Maybe This is what b, sd Had in Mind (trigger warning for Keller aficionados)

)And for contributors to Sasse 2020.)

Rod Dreher re-posted parts of an Aaron Renn post about urban/hipster Protestantism.

First, Renn’s categories:

Ben Sasse is a conservative exemplar of what I term “neutral world” Christianity. In my framework, there are three worlds we’ve seen in my lifetime related to the status of Christianity and traditional Christian norms in society.

1 Positive World (Pre-1994). To be seen as a religious person and one who exemplifies traditional Christian norms is a social positive. Christianity is a status enhancer. In some cases failure to embrace those norms hurt you.
2 Neutral World (1994-2014). Christianity is seen as a socially neutral attribute. It no longer had dominant status in society, but to be seen as a religious person is not a knock either. It’s more like a personal affectation or hobby. Traditional norms of behavior retain residual force.
3 Negative World (2014-). In this world, being a Christian is a social negative, especially in high status positions. Christianity in many ways as seen as undermining the social good. Traditional norms are expressly repudiated.

To illustrate the differences, consider these three incidents:

1 Positive World: In 1987 the Miami Herald reported that Sen. Gary Hart had been having an affair, and cavorting with the woman in question on his yacht. He was forced to drop out of the presidential race as a result.
2 Neutral World: In 1998 the Drudge Report broke the story that Bill Clinton had been having an affair with intern Monica Lewinksy, including sex acts in the Oval Office. Bill Clinton was badly damaged by the scandal but survived it as the Democratic Party rallied around him and public decided his private behavior was not relevant to the job.
3 Negative World: In 2016 Donald Trump, a many whose entire persona (sexual antics, excess consumption, boastfulness, etc.) is antithetical to traditional Christianity, is elected president. The Access Hollywood tape, for example, had no effect on voter decisions about him.

Even for those who hate Christianity, the rise of Trump, something only possible in a post-Christian world, should give them pause to consider.

Tim Keller’s ministry is the consummate neutral world Christianity:

The neutral world church is very different in a number of ways. It has traditionally been much more apolitical (though many of its practitioners lean left). It’s also much more heavily urban and global city focused. It tries to avoid highlighting areas where Christianity is in conflict with the world. Instead of being antagonistic towards the culture, it is explicitly positive towards culture. In fact, you could sum up much of the model under the heading “cultural engagement.” They want to meet the culture on its own terms, and reach people as participants in a pluralistic public square. They want to be in the mainstream media, not just Christian media or their own platforms. Many of their ministries have been backed by big money donors. These are many of the people who denounced Trump to no effect during the election. In effect, they represent a version of Christianity taking its cues from the secular elite consensus.

Which means that some political topics are okay, some aren’t:

The average neutral world Christian leader – and that’s a lot of the high profile ones other than the remaining religious righters, ones who have a more dominant role than ever thanks to the internet – talks obsessively about two topics today: refugees (immigrants) and racism. They combine that with angry, militant anti-Trump politics. These are not just expounded as internal to the church (e.g., helping the actual refugee family on your block), but explicitly in a social reform register (changing legacy culture and government policy).

I’m not going to argue that they are wrong are those points. But it’s notable how selective these folks were in picking topics to talk about. They seem to have landed on causes where they are 100% in agreement with the elite secular consensus. . . .

I won’t speculate on their motives, but it’s very clear that neutral world leaders have a lot to lose. Unlike Jerry Falwell, who never had secular cachet and lived in the sticks, these guys enjoy artisanal cheese, microbrews, and pour over coffees in Brooklyn. They’ve had bylines in the New York Times and Washington Post. They get prime speaking gigs at the Q conference and elsewhere. A number of them have big donors to worry about. And if all of a sudden they lost the ability to engage with the culture they explicitly affirmed as valuable, it would a painful blow. For example, to accept Dreher’s Benedict Option argument they’d have to admit that the entire foundation of their current way of doing business no longer works. Not many people are interested in hearing that.

The neutral world Christians – and again that seems to be much of Evangelical leadership today – are in a tough spot when it comes to adjusting to the negative world. The move from positive to neutral world brought an increase in mainstream social status (think Tim Keller vs. Pat Robertson), but the move to a negative world will involve a loss of status. Let’s be honest, that’s not palatable to most. Hence we see a shift hard to the left and into very public synchronization with secular pieties. That’s not everybody in Evangelical leadership, but it’s a lot of them. Many of those who haven’t are older and long time political conservatives without a next generation of followers who think like them. (Political conservatism is also dying, incidentally).

And lo and behold, The Gospel Coalition is smack dab in Neutral World Christianity:

I was speaking with one pastor who is a national council member of the Gospel Coalition. He’s a classic neutral worlder who strongly disapproves of Trump. But he notes that the Millennials in his congregation are in effect Biblically illiterate and have a definition of God’s justice that is taken from secular leftist politics. They did not, for example, see anything at all problematic about Hillary Clinton and her views. A generation or so from now when these people are the leaders, they won’t be people keeping unpopular positions to themselves. They won’t have any unpopular positions to hide. They will be completely assimilated to the world. Only their ethics will no longer be Hillary’s, but the new fashion du jour.

Renn’s recommendation is not necessarily the Benedict Option but the Fighting-the-Good-Fight Option:

The template is Paul, who was one tough hombre. Paul was a Jewish blueblood on the fast track to high council membership who threw it all way to endure beatings, imprisonment, etc. (One of the underappreciated virtues of Paul is just how physically and mentally tough that guy was). He said he counted it all as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. He also someone who could say, “I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God.”

Even the author of the Benedict Option, Dreher, sees merit in Paul as the model for ministry:

Paul did not focus his struggle on the world, but within the church itself. Aside from seeking converts, he doesn’t advise his followers to engage the culture, get politically active, or anything like that. Nor did he instruct his followers to run away from the world. Rather, he focused on building up the church in holiness, and exhorting believers in the new faith to overcome the world in themselves.

That seems a lot like the confessional Reformed Protestant model. It’s very personal, familial, congregational, and local, perhaps even too local for the advocates of localism.

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89 thoughts on “Maybe This is what b, sd Had in Mind (trigger warning for Keller aficionados)

  1. DGH, nice post. You got me more interested in this Renn guy. I’m kind of surprised that you think his cultural or social theology is similar to the “confessional Reformed Protestant model.” However, I have always found the large variety of social theological thought to be quite confusing to sort through. Hence, I find myself often misinterpreting the points writers on the subject are trying to communicate. Social theology can often be a big distraction to far more important issues so I really don’t spend much time trying to figure it all out anymore.

