Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

What do educated evangelicals know?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Chuck Queen is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky and author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. He posted an opinion piece entitled “It’s time for evangelicals to come out for evolution” on the ABPnews/Herald (Baptist news) web site. He decries the fact that “76 percent of evangelicals doubt that life on Earth, including human beings, evolved through a process of natural selection” and thinks it’s time for evangelicals to get with Darwin’s program. And it’s up to the educated ones to take the lead in transforming the great unwashed masses of presumably uneducated evangelicals:

Educated evangelicals know that the creation stories were never intended to be history lessons or science reports, because the Bible is not a history or science book.

Educated evangelicals also know:

• That evangelical Christians need not fear or deny the enormous amount of scientific data supporting evolution.

• That the story of evolution and the biblical story are not mutually exclusive.

• That a healthy faith welcomes and is informed by science.

As an educated evangelical myself, I thought to challenge Pastor Queen’s assumptions about what we know. I preserved our dialog and present it here. (Notes: My last comment was not published before all comments disappeared from the page. I have inserted a link and added a little formatting that was not possible in the original online conversation.)

Grumpy: "Educated evangelicals" also know that Darwinian evolution is a theory that has some explanatory power but is unable to explain some phenomena, such as the Cambrian Explosion. And educated evangelicals know that no form of neo-Darwinism (natural selection operating on random mutations) has ever been observed in nature or demonstrated in the laboratory. Educated evangelicals also know that such evolutionary staples as junk DNA have been debunked by ENCODE and other studies. And educated evangelicals know that evidence for evolution is so shaky that its promoters have had to come up with such outright propaganda as staged photographs of peppered moths and Haeckel’s phony drawings of embryos. Finally, educated evangelicals know that there is no settled science and that claims that there is are made by people whose livelihoods, philosophical views, tenure, or government grants require propagating the myth that evolution is, to use your word, "truth". Yes, definitely a truth that evangelicals should "come out for".

Pastor Queen: I know . . . I shouldn’t have used the term "educated evangelicals" because it sounds condescending. Sorry about that. Should have used the phrase "evangelical university and seminary professors." I stand by my claim that if the truth were told many, if not most, evangelical university and seminary professors hold to some form of evolution. All of us see God engaged in the process. Exactly how is the great mystery of divine oversight and creaturely freedom. And I stand by my claim that they know that the Genesis stories as "religious myths" contain much truth, though the truth is not factual or historical.

G: Thanks for the reply and the clarification. IMHO, it all depends on what you do with the first five words in the Bible. They aren’t "In the beginning, God engaged …". They are "In the beginning, God created …. " If those five words aren’t a "myth", then God created. He didn’t "engage in the process"; he was the process. If the first five words contain any falsehood, then there’s no reason to accept the rest of them. Ultimately we’re left with what the extra-Biblical sources confirm about the historical Jesus – he was a moral teacher who did some parlor tricks (essentially what the Jesus Seminar would have us believe). In similar fashion, you seem to be suggesting that we limit our understanding of God’s role in the creation of all things to what can be confirmed by extra-Biblical sources masquerading as science.

Let me state unequivocally that I’m no fan of "creation science"; it’s nothing more or less than the flip side of "evolution science". They both start from an a priori assumption (a statement of faith, if you will) and conform their results to that assumption. The former assumes a literal interpretation of Genesis while the latter assumes philosophical naturalism. Neither assertion can be confirmed by science and so both subvert the open-ended inductive reasoning that is at the heart of real science. More than one neo-Darwinist has claimed that his/her explanation must be correct because "evolution is true". That is pure religious dogma, not science. It is the logical equivalent to Ken Ham saying his explanation must be correct because "the Bible, literally interpreted, is true".

On a final note, I just retired from teaching in the Purdue University School of Technology. I am indeed an educated evangelical who is not fooled by the propaganda flowing from the multi-billion-dollar evolution industry.

PQ: Surprised that you take such an either/or, binary view of the Genesis story. You well know life doesn’t work that way. We shouldn’t expect God to.

G: Life/death; sheep/goats; good/evil; obedience/sin; banquet/darkness; wheat/tares; wide way/narrow way; these seem pretty binary to me. No, I don’t expect God to work like his creation does. If you take "created" to mean "engaged in the process" in Genesis, you might as well take Jesus "died" to mean Jesus "fainted". Acceptance of random mutation/natural selection (which is what evolutionists mean by "evolution") is a way point on that slippery slope.

