What’s your game?


What's your game?I’ll never forget the Christmas of 1986.

After much cajoling, whining and emotional manipulation, my parents finally bought me a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K. Despite the many assurances that such a purchase would help me fulfil my homework responsibilities, my prevailing memory is of hours spent on games such as Jet Set Willy and Manic Minor.
The bleeps and bloops, sound effects and two-colour graphics were nothing like I’d ever seen before. Back then, games came on audiotapes and you daren’t stay in the room at the same time as it was ‘loading’, lest you breathed in the wrong way and caused the whole thing to crash.
Things are different in 2013. Games don’t come on tapes now, but on disks or, increasingly, as DLC (Down Loadable Content). The big gaming brands of yesteryear — Sega and Atari — have both withdrawn from the industry as behemoths Microsoft and Sony muscled them out with the Xbox and Play Station brands respectively.

Bigger budgets and wider appeal
Games look and feel like Hollywood blockbuster titles now and have the production budgets to match. The controversial Grand Theft Auto 5 took $800 million on its release day and 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 generated more revenue than James Cameron’s film Avatar.
The demographics of who plays games have also shifted significantly in the past 15 years. Adults like me, who grew up with video games in the 80s, make up a significant portion of those who play them today. Quoting a report commissioned by Pixwoo, a social gaming network, wired.co.uk says: ‘Rather than being a 12-year-old male, the average gamer is actually 35 years old with a job and a family’. Games aren’t just for the male demographic either. The Washington Post recently reported that almost half of the gaming population is now female. And, with the advent of family-friendly consoles such as the Nintendo Wii, games have a far wider appeal than ever before.
All of this is to say that video games in 2013 can’t just be written off as a fad, something kids grow out of, or just for nerdy teenage boys who have acne and are bad at sport. Like Facebook and Twitter, the new entertainment media has grown into a global and cultural phenomenon in its popularity.
Why are games so loved? Well, put simply, video games are a ton of fun. The creativity of game developers, designers and artworkers elevates the medium into a legitimate art form. Playing Halo 4 is like watching a high production interactive sci-fi movie, and games like Sim City, where you plan and run a city (infrastructure, taxes, town planning, etc.), offer real learning potential. Gaming in 2013 is more sophisticated than ever before, but is not without its issues.
Violence in games
Advances in technology mean that the next generation of video games can feature photo-realistic graphics and, in some cases, violent content or adult themes. Expect more tabloid headlines like, ‘Grand Theft Auto 5 torture row: teachers slam scenes of extreme violence in most expensive game ever made’.
The main difference between the Hollywood blockbuster film and gaming in 2013 is that now you can interact with the virtual worlds of Xbox One and PS4 game consoles. Fancy winning the Champions League as Barcelona football club in FIFA 13? Go for it! Perhaps overseeing an expansive military operation is more your thing? Then Battlefield 4 is for you. Want to go on a city-wide murderous rampage? You’re in luck! Grand Theft Auto 5 just came out.
In the Old Testament there is always an evaluation of violence: it is either God’s right judgment on sin or the violence itself is clearly demonstrated to be evil. However, violence in video games either happens in an amoral context or no moral context at all.
There are some challenges ahead and some titles are clearly not appropriate for all people. Just as with the film industry, video games are regulated and suitability advice is given to parents via the PEGI (Pan European Game Information) mark on the cover of each game.
Developing the right tools
The big issue for parents, however, is when young people are with peers who have access to games that are age inappropriate. Parents need wisdom to help young people think through what they ought to do with the choices they’re presented with when an adult is not there to make decisions for them.
My nephew is 13 years old and my older brother has told him that he’s not, in any circumstances, to play Call of Duty (PEGI 18) at his friend’s house. Will Ashar obey his parents’ wishes? Well, that’s going to depend on a number of factors. We know that law alone will be insufficient in helping him make the right choices.
Therefore, we need to help young people develop the tools they need to make good decisions: a Christian mind and Christian worldview, in which they understand how a person is loved by God, dehumanised by violence and the consequences of ‘sewing in the flesh’. That it will make a person harsh, cold and hard-hearted towards Jesus. Paul’s words to the Philippians come to mind: ‘Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things’.
On line safety concerns
Next generation blockbuster titles such as Call of Duty: Ghosts, Destiny and Titan Fall feature a significant shift away from traditional single player games to focus on multiplayer online experiences, inviting gamers to interact with each other over the web. This can add a significant element of fun because you can play competitive matches with friends or new people online. However, the anonymity that online gaming affords players means that it isn’t always a pleasant experience. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been called a cheat, loser, noob (newbie / new inexperienced player) or usually much worse on Xbox Live because I was doing particularly well at a competitive game.
Online bullying is a real concern and we need to help young people be safe in this new environment. If we don’t understand the online world of Xbox Live, Play Station Network or PC gaming and are responsible for young people who use this media regularly, we ought to learn quickly because the internet isn’t going away and we need to help young people make safe, responsible and sensible decisions.
Good use of time?
I remember a friend telling me about the time he told his wife that he was going to have a quick go on Championship Manager (a football management simulator) before going to bed. He recounted to me of how mad she was with him when he casually rolled into bed at 5.00 am and how telling her that he’d won the league with Leicester City didn’t help make things better. Video games are not unique in presenting us with the challenge of making responsible decisions when it comes to time management. How many hours are spent on Facebook, flicking through TV channels or looking at cat videos on YouTube? It is simply another entertainment media we need to handle with care.
I was chatting to a friend (a father of two) about what it means to parent responsibly when considering these issues. He talked about restricting screen time for teenage children to one hour per day. They can choose between TV and games but all screens are used in the family social space and for no longer than the agreed time.
Thinking through the issues
For many, video games are a great source of entertainment. Some people enjoy X-Factoror The Great British Bake Off, I happen to prefer a more interactive media. However, we ought to be discerning, disciplined and apply Christian thought and a Christian mind to all the media we consume, be it Facebook, going to the movies, the music we listen to, what we choose to watch on TV. In the same way, we also ought to think about how we can enjoy, safely and responsibly, the benefits of the new interactive media and how we help those entrusted to our care. 

