Do a Lap

Before coming down hard on an issue, I suggest doing a “lap around the field of ideas.” Running is listening.
 
You’ve heard one side, great. But now jog around over to the other end of the field and turn around. See “through the eyes” of the other side. Things look different. Now come back to your starting place, and look again. You might take the same position, but now you also have perspective. You might take the same exact view as you did before, but now you understand how someone could have reached a different view, even if it is wrong. Do another lap if it helps, or two or three. You’ll find there are sometimes many stopping points. Some can teach us more than we might have imagined; others less so. We learn what we can and keep moving, for running is listening.
 
It is irresponsible to run forever, of courser; we must stop somewhere. But doing just one lap is far better than always standing in just one place, pretending that the other “team” is nothing but idiots and fools. Moreover, no one can circumnavigate every field in life, and some fields change over time. So let us listen to the voices who have done the most laps around fields we’ve never visited–not just to those who have stood still in them. Just by listening, we are doing a lap ourselves. For running is listening, not necessarily studying.
 
There are probably stationary persons, or “standers” at all points in almost every field who’ve never made even one lap. They usually have only good things to say about their position and only bad things to say about others. Standers are quick to rationalize away their own faults, and even quicker to change the subject and capitalize on the faults of their “opponents.” They tend to go through life shaking their heads, marvelling at how many “idiots” take a view other than their own. They have little patience for runners, no time for weighing ideas or thinking about how they could themselves be wrong. Even when they are right, their fruit is wrong.
 
In reaction to standers, inexperienced runners sometimes revert to “stationary” thinking, tempted to think that certain standers represent everyone who takes their view. They forget that there are runners on all sides, and that you can’t tell a stander from a runner by looking–only by listening. They also forget that a runner in one field can easily be a stander in another. Sometimes runners think that standers can be pushed into running around a certain field, but a stander can only be respected, served, loved, reasoned, and redeemed into running; shaming, mockery, and manipulation will not provide lasting motivation.
 
So the wisest runners train themselves to look for the good in standers, to respect them, and to learn from them anyway, for running is listening, even to standers. They know that to think of themselves as better is to in fact become worse. When they find themselves about to mutter the word “idiot,” their reflex is to listen closer. They are more interested in learning than in teaching the standers a lesson. After all, standers can teach us much about how things look from their own point of view. And perhaps later on they can be encouraged to take a walk around.
 
Or, in better words, see Proverbs 18:13,17, 12:15, and Galatians 6:1.

Selective Skepticism

I think probably one of the biggest obstacles when discussing a topic with someone whose position is very different from your own is “selective skepticism.” I’ve noticed that this shows up a lot when discussing evidence for Christianity, evolution, and climate change.

For example, it’s pretty normal to hear someone say, “well, the Bible is just a translation of a copy of a translation of another copy…. It’s all open to interpretation. People disagree. Who knows?” The goal of a person who says that isn’t to really find out about textual criticism and how experts in the field decide which texts are reliable; rather, their goal is to dismiss the the entire question. The person is selectively skeptical in that they are happy to accept other experts, such as medical professionals who recommend vaccines, but they are skeptical of this area of inquiry about the Bible’s reliability before they even look.

But this informal fallacy also shows up within the Church’s own walls. Many of us are quite happy to accept expert testimony that is “on our side,” such as the general reliability of the New Testament, or the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus, but we are selectively skeptical about things like climate change or evolution. It’s not that we’ve engaged with these things in a careful way; it’s that we tend to dismiss the question in advance: “It’s hard to say; there’s a lot of opinions going in each direction. There’s no real evidence.”

We Christians are sometimes selectively skeptical, and the easiest way to see that, I think, is to imagine how we would feel if someone said that about the Bible or the Resurrection: “There’s no real evidence. You can find intelligent people on both sides.”

What do we want to say to such folks? Something like, “Hold on! Why don’t you look into this for yourself? Read about the evidence that there is; come spend time with Christians and see; come hear about lives being transformed; why don’t you try approaching God in prayer? Have you read the Gospels?” That kind of thing.

In short: we think that being selectively skeptical toward Christianity is premature. We want others to engage with the thing itself before dismissing it. But that’s just the thing: we ourselves dismiss other areas without engaging in them.