Concluding thoughts

My problem with Pastor Queen’s enthusiastic support of evolution (as explained today – the explanation shifts to accommodate observed reality; see e.g.horizontal gene transfer”) is the words “random” and “natural”. “Random mutation” is mutation that is accidental and undirected – meaning it could not possibly have been directed by God. “Natural selection” is selection that occurs through a purely naturalistic process (e.g. “survival of the fittest”) – meaning God could not possibly have supernaturally intervened to produce a species he desired. The “theistic evolution” Pastor Queen espouses is logical nonsense, an oxymoron.

Ultimately, Pastor Queen is advocating a worldview that is commonly known, not as Christianity (theism), but as atheism. This seems a strange enterprise for a Christian pastor. Perhaps, as he composed the perfect title for his piece, he carefully considered the meaning of the phrase “to come out”. But to come out of the closet of philosophical naturalism – as Pastor Queen seems to have done – one must be in the closet to begin with. I doubt that most “educated evangelicals” are in that particular closet. Progressive “Christians”, yes, but not evangelicals, educated or otherwise.

Posted in Christianity, Culture, Personal, science | No Comments »

Why I Joined the NRA

Monday, April 29th, 2013

When the news broke that Lance Armstrong would cop to doping, some commenters started to call the organization that he founded, the LIVESTRONG Foundation, into question.  Bloggers, talking heads, and bloviating pundits love to demonize both people and organizations. 

It’s true that some people and organizations are thoroughly bad and have no redeeming qualities, but you don’t get any Internet buzz by calling them evil.  The demonization industry depends on hiding or denying the good side of its targets.

At the time of Armstrong’s confession, I briefly commented that he was both a hero and a villain.  His bad deeds didn’t cancel the enormous service that LIVESTRONG has provided to cancer survivors.  I didn’t mention that I also made a contribution to LIVESTRONG that day.  One reason I donated was to make a tiny but useful (to LIVESTRONG) statement that the demonization industry can be ignored.

Ultimately, it was one of MSNBC’s ample stable of resident fools, Lawrence O’Donnell, who convinced me to join the NRA.  The demonization industry (of which Obama is the honorary President) has made the NRA its favorite target.  And there are times the NRA has made the demonizers’ job too easy.  Then O’Donnell claimed that

[the NRA is] in the business of helping bombers get away with their crimes [because their] effort to guarantee that American mass murderers are the best-equipped mass murderers in the world is not limited to murderers who use assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

I knew I had to join and make my tiny but useful (to the NRA) statement.  I don’t know if O’Donnell decided to be utterly ignorant of what the NRA actually does or if he decided to cynically ignore it in order get some cheap pub from equally ignorant/cynical fans.  In the end, it worked – both for him and, in a small way, for the NRA.

I don’t think I’m demonizing MSNBC or O’Donnell.  I honestly don’t know of any redeeming qualities possessed by either one.

Posted in Personal, Politics | No Comments »

Sunday Dinner: A Parable of the Modern Church

Monday, February 25th, 2013

I knew a family once who always had busy, crowded Sunday dinners together. They lived in a big, old house that had a huge living room and an old-fashioned formal dining room. As the family dinners grew with grandchildren, cousins, and friends, Grandpa turned the dining room into a parlor and the living room into a veritable dining hall. He built a long table that could seat 20, 25 in a pinch. With additional chairs and folding tables, they could accommodate 35 at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

Grandma usually fixed roast beef, ham, or fried chicken, potatoes, a vegetable, and homemade rolls or bread. As people became more health-conscious, they asked Grandma to add a second vegetable. After that, she often served a fruit platter or a light soup, sometimes skipping the potatoes. It was a bit more work, but some of the kids pitched in and sometimes even Grandpa helped out. Sunday dinners remained a beloved tradition.

One day, some family members announced that they had started eating vegetarian (strictly speaking, they were “lacto-vegetarian” because they didn’t object to dairy products). They asked Grandma if she could add a vegetarian alternative to the meat dish. So Grandma found tasty meat substitutes and learned to cook tofu.

Family and friends continued to enjoy their time together around the long table, sharing not just dinner, but their lives as well. It was there that Grandpa told everyone he had decided to retire; baby announcements, job changes, engagements, reports of illnesses, and prayer concerns were all heard first at Sunday dinner.

Then a few of the vegetarians told the rest of the family that they just couldn’t bear to look at “those poor, dead cows, pigs, and chickens”. They still wanted to come to Sunday dinners and visit, so they said they would eat their strictly lacto-vegetarian dinner at the kitchen table.  They were joined by a few others who had decided to adopt a vegetarian diet. Having people eating in the kitchen was inconvenient, especially with all the extra dishes she was preparing, but Grandma soldiered on.