Pod Bhogal is Head of Communications for UCCF:The Christian Unions. Follow him on Twitter @podbhogal for video game and football-related tomfoolery. He sometimes Tweets about student mission.

This article was first published in the December 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

C. S. Lewis for the ages


CS Lewis for all ages‘Not of an age, but for all time.’

That was what Ben Johnson wrote of Shakespeare’s first collection of plays in a poem prefacing their publication. While I would never compare Lewis with Shakespeare, there is no reason why lesser writers cannot have some of the quality of work which transcends their age. I think C.S. Lewis has already transcended the matrix of his times in the last century, suggested by his pretty much global reception which continues to grow.

Screwtape, the academic devil, and Aslan, the talking lion and divine creator of Narnia, are just a few of the inventions of Clive Staples Lewis, born two years before the opening of the 20th century, and dying just 50 years ago this month. From ‘Jack’ Lewis’s teeming mind and imagination sprang stories and powerful rhetoric aimed at persuading people of spiritual truths that have dimmed in today’s materialistic climate. Not only have his books steadily taken on a global popularity, but he was reluctantly one of the first major media evangelists — with huge audiences for his wartime BBC radio broadcasts. And the media have not ignored him. There have been two film versions ofShadowlands, the story of his love and marriage to a New York poet and novelist, Joy Davidman Gresham, and movies of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and two other Narnia stories, with a new one promised.

Success

If success had been what Lewis was after, he had it all immediately after the Second World War. His BBC broadcast talks during the war, and the publication in particular ofThe Screwtape Letters, had made him perhaps the highest profile Christian communicator of his time in Britain. His fame was soon going to spread to the USA. A reporter from Time magazine had been in Oxford in 1944 researching a feature on him, interviewing, among other of his friends, Charles Williams. That story eventually appeared as a lively cover feature on September 8 1947, taking as its angle The Screwtape Letters, and entitled ‘Don v. Devil’. From that point, Lewis’s popularity in the United States, which was already growing, took off, and has been higher there than in his own country ever since.

The 1947 Time magazine feature described him as ‘the most popular lecturer’ in Oxford University, ‘best-selling author and one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world’. They said he lived ‘a mildly humdrum life’ and quoted him saying ‘I like monotony’. Comparing him to G.K. Chesterton, Time put Lewis’s success down to his ‘special gift for dramatising Christian dogma’, and his ‘talent for putting old-fashioned truths into a modern idiom’ (Time, September 8 1947).

Lewis’s potent spell

What is the secret of the great spell that Lewis has cast around the globe? As well as the spirituality of his The Chronicles of Narnia, attractive in our postmodern age, he elsewhere presents a powerful critique of what he saw as the modern form of magic — the domination of the machine. Bureaucracy can be a form of a mechanical mindset, and Lewis re-envisioned hell in this way in The Screwtape Letters. Lewis’s popularity might lie in four main factors.

In the first place, he is a great storyteller. The Chronicles of Narnia are powerfully accomplished stories, rooted in the central elements of folk and fairy story. Storytelling for Lewis is universal and stories of myth, legend and popular folk tale contain archetypes or universal elements, like the motifs of the quest and the journey. His relatively unknown but accomplished novel, Till We Have Faces, retells an ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche of classical times to explore deep human themes of love and affection, the twisting of good things by evil, and the ending of self-deception. It has some affinities with William Golding’s unfinished final novel, The Double Tongue, exploring dimensions beyond the material world and hints of an as yet unknown god.

Secondly, Lewis’s stories are often given many dimensions by his extensive creation of other, secondary worlds such as Narnia or the planet Perelandra (Venus). Though C.S. Lewis did not, however, produce anything as detailed and mentally inhabitable as Tolkien’s Middle-earth, he has given us Narnia. In terms of children’s literature, The Chronicles of Narnia have long established themselves as classics of popular culture likeThe Wind in the Willows, The Hobbit, Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland or, more recently, the Harry Potter stories.

Underpinning The Chronicles of Narnia is Lewis’s friend Tolkien’s carefully worked out idea of sub-creation — the creation of a secondary world — in which the human maker imagines God’s world after him. Lewis’s richly invented worlds open up possibilities, hopes and dreams.

In the third place, Lewis intended some of his stories at least to sound a warning about the consequences of abandoning what he termed ‘Old Western’ or ‘Old European’ values. Even though using the mode of fantasy, he realistically portrays the processes of evil in ordinary life. Lewis’s fiction appears to belong with several other prophetic 20th-century stories with the ring of parable (including George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). They reshape contemporary fiction to come to terms with the horror of palpable evil revealed, for example, in modern, global warfare and ideological control. In his philosophical book,The Abolition of Man, Lewis gives theoretical expression to themes and motifs running through both his and Tolkien’s fiction.

In the fourth place, as hinted at above, Lewis’s popularity may lie in the fact that he presents an attractive spirituality that appeals to a broad readership seeking new meaning and spiritual fulfillment in a greatly secularised world. He helps to formulate in his readers a sense of disenchantment with our secular culture, or rather a hunger for re-enchantment. His emphasis is positive, not life-denying. People today have an uneasy sense that there are dimensions to life untapped by our materialist culture, and that most of us are missing these dimensions.

