrenched thought patterns only change very slowly (and, I must add, painfully.) What I eventually experienced was a complete overthrow of my previous understanding.

As to the substance of the book, below is a sampling of one of several arguments against the Primary Axiom. As you read this, bear in mind that a mutation can be simply understood as a misspelling or copying error in the genome:

  1. Poly-constrained DNA
    Most DNA sequences are
    poly-functional and so must also be poly-constrained. This means that DNA sequences have meaning on several different levels (poly-functional) and each level of meaning limits possible future change (poly-constrained). For example, imagine a sentence which has a very specific message in its normal form but with an equally coherent message when read backwards. Now let’s suppose that it also has a third message when reading every other letter, and a fourth message when a simple encryption program is used to translate it. Such a message would be poly-functional and poly-constrained. We know that misspellings in a normal sentence will not normally improve the message, but at least this would be possible. However, a poly-constrained message is fascinating, in that it cannot be improved. It can only degenerate (see illustration above). Any misspellings which might possibly improve the normal sentence form will be disruptive to the other levels of information. Any change at all will diminish total information with absolute certainty…” (p 131.)

I would add a reminder that mutations are passed down to an organism’s offspring, accumulating with each generation. Sanford claims that all “higher genomes” are deteriorating, including ours. Mutations must ultimately move “higher” organisms in the wrong direction, “downward,” rather than in the direction needed for microbes-to-man evolution to occur. Far from solving the issue, deep time simply spells extinction.

Genetic entropy, if true, is not happy news for anyone, regardless of one’s worldview. If Sanford’s description of the world is correct, even a non-scientist can see important implications. From a theological perspective, I find it worth pausing to consider how pervasive are the effects of the fall of creation. Conversely, for those of us who hope in a Savior, it is worth considering how pervasive are the effects of the salvation that He has promised.
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Did Jesus Become Sin?

2 Cor 5:21 - "sin" or a "sin offering"?

Part of what defines Evangelicalism is the belief in the authority and reliability of the Bible. As with all subcultures, American evangelical church culture has developed certain beliefs through repetition that may or may not be correct. This post will examine one of those beliefs. I don’t see this issue as critical or disastrous to one’s faith, but I now think it affects how one views the God of the Bible.

The question
The issue in question comes from the singular usage of a phrase that the apostle Paul employs in a letter to the church at Corinth:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21)

It has become a widespread evangelical belief that part of the mechanics of mans’ salvation is that in order to pay the debt for our sin, Jesus literally somehow “became sin” on the cross, suffering the punishment we deserved, even enduring separation from His Father for a brief time. This is understood to be part of the terrible price that had to be paid in order for Jesus to secure the salvation of sinful humanity. This idea has many respectable and orthodox proponents, foremost among them being Billy Graham, whom I deeply respect. This idea has been central to Reverend Graham’s presentation of the gospel for decades.

I didn’t have a problem with this idea until a few years ago. One morning I was sitting in church, listening to a pastor friend articulate this article of evangelical belief. But he went into a bit more detail, taking the idea to its logical conclusion, and suddenly, I felt that what I was hearing wasn’t true. Here’s what he said:

“…(Jesus) became the adulterer. He became the pedophile. He became the nasty…”

Well…when you put it that way…

I went home and studied the issue for myself. I wondered if there was a better way to understand Paul’s words “made to be sin.” Perhaps this was one of those ideas that gets passed down without having been critically examined. What follows is what I found. You decide for yourself.

I should state that I am not a theological liberal, and that I consider the Judeo-Christian scriptures to be God’s inspired and authoritative revelation to man. My aim is to understand and harmonize what the whole of scripture says, not to get it to say what I think it should say. In interpretation, my aim is to understand a biblical author’s meaning, operating from the underlying assumption that the entirety of scripture is internally consistent.

So…what was Paul’s meaning?
The passage in question illustrates why biblical inerrancy and biblical literalism are not synonymous terms. It is true that in 2 Cor 5:21 the Greek literally says that God made Jesus “to be sin.” However, I now contend that there are strong reasons why we can know that this is not what Paul literally meant, and that it is therefore appallingly incorrect to say, “He became the adulterer. He became the pedophile…” We never see apostolic teaching saying anything like this, 2 Cor 5:21 being the sole exception. The singularity of the phrase is the first red flag.