As people settled into their Sunday dinner routine, news and concerns from one table didn’t always get carried over to the other. A vegetarian friend who particularly enjoyed Grandma and Grandpa’s company found it hard to choose between tables and simply quit coming to dinner. A couple of roast beef fans who were especially fond of some of the vegetarians also found choosing too difficult and started making other plans. A few die-hard meat-and-potatoes types even thought about establishing a vegetable-free zone in the parlor.

One or two people got mad at the vegetarians for separating themselves and they too quit coming. And one by one, as a favorite friend or relative drifted away, more people stopped coming. Finally, Sunday dinners came down to Grandma and Grandpa and an occasional child or grandchild sharing a simple meal at one end of the large and mostly empty table.

One Sunday, as she looked at all the empty space, Grandma was suddenly very sad. She had tried to give everyone what they wanted, but she couldn’t give them the one thing they needed – a desire to share food and fellowship together despite their differences.

Posted in Christianity, Personal | 4 Comments »

A new home and a new look

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

After a couple of months of effort, The Curmudgeon has progressed to a new blogging platform – indeed, a new blog. The climb from Blogger to WordPress with a brand-new custom theme is just about complete. There are still some tweaks to the design, some broken links, and some formatting changes required by the move to a wider format. The move seems to have scrambled some of the links (including the “newer” and “older” entries) If you spot any problems, please leave a comment. Thanks for visiting.

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A toxic orthodoxy

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The title of this post is my own; I doubt my “guest” here would agree with it. But I think that threats of retaliation and un-Biblical litmus tests do indeed suggest some level of toxicity. I have previously written about ill effects of dogmatic insistence on a young Earth and a literal six day creation. In a recent commentary on Moody Radio, Bryan Litfin, Associate Professor of Theology at Moody Bible Institute, identified some others. With his permission, I have reproduced his remarks below.

Misplaced Priorities
by Bryan Litfin

I had a disturbing experience recently when I was interviewed on Moody radio about the viewpoint held by some Christians called “progressive creationism.” I’ll explain what that is in a moment, but my goal isn’t to rehash that topic today. It was the response from listeners that disturbed me, and that’s what I want to focus on. I think it’s an example of misplaced priorities when it comes to the Bible’s emphasis.

Basically, progressive creationism argues that God created the universe over billions of years. This is not the same as Darwin’s evolution, because progressive creationists do not hold that man descended from other hominid species. They say God directly created certain species, including man, over billions of years. It’s an old-earth view of creationism. In this way, God’s Word and the scientific record can be reconciled. Again, my point here isn’t to revisit that topic.

It was the response from listeners that disturbed me. When I said on the radio that progressive creationism is an acceptable Christian view, and indeed one I find plausible, some listeners responded negatively. They wrote letters to me and to Moody vehemently disagreeing. That of course is fine; there’s nothing wrong with theological debate. But there were accusations flying as well, including the suggestion that certain creationist viewpoints must be a litmus test for teaching at Moody. There were threats about withholding donations, or not sending students to Moody, and even accusations of infidelity to God’s Word. Though I didn’t feel personally threatened by all this, I was bothered by the lack of discernment I was hearing. I thought, “Is this what we’ve come to in the American church today? Have we been so deluded to let a side issue become the centerpiece?”

The Bible doesn’t make a big issue of the age of the earth. Man has done that. Scripture emphasizes God as Creator, absolutely. But the specific “how” isn’t something that reverberates throughout the Bible. Defending six-day creationism is not the lynchpin of faithful Christianity. Nor is belief in evolution the root of all evil in the world. What science textbooks teach about human origins in the public schools is not a make or break issue for us.

We as believers have got to let creationism assume its proper place in our list of priorities. Sure, it’s an issue for debate among Christians. But when it comes to the unbelieving world, it’s time to stop attacking science as some massive demonic conspiracy, and stop attacking scientists as godless reprobates. Instead, it’s time for Christians to embrace the scientific enterprise, and engage unsaved scientists in serious debate and charitable apologetics.

Perhaps most importantly, we’ve got to start spending our dollars wisely. There’s only so much money to go around. We live in a world full of massive human need and suffering. Should we here in America become obsessed with our own culture wars at the expense of such need? When children are literally starving to death, and widows are oppressed by thugs, and orphans multiply daily, and young girls are forced into prostitution, day after day after day – do we really need a museum with animated dinosaurs and displays about Noah’s flood? Seriously – where do you think Jesus would spend his time? As for me, I have a hunch it would be with the poor and the oppressed.

For Moody Radio, I’m Bryan Litfin.

Professor Litfin is the author of Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction.

Posted in Christianity, Culture, Personal | No Comments »

PCUSA: Goodbye to all that

Monday, November 17th, 2008

My church and I have joined the Midwest Presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). After a long, divisive, frustrating struggle with a stiff-necked and ungracious Administrative Commission (AC), we (the session) finally said “enough!”. We scheduled an information meeting and vote without the AC’s permission.