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  2. I have no delusions of my own goodness though. Sometimes I wonder if the confessional Reformed really believe that about themselves. Of course, you will deny that on a public site. However, do you really believe that?

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  3. More or less. I suspect that a certain strain of evangelicals are invested in “reclaiming” the culture and proving they aren’t like those backward fundies of yore. They fancy themselves intellectually, aesthetically, and socially more sophisticated. Hearing that their institutions will either die or be co-opted because the broader culture thinks they are indistinguishable from those fundies of (i.e., Keller is just a slightly less annoying version of Phelps) is a bitter pill to swallow. Accepting that something like the BenOp is necessary is to concede defeat and swallow the pill.

    None of us (conservative prots broadly defined) are are doing a great job of passing on our faith effectively to the next generation. I am very keen on hearing why that might be and what we might think about doing differently.

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  4. SDB said,

    I suspect that a certain strain of evangelicals are invested in “reclaiming” the culture and proving they aren’t like those backward fundies of yore. They fancy themselves intellectually, aesthetically, and socially more sophisticated.

    Ding, ding, ding.

    It’s starting to get really annoying. The evangelical intelligentsia is falling over themselves to prove how woke they are, how hip they are to structural racism, and a host of other things. I don’t know if all of it is pandering, but there definitely seems to be this underlying assumption that if we can convince the culture that we’re on the right side of history with them on these issues, they’ll be eager to hear what we have to say about sexual ethics. It’s incredibly naive.

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  5. JohnnY, it’s not that Renn is confessional, it’s that he sees what’s wrong with evangelicalism. But evangelicals won’t admit it. Why? They are bigger than confessional groups. And then they step on the rake of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

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  6. It would seem to me that 2KT would smile on any Christian who promotes a neutral world. And thus, the subtle criticisms of Keller here are puzzling, but not surprising. In addition, the assessment of Keller seems off too. One would think that Keller’s transformationalism would cause us to assess him as a frustrated positive world Christian. In fact, hasn’t that been the 2KT criticism of Keller? And while mentioning the Benedict Option, doesn’t Dreher’s option qualify for a positive world wannabe?

    While D.G.’s model lends itself to some interesting insights, the model describes the outside world rather than the Christian. So to be a positive, neutral, or negative world Christian is akin to telling us about our national identity rather than how we live. And that would put all of us living at this time in the same boat.

    But the inconsistent use of the model is there to help facilitate criticism of Keller. What is added is an attempt to use the regulative principle. For D.G.’s use of the regulative principle says that Christians can only follow Christ by imitating the examples of fellow believers or following concrete instructions regardless of the vast differences in historical context and living situations. So there is an assumption that there are no significant changes in historical context or living situations.

    What D.G. is promoting seems to be a Goldilocks of what the Anabaptists and Conservative Catholics promote. But what D.G. is promoting neglects to preach repentance to those participating in corporate sin. Thus, we should ask is, should German Christians who lived during the reign of the Nazis have lived out their Christianity exactly according to what D.G. suggests for Keller? For it seems that those German Christians who lived during the Nazi reign according to D.G.’s advice would be forced, with their unbelieving neighbors, to march through the death camps by the order of General Eisenhower so they could see what their silent complicity helped wrought. And if we live out D.G.’s advice to Keller, then we will be committing some of the same errors that were made by the predominant branch of the Church that existed during the pre-revolutionary times of France, Russia, and Spain. And here we should note that when those revolutions came, those respective predominant branches of the Church were understandably seen as the allies of oppression and enemies of the people. And such violates what Peter wrote:


    13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

    Now while D.G. will be quick to point to verses 13-14, the reason for that instruction rests in verses 15-16. So though how the times change does not change what God’s Word says, it does change how we implement it in our lives.

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  7. Curt,

    The liberal mainline church is seen by conservatives as allies in the attempt to destroy conservative people who resist the LGBTQ agenda and socialism. Are you going to decry their complicity? Or are you selectively in favor of the church being seen as on the side of the ruling elite as long as the ruling elite is doing what you like? Where’s the love for all the non-Christians who voted for Trump or non-Christian conservatives?

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  8. sdb says: “None of us (conservative prots broadly defined) are are doing a great job of passing on our faith effectively to the next generation. I am very keen on hearing why that might be and what we might think about doing differently.”

    That’s because most of your generation of conservative protestants decided it was ok to let the secular government raise your (I’m using your generally, not pointing a finger at you) children rather than sending them to a Christian school or homeschooling them. The vast majority of Christians I know don’t even consider giving their children a Christian education. 8 hours per day five days a week of “there is no God, you evolved, and being depraved is superior to believing the Bible” is going to have a lot more impact than one hour per week at church on Sundays.

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  9. Bryan, the fraction of students in conservative protestant private schools has fluctuated by about a percentage point over the past 25yrs if I’m normalizing the NCES numbers correctly (check my math though…it’s late). Meanwhile, the the number of homeschooled students has doubled since 1999 (from about 1.5% to about 3%). While it is true that there is a modest effect on religious observance for students who attend conservative protestant schools relative to their public school peers, shifts in schooling practice don’t seem to account for the sharp shift among millennials.

    I have homeschooled and public schooled kids. I’ve not had any teachers spend any time asserting that there is no God (as far as I can recall – none of my public school teachers back in the 90’s when I was in high school taught anything like that either). Unfortunately, science education is mostly abysmal, and virtually no time is spent on evolutionary theory which is unfortunate as it is a wonderful description of many scientific phenomena and a great way to introduce students into ways of scientific thinking. Of course, the sequencing of the genome and confirming the predictions made by evolutionary theory was one of the most important scientific discoveries of the past quarter century. Francis Collins’s book “The Language of God” has a very accessible description of contemporary genetic science that you might find interesting.

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  10. It would seem to me that 2KT would smile on any Christian who promotes a neutral world.

    You are misreading Renn. Positive world, neutral world, and negative world aren’t programs that Christians promote. They are interpretations of how friendly the broader culture is to conservative protestantism. 2KT and the spirituality of the church doesn’t really have anything to say about that. 2KT is about the proper scope of the church’s authority. No more, no less.

