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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Amazing Grandson

I've had the opportunity to be with my seven month old grandson for the entire week, and it has truly been a blessing. I've watched this amazing little guy as he explores the world around him and experiences things for the first time. It is really amazing just how fascinated he is with everything, and how eager he is to reach out and grab hold of life. He is constantly learning and acquiring new skills. Smiles come easy to him and tears flow freely. His enjoyment or displeasure is registered without words. The filters and hang ups that plague us adults are absent - they simply haven't been learned or acquired yet.

His affect on the adults around him is also fascinating to me. It is amazing to observe the way that his mother and father hold him and talk to him, and how responsive they are to his needs. Likewise, his grandmother has a unique and special way of interacting with the tiny fellow. Unsmiling and uninterested strangers are transformed by his gaze and smile. Finally, I am often dumfounded by my own reaction to my grandson - how much he means to me - how much enjoyment and pleasure he has brought into my life.

Pondering these things makes me wonder about how God must look at all of us. Does God regard us as infantile versions of him/her/itself? Does God derive enjoyment and pleasure from our exploration and learning about the world around us? Does God have to resist the urge to do everything for us? Does God have to force him/her/itself to allow us to try and experience new things - things that God may know that we won't like or need? Is God affected by our smiles and tears? Does our laughter provoke laughter from him/her/it? How does that feeling of love and concern that wells up in us toward our little guy compare with what God feels for us? Is God concerned with our sometimes apparent self-absorption and indifference to him/her/it, or is God completely satisfied with watching us grow and changing our dirty diapers when the occasion demands it?

Monday, August 25, 2014

The importance of family

I am sorry I haven't written anything for several days - I just returned from a family reunion in Alabama. This event underscored for me the importance of family, and the profound impact that this group of people has on all of us. I was also struck by how each and every one of the people who attended this reunion are living with the consequences of their ancestors' decisions and mistakes. If you think about it, our families are probably the single most important element in the construction of our individual identity. After all, family embodies both nature and nurture.

This branch of my family has helped to shape the nation in which I live (U.S.A.). It has provided soldiers and patriots for the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI and WWII. Moreover, just as it has contributed to the history of these United States, America's story has also shaped my family. For my folks, The Great Depression helped to define a generation and influence their thinking for the remainder of their lives. In short, they struggled to keep body and soul together. Sometimes putting food on the table proved to be too difficult a task for them to accomplish - they often went hungry. They also had to deal with the consequences of the nation's participation in World War II.

If all of that wasn't enough, the patriarch of this particular clan was an irresponsible philanderer. In fact, his adulterous liaisons eventually resulted in the destruction of his marriage and disruption of his family. As a consequence, my grandmother and her siblings were forced to grow up without a father. This fact hurt and wounded many of them, and it left all of them without any example/model of what a family should look like. Their dad was an adulterer who had abandoned them and his responsibilities regarding their care and welfare. This, in turn, led to the failure of many of their own marriages/families. In short, not having been exposed to a loving and faithful relationship between their own parents (or between their father and themselves), they had nothing to inform or guide them relative to the conduct of their own marriages and the treatment of their own children.

The Bible clearly assigns the responsibility for the care and training of children to the parents of those children. (Deuteronomy 6:7 and 11:19, Proverbs 22:6 and Ephesians 6:4) Likewise, those same Scriptures demand respect, honor and obedience from the children toward their parents. (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-3) Jesus Christ also reprimanded the religious leaders of his day for their practice of contributing to the welfare of the temple at the expense of their parents. (Matthew 15:3-6 and Mark 7:10-13) Finally, Paul wrote to Timothy that taking care of one's own family was a prerequisite for anyone who wanted to assume the role of a shepherd over God's flock. (I Timothy 3:5) He went on to tell Timothy that anyone who failed to take care of his own family was "worse than an infidel." (I Timothy 5:8) Hence, according to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, God expects family to be a priority in the lives of "His" people.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

YHWH and Prophecy

Prophecy is one of those topics that has the ability to excite both Fundamentalists and Atheists. It is the Fundamentalist Christian's favorite "proof" that the Bible is "God's Word" (and most of them love to speculate about how close we are to "the end"). Atheists look at the same evidence as proof that the Bible is a bunch of nonsense! What does the Bible reveal about YHWH's attitude toward prophecy?

First, Scripture makes clear that God (YHWH) was not the only source of prophecy. The book of Deuteronomy even warned the Israelites that not all false prophecies would fail to happen and urged them to look at who the prophet was advocating for - which god? (Deuteronomy 13:1-4) In fact, Isaiah wrote that the Israelites preferred these false prophets. (Isaiah 30:10) The book of Jeremiah indicates that there were many of these false prophets among the people - claiming to prophesy in the name of YHWH. (Jeremiah 5:31, 14:14-15, 23:16, 23:25-26, 23:32, 27:14-16 and 29:9) Apparently, God even instructed Ezekiel to prophesy against the prophets of Israel! (Ezekiel 13:2, 17)

Scripture also makes clear that YHWH's prophecies were conditional in nature. God promised great blessings to Abraham if he would leave his homeland and travel to a place designated by God. (Genesis 12) God told Abraham that "He" intended to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but that "He" would spare them if "His" angels found ten righteous people living there. (Genesis 18) Moses promised the people blessings for their obedience and curses for their disobedience. (Deuteronomy 28) Jonah's prophecies against Nineveh were rescinded when the people of that city repented. (Jonah 3:10) Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth that love trumped prophecy - that unlike love, prophecies could fail. (I Corinthians 13:8) In fact, he went on to indicate that prophecy was an imperfect art that would someday be eliminated altogether. (I Corinthians 13:9-12)

It is also made clear in Scripture that YHWH enjoyed a wide latitude in interpreting prophecies, and how "He" chose to fulfill them. For instance, God's promise to David that his dynasty would occupy the throne of Israel forever (II Samuel 7:8-16) was clearly not fulfilled by an unbroken chain of sons who occupied his throne.(II Kings 25:1-7) Instead, the Judeo-Christian Bible makes Jesus Christ the fulfillment of that promise to David.(Isaiah 9:6-7, Amos 9:11 and Luke 1:30-33)

Hence, as all three of these principles regarding the Divine perspective on prophecy enjoy broad Biblical support, it would appear to me that the emphasis placed on the subject by both Fundamentalists and Atheists is misplaced. Clearly, the YHWH of the Judeo-Christian Bible did not attach the same degree of importance to prophecy that some of "His" followers and detractors have attributed to it. In other words, both sides may want to rethink their appeals to this "evidence" regarding God!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Give us a sign!

