Serious Joy

(Mostly) serious thoughts in light of the joy of seeking God.

Serious Joy - (Mostly) serious thoughts in light of the joy of seeking God.

God Created

earthThere are almost countless debates among Christians about how to interpret and apply the Bible. Many are important and can affect our core beliefs, such as debates on free will, divine sovereignty, and foreknowledge. On the other end of the spectrum are debates that seem to have almost no relevance or importance, such as whether Adam had a belly button or whether angels have halos. As silly as some of these debates are, there are people who devote serious time and energy to arguing about them. A friend of mine, Jim Wallace, recently blogged about “the Genesis debate.” I agree with Jim that there is more than one reasonable model for interpreting Genesis and that should lead us to humility in our convictions regarding it.

The doctrine of creation is important and relevant. The belief that the holy and personal God of the Bible created the universe out of nothing forms the first bookend of systematic theology. It is a doctrine so important that we learn of it “in the beginning.” It conveys to us God’s creative power, intimate sovereignty, and magnificent majesty. God’s creation of man further displays these qualities as well as his loving kindness, patient forbearance, and holy justice (since he foreknew the fall).

However, the debate over the age of the earth is generally not important or relevant to basic Christianity. Certainly, many believers have ferociously argued over genealogies, science, and the nuances of ancient Hebrew. But passion does not equal importance. The age of the earth and the duration of the creation “days” have no bearing on any other Christian doctrine. Therefore, where one stands on the issue is completely irrelevant to one’s salvation or the quality of their theology.

This is not to say that every position in this debate is equally unimportant. My claim is that the debate is “generally unimportant and irrelevant.” There are at least three critical elements of creation doctrine that can lead to dangerous theological territory if denied:

1) God created the universe out of nothing.

2) God specially created a literal Adam apart from the rest of creation and humanity alone bears God’s image.

3) Adam and Eve sinned against God in a literal fall.

Denial of any of these doctrines can lead to lower views of God, Jesus, humanity, the cross, and the Bible. My point here is that most of those who debate the age of the earth do not deny any of these important doctrines. Whether God created the universe billions of years ago or six thousand years ago, most people on both sides of the debate are well within the bounds of orthodoxy and are earnestly seeking to fully understand and affirm all that God has revealed to us without compromising any of the essential truths of Christianity.

As Christians, we seem to have a tendency to divide and be against one another (1 Cor 3:4-9). Some divisions are practically necessary due to differences in ecclesiology and some help clarify and draw attention to the gospel. The debate over the age of the earth is neither of these. Rather, it often distracts from the gospel and causes unnecessary anxiety among believers. This it is not to say we shouldn’t study, discuss, or preach the issue. But our tone and intensity in disagreement should reflect the low importance of the doctrine. For the joy and unity of the church, can we agree on the essentials and save divisiveness more important debates?

To Be Christ-Like

My friend Aaron Shafovaloff recently posted a correction on how we think of the term “Christ-like.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Jesus was incredulous. He was exasperated. He was furious. He insulted. He ridiculed. He told of coming judgment. He EXORCISED DEMONS. He said he was GOD. He said he had final authority given to him to judge the living and the dead. He said he had power over life and death. He scared people. He confused people. He repulsed people. He wouldn’t answer questions asked by the local authorities. He stayed away three days knowing Lazarus would die, and then wept when he showed up to his tomb. He supplied the party wine. He preached fire and brimstone. He used satire and mockery. He frustrated his mother. He told his apostles they had new names when he met them. He used frustratingly vague metaphors and parables to purposefully judge a stubborn people (fulfilling Isaiah), and then later told the hidden meanings to the apostles…. What is “Christ-like” about any of that?”

We often use “Christ-like” as a blanket term to refer to the virtuous character of Jesus we ought to emulate. Some use it to refer exclusively to love.  But, as Aaron skillfully points out, such an understanding of the character of Christ is insufficient.

This is not to say that we should do everything Jesus did. The “What Would Jesus Do?” movement seemed to entail that. Rather, it means we should be clear about who Jesus is before we aspire to be like him. If you simply want to be more liked amongst your peers, you should follow someone less confrontational. If you want to pursue God, your boldness before men must be Christ-like.

Like most doctrine, pursuit of Christ-likedness must be balanced. Jesus was not simply confrontational to tick people off. He knew the hearts and minds of his audience and he knew exactly the best approach to accomplish his goals. We do not know these things. For us, to be Christ-like is not a license to be unnecessarily confusing or offensive. It means that if he are Christ-like there will be situations where the gospel we preach is confusing and offense to our audience and we must accept that. If we water down the gospel to “clarify” it or make it less offensive, then we cease to preach Christ’s gospel and we have failed to be like him.