Tolkien saw a fundamental quality of good fantasy or fairy story as consolation. This was part of the argument he used to convince Lewis of the truth of Christianity. Here sheer grace enters the story. The story of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, he argued, has all the features of the best stories, as the result of a divine shaping of real, historical, first-century events.

More reasons for his popularity

There is another important reason for Lewis’s enduring popularity: his imaginative power, linked to persuasive reasoning. From his teeming mind and imagination sprang stories and powerful rhetoric aimed at persuading people of the truth of Christian faith. For many years an atheist, Lewis didn’t become a Christian believer until more than half way through his life, which meant that he understood from the inside what a materialist universe looked, tasted and smelt like.

There are even further reasons that might explain Lewis’s wide and enduring appeal, not always known to his popular readership.

He was a major literary scholar, an outstanding apologist or defender of Christian faith, a popular lay theologian, a mainstream science-fiction author, a philosopher, and a poet, though a minor one. His poetic sensibility, however, inspired all his prose, whether discursive or fictional, and is a secret of its attractiveness.

These varied facets of C.S. Lewis constantly interrelate in an organic way, making the whole of his personality and presence in his books larger than the sum of all parts.

This article is adapted from the Edgar B. Hollis lecture given by Colin Duriez at the Carnegie Library, Newnan, Georgia, USA, October 1 2013.

Colin Duriez has newly published C.S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship (see review in August EN) and The AÐZ of C.S. Lewis (Lion).

This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

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‘God is in everyone’s life’? Theology of Pope Francis


God is in everyones lifePrevious popes communicated on the printed page through encyclicals and official speeches only.

One of the major changes that Pope Francis is introducing is that he is reversing the balance. He speaks more through newspapers. In September, his reply to the editor of the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica and his interview with different Jesuit journals demonstrated this trend and the interest is evident by the broadcast media coverage generated.

Pope’s theology clarified
The more Pope Francis speaks, the clearer his theology is becoming. He has always said that the traditional dogmas and the Catechism are in the background of what he affirms and that nothing of substance changes in his remarks on God’s infinite mercy and the goodness within every human being. This is true only in part.
Different Roman Catholic interpreters have always played with the task of putting different accents on the same sheet music and Francis is deliberately putting his preferred accent — fortissimo — on another key dogma. In light of his Marianism and mission-minded approach already elaborated, the last two written outputs and interviews have shed further light on his basic view of the relationship between nature and grace.
‘A dogmatic certainty’
Talking to his fellow Jesuit journalists from across the world (September 19), Pope Francis said many things and these comments are attracting lots of positive reviews. Here we will focus on a particular one.
‘I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow.’
This Pope is not someone who likes to use dogmatic language, at least on the surface. Yet here he is using the strongest language possible. He really wants to mean what he is saying. God is in everyone’s life. This unqualified statement raises questions about what the Pope thinks of the nature of sin in human life and the reality of us ‘falling short’ of God in our sin (e.g. Romans 3.23). While teaching that those who believe in him shall be saved, the Bible is clear in saying that we are enemies of God because we are sinners and are therefore under his judgment. The Pope, instead, wants to affirm the dogma that God is present because there is always some residual ‘good’ in man.
‘Obeying one’s conscience’
One further comment by Pope Francis reinforces his dogmatic view on man’s inherent openness to God’s presence. Responding to the editor of La Repubblica (September 11), he writes the following: ‘You ask me if the God of Christians forgives one who doesn’t believe and doesn’t seek the faith. Premise that — and it’s the fundamental thing — the mercy of God has no limits if one turns to him with a sincere and contrite heart; the question for one who doesn’t believe in God lies in obeying one’s conscience. Sin, also for those who don’t have faith, exists when one goes against one’s conscience. To listen to and to obey it means, in fact, to decide in face of what is perceived as good or evil’.
Put simply: obeying one’s conscience is what God will take account of in granting forgiveness. Notice that the Pope here is not speaking of those who have never heard the gospel, but of those who don’t believe it knowing what they are doing. Apparently, to go against one’s conscience counts more than going against God’s revelation. Although the Bible teaches that there is no excuse before God’s righteous judgment (e.g. Romans 2.1), Francis here says that the conscience is the final judge to whom God will submit himself. The human conscience is the determinative factor for God’s forgiveness.
‘Grace-within-nature’ scheme
These two statements, i.e. God is in every person and obeying one’s conscience is what really matters, are thus part of a coherent ‘dogma’ of human goodness and universal salvation. What is important to observe is not so much the details of each statement, rather the general theological vision that lies at its core. Traditionally, Roman Catholicism has worked within the nature-grace scheme largely dependent on its pontifically ratified Thomistic tradition. According to this theological meta-narrative, nature, although partially flawed by sin, is elevated by grace to its supernatural end and the sacramental system of the church is the way in which grace operates this elevation.
Moreover, in the 20th century, this scheme was significantly modified and received an important endorsement at Vatican II. Whereas the old scheme implied that grace needed to be ‘added’ to nature, the new version claims that grace is already part of nature and works within itself, not as something extrinsic but intrinsic to it. Grace is inherent to nature and through the sacramental system of the church which unfolds itself more and more.
One advocate of a ‘grace-within-nature’ framework was Karl Rahner (1904-1984), also a Jesuit. His view of the ‘anonymous Christian’ stated that each human being, for its being a human being, is already graced and therefore a Christian even though he is not aware of it or does not want to be such. While not using the Rahnerian language, Pope Francis works within a similar ‘dogmatic’ framework. God is present in everyone and one’s conscience is what will ultimately count. In spite of all its missional allure and merciful attitude, what Francis is saying is not good news for gospel-centred people.