For all of the evidence we have that things evolve over time, there is still enough evidence extant to support the old saying that "some things never change." Just as in the days of old, folks are still demanding a sign from God - some proof that He/She/It exists and/or has ever had any contact with us. And these folks aren't interested in just any old sign, they want a sign that meets a standard or criteria which they have chosen. In short, we want proof!

The problem is that science can study and test natural phenomena, but what do we do when we run up against supernatural phenomena? We can deny its existence or attempt to use natural phenomena to explain it. We can accept it based on our own observations and experiences. We also have the ability to accept things based on belief (faith). For some folks, a voice from heaven or a miracle would do the trick. For some folks, a group of scientists being able to perform tests and experiments in a controlled environment (with the ability to replicate the results) would be acceptable. Whatever the personal preference of the individual, the truth is that most of us demand some kind of sign from God. Hence, in the light of these observations, I think it only fair to acknowledge that it would be very hard for God to provide us with any sign that would have universal appeal. What would be enough for you might not be enough for me!

According to the Judeo-Christian Bible, God (YHWH) has given mankind a number of signs over the course of the "history" of "His" interactions with mankind. For the Hebrews, the Sabbath was a sign between the people and their God. (Exodus 31:12-17) This same God also offered a sign to the House of David in the form of a virgin giving birth to a child that would be called Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14) The Gospel of Matthew records a couple of instances where people demanded that Christ give them a sign. In one of those instances, we read: "The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, 'When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' and in the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." (Matthew 16:1-4, NIV) In other words, "you cannot interpret the signs you have - what good would it do me to give you more of them?"

I think that the same thing could be said of us today. If you can't see God in the world around you, then it isn't very likely that you are going to accept any other sign or proof of "His" existence. If you can't see God in the phenomena that we call love, then you are not likely to accept any miraculous signs or apologies from some theist. If you haven't personally experienced the supernatural, then you aren't very likely to be swayed by a voice from heaven (After all, it could be a recording of Morgan Freeman's voice being broadcast by a drone that has been obscured by a cloud). From a Scriptural perspective, I'm sure that YHWH would say that "He" has given us many signs - we simply didn't like or accept them. If you think about it (even if you don't approach it from a Scriptural perspective), what is God's incentive for providing us with a sign? Would we all drop everything and rush to "His" side? Would we all suddenly become believers? Would the whole world convert? What would we convert to? Next on the agenda: "Give us some direction/instruction!" This is starting to sound circular isn't it?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Christian Business: How does that work?

Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby have probably been the two most visible representations of the phenomenon of "Christian" businesses. Chick-fil-A has been in the public eye for some time because of its well-known practice of closing its restaurants on Sundays to promote church attendance by its employees. Also, they have been in the news more lately because of their CEO's public statements against same-sex marriage. Likewise, Hobby Lobby has been in the news lately because of its Supreme Court challenge to provisions in the Affordable Care Act that mandate providing birth control coverage for female employees.

Nevertheless, these two companies are part of a much larger trend in American Society that involves many of the businesses in this country - large and small. Tyson Foods has placed chaplains on its payroll to minister to the spiritual needs of its employees. Marriot and Jet Blue are noted for their ties to the Mormon Church. In my own area, we have a lady who wears prominent cross-shaped earrings as she sells cars on television, and she can be relied upon to give a Christ-themed Christmas message every year during the holiday season. I've noticed that some local businesses even place notices in their doors and windows professing their belief in Christ or asserting their claim to be a Christian business.

So it occurred to me: What makes a business Christian? Does the business automatically adopt the religion of its owner or the majority of its stockholders? What if half of the people are Baptists and the other half are Methodists? Do they adopt a generic Christianity in those instances? How do they resolve doctrinal differences between people who work for the company? Or is everyone required to speak the party line? Are Christian businesses somehow superior to secular or pagan businesses (I've never seen anyone advertise themselves as a "pagan" business)? Do Christian businesses pay their employees better than other businesses and provide them with better benefits? Are Christian businesses more likely to forgive employee misconduct or mistakes and less likely to fire them? Do Christian businesses tithe on their profits? Do they contribute part of their profits to churches and charities? Can businesses be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or pagan like individual people?

In other words, does claiming to be a Christian business impose any kind of responsibility on the business to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ? Does paying employees at or near minimum wage qualify as paying your workers a fair wage? (Leviticus 19:13, Jeremiah 22:13, Malachi 3:5) Does failing to forgive an employee for some infraction of the corporate rules disqualify your business from advertising itself as Christian? (Matthew 18:35) Is providing for the needs of widows and orphans a priority for Christian businesses? (Exodus 22:22, Deuteronomy 24:19-21, James 1:27) Do all of the employees of a Christian business have to claim allegiance to Jesus Christ? (Matthew 10:32) Can a Christian business be counted on to never cheat or defraud its customers? (Proverbs 11:1) Are Christian businesses required to be truthful in their advertising? (John 14:16, 18:37, Ephesians 4:15)

In short, does claiming to be a Christian business carry with it any responsibilities on the part of the company, or is this merely a marketing ploy to draw Christian customers into the business? Merriam-Webster defines "business" as: "the activity of making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money." That being the case, I think it is legitimate to question whether most modern business practices are consistent with the Apostle Paul's statement to Timothy: "But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows." (I Timothy 6:9-10)

Maybe I'm being too judgmental, but I have a tendency to run in the other direction when I see one of those "Christian" business signs in the window! I wonder what God thinks about the claims of these businesses? What do you think?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Did YHWH Evolve Into A Super Deity?