Proposal: let’s we Christians at least be as honest toward these other areas as we are asking skeptics to be toward Christianity. Let’s know what the evidence is (or isn’t) regarding evolution, climate change, etc. before we speak. Let’s take Proverbs 18:13,17 seriously. It will help our witness.

Proof-Texting the Book of Nature

“Proof-texting” is when you already have your biblical interpretation in mind, and you go hunting for a verse that supports it. You’re not really interested, in that proof-texting moment, in whether or not the Bible as a whole supports your interpretation. (For example, we might think that Christianity means never judging anyone, and so we find the place where Jesus says, “do not judge,” without paying any attention to other places that say we should judge in a loving, constructive way.) Proof-texting by itself is not dishonest (some times we really do need to just go find a verse) as long as we also dedicate other (longer) times to actually investigating the text with honesty and integrity, giving attention to commentators, preachers, and others who have dedicated their lives to learning as much as they can about the Bible. But if we only ever come to the Bible with our interpretations already decided, then we’re just being dishonest readers.

Well, I think that “proof-texting” can happen with science too. If we have our conclusion already in mind, and all we do is run to science to find the one piece of evidence that supports our idea–without ever taking the time to understand the greater body of evidence as a whole (be it regarding evolution, climate change, whether the fetus is human, whether a given substance or lifestyle is harmful, etc.), then we’re not really doing honest science. We’re just “proof-texting nature,” just as someone ignorant of Christian teaching might proof-text the Bible.

A friend pointed out to me that this can go even farther with the ever-present availability of Google searches: one can always find someone out there who agrees with almost any position, but surely this does not count as honest research.

As a general principle that applies to all of these areas of inquiry, good academic research can be summed up as “rigorous, relentless honesty,” in my opinion. That is one reason why I find it aggravating when Christians make much of the idea that “not everyone needs to be a Bible scholar…”: right. Yes. Not everyone. But we nonetheless need Bible scholars in order to understand the Bible–unless we’d rather not understand the Bible as honestly as possible. And the same goes with science.

Dr. David Berlinksi and Evolution

Readers will know that I consider myself to be an “evolutionary creationist.” Not long ago, I was asked about David Berlinski’s (Ph.D Philosophy) thoughts on evolution, as expressed in this short clip:

Evangelicals may remember Berlinski from The Truth Project and Expelled—both of which I once promoted. However, after looking into what actual biologists say about evolution, it became clear that I had been making grandiose claims without ever having looked at the actual evidence. It’s not that any one pastor, speaker, author, etc. intends to be dishonest (neither did I intend this when I was an antievolutionist). But North American evangelicalism, not intending it, has unconsciously arrived at an inherently dishonest approach to evolution: one in which individuals like Berlinski, who are not biologists, are accorded more authority to speak about biology than actual biologists. This is all the more painful for me, as I continue to identify as an evangelical and think that in many other things we are honest and self-examining. This is a call to fearlessly carry that same strength over to the area of evolutionary science. (I am not saying that The Truth Project is entirely without merit. It covers a wide variety of topics, and even if I disagree on some things, I entirely applaud any effort to get evangelicals thinking about deeper things that have not been thought about in the popular sphere for quite some time.)

How do I respond to this video? In a rather oversized nutshell,

Agreed: Evolution is not a theory in the same sense as a physicist’s theory, but it is a reasonable biological theory.

  • It is more like theories in more historical sciences like geology, cosmology, and crime-scene forensics than it is like theories in physics.
  • It is not just a collection of “hunches.”
    • In one sense all science is just “hunches”—depending on how philosophical you want to get, but Berlinski’s statement is just misleading. Yes, there are hunches involved, but those hunches have over 150 years of experimental confirmation, correction, etc. behind them. There were other “hunches” than Darwin’s about how to explain evolution, such as Lamarckism, which have been abandoned–they did not stand up to scrutiny. Every forensic detective works from hunches—what he or she looks for is confirming evidence.
    • Science is self-correcting and always open to new explanations and evidence. There is not one scientific “fact” out there that we can point to in any sort of final, no-more-possible-questions sense. So for Berlinski to point this out about evolutionary theory as if it is uniquely true about evolution is just misleading. It is also true about theories of gravity, electromagnetism, cosmology, chemistry, etc. So he can draw attention to the “hunch-ness” of evolution if he likes, but what he is saying is true about all science, everywhere.
  • Consider theology
    • Even the “science” of theology must always go back to Special Revelation for repeating “testing” (exegesis) and confirmation/disconfirmation of our “theories” (interpretations).
    • While we know that we might possibly be hearing the Bible/Holy Spirit wrongly, we also find ourselves constrained to formulate creeds and statements of faith. We are quick to add that our statements of faith are not the Bible, and yet, at the same time, it would be irresponsible not to have statements of faith.
    • In a similar way, scientists have theories: they are not final, as if we could just stop all experimentation, and yet they are not nothing either. They are in-between: they are what we have decided it is most responsible, for now, to accept as true.
      • It is my experience that we evangelicals want to say that everything is either certain or false. But God simply has not set up things that way. 