    And thus, the subtle criticisms of Keller here are puzzling, but not surprising. In addition, the assessment of Keller seems off too. One would think that Keller’s transformationalism would cause us to assess him as a frustrated positive world Christian. In fact, hasn’t that been the 2KT criticism of Keller?

    I don’t think the criticisms have been subtle at all. The concerns that dgh has expressed are that (1) Keller plays fast and loose with the confession he has vowed to uphold (2) He undermines presbyterian polity by building parachurch organizations that compete for denominational resources, and (3) his celebrity status makes it more difficult to hold him accountable on items 1 and 2. A fourth concern that I don’t recall receiving much air time (CW has commented on it I think) has been that his attempt to reach the culture has resulted in obscuring more controversial beliefs. The 2K criticism of Keller (such as it exists) is separate from these concerns (though perhaps related). By making transformationalist statements and wanting “all of life” brought under the gospel, he squeezes out adiaphora. It is a subtle legalism (i.e., if you are going to be a musician, you better be a Christian-Musician who sees it as a ministerial vocation). I’m not sure that this squares with Paul’s injunction that one work quietly with one’s hands, mind one’s own business, and support one’s family.

    And while mentioning the Benedict Option, doesn’t Dreher’s option qualify for a positive world wannabe?

    Just the opposite. Dreher’s BenOp is premised on the fact that the west is post-Christian and that modernity is corrosive to genuine Christian faith. If one is going to persevere, one must create intentional community to build up one’s faith to resist the corrosive aspects of our culture. I think he overstates his case in some ways, but there is an important element to what he has written – modern society works against communal faith (of which Christianity most certainly is). Creating the plausibility structures that allow one to transmit one’s faith to one’s kids is not easy and requires creative thinking. This wasn’t true before.

    While D.G.’s model lends itself to some interesting insights, the model describes the outside world rather than the Christian. So to be a positive, neutral, or negative world Christian is akin to telling us about our national identity rather than how we live. And that would put all of us living at this time in the same boat.

    The positive/neutral/negative description tells us what support we might expect from the broader culture. Conservative protestantism has been on the outs for a century. Evangelicals thought they were getting in. They weren’t.

    But the inconsistent use of the model is there to help facilitate criticism of Keller. What is added is an attempt to use the regulative principle. For D.G.’s use of the regulative principle says that Christians can only follow Christ by imitating the examples of fellow believers or following concrete instructions regardless of the vast differences in historical context and living situations. So there is an assumption that there are no significant changes in historical context or living situations.

    This is 180deg backwards. I’m surprised you continue to make this mistake after several people have corrected it. The regulative principle in this context has nothing to do with what the individual Christian does. It is about the scope of church authority. The Church is only authorized to condemn behavior as sinful if scripture condemns it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t avoid (or embrace as the case may be) certain activities because you find them sinful for you. The Good and necessary consequence covers issues like historic context and so forth. I wonder if your frustration is born from the fact that most of the folks here (and indeed virtually no one in the world of conservative protestantism) finds your arguments compelling.

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  11. @Robert But this is what Evangelicalism is. Anytime there is a cultural movement, they want to jump on board to make the gospel relevant. Rock and Roll, youth culture, and Woodstock -> Petra, Rez, and Cornerstone. On the high brow side, NYRB -> Books and Culture. And on and on it goes… evangelicalism is all about mimicry. This is why there is no lasting evangelical cultural impact. What they are doing now with the BLM and MeToo is in their DNA.

    I get the impulse, and it is true that we need to be ready to share our faith in a language that others understand, but I suspect that the conservative protestantism would be much better off if it focused on the basics and got those right. I think Noll made a good case that the Civil War proved you couldn’t resolve thorny moral controversies exegetically. The church would be healthier if they stopped being reactive (reactionary?) and focused on Word and Sacrament. That might mean not having a lot to say about Supreme court justices, Roe v. Wade, evolutionary theory, tax rates, human trafficking, prohibition, Darfur, Palestine, income inequality, policing strategy, or reparations. But I suspect that we would have much healthier churches. Maybe I’m wrong though.

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  12. Bryan,

    That’s because most of your generation of conservative protestants decided it was ok to let the secular government raise your (I’m using your generally, not pointing a finger at you) children rather than sending them to a Christian school or homeschooling them.

    While I’m sympathetic to this, Americans have been doing this for generations (public schools). But it seems only recently that handing on the faith has been more difficult.

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  13. SDB,

    The church would be healthier if they stopped being reactive (reactionary?) and focused on Word and Sacrament.

    Absolutely

    That might mean not having a lot to say about Supreme court justices, Roe v. Wade, evolutionary theory, tax rates, human trafficking, prohibition, Darfur, Palestine, income inequality, policing strategy, or reparations.

    But if you are focusing on the Word, you are going to have stuff to say about a lot of those issues, if not all of them.

    I think Noll made a good case that the Civil War proved you couldn’t resolve thorny moral controversies exegetically.

    I don’t know Noll’s argument here. Is he applying it only to the broader society? If so, then he’s probably right. If he’s applying it within the church, we should just pack up and go home because all we have in the church to solve thorny moral issues is the Word of God.

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  14. “But if you are focusing on the Word, you are going to have stuff to say about a lot of those issues, if not all of them.”
    Probably not in press releases, public demonstrations, or letters to congress though. There is a big difference between preaching about the story of Joseph and talking about the sin of his brothers selling him into slavery and calling on your congregation/twitter followers to support HB1234.

    “I don’t know Noll’s argument here.”
    It would be worthwhile to read his book The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. The bible was unable to adjudicate the most pressing moral question of mid-19th century American among conservative protestants with shared theological beliefs.

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  15. Bryan, so you think academia is the vehicle for passing down the faith? Worldview alert. And why such a low view of God’s ordained means of grace, i.e. one in seven as opposed 8/5/275? You think religious schooling can improve on God’s prescription? Eeeevangelical alert.

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  16. Wow, a lot to discuss in this thread. First things first:

    DGH – I agree with Renn’s basic assessment of Redeemer/Keller. They are certainly “neutral world,” as Renn defines it. Indeed, many of the new quasi-Reformed churches in Manhattan (which are largely there because of Redeemer and heavily influenced by Redeemer) fall into that category as well. However, I disagree that Redeemer (or Keller) is militantly anti-Trump and constantly speaks about refugees/racism. That may be true of some other neutral world churches and pastors, but not the Redeemer churches and Keller (he is no longer the pastor anyway). I will also add that Redeemer/Keller view general culture as a very positive thing – if culture views Christians with antipathy, Keller views culture positively.