Mr. Harry H. McCall has posted an article on Debunking Christianity entitled "The Evolution of God from Yahweh in a Box to the Super Mega Deity of the Universe." (It can be viewed at this address: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-evolution-of-god-from-yahweh-in-box.html#more) The thesis of the article is that the ancient Hebrew God doesn't bare much resemblance to the modern Christian concept of God. He goes on to point out that most Christians are blissfully unaware of how their God has evolved over the centuries and appears to bemoan the fact that this presents a moving target for the Atheists who are simply trying to bring peace and enlightenment to these ignorant dupes.

Of course, Mr. McCall is really talking about the evolution in the thinking about God that has taken place over time (he doesn't believe that God has evolved). He's probably correct in his assessment that most Christians are unaware of the history of the development of the modern Christian concept of God. In fact, we would probably not be challenged if we asserted that most folks are blissfully ignorant of the evolution of human thought in general. Scientific thinking has undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in the last five hundred years. Likewise, our understanding of the process of evolution is deeper and more nuanced today than it was when Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. Indeed, Darwin's own understanding of the subject had evolved by the time of his death in 1882. Hence, it is rather unimaginative to suppose that our philosophical notions relative to God would remain static over time.

The fact that "countless thinkers" have contributed to our modern conception of God does not trouble me. Whatever happened to the old adage that "a million heads are better than one." (it was something along those lines) Why do we have to accept that inspiration was confined to a few priests, prophets, apostles and scribes writing some two to three thousand years ago? Hasn't the entire history of mankind on this planet been one of learning - the expansion of our intellectual frontiers? Why should the subject of the Divine be any different? Interestingly, I think that Mr. McCall would find a more sympathetic audience for his thesis among Christian Fundamentalists (they don't like change either).

I find it fascinating that most of us who accept evolutionary science as the most plausible explanation for the diversity of life on this planet still regard Darwin's book with reverence - even though we are all aware that the science and thinking on the subject has progressed dramatically since he wrote it. Why is it so hard for some folks to approach Scripture with the same attitude? Our understanding of how DNA and genetic mutations work is clearly superior to anything extant in the Nineteenth Century, but it doesn't diminish our respect for what was discovered and accomplished then. We can still discern in our thinking the germ of Darwin's idea (along with those of all of the other thinkers who contributed to his thesis).

Hence, the more appropriate question is: Can we discern any traces of the Hebrew YHWH in the modern Christian conception of God? And to any objective observer, the answer should be YES! The Hebrew God is identified as the Creator of everything at the beginning of their Scriptures. (Genesis 1) The Hebrew God is purported to have told Moses that "He" was beyond the scope of any name that Moses could imagine.(Exodus 3:13-15) In a polytheistic world, we are told that YHWH informed Moses that "He" would not tolerate any likenesses of himself or the veneration of any other deities among the Israelites. (Exodus 20:3-5) The place between the cherubim on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant (the box that Mr. McCall references in his remarks) was originally understood by the Hebrews to be a place where YHWH would sometimes meet with them. (Exodus 25:21-22) Although this place later came to be regarded as a "dwelling place" for YHWH, it is inaccurate to characterize the Hebrews as having regarded the chest itself as a box to contain him. Indeed, when Solomon constructed the first temple, he acknowledged that God could not be contained in any human structure. (I Kings 8:27) Isaiah claimed that YHWH told him that "He" was unique - the only God. (Isaiah 44:6-8) Can we detect the germ of the modern Christian notions about God in any of this?

In short, the process of evolution applies to human thinking in a way that is similar to how the concept applies to the development of life on this planet. Christians have nothing to apologize for with regard to the way that their conceptions of the Divine have evolved. I'm sorry if this makes the Christian Divinity more slippery for Atheists and harder for them to attack, but I must applaud the fact that at least some Christian thinkers are still learning and evolving. As for God, I don't know if "He/She/It" has evolved over the years (like our conceptions of him/her/it); but I'd like to think that "He/She/It" has grown with us. What an exciting possibility!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Is suicide a one-way ticket to Hell or the Lake of Fire?

The recent death of comedian Robin Williams has generated a great deal of discussion about suicide. These kinds of events inevitably bring to mind questions about how God might regard suicide. Is suicide the unpardonable sin - the one that God will not forgive?

I think that Mary Fairchild wrote an excellent article on this subject entitled "The Bible and Suicide - What Does the Bible Say About Suicide?" You can read her article for yourself at the following link: http://christianity.about.com/od/whatdoesthebiblesay/a/Bible-Suicide.htm

Ms. Fairchild points out that it is not inappropriate to regard suicide as a sin. After all, it is the intentional taking of one's own life or self-murder. She goes on to point out that six of the seven mentions of suicide in Scripture are presented in a negative light (Abimelech, Samson, Saul, Saul's Armor Bearer, Ahitophel, Zimri and Judas. Ms. Fairchild also quotes the Old Testament scripture where God encourages the Israelites to choose life over death. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20) The message is clear here, God wants "His" people to choose life.

Nevertheless, in this respect, suicide is no different from any other sin that we might commit. Christ said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was the only unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31). Why? Because a person who engages in this sin is denying the power of God to forgive sin. Such a person is saying that his/her sin is simply too great - They are saying that a particular sin supersedes God's ability to forgive. And to be clear, we're not talking about chronic depression, an overwhelming sense of despair regarding some sin or someone who is mentally and physically exhausted by their struggle against some addiction, sin or illness. We are talking about someone who has made a deliberate decision to never seek forgiveness - who has convinced him/her self that their sin(s) exceeds the Holy Spirit's capacity to forgive, cleanse and transform them.

It is interesting that Robin Williams acted in the 1998 movie "What Dreams May Come." In the movie, Robin's character and his wife (Annabella Sciorra) lose two children in a car accident. Robin's character dies four years later and the wife loses hope and commits suicide. Mr. William's character ends up in heaven with his two children, but his wife's self-murder condemns her to hell. Mr. William's character then embarks on an epic journey to hell to rescue his beloved wife. In the process, he almost loses his own soul in hell; but love triumphs in the end. He and his wife are finally able to join their children in heaven and live happily ever after there together for all eternity. Unfortunately, as portrayed in the movie, many folks regard suicide as a one-way ticket to hell.

