Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On the Gun Control Debate

The title itself will get some people excited. Some because they advocate gun control; some because they oppose gun control. My goal in this post is to be an equal-opportunity pest. Both sides seem to generate a lot of heat, less light, and little understanding. Maybe we should search for areas of agreement before we start attacking the differences. I’ll acknowledge up front that some will probably not like what I say. The “no guns – ever” group will think I haven’t taken it far enough; the “I won’t ever give up my rights” and “they’re-trying-to-take-us-over” crowd will think I've been sucked in by the liberals. But that’s okay.

Issue #1: Area(s) of agreement: Horrific events like Columbine and Sandy Hook force us to look at the gun issue. All sides want to prevent tragedies like this. Everyone wants to protect our kids.

Area(s) for discussion (i.e., we probably won’t all agree here!): Are guns in and of themselves the issue or are they a symptom? Are specific kinds of guns the issue? What about the human side of the equation? James 4:-12 tells us that wars and quarrels arise from the heart. We live in a broken, fallen, sinful world. Mental illness, anger, frustration about life events, emptiness, loss of hope, a culture that devalues life, a culture that devalues morality, a society filled with too many broken families, and a host of other issues define the deeper roots of the problem. Can we ignore the heart issue and hope gun regulation solves the problem?

Issue  #2: Area(s) of agreement: Everyone acknowledges that the second amendment grants the right to bear arms (not to arm bears, however). Here’s what it says, in its entirety: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” We likely all agree that some limit exists defining what “arms” I may bear. I do not want my neighbor to have a hand-held rocket launcher; I doubt they want me to have a tank in my driveway.

Area(s) for discussion (i.e., we probably won’t all agree here!): First, where do we draw the line? Some would say “no automatic weapons”; some would say “no semi-automatic weapons”; some would say “limit ammunition”; some say the line lies elsewhere. Second, has the purpose of the second amendment disappeared over time? Some might say we are too civilized to need to worry about tyrannical leaders stealing our liberty by force. Personally, I think that even if the risk is low, the potential for needing some form of protection from “them” still exists (whoever “them” might be).  As examples of who-knows-how-many situations have popped up over time, in the 1770’s, people faced the American Revolution; in the 1860’s, the Civil War; in the 1960’s, neighborhood riots. It seems to me that until the heart problem goes away, the need for self protection will not go away.

Issue #3: Area(s) of agreement: All sides use statistics, stories, logical arguments, emotional appeals, and studies to support their views.

Area(s) for discussion (i.e., we probably won’t all agree here!): How accurate is the information? Both sides use misquotes, faulty statistics, exaggerations, and personal attacks. One of my favorite quotes-that-doesn't-exist: “To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens”, attributed to Adolph Hitler. The problem? The quote doesn't exist, at least not in this form. But people pass it on, especially on Facebook, as if fact. But let’s assume I am wrong and Hitler did say this. Even then, we must consider the context – are we comparing apples to apples? Does the quote really apply to our situation?

Do we do a careful analysis of the statistics we use? Are the numbers we report correct, and are the conclusions we draw from those numbers correct? I am amazed how many I've discovered were incorrect with only a few minutes of research. Do we confuse causation and correlation? Some gun control advocates argue that countries X, Y and Z have gun control and they have a lower violent crime rate than the U.S. Assuming the statistics are, in fact, accurate and comparable, one (gun control) does not necessarily cause the other (lower violent crime rates). We must study the cultures (theirs and ours) more completely before we can validly conclude causation. It might simply be a correlation (a “coincidence”).

How we argue makes a difference. Call me a communist or an idiot or an advocate of killing children and I no longer care about the issue – I want to defend myself (whether or not I am correct). Use name calling against those who hold different views than you, and you will lose from your audience those who agree with that person (and maybe even the ones who do not agree!). One of my “favorites” compares Obama and Hitler. Really?? I’m not a fan of many of Obama’s policies, but I can still disagree with him and address the issues without the ad hominem attacks!