 

This article is from the Vatican Files Subscription Newsletter. You can opt in to receive this via the website http://www.vaticanfiles.org

Leonardo De Chirico

This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

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The mirage of equality


Mirage of Equality

Much has been said about equality in relation to the debate about same-sex marriage.

So much so that we are intoxicated by it (see September EN, page 17). The problem is that equality is an idea not a fact. There is a good deal of discussion as to what ‘basic equality’ might be. Nobody has ever seen it or really knows if it exists. To believe in it requires a good dose of faith.

Liberty, equality, fraternity

The creed of well-meaning humanists today runs: Now abideth these three, liberty, equality and fraternity, but the greatest of these is equality. Originally the words ‘or death’ figured too, but no tolerant person would take things that far.

There’s nothing new here. These three abstract notions were enthroned by the French revolution when the goddess Reason replaced the cross on the altar of Notre Dame in Paris. Even if Napoleon soon put an end to that, the revolutionary trinity was enshrined in human rights.

There is also a dynamic at play here: liberty from oppression is the road to equality and equality is the service station on the way to social well-being and justice. Equality is the greatest because it’s the king pin. Equality exists when liberty has done her work freeing us from the entrenched interests of tradition or religion.

The limits of equality

Nature is the reef on which equality flounders, because the natural world is an ocean of diversity, even if it has order and structure. Whatever one thinks, we cannot escape the fact that male and female are two ways of being human, different in physical ability, mental and psychological make-up and bodily constitution. Adults and children are not equal, nor are those who are whole and those who suffer from terrible infirmities. Animals and humans are different, so are living things and inanimate objects. This is not Christian cant; all religions and cultures recognise it. Just consult the Tao of all things and you will find that in that system of thought reality is ultimately not one but two, that is, unequal.

In some areas real equality does exist of course, but they are quite limited. We accept equal opportunity for all in education or the work place, which is a good thing. However, no one takes it in an ultimate sense and thinks it would be a proof of equality if Wayne Rooney were to be put in charge of a nuclear power station. Equality before the law is a fundamental right too, because everyone should be treated the same. Equality most of all concerns weights and measures and things in which precision is essential. £1 is 100p and equal to 1.16 euros at a given time. But an apple is not an orange, a person with an IQ of 90 is not equal to one with 150, or a baggage handler to an airline pilot. To apply equality in some areas is a category mistake.

Equality speak

In public debate equality is the motor of progress. It makes what has been considered undesirable until now acceptable. Why is everyone mesmerised by equality, if it has so limited a function in reality? I think it’s for a religious reason. The idea of equality allows people to remake reality according to their desires and exercise a sort of divine control when the inequalities of nature, aided and abetted by human injustices, seem intolerable. The field is levelled by exercising control over the structure of social reality.

Evening-up the balance would be fine if it remained within the cultural mandate and served to limit human sinfulness. In that case equality would be an aspect of common grace. But the problem is that human autonomy and the desire for power gets out of hand. Social engineers, who think they know best, exercise control for the rest of us, as if they were gods.

Equality and progress

Equality is like the sacred calf of old. Everyone pays homage to it and no one seems to express reservations about it. People are not surprised when in the name of equality things that were illegal or unacceptable a generation ago are now fully legal. In fact equality helps turn the tables. In some cases the bad has become good and the good bad. Those who think differently are considered psychologically fragile and, likely as not, fascists or retrograde bigots.

All this is the case with same-sex marriage, which is a leap into the dark. The practice of cultures and ages is overturned with little understanding of the whys, the wherefores or the consequences. This is such an enormous change that future generations will wonder how it happened. Not even the ancient Greeks or Romans, who found same-sex paedophilia quite acceptable, thought of redefining the institution of marriage. And yet we act as though this were business as usual and back it up with the best of intentions and appeals to equal rights.

It has been suggested that same-sex marriage will support the institution of marriage, no doubt meaning that any form of social commitment is better than none. Heterosexual marriage, however, has such a bad track record in present society that there is little reason to suppose that its new counterpart will not reproduce the same problems in a new context. Sin remains sin and human nature remains human nature in any context.

So why the pressing need for new legislation on this question? The only reason seems to be that well-meaning people, politicians and other leaders, have to go all out in a politically correct society to prove that they are on the side of the goodies. They seem to think that any cause endorsed by equality shows that they are bone fide champions of progress.

Conclusion

This shows what a dangerous position we have reached in Western society, when policies are promoted for obscure reasons and not because they are morally justified. Vague notions like equality serve to hide the real issues which become impossible to speak about. The wages of spin is the manipulation of opinion with arguments that are smoke and mirrors.

From a theological point of view, public policies that have equality as their principle and goal give our leaders the unhealthy impression of power and how they can wield it as benevolent gods to cure the ills of society. In a sense, the humanist pursuit of equality is an attempt to solve the problems of sin and injustice without God. I think that is why debates on any issue in which equality is involved quickly turn venomous. These issues have, for the people who promote them, a pseudo-religious motivation that inspires their zeal and often intolerance of those who do not see eye to eye with them.

Ultimately the problem with equality talk is that it never was, never is and never will be something that belongs to created reality, apart from in a restricted technical sense. The foundation of the Christian faith is that God and man are different, and unequal. In the realm of personhood, equality exists only in the perfect oneness of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the ‘unity of the Godhead… of one substance, power and eternity…’ (Westminster Confession, II.3). Real equality exists in God alone and where he establishes it according to his will and purpose, above all in the spiritual unity between believers who are united with Christ, and made one in him.