The obvious problem with this view is that God has the ability to forgive all sin. There are no limits on God's ability to forgive. Remember, we are the ones who attempt to limit God. In her article, Mary Fairchild points out that Christ's work is finished - He has already paid the penalty (death) for all of the sins that have or ever will be committed by us. In other words, it's a done deal for anyone who has accepted Christ as their Savior (And, according to Scripture, everyone will be given a chance to do that - people living and dead who have never had that opportunity - folks from all religious traditions). Ms. Fairchild references one of the most famous passages in the New Testament to demonstrate her point: "For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him." (John 3:16-18, NLT)

Ms. Fairchild also quotes Paul's words of encouragement to the Christians of Rome: "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39, NLT) She concludes: "It bears repeating—suicide is a terrible tragedy, but it does not negate the Lord's act of redemption. Our salvation rests securely in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. So then, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" (Romans 10:13, NIV)

I heartily concur with Ms. Fairchild's conclusions. Suicide is not a one-way ticket to Hell or the Lake of Fire. People who commit suicide are not necessarily excluded from heaven, God's Kingdom or whatever you believe happens to good people when they die.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

God vs. Science?

The notion that God and science contradict each other has its roots in the Christian Church's response to folks like Copernicus, Galileo and the scientific thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment. Nevertheless, much of the scientific community has embraced the notion and adopted it as their own. In my last post, I referred to an article by a prominent atheist that attempted to show that it was impossible to reconcile God and evolution. As long time readers of this blog will recognize, I thoroughly reject the notion that God and science are natural enemies.

A friend sent me a link to an NPR article entitled "We Don't Need To Be Created To Be Relevant" by Marcelo Gleiser. (http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2014/08/13/340073029/we-dont-need-to-be-created-to-be-relevant) Gleiser wrote: "The fact that we don't know (yet) how to explain how life emerged on Earth doesn't mean we need to attribute it to some kind of supernatural action. This is the well-known 'God of the gaps' approach, that what science can't explain must be the work of God. A dangerous way to believe, given that science does advance and gaps do get squeezed away." NEWS FLASH: We also don't have to attribute the emergence of life to chance!

This seems to be a common affliction of my atheist friends - For most of them, it's an either/or proposition. Like their religious counterparts of five centuries ago, they insist that there are only two choices: God or Science. They seem unable to contemplate any kind of mixing of the two.

To be sure, science is not compatible with foolishness. There is no reconciling science with the likes of a Ken Ham. That view, however, is not representative of most of the Christians who embrace science.

As a Christian who fully embraces the discipline of science and is completely open to wherever the evidence leads us, I do not subscribe to the "God of the gaps" approach. If science were able to answer all of the mysteries of life tomorrow, I fail to see how that would automatically rule out the existence of God. Are these folks saying that the aim of science is to make God unnecessary? Are they trying to find evidence to support such a thesis? Doesn't that sound like the antithesis of true science? Isn't a scientist suppose to follow wherever the evidence leads? How does understanding how life formed and developed exclude the possibility of God? In short, an explanation that doesn't include God doesn't necessarily exclude God.

I can account for the existence of the house I live in without any reference to myself, but I'm still sitting here on my couch! In similar fashion, we can explain a poem, painting or musical composition in great detail without any reference to the author, artist or composer. We could even explain the mechanics of its creation without any reference to its creator. Indeed, we have many poems, paintings and musical compositions that are anonymous - we don't known who created them. "That's different, the evidence still points to a creator in those instances!" my friends will protest. "Why must we accept your interpretation of the scientific evidence regarding the formation and development of life?" I will answer. Just because you don't see a creator in the evidence doesn't mean that I don't. What if my house was a cave? What if our painting or musical composition was computer generated? What if a chimp was responsible for our painting? What if a classroom full of students composed a poem? We could still provide an elaborate explanation of the mechanics and meaning of the pieces, but the question of a creator would become more abstract and philosophical wouldn't it?

I hope that science will someday be able to explain everything. Nevertheless, if we ever do reach that level of understanding, it will not prove that it all isn't the work of God. God doesn't need gaps to be involved in the process - especially if "He/She/It" is the one who designed the process.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The God of Evolution

In July of 2011, John Shook wrote a piece entitled "God and Evolution Don't Mix." (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/god_and_evolution_dont_mix/) In the article, he states that there is "zero scientific support" for the notion that God could be involved in the process of evolution. Mr. Shook goes on to suggest that any theists who attempt to link the two have probably not given much thought to the implications of such a view. He then proceeds to enumerate some of the disturbing things that such a connection would imply about God's character. He suggests that an Evolutionary God would: 1) favor diversity over intelligence and self-awareness, 2) favor struggle and suffering, 3) be indifferent to or favor death, 4) have plans for life that probably don't involve humans, and 5) be using us to achieve God's ultimate goal/purpose. Dr. Shook concludes with: "What sort of God prefers to rely on natural evolution? It may not be a God that anyone could really worship." Fellow atheist, John Loftus apparently concurred with this view as he excerpted a large portion of the article onto his blog about a week later.

As a theist who accepts evolution as the most plausible explanation for the diversity of life on this planet, it seemed appropriate to me to provide my own rationale for being comfortable with a God who has used such a process to create life. In short, does such a mixture (God and Evolution) imply the type of God suggested by Shook and Loftus? Moreover, wherever the evidence takes us, would such a God be worthy of my worship?

First, the Shook/Loftus view makes a good many assumptions about both God and evolution that are not necessarily true. Dr. Shook appears to suggest that God should only want creatures that can know and praise him. His argument also appears to assume the immorality of evolution (he characterizes the process as "heartless" in his article). Indeed, the doctor is apparently suggesting that struggle and suffering are inherently bad or wicked things. Although he purports to believe that mankind is not special, he seems to take exception to the fact that there may be some life form that is superior to us in the future.

