Month: February 2012

Behaving Badly at Bucknell 2

Judging by the comments to my last blog, some people felt like I behaved badly at Bucknell.  (And I thought the title was a joke.)  But people love controversy so my previous blog set a record for daily hits.

To the atheists at Bucknell: I am surprised that you read my last blog.  Thanks for engaging and contributing to a record.  Thanks also for coming on Monday night and asking questions.  Thanks to those of you who commented to my blog.  (Unfortunately, I had to remove two of the harshest comments from an anonymous person–if comments don’t have a real name and are harsh, they disappear.  Notice I kept Sheldon’s.)  Most of my blogs get no comments.  The last one got 6.

Here are some of my responses to comments:

To Sheldon (“While you are praying for us, I will think critically for both of us.”).  I don’t know if we met personally on Monday, but I’m sorry if you felt like I wasn’t thinking critically.  If that were really the case, and I were you, I would have left the talk after a couple of minutes.  If you are a non-theist, I assume you don’t care whether or not I pray to a being that you believe doesn’t exist.  As a theist, I believe that praying is the most loving thing I can do for someone.

To Apathetic: I like the Harry Potter and evilness of Snape analogy.  I’m glad you enjoyed the discussion.  So did I.

To Intrigued: I also wish we had more time to discuss the Old Testament and problematic stories.  Much of the discussion focused on philosophy and religion generally.  Those are not my areas of expertise, and I never claimed that to be the case.  The Bible, the Old Testament, and problematic passages, those are my areas.  I would have loved to talk more about them.  But that wasn’t what the atheists wanted to discuss, which is surprising to me because Richard Dawkins talks about the OT a lot.

To Miffed: I’m sorry you felt like I gave no answers.  If you re-read my initial post, you’ll notice I put “answers” in quotes.  If I did it over, I wouldn’t call it questions and answers, but perhaps questions and more questions, or questions and responses.  If you were expecting me to give satisfactory answers to questions that atheists and theists have been debating for thousands of years, I think that’s unrealistic.  There were 150 people in that room, about 20 questions were posed, many people didn’t get to talk who wanted to.  I was trying to be brief in my comments, so as many as possible could ask or comment.  And yet I repeatedly called upon the row of non-theists, ignoring other people’s raised hands.  I even asked the non-theists questions, giving them more opportunities to talk.

If the non-theists were frustrated by my brief responses or questions, I can understand.  When I emailed Richard Dawkins with a reasonable question, he give me no response, not even an automatic email reply, despite the fact that I am an Oxford alum and have personal connections to his college, Christ Church.

My friend Jesse North, InterVarsity staff at Bucknell shared this quote with me, which I think is relevant.  Cornell West: “People cannot live on arguments. They might be influenced by them…but they live on love, care, respect, touch, and so forth.”

Behaving Badly at Bucknell

This past Sunday-Monday (Feb 12-13), I spoke at or near Bucknell University four times on topics related to God Behaving Badly. It was fantastic.

Sunday morning, at First Presbyterian Church of Lewisburg I addressed the question, “Is God angry or loving?” looking at the story of the smiting of Uzzah for touching the ark (2 Sam. 6). It’s a talk I’d given over ten times. The advantage of giving a talk over and over is that it has the potential to get pretty good eventually. The church seemed to enjoy it. We sold out of copies of GBB. Afterwards, I had a great time eating lunch with a bunch of Bucknellians.

Sunday night, I led a leaders’ meeting on the topic of Tackling Tough Texts. We discussed how the church does a disservice to its members by avoiding problematic passages. Let’s face it, we’re afraid of these texts. We’re leaving church-goers helpless, essentially throwing Christians to the lions, the atheists and agnostics who stump ignorant Christians with questions about Uzzah and Elisha the boys and the bears (2 Kings 2:23-25).  So we then discussed God’s problematic command to a woman who has been raped to marry her rapist (Deut. 22:28-29) and then the troubling story of Elisha who calls down she-bears to maul boys for calling him “baldy.”  (When my teenage sons rub my bald spot, I ask, “Where are the she-bears when you need them?”)