Paul Wells, is a teacher at the FacultŽ Jean Calvin, Aix-en-Provence, and lives in Eastbourne.

This article was first published in the Oct 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The 12 myths of Christmas


Norman Wells guides us through the tinsel to the truth

Cribs, carols, cards, nativity plays and films — they all have something to say about the birth of Christ just over 2,000 years ago.

But sometimes the message they present is quite different from what really happened. Here we look at some of the most common myths and compare them with what the Bible tells us about Jesus’s birth.

Myth 1: Jesus was born on December 25.

The Truth: No one knows the date on which Jesus was born and there is no record of any date being set apart to mark his birth during the first 300 years of the history of the church. It was not until the 4th century that Christians started to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 in an attempt to Christianise the pagan celebration of the birthday of the sun.

Myth 2: Jesus was born in a stable, surrounded by cattle.

The Truth: The fact that Jesus was laid in a manger — an animal’s feeding trough — has led many to assume that he must have been born in a stable in the midst of cattle. However, the Bible does not specifically mention a stable and it certainly doesn’t refer to the presence of animals. The precise setting in which Jesus was born and spent his earliest hours and days is not described. However, the fact that we are told ‘there was no room for them in the inn’ tells us that he was born in poverty and that his uniqueness was not recognised by those around him.

Myth 3: Three Eastern kings followed a star to Jesus’s birthplace.

The Truth: The visitors from the East are nowhere described as kings in the Bible and, although it is probably fair to assume that they were men of some standing, their precise social status is unknown. The tradition that there were three Magi or ‘wise men’ is based on the fact that they presented three gifts to Jesus — gold, frankincense and myrrh — but the Bible does not tell us how many men were in their party.

Myth 4: The shepherds and the wise men saw the infant Jesus at the same time.

The Truth: There is no basis in the Bible for the traditional nativity scene showing the shepherds and wise men visiting the newborn Christ at the same time. While the shepherds heard the news on the very night of Jesus’s birth and immediately made their way to the manger, it would appear that the wise men reached Bethlehem several months later.

Myth 5: Jesus never cried as a baby.

The Truth: As the sinless Son of God, the baby Jesus would never have been guilty of selfish or angry crying, but there is no reason to imagine that he would never have cried to communicate his need of food or comfort. The Bible tells us that Jesus was a real baby, who had a real childhood and grew up into a real man. He suffered hunger, thirst and exhaustion, and experienced joy and sorrow just like we all do, but in his case it was always without sin.

Myth 6: Christmas Day is the most holy day of the year for Christians.

The Truth: From the beginning, God has set apart one day each week as a ‘holy day’. However, apart from the requirement to treat Sunday as a special day for worship and rest from our usual activities, the Bible does not command Christians to regard any other day as a ‘holy day’.

Myth 7: It was by chance that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because Mary and Joseph just happened to be staying there at the time

The Truth: The location of Jesus’s birth was far from accidental. Some 700 years before his birth, the prophet Micah had declared that the promised Christ would be born in the insignificant town of Bethlehem.

Myth 8: Jesus was born at midnight.

The Truth: The Christmas carol, ‘It came upon a midnight clear’, and the custom of some churches to hold midnight services on Christmas Eve have prompted some people to imagine that Jesus was born on the stroke of midnight. However, the Bible does not tell us the precise hour at which Jesus was born.

Myth 9: Jesus was the only child Mary ever had.

The Truth: Although Jesus was the only child Mary had as a result of a direct work of the Holy Spirit without the involvement of a human father, there is no basis for suggesting that she and Joseph did not have further children by natural means. In fact, the Bible makes several references to Jesus’s brothers, indicating that he grew up surrounded by siblings in a family headed by a couple with a normal marriage.

Myth 10: Jesus’s birth marked the beginning of his impact on the world.

The Truth: Although Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem marked the beginning of the period in which God lived on earth in human flesh, it did not mark the beginning of his existence. The Bible tells us that the Son of God had no beginning — he has always existed. In fact, the entire universe was made through him, and nothing was made without him. He therefore had an immense impact on the world long before he was born as a human baby.

Myth 11: The main purpose of Jesus coming into the world was to set us a good example.

The Truth: Although Jesus certainly does present an example to us of obedience, love to God, love for others, mercy, compassion, suffering, sacrifice and much more, that was not the primary reason for which he came into the world. The main reason for which the Son of God became man was in order to die on the cross to save us from our sins. The Bible says: ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’.

Myth 12: The biblical account of the birth of Jesus is a lovely story for children at this time of year, but it doesn’t make any difference to me.

The Truth: The birth of Jesus makes a profound difference to all of us, whether young or old. Without Jesus, we are cut off from God and none of us is good enough to make it to heaven on our own. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is only person who can bring us to God, because he is both God and man. He knows what it is like to be human, and he also has the divine power that is needed to bring us back to God. If Jesus had never been born as a baby in Bethlehem, there would be no hope for any of us. But as a result of his birth, and through his subsequent death and resurrection, he has opened up for us a way back to God. Jesus himself said: ‘I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness’ (John 12.46).

This article was first published in the December 2011 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

The end of the world and 2012


End of the world and 2012It doesn’t seem that long ago since the hype, hysteria and scaremongering of Y2K fizzled out. Prior to that, the Jehovah’s Witnesses concocted a variety of dates in the previous century when the Lord Jesus was supposed to return. Unsurprisingly, the Lord didn’t return on those dates since Jesus clearly taught that no man knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24.36).