In his first point, Dr. Shook implied that the evolutionary evidence suggests a God who favors diversity over intelligence and self-awareness. Assume for a moment that this is true, so what? Who said that God only wants creatures that are capable of knowing and worshiping him? In previous posts on this blog, I have stated my belief that the overwhelming weight of the evidence (both inside and outside of Scripture) suggests that God is not the one who benefits from worship. Moreover, if there is a God (as I believe), then "His" existence is not dependent on my (or Dr. Shook's) acceptance or awareness of the fact.

However, does the evidence provided by the evolutionary process really suggest that God favors diversity over intelligence? I would say that the evidence suggests a Divinity that likes both. Oh sure, if you're equating "intelligence" with what mankind has then you could legitimately say that it is rare. However, if we're defining it as "the ability to learn or understand things or to deal with new or difficult situations" (Merriam-Webster), then we can readily acknowledge that this applies to a great deal of the life on this planet. Worms, slugs, ants, grasshoppers, cockroaches, spiders, frogs, octopi and birds all have functioning brains and thus have some degree of intelligence. If we confine ourselves to animals with a cerebral cortex, the number and diversity of species is still astounding (e.g. mouse, dog, cat, cow, horse, dolphin, whale, monkey, chimp, gorilla, elephant, etc.).

Who are we to characterize struggling and suffering as bad or evil things? Doesn't Scripture suggest that we are made better and stronger by the trials, struggles and suffering that we face in this life? What would happen if these things were eliminated? What would happen if God handed us everything on a silver platter? Look at the world around you. What often happens to people who inherit wealth or good looks? What kinds of things usually happen to people who are suddenly thrust into fame and fortune? What does the product of a life of ease and comfort look like? Is pain an inherently bad thing? Doesn't the knowledge or awareness of it sometimes keep us from touching a hot stove or jumping off a cliff? Does struggling and suffering ever result in a positive outcome? And if it does, doesn't that suggest that these things are not inherently bad or evil?

To suggest that God is indifferent to death (or somehow likes it) because there is so much of it in the world defies logic and common sense. My life is filled with things that I tolerate because they are a necessary part of life - part of living in this society and/or on this planet (working, paying taxes, brushing my teeth, bathing, resting and sleeping, wearing clothing, washing dishes, taking out the trash, etc.) Sometimes I enjoy some of these things, and sometimes I dread or hate them. Nevertheless, if we look at the big picture, we would have to acknowledge that death is not the aim of evolution or life. All of the life on this planet consciously or unconsciously seeks to perpetuate itself through the reproduction of its kind. Life is not about death, it's entire focus and purpose is about living. Moreover, even though the individual never makes it out of this life alive, each and every one of them contributes through this process to the perpetuation of life on this planet (regardless of whether or not it passes on its DNA to future generations).

Dr. Shook looks at the evidence of the evolutionary process and concludes that any Divinity involved in such a process must have plans that don't involve mankind. As many atheists are fond of telling their theistic counterparts, you can't have it both ways. If mankind really isn't at the center of everything, then why do we expect God to treat us as such? Why is it so repulsive to imagine that God could have plans that don't involve us? What if God is using the evolutionary process to arrive at something else? What if we are only a step in the process? What if there is something better than us waiting at the finish line? What if there is no finish line? Couldn't one legitimately take pride in the fact that he/she has participated in (or contributed to) some purpose grander than him or her self? What if that purpose is to produce a life form superior to us? If we truly are going to be more cognizant of our place in the grander scheme of things and less egocentric, shouldn't such an awareness be a source of pride and comfort to us?

In other words, move over Shook and Loftus - there's room at the scientific table for theists too. An acceptance of evolution doesn't necessarily imply the kind of God that you've suggested. For some of us, God and evolution do mix.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A place for worship

When I googled "worship" this morning, this definition popped up: "the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity." In reading that definition, it occurred to me that the need to reverence and adore something greater than ourselves seems to be universal among humans. Indeed, throughout human history (and among every culture known to us), we can see some evidence of worship.

To be sure, this phenomenon has not always been linked to what many of us would characterize as a deity. In some primitive and ancient cultures, this need to reverence and adore appears to be somewhat amorphous in nature and not tied to a specific god or group of gods. I'm thinking about things like nature, ancestor and hero worship. Likewise, this human energy has been directed at things other than deities in more sophisticated cultures like Rome and China. Although the Romans had their gods, most of their reverence and adoration appears to have been directed at the state itself. Some folks would no doubt describe Confucianism in such terms - that the reverence and adoration are directed at behavior (the way a person conducts his/her life).

In similar fashion, we can observe this same phenomenon at work among our friends on the atheist side of the equation. Once again, there is no conventionally defined god or deity at the center of the phenomenon. Instead, the reverence and adoration is directed at the means of investigation (the scientific method) or the process by which life has attained such diversity on this planet (evolution). Nevertheless, like their theistic counterparts, the feeling or expression of it is also clearly discernable within this group of humans.

It could also be said of both groups (theists and atheists) that the object(s) of their reverence and adoration does/do not need this worship to sustain it/them. Think about it! God would continue to exist if there was no one present to worship "Him." Indeed, the Hebrew God's attitude toward worship appeared to be one of "If you're going to engage in this behavior, then direct it at me" (there are numerous instances in Scripture where the Deity pointedly says that "He" doesn't need their worship). Likewise, evolution would continue to happen if there was no one to appreciate the process. The Scientific Method would continue to work for those who practice it if there was no one to admire it. In other words, this feeling or expression of reverence and adoration that is so prevalent among humans is something that benefits our psyches. In the final analysis, it is something that we do for ourselves.