    Bryan Morey – I attended a PCA Christian school from Kindergarten through high school. We were an academic and athletic powerhouse, and had good theological instruction as part of our core curriculum, as well as weekly chapels, mission trips, etc. It was as good of a “Christian” education as you could ask for. Yet of my 93 classmates, at least 15-20 have abandoned the faith or never really had faith to begin with. Others converted to Catholicism or very broad evangelicalism. So 8 hours of daily Reformed theological education for 12 years had no impact whatsoever on them. I just don’t buy that Christian education is that important, though I do value my own experience. My kids go to public school, and our experience is fantastic, despite the fact their their first grade teacher was an atheist and they have Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu classmates – they have never been told that God doesn’t exist or that being depraved is superior to believing the Bible.

    sdb – “By making transformationalist statements and wanting “all of life” brought under the gospel, he squeezes out adiaphora. It is a subtle legalism (i.e., if you are going to be a musician, you better be a Christian-Musician who sees it as a ministerial vocation). I’m not sure that this squares with Paul’s injunction that one work quietly with one’s hands, mind one’s own business, and support one’s family.”

    This is not at all Keller’s belief on work – he would not agree that you have to be a “Christian-Musician.” The idea is to be a great musician – whether the music is overtly Christian or not – and honor the Lord in how you work in how and why you work. His belief is much like Luther’s: that when we work we are essentially “God’s fingers” for accomplishing His tasks on earth. One’s work does not need to be explicitly “Christian” to do this.

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  17. Curt, “D.G.’s use of the regulative principle says that Christians can only follow Christ by imitating the examples of fellow believers or following concrete instructions”

    Reading comprehension alert. I don’t think you have a clue about the regulative principle which may sort of kind of possibly affect your rendering of what “D. G. promotes. . .”

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  18. Bryan, that generation may have merely allowed the secular government to grant money to local school districts, run by local citizens (some Christian) who hired teachers from the neighborhood (some Christian). It’s not like the federal government sent out FBI agents to work the schools.

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  19. vv, “That may be true of some other neutral world churches and pastors, but not the Redeemer churches and Keller (he is no longer the pastor anyway).”

    Do you know how you sound like Curt on socialism?

    Renn’s comment on Trump and Neutral Christianity pegs The Christian Coalition well. And who’s one of the poster boys for TGC?

    I bet you don’t read the Bible this literally.

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  20. DGH – once again your brush is too broad. It’s like me saying that all 2K advocates must smoke tobacco because you smoke and are a “poster boy” for 2K. Doesn’t really work, does it? Pretty classic “guilt by association” logical fallacy.

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  21. sdb says: “I’ve not had any teachers spend any time asserting that there is no God (as far as I can recall – none of my public school teachers back in the 90’s when I was in high school taught anything like that either).”

    I imagine that everything they taught was from the perspective that there is no God and we evolved. The Bible is very clear that we didn’t evolve. And evolution is not a science. Science is something that can be observed and replicated in an experiment. We don’t observe organisms evolving. The scientists sequencing genomes are merely interpreting the data through an evolutionary lens. They’re looking at reality through opaque glasses. Sin is very disorienting.

    Zrim says: “so you think academia is the vehicle for passing down the faith? Worldview alert. And why such a low view of God’s ordained means of grace, i.e. one in seven as opposed 8/5/275? You think religious schooling can improve on God’s prescription? Eeeevangelical alert.”

    No, I believe parents are supposed to train up their children in the way they should go (a verse my Reformed K-12 school displayed prominently on a sign by the road). Sending a child to a government run indoctrination center where they teach common core nonsense is hardly training them up in the way they should go. God’s prescription is to train children up in the Bible. Sending kids to a pagan (actually, worse than pagan) education is a direct violation of God’s prescription, and thus one could argue is sinful.

    Vae victis, I don’t keep up with people I grew up with in the Reformed school I went to. Many may have fallen away, but that isn’t the fault of the school. It is still the parent’s duty, obligation, responsibility to give their a Biblical education, be that through homeschooling or private schooling. I highly doubt that those 12 years had “no impact” on the people that rejected it. 40 hours a week for 12 years in a school that starts with the presupposition that there is no God is not going to be healthy for a child from a Christian home. There is simply too much contradiction, and most kids aren’t gaining that firm grounding in the Bible. Ask yourself this: Would I rather have my kids taught that there is a God who created the universe and who loves His people, or would I rather have my kids taught that they evolved, they don’t matter, and there is no basis for right and wrong and thus can do whatever they want with their bodies without consequence? The answer to that question should dictate where one’s priorities are.

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  22. “I imagine that everything they taught was from the perspective that there is no God and we evolved.”
    Why imagine? Perhaps you could talk to actual public school teachers and find out. Then you can explain how belief in God affects learning grammar, the branches of government, and factoring quadratic equations. Amazingly, kids from public school, homeschool kids, and kids that learned from an Abeka curriculum all program their DVRs the same way, make count their change at McDonalds the same way, and read their summons for jury duty the same way. The overwhelming majority of life skills one learns in primary and secondary school are irrelevant to one’s theological persuasion.