December coming?

Nevertheless, when engaging in open-air evangelism, one question that keeps cropping up time and time again is ‘what about December 21 2012 when either the world will supposedly end or something major is going to happen?’ In response, I usually mention the above and ask them why 2012 should be any different? The reply typically involves the complexity of the Mayan calendar predictions and the completion of its cycle, plus the I Ching, ancient Egyptian beliefs and the prophesies of Nostradamus being in common agreement. The decisive presupposition seems to be that if several worldviews share similarities about 2012 being a highly significant event, then it cannot be a coincidence.

See that no one deceives you

In each of the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus starts the Olivet discourse with the words: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you’ (Matthew 24.4, Mark 13.5, Luke 21.8). Luke 21.8 also includes, ‘The time has drawn near’, though commands, ‘Therefore do not go after them’.

The Bible has a perfect track record of fulfilled prophecy. The acid test to determine whether someone is a true prophet is whether the things they have stated come to pass and if they don’t then they have acted presumptuously (Deuteronomy 18.22). Believers should not believe every spirit, but test them, since many false spirits have gone out into the world (1 John 4.1). At this point, any thinking person should consider, have the Mayans, the I Ching Taoist method of fortune telling, the ancient Egyptians or Nostradamus unequivocally predicted future events with unmistakeable accuracy? If the answer is no, then their claims can be dismissed automatically because they are false prophets.

Why the agreed prediction?

Why then do several unrelated different spiritual philosophies share similar views about 2012? This is a good question though it is also loaded with two assumptions: 1) that they are unrelated, and 2) that they are saying the same thing. While admittedly the representatives of these opinions were separated by geography, they share comparable astrological assumptions and, since they open themselves up to occult practices, it is no surprise that they are being fed the same lies by the evil one.

Firstly, Isaiah’s prophecy toward Babylon is pertinent in this situation. People try to read the future using astrology and the signs of the zodiac, though they are of no benefit. ‘Stand now with your enchantments and the multitude of your sorceries, in which you have laboured from your youth — perhaps you will be able to profit, perhaps you will prevail. You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels; let now the astrologers, the stargazers and the monthly prognosticators stand up and save you from what shall come upon you’ (Isaiah 47.12-13).

A few weeks ago I spoke to a young man who has decided to save and plan his holiday, especially for a week before Christmas. He was convinced by the 2012 predictions though they provide no hope. Like all of us he needs to know the true Saviour who has declared the end from the beginning.

Secondly, the mentioned representatives are not all saying the same thing. Possibilities include the end of the world, a new era or a major disaster for those not embracing those views! There is consensus that something major will happen in 2012, though we know that, unless the Lord returns, inevitably there will be more earthquakes, famines, wars and pestilence regardless.

Mayan scholars

Though the Mayans, in particular, could boast of an elaborate calendar that utilised three systems of chronology, and, to a lesser extent, the Aztecs also had impressive timekeeping skills, that does not mean that their calendars are determinative of predicting worldwide cataclysmic events.

Mayan scholar Mark Van Stone PhD, GF, in his article ‘It’s not the end of the world’, believes Maya prophecies should be read very critically, since he believes that they are fragmentary, contradictory, manipulated, misunderstood, contain errors, do not mention destruction, imply that life will continue without disruption after 2012 and confirm that the solstices were of minor importance.

G. Jeffrey MacDonald, writing for USA Today, quoted Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Florida, who stated: ‘To render December 21 2012 as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in”, and Susan Milbrath, a Maya archaeoastronomer and curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History: “We have no record or knowledge that they would think the world would come to an end at that point”’.

Better than Nostradamus

Nostradamus wrote a series of quatrains (four-line poems) predicting events over ten centuries. The style of writing is open-ended and frequently non-specific, making it possible to insert or fit occurrences in relation to events that have already happened. It is easier to match a historical event and find a corresponding quatrain than to state what is likely to happen from a quatrain and then evidence that when it takes place.

The Bible is different. Concerning the arrival of the Messiah, it was foretold specifically that Jesus would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem Ephrathah, from the tribe of Judah; he would be preceded by a messenger; though he would be betrayed, he would be silent before his accusers; he would be crucified and his clothes wagered for; he would die alongside the wicked, would be buried in a rich man’s tomb and would arise from the grave; he would come to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19.10). The odds of that sequence of events occurring by coincidence are miniscule and there are scores of other prophesies fulfilled in Christ besides! These cannot be ignored and clearly demonstrate the divinity of the Lord Jesus and the unassailable authority of the Bible.

The second coming of Christ

Though we do not know the day or the hour, we are assured that the Lord will return again and when he does we will meet him as either our Judge or our Saviour! Are you ready for his return? 2012 will come and go, new fads and theories will emerge, though the Lord Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today and forever, and the word of God endures forever (Hebrews13.8; 1 Peter 1.25).

Jon Taylor is a member of the FIEC Pastors’ Association and a researcher for the Reachout Trust.

(This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

Is the biblical Adam a scientifically valid concept?


Adam of Genesis 1-5 is basic to much biblical teaching. The Genesis account makes it plain that we are all descended from this one man.

This is reiterated by Paul, who says that we are all descended from Adam (Acts 17.26; cf. 1 Corinthians 15.45; Genesis 3.20). Of course, continuing with the biblical record, we are all descended from Noah too. Paul also uses Adam’s existence as a base for various theological arguments, especially in 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5. His arguments for the historicity of Adam are powerful and make it difficult to deny as he links Adam’s actions to those of our Lord Jesus. In accordance with these teachings, evangelicals have traditionally believed that Adam and Eve were directly created by God and are the historical parents of the entire human race.