These are some of the reflections that were prompted by our visit to the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in northwest Arkansas over the weekend. The chapel was built in the middle of a forest of large oak, hickory and pine trees perched above a clear mountain lake. It is constructed around fifteen Gothic arches which give it somewhat of the appearance of a Medieval Cathedral. These steel arches are enclosed by glass walls that allow one to be a part of the surrounding woodland. The interior seating and flooring are wood and stone. The arches were full of beautiful spider webs; and I could see squirrels, hummingbirds and butterflies flitting among the trees from my seat inside the chapel. The only sounds present were the melodious notes of the classical music playing in the background and the wind among the trees outside. There were no planes, trains or automobiles to distract from the serenity. The best of man and nature appeared to coexist in perfect harmony in this place.

While we were there, I was infused with that sense of reverence and adoration that I mentioned in the opening to this post. There was no order of worship. There were no sermons, readings, ceremonies or singing - just the inspirational solitude of our surroundings. We left the chapel feeling rejuvenated and connected. For me, this worship was directed toward God; but it wasn't hard for me to imagine one of my atheist friends leaving the chapel with the same feeling. And so I was drawn to this conclusion by my experience: Worship is a very human need - it's a part of all of us. What do you think?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Why it's OK to question God!

How can you have the audacity to question God? How dare you question whether or not the Bible is God's word? How dare you question the Genesis account of the creation of the earth and universe? How dare you question God's motives and purposes? Your questions indicate a lack of faith! Your questions indicate a prideful and rebellious spirit! Why can't you just accept what God and others have revealed about him? You are one of those blasphemous and perverse people that is always learning but is never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth!

Perhaps you've heard some of this kind of stuff from believers in times past? Maybe you've said some of those things to "doubters" before? What about the point that is being made by the folks who employ these questions and statements? Is it wrong to question God?

I would say that it is not only OK to question God, but that God expects questions. Think about it: If God truly exists and is our Creator, isn't it obvious that "He" gave us a brain to use for thinking and reasoning? If it is natural for humans to investigate and explore, then who placed that tendency within us?

You don't think that this natural tendency exists within the human heart? Don't we begin to investigate and explore the world around us as babies? Doesn't an objective review of the evidence seem to indicate that we are somehow programmed or hardwired to investigate and explore. What's on the other side of that mountain or ocean? What's out there in space? Why do things work the way they do? We've been asking these questions since the dawn of human history.

What about the Bible? Does it have anything to say about questioning God? As a matter of fact, it has a great deal to say on the subject! In fact, if it is inappropriate to question God, then most of the great heroes of the Bible are in trouble!

Consider some of these examples from Scripture:

Abraham once asked God: "O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don't even have a son?" (Genesis 15:2, NLT)
On another occasion, he asked: "Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city - will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes?" (Genesis 18:23-24)

When Moses went to investigate the phenomenon of the burning bush, we are informed that he had a great many questions for God:
"Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11) "If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' they will ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what should I tell them?" (Exodus 3:13) "What if they won't believe me or listen to me? What if they say, 'The Lord never appeared to you?" (Exodus 4:1)

When God sent an angel to commission Gideon to rescue the Israelites from the oppression of the Midianites, Gideon had a great many questions: "If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? And where are all the miracles our ancestors told us about? Didn't they say, 'The Lord brought us up out of Egypt'? But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to the Midianites." (Judges 6:13) Then Gideon had the audacity to ask God for some signs that God would do what "He" had promised to do. (Judges 6:17 and verses 36-40) Did God zap him? No, "He" gave Gideon the signs!

The entire book of Job is an account of a man questioning God's motives and fairness in allowing all of the misfortunes and sufferings that have befallen him. Does God zap Job? No, "He" actually answers him!

One of the Psalmists asked: "O Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide when I am in trouble?" (Psalm 10:1) David wrote: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?" (Psalm 22:1) Another wrote: "Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Why do you look the other way? Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?" (Psalm 44:23-24) Asaph wrote: "O God, why have you rejected us so long? Why is your anger so intense against the sheep of your own pasture?" (Psalm 74:1) and "Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?" (Psalm 77:7-9)

The prophet Habakkuk was full of questions for God: "How long, O Lord, must I call for help?" (Habakkuk 1:2) "Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery?" (1:3) O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal - surely you do not plan to wipe us out?" (1:12) "Will you wink at their treachery? Should you be silent while the wicked swallow up people more righteous than they?" (1:13) "Are we only fish to be caught and killed?" (1:14) "Will you let them get away with this forever?" (1:17)

And then there is that most famous question of all - the one that Jesus Christ asked while he was hanging on the cross. The question that echoed the question of his ancestor David so many years before. In the Gospel according to Matthew, we read: "At about three o'clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' which means 'My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?'" (Matthew 27:46)

Hence, if the Bible is your standard, then you would have to conclude that God doesn't mind questions. In fact, I would say that all of the evidence (both inside and outside of Scripture) points to a Divinity that wants us to investigate and explore. I think that God wants us to keep asking questions - It's the only way to grow! And don't be afraid of finding answers - the truth is not a fragile thing. If something is really true, then it will stand investigation and exploration.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

God: Past, Present and Future

The Judeo-Christian Bible portrays God as a past, present and future entity - kinda messes up the whole Dualist thing doesn't it? The fact that this concept permeates these writings also presents some problems for those folks who see Scripture as a disjointed mess. Nevertheless, this view of the Divine is consistent with the thesis of a God who cannot be contained.

Looking back into the past, Moses (or someone else) wrote that God was there when the heavens and the earth were created. (Genesis 1:1) Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew Divinity is referred to as the "God of your ancestors" (NLT). A psalmist wrote: "Your throne, O Lord, has stood from time immemorial. You yourself are from the everlasting past." (Psalm 93:2) In one of his prophetic visions, Daniel referred to God as the "Ancient One," or as the King James Version renders it "Ancient of Days." (Daniel 7:9, 13, 22)

In similar fashion, Scripture is literally full of incidents where God is said to be present in the moment. We are told that God was walking about the Garden of Eden "when the cool evening breezes were blowing." (Genesis 3:8) In a personal audience with Moses, the Hebrew God revealed to him that he was the "I AM." (Exodus 3:14) Scripture also records that God made a personal appearance at Mount Sinai and at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. (Exodus 19:18-20 and I Kings 8:10-11)