What should we do? Whichever side of the argument you fall on, and I have friends I respect on both sides
  • Be careful what you say or post. Start with where we agree.
  • Verify statistics and quotes before passing them on. Don’t assume they’re true – do the leg work!
  • Don’t resort to name calling. Yes, I know it’s the political way, but it doesn't help.
  •  Make good, strong arguments.
  • Motivate without inflaming. 
  • Contact your political leaders. 
  •  Love your enemy (Jesus did!).
  • Argue well.
  • If you are a Christian, look for the opportunity to talk about the bigger issues: Jesus; eternal life; the coming Kingdom. He is the solution to the heart issue! 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

On Black Friday

For years, the day after Thanksgiving meant “shopping.” For me, it meant “football and stay away from the mall.” Then, the stores started opening earlier. And then ridiculously earlier. Now, “Black Friday” begins on Thanksgiving Thursday. I think it’s gone too far.

The problem is not capitalism, as some would argue. The solution is not government intervention or a socialistic economic system. The market does a great job dealing with supply and demand. The problem is not money. Despite the teaching of some, being rich is not inherently wrong. It’s not even necessarily wrong to be one of the 1%.

The problem is people.

Business decisions made by people and shopping decisions made by people play their roles in supply and demand. The market, which is morally neutral, works. But, if people made the decision “I won’t shop on Thanksgiving – Thanksgiving is about celebrating who God is and what He has done,” the stores couldn’t stay open (no demand). If businesses (run by people) said “We’re going to honor Thanksgiving and keep our doors shut until Friday,” the shopper would have no place to shop (no supply).

Frankly, we shouldn't be surprised that people will look for “the deal” and that stores will offer “the deal”. The market is amoral. The principles of Free Enterprise work no matter the day.

But as a Christian, I want to show people (kids, grand kids  and whomever else might notice) that some things are more important than “a deal” or “making money.” I have no problem with people choosing to shop on Friday. But wouldn't it be great if enough people stood up and said “No thanks. It might cost me some money, but I am not going to shop on Thanksgiving. In fact, I’ll wait until x o’clock Friday to shop so that I’m not using Thursday to get ready for Friday.” Wouldn't it be great if some businesses decided to sacrifice some profit by choosing to stay closed until a reasonable hour Friday to honor the holiday and to allow their employees to celebrate?

These decisions aren't initially driven by supply and demand. They start with someone choosing to follow what they believe is right, not what makes the most sense economically. But if enough people on either side make the decision, the market would follow.  

Be the oddball. Shopper, stay out of the stores until a reasonable time Friday, even if that means you won’t get “the” deal.  Business owner, keep your doors closed until a reasonable hour Friday.

Yeah, I know I’m posting this a few days too late, but maybe we can start thinking about it for next year.

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. Don’t let it become about shopping and “deals”. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus who came to die for our sins that whoever believes in Him receives eternal life by the grace of God. Don’t let it be about “stuff.” No matter if you and I alone follow this path, practice sacrifice for a higher purpose. It’s worth it. You might even choose to sacrifice and give to others in need instead of spending money on "stuff", but that’s food for another post.

Happy Thanksgiving  –  Merry Christmas. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Sky is Falling, We’re Turning Communist, and Other Post-Election Goodies

Obama won the 2012 presidential election. That made some people happy and some less happy. I’m in the second group. But, this blog isn't about Obama, Romney, Ron Paul, or anyone else. I’m writing about how we can respond.

Here’s what I can say with certainty: I have no idea exactly what will happen during the next four years. Well, that’s not true. I have some ideas, and many I do not believe are good. But the 2012 election is behind us, and the fact is that Obama is our President. So, how do we respond?

“The Sky is Falling”

I seriously doubt the world will come to an end because Obama was elected. I write as a Christian, as one who believes the truth of Scripture. Truth that says God controls who rises into power (e.g., John 19:10-11, Dan. 4:25, Isa. 13:17). In the United States, He works through the ballot box (we have input). But Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”

If you are pro-Obama, you won’t ask this next question. But if you are anti-Obama or “Obama neutral”, you may naturally ask, “Why did God permit this man into office?” Here’s what I can say with certainty: I have no idea (you must admit I’m consistent). But I know of several possibilities! It could be that he is the man America “needs” to build our country (although, to be honest, I have a hard time believing this). It could be that he is the man America “deserves” as a consequence of any-of-a-hundred cultural sins. It could be that God is judging America. It could be that God is pushing Christians in America to get off their duffs, to quit chasing the American dream as their primary purpose, and to instead pursue kingdom purposes. (I’m not saying we ignore the American dream, just move it into “second place”.) Regardless, we should seek the welfare of the city (county, parish, state, country) as we live an even-more secular culture, just as Israel was commanded to do when they were taken by the Babylonians (Jer. 29:7).

