The [Non-scientific] Focus of the Creation Week (LeFebvre)

 I’ve been enjoying Michael LeFebvre’s book, The Liturgy of Creation.  It’s a study of the festivals, feasts, and calendar dates of OT Israel and how those things can help us read and understand the creation week in Genesis 1-3.  I’m not quite finished with it, but so far it has been thought-provoking and insightful.

One part that stuck out to me was LeFebvre’s note that often when people approach the creation week with spectacles of science they miss a main emphasis: the seventh day.  It is rather ironic: in trying to squeeze scientific data from the text (which wasn’t written from a scientific worldview) the person misses one of the main points of the text: the Sabbath rest of God.

The true beauty of the creation week is its invitation to sabbath rest.  This message of rest is both the demonstratable emphasis of the text and the one major theme of the passage on which the church’s voice has been unified through history.  From centuries past, there have been many different views on the nature of the creation days.  Some church fathers regarded them as metaphorical days and some as actual creation events.  The church has long allowed for a variety of opinions regarding the nature of the events described in the creation week.  But the focus of the text that has been consistently upheld by the church throughout her history is its message about the sabbath day.  Unfortunately, modern fascination to find science in the creation week tends to distract readers from its emphasis on the sabbath day.  The allure of worship rather than science ought to be our focus in the study of the creation week.

Robert Godfrey writes, ‘It is surely ironic that many people today who most insistently claim that it is obvious that the days of Genesis 1 are ordinary twenty-four-hour days miss the most important point about the days, namely, that one day in seven is holy to the Lord.’  There is actually a good reason why apologetic ministries tend to overlook the sabbath day focus of the creation week.  By nature, the agenda of an apologetic ministry is defined by the crisis it exists to address. Today the threat that ‘secular science’ poses to Genesis is aimed only at God’s creative work in the six days when ‘stuff happened.’  Thus, the major creation apologists – from all perspectives – generally focus on the six days and give little or no attention to the seventh.  This is understandable, but it dangerously skews the church’s attention away from the text’s internal emphasis, which is to labor in anticipation of the weekly sabbath.

Michael LeFebvre, The Liturgy of Creation, p. 132-133.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Ask Creation! (Augustine)

 In the opening comments of Augustine’s sermon on John 14:6 he noted that some wise philosophers had some sort of knowledge of God.  He said that they saw the Truth from afar, but because of their errors they didn’t know how to attain the Truth or come to possess it.  Augustine based his statements on Romans 1:18ff, explaining that people “saw (as far as can be seen by man) the Creator by means of the creature, the Worker by His work, [and] the Framer of the world by the world.”

The Apostle put it this way: “For the invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.”  Augustine commented,

Ask the world, the beauty of the heaven, the brilliancy and ordering of the stars, the sun, that sufficeth for the day, the moon, the solace of the night; ask the earth fruitful in herbs, and trees, full of animals, adorned with men; ask the sea, with how great and what kind of fishes filled; ask the air, with how great birds stocked; ask all things, and see if they do not as if it were by a language of their own make answer to thee, “God made us.” These things have illustrious philosophers sought out, and by the art have come to know the Artificer.

What then? Why is the wrath of God revealed against this ungodliness? “Because they detain the truth in unrighteousness?” Let him come, let him show how. For how they came to know Him, he hath said already. “The invisible things of Him,” that is God, “are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal Power also and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Because that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

They are the Apostle’s words, not mine: “And their foolish heart was darkened; for professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” What by curious search they found, by pride they lost. “Professing themselves to be wise,” attributing, that is, the gift of God to themselves, “they became fools.” They are the Apostle’s words, I say; “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.”

Augustine, NPNF 1.6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Creation Ex Nihilo: Worldview Implications (Samples)

A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test From time to time I run into people who believe that God is part of the world, or the world is part of God.  This is pantheism – something movies like Avatar and religions like Eastern mysticism teach.  Others believe that God and matter are co-eternal (Mormons, Greek mythology, etc.) or that good and evil are co-eternal (gnostics and some branches of the occult).  Still others, like Buddhists, talk about a single organism of all sentient life (which is monism).  A sizable number of America’s founding fathers believed that God was a divine watchmaker who made the universe and then stepped back to let it wind down (this is called deism). Some today believe that all things came to exist by quantum fluctuation or a big bang.  The list goes on.

Historic Christianity, however, doesn’t teach those things.  The Bible teaches that the triune God created all things out of nothing and that though he is still intimately involved in creation (contra deism), he is distinct from it (contra pantheism).  Here are some important worldview implications of the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing).  They are taken from Kenneth Samples’ A World of Difference.