Likewise, from Genesis to Revelation, God is portrayed as an entity of the future. The Hebrew God assured Abraham that "He" would personally bless his descendants. (Genesis 15 and 22) Throughout Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the minor prophets, the Hebrew God talks about a time in the future when "He" will establish a Heavenly Kingdom on this earth. John tells us that this same God is going to make everything new one day. (Revelation 21:5)

Not enough proof that Scripture portrays God as past, present and future? Consider the Psalm that is attributed to Moses: "Lord, through all generations you have been our home! Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God." (Psalm 90:1-2) Solomon wrote that God "has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Isaiah quoted God as saying, "From eternity to eternity I am God." (Isaiah 43:13) Toward the end of the book that bears his name, Isaiah also referred to God as the "one who lives in eternity." (Isaiah 57:15) Finally, in John's vision of heaven, the creatures who surrounded God's throne referred to the Almighty as "the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come." (Revelation 4:8)

In short, the Judeo-Christian Bible clearly portrays a Divinity that transcends time - an entity that cannot be contained by that which constrains us. Hence, the God of the Bible is a God of past, present and future.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Atheist or Theist: Self-righteousness is still ugly!

I googled the term "self-righteous" today, and this definition popped-up on the screen: "having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior." The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines the term as "having or showing a strong belief that your own actions, opinions, etc., are right and other people's are wrong."

It seems to me that people are quick to identify this trait in theists. I guess that's understandable in light of the fact that most theists like to talk about morality - good and evil. However, I have noticed that the feeling of being superior to others is not confined to theists. In fact, it appears to me to be a very human affliction that almost anyone can succumb to.

Folks like Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, John Loftus and their followers have been just as obnoxious to people who disagree with them as any of the Christians that have confronted them. Anyone who has watched one of their interviews, presentations or debates knows exactly what I'm talking about. Their opponents are ridiculous. They are ignorant. Their questions are beneath them and do not deserve an answer. Isn't that the definition of self-righteousness?

As I have mentioned here before, I came from a church culture that was convinced that they had THE TRUTH. Many of those folks bragged about their spiritual insight. Many of them made fun of religious beliefs and people outside of our group. Ministers loved to give sermons that used biblical arguments to demolish the teachings and doctrines of Traditional Christianity. Funerals were a special favorite of some of the most self-righteous ministers. They viewed them as an opportunity to show people how stupid it was to believe that your loved one was on his/her way to heaven (or hell). Anyone who espoused anything different from them was hopelessly deceived or part of a Satanic conspiracy to suppress THE TRUTH.

Yes, I have seen that hungry, wild look in a person's eyes before; and it wasn't pretty. It's like there is an impulse in some folks to defeat and humiliate anyone who dares to espouse an opinion that differs from theirs. I've seen that hateful, superior language in print before too - my church produced a lot of books, booklets, articles and magazines.

When that church fell apart, I noticed that a large number of folks rejected both God and the Bible. Although I can understand the hurt and disappointment that would cause someone to do that, I cannot understand the impulse to exchange one tyranny for another.

This phenomenon, however, is apparently not peculiar to the former members of my church. I have noticed that very often the same folks who were so overtly committed to their former religious beliefs often become the most vociferous critics of the Bible and the most ardent supporters of atheism. In short, their beliefs/opinions are the only things that changed. They still feel that evangelical impulse. They still enjoy that feeling of superiority to lesser mortals - that feeling of knowing more than their ignorant and duped fellow humans.

Go to YouTube and observe one of these folks giving a public lecture. Their supporters laugh, cheer and clap just like some Christians do when one of their evangelists is speaking. In fact, some of these presentations feel a lot like some of the sermons I sat through in my former church. I'll say it again: Self-righteousness is ugly, and it doesn't matter if it's a theist or atheist that is engaging in the behavior.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Formation of the Canon (Part III): The Evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The accidental discovery of a collection of ancient documents preserved within clay jars stored in some caves above the Dead Sea in 1947 has been the source of much scrutiny, speculation and debate on the part of archeologists, historians and religious scholars. I am neither qualified as, nor desirous of being, a participant in that debate. Nevertheless, the documents themselves do constitute evidence within the context of this present discussion about the possibility of a Divine role in the formation of the Judeo-Christian canon.

In particular, we are concerned with the biblical texts that were discovered among the many documents in the caves. In the light of my assertions that the Hebrew canon was largely settled by the time of the Christian era, it is interesting to note that archeologists and biblical scholars have determined that most of the scrolls and parchments which contain copies or translations of the Hebrew scriptures date to the period between 200 BCE and 70 AD (In other words, the period of most interest to the points made in these posts). According to The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library (http://www.deadseascrolls.org), documents and/or fragments of documents have been discovered containing the texts of every book of the Hebrew canon except the book of Esther.

In the interest of full disclosure and objective reporting, it should also be noted that the non-canonical or apocryphal books of Ecclesiasticus, Jubilees, Tobit and Epistle of Jeremiah were also found among these writings. Likewise, some of the copies of canonical texts reflect a willingness on the part of the scribes who wrote them to make corrections or otherwise edit the texts that would make most Fundamentalists uncomfortable. In short, although these scrolls and parchments suggest fairly widespread agreement about a sacred set of texts, they do not conform to the modern Christian Fundamentalist notions of a closed canon. It should also be noted that a few of these documents are much older or more recent than the period of interest here (or what is representative of the majority).

Although the original assessment of these materials characterized them as belonging to the Essene branch of the Jewish religion, modern scholarship has assigned a more diverse origin to these documents. According to Josephus, there were three primary philosophical camps within the Jewish religion of the First Century: Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that there was fairly widespread agreement among these diverse groups pertaining to which writings should be regarded as sacred. In much the same fashion that modern Christians have used their common canon (it should be noted that there are important differences relative to the way that most Protestants and Catholics treat the writings known as the Apocrypha) to arrive at a diverse set of beliefs, these writings resulted in some very diverse religious ideas and teachings among the Jews. Nevertheless, as with most Christians, they all appealed to basically the same set of texts to support their particular brand of Judaism.