Regarding the Fossil Record

  • What he is saying here is just not true. Here are some examples of fossils that show the kind of confirmation of evolution that comes from the fossil record:
  • There are some mysteries in the fossil record. But anyone who expects there to be absolutely no questions or anomalies just doesn’t know how it works. There are also mysteries regarding other scientific theories—such as gravity and electromagnetism. But when 99% of the evidence points one way, and only 1% points the other, it seems reasonable to think that the 1% can be explained in the light of the 99%. (But see Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions for a serious treatment of these things.)
  • This is similar to the “Scripture interprets Scripture” principle: we interpret difficult passages in light of the ones that are more clear. That’s one reason we do not abandon the Bible because of Paul’s words about “baptism for the dead” in 1 Cor 15. What would we say to someone who confidently rejected Christianity because we were not able to thoroughly explain every mysterious passage?

On Examining Natural Selection’s Claims

  • He says we can’t examine the claim that “natural selection and random variation can account for a great deal of complexity.”
    • This is partly untrue, and partly unfair.
      • It is untrue because we have demonstrated that natural selection can generate new information: 
      • It is unfair because while we can demonstrate small instances of natural selection (see above link), we obviously cannot play back the last 3.5 billion years in order to watch. Even if evolution were true, we could never do that, so it is a silly reason to dismiss evolution. It would be like dismissing the evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection just because we can’t go back in time and see the Resurrection. Would that really be a good, honest reason?
  • Berlinksi just doesn’t face up to the fact that biology should not and never could operate just like physics.
    • He inappropriately compares Natural Selection to Newton’s inverse square law.
      • What would we say to a man who asked us to prove from mathematical laws that a defendant was guilty? By Berlinski’s logic, we should not accept anything we know about viruses, allergies, human anatomy, etc.
      • He repeats the phrase “serious sciences.” Does he think that geology, cosmology, and forensic sciences are not “serious”? What he really refers to are the “hard” or “exact” sciences, as opposed to more historical sciences like geology, cosmology, and even the historical science involved in finding evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection.

Simulating Evolution on a Computer?

  • This seems to be a an example of how Berlinski just doesn’t understand what sort of science evolutionary science is, how it works, or what biologists really think. We cannot simulate a historical science for the same reason we cannot simulate history itself. You could not program a computer to simulate evolution from abstract principles (e.g. Force = Mass X Acceleration) any more than you could do so with the French Revolution. But do we therefore doubt the historicity of the French Revolution? It’s a category error.
  • He thinks that natural selection is so simple that we should be able to program a computer to simulate it. 
    • Could we program a computer to simulate a real crime—right down to the sinful decisions made in the criminal’s mind? No. And yet does that do anything to argue against our forensic re-creations of crime scenes? Not at all.
    • Natural selection always responds to the environment at hand. It is not as though evolution is always “aimed” at more complexity. If the environment favoured organisms with lower complexity, then we would see a decrease. So Berlinski would have to program his computer with exactly the right history of the changing environment in order to properly simulate human evolution as it really occurred (and we know that it might easily not have occurred). He just wouldn’t have the necessary data for his simulation–nobody has that complete of a record of the earth’s environmental history. This is like asking for video evidence of Jesus before we will believe.
  • Another problem is that in order to simulate a genetic algorithm, you’d have to already understand how it works; you’d have to already have the question answered—but that is just what we are trying to find out! The computer can only operate on the basis of our programming, and that initial programming can only ever stem from our own assumptions and data. Even if we had the “perfect genetic algorithms,” we would have to perfectly represent the changing environment on earth for the past 3.5 billion years. Moreover, this raises a serious theological problem:
    • We could never represent God’s providence at work in our simulation. Can we really replace God’s providence with a simulation and expect the same result? This suggests that what Berlinksi really rejects is atheistic evolution; he has not even come close to addressing a robust evolutionary creationism.
  • Because we have
    1. Convincing evidence that evolution did happen, and yet
    2. Evidence that human evolution very easily might not have happened (see fine-tuning arguments), we have
    3. A good reason to think that God’s providence is involved (but not in a way that science can necessarily detect–not any more than we can detect God at work in a sparrow’s death or a king’s decisions).
      • Therefore, I find that evolution actually shows the need for a sovereign Creator who just not just create the world, but sustains and directs it in his providence. (But I of course would not rest my faith in Christ on this argument. My faith rests on an ongoing encounter with him, in which I live life in the presence of God in a way that is behind and before all human reasoning–not unlike the fact that I find myself living in a real, physical world in way that simple pre-exists all reasoning.)

