Does Grace Make Christians Just?

One of the hottest topics in evangelical circles is “social justice.” Many authors, including Kevin DeYoung, have addressed the subject of justice and the role the church should have in pursuing it. Dr. Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York (PCA), has also written a book on the topic of social justice. In Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, Dr. Keller explains his view on what justice is, why and how Christians should pursue it.

Dr. Keller opens his book with an explanation for why he wrote Generous Justice:

Most people know that Jesus came to bring forgiveness and grace. Less well known is the Biblical teaching that a true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to see justice in the world. (8)

This really is the central theme of the book, and Dr. Keller works hard to drive this point home. He writes that his book is for people that “have not thought out the implications of Jesus’s gospel for doing justice in all aspects of life (9)” and those that don’t understand yet “that when the Spirit enables us to understand what Christ has done for us, the result is a life poured out in deeds of justice and compassion for the poor (10).”

According to Dr. Keller:

[T]he Bible is a book devoted to justice in the world from first to last. And the Bible gives us not just a naked call to care about justice, but gives us everything we need – motivation, guidance, inner joy, and power – to live a just life. (11)

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Dr. Ron Choong and Project Timothy: The Bible You Thought You Knew

In the last year or so, Dr. Ron Choong has become known for his views on the historical Adam. Last week, Pastor Wes White posted an update on Dr. Choong and Metro New York Presbytery’s decision not to investigate based on his view of Adam as a group of hominids adopted by God. In researching Dr. Choong’s publications, I discovered that he is the founder of an organization, the Academy for Christian Thought (ACT).

According to their website, ACT was founded by the Rev. Dr. Ron Choong, an ordained minister in the PCA, to be a “research and educational non-profit organization in New York City.” Their goal is:

to engage the urgent issues of our times and persistent questions of all ages. We encourage interdisciplinary engagement with every field of human inquiry to better understand the impact of history, philosophy, culture and the natural sciences on the Christian faith. We seek to articulate an enriched worldview with integrity and foster a climate of inquiry within a sanctuary of doubt we call a theological safe space (TSS).

Their mission includes providing a theological safe space (TSS) to develop apologetics that “engage the natural sciences and world religions for fruitful dialogues,” to “foster a missional church climate in a global secular culture,” to “bridge the academy to the church,” and to develop discipleship programs that “commit to making the discipleship of the mind and body a priority.”

They go on to explain how they seek to develop such discipleship programs:

We develop globally relevant and conceptually holistic discipleship programs. In the sciences, we inquire into methodologies to distinguish science from scientism and evolution from evolutionism. …  In biblical theology, we teach a method of interpretation that engages other religious convictions and scientific inferences while remaining faithful to the confessional integrity of the Bible as a trustworthy, divinely inspired writing of fallible, human effort.

ACT confesses a belief “in the divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness of the Scriptures.” What is interesting is that infallibility and inerrancy are not used to describe their view of the Scriptures.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York, a sponsor of ACT, has hosted ACT seminars and lists ACT as a valuable resource. Dr. Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer, is one of three pastors on ACT’s Board of Reference.

One of ACT’s programs for discipleship is called Project Timothy (PT):

PT is a program of ACT – a ministry that encourages interdisciplinary engagements with every field of human inquiry for a fruitful understanding of Christian belief. PT provides a climate of inquiry within a sanctuary of doubt that we call a theological safe space (TSS) – to engage the Global Secular Culture. … PT teaches a method to make sense of the Bible by considering what the writer of each book intended to say, what the original readers and hearers would have understood and how we today might understand the texts for ourselves.

Project Timothy seminar materials are available for download through ACT’s online store. All of the following quotes are taken from Ron Choong’s The Bible You Thought You Knew: Volume 1 (New York: Academy for Christian Thought Publications, 2011).

Project Timothy’s The Bible You Thought You Knew opens with some thoughts about the goals and aims of Project Timothy:

TTT [Thinking Things Through] in a TSS [Theological Safe Space]: Are our beliefs consistent with each other, are they philosophically coherent, and are they scientifically convergent? While neither philosophy nor science leads to God, they are helpful tools to keeping a check on our prejudices and biases. We are wonderfully capable of convincing ourselves that our thoughts are true because we wish them to be so. If we are indeed committed to thinking things through, we need a safe place to do that thinking without fear of being denigrated or misrepresented. … In a TSS, we can question one’s view without questioning their motives or character. And we can change a view we once took for granted if it is no longer defensible in a holistic confessional Christian worldview (viii-ix).

And,

PT [Project Timothy] provides a TSS [Theological Safe Space] to question assumptions about the scriptures. This strengthens our beliefs and equips us to responsibly proclaim the Gospel (x).

Dr. Choong goes on to describe the approach Project Timothy takes with the Scriptures and science:

Since the question of biblical reliability cannot be affirmed by its historicity, literary, or theological components, we pay attention to these characteristics of the Scriptures to get within hearing distance of the writers’ intent. Thus you will find lapses in historical and scientific accuracy as we increase our modern accuracy of historical and scientific knowledge. Even doctrinal articulation of theological points need to be revised in each generation to account for our greater understanding of the world we live in (xiii).