Life might well be harder during the next four years. Life for Christians in particular might become harder during the next four years. Only time will tell with any certainty. But whether life gets harder or not, God doesn't change. And, frankly, God says he uses trials to grow us (e.g., James 1:2-4), although I’d prefer to grow without trials J. As a believer, I need to “live by faith” even in a messy world (Gal. 2:20). It might not be easy, but am I willing to trust God no matter what?

We’re turning Communist / Socialist / Martian

Frankly, it won’t surprise me if in the not-too-distant future, our culture looks more like post-modern Europe than many of us want. I hope that’s not the case, but it looks likely. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Obama really wants us as a socialist country (I’m not interested in commentary on whether he does or not – I’m simply stating it for the sake of argument). He is not the sole cause; maybe not even the primary cause. He’s just the latest step. For example, welfare came into being to “help those in need”. However, it created dependence, not independence, and it’s been around a long time. Our culture has largely lost the “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” (I am not lumping people who legitimately need help in this discussion) and the “help equip those who need help to stand on their own two feet” ethics. For a host of reasons, we've developed a culture that practices yome. (Yome = “You-owe-me”. A secretary from my engineering days taught me this word). Only time will tell if we continue along this path or change as a culture.

Communist? No, but not impossible. Although the philosophy of “communism” must have a socialistic economic system, not all socialism must be communistic. This one I call, “Overreaction”.

But no matter what, God is still God. I am still called to be faithful to Him and walk in faith.

What should we do?

Pray a lot (1 Tim. 2:1-3).
Respect the office, even if you don’t respect the man.
Get your hands dirty. Instead of saying “they shouldn't ” (whomever “they” are or what “they” shouldn't be doing), get involved with others. Educate people one-on-one. Help them see how to work and the value of work. You get the idea!
Read Economics For Dummies (or something similar) to learn or relearn basic economics (of course, some of you already know it well. You are exempt J.) I think too many of us don’t understand the basics.
Don’t believe everything you see, hear, or read (maybe believe nothing). For example, I've seen a host of half-baked videos that distort facts, but people pass them along as truth. Check the facts, check the facts, and then check the facts.
Stop diatribes on Facebook and other venues. Your fans already believe you; your “enemies” won’t be convinced. Don’t pass on ad hominem attacks, half-truths, and anything else that inflames. Pass on “the truth and nothing but the truth”. If you pass on opinion, identify it as such. Offer positive  suggestions about how to get involved.
Do get involved in the political process. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Try to influence politicians, but…
Remember, a believer's true citizenship is in heaven and we are primarily ambassadors here. So, while influencing the culture, do so in a Christ-like way and serve Him first and foremost. This kingdom may fade; His never will.

I don’t know exactly what will happen in the next four years. Obama is my president, just as Bush was my president before him. Doesn't matter which (if either) I support. Things might improve; they might deteriorate. I have my suspicions. Either way, take a deep breath, trust God, get involved, and live with kingdom purposes in view.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Things I Won't Miss After the Election

Probably should have written this months ago. Such is life!

Every presidential election matters. As American citizens, we have both the privilege and responsibility to express our views via the ballot box. In this political process, we have the privilege of disagreeing with one another. Depending on our individual world views, these differences can be significant!

What bothers me most about our disagreements – and what I will absolutely not miss after the election – is how we disagree. Too many of our disagreements include name calling, ad-hominem attacks, statements taken out of contest, sound-bite statements against our opponents, propagating statements without checking the truth of those statements, propagating those same statements even after discovering the truth, blitzing the social media with all kinds of “noise”, and so on. It happens with the candidates themselves (see, “Debates, any of them”) on down to the man in the street.

It bothers me most when Christians do the same thing. We should be different in our approach. We forget (apparently), or choose to ignore, that “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44) and “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21) applies even to our political “enemies”. I've seen too much of the opposite, where we act just like the world in the way we attack the other side (whether attacking from a Republican, Democratic, or Independent perspective).

Dean Merrill wrote in his book Sinners in the hands of an Angry Church: “You cannot shout people into holiness. It just does not work.” The same applies to political views – you (and I) cannot shout people into changing their views.

Some will (and some already have) incorrectly conclude from my comments that I think Christians ought to be passive, or that my theology doesn't allow thinking correctly about political issues. Both views are wrong. Should we be frustrated, even angry, at some of the actions and platforms that candidates hold (whether in office or running for office)? Absolutely! Should we try to influence the political process? Absolutely. Should we try to hold wrong-doers accountable? Again, absolutely. Should we be bold? Yes! Should we speak our convictions? Yes!