More than 300 of 550 active members showed up last Sunday to vote on disaffiliation from the PCUSA. The vote was 270 to leave and 36 to stay. In addition to immediate disaffiliation, members voted to seek membership in the EPC and to retain our pastors, session, and Board of Deacons. Additional details are available at the Layman Online.

We still have the presbytery’s inevitable claim of an alleged trust in our property to deal with. We continue to hope that our dissenting members will choose to stay in their church family rather than cast themselves adrift in the PCUSA.

In a strange way, I am grateful to that unkind and unreliable AC. If they had shown some consideration for our church, we might still be trapped in their interminable process – and the PCUSA. Is this a case of God intending their evil for our good? I can’t say for sure, but as a new member of the EPC, I can say it’s a real possibility.

Posted in EPC, PCUSA, Personal | 1 Comment »


Friday, November 14th, 2008

I love Paris.

I knew I would love it before I ever set foot in its streets. I knew it my junior year in high school (1961-1962) when I took my first French class. Last May 21, my wife Debbie and I stepped aboard the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse – France’s 200 MPH passenger train) in Strasbourg, France to begin the final leg of a journey that began in Springfield, Illinois 47 years before.

When I was 16, the French language seemed unspeakably sexy to me. The thought of learning it was wrapped in the vague, lusty fantasies of a Midwest teenager. Our teacher, Miss McFadden, did her best to teach us to read, write, speak, and understand French, and some of it stuck with me. I never forgot how to conjugate a handful of verbs. I still remember a brief tribute to the month of March and its often unexpected turns: O que mars est un joli mois, c’est le mois des surprises. The language worked its magic on me, hinting at a world beyond the corn and soybean fields, beyond the grand metropolises of St. Louis and Chicago, a world that revolved around – Paris!

I took two more years of French in college but they seem to have left no lasting impression on me. (To be honest, little of my squandered undergraduate career penetrated my indifference to higher education, at least little of an academic nature.) No matter; like Roy Neary’s vision of the Devil’s Tower in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I had an image planted in my consciousness. My mind harbored the ghost of a place I had never visited, a place that nonetheless beckoned to me over time and distance.

Oh, I had seen pictures of Paris. I had seen movies set in Paris. I studied paintings hanging on walls in Paris. I knew la Tour Eiffel when I saw it. I had read Sartre and Camus. I had sung folk songs that celebrated life in Paris. I knew a lot facts about Paris but I didn’t know Paris. I hadn’t experienced it on the ground, conversed with it (however uncertainly) in its native tongue, smelled or tasted it, absorbed its colors or its sounds. Like a fond memory, the longing to be there quietly occupied its corner of my mind, occasionally prodding me and reminding me of its presence.

After being invited to leave college for the final time in 1967, I lived in St. Louis and Chicago – and in New York, and San Francisco, and Provincetown on Cape Cod, and Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, and in a lot of places in between. They were all fun or interesting or satisfying places to live. I didn’t pine for Paris. I enjoyed those places; they just weren’t … Paris.

As the train crawled through the suburbs of Paris, I searched the skyline for the one landmark that I could not mistake. We had been in France – in Strasbourg visiting expatriate cousins – for five days. But only one thing would make my presence in Paris real. And then I saw that tall, familiar silhouette in the distance. I knew from my 47 years of preparation for this trip that the the grand Champ de Mars lay at its feet, and that just on the other side was the river that had been flowing through my dreams, la Seine.

My recently-resumed study of French (and the foresight to write down the address of our hotel) saw us from the train station to l’Hôtel Beaugency near the rue Cler without difficulty. That evening we celebrated our arrival in the City of Lights by dining at l’Altitude 95 restaurant on the first observation deck of its most famous structure. At any other restaurant in any other city, I would have said the food was good but seriously over-priced. But the end of a 47-year journey deserves a once-in-a-lifetime commemoration at a meaningful location. It was perfect.

I spent ten more days falling in love with this city. A normally picky eater, I resolved to eat whatever was put in front of me while in France. I was never disappointed. Six of those days were spent on a walking tour of the city. I have never been in a city where every street corner entices you away from your planned route. And when you finally tire of walking, the Metro waits a few blocks away to deliver you within blocks of your destination.

Debbie and I just returned from a visit with the cousins who have now been repatriated after four years in Strasbourg. Talking about Paris and writing about Paris are a far cry from being in Paris. But – for now – I can talk and write about where I’ve been, not just where I want to go.

These and other photos from Alsace, Paris, and Switzerland can be seen here (still many more to come).

Posted in France, Personal, Travel | 9 Comments »