“Dogs stay dogs.”

  • Here Berlinski doesn’t seem to appreciate the very strong evidence we have for one species coming from another. For example, there is surprisingly good evidence that humans and chimpanzees came from a common ancestor: 
  • Berlinski talks about an “inherent species limitation,” but notice that the word “species” is really just a line that humans draw between different beings, and that we can find examples that blur these lines. Also, there are very clear examples of different species that appear not only related, but appear related in a way that can be independently confirmed from both fossils and genetics. 
  • He thinks that we should have more plasticity, etc. than we do have, but what makes his expectation relevant or authoritative? That’s just his hunch. Serious science would say, “well, we have strong evidence for Common Ancestry, and yet we don’t have exactly what Berlinski expects—it seems that Berlinski is just wrong to some extent.” 
    • Einstein was surprised that the universe isn’t eternal after all (it had a beginning); the Jews were surprised that the Messiah did not come as a military conqueror. Sometimes reality surprises us—it isn’t always how we assume it will be.
  • Again, the reason we see such “bounded variability” in the laboratory is that we don’t have billions of years to play with. In order to see large-scale changes, we need more time. We don’t have it, so we look in the only place we can: evidence that these things have or haven’t happened in the past.
    • Again: notice Berlinski’s assumption that the providence of God in evolutionary past can just easily be set aside and replaced with experimentation in the lab. This idea offends my sensibilities an evolutionary creationist. I entirely reject any idea that evolution is some sort of “rogue entity” that acts of its own accord apart from God’s providence; rather, it is his means of creation.

A Common Confusion about Common Descent

  • Berlinski does not explain to his audience (in this clip) the difference between three very separate things:
    • 1. The evidence for (and theory of) Common Ancestry of all life on earth.
    • 2. The evidence for (and theory of) Evolution as the best explanation of Common Ancestry (different evidence/considerations).
    • 3. The evidence for (and theory of) Natural Selection as the best explanation of Evolution (again, different evidence, and this is the part that Darwin contributed).
  • Berlinski plays fast and loose with these separate matters, speaking as if questions about one of them affect questions about another. However, questions about Natural Selection do nothing to overturn the evidence for Common Ancestry. Darwin could be totally wrong and we’d still have to deal with human evolution and explain it another way.
    • It would be like thinking that evidence against the biblical flood, for example, can determine whether or not Jesus existed,
    • Or like thinking that evidence in favour of the Resurrection alone automatically proves that the entire (Protestant? Catholic? Orthodox?) Bible is true in a rigid, literal-historical sense. 
      • As we know, these things just require more homework than that.

Conclusion

Berlinski makes numerous assumptions and speaks in way that sounds authoritative, but he seems unaware of the most relevant facts. He has a Ph.D in Philosophy—not science—and it shows. It is kind of like how Richard Dawkins has the ear of so many people on the topics of philosophy and religion even though his expertise is entirely elsewhere. There is great danger in giving people authority in fields that they (should) have none. No one take electrical advice from a plumber over me, an electrician—and no one should listen more to non-biologists about evolution than they listen to biologists themselves. The people who want to hear what Dawkins says are not troubled over whether he is trained in theology, and the people who want to hear what Berlinski says are not troubled over his lack of training in biology: both groups ought to be troubled. It is just an unacceptable practice to give more attention and authority to non-experts than to experts in a given inquiry. We should not forget to listen to non-experts, sometimes they surprise us, but the men and women who have humbled themselves before a given reality (electricity, the Bible, dentistry, etc.) are always the ones we should listen to first. 

A “Christian” or “Biblical” Worldview?

It’s fairly common in evangelical circles, especially in discussing apologetics, to hear that we really need to have a “Christian worldview.” The idea is that one’s “worldview” is like a lens that we see everything through (a set of values, assumptions, authoritative ideas, etc.) and that we need the right lens: Christianity. Now, I want to say that I agree with this general idea in the following ways:

  • Agreed: We should strive to make Christ Lord of every area of our lives.
  • Agreed: Christianity should be the centre of any Christian’s worldview.
  • Agreed: There is no part of our thinking which should not acknowledge God where applicable.
    • (To those who say “where would God not be applicable?!”, all I mean to say is that there are some thoughts, such as “1+1=2,” or the thoughts involved with cleaning one’s bathroom, etc. that do not need to explicitly acknowledge God in order to be successful.)
  • Agreed: It is an important part of intellectual discipleship to try, as much as possible, to align our approach to life with Scripture.
    • For example, while a Christian might enjoy watching various incarnations of Star Trek, as I do, it should be quite clear the the philosophy of that show is at many points entirely at odds with Christianity: the Prime Directive to not interfere with other cultures is contrary to the Great Commission.
      • (But shouldn’t I also try to find whatever wisdom there might be in the attitude of non-interference? We still need to spread the gospel, but shouldn’t we try to avoid “preaching our culture” alongside it – or worse, instead of it?)

I would caution, however, that there is a danger is saying that one already has achieved a “biblical” or “Christian” worldview: I think it’s pretty clear that an obedient, biblical Christian in Canada is going to have a somewhat different worldview than an obedient, biblical Christian in China.

  • The danger of saying that one has “the” Christian worldview is that we will take the parts of our worldview that are merely cultural and raise them to the level of being “the” Christian view.
  • I think that the lenses of sin, historical contingency, and self are constantly placed before our eyes, so that we see through many lenses at the same time.
    • The result is that sometimes we attribute things we see/think to our having a “Christian worldview,” when in reality, Christians have had many, many worldviews throughout history (compare St. Augustine, a Christian Neo-Platonist, with B. B. Warfield or the Apostle Paul, for example–all Christians, but definitely not exactly the same worldviews).
  • It might seem like splitting hairs, but it would be best to say that what we are seeking for is to have a biblically informed worldview as much as possible, living in a constant awareness that we always fail to see things exactly as God does.
  • I would argue that just as Christianity is expressed differently in each individual Christian (differing spiritual gifts, experiences, talents, personalities, passions, etc.), Christianity is also expressed differently in different cultures.
    • Now, I don’t mean wildly differently – I’m certainly not saying that core matters of doctrine or morality may freely vary between cultures.
    • What I mean is that the Christianity of the Middle Ages certainly had a different worldview than that of North American evangelicals today, and that both of those are certainly different from the worldview(s) in the early Church.
      • So that one’s “worldview” is actually made up of many things that are shared with one’s culture.
        • Any Christian, anywhere, is going to have a worldview that includes certain values and assumptions that are shared even by non-Christians in that culture.
          • For example, I value democracy, freedom of speech, and presently value a specific balance between right- and left-wing economics wherein I think that roads, hospitals, and schools should be publicly funded but that we should promote free trade, keep taxes low, and not penalize the rich just because they’re rich. But should I imagine that my specific balance is the right, or Christian one? Is it not entirely possible to be a Christian who is a little more to the left or right of me–maybe even a lot? Of course! It is simply fanciful for anyone to think that the Bible teaches a one-and-for-all, specific economic policy for every imaginable situation. In fact, it seems entirely reasonable that the best balance for a country (and the concerns of the gospel) might be to have one right-left balance now, and a different one in twenty years, and a different one after that…
    • So it’s just not possible to have a worldview that is entirely “Christian” because one cannot avoid including certain values and assumptions that just didn’t come from Christianity.