    “The Bible is very clear that we didn’t evolve. And evolution is not a science. Science is something that can be observed and replicated in an experiment. We don’t observe organisms evolving. The scientists sequencing genomes are merely interpreting the data through an evolutionary lens. They’re looking at reality through opaque glasses. Sin is very disorienting.”
    The Bible wasn’t so clear on this point to B.B. Warfield as I recall. It certainly isn’t clear to me. But whatever the case, your understanding of science is deeply impoverished. Bacon was not the last word on science. Data collection is one element of science, but you can’t go from observations of phenomena (even over and over) and end up with science. All you get is correlations, and as we all know, correlation does not entail causation. That thing you need to turn data into science is “theory”. Theory can be tested several ways – mathematically, computationally, experimentally, and observationally. The test of a theory is its explanatory power – can it parsimoniously explain observed phenomena and predict new phenomena. Evolutionary theory is a parsimonious and elegant explanation of the data that also makes novel and important predictions that scientists use in medicine, dealing with invasive species, and addressing epidemics. Evolutionary algorithms have also been found to be a great way to do model optimization. Ironically enough, the google search your doing right now on “100 reasons evolution must be false” is probably using an evolutionary algoerithm. You should read Francis Collins (an evangelical Christian) on how what we’ve learned from the genome has provided remarkable confirmation of evolutionary theory. In fact it allows us to trace the evolution of generations (I’m sure you understand that individual organism don’t evolve – Lamarkian theory lacks the explanatory power of Darwinian theory) of all kinds of organisms. From a theological perspective, if one understands miracles to always serve as signs, then one shoudn’t expect the creation and sustaining of the universe to be miraculous – rather we should expect it to fall under God’s ordinary providence (following the WCF) meaning that we can learn how this stuff works. This means we should expect to be able to develop scientific theories that account for the origin of this (and possibly other) universe(s) as wel as the origin and evolution of life on this planet (and possibly others). If your faith (and trust in the scriptures) rests on what science purportedly cannot do rather than wonder at the creator who has gifted us an intellect that can understand what he has done, then your faith is impoverished and misplaced.

    At any rate, your suggestion that the drift from Christianity is caused by the collapse of parents sending their kids to CHristian schools is belied by the data. The fraction hasn’t budged over 20yrs. Homeschooling has doubled and now accounts for ~3% of schooling. And yet faith attainment continues to drop.

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  23. SDB,

    But the issue with evolutionary theory as it is commonly accepted today is that evolution can’t actually be observed. We can see some changes within species, but it takes millions of years, if evolutionary theory is correct, to produce the various species etc.

    One could come up with any number of other theories to explain things that can’t actually be observed either, including creationism.

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  24. Bryan, you attended a Reformed K-12 and suggest that consciences may be bound on a matter indifferent, schooling? For all the moaning about secular schooling’s basic failings, this isn’t a great case for Reformed schooling.

    But have you read Strong’s “Children in the Early Church”?

    “The early Christians lived in a society whose values were inimical to them in many respects. The pagan society around them was underpinned by a religion which they considered false, if not demonic; it was characterized by moral values they could not share; and it was entered into by an education steeped in paganism. So we might expect the early Christians to try to protect their young by providing some alternative form of education which would keep them free from the temptations and snares of the pagan world in which they lived. They had, after all, the example of the Jewish synagogue schools. But, rather surprisingly, the Christians did not take that course for several centuries. There was no fiercer critic of paganism than Tertullian (c. 160-c.225), but even he accepted the necessity for young people to share in the education on offer at pagan schools. His chosen image to describe the Christian pupil’s situation as he read the pagan authors whose work formed the ancient syllabus, was that of someone offered poison to drink, but refusing to take it (On Idolatry 10).

    “The young Origen (born c.185 AD)…is said to have received extra instruction in the Scriptures from his father, Leonides, each day before he set out for his secular schooling (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.2.7f.)…Here was a devout Christian father, later to be martyred for the gospel, who was nonetheless willing for his son to attend school, and follow the normal curriculum of the pagan classics. Origen himself became an enthusiast for secular education as a preparation for Biblical study, and in later life urged it on those who came to him for instruction (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.18.4: NE 192).

    “We hear of no Christian schooling outside the home in the early centuries. A century after Clement had written to Corinthian fathers and husbands to ‘instruct the young in the fear of God,’ the same pattern of family responsibility can be seen in Origen’s Alexandria. Christian parents were still content for their children to share a common education with their pagan neighbors, and the church was slow to copy the synagogue in providing an alternative pattern of schooling. Even when John Chrysostom (c.347-407) wrote the first Christian treatise on the education of children (On the Vainglory of the World and on the Education of Children), he addressed himself to parents, and said nothing about sending children to specifically Christian schools. The first Christian schools seem to have been those founded by the monasteries from the fourth century onwards (Marrou 1965 472-84).

    “It is worth asking why Christians did not take the opportunity to create their own schools. If we take the comparison with the Jewish community, one reason must have been that there was no need for Christian children to learn a sacred language; their Jewish contemporaries had to learn Hebrew. Those who spoke Greek could read the New Testament in its original language, and the Old testament in Greek translation. And the New Testament Scriptures were rapidly translated into the various languages of the Mediterranean. Further, Christians did not see themselves as culturally distinct from their neighbours. An anonymous writer of the late second century expressed eloquently how Christians were in the world, but not of it:

    For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by country, or by speech, or by dress. For they do not dwell in cities of their own, or use a different language, or practise a peculiar speech…But while they dwell in Greek or barbarian cities according as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the land in clothing and food, and other matters of daily life, yet the condition of citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful, and admittedly strange…Every foreign land is to them a fatherland, and every fatherland a foreign land. (Epistle to Diognetus 6.1-5: NE 55).

    “To set up their own separate educational provision would have been to withdraw from the common life they shared with their pagan neighbours. And, while they recognized the dangers and allure of paganism, the early Christians saw no need to do that. They let their children ‘share in the instruction which is in Christ’ (1 Clement), and they allowed them access to education for the wider pagan society. They were not trying to create a Christian ghetto, but to be salt and light in their world. Their attitude to their children’s education was an expression of this open yet critical attitude.”

    But you on with your modern religious self.

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  25. Robert,
    It is not true that it takes millions of years for speciation to occur. The isolation of squirrels on mountain islands resulted in separate species in a few thousand years. Certain insects and bacteria evolve even faster so that laboratory experiments are possible.

    Evolutionary theory is not simply a “just so” story that explains fossils and the relationship among species. The theory made a prediction about the genome. Much of your genetic code is unused. Mutations there do not affect fitness. Thus evolutionary theory predicted that the less of the “junk” different species have in common the longer it has been since divergence. In fact you can count generations this way. This observation was not predicted by creationism, but it was by evolution. To be sure, there are lots of interesting questions to address, and we are constantly learning. But there are no competitive theories that can synthesize such a broad range of data and make testable predictions.

    Creation science fails on a few measures- it gets the age scale of the Earth wrong, it does not provide a means (mechanism) for creation, and it has not yielded a single successful prediction of an observed phenomenon.

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  26. sdb and Robert – “Creation science fails on a few measures- it gets the age scale of the Earth wrong, it does not provide a means (mechanism) for creation, and it has not yielded a single successful prediction of an observed phenomenon.”