Monday morning, Jesse North, IV staff at Bucknell and I had a great interview with Larry Weidman from WGRC radio.  In the evening, I re-did the “Is God angry or loving?” talk, modified slightly for the campus context.  The room was full, about 150 people.  Afterwards, it was Q & A.  I was warned that the Bucknell Atheists and Agnostics club were coming.

I tried something new.  Whenever someone asked a question, I responded with a question.  The first question: “Do you think God is omni-benevolent?”

I replied, “Do you think God is omni-benevolent?”

She replied, “No, I don’t believe in God.”  I think we found the atheists.  (They took up a whole row.)

I said, “I believe God is good, very good, but I’m not sure what you are asking.  What do you mean by “omni-benevolent?”  We had an extremely lively discussion.  I think Jesus was on to something with the respond-to-a-question-with-a-question thing.  (I did also give a lot of “answers”.)

After we shut the Q & A down, the atheists kept wanting to talk (about 10 came up afterwards), which I think is a good sign.  A few of them were pretty intense, so at the very end, one of the atheists, E, said to me, “I need to apologize for my ‘colleagues.’  They are pretty intense.”  We laughed.

I continue to pray for them: two women (M and L) and two men (M and E).  “God reveal yourself to these atheists.”

Do you respond to questions with questions? 

Wonders of the ancient world (Psalm 119:18)

Open my eyes, so that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119:18 NRSV).

How would God feel about answering this prayer?

The psalmist’s chief concern here is that something would obscure their vision, so that they are prevented from beholding the beauty of God’s law.  The psalmist is eager to see them.  There’s no doubt they are there.  The only problem is that somehow the psalmist wouldn’t appreciate them as they deserve to be seen.

What sorts of things are considered wonders?  Natural wonders?  The Grand Canyon.  The 7 ancient wonders?  The Great Pyramid of Giza.  Not usually laws.  But to the psalmist, God’s Torah is a wonder of the ancient world.

The psalmist already perceives wonders in God’s law, and doesn’t want the viewing of those wonders to be inhibited.

This is the second verse in Gimel section of Psalm 119.  The Hebrew word that begins the verse, “open” (galah), could be translated as “uncover”.  In Prov. 25:9 it is used to reveal a secret.  The word used here for “wondrous” is used elsewhere for miracles (Exo 3:20; Judg. 6:13).  The psalmist is asking God to reveal the miraculous wonder of God’s word.

God, help me see wonders in your word.  What do you find wondrous about the Bible?

The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns. Part 1

I remember as a freshman in college (1980) in our InterVarsity fellowship at Stanford we had discussions about evolution and creation.  After a few years of discussing the topic in apologetic groups, I thought, “OK, we’ve solved that one.  Time to move on.”  I come from a science family.  (Dad’s a gamma-ray astrophysicist.)  Personally, I didn’t see a conflict.  In the 1990’s when Christians I knew wanted to discuss creation/evolution, I naively thought, “How passé!”

Well, apparently the problem isn’t solved.  The debate continues, and there’s been a spate of new books recently addressing the issues of Genesis, science, creation and evolution.

John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (IVP, 2009).
Richard Carlson and Tremper Longman III, Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins (IVP, 2010).
C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Crossway, 2011).

Into this mix, Peter Enns (recently hired by Eastern College to each Old Testament) adds his own contribution, cleverly titled, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Brazos, 2012).

In his introduction, Enns discusses the problem, focusing not generally on the issue of creation, but specifically on Adam, since Paul seems to understand Adam as an actual historical figure which he perceives to be in direct conflict with any evolutionary interpretion of human origins.  Enns lays out four options to resolve the conflict:

1) Accept evolution and reject Christianity.
2) Accept Paul’s view of Adam as binding and reject evolution.
3) Reconcile evolution and Christianity by positing a first human pair at some point in the evolutionary process.
4) Rethink Genesis and Paul.  (I suspect this is going to be the option he’s going to choose).

Enns thinks most Christians who, like me, don’t see a direct conflict follow some variation of option #3.  He then informs us that his book will be divided in half.  Part 1 looking at Genesis, and Part 2 looking at Paul.

While I will wait to access Enn’s overall theory (I plan to have 2 more blogs on Enns), I’m attracted to his approach of taking Paul more seriously than most of us OT types typically do.  I have one preliminary question, How distinct will Enn’s perspective (#4) be from option #3)?