So that the best and most accurate thing to say is this:

worldview-goggles

This cartoon from Answers in Genesis rightly points out that atheists have a worldview (something that atheists sometimes deny), but it is just too simplistic. The creationist thinks it is possible to achieve a final “biblical” perspective, so that one can actually be “objectively biblical.” Ironically, the cartoon misses its own point: really, neither person can be wholly objective (neither person can wholly escape their own culture, finitude, and sinful desire to put himself in God’s place; neither can see things as God does). The atheist has very little excuse for not knowing that he has a bias, but the Christian should have even less of an excuse if he really believes that Bible he’s holding!

Christianity should be the most important part, or the “governing part” of our worldview, and that there are less important parts of our worldviews that may vary across Christians in different times and places. Saying that we have “the” Christian worldview is not just inaccurate, but it risks the raising of human, temporary ideas to the level of divine revelation, and that is wrong.

So, as usual, life is just more complicated than we’d like it to be.

Mini Blog: Orthodoxy by Accident?

I don’t think that people can get truth about God unless God first gives it to us in some way: through revelation.

Put another way, I don’t think it is possible to be “orthodox by accident.” When we seem good themes in popular, secular culture, for example, we shouldn’t automatically think, “Oh, that’s good, this movie/book/song/speaker/etc. is compatible with Christianity; I can accept and embrace the message of this movie/book/song/speaker/etc.

No, it is better to say that while all humans are capable of recognizing some truth – and are even capable of doing very good, admirable deeds – there is no one who truly seeks God without God drawing him or her in the first place (John 6:44Rom. 3:10-18).

You can stumble onto some truth, of course (it’s pretty tough to be wrong about everything!), but you cannot stumble, by accident, into a relationship with God – and that is what Christianity entails: proper relationship with God. Therefore, everything that looks like it is on the side of Christ – and yet explicitly denies Christian doctrines about Christ – is not, in fact, on the side of Christ. To think that simply being “good” in a few ways should set us right with God is like thinking that being a model citizen or “good person” alone could make one a good son or daughter; however, whether one is a good son/daughter depends on one’s relationship with one’s parents.

Think about it: if you had a son and he grew up to be a model citizen, perfect in every way – best job, best income, best education, best manners, best physique, best social standing, etc. – and yet he never called you, never acknowledged you, never responded to your calls, and even taught his children that they had no grandparents … would you call him a good son? What if he volunteered a lot and saved many lives during some crisis after a natural disaster? Would he be a good son then? What if he was a decent guy who never wanted to hurt anyone and yet never acknowledged you at all? Would he be a good son? What if he was always very friendly to his neighbours and even gave away all his possessions to those in need? This might be pleasing to you at a distance, but would he be a good son

Clearly, the answer is “No.” And I would argue that, in the same way, you cannot be a good creature in a vacuum; you cannot be a good creature without acknowledging your Creator: being a good creature, by definition, means relating properly to your Creator.

So if some movie/book/song/speaker/etc. has good values, great – but does it do anything to move people toward right relationship with God by addressing the problem of sin, advocating for repentance and belief in the gospel so that they might be made alive spiritually? Because if you get that part wrong, it doesn’t matter what else you get right.