1) The universe is not an extension or emanation of God’s essence or being.

2) God created a universe with a distinct existence of its own (though always dependent upon God’s power for its continuance).

3) The world is a distinct reality that cannot rightly be denied.

4) The world is a finite and contingent creation of God and therefore not a proper object of worship.

5) Matter was created by God and is therefore not eternal (nor the sole reality).

6) The universe is not self-sufficient, self-explanatory, or self-sustaining.

7) Everything has value and meaning as implied by the doctrine of creation.

8) The natural, material, and physical universe was created by a supernatural, personal divine agent.

9) God’s creation of the world from nothing demonstrates his complete power and control over all things (his sovereign lordship).

10) God is both transcendent and immanent.

11) God not only created the universe, but also continually sustains its existence.

12) God created all things, not out of need or desperation but as an act of divine freedom (Given the Triune nature of the Christian God).

13) God made the universe as a very good creation.

14) A creation out of nothing excludes any preexistent or chaotic contingent entities.

15) The world was created by God with rich natural and living resources to be used wisely by human beings for the purpose of sustaining and enhancing human lives.

These are some excellent points that show the depth of Christian creational theology.  Even more, these truths lead us to worship our triune God, creator, and redeemer as is so clear in the choruses of Revelation, specifically 4:11 and 5:12.

Note: the above quotes in Samples’ book also include brief explanations.  For more info, see pages 161-162 of A World of Difference.

(This is a repost from February, 2012)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Walking On The Sea In Royal Freedom

Product Details In III.1 of Church Dogmatics Karl Barth spends quite a bit of time discussing the text of Genesis 1 and the days of creation.  In his discussion of day 3 and the separating of the waters from land (Gen. 1:9-10), Barth elaborates on the “waters” in a fascinating (sort of) redemptive historical way (III.i.IX.41.1).  Notice how he goes from Genesis 1 to Paul’s ministry, back to Genesis 1, and then to Revelation.

“It is self-evident that in this submission and limitation the roaring of the sea must also have a part in the triumphant song: ‘The Lord reigneth” (1 Chron. 16:32).  On the other hand, it is certainly no coincidence that according to the Old Testament the Israelites were not a seafaring people like the Phoenicians, although the tribes of Zebulun, Asher, and Dan had lived by the seashore and in havens for ships (Jud. 5:17, Gen. 49:13, cf. Deut. 33:18).  Of an expedition such as that ascribed to Solomon in 1 King. 19:28ff, we can say only that (like his new and positive attitude to the horse) it is one of the extraordinary and even – we must say – Messianic features of this immediate son of  David.”

“We are told in 1 Kings 22:49ff that a similar venture on the part of Jehoshaphat immediately came to grief.  And in view of its starting point and disastrous end, Jonah’s voyage is no exception to the rule.  The Old Testament ranks a sea voyage (Ps. 107:22ff) with desert-wandering, captivity, and sickness as one of the forms of extreme human misery; of the misery from which it is the gracious and mighty will of God, which we cannot extol too highly, to redeem us.”

“It is thus the more noteworthy that the most striking Messianic deeds of Jesus are his walking on the sea in royal freedom, and his commanding the waves and storm to be still by his Word.  And when we are finally given in Acts 27-28 an accurate description, down to the last nautical details, of Paul’s stormy but ultimately successful voyage from Caesarea through Crete and Malta to Puteoli, it is certainly not done merely for the sake of historical completeness or out of curiosity, but because the New Testament author, too, knows the sign of the sea and sees in this occurrence an emulation of Solomon, Jehoshophat, and Jonah, a confirmation of the hymn of praise in Psalm 107:13ff, and finally, in connection with the miracles of Jesus himself on the sea, the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecy concerning God’s lordship over the dangerous sea, and therefore a confirmation of Genesis 1:9-10.”

“In the new heaven and the new earth, as we learn from Rev. 21:1, there will be no more sea; i.e., man will be fully and finally freed from each and every threat to his salvation, and God from each and every threat to his glory.”

K. Barth, Church Dogmatics III.I, p. 148-9.

shane lems

Bonhoeffer and Barth

Bonhoeffer_Ethics_Cover Sections like this in Bonhoeffer’s writings always make me wonder how much Barth influenced him; they also make me hesitate to think of and speak of Bonhoeffer as an evangelical in the present day sense of the term.  Here’s the section found on pages 194 & 197 of his Ethics:

“The Christian ethic speaks in a quite different sense of the reality which is the origin of good, for it speaks of the reality of God as the ultimate reality without and within everything that is.  It speaks of the reality of the world as it is, which possesses reality solely through the reality of God.”