And,

Biblical knowledge is an older source that is limited to disclosure (divine revelation) rather than discovery (human investigation). So science is an extremely helpful check on our interpretation of the Bible. By looking for convergence between our conclusions and what our minds can discover about the creation of God, we can compose a more comprehensive image of reality (xv).

While Project Timothy’s seminars cover all of the Old and New Testament books, this overview will look mainly at how Dr. Choong applies the above ideas to Genesis.

According to Dr. Choong, Genesis was written around the 6th century BC as the Jewish people were returning from their Babylonian exile (1). As such, it was not written by Moses, although Moses may be the author of some parts (3-4). The purpose of Genesis 1-11 was to provide a polemic against the Babylonian gods, not to explain the “how” or “in what order” of creation:

The final form of these primeval accounts described in Genesis 1-11 was completed during the postexilic period, later than most of the Pentateuch, to tell us about God who created everything including all of the “gods” worshipped by the Babylonians. They were not intended to tell us how the universe was made, how life originated from inorganic matter, or exactly how human beings first came about. Rather, they were intended to counter other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts (1).

What does this mean for modern Christians and the meaning of Genesis?

The Christian should read Genesis 1-11 with the assurance that we worship the creator of all that exist, and not be troubled by working out the mechanics of creation itself, because the Bible is silent on this matter. Any theological reflection that engages literature, history, philosophy, and science will always result in provisional insights, none of which should form litmus tests of faith (1).

Dr. Choong believes that the Torah was written backwards starting with Exodus, then Genesis 12-50, and finally Genesis 1-11. Because it was written to combat other ANE creation accounts, we should not read it as historical or scientific:

The story of Israel actually begins with the exodus event, recorded in the book of Exodus. It was in the Sinai desert that different tribes of former Egyptian slaves formed the People of God YHWH. … The stories of Genesis 12-50 were told as a prologue to the exodus event and later, the accounts of Genesis 1-11 were told to link the formation of Israel to the very formation of creation itself. Every people group may trace their lineage back to the origins of creation, life and humanity, and Genesis 1-11 is Israel’s account. This account is theological rather than strictly historical. Thus, although it possesses dimensions of history and science, Genesis 1-11 is not historical or scientific and cannot be judged as such (2).

Why does Dr. Choong believe that Genesis 1-11 is not meant to teach us about the origins of the universe and life? He explains that:

Genesis 1 refers not to the origins of the material universe, but to how those pre-existing materials are now designed to function by God. The correct translation of Genesis 1:1 is “When God began creating” (15).

So, if Genesis 1-11 is not historical or scientific, what is it?

The first 11 chapters are primeval histories, not chronological ones. They are mythological. This does not mean they are untrue, but that they refer to events before there were human witnesses. They are therefore unverifiable and unfalsifiable. … The first five of these then stories up till the account of Shem, are not intended to be understood literally or even historically(12-13).

Dr. Choong believes that differences in the order of creation as told in Genesis 1 and 2 indicate that multiple perspectives on creation are given and, therefore, that Genesis 1 and 2 cannot be taken literally:

The religion-science debate is rooted in Genesis 1, which describes the creation of the world in a poetic fashion and employs a seven-day week framework. This seven-day chronology has sometimes been interpreted literally by religious persons opposed to scientific theories such as biological evolution and natural selection, so that the data from fossil records, geology, dinosaurs, and the like, must somehow fit into the seven days of the Genesis 1 creation account.

Genesis 2, on the other hand, discusses the creation of humans and then animals in an order that reverses that of Genesis 1. This makes any simple harmonization of the two accounts untenable. These two versions of creation cannot be reconciled at the level of logical order or sequencing. The narrators of Genesis 1 and Genesis 1 were different persons who lived centuries apart from one another. (13).

Dr. Choong notes that most modern people look to science instead of the Bible to answer such questions as the origin and development of life, but that this was not always so:

Most people, whether religious or not, look to the realm of science for hard data about the environment and cosmology. Prior to the modern period and the rise of the natural sciences, people tended to be more simple or naïve about such things and tended to think (if they thought about it much at all) about the origin of the world in religious and theological terms (Footnote 39, 13).

Given that Dr. Choong believes that Genesis 1-11 is silent on the “mechanics of creation itself,” what does he believe about the compatibility of evolution and Christianity?

Does the process of evolution undermine God’s Glory as Creator? Not at all (6).

And,

Is the six-day creation account central to the Bible? Probably not. … The entire creation v. evolution controversy is based on a false dichotomy. (6-7).