Hence, in the opinion of this blogger, the existence of the Dead Sea Scrolls supports a number of the conclusions reached here by considering other evidence from the time period. In particular, they reinforce the perception that the writings contained in what we regard as the Hebrew canon were widely available within the Jewish community by the time that Christ appeared on the scene. Likewise, they suggest a fairly common perception that those writings were regarded as sacred by the community as a whole. Finally, the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls also reinforces the view that Scripture was not the property of an elite (priests, scribes, councils or government officials) within the Jewish community (i.e. the freedom to manipulate them and the diversity of opinions reflected in their interpretations of those documents).

Stating my thesis in different terms: Although the evidence reflects the diversity inherent within human interpretations of any literature, what accounts for the uniformity and coherence that is suggested by the same evidence? Are we going to attribute those qualities to the same human sources responsible for the diversity? And, if we answer yes to this second question, does that mean that we are excluding God as a potential source of inspiration for both the diversity and the uniformity? What do you think?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Was God involved in the formation of the canon? Part II

As was indicated in the previous post, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the Hebrew canon was formed prior to the Christian era. More of that evidence will be presented here. Likewise, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the canon of the New Testament was largely settled prior to Constantine's Council of Nicea. Hence, although it is correct to draw attention to the fact that the formation of the Judeo-Christian canon was a process, I maintain that it is disingenuous to propose that the process did not originate in the time of the apostles and had not achieved a high degree of cohesion and uniformity very early on in the history of the Christian Church. For this blogger, these facts suggest an additional unseen hand in the process of the formation of the Judeo-Christian canon.

The evidence that follows was taken from my own perusal of the writings of Christians of the first three centuries of the Christian era. For those who are interested in examining those documents for themselves, they can be found at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/. These are not the commentaries or interpretations of later historians - these are the actual writings of people who lived during those times (Hence, my suggestion that they constitute evidence):

Clement of Rome wrote in the last decade of the First Century. In his Epistle to the Corinthians, he references material from Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah (from which he quotes extensively), Ezekiel and Malachi. Likewise, Clement talks about Paul's epistle to the group and mentions most of the fundamentals of the Christian tradition: Jesus Christ's blood, return, status as first-fruit, leader of the movement and the fact that all blessings flow through him. He also discusses the subjects of repentance, faith (that we are not justified by our own works) and the resurrection.

Ignatius of Antioch lived and wrote in the last part of the First and the early part of the Second Century. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, he talks about David and references things mentioned in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and the Gospel of John. He also mentions the virginity of Mary, the star that appeared at Christ's birth and Christ's crucifixion. In his Epistle to the Magnesians, Ignatius talks about the birth, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ and mentions Pontius Pilate. In his Epistle to the Trallians, he references passages from Isaiah and talks about Christ's descent from David. In his Epistle to the Romans, he talks about Jesus Christ as God's "only-begotten Son" and quotes from Paul's second letter to the saints of Corinth. In this epistle, Ignatius also quotes Christ's statement: "For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?" (recorded in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke). In his Epistle to the Philadelphians, he talks about the "ancient scriptures" and references Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the holy of holies. He also references the Christian concepts of the kingdom of God, Eucharist, cross, death, resurrection and Gospel. In his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius references Christ as being of the seed of David. He also mentions Pontius Pilate, Herod the Tetrarch, the fact that Christ was born of a virgin and was baptized by John. He also references the incident where the resurrected Christ invites Thomas to touch him (recorded in the Gospel of John) in this letter. In his Epistle to Polycarp, he quotes Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians and a statement attributed to Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. Finally, in all of his epistles, Ignatius talks about the respect that Christians owe to their bishops and deacons (offices created by the apostles, referenced throughout the canon of the New Testament).

Polycarp lived in the last part of the First Century and approximately the first half of the Second Century. In his Epistle to the Philippians, he quotes from Paul's letters to the Ephesians, Corinthians, Romans and Timothy. He also references material from the Gospel of Matthew and Peter's and John's first epistles.

Irenaeus of Lyons lived in the Second Century. In his Against Heresies, he quotes from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, I Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Joel and Jonah. He specifically mentions four Gospel accounts of Christ's life (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and quotes extensively from all of them. Likewise, Irenaeus also mentioned material from I & II Corinthians, Titus, Romans, II Thessalonians, Galatians, Acts, Philippians, Colossians and Revelation.

Justin Martyr wrote in the Second Century. In his First Apology, he wrote about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ and referenced the fact that he had been crucified under Pontius Pilate. He talked about Christ as the Son of the True God. Justin quotes extensively from the Gospel According to Matthew. He also refers to Christ as the Word of God (emphasized in the Gospel According to John). He wrote that Christ's aim was "the conversion and restoration of the human race." He also pointed out that Christ was predicted by the writings of Moses, Isaiah, Micah and Zechariah. Justin quotes the first and second Psalms in their entirety. He mentions the concept of Christian baptism and the taking of the bread and wine. Moreover, in his description of a typical Christian gathering of the Second Century, he relates that "the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read."

That the people of these early times were very familiar with the writings that we associate with the canon of the New Testament is further testified to by the works of the men who came next in the progression of church history. The writings of Tertullian (born about 160) and Origen (born about 185) reflect a broad familiarity with the material of the New Testament and an astounding degree of sophistication in the theological philosophy that had already been derived from those writings. Origen composed commentaries on the Gospels of John and Matthew. He quoted extensively from Scripture and even spoke of a "New Testament" relative to an "Old Testament."

Hence, the evidence of these writings indicates that there was an early impulse toward the acceptance and inclusion of certain writings in the "canon" of the Christian Church. Was this impulse to accept some writings and reject others purely human in nature? Each of us must arrive at our own answer to that question, but the author of this blog discerns another force at work within the project. Moreover, if we are going to maintain some kind of inspiration for these writings (and remember I'm not advocating the same kind of inspiration that a Fundamentalist would advance), then it is illogical to suppose that some kind of inspiration did not guide the process resulting in the modern canon of Judeo-Christian Scripture.