But I do think we need to check how we respond. Whether I like a particular incumbent is immaterial. If the incumbent has not personally earned my respect (in my oh-so-humble opinion), the office has (or should). The Bible commands us to pray for our leaders, not just the leaders we like (1 Tim. 2:1-3), a command Paul wrote while Nero “served” as emperor. Peter wrote, also during Nero’s reign, to “honor the King” (1 Pet. 2:17), even though Nero was in no way a godly or moral man.

So, what should we do if we disagree?

  • Pray. A lot.
  •  Fact check before passing on “facts”.
  • Check context before passing on quotes. Don’t pass on quotes taken out of context.
  • Choose not to pass on anything whose primary purpose is to inflame.
  • Don’t rationalize our actions with words like “I’m mad”, or “They’re an idiot”. Both might be true, but that shouldn't drive how we act (if you’re married, does the “I’m mad” or “you’re an idiot” approach work with your spouse? Thought not!)
  • Address specific issues with facts to support your thoughts.
  •  Use social media wisely – don’t bury people with “stuff”.
  • If you are a believer, remember your demeanor should reflect Jesus. (I can hear now, though, the argument, “Jesus was pretty harsh with the money changers, so I’m okay.” The problem with this comparison is that Jesus’ harshest words were towards the religious leaders of the day for leading their people down the wrong path, not towards the political leaders or for political issues).
  • Listen to the viewpoints of our opponent. We don’t have to agree, but we can be courteous. We might even learn something! I asked an Obama-supporter why she supported him. But, I preceded the request by telling her I simply wanted to learn; that I would not use her words against her. I think she replied because I treated her with respect, even though we disagree.
  • Don’t resort to name-calling. The gap is huge between “This is a lie" (or appears to be a lie)” and “He is a liar”.
  • Finally, ask yourself – is this how I want to be treated?

I suspect I’ll get shot at by some. Again. But I want Christians to think on a higher plain. Jesus’ kingdom purposes should trump my political views. Representing Jesus should direct how I respond, not my flesh (Did you know Paul included “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, and dissensions” in his list of “the deeds of the flesh”, Gal. 5:20?). Remember we serve as an ambassador of our real home (1 Cor. 5:20, Phil. 3:20) therefore, represent that kingdom well as we work in this kingdom.

For me, this is the test: Based on reading my Facebook posts, reading my blogs, hearing my discussions with others, and watching me in the public arena, would an outside observer say, “He spoke the truth in love”? Or would he say something else? I hope the first is true.

Stand firm; raise issues; address error. But do it in love. How we dissent is at least as important as that we dissent. And if you do it in love, you’ll confound your foes – they won’t know how to respond (Rom. 12:20). J

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Myth of Sexual Purity

Did I pull you in with the title?

It’s not really a myth. It’s just too rare. No surprise, we live in a highly sexualized culture where problems like pornography, pre-marital sex, and a culture sliding away from sexual morality all tug hard against purity.  

Does it matter? Is purity possible?

Imagine an ideal world. No one gives in to sexual temptation. Everyone enjoys sex within the boundaries of marriage, as God designed (yes, I know this is a Pollyanna view, but let me dream). What would happen?

The multi-billion dollar porn industry dries up.
Prostitution disappears.
Sex trafficking ceases.
No babies born outside of wedlock.
With fewer single-parent homes, poverty rates in America decrease.
Abortion rates drop drastically.
Guilt from sexual sin never rears its head.
Marriages become stronger.


Back to reality. The truth is, sexual temptation tugs constantly, and many yield– including a high percentage of practicing believers. We won’t fully see the above results this side of Jesus’ reign on earth when He returns. But until then, we can put a small dent in the problem, one person at a time.

That raises two obvious questions: (1) Can we experience purity, and (2) Do we want to experience purity?

The first question is simple to answer. “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16). The language here is strong! The biblical answer is, we can. Of course, getting from theory (“we can”) to practice (“we do”) isn't easy, but the truth that we can remains unchanged.

The second question is tougher. Many times when we yield to temptation, we do so because we want to. A friend once said, “If sin weren't fun, no one would do it.” So, I must decide if I want sexual purity to characterize my life and my individual choices. On paper, this seems easy, but on a moment-by-moment basis, it often isn't. Sometimes we want the wrong thing. Like any aspect of my Christian life, the desire to follow Jesus is stronger at some times than others

So, let’s assume believe purity is possible and we want it. But what is “it”?