“Christian belief deduces that the reality of God is not in itself merely an idea from the fact that this reality of God has manifested and revealed itself in the midst of the real world.  In Jesus Christ the reality of God has entered into the reality of the world.  The place where the answer is given, both to the question concerning the reality of God and to the question concerning the reality of the world, is designated solely and alone by the name Jesus Christ.  God and the world are comprised in his name.  In Him all things consist (Col. 1:17).  Henceforward one can speak neither of God nor of the world without speaking of Jesus Christ.”

“…The reality of Christ comprises the reality of the world within itself.  The world has no reality of its own, independently of the revelation of God in Christ.”

There is more to this discussion, of course; there are further nuances and developments to trace.  However, it is a discussion worth having.  In fact, John Baillie (a professor at Union Theological Seminary in the 1930’s when Barth’s influence was starting to grow) said, “Bonhoeffer was my student in this Seminary in 1930-1931 and was then the most convinced disciple of Dr. Barth that had appeared among us up to that time, and withal as stout an opponent of liberalism as had ever come my way” (quoted in Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, p. 158).  Comments are welcome, of course.  I’ll be looking into this a bit more in the next few months, Lord willing.

shane lems

Hodge on Darwinism

Here’s a dated but helpful book on the issue of evolution and Christianity: What is Darwinism? by Charles Hodge.  In just over 100 pages, Hodge talks about different theories of the beginning of the universe and its existence.  He specifically hones in on Darwinism, including Darwin’s view of natural selection and teleology.  Hodge also explains other Darwinists’ positions and those who opposed Darwin’s evolutionary theory.  Hodge clearly studied the matter in detail; you can tell by reading this booklet that he knew the issues well.  It’s not the easiest read since it is over 100 years old, but it is worthwhile (and free on Kindle).  Here are a few random excerpts – which should be read in light of the entire booklet, of course.

“Scientific men must come to recognize practically, and not merely in words, that there are other kinds of evidence of truth than the testimony of the senses. They must come to give due weight to the testimony of consciousness, and to the intuitions of the reason and conscience. They must cease to require the deference due to established facts to be paid to their speculations and explanations. And they must treat their fellow-men with due respect.”

“The man who is trying to be an atheist is trying to free himself from the laws of his being. He might as well try to free himself from liability to hunger or thirst.”

“This, as the whole context [of this part of the discussion] shows, means that a man in order to be entitled to be heard on the evolution theory, must be willing to renounce his faith not only in the Bible, but in God, in the soul, in a future life, and become a monistic materialist.”

“We have thus arrived at the answer to our question, What is Darwinism? It is Atheism. This does not mean, as before said, that Mr. Darwin himself and all who adopt his views are atheists; but it means that his theory is atheistic…. The conclusion of the whole matter is, that the denial of design in nature is virtually the denial of God. Mr. Darwin’s theory does deny all design in nature, therefore, his theory is virtually atheistical….”

Charles Hodge, What is Darwinism? (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, and Company, 1874).

shane lems
hammond, wi

The Meaning, Purpose, and Dignity of Mankind

“The creature is not self-existent.  It has not assumed its nature and existence of itself or given it to itself.  It did not come into being by itself.  It does not consist by itself.  It cannot sustain itself.  It has to thank its creation and therefore its Creator for the fact that it came into being and is and will be.  Nor does the creature exist for itself.  It is not the creature itself but its Creator who exists and thinks and speaks and cares for the creature.  The creature is no more its own goal and purpose than it is its own ground and beginning.”

“There is no inherent reason for the creature’s existence and nature, no independent teleology of the creature introduced with its creation and made its own.  Its destiny lies entirely in the purpose of its Creator as the One Who speaks and cares for it.  The creature’s right and meaning and goal and purpose and dignity lie – only – in the fact that God as the Creator has turned toward it with His purpose.”

“Any other attitude than that of God’s free acceptance of this turning towards it and therefore of this advocacy and care; any claim to a right inherent it its being and nature, to a meaning which has not first been received, to a goal which it has fixed for itself, to a purpose which it has in and for itself, to a dignity independent of the free will of its Creator – all this is just as meaningless as the illusion that it came into being by itself, that it consists in itself and that it can sustain itself.  By its very creation, and therefore its being as a creature, all such views are shown, like this illusion, to be basically impossible, and thus disclosed as falsehoods.”

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/1, 94-95.

shane lems