Defeating Darwinism (Book Review)

defeating-darwinismSometimes a specialized subject matter expert is actually not the most qualified person to critique a related idea.  Case in point: Who would you trust more for advice on a difficult end-of-life decision for a loved one?  A life support machine technician or a medical ethicist?  Theoretically you would probably want a qualified mediator who is able to listen to the technician and the ethicist, like a family doctor.  But with only two choices, who is more qualified to counsel you on the right thing to do?  The mechanic or the theologian-philosopher?  I think many reasonable people would choose the ethicist.  But then again, many others would be more comfortable with the technician.  In all probability these two groups would condemn each other as wrong, foolish, ignorant, and maybe even evil.  Alas, such is human nature.

When it comes to the subject of science and origins, this kind of fighting is common.  Neo-Darwinism is the only respected scientific theory of origins in Western culture.  Any acceptable critique of this theory must come from inside the camp and must be kept away from the public eye to foster the illusion of unanimous agreement.  If any scientist outside the camp criticizes Neo-Darwinist theory or questions its foundational assumptions, they are treated as heretical troublemakers and denied access to the guild.  And if any non-scientist outside the camp dissents from the evolutionary orthodoxy, they are denied access to the table as unqualified, uneducated, and undeserving of a response.  The problem with this response to the questioning dissenter should be obvious.  In order to make a wise decision regarding a subject, wouldn’t it be best to hear from the mechanic and the philosopher?  Wouldn’t you want to hear the criticisms of the intelligent outsider?

Which brings us to Phillip E. Johnson (not to be confused with Phillip R. Johnson), a distinguished legal mind, professor of law, and aspiring philosopher of science.  Johnson is the grandfather of the Intelligent Design movement challenging the Neo-Darwinist status quo.  His strategy is named “The Wedge of Truth” which seeks to split the log of scientific orthodoxy by focusing on the known and acknowledged problems associated with evolutionary theory, namely the question of evolutionary mechanism, the cause of the Big Bang, and the contrary evidence in the fossil record.  As far as I can tell, The Wedge strategy is first explained in print in his third book on the subject: Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (DD).  I first read DD as a recent college graduate as a helpful and simplified summary of the issues the author first laid out in considerably more details his books Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance.  Recently I reread it to my oldest daughter who is a freshman in high school.  DD is a little over her head (and for that reason she didn’t much enjoy it), but I came to appreciate how this book crystallizes the issues for a target audience of upper high school and college.  The second time through it also surprised me at how relevant the book continues to be.  The only thing that feels dated about the book is its optimism for Intelligent Design (ID) theory for the near-term.  What has actually happened in the last 20 years is that ID has been barred from the public schools and scientific academia with a stroke of power.  Contrary to popular opinion, it is not another brand of biblical creationism meant to sneak Genesis into the science curriculum at your local public school.  Rather it is a centuries-old alternative scientific theory to naturalistic materialist macro-evolution.  ID has a long history of support by many esteemed scientists, philosophers, practitioners in the STEM fields, and academics.  In the computer age and the explosion of information in the last 30 years, ID has become a formidable challenger to the followers of Darwin.  And boy has it been a wild ride. Continue reading

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The Songs of Jesus (Book Review)

songs-of-jesusMartin Luther famously quipped the Psalms are a “little Bible.”  Israel’s inspired hymnal has served for nearly 3000 years as the devotional songbook of God’s people.  The Psalter is certainly the most precious and read portion of all the Bible.  But not many devotional literature on the Psalms has risen to the level of “classic”.  One exception: Charles Spurgeon’s Daily Treasures in the Psalms is beloved by many.  Now there may be a new classic in the making.  Pastor and author Tim Keller, along with his wife and partner in ministry Kathy, have given the world The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms (SOJ).  I received this little book as a Christmas gift from my wife in 2015.  When January arrived I found myself skimming SOJ just to see what it is like.  My first impression is it’s unlike anything else Keller has published in book format.  He’s mostly known for his trenchant cultural and psychological insights as a sophisticated Christian apologist.  That being said, the author on several occasions in his public speaking has surprised the audience that he is really a pietist at heart.  If that is the case, then SOJ is a window into the heart of one of the most influence Christian leaders in the early twenty-first century.  The appeal of this little devotional is sneaky.  At first it appeared to me simplistic—not meaty or deep enough.  Most of the one-page devotionals fall short of filling the page.  Surely more could be said!  But, day by day, as I gave it a chance, it really began to grow on me.  The format of (1) Psalm verses, (2) devotional commentary, and (3) prayer functions just as it’s intended.  To engage the mind, yes, but primarily the heart.  And so as the days and weeks passed by, SOJ became my gateway to the Psalms and my regular spark of prayer to God in Christ.

Keller’s devotional has many strengths.  Here are just a few. Continue reading

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Hillbilly Elegy (Book Review)

hillbilly-elegyIt’s eluding my memory at this point.  Perhaps it was while reading an online essay at The American Conservative when I first heard of J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (HE).  What I do recall is the high praise for HE from political conservatives, liberals, and libertarians.  Normally the New York Times bestseller list doesn’t pique my interest, but when a book reaches the number 1 ranking and is deemed culturally important, I guess looking into it can’t hurt.  What I found is that even orthodox Christians were proclaiming HE as especially important in these turbulent times.

What sets HE above the myriad of other memoirs published in 2016?  In a word: relevance.  Most memoirs seeks to do a couple things: tell the author’s story and connect with a particular audience.  If it’s a good one, then the author’s subculture offers up an “Amen!”  Here is where Vance distances himself from the rest of the pack.  Thousands, perhaps millions, of readers from all walks of life are reading HE and shouting “Yes, he gets it, and this explains what has fractured America.”  Everyone who is familiar with HE immediately detects its relevance for America because it helps us as a people to understand who we are.  Many Americans have forgotten the working class, and hence don’t understand what helps and hurts them.  Vance’s memoir is a prescient and deeply sympathetic reminder of who we are as a country.

So who are we?  What is the essence of Hillbilly Elegy?  Vance recounts the tale of his Scotch-Irish ancestors who made their homes in rural Appalachia.  Huge percentages of these mountain people migrated in the 20th century to the Rust Belt and adjacent states looking for work, prosperity, and a better living than a hard life in the coal mines.  Vance’s grandparents and their children were among them.  Although the hillbillies moved out of the hills, Vance narrates in so many ways how hillbilly values, beliefs, habits, and culture cannot be completely extracted from the hillbilly.  For those who come from hillbilly subculture, it is difficult to escape the pull of poverty and social ills that plague this population in high percentages.  Vance is one of the few who were privileged enough, gifted enough, and worked hard enough to rise out of poverty and the mindset that clings to it.  A dominant chunk of HE tells the story of Vance’s childhood.  This formative part of his young life (he is now about 30 years old) abounds with lovable and memorable characters who are larger than life.  (Yeah, I know, that is cliché, but in this case it is true!  I found myself thinking over and over again: “No way!” “Are you serious?” “That’s crazy!”)  J.D.’s grandmother Mamaw, the star of the book, is a foul-mouthed, gun-totin’, worldly-wise, tough-yet-nurturing, principled matriarch.  More than anyone else she is responsible for J.D.’s growth into the man he becomes.  She really steals the show as the heroine of HE.  Mom is mostly a tragic character.  She begins with such promise as her high school valedictorian but eventually descends into drug addiction, run-ins with the law, and the girl-friend de jour for a string of irresponsible men who in turn take up temporary residence in J.D.’s childhood home.  Sister Lindsey is the protective older sibling who also escapes the poverty and dysfunction of their family.  The rest of the clan play supporting roles.  Others who make significant appearances in the author’s story include wife Usha, Dad, and grandfather Papaw.  The story is a good one too.  From the book’s official website: Continue reading

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How to Handle False Teaching

Baaa!

Baaa!

Have you ever sat through a sermon in which the teaching and the Bible just didn’t seem to match? I’m not talking about the preacher who says something that the Bible teaches, just not from his chosen text. Nor am I’m talking about a slip of the tongue or the pen, like when the printers wrote the seventh commandment in one edition of the King James Bible as “Thou shalt commit adultery.” No, I’m talking about the Bible teacher who starts regularly spewing stuff that is contrary to the gospel. Have you ever been personally confronted with false teaching?

False teaching doesn’t seem like it would be a problem in a healthy church. But the Bible is filled with warnings against false teachers and instructions on how to respond to them. Why are teachers who don’t accurately teach the truth attractive to so many? How can you tell the difference between a good and bad teacher? How can you protect yourself, your family, and your church from deviating from the Bible?  The Bible passage in 2 Timothy 2:14-26 provides some wise answers.  Mature Christians (especially church leaders) should navigate biblical and theological controversies in the church by rejecting foolish and ignorant speculations, avoiding entanglement in godless quarrels about words, and correcting those caught up in such arguments with an eye toward their repentance.

As usual, the background for this passage is important for understanding. Remember that Paul the apostle is writing to Timothy the pastor in Ephesus. Paul planted this church and pastored her for two and a half years—longer than any other. How could false teaching come from this flagship congregation? It would be as if false teaching took root in R.C. Sproul’s church! No way! And yet it did in Ephesus. Continue reading

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Feed on His Grace

feed-on-his-graceChristmas is only one week away. You’re probably getting exciting now. We’ve been wrapping a few presents each night for the past couple weeks. My kids have noticed the growing pile under the tree. The younger ones make it a point to get up early to see who gained a gift.

Why don’t people get excited about God’s grace? Why do we take God’s love and mercy for granted? Why do we sometimes trample on his grace by living apart from him or boasting in ourselves? The main reason is because we don’t realize how bad off we really are without God’s grace. If we want grace to transform us into good people zealous for good works, then we have to appreciate the depth of the bad news about ourselves before we can fully rejoice in the height of the good news about God and what he has done for us.  Ephesians 2:1-10 can help us to get excited about God’s grace.  It teaches that all Christians were once spiritually dead and ruled by evil like the rest of humanity, but God magnifies his grace when he creates believers—saving them from wrath, exalting them in Christ, and fashioning them for spiritual life. Feed on his loving grace by living in the good works for which you were made.

Throughout this exposition I’m going to employ an overarching metaphor to help explain the excitement that should attend our reading this particular Bible text. This passage is a roller coaster tour of the Christian’s former, present, and future life as related to Christ. It is not a leisurely drive through the country, but a heart-pounding ride of steep drops into darkness and soaring heights into glory. How ought we to live after such a ride?

Grace: What Life Is Like Without It

The roller coast has reached the top of the first hill and is now screaming down the track toward the ground. Some are smiling, some are screaming, none are really afraid for their lives because, after all, it’s just a ride, right? Continue reading

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Hope in God’s Promises

ps146We’re in the middle of a three-week Advent series on how to prepare our hearts for Christmas. Last week we looked at what it means to wait for the Lord, and we learned that one of the main things we wait for as Christians is Christ’s coming. The Bible calls it Our Blessed Hope. Which brings us to our topic this week: Hope. Now hope is a very misunderstood concept in our culture. The way we talk about hope is that it’s only useful when you’re in a life-threatening situation, and you must switch off your better judgment that would otherwise drive you to despair. In other words, we treat hope like a survival technique, a trick we play on our minds as we suspend rational belief in order to hold on just a little bit longer. Because maybe, just maybe, such hope will get you through. But Christian hope is not about ignoring what you know. Instead hope is about finding the power to keep going without giving up what you know—that God will get you through. That kind of hope is much more difficult to get, but it’s worth the search to find it.

Why do you and I have a hard time with real hope? Probably because it’s hard to put your trust and hope in God alone when so often he chooses to give help invisibly and providentially through the efforts of honorable people, even those who are powerful and influential. It’s also hard to hope because his timing and provision are usually way different from our expectations. Without a clear-eyed vision of both God’s character and strength, and human character and limitations, we are prone to a hopeless form of deism (in other words, believing God’s policy for helping is hands-off), or maybe even a reactive anger aimed at God, rather than Christian hope.

This is where Psalm 146 can help you. It teaches us to praise the Lord who reigns forever, and to put your trust and hope in him, because God always lives to deliver his covenant children who are in need. Continue reading

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Wait for the Lord

waiting-for-xmasThe end of the calendar year is the beginning of the church year. Both are characterized by waiting for the Christmas holiday, but the objects of their waiting can be quite different. The differences are not always good vs. bad, or spiritual vs. worldly, although there is a danger of corrupting Christmas for selfish purposes. Consider gift giving as just one example of Christmas waiting. Most of you would renounce a “gimme gimme gimme” attitude by instead giving presents to loved ones. But you would probably be upset if you didn’t receive any gifts in return, especially if it continued year after year. That’s the way our waiting and expectant hearts work. But God’s way is to give to those who cannot repay him. He waits for the joy of giving, not getting. That’s the kind of gift Jesus is to us. Waiting for the Christ of Christmas requires a very different kind of attitude, a different kind of waiting.

How do we redeem an annual holiday season that is bound up in waiting so that our waiting doesn’t contradict or work against the eternal things we are waiting for? By remembering who we are, what we’re supposed to do, and where we’re going.  First Thessalonians 1:1-10 is a Bible passage that addresses this question. It says when Christians imitate the Lord and his apostles by turning, serving, and waiting, their faith in God’s word is commended far and wide. This early church model is a brief summary of the Christian life. Let us follow their example to gain a faith, love and hope that cannot be shaken.

Before we begin it’s important to get a little background on the historical context of this passage found in Acts 17:1-9. Paul and his missionary team write to the new believers in the church of Thessalonica. Paul is constantly prayerful and thankful for them as they have become a model for all Christians. The shape of their Christian life is described in verse 3 and explained in the remainder of the chapter.

A Faith that Functions

What do I mean by a faith that “functions”?  Warren Wiersbe sums it up well: “We are not saved by faith plus works, but by a faith that works.”  Nor is faith some sort of dumbed-down “evangelical obedience” as if God used to require the work of obedience to be saved but now he makes the work simpler for us to attain.  Faith is not a work that merits salvation.  Rather, faith works, and when it works properly it functions as God intends faith to operate.  So what can we learn here about how faith is supposed to function? Continue reading

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