    Exactly. I think it was R.C. Sproul who said that scientific inquiry answers the how, what and when of the cosmos, while the Bible answers the who and why of the cosmos. We know God created everything out of nothing for His glory. How long ago He created, how He created, and exactly what He created initially are unclear, but fall within the domain of science, since Scripture doesn’t provide an answer. Evolutionary theory has problems and holes, but in the main does a much better job of scientific inquiry than “Creation science.” But really they shouldn’t be viewed as separate: one can believe God created the world and all of life and used evolutionary principles to do so. I don’t understand why those are at odds. (Unless you believe there was human death before the Fall, which I believe is problematic theologically.)

    Bryan – “Many may have fallen away, but that isn’t the fault of the school. It is still the parent’s duty, obligation, responsibility to give their a Biblical education, be that through homeschooling or private schooling.”

    Exactly! But this cuts both ways: it’s not the fault of a secular public school if the child grows up to reject the faith. The Pharisees talked to Jesus personally and saw Him perform miracles, including bringing dead people back to life. They saw the miracles performed through the Apostles. Yet they still rejected Christ as Lord. People can have superb Christian school experience and home school experience throughout their developmental years and still reject Christ. You would have to show me some kind of data that suggests people who are raised in public schools apostatize at a significantly higher rate than those who are raised in Christian schools or home school in order for me to accept your claims.

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  27. @VV There is evidence from longitudinal data that conservative Protestant schooling does increase the likelihood that one will retain the faith even after controlling for parental religious practice. You can read the work here:
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2009.01451.x

    However, the fraction of families that send their kids to conservative Protestant schools has been fairly flat for as far back as I can find data. Homeschooling has been on the rise, but it is pretty small overall. So while conservative Protestant schooling does enhance the likelihood that one will retain one’s faith, it doesn’t explain why the attrition rate has gone up.

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  28. D.G.,
    I have a pretty good clue as to how it is implemented by some. And I know more about that principle than you are willing to give credit for.

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  29. sdb – thanks for the article. There are some limitations to the study (only 4 Protestant schools were sampled, apparently all from Texas), and when controlled for parental religious involvement the perseverance of faith into young adulthood dropped dramatically. Still, it seems that Protestant education has at least some impact on remaining a follower of Christ, though Catholic education does as well, albeit to a lesser degree. Though I still maintain – and I think we agree – that secular education is not the culprit for the attrition rate among young Protestants.

    I maintain it is primarily fundamentalism/moralism with an emphasis on “works” and external conformity rather than the Gospel of grace. I know Christians who grew up in that culture (my wife included) have a terrible time understanding grace and have a constant cloud of guilt hanging over them. Early on they had it drilled into their heads that Christianity is abiding by a certain set of (largely man made) rules, rather than clinging in faith to Christ: Christians don’t smoke, don’t wear skirts above the knee, don’t use “bad words,” don’t paint their finger nails, don’t see R-rated movies, don’t drink beer on Sunday, and a whole slew of other moralistic rules. As adults they reject these rules, but in so doing believe they are rejecting Christianity. So they are faced with the choice of continuing in moralism or abandoning their faith altogether, and many choose the latter.

    That’s why I think the idea of The Gospel Coalition is so good in principle, but is largely botched by the heavy Baptist influence and its accompanying moralistic flair.

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  30. SDB,

    It is not true that it takes millions of years for speciation to occur. The isolation of squirrels on mountain islands resulted in separate species in a few thousand years. Certain insects and bacteria evolve even faster so that laboratory experiments are possible.

    Okay, we still can’t observe it in a laboratory if it takes thousands of years. Where have we observed in a laboratory common ancestors that produced divergent species and so forth?

    Evolutionary theory is not simply a “just so” story that explains fossils and the relationship among species. The theory made a prediction about the genome. Much of your genetic code is unused. Mutations there do not affect fitness. Thus evolutionary theory predicted that the less of the “junk” different species have in common the longer it has been since divergence. In fact you can count generations this way. This observation was not predicted by creationism, but it was by evolution. To be sure, there are lots of interesting questions to address, and we are constantly learning. But there are no competitive theories that can synthesize such a broad range of data and make testable predictions.

    I’m not necessarily advocating for “creation science.” Where has divergence been observed in the laboratory such that we’ve isolated a common ancestor and then seen how many different species that can’t interbreed then result? I mean, supposedly whales and horses have a common ancestor. From what I can tell, that conclusion is largely speculative. Having more or less junk DNA in common can just as easily be supposed to be from a Designer using a common template.

    The whole process just seems hopelessly presuppositional to me.

    1. If this kind of evolution is true, then we would expect x.
    2. Y is observed not x
    3. Okay, we need to change the kind of evolution we are looking for.
    4. New form/variant/track of evolution that gives us y
    5. If kind of evolution that gives us y is true, then we would expect A
    6. B is observed not A
    7. Okay, we need to change the kind of evolution we are looking for
    8. New form/variant/track of evolution that gives us B and Y

    Repeat until you arrive at more explanatory forms of evolution.

    Repeat ad infinitum. You can do the same thing with creationism. You could do the same thing with finding the origin of life in Martian interference.

    Creation science fails on a few measures- it gets the age scale of the Earth wrong, it does not provide a means (mechanism) for creation, and it has not yielded a single successful prediction of an observed phenomenon.

    What do you mean by “creation science?” Yes, Ken Ham is nut that gets the age scale of the earth wrong, but I’m no Ken Ham advocate. And isn’t the means for creation God in creationism?

    From this non-specialist, evolutionary biology looks an awful lot like “We’re sure evolution is true because we know God can’t be an explanation for anything in science, so we’re going to keep looking for it to be true until we find that it is.”

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  31. SDB,

    To be fair, I’d say the same thing about creationism. On both accounts, you’re dealing with stuff you can’t actually observe. At best you’re dealing with residual evidence. And residual evidence can support any number of different theories.

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  32. VV,

    Exactly. I think it was R.C. Sproul who said that scientific inquiry answers the how, what and when of the cosmos, while the Bible answers the who and why of the cosmos. We know God created everything out of nothing for His glory. How long ago He created, how He created, and exactly what He created initially are unclear, but fall within the domain of science, since Scripture doesn’t provide an answer. Evolutionary theory has problems and holes, but in the main does a much better job of scientific inquiry than “Creation science.” But really they shouldn’t be viewed as separate: one can believe God created the world and all of life and used evolutionary principles to do so. I don’t understand why those are at odds. (Unless you believe there was human death before the Fall, which I believe is problematic theologically.)