By contrast, if there is anything we can know with certainty about Jesus from the scriptures, it is that He was and is the sinless, spotless, Lamb of God (1 Pet 2:22; Heb 4:15; 1 Jn 3:5.) At no point did He take on a sin nature, nor is it necessary to believe this was essential in order for His sacrifice to secure our salvation. Furthermore, we know that YHWH doesn’t change, and that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8.) We must allow scripture to interpret scripture where the meaning of a passage is uncertain, as 2 Cor 5:21 is.

As with all conundrums in the Bible, an understanding of its Jewish context is always essential to understanding what is being said. In regards to this question, the Jewish Tanakh (old testament) provides the foundation for properly understanding the sacrificial death of the Jewish messiah. This is not speculation. Indeed, one can argue that His sacrificial death was in view from the beginning, and that many old testament Jewish practices prefigure and foreshadow the redemptive, messianic fulfillment of the acts of Jesus.

There is ample reason to believe that the meaning Paul had in mind was, “He made Him who knew no sin to be a sin offering on our behalf…”

1) The sacrifice of Jesus was SUBSTITUTIONARY, as is prefigured in the Mosaic Covenant. There is no logical necessity or scriptural justification for saying that a sacrifice actually becomes guilty or sinful. If the Passover sacrifice was a prophetic picture of the better sacrifice to come in Jesus, (and it was: Heb 10:1; 1 Cor 4:7,) then in it we can see the nature of a sacrifice: substitutionary and spotless.

Furthermore, in Lev 6:25‐27 we see that a sacrifice remained holy before, during, and after the sacrifice was made. So it was with the spotless Lamb of God. The sins of the people are imputed/attributed to the sacrifice. The sacrifice must be innocent and free of all guilt to be acceptable, not so that it can literally “become sin,” but so that it can be offered in the place of the guilty. It becomes a sin offering.

2) There are many passages that refer to Jesus’ sacrifice as a “sin offering,” and it seems correct to me to say that Paul had this in mind when he used the shorthand Hebraism, “made to be sin.” (Hebraism = A linguistic feature typical of Hebrew occurring especially in another language.) Examples include:

> “So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without (reference to) sin…” (Heb 9:28)

> “And He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time…For by one offering He has perfected for all time…” (Heb 10:10-14)

> “For Christ also died for sins once for all, (the) just for (the) unjust, in order that He might bring us to God…” (1 Pet 3:18 NASB. The substitutionary nature of the sacrifice is very clear here.)

> “…sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [referring to the incarnation] and (as an offering) for sin [referring to the atoning sacrifice], He condemned sin in the flesh,..” (Ro 8:3 NASB)

> “Yet it was the will of YHWH to bruise him…when he makes himself an offering for sin.” (Isa 53:10 RSV)

3) Perhaps most convincingly, the Septuagint’s use of the Greek word hamartia, translated as “sin” in 2 Cor5:21, supports the contention that Paul had “sin offering” in mind. When referring to sin offerings in the Tanakh, Jewish translators often used the Greek word hamartia in the Septuagint translation. We know that Paul and the apostles often quoted the Septuagint in their writings, as it was familiar to Greek-speaking Jews, (even though there were technically better translations available.) It seems reasonable in light of the whole of scripture that in this one verse in 2 Cor, Paul was simply employing the Septuagint’s use of hamartia to mean “sin offering.”

4) The wording itself in 2 Cor 5:21 is something of a parallelism, supporting the substitutionary nature of the Messiah’s sacrifice: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (a) that which was sinless became a sin offering; so that (b) that which was unrighteous could become righteousness in Him. In other words, He didn’t actually become sin, and we didn’t actually become righteousness – these things are imputed. We are counted as righteous “in Him.”

5) Finally, some may argue that, while Jesus was indeed a spotless sacrifice, it was necessary for Him to “become sin” in some way in order for Him to fully identify with us and secure our redemption. Similarly, some argue (incorrectly, in my view) that Jesus had to suffer in hell, or die spiritually, or endure separation from the Father in order to fully pay for the sins of the world. But it isn’t so. The scriptures explicitly say it is the blood of Jesus that secures our redemption. And His blood alone was and is sufficient because He is the eternal, incarnate Creator of all flesh, and He remained sinless in the flesh. As Creator, ultimate value resides with Him. It is neither logically nor scripturally possible for a holy God to “become the adulterer/pedophile.” Nor was it necessary:

You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot,…” (1 Pet 1:18.)

In fact, Paul describes precisely the extent to which our loving and holy Creator humbled Himself in order to secure our salvation:

…(Jesus) emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Php 2:7,8.)

But notice that Paul stops there. For the sinless Son of God to choose to unjustly die a humiliating, tortuous, criminal’s death demonstrates mind-bending love and humility. It is not necessary, and I would even say it is wrong, to embellish the story further by adding that Jesus literally became sinful and separated from the Father, because the scriptures do not say this.

God is light and in Him is no darkness at all – 1 John 1:5
I think we can all confidently agree that the Bible says that Jesus “became a sin offering” in every full and complete sense. By contrast, we can only say that Jesus “became sin” in some figurative, qualified way, (which is what I believe Paul was doing.) Therefore, should we say this at all without qualification?

The incarnation – the act of God becoming human – has many implications. Because human beings were made in God’s image, God could humble Himself to become human without violating His essential character. God could not become a monkey or a manatee, for example. This is a mind-blowing truth, illuminating the possibilities of what God created human beings to be. However, the incarnate Jesus entered into a fallen world where sin and its effects had damned the entire human race to disunity, destruction, and death. His life, death, and resurrection were God’s provision to restore us to life in Him. The scriptures repeatedly describe our life after spiritual rebirth as a process of being “conformed to the likeness of Jesus” (Ro 8:29; Eph 4:22-24; Php 2:1-5; 1Pet 1:14,15.)

Jesus arrived announcing the kingdom of God. He specifically claimed to have come in order that we might have life, and that He might reconcile us to our Heavenly Father. His life perfectly reflected the sinless beauty, glory, mercy, love, and justice of God. He did not “get Himself dirty” in the sense of becoming sin. His love and justice led Him to “get Himself dirty” for us in the sense that he humbled Himself, even to the point of laying down His life on our behalf. There is no greater love than this (Jn 15:13.)

 

Click HERE to see Scott Freeman’s beautifully illustrated kids’ storybooks, designed to help parents instill a biblical worldview in their kids!

 

 

 

Settle Down, People! American Christianity Does Not Want A Theocracy.

Christian theocracy

The ongoing accusation that the “religious right” wants to impose a theocracy is so wildly ignorant that it has to be another political tactic. Like the political tactic of painting anyone who opposes redefining marriage as being hateful and anti-gay.

Accusing Christians of seeking to establish a theocracy is simply bizarre. It might be an understandable offense to accuse goat worshipers of promoting theocracy, because most of us don’t personally know any goat worshipers. But if one wants to find out what Christians believe, one could simply talk to a neighbor who is one, or visit a church on a nearby street corner. Or one could find a Bible and read the words of Jesus, or the letters of the Apostle Paul. Easy. The more theologically orthodox a Christian is, the less he or she will be in favor of an American theocracy.

Why? Because the Bible teaches that all human beings are naturally depraved. It follows then for Christians that human beings cannot be trusted with power.

This is a biblical principle. This is what those scary Christian homeschoolers are teaching their kids in history class. It’s why American Christians love our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. It’s why our religious Founding Fathers established a system of checks and balances – our 3 branches of American government. It’s why we hold to being a nation governed by laws and not men. Because “fallen” people can’t be trusted with power.

In fact, Bible-believers have a compelling basis for believing these things, whereas secularists do not. It is secularists who tend to hatch idealistic, utopian political schemes and foist them onto the world. Even giving humanist totalitarians and oligarchs the benefit of the doubt – that they impose their systems “for the good of the people” – doesn’t change the fact that millions of “their people” in the last century ended up imprisoned or dead for the crime of resisting their utopian governments.

This should be common knowledge, yet somehow, we are now seeing a festival of uninformed fear-mongering from the Left crying that Christians want a theocracy. Those of us who are Christians need to start demanding proof.

So…prove it
I’m willing to be corrected. All I need is for someone to give me an example of ANY mainstream, respected, widely supported Christian leader, spokesperson, organization, politician, or theologian calling for an American theocracy. Just one. Please copy and paste your theocrat’s quote into the comment section below with a reference.

I’ll even help. Because we have lots of examples of religious people calling for and working toward theocracy. Scores. Masses of religious people are unapologetically and publicly opposed to democracy and freedom because of the “unrighteousness” these ideas allow. Unfortunately for those who might take me up on my challenge, these people are never Christians.

I got your theocracy right here:

Theocracy-sharia-anti-freedom

…But I digress.

This is all Kim Davis’s fault
The latest round of fear-mongering comes because Kim Davis is a publicly elected official, who, for reasons of conscience, is refusing to carry out her job responsibilities to issue marriage licenses, and has attempted to keep clerks under her from doing so, as well. When privately owned businesses refused to participate with the Left’s novel and arbitrary redefining of marriage, that was intolerable. But for an elected government official to refuse to comply with an arguably unconstitutional Court decision, that apparently amounts to establishing a Christian theocracy. Who knew county clerks had such power?