What about Adam? Dr. Choong recognizes that many Christians insist on the historicity of Adam, but he sees some flexibility in the interpretation:

The OT description of the origin of humanity (adam) surely arises from an actual historical event. That much is evident. But whether the figure of biblical Adam represents a pre-existing group of people or a specially created modern-looking like human who was not born (hence, with no navel) and whether Eve refers to a single female crafted from a single rib, ought not divide the Church. There is sufficient grace in theological space to allow for variance in interpretation, as long as they remain provisional and open to review as we learn more and more about ourselves. Thus, we note the inconsistent use of the Hebrew word “adam” in the Bible and cannot say with certainty whether a first human couple was specially created with no biological link to other life forms (7).

Dr. Choong believes that:

Sometime in the distant past, God chose one hominid branch to receive the “image of God,” the potential to relate to God in love (7).

And that:

Such a convergent explanation of what the biblical writers were trying to convey is an example of a responsible apologetic that is at once faithful to the authority of the inspired Bible and accounts for the empirical findings of human discovery. … Did God create one male and one female from which to populate the Earth? Perhaps, and perhaps not. We will never really know. But the Hebrew word “adam” means humanity (7).

Since Adam’s name is also the Hebrew word for “humanity,” Dr. Choong sees biblical support for his view that the historical Adam of Genesis was a group of people and not a single individual:

Is there any reason to think that the biblical Adam was a single person? Yes. Genesis 5:5 refers to the exact age that Adam died, suggesting that Adam was a particular male who was never born but emerged as an adult with no navel and no childhood. Where it gets tricky is whether he also contributed one of his ribs to form Eve. These contrasting hints allow some theological space for a difference of opinion. … Finally, did Paul himself not refer to Adam as a first particular human? Most Christians use Romans 5:12 to infer that the Pauline Adam must be a singular adult male who was the second sinner (8).

According to Dr. Choong, Paul’s use of Adam is not as clear cut as it might seem to be. The real issue is not anthropology but soteriology. In other words, what matters in Paul’s use of Adam are the issues of sin and salvation:

The reality of sin is central to Christianity. The reason Jesus died on the cross is because of sin, so if the first humans did not sin, it makes the Cross redundant. … A literal reading of Paul suggests that sin entered the world through a single human being, and through another, all will be justified. This would describe universal sin accompanied by universal salvation or universalism – something Paul himself would reject outright. … So whatever Paul meant, he could not have meant this phrase literally (8).

Dr. Choong goes on to explain that the doctrine of original sin (a sin nature inherited from Adam as a result of the Fall) is also not found in Paul’s writings despite what many have believed:

While most of the Church Fathers saw that Adam was punished for his sin with sinful desires, Paul himself said no such thing. In fact, to our surprise, Paul in Romans specifically introduced the doctrine that Adam’s punishment was an expected outcome of his created humanity rather than something he did wrong. …

Elsewhere, Paul uses sin to describe behavior as in the teaching that sin was not caused by Adam and Eve but is a term that describes the defiant behavior of Adam and Eve. In this interpretation, Adam and Eve were made loaded with sinful desires already – not that Adam sought out sinful desires. This use of the word sin as behavior finds great convergence with the biological nature of human imperfection, despite our having been made good. But when Paul personified the word sin, his notion of a pre-Adamic existence of sin meant that Adam could not be blamed for any existence of sin per se (8-9).

According to Dr. Choong, therefore, Adam and Eve did not gain a sin nature through the Fall that they then passed on to their descendants. They were made with sinful desires:

If we think that there was perfect morality before Adam and Eve were ejected from Eden, we cannot explain why in their perfect state of moral goodness, they both disobeyed God – how can perfect goodness turn bad? (38)

Because Paul uses personification to explain sin, Dr. Choong believes that Paul’s use of “Adam” may also be a personification of sorts:

Paul expressed the word [sin] to mean at least three different things: a person, a causal agent that may or may not be personified, and a primeval state of the human condition that we inherited. Thus we conclude that Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 did not intend to declare the doctrine that Adam of Genesis was a single progenitor of humanity who was never born, and biologically gave rise to Eve who was crafted from one of his ribs, thus losing a rib in the process (10).

So, what conclusion does Dr. Choong come to regarding Adam and Eve?

What we can say is that Adam and Eve were certainly historical figures. What we cannot say for sure is how many of them there were. Pure literalists suggest two – a male named Adam and a female made out of Adam’s rib named Eve. Although genetic markers suggest a much larger pool of first humans, science along cannot be trusted for a dogmatic statement of faith, so we ought not to rely on biology to determine a biblical interpretation. But the undisputed point that leans towards the origins of humans as a community rather than as a single couple is neither historical nor scientific, but purely scriptural – the Hebrew meaning of Adam is humanity (10).

Dr. Choong also applies his hermeneutic approach to other parts of the Torah. For example, the account of Noah and the flood isn’t an historical account of a family of eight that survive a worldwide flood with lots of animals:

There were already flood stories in the Ancient Near East. So an adoption of such a story would effectively make the point (16).