    I largely agree with this. It largely depends on what you mean by evolutionary principles. I think it’s pretty clear that there is adaptation within species. The theory of common ancestry seems far more speculative to this outsider.

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  33. Robert – I agree that phylogenetic trees are conjectural to a large degree, but they are based on reasonable genetic principles. To me the biggest gaps in evolutionary theory are from random atoms to biomolecules, and them from biomolecules to nucleotides, and then from nucleotides to RNA, then from RNA to DNA, then to enzymes, then to cells, etc. Those are extremely large, statistically unlikely leaps from any one of those steps to the next. I had an agnostic biochemistry professor once tell the class the use of DNA/RNA as a coding system in all of life makes perfect sense in the paradigm of a Creator or in the paradigm of an atheistic evolution. He believed that biochemistry was basically a Rorschach test: atheists saw evolutionary principles, theists saw the design of God. I think he was basically correct. To me it is abundantly clear from life on Earth that God put everything into motion – atheist biologists are rejecting God because their hearts are hard. I tend to believe – and this is all speculative – that God created some very basic life forms and then in His sovereignty guided the development of life as we know it. I also tend to believe He created man separately. But regardless of the mechanism, God created.

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  34. @Robert Wikipedia has a page dedicated to laboratory experiments on speciation. You might check it out and see if that is addressing what you have in mind. Biologos has useful information as well.

    I don’t think creation/design arguments predict that errors in the genetic code are more similar among more similar creatures. Evolution was developed from the observation of the small variations among organisms and then noticing that the fossil record indicated that there were extinct organisms that bridged the gap. This led to the inference that modern day species evolved from a common ancestor. If this inference is correct, then we should find evidence for this in the genetic code. Indeed, we see that we have chunks of error in the code (what the link calls scars), and these gets passed along. These so-called scars can then be used to trace the lineage of different species and we can see how long its been since we diverged from a common ancestor. I don’t see evidence that genetic faults embedded in our genes was ever predicted by design theories.

    Your flow chart does not reflect my experience with observational science. Here is a revision that rings more true:

    0. We observe A, B, C – Model M accounts for A, B, C
    1. This model also predicts X, Y, Z.
    2. Further observations confirm A, B, and X but C+/-c is observed and not accounted for by Model M, and Y and Z have not yet been confirmed.
    3. So now we modify the model requiring that it still account for A, B, and X and allow for C+/-c. This revision of the model suggests that we should see Y but not Z as well as a new features V and W.
    4. This new model that accounts for A, B, X, C+/-c, and receives validation from the observation of Y, But it misses the mark on V (V+/-v) and gets W completely wrong.
    5. Revised model accounts for A, B, X, C+/-c, Y, V+/-v, and W predicting D, E, F
    6. A, B, X, Y, V+/-v, and W are confirmed and we realize an error in our interpretation of the data making C+/-c =G which is consistent with the model. D is confirmed, but the data on E and F are inconclusive.
    7. Work on model M suggests we should observe H and that E should be observed and F should not.
    8. We now have a model M that accounts for A, B, X, Y, V+/-v, W, G, and D. H and E should be observed, but haven’t gotten there yet.
    9. This refinement of the model continues – sometimes leading the data and sometimes following it. Sometimes the continual refinements result in an unwieldy model and a simpler model that accounts for all the observations supplants it.

    This flow works for laboratory experiments and field experiments. Even quantum mechanics, the predictions of which have been measured more precisely those of any other theory, is under determined. But being under determined does not mean that anything goes. To be a theory, you have to make falsiable predictions of new phenomena.

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  35. “To me the biggest gaps in evolutionary theory are from random atoms to biomolecules, and them from biomolecules to nucleotides, and then from nucleotides to RNA, then from RNA to DNA, then to enzymes, then to cells, etc. Those are extremely large, statistically unlikely leaps from any one of those steps to the next.”
    The origin of life is not part of evolutionary theory though. That’s a separate (and incredibly difficult question). However, the path from atoms to organic molecules in the interstellar medium is more or less a solved problem. The reaction networks are quite good, and predictions form the thermo-chemical kinetic models of the interstellar medium have largely been confirmed by observation. There is a lot of very exciting work being done on networks leading up to simple amino acids such as glycine. While this (and other) amino acid as been observed in meteorites, the detections claimed in the ISM are very controversial. The models are getting better and will help guide ongoing searches with the ngVLA. Whether these rich organic chemistry of the ISM survives into disks around young stars or gets reset is an open question. However, since disks are warmer, the reactions are faster, so the chemistry will be richer. Studying that in detail is challenging, but we are making great strides. We have a long way to go though. But even if we are able to reproduce the amino acids observed in meteorites and discover these in disks, we still have a long way to go from there to life. This is a very, very exciting area of reasearch right now.

    “ I had an agnostic biochemistry professor once tell the class the use of DNA/RNA as a coding system in all of life makes perfect sense in the paradigm of a Creator or in the paradigm of an atheistic evolution. He believed that biochemistry was basically a Rorschach test: atheists saw evolutionary principles, theists saw the design of God. I think he was basically correct. To me it is abundantly clear from life on Earth that God put everything into motion – atheist biologists are rejecting God because their hearts are hard. I tend to believe – and this is all speculative – that God created some very basic life forms and then in His sovereignty guided the development of life as we know it. I also tend to believe He created man separately. But regardless of the mechanism, God created.”
    Agreed.

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  36. SDB,

    Evolution was developed from the observation of the small variations among organisms and then noticing that the fossil record indicated that there were extinct organisms that bridged the gap.

    I’m admittedly a layman, but I don’t think this is quite right. Evolutionary theory has existed for millennia. Many ancient Greeks held to it long before there was any extensive look at the fossil record or notice of gaps, etc.

    What Darwin did was suggest a plausible mechanism for evolution. But evolution as a theory existed before Darwin and really before observation based science as we know it even existed. It really seems to begin more as a philosophy than as a branch of empirical science.

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  37. @ Robert: Most think that evolution is what drives antibiotic resistance. Do you disagree?

    @ SDB: Can you agree that one could agree that “evolution happens” but disagree with the evolutionary history of the world, in the same way that one could agree that “physics happens” but disagree with materialist accounts of the origin of the universe?

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  38. @Robert Fair enough. I had in mind modern evolutionary theory as articulated by Darwin and developed since.

    @Jeff I’m don’t think your analogy works. Agreeing that evolution happens but rejecting evolutionary history is more analogous to believing that the universe is expanding but rejecting the Big Bang. In both cases, you are left with positing something like the “appearance of age”.

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  39. Jeff,

    Maybe the terms are dated, but I would say that’s an example of microevolution, not macroevolution. I admit my understanding of these things is pretty basic. But what I do know leaves me unconvinced that genetic adaptation and mutation is sufficient to explain creation as we see it. A bacteria that is more resistant to antibiotics is still a bacteria.

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  40. SDB,

    In both cases, you are left with positing something like the “appearance of age”.

    Well, if the most literalistic readings of Genesis are true, you’d have to have an appearance of age. Fully formed trees that are actually a minute old might look thousands of years old.

    I’m not actually advocating that. Appearance of age has its problems, which is one reason why I can’t agree with young earth creationism. I can get why biological organisms might be explained via appearance of age, but why would God need to give an appearance to age to rocks?

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  41. @Robert
    There are dozens of phyla and millions of species of bacteria. We can observe speciation of bacteria in the lab and in the field.

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  42. @ Robert:

    The “why would God…?” argument has more bark than bite, for the simple reason that the ultimate answer is “because it brings Him glory.”

    One answer to the question could easily be, “because only those initial conditions could give rise to the Savior”

    Another is “because only those initial conditions are finely tuned for life on earth.”

    Another answer is rhetorical: “Why would God got to the trouble of telling us six days, morning and evening, when He meant something different?” “Why would God ordain the fall?” “Why would God create Ebola?” etc.

    That’s not to say that I’m insisting on YEC. Rather, just pointing out that “why would God…?” is ultimately speculative and therefore of little real force.

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  43. @ John:

    It goes back to a time when Tom van Dyke haunted these parts. Somehow he became VD, T. Then when he complained about his initials looking like an abbreviation for “venereal disease”, everyone with initials got the middle-last, first treatment.

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  44. @Jeff
    In determining how to interpret scripture, we can use “why would God” questions as a boundary condition. If the answer makes God deceptive, the author of evil, or not omnipotent then that exegetical choice is wrong. Of course such questions can be inconclusive too.

    The problem I see with apparent age arguments is that it makes nature an illusion. 150,000 years ago or so a star blew up in a spectacular supernova. We saw it in 1987 (SN 1987A). If the universe is only 10,000 years old, then that event we witnessed never happened (and variable speed of light can resolve this given light echos and independent distance measures – apart from problems with fundamental constants).

    So we might ask, why would God make it look like something happened that did not in fact happen. God cannot lie. He tells us that nature declares his glory. An interpretation of the creation narrative that makes the universe an illusion is problematic it seems to me.

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  45. @ SDB:

    I think you’ve put forward the strongest argument for old-earth creationism: that to view the optical history of the universe and the geological history of earth as illusions is to flirt with Gnosticism.

    Over against that, one has to ask “Why would God tell us that He created in six days, from the dust of the earth, when He did neither?”

    The Lying God objection cuts both ways.

    I say that without planting a flag for either view.

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  46. Isn’t the question, “did God tell us he created the universe in six days?” The use of idiom, metaphor, hyperbole, and other literary devices are compatible with truth telling. The Genesis creation narratives have not been universally understood to be historical. Adopting an interpretation that makes creation an illusion is problematic in a way that adopting say Klein’s literary framework is not.

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  47. My goodness, what have I started. It is relatively pointless arguing Creation vs evolution because the reasoning behind believing evolution is a rejection of God’s Word. Those of you adhering to evolution are forgetting many important points. Without a literal creation with a literal Adam and Eve, there is no fall of man. Genesis is very clear that the universe was created purposefully. We didn’t evolve. If we did, then when did the fall occur? If you believe in evolution, there is no Adam and there is no Eve. Thus, there is no fall, and therefore there is no need for a Savior to come and crush Satan’s head and forgive sins.

    Evolution has no biblical basis. To argue for it is to place fake “science” above God and His divine Word. That is a scary place to put oneself theologically.

    I could go on, but WordPress doesn’t seem to like my longer comment.

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  48. sdb, maybe I could appreciate your sarcasm more if you tried defending your position from the Bible. But since it is an indefensible position, go ahead and point to dead sinners in your defense.

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  49. Bryan, my point was simply that pretty careful expositors of God’s Word (one of whom literally wrote the book on inerrancy) disagree with you about the defensibility of evolution and belief in the inerrancy of scripture. You started with the assertion that such discussions are “pointless” and have doubled down by asserting that it is “indefensible”. Are you suggesting that such a defense here wouldn’t be pointless?

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  50. Bryan,

    His point is that you could hardly call Hodge and Warfield rejectors of God’s Word. People who accept evolutionary theory aren’t necessarily rejecting the authority of God’s Word. They just don’t believe God’s Word is actually affirming anything contrary to evolution. Maybe they’re wrong, but they aren’t rejecting the authority of Scripture.

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  51. SDB,

    There are dozens of phyla and millions of species of bacteria. We can observe speciation of bacteria in the lab and in the field.

    We can observe bacteria producing other bacteria, even other species of bacteria. Have we ever observed a bacteria producing a common ancestor that produced something that wasn’t bacteria?

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  52. Bacteria is one of the 6 “kingdoms” of life (bacteria, plants, animals, fungi, amoebas, and algae’s – evidently some split bacteria, but I don’t know much about that). Originally you said you doubted speciation, but we have observed that. Wanting to observe the formation of a new kingdom of life is really moving the goal posts. I don’t see how that could be observed. Do you make similar demands of other theories? Did you accept atomic theory before the imaging of atoms in the 1989? Do you believe in electrons?

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  53. sdb – “origins of life” and “evolutionary theory” are inextricably linked: there is no evolutionary theory without DNA, at least as it exists today. You obviously know vastly more about astrophysics than I do, but finding organic molecules or even a few random amino acids in outer space proves very little about the origin of RNA/DNA. Nucleotides are highly complex molecules, and to my knowledge their “random” synthesis has not been observed. Without nucleotides there is no DNA, without DNA there are no proteins, without proteins there are no enzymes and ultimately no life. Not only that, but proteins (enzymes) are necