Sunday, January 28, 2007

Field Report: God's Glory in Kenya?

Mosque in Nairobi

Western Christians often long for their marginal faith to become predominant in society, both in the number of souls that would profess Christ as Saviour, and in the influence and reach of the local and national church.

A friend of mine is in Nairobi, Kenya, a country where it is claimed that there are "13 million bible-believing Christians" (from a total population of approximately 35 million.)

He recently blogged thus:

In the UK, some people yearn for a faith that is constantly present and visible and active in society, but seeing it in Kenya I am pleased we have moved past that...Overly established Christianity leaves itself so open to arrogance, superiority, abuse, corruption, rigidity and intolerance of difference. This is a constant problem of a religion that was originally inspired by a man who came to challenge the arrogance of an established order of his day.

He goes on to say that he was somewhat alarmed at a prayer in a local church which asked god to "protect us from the wave of Islam that is threatening the country." (Islam is a minority religion in Kenya but is apparently growing. According to one source, Christians are being increasingly persecuted and attacked.)

He goes on to bemoan the incessant blaring of Western Christian contemporary music, often in public space such as buses and supermarkets.

Much for us to chew on...Two immediate issues come to mind here (feel free to comment on others!).

1 - its a crying shame that the Christian mission in Nairobi has been somewhat mixed up with neo-colonialism. I love the fact that so many Kenyans love Jesus, but as my friend laments, what has happened to the indigenous African culture? Where are the African songs and dances to Jesus? Obviously not "being on the ground", I cannot say whether my friend's assessment accurately sums up Christian worship and music, but it does clearly point to the failure of contemporary church to authentically engage with the culture. This is not just a problem for Nairobi, this is a problem everywhere, including where I live, Edinburgh.,

2 - Islam. First, don't they worship the same God anyway? What's all the fuss about? Reported killing, torture and persecution aside (!) N T Wright, the renowned Anglican Bishop of Durham, has some theological and historical thoughts on a similar subject, namely Do Christians and Jews worship the same god? [same link as last]. Secondly, if Christians believe in Habakkuk's prophecy (see below), isn't it meant to be a good thing that we all come to know God? Does it matter if we know him through a non-Christian religion?

Ultimately, it comes down to (surprise surprise) the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. According to Wright:

The New Testament writers claim that, though there is only one god, all human beings of themselves cherish wrong ideas about this one god. In worshipping the gos thus wrongly conceived, they worship an idol. Pagans worship gods of wood and stone, distorting the creator by worshipping the creature. Jews, Paul argues in parallel with this, have made an idol of their own national identity and security, and so have failed to see what the covenant faithfulness of their god, the god of Abraham, had always entailed. Christians, as the addressees of the New Testament writings, are not exempt from idolatry, of using the words 'Jesus' and 'Christ' while in fact worshipping a different god. Our study of the history of Judaism and Christianity in the first century leads us inexorably to the conclusion that both cannot be right in their claims about the true god.
[The New Testament and the People of God; see link above for full context and discussion]

Whatever we think about Christian Mission, or indeed Islam, we must always focus on the person of Jesus, whom according to the writers of the New Testament, uniquely revealed in himself, and in all that he did, the person and love of the One True God.

For as the waters fill the sea,
the earth will be filled with an awareness
of the glory of the Lord.

Habakkuk 2:14 (New Living Translation)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

On Origins, Creation & Intelligent Design [updated 02/02/07]

This post originates from a comment on this thread on Uncommon Descent. Using it as a starting point, I've fleshed out a little analysis of the current theistic creation beliefs.

Its time to shake up this blog and bring in some "non-churchy" topics!

Those who consider themselves believers in Jesus Christ (and indeed, followers of Islam, Judaism, and other theistic religions) hold to a number of different beliefs when it comes to the origin of humankind, evolution, creation, age of the universe, age of the earth, etc.

Below I've attempted to briefly summarise the various different positions and camps, with particular emphasise on the scientifically credible Intelligent Design movement.

Neo-Darwinian Macro-Evolution
Otherwise known as 'Blind' Evolution or ontological materialism. The standard scientific world-view and belief, that of an unguided natural process of evolution, from inert chemicals to human beings like you and me. The Talk.Origins and Pandas' Thumb crowd represent this point of view. Known supporters include Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, and Steve Jones, author of Almost Like A Whale.

Theistic Evolution.
'Guided' Evolutionary process. Big bang, old universe, old earth. God guided the processes of 'nature' to evolve inert chemicals to the modern man and woman. A brief refutation of theistic evolution, by "Propadeutic". I believe Glenn R Morton (DMD Publishing) would be classed in this category. Simon Conway Morris, author of the book "Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe", also holds to this belief. For a classic defense of the compatibility of evolutionary theory and the Christian faith, see Can a Christian Be an Evolutionist?.

Intelligent Design.
Intelligent Design is a scientific disagreement with the claim of evolutionary theory that natural phenomena are not designed. ID claims that natural laws and chance alone are not adequate to explain all natural phenomena. Intelligent Design implies special creation, but is not dogmatic about who or how this would come about.

It can be said that that intelligent design (ID) theorists pretty much break into two general camps:

  • Common Design - These guys suggest that one day the designer started with a previous work, and reworked a new species — humans. In this view there was clearly a first human pair — Adam & Eve. Some would say William Dembski holds to this view.

  • Common Descent - This community believes that if we trace our origins back, we find some ape that also was the ancestor of the chimp and the Neanderthal. So-called "front loaders" would also be in the category (see below). It also includes Michael Behe.

    (On Common Design vs Common Descent, see this blog at The Design Matrix.)

    Common Descent itself can be broken up into two clear groups:

    • One group, the front-loaders and others, believes that the pattern that gets to humans already existed in that common ancestor. It naturally unfolded, just like a flower grows out of a tree. This camp contains players such as Mike Gene (pseudonym), Krause, and Dr. John Davison.

    • Another group assumes that there is evidence of active genetic engineering (agency) in the recent lineage of man. They would point to customized human DNA that doesn’t seem mutable by natural processes such as the HAR1F gene. Some would say that Behe falls into this latter camp.

Progressive Creationism (Reasons To Believe / Hugh Ross).
This believes that God created progressively, the seven days not corresponding to literal human days. Micro-evolution (changes within species) and speciation is taken for granted. ChristianAnswers.NET have written a condemning rebuttal of this position. From an opposite point of view, Glenn R Morton has also written a rebuttal of Hugh Ross's beliefs. See Also: New Creationism page. I think Answers In Creation, formed in response to Answers in Genesis, provides a good defense of the old earth viewpoint.

Youth Earth Creationism (YEC)
Also known as scientific creationism. Young earth and young universe. Usually believes in a recent global flood, and asserts that entire fields of modern science are completely wrong (geology, radiometric dating, cosmology) as well as condemning evolution. Usually believes in a form of micro-evolution (change/mutation within species), and even speciation (new species forming), as long as said changes do not introduce new genetic information which is seen to be beneficial (as only a Designer God could do that). Ken Ham's Answers In Genesis provides a defense of this viewpoint.

Most young-earthers would not associate themselves with Intelligent Design. A few intelligent design folks, such as Salvador Cordova, are apparently wide open to considering a young earth perspective.

Update: I've stumbled across a blog series called Science and Christianity which looks promising, although I haven't looked at it in any detail.