But is that what’s going on? Is this religious freedom, or theocracy?

I’m not going to defend Kim Davis, because I have mixed feelings about some of what she has done. Instead, to my own surprise, I’m going to quote the Pope.

I’m not really a big fan of the Roman Catholic Church, or such a thing as a pope, but I have to admit that brother (“Pope”) Francis cut right through the rhetoric around religious freedom with a simple statement:

“I can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection … but yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right…”

Truer words were never spoken. This is especially heartening coming from the head of a 2000 year old religious institution that has a long and disturbing history of not allowing conscientious objection. Happily, brother Francis owned up to this as well when he said:

“…Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying “this right that has merit, this one does not.” It [conscientious objection] is a human right. It always moved me when I read, and I read it many times, when I read the Chanson de Roland when the people were all in line and before them was the baptismal font and they had to choose between the baptismal font or the sword. They had to choose. They weren’t permitted conscientious objection. It is a right and if we want to make peace we have to respect all rights…”

If I were a person who used emoticons, I would do a whole page of little smiley faces right here.

Then, when asked if conscientious objection includes government officials as well, brother Francis replied:

“…It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right.”
It is disturbing to me that anyone could disagree with this. For example, do we not all now despise the reasoning of Nazi government officials whose excuse for committing crimes against Jews, gays, and others is that they were “only following orders”?

But the importance of brother Francis’s statement seems to be lost on the Left. I’m saddened to see Huffington Post commenters, and the like, fail to grasp the gravity of what is at stake in this discussion. Instead, like a new generation of Hitler Youth, they are saying things like:
“If you work for the government you are obligated to carry out your duties no matter what, or else resign.”

But they’re wrong, and brother Francis is right. If no conscientious objection is allowed, then aren’t we left with totalitarianism? Just because it’s “Progressive” totalitarianism doesn’t make it good totalitarianism. Both sides of the political spectrum should be well aware that human governments are often wrong. In a free and pluralistic society conscientious objection must be allowed.

When Kim Davis was elected, she had no conscientious objection to performing her duties whatsoever. It’s not her fault that the Supreme Court pulled a new, arbitrary definition of marriage out of its butt.

A very big deal
It’s important to remember that we are not talking about the Supreme Court telling Americans that they must now abide by a new definition of weed whacking. What the Court has attempted to do is as penetrating and monumental as it is foolish. Heterosexual marriage is a longstanding institution upon which the very architecture of civilization has always stood. In addition it bears enormous religious significance for a majority of Americans. Furthermore, it is not defined in the U.S. Constitution. Does the political Left really think it can force such a major ideological bias onto an unwilling population?

“Progressives” attempting to use government to force their beliefs onto an unwilling populace is no different than religious people attempting to use government to force their beliefs unto an unwilling populace. Except that Christians have no intention of imposing their doctrines, while “Progressives” apparently do.

Contrary to LGBT talking points, people of biblical faith are not interested in re-criminalizing homosexuality, or preventing LGBT people from loving and committing to whomever they want, or forcing anyone to do anything. We’re simply not going to agree to the redefining of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Call it “civil unions” and this all goes away.

“Progressives” have said that non-compliant Christians are imposing their beliefs on gays by discriminating against them; that this amounts to theocracy. But it’s not true. These Christians are seeking non-participation, and it’s important that Christians not allow their motives to be redefined by the Left’s massive redefinition campaign.

There is no comparison here to America’s racial discrimination of the past. NO ONE is arguing that gays are subhuman, or that they are the property of heterosexuals, or that they should be denied fundamental civil rights. The proof is that these same people have been happy to serve gays so long as their service doesn’t require them to comply with the Court’s redefinition of marriage. The “right to marry” cannot be a fundamental civil right, because if marriage has any definition, then it necessarily excludes certain people. In fact the Court’s new definition is arbitrary and also excludes many U.S. citizens.

If there were ever an issue big enough, profound enough, and consequential enough to merit conscientious objection, the redefining of marriage is it. Bible believers are simply not going to go along with it, just as they have refused to be a part of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. In the same way that promoting the sanctity of human life has nothing to do with being “anti-woman,” so promoting traditional marriage has nothing to do with being “anti-gay.”

People of faith are going to act according to their consciences whether the government accommodates them or not. Fortunately, our Constitution’s first amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 limit the reach of government coercion in matters of conscience, within the confines of American citizenship.