Too often we limit the definition to what we don’t do. We use words like “flee immorality” or “no sex outside marriage”. Both statements are absolutely true, but they give only part of the answer. Purity is so much more than what we don’t do. Usually (always?) when God says “Thou shalt not”, he also says, “Thou shalt do this instead.” This holds for sexual purity. After commanding us to “flee immorality”, He commands us to“glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:18-20).

Here’s how I tie “thou shalt not” and “thou shalt do this instead” into a definition of purity:

I experience purity to the degree that I make godly choices
Ø  by avoiding all inappropriate sexual activity;
Ø  by enjoying appropriate expressions of my gender;
Ø  by enjoying appropriate relations with the opposite sex;
Ø  by honoring God, myself, and the other person with my heart, mind, eyes, and actions.

Yeah, I know it’s long. The abridged version is “I experience purity to the degree that I make godly choices.” And, to keep this blog from turning into a book, I can do no more than highlight each piece of the definition.

Sexual activity involves more than intercourse. It includes any activity that, taken to its logical or desired end results in orgasm; any intentional touching of sex organs (even through clothing); any “eyeballing” of someone; or any sexual fantasizing.

Inappropriate sexual activity happens when anything or anyone other than our spouse gets our engine started. Avoiding this is the “thou shalt not.” Everything else is “thou shalt do this instead.”

Enjoying appropriate expressions of my gender recognizes God made us sexual beings. Being male is part of who I am. We have freedom to be “manly men” and “girly girls”, so long as we don’t cross the line into what’s  inappropriate. Use your imagination!

Enjoying appropriate relations with the opposite sex simply means we can enjoy being with the opposite sex as long as we recognize boundaries. “Appropriate” with my my wife differs from “appropriate” with my secretary or my wife’s friends or my neighbor. It means unmarried people can enjoy dating with appropriate touch within the “don’t get your engine started” limit.

Honoring God recognizes that God is always glorified when I choose to follow Him in faith and live His way – in this case, following His way for sex. Always.

Honoring myself recognizes that I am the temple of the Holy Spirit and that I am living as the person God desires me to be.

Honoring the other person recognizes that other person is created in God’s image, and is not an object for my pleasure. Even if “the person” is only a picture, video, or fantasy. It recognizes that the other is someone who may become (or already is!) someone else’s spouse. Honoring the other person recognizes that God gave “rules” for sex to protect each person and to provide maximum possible joy with one another. In other words, I treat the other person like the person God designed them to be.

With my heart, mind, eyes, and actions simply means sexual purity involves my entire being. All of me.

So there you have it – sexual purity in a thousand words (give or take). Of course, I could say much more, especially about practical steps to experience this purity, about how to handle slips (a nice word for “sin”), and so on. For now, all I can do is challenge us to believe purity is possible, to encourage us to want it, and to broaden our idea of what purity looks like. I hope I've helped on any of these three levels.

I’ll close with some shameless self-promotion – If you want more information in general, have any specific questions, or want information about me presenting a sexual purity workshop for your church, men’s group, or school, e-mail me at rsfankhauser@yahoo.com or message me on Facebook.

Monday, October 1, 2012

How to Help the Wrong Candidate: Vote Third Party or Don't Vote!

Two problems can influence the coming elections. Okay, I know there are more than two, but only two that I’ll address in this blog! One is voting for a third-party candidate; the other is not voting at all.

In 1992, Bill Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush for President of the United States. Clinton won 370 electoral votes to Bush’s 168. Interestingly, however, he took only 43% of the popular vote, winning the popular vote by a plurality, not a majority. Bush took 37.5% of the popular vote, and third party candidate H. Ross Perot took 18.9%. Perot, however, did not win a single state and therefore did not carry a single electoral vote.