In fact, according to Dr. Choong, it’s dangerous to attempt to read Noah’s story literally:

The account of Noah’s Ark was not meant to explain the origin of spectral optics that formed the first rainbow, or to showcase ancient naval architecture capable of surviving a global flood. This would reduce biblical theology to the natural sciences. The rainbow is symbolic of a war bow (as in bow and arrow). … The fate of Noah’s three sons does not imply that all Africans are doomed from the beginning because Ham saw his father’s nakedness. … A literal reading of Ham (dark-skinned) led to the justification of African slavery by some in the Christian Church in the West. … Hence, to take a literal-historical reading of Noah’s story would reduce biblical theology to racism, sociology, and pop psychology (12).

The account of the Tower of Babel is also not meant to be read literally, but rather, symbolically:

The Tower of Babel does not explain the origin of human languages or prohibits skyscrapers. That would reduce biblical theology to evolutionary biology and structural engineering. Rather, it uses the mighty towers called ziggurats (“to build on a raised area”) found all over the Ancient near east to make a point about human hubris and lack of respect for the almighty God (12).

Dr. Choong warns that a literal reading of Scripture can cause great harm:

Always consider the medium used to convey the biblical message. Taking many biblical accounts literally wholesale is not a harmless act of naivete. It can actually be dangerous in creating bad theology to fuel racism, sexism and a host of social ills that are morally repugnant (15).

To summarize what Dr. Choong is teaching through Project Timothy’s The Bible You Thought You Knew, Moses didn’t write Genesis, Genesis was written as a polemic against the Babylonian gods, Genesis does not teach ex nihilo creation, Genesis does not speak to how the universe began or where humans came from, Adam is best understood as a group of hominids adopted by God to be imago dei, Adam and Eve were not created with perfect morality, Paul’s Adam wasn’t necessarily the singular progenitor of the human race, Noah’s flood was an adopted ANE story retold for Israel’s purposes, the Tower of Babel doesn’t explain the origin of languages, and interpreting the Bible literally can be dangerous.

BioLogos’ “Vision for Change”

In March, Dr. Tim Keller hosted BioLogos’ third Theology of Celebration workshop at the Harvard Club in New York City. Unlike the previous workshops, this workship did not conclude with a statement but with an “urgent desire to bring about change.” What needs to change? The sentiment at the workshop was that the church is in danger because so many pastors believe or even accept the possibility that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Apparently, young earth creationism is the new “great evangelical disaster.”

While BioLogos states that they value “gracious dialogue with those who hold other views,” in their articles and interviews, they often seem quite dismissive or even hostile towards those who disagree, especially proponents of Young Earth Creation (YEC) and Intelligent Design (ID). They are especially distressed that despite all the “evidence” in favor of evolution so many evangelicals are still clinging to literalistic interpretations of Genesis.

BioLogos defines Young Earth Creationists (YEC) as denying “the revelation of God in nature and the gift of science.” Dr. Karl Giberson, formerly VP of BioLogos, believes that Young Earth Creationists represent an “intellectually impoverished parallel culture” that drives the “best and brightest evangelicals out of the church”:

Survey results recently reported by Christianity Today clarify once again the sober truth that evangelicals are not making much progress in accepting well-established mainstream scientific ideas about origins. Particularly disturbing is the finding that only 27 percent of evangelical pastors “strongly disagree” with the statement that the earth is 6,000 years old. A higher number “strongly agree” that the earth is just 6,000 years old, a conclusion refuted by mountains of evidence. Seven in 10 evangelical pastors “strongly disagree” that “God used evolution to create people.” …

The dismissive and even hostile approach to science taken by evangelical leaders like Ken Ham accounts for the Barna finding above. In the name of protecting Christianity from a secularism perceived as corrosive to the faith, the creationists are unwittingly driving the best and brightest evangelicals out of the church — or at least into the arms of the compromising Episcopalians, whom they despise. What remains after their exodus is an even more intellectually impoverished parallel culture, with even fewer resources to think about complex issues.

According to BioLogos, it’s not just the YEC that deny “science.” In an interview between Dr. Karl Giberson and Dr. Francis Collins, they dismiss the idea that proponents of Intelligent Design are conducting research:

Karl Giberson: What do you think of this project that the Discovery Institute has launched, with a laboratory where they want to do genuine scientific research, with their own in-house scientists? That’s a very strange development.

Francis Collins: It is very hard for me to imagine what they will do. Science by its very nature ought to be unfettered by any particular perspective on what these right answers are supposed to be. And yet here you are setting up this scientific circumstance that has as its goal to support intelligent design theory. That is counter to the way that science has to be conducted. And furthermore, as everybody has pointed out, intelligent design has this major fundamental flaw. It has no predictive value that anyone can discern. And it has no scientific strategy to demonstrate the correctness of its position because it’s implying divine supernatural intervention, which by definition science isn’t really able to establish. It’s the wrong set of tools.