Creationists are known to take these principles seriously, but Dr. Denis Alexander, who opposes the creationist approach, also recognises the historicity of Adam and seeks to compare his historical occurrence to the evolutionary timescale. He sees Adam and Eve as a couple among Homo sapiens types in whom God planted his image. Of course, Dr. Alexander does appear to dispute that all modern humans have descended from Adam.

Source of authority

How we argue our case will be dependent on our primary source of authority. For evangelicals, the Bible has been our foundational guide and has traditionally been understood to speak of the special creation of the man, Adam, and his woman, Eve, from whom we all descended. Others, especially non-Christians, use scientific thinking as their authority. ‘Science’ is the current consensus of the thinking of leading scientists. We have to acknowledge that we scientists can get things wrong and often have to change our theories or models of explanation. For all of us, our interpretation will be within our own paradigm, especially that of the ultimate authority.

Is Adam historical?

So, where is the problem that we are addressing? There has been a growing momentum, especially in the US, among evangelicals that Adam was not historical after all. This is highlighted on the BioLogos website which has a strongly theistic evolutionary approach to the interpretation of Scripture. Its founder, Francis Collins, a world leader in human genome research, does claim to be an evangelical who believes the Bible is a trustworthy document, but he re-writes our interpretation of its opening chapters. A theological response to the BioLogos argument has been presented by Prof. A.B. Caneday (Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 15.1 (2011): 26-59, available on the internet).

Arguments

What are the arguments for a scientifically acceptable understanding against the historical Adam as portrayed in the Bible? They seem to centre on two things: the genetics of man compared with the chimpanzee and the population genomics based on a historical interpretation of the Genesis claim.

Collins says that claims that Adam and Eve were the first couple from whom all are descended does not fit the scientific evidence. This is not a statement saying that there is an apparent discrepancy between current genetic understandings and biblical teaching which needs to be researched, but it is a blatant dismissal of the clear claims of Scripture. That is a serious situation and needs a thorough study. Creationist research in the field of genetics is in its infancy (not surprisingly as the whole field is developing rapidly) and there is a challenge to creationists to research in this discipline. However, we can make some significant responses pending more research.

A key argument, which has been circulating for a number of years, is that the human genome and the chimpanzee genome have at least a 95% commonality. (The term ‘genome’ refers to the whole genetic content of a cell.) Furthermore, the genome contains a substantial quantity of so-called pseudogenes, which evolutionists claim to be ancient genes that are no longer active and again have similar structures in same relative positions and with identical mutations indicating that humans and chimpanzees have come from a common primate ancestor. This, in turn, requires a belief that the common ancestor existed some five million years ago.

Population genomics argument

Studies in the genetic diversity among modern humans have included attempts to identify how long ago modern Homo sapiens originated from supposed earlier Homo species. Current estimates place this at around 150,000-200,000 years. In this approach, it would seem that there were a small group of hominids at that time and from whom we have developed. Estimates put the group size at several thousand. Dennis Venema says that the human population ‘was definitely never as small as two’.

The researchers state quite adamantly that a literal interpretation of the Bible couple cannot be true. Interestingly, the Bible account is not represented correctly in their arguments. Yes, Adam and Eve were the created pair from whom we are descended, but there was a ‘bottleneck’ at the Flood of Noah and his family, from whom, again, we are all derived. The number of descendents of Adam at the time of Noah has been estimated as several millions. The Flood wiped out most of these and so the ‘bottleneck’ reduces the population to a mere eight souls. That family had three daughters-in-law, who presumably carried a diversity of genetic information in addition to that of Noah and his sons. Another biblical event that needs to be considered is the Babel event, at which a large local population was dispersed from Shinar at God’s command. In considering these events, those of us who hold to the biblical account as historical have to review the genetic data in the light of the population sizes of those times as against the argument of those who consider the biblical account inadequate.

Early work on this biological concept proposed, for example, that it was possible to consider a ‘mitochondrial Eve’, as she was nicknamed. The mitochondria are the energy-producing structures in the cell and are passed on through the female line only. A study of the variation in modern women can be extrapolated back to a possible original source. She was nicknamed after the biblical Eve, but, as just indicated, in biblical terms she would probably have been one of Noah’s daughters-in-law.

The figure of 150,000 years also presumes that we know reasonably accurately the rate of genetic diversification, but that is not the case either. In fact, the estimate is based, in part at least, on the assumption of a common ancestor to humans and chimpanzees around 5-7 million years ago. It seems that this is an area which creationist research needs to explore from the aspect of the biblical data.
Genetic diversity

But, let’s go back to that supposed human-chimp genetic similarity. It is generally assumed that our whole nature (at least physically, though some consider other issues such as social and moral aspects too) can be traced to genetic variations. It is generally recognised that variable traits between humans can be related to genetic variations — for example, eye colour, straight vs. curly hair, etc. But these variations always result in human beings! Furthermore, the genetic differences or similarities between man and the chimpanzees are insufficient to explain our differences: in communication, mathematics, music, art and worship, to name a few of those things that make us human and distinct from the animals. We are more than genes.

Steve Jones (Professor of Genetics, University College, London) is no friend of creationists, but he has spoken out strongly against the assumptions about genetic similarity. ‘The fact that humans and chimps share 98.8% of their DNA is fairly amazing, but it still does not explain the nature of differences between humans and chimps. You have to bear in mind that humans and mushrooms share 60% of their DNA’ (cited in The Times Higher Educational Supplement, September 10 1999).