Electoral vote
States carried
32 + DC
Popular vote

Perot effectively split the conservative vote. I’m not saying Bush would have won if Perot had not been on the ballot because I have no way of knowing how (or if) those 19.7 million voters who voted for Perot would have voted. Nor am I making any moral evaluation of any of these three candidates. I’m simply using this election to illustrate that the problem with third-party candidates is that they rarely have enough support to carry the day and win the office. So, when we vote third party, we effectively vote for the candidate we least want to win. Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say the candidates from the two primary parties are Smith and Jones. One is more liberal; one is more conservative. You as the voter tend to be either more liberal or more conservative, so given just these two candidates, you would likely vote for the one that more aligns with your views. But the election is muddled – Candidate Fankhauser is also on the ballot. You are convinced Fankhauser better represents your views. Fankhauser could lean towards either the liberal side or the conservative side – the argument doesn't change. So, rather than use the labels liberal / conservative , right / left, democrat / republican, I will use the labels north / south simply to show that the candidates tend to be opposites in their overall views.

The ballot has Smith (North), Jones (South) and Fankhauser (also South). You are convinced Smith (North) is by far the worst of the three candidates. However, you are also convinced that Jones (South) is not the best candidate. You are convinced that Fankhauser (South) is the best candidate for any number of reasons. Maybe he is more southern than Jones (or less); maybe he alone holds to a particular view important to you. However, no poll shows Fankhauser having even a ghost of a chance of winning. However, he can carry some votes of those with a southern view. Effectively, he takes votes away from Jones, helping Smith (north). If ten people vote, 4 for Smith, 3 for Jones and 3 for Fankhauser, Smith (north) wins, even though the southern view captured more votes. And if I’m Smith, I love the idea of Fankhauser being on the ballot! (By the way, I realize that some of those who voted for Fankhauser might have leaned more to the north, and would vote for Smith and not Jones had Fankhauser not been on the ballot. But usually a third-party candidate negatively impacts one side far more than the other).

I can hear some teeth gnashing, because you may conclude (rightly) that I think it is better to vote for Jones, even though I think Fankhauser is the better candidate. Shouldn't we vote our conscience? Shouldn't we vote for the one we think is the best candidate?

The answer is yes… and no. Support your preferred candidate through the process, but if it is obvious he (or she) has no real chance of winning, it is sometimes the better option to vote against the worst candidate (in this case, Smith) than for my preferred candidate  by voting for the candidate that at least has a shot of carrying the day. No vote is ever wasted (i.e., we should express our opinion in the ballot box), but sometimes a vote can be ineffective. If keeping Smith out of office is a primary goal, then voting for Jones more effectively moves toward that goal. If I am okay with Smith in office, or if I believe Jones is equally bad, then voting for third-party Fankhauser poses no problem. That is rarely the case, however.

My point in all this is to vote effectively. Sadly, sometimes the vote truly does boil down to a lesser of two evils. Neither candidate is ideal. But often splitting a vote by voting for a third-party candidate who has no hope effectively puts the greater of two evils in office.

And that brings me to the second problem: not voting at all. If I really believe that both candidates are bad, and I choose to stay home and not vote, I again am effectively helping the greater of the two evils. In this case, only Smith and Jones are on the ballot. Let’s look at two scenarios: (1) I don’t like either candidate, but I am more concerned about Smith getting into office than Jones. I choose to vote for Jones, effectively cancelling out one vote for Smith, making it just a bit tougher for him (or her) to win. (2) I don’t like either candidate, so I don’t vote. Therefore, the vote that I cancelled in the first scenario stands uncontested, making it easier for Smith to win. Not voting helps the “more evil” candidate.

Here’s the bottom line. We should vote, and we should vote our conscience. However, as part of that “conscience” I need to include thinking about the effect of my vote. By not voting or by voting for a third party candidate who has no chance, I effectively help the candidate I consider “more evil”.

I have carefully avoided specific candidates, parties, or offices. The logic of my position is independent of those issues. If I am more liberal and the third party splits the liberal vote or if I am more conservative and the third party splits the conservative vote, the logical outcome is the same. The split vote helps the other side. Vote wisely!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How old is this old (???) earth?

“And now for something completely different!” This post and my last few posts have this in common: They are both written by me. And that’s about it!

It seems the question of creation and the age of the earth pops up with great regularity. Friends have posted blogs about it (I guess I’m adding to that list); books (new and old) address it; pastors speak about it; schools teach it (well, most teach evolution, which still addresses origins). Some Christians talk about it, some with great fervor.

Let’s back up from the age issue, though, and look at what I think is the core issue. Philosophically, the battle boils down to this: Is the earth and its creatures created or did they come about purely by natural forces and processes? Am I, as a human, created in the image of God or am I a glorified primate? The question here of where man came from outweighs the question of when he came. I think we must think about creation and the “age” issue on two levels. One is apologetics; the other is the text.