So, rather than viewing those who disagree as “partners in the conversation,” proponents of YEC and ID are seen as barriers to the BioLogos goal of harmonizing evolutionary science and Christianity. As Dr. Falk wrote:

Should we try to convince all of the non-scientifically inclined evangelicals to cease believing that Adam and Eve are the first human beings? That would almost certainly be futile at this time—there is no point in trying. Besides it could harm their faith. What the church can, and in my opinion must do, however, is to make it clear that there are two ways in which evangelicals view this story. One is historical, the other, allegorical. To publicly acknowledge that and to make it clear that the latter view does not in any way disengage an evangelical from their faith would be of considerable significance. Let’s allow both views to co-exist in evangelicalism for now. I am convinced that we can eliminate the barrier by simply admitting that there are many deeply committed Christians who believe that many elements of the story of Adam and Eve is not historical. I think we need to tell our children that at a young age and I think we need to show them why there are committed Christians on both sides. It also would be good to show them why the historicity of Adam and Eve is not foundational to faith. (emphasis added)

Dr. Tim Keller, host of the most recent BioLogos Theology of Celebration workshop, said that it’s “the job of pastors” to develop a BioLogos narrative to combat YEC:

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. “We have arguments, but they have a narrative,” noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is “the job of pastors,” Keller said.

Along those lines, BioLogos has recently announced a new grants program, Vision for Change, to focus on ways pastors and other church leaders can help their congregations learn to accept the “truth of evolution”:

As our regular readers well know, the majority of evangelical Christians reject one of the most well-established of scientific theories—evolution. Evolution lies at the heart of many scientific disciplines; it is as fundamental to biology as 2 + 2 = 4 is to mathematics or as E = mc2 is to physics. If these basic truths were found to be false, entire disciplines would collapse. To the majority of Evangelicals, however, an anti-evolutionary view of origins is equally fundamental. In their view, it affects how we read Scripture and understand the Gospel itself—the very heart of our identity as Christians. If evolution were found to be true, it would be disturbing indeed.

While Christian scholars and scientists have actively worked on evolutionary creation and related topics for decades, their work has mostly failed to leave the ivory tower, creating a vacuum in the church. Well-meaning public figures have moved into the vacuum to proclaim that much is at stake if Christians ever yield to mainstream science. These figures preach that scriptural authority, Christian theology, and Christian morals and values will all collapse if believers accommodate their thinking to the discoveries of “man’s historical science.”

It’s time for things to change.

Why is it time for things to change? Because BioLogos believes that if the church doesn’t begin to accept evolution as fact and work to reconcile this “truth” with the Bible, then the church will lose its relevance and impact on the culture. It may even drive believers from the church. In light of the March meeting in NYC and these other statements, it appears very clearly that Biologos has an agenda. Dr. Falk sums it up this way:

We in the BioLogos community urge the Church not to surrender the evangelicalism tent to American fundamentalism. There is far too much at stake. …

We’ll exist within the tent together for awhile. Eventually, I think even the fundamentalists will come to see that they need to allow science books in their library and fundamentalism will undergo its own evolution.

Biologos may want to dialogue for a while, but what they really want is to enshrine evolution as a new dogma for evangelicals.

BioLogos Conference: Hosted by Dr. Tim Keller

I guess that answers the question about whether or not he supports them. From the BioLogos newsletter:

On March 20–22, 2012, noted evangelical pastor Dr. Timothy Keller hosted the meetings at the Harvard Club in New York City. That in itself has symbolic significance. Harvard University was founded on principles firmly grounded in the Word of God in its pursuit of truth. But since then, Harvard has lost its way. Some wonder if a segment of the church is now in danger of losing its way too.

A statement emerged from each of the first two “Theology of Celebration” meetings, which were held in November 2009 and November 2010. The third meeting, held in March 2012, showed that the conversation has reached a new level of maturity. Given data that was presented at the meeting—which convincingly showed that almost half of America’s protestant pastors hold or strongly lean toward a belief in a universe less than 10,000 years old—there was a deep concern for the church not only in America, but also worldwide. This time, leading evangelical Christians left with not so much a statement as an urgent desire to bring about change. The church of the coming decades cannot divorce itself from matters about which there is scientific certainty.

Why Would a Complementarian Speak at an Egalitarian Conference?

Seems odd to me, but that’s what’s happening this summer at the Fellowship of Presbyterian’s ECO conference. ECO was founded last year by a group of PC(USA) pastors who were concerned about the direction the PC(USA) was headed. However, while the ECO may be the more “conservative” of the PC(USA) group, they still hold to two main tenets of the PC(USA) that were part why the PCA separated from the old PC(US).

Specifically, they hold to a different view of the inerrancy of Scripture and the ordination of women. Here are quotes from the FOP/ECO values page:

Biblical Integrity: We believe the Bible is the unique and authoritative Word of God, which teaches all that is necessary for faith and life. The prominence of God’s Word over our lives shapes our priorities, and the unrivaled authority of the Bible directs our actions to be in concert with Christ’s very best for our lives.

Egalitarian Ministry: We believe in unleashing the ministry gifts of women, men, and every ethnic group.

So, why would Dr. Tim Keller, a PCA pastor and complementarian, be invited to speak to group who disagree on two fundamental issues?

Carl Trueman on “Celebrity” Pastors

Dr. Trueman spoke at the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference last week. His talk was on the celebrity culture that surrounds some pastors in the US. In an article at Reformation 21, Dr. Trueman summarized his understanding of celebrities and the church:

My general conclusion on this point is that celebrity is clearly here to stay; the key point is that those who have such celebrity cachet acknowledge it and leverage it for good. By ‘good’, I mean direct people back to their own churches and set examples themselves as those who are committed first and foremost to their own people, congregations and denominations. T4G was quite a contrast to the recent reports of an extra-ecclesiastical high-profile meeting of Christian evolutionists, where celebrity appears to be being leveraged to set the agenda and impact the doctrinal testimony of churches. Nothing I heard at T4G indicated that anyone here had that kind of ecclesiastically subversive ambition.

[The “extra-ecclesiastical high-profile meeting of Christian evolutionists” that Dr. Trueman references is the BioLogos Theology of Celebration workshop from last month.]

You can read the rest of his article here. Several of the talks from T4G are available at the T4G website.

Is Dr. Tim Keller a Progressive Creationist?

In a recent interview with Eric Metaxas, Dr. Tim Keller states (beginning around the 20:00 mark) that he is an “old earth progressive creationist” and that his view is “not quite” theistic evolution. He goes on to say that the difference between his view and theistic evolution is that he believes that God intervened in the process. I was surprised to hear Dr. Keller define his views as “progressive creationism” given his support of BioLogos and their viewpoint on origins. So, I did a little research on progressive creationism and here are some highlights of what I found.

One of the best well-known proponents of progressive creationism is Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe. Dr. Ross has written many books defining his view on origins. His organization’s website defines their position as creation and not supernaturally directed Darwinism. Progressive creationism specifically rejects the concepts of macroevolution (species evolving from other species). The BioLogos website places Dr. Ross and Reasons to Believe under the heading of Old Earth Creationism and explains why OEC is not acceptable to the BioLogos viewpoint:

Old Earth Creationists (OECs) accept that the earth and universe are billions of years old, but maintain that these findings are in concordance with a direct reading of the first chapters of Genesis (often by interpreting the days of creation as long periods of time, or by understanding large gaps between the days of creation). OECs hold that modern science tightly corresponds with biblical accounts and assume that God included modern scientific ideas in the Bible, sometimes through secret language that would have been lost on the original audiences. OECs do not, however, accept the common ancestry of all life forms.

BioLogos disagrees with the OEC viewpoint, because while accepting the scientific consensus for an old earth, it rejects the findings of modern genetics, paleontology, and many other biological sub-disciplines that support common ancestry. Furthermore, we believe that God chose to reveal Himself within the worldview, culture, and language of the biblical authors. Since heliocentricity or the Big Bang, for example, are neither relevant to God’s message nor meaningful to the ancient audience, we do not think these scientific ideas are encoded in Scripture.

In contrast, BioLogos defines their own view on origins this way:

The BioLogos view holds that both Scripture and modern science reveal God’s truth, and that these truths are not in competition with one another. It accepts the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and common ancestry, including the common ancestry of humans. While there are varying views of how to reconcile the truths of science and Scripture (for example with regards to a historical Adam), those who hold to the BioLogos view accept God as Creator and believe that the Bible, though open to a diversity of interpretations, is ultimately the divinely inspired and authoritative Word of God. (emphasis added)

Elsewhere on their website, BioLogos gives this definition:

We believe that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained process of evolution and common descent. Thus, evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes.

We believe that God created humans in biological continuity with all life on earth, but also as spiritual beings. God established a unique relationship with humanity by endowing us with his image and calling us to an elevated position within the created order.

And also this:

The BioLogos view celebrates God as creator. It is sometimes called Theistic Evolution or Evolutionary Creation.

When Dr. Keller’s name was listed as a leading figure on BioLogos’ Perspectives page, his name was not with Dr. Ross and the other Old Earth Creationists. He was listed as a leading figure who represented BioLogos’ view. Given Dr. Keller’s advocacy of BioLogos and their position, I think it odd that he would seek to define his view as progressive creationism. If progressive creationism fits his view better, wouldn’t Reasons to Believe be a more appropriate organization to promote?

Dr. Tim Keller and BioLogos

Last August, I noticed that Dr. Keller was no longer listed as a “leading figure” who represented the BioLogos Foundation’s views on origins. BioLogos defines their view on origins this way:

It [the BioLogos view] accepts the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and common ancestry, including the common ancestry of humans.

When Dr. Keller’s name was removed from the list of leading figures who represent the BioLogos view, some wondered if it meant that Dr. Keller had had a change of heart regarding his association with BioLogos. That does not appear to be the case.

To give a brief bit of history, starting in 2009, BioLogos has hosted three “Theology of Celebration” workshops:

At our Theology of Celebration workshops, evangelical leaders gather to explore the implications of modern science for Christian faith. The workshop is first and foremost a worshipful celebration of God’s creation, but it is also a place for relationship building and thoughtful exchange between influential Christian pastors, scientists, scholars, and other cultural gatekeepers.

An invitation-only event, the workshop is organized by some of today’s most influential evangelical leaders: Andy Crouch, Os Guinness, Joel Hunter, Tim Keller, John Ortberg, and Philip Yancey. Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church serves as our local host in New York City.

With key papers and presentations by world-class scientists and scholars, the workshop series has made significant progress in informing and equipping church leaders who continue to wrestle with questions about science. We hope that, decades from now, evangelical historians will point to the BioLogos workshops and say that the sea of change began here: because of the fruitfulness of these meetings, the evangelical church entered into a productive and meaningful engagement with science.

If you notice in the above quote, “Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church serves as our local host in New York City.” The first year, Dr. Keller spoke at the workshop on the topic, “Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process: II. Concerns of the Typical Parishoner” and presented his paper, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople.” At the end of the first workshop, the attendees released a signed statement about the event:

Many voices in our current culture assert that there are irreconcilable conflicts between science and faith in Christ. We, the undersigned Christian pastors, theologians, scientists, and other scholars, respectfully disagree. We have learned much from each other during these days of communal prayer, presentation, discussion, and worship, but we also recognize that we have much more to learn and many others from whom to learn. We affirm that the truths of Scripture and the truths of nature both have their origins in God, and that further exploration of all these truths can enrich our joyful and worshipful appreciation of the Creator’s love, goodness, and grace. We commit to exploring these important issues further.

Signatures include: Dr. Keller, Dr. Peter Enns, Bishop N.T. Wright, Dr. John Walton, Dr. Bruce Waltke.

In 2010, the second “Theology of Celebration” workshop was held to answer three basic questions:

Suppose that mainstream science is largely correct: the earth is billions of years old and the diversity of life is best explained as a result of an evolutionary process.

How then might we understand Adam and Eve?

What is God doing in creation and how is this different than a deistic view of divine activity?

How might the church best respond to the rampant scientism that so often seems to be associated with accepting scientific conclusions?

The workshop produced a much longer signed statement which included the following:

We agree that the methods of the natural sciences provide the most reliable guide to understanding the material world, and the current evidence from science indicates that the diversity of life is best explained as a result of an evolutionary process. Thus BioLogos affirms that evolution is a means by which God providentially achieves God’s purposes.

And

We acknowledge the challenge of providing an account of origins that does full justice both to science and to the biblical record. Based on our discussions, we affirm that there are several options that can achieve this synthesis, including some which involve a historical couple, Adam and Eve, and that embrace the compelling conclusions that the earth is more than four billion years old and that all species on this planet are historically related through the process of evolution.

The list of workshop attendants includes Dr. Ron Choong and Dr. Tim Keller, among many others.

Following the 2010 workshop, there has been a great deal of interest in the issue of the historicity of Adam. Dr. Jack Collins released his book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?. Dr. Peter Enns published his book, The Evolution of Adam. Presbyteries within the PCA have sent overtures to the General Assembly asking for a denial of all evolutionary origins of Adam and Eve.

Given all of the discussion over the historicity of Adam, some hoped that Dr. Keller’s name being removed from the BioLogos list of leading figures indicated that he changed his mind about his support of BioLogos. Apparently not.

The third BioLogos “Theology of Celebration” workshop was held in New York City last month. Christianity Today magazine published an article about the workshop. The title, “Evangelical Evolutionists Meet in New York,” is followed by the subheading, “N. T. Wright, Tim Keller, John Ortberg among Biologos conference attendees.” The focus of the conference was what role pastors and the church should play in easing the tension between science and faith. Here is an excerpt from the Christianity Today article:

David Kinnaman of Barna Research presented findings on what U.S. Protestant pastors believe about creation. More than half profess a 6-day, 24-hour creation of life. Fewer than one in five, on the other hand, follow Biologos in affirming an evolutionary process as God’s method of creation.

And

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. “We have arguments, but they have a narrative,” noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is “the job of pastors,” Keller said.

So, Dr. Keller believes that it is “the job of pastors” to develop a BioLogos narrative. It seems to me that his support of BioLogos and its evolutionary view is pretty solid.

Did Ken Ham Misrepresent Tim Keller on Genesis 1 and 2?

A couple of weeks ago, Ken Ham, President of Answers in Genesis, wrote a blog post accusing Dr. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer NYC, of misrepresenting the views of young-earth creationists. In one of Dr. Keller’s articles for the BioLogos Foundation, he says:

Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one ‘truism’—that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given. If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.

Ken Ham believes that his own views have been misrepresented in that he does not believe that, “If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.”

You can read the rest of Ken Ham’s post at the above link.

Today, a PCA pastor, David Wallover, has written an article in response to Ken Ham’s post in which he accuses Ken Ham of having misrepresented Dr. Keller’s teaching on the relationship between Genesis 1 and 2. For reference, Ken Ham wrote the following:

Pastor Keller is quoted as saying that he takes Genesis 2 literally, but not Genesis 1. In a teaching session on Genesis 1 and 2, Keller claims that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict one another and says that Christians can do either of the following: they can believe that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other and an “idiotic editor” put them together in the Bible, or Christians can adopt his perspective that Genesis 1 is a poem, while Genesis 2 is historical.

Ken Ham gave a link for the teaching session.

Pastor Wallover wrote that Ken Ham’s summary misrepresents what Dr. Keller said in his teaching session:

Now, did Keller misrepresent Ham? He may well have; I do not know, not being privy to the entire discussion. Even after reading the remainder of the article, I am not entirely willing to give Ham the benefit of the doubt as to the accuracy of his summary of Keller’s statements about Ham, given Ham’s inaccurate summary of Keller’s position at the outset.

So, I decided to listen to the talk by Dr. Keller and decide for myself if Ken Ham’s summary was accurate or not. Here is a transcription of the relevant portion of the talk (beginning at 3:54):

In Genesis 2, it’s very clear that God followed a natural order. There’s a place where it says that there was no vegetation yet because it hadn’t rained yet. There’s a place in Genesis 2. I read a whole article from our old, Old Testament professor, Meredith Kline, years ago, I read an article on Genesis 2:4, “Because It Had Not Rained,” or maybe it’s 2:6. And Meredith Kline asked the question, he says, if Genesis 2 says that you had to have rain before you had vegetation, but if you go back to Genesis 1 you have vegetation before you have the sun and the moon, therefore, before you have weather. You have day 3 which means you have vegetation but day 4 you don’t have weather yet. If Genesis 2 says that God did things in a natural order, that He didn’t do vegetation until there was rain, but in Genesis 1 we have vegetation before there was rain, then you actually have this choice before you. You can either believe that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other and that we can’t trust the Bible. Alright? That somebody wrote Genesis 2, and somebody wrote Genesis 1, and some idiotic editor just slapped them together. And they totally contradict each other and that’s the way the Bible is. It’s just this compendium, right? Or you can believe that Genesis 2 is historical reporting and Genesis 1 is a poem. That’s your only two. This is one of the reasons that I do not believe that Genesis 1 can be taken literally. Because if you take it literally then you have a Bible that contradicts itself. Because the order in which God makes things in Genesis 2 contradicts Genesis 1. Now critical scholars have have all along have always said sure that’s because the Bible is just plopped together by different people, it’s a bunch of different legends, sort of like a compendium of myths. But if you believe that the Bible is true then you have to believe that they’re two different literary genres. You have to. And that’s one of the reasons I do not take every part of Genesis 1 literally is because if I do it undermines the authority of the Bible. … (6:35) Genesis 2 is historical reporting and it contradicts Genesis 1 unless Genesis 1 is a song.

Did Ken Ham misrepresent Dr. Keller’s teaching on Genesis 1 and 2? I’m not so sure.

Keller: “The whole purpose of salvation is to make this world a great place.”

In a sermon on “Cultural Renewal,” Dr. Tim Keller explains his understanding of the purpose of salvation. You can listen to the whole sermon here.

I’m trying to overcome a typical, wrong, unbiblical attitude on the part of Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, toward this material world. There’s a tendency for many Christians to think of this material world – the world we’re in now – as a temporary theater for getting saved so that some day you can escape this material world and live happily in heaven forever.

An awful lot of Christians say, ‘this world is going to die, it’s going to burn up, and while we’re here basically the only thing that’s important is to get people saved, and if they get saved eventually they’ll be able to leave this world.’ So it’s a temporary theater for salvation.

Instead, let’s start at the end. At the end of time when we actually see what the triune God has been doing in creation and redemption through Jesus Christ, when we get to the very end of the Bible we see not human beings individually rising out of the material world and going to heaven forever. Instead we see heaven, the power of God, coming down and renewing this material world. That the whole purpose of everything God is doing in redemption is to create a material world that’s clean, that’s right, that’s pure. A material world in which there’s no disease and there’s no death and no injustice, there’s no unraveling, there’s no decay. The whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify this material world.

Jews and Christians believe that this material world is permanent – it’s a good thing in itself. That an eagle’s flying and great music and the ocean pounding on the shore and a great cup of wine are good things in themselves, because God is not temporarily ‘God is here so someday we’re going to live in heaven’ but the whole purpose of salvation is to make this world a great place.

God sees this world as not a temporary means to an end of salvation, but actually salvation is a temporary means to an end – to the renewal of creation.

Saving souls is a means to an end of cultural renewal. Does the Christian church understand that? I’m not sure.

Emphasis added.