It is also apparent that our genes control metabolic processes, and any genetic damage (‘mutations’) in these genes can result in, for example, disease and disability. But, again, we are still human and not chimpanzees or other primates. Many of the metabolic processes in apes and mankind are similar and so we would expect a Designer to use the same genes for their control.

Overstated claims

But, how similar are these genomes? Other research suggests that some of these claims are overstated. It is often assumed that similar genes in different biological families have corresponding functions. 40 years ago, Sir Gavin de Beer (in Homology: an unsolved problem, Oxford University Press, 1971) pointed out that similar structures are often produced from dissimilar genes, and similar genes produce dissimilar structures. More recent work by Watanabe et al. confirms that the extent of genetic similarity is exaggerated. For example, 83% of the 231 genes on the chimpanzee chromosome 22 produce different amino acid sequences (and so different proteins) to the human counterpart. Also, only 4.8% of the human Y chromosome could be matched to the chimpanzee sequences.

More recently, David C. Page et al. have studied this chromosome in more detail and comment: ‘By comparing the [Y chromosomes] of the two species we show that they differ radically in sequence structure and gene content, indicating rapid evolution during the past six million years’. They conclude that 30% of the chimpanzee chromosome lacks alignment with the human analogue. Of course, these two examples are only a part of the whole genome and detailed studies of the rest are necessary as well, but these examples do show a significant differentiation.

Embarrassing pseudogenes

Over recent decades, as genetic research has advanced, it was apparent that large portions of our genome did not hold the code for the production of proteins as was assumed to be the function of the genome. These chunks of DNA (the chemical shorthand for genetic information) were considered to be evolutionary rubbish inherited from our non-human ancestors and were called ‘junk DNA’. Recent years have revealed that this name is inappropriate as it has been found that this genetic material does have an extensive variety of functions. Most geneticists now avoid using the term, preferring ‘non-protein-coding DNA’. This topic has been well covered by Jonathan Wells (The Myth of Junk DNA, Discovery Institute Press, Seattle, 2011).

However, one persistent part of this argument concerns the material known as ‘pseudogenes’ (that is ‘false genes’). Jerry Coyne, a non-Christian evolutionist, says that these are ‘dead genes’ and expected on an evolutionary argument. They are seen as relics of good genes that have mutated to uselessness. So, Douglas Futuyma says that they are ‘hard to reconcile with beneficent intelligent design’ and Richard Dawkins says that they are ‘embarrassing creationists’!

Usefulness

But a study of the scientific literature gives a different perspective (see Geoffrey Barnard in chapter 10 of Should Christians Embrace Evolution? Biblical and scientific responses, edited by Prof. Norman C. Nevin, Professor of Medical Genetics; IVP, Nottingham, 2009). One example of a useful pseudogene is PTEN1, which has a ‘decoy’ function. It diverts other active chemicals away from the gene PTEN and so becomes a part of a tumour suppression system. Back in 2003, Balakiev and Ayala suggested the importance of pseudogenes in gene expression, regulation and so on.

Dawkins says that, because pseudogenes have no function, they are never transcribed or translated in the genetic system. This is clearly not true. This attitude illustrates the danger of allowing our ignorance of a function to define our scientific model and explanation.

Beyond DNA

There is another aspect of biological activity which seems to be overlooked by those who discuss the concept of a possible biological relationship between apes and men. Let us remind ourselves of a basic fact. When an egg is fertilised by male sperm, genetic information from each of the parents is selected for the new creature. But, this affects only the nucleus of the cell. The egg is more than a nucleus. We have already seen that the cell contains the mitochondrion which originates solely in the female’s egg. Relatively little work seems to have been done to determine what influences the rest of the egg has on the outcome. The egg has been passed from generation to generation from the time of Eve. Similarly, the egg of the female chimpanzee originates from the created animal of that kind.

Body plan

Several decades ago, the British creationist Dr. Arthur Jones spoke on ‘cortical inheritance’ with the proposal that the overall body plan is programmed into that and that the nuclear genetic information gives the variations we have noted. (Arthur’s presentations are available on YouTube.) This was work that was originally reported in the 1950s.

The cell membrane and cytoplasmic structure (the contents of the cell around the nucleus) are critical to the physical structure. The genes give variety within that structure, but they need the structure to direct their effects.

This work has recently been given a higher profile with the publication of The Mysterious Epigenome: What lies beyond DNA by Woodward and Gills (Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, 2012). A staggering conclusion is that there are around 210 different versions of the epigenome required to produce our variety of cells. Now there’s a massive research programme to challenge the wonders of the Human Genome Project!

Historical events

The fundamental biblical challenge to this argument about the historicity of Adam was outlined at the beginning of this article. As one theologian expressed it, ‘Can the Bible’s theology be true if the historical events on which the theology is based are false?’ Nowhere in the later biblical books are the events of Genesis 1-3 challenged or ‘down-graded’. There are plenty of occasions where our God could have corrected man’s understanding if the recorded events were less that historical. Our Lord Jesus never hesitated to correct his contemporaries if they misinterpreted the Scriptures. It is a serious charge (that this author has heard) that our Lord was merely a ‘man of his time’.

Scripture and science

Much more can be said illustrating the depth of our concern at the way Scripture is handled because of current scientific theory. We have seen that the scientific approach is not necessarily as ‘foolproof’ as it might appear and we have introduced a challenge to scientists with, for example, a creationist approach to take up this challenge and research in depth.

One of the disturbing aspects of this work is the way a number of outstanding evangelical theologians with no scientific training themselves are doing theological somersaults to try and accommodate even the tentative findings of scientists. We love these men and our scientific brothers in Christ, but we plead that they would trust that God means what he says.

Dr. John Peet

This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057