Before I continue, I must give three disclaimers:
  (1)    I am not saying the “young earth” view is necessarily wrong. You’ll see why I say this in the next section.
  (2)    I do not believe theistic evolution provides a valid explanation of origins (theistic evolution typically says God set the initial conditions (pre big-bang) and then allowed evolution to proceed, knowing it would eventually produce humanity).
  (3)    I am not advocating we ignore the biblical text.


When talking with an unbeliever or someone who hasn’t looked carefully at the issue of origins, we will almost always lose our audience if we introduce “young earth” too early in the discussion. Why? They are indoctrinated with the idea that the earth is old. Most science classes teach an ancient universe. And if young earth is even addressed in educational settings, it is usually ridiculed. So, our audience holds as true that the universe is old. Frequently, they turn us off as soon as we mention “young earth.”

In addition, if we hold a young earth view, we face a credibility issue. Most of us are no more than amateur scientists, if that. But, if we hold a young earth view, we must argue that every field of science is wrong where it touches on any aspect of origins. This includes astronomy, physics, geology, radiometric dating, biology, paleontology, and others. Might they be wrong? Yes (I won’t argue one way or the other here), but most of us do not have the background to evaluate the “party line” of the sciences, the critique of “the party line” or the critique of the critiques! Most of us have some knowledge of the basics, but we must rely on third parties to form our opinions. So, when we say “science is wrong,” the logical response (often unspoken) is, “you’re not a scientist – how do you know”? This issue is particularly relevant when we talk with someone who does have a background in science!

So, where can we start?

“Given that”

I heard this at a conference a few years back, and it makes so much sense. “Given that the universe is old, do we have evidence of design?” By saying this, I am not saying that the universe is old; I’m simply sidestepping for now the issue to get to more central issues: creation and the existence of the creator. Using the “given that” approach simply says, “I’ll grant you your point for the sake of argument. Even if your point is true, we still have evidence that supports creation. Let’s look at it.”

And the evidence does exist. Specified complexity (such as the “programming” of DNA). The fine-tuning of the universe. Irreducible complexity (such as cellular “motors”). The rapid expansion of the so-called Cambrian explosion (significant increase in genetic information in a short period of geological time). The limits of the change mutations can actually cause within an organism. These are not simply “God of the gaps” explanations (i.e., “we can’t explain it, therefore God did it”). Rather, they are “arguments to the best explanation” (i.e., parallel phenomena such as computer programming are the result of intelligent, creative action).

I fear too many people (aka, high school and college age kids) lose confidence in the Bible because we don’t arm them well enough with the “apologetic” answers. I want them – and us – to have confidence that science and faith are not mutually exclusive. And I want them to have confidence in the Bible.

The Text

If you know me, you also know I hold a high view of the Bible. I firmly believe it is our ultimate authority. So, in a discussion of origins, I cannot ignore the text! In the few words I have left, let me give four thoughts about the Genesis account:

  (1)    The facts of science and the Bible must agree. However, the interpretation of one, the other, or both might be wrong.
  (2)    The argument that says disagreement with an interpretation means you deny the inerrancy of Scripture is a false dichotomy. I found eight different approaches to Genesis One from writers who affirm the inerrancy of Scripture but interpret the passages differently (this group does not include theistic evolutionary approaches, although some theistic evolutionists such as Bruce Waltke hold to inerrancy). Not all such interpretations are equally strong, but the issue is interpretation, not inerrancy.
  (3)    The writer of Genesis (whom I believe to be Moses) wrote to an agrarian, non-scientific culture roughly 1500 years before Christ. What did he intend to communicate to the original audience? “Given that” we might disagree on the details of the Creation, we can agree that the text tells of the existence and nature of God, that He is the creator, that objects and creatures worshipped by both Egyptian and Canaanite cultures are created, that man is uniquely created in God’s image, that through the sin of the first created man, Adam, sin entered the world, and so on. These principles do not rise or fall based on the age of the creation.
  (4)    By all means, come to a conclusion about the interpretation of the text. Discuss it with others, but be gracious with those who interpret it differently – especially in public settings.

How old is this old (or not-so-old) earth? If you noticed, I didn’t answer the question. I have my convictions, but I’m not going to give them here. If you take a guess, some of you will be right and some of you will be wrong. Wrestle with the answer to the age of the earth; come to a conclusion about the age; but keep the main thing the main thing: that God created, not when He created.