10 Popular Re-interpretations of The Great Commission

  1. “Go therefore and make fools of yourselves, building up walls to protect your children from hearing anything that you disagree with; shoe-horn the Ten Commandments in every public school and set up a Nativity scene on every government property.”
    • Because we all know that Jesus’ Kingdom is of this world, right?
  2. “Go therefore and make cheap, unoriginal parodies of popular music and movies, making Christianity look fun in the name of entertainment, teaching people to expect fog machines, light-shows, and emotional ecstasy during worship…”
    • I am not opposing all Christian music here; there are a number of truly original Christian artists – but there are many “baptized” versions of secular artists as well…
  3. “Go therefore and make the world a better place, joining hands with general humanistic morality, teaching people to live more peacefully with one another and to observe the general tenets of secular humanism…”
    • I have nothing against many social causes – I actually think Christians should be doing many of those things! But these are not the Great Commission; we cannot confuse the message with good deeds.
  4. “Go therefore and make friends with non-believers, acting very nice and hoping that one day they will ask you why you are different…”
    • There’s nothing wrong with making friends and doing “relational evangelism” – except that some of your friends may feel that you’re treating them like a project (because you are). Alternatively, it might only be a relationship without any evangelism. I’m all for choosing the right moment and being wise, but let’s face it: it’s difficult to evangelize, and it’s way more easy to just sink back into a comfortable friendship than it is to actually get the message across. We simply don’t get to be off-duty Christians. We are either all about Jesus Christ or we are slacking off.
    • I don’t mean that every single moment is supposed to be some sort of explicit “Jesus teaching moment” – far from it! But I do mean that every single moment is an on-duty moment. If we are truly being transformed by the gospel, then it transforms all of our lives; it means that it should not even be possible for someone to become your friend without it being really obvious that you’re about Jesus Christ. It should drip off you; it should be both implicit and explicit – according to wisdom in the Holy Spirit. We don’t get to pretend that we’re not Christians.
  5. “Go therefore door-to-door and tell people how evil they are, threatening them with the torments of hell in the name of love, teaching them to fear all that I have commanded you…”
    • I’m not against door-to-door ministry (I admire that boldness!); rather, I am against using fear as a primary motivator for bringing people to faith in Christ. Yes, we need to be honest about God’s holiness, justice, and judgment – but that really isn’t the whole message of the Cross, now is it? Jesus talked about hell, but he talked about a lot of other things, too.
  6. “Go therefore and tell people that God is just love (not really holy), making them feel accepted in the name of community, teaching them to ignore all that I have commanded you…”
    • Loving acceptance is a key component of Christian love – but it is not supposed to be motivated by an “I’m okay; you’re okay” mentality. Rather, it should be motivated by the knowledge that neither of us is “okay,” but that because of Jesus we can be redeemed. We accept others because we have been accepted and redeemed.
    • It is possible to be more liberal than Jesus.
  7. “Go therefore into your homes and have nothing to do with the world, protecting yourselves from the evil around you in the name of holiness, teaching outsiders that you are better than them…”
    • It is possible to be more conservative than Jesus.
    • If you think that avoiding all situations with alcohol, for example, is more important than getting out there and interacting with non-believers, then you are more conservative than Jesus. If you think that you cannot be friends with a non-believer, you are more conservative with Jesus. You cannot plant any seeds (much less harvest) if you’re afraid to go to the field.
  8. “Go therefore and make yourselves rich, teaching people that God will bless them in this life in the name of health, wealth, and prosperity…”
    • Frankly, I don’t even know how this one gets off the ground. Just read about Paul’s life in the Bible – he was probably one of the best Christians ever and yet he suffered greatly.
  9. “Go therefore and prove scientifically that God exists, showing that the world is definitely only a few thousand years old and that evolution is false in the name of Enlightenment Rationalism, teaching them about the conspiracy in modern science…”
    • And its corollary:
      • 2 Tim. 3:16 – All Scripture is inspired [verbally dictated] by God [according to modern, twenty-first century, English-speaking, North American standards of rigid exactitude] and profitable for teaching [science and modern historiography], for reproof [of all non-conservative understandings of Scripture], for correction [of historical allegations], for training in righteousness [rationalistic apologetics];”
    • I have nothing against apologetics per se. But the Great Commission is not about asking people for their intellectual permission to preach the gospel. Apologetics should help remove obstacles to hearing, but it can never finally establish the credibility of the gospel – it cannot and must not pretend to provide a rationalistic foundation for belief. (See more on this here.)
  10. “Go therefore to seminary and learn all the theology you can, posting on Facebook everything you’ve learned in the name of truth, teaching people that they need to think critically about what they believe, forgetting to actually invite people to take a positive step of faith beyond the reach of critical thought…”
    • This is mine. This is the one that I struggle with all the time – both online and in person. I am willing to discuss apologetics with everyone, but I am often fearful to actually say to someone, with confidence, “Listen, Jesus is the Creator and Lord of everything; he can forgive you for the wrongs you’ve committed against him – against God – and he will give you new life. He has died for your sins and for my sins! He is the point of this life, and any way of doing life without enshrining him as Lord and following him is a wasted life. He will come back to judge the living and the dead.
      • Please pray that I would move past mere rational appeal into the realm of confident witness. For all of my opposition to the rationalistic approach I described above, I often fall into the same sort of thing (only not in terms of Creation Science). The fact that my method is perhaps more sophisticated (or needlessly complicated) does not excuse me from the basic charge that I do, in fact, try to make an excuse for the Word of God. But we do not need to make an excuse for the Word of God; we need to be silent and heed it.

Matthew 28:19-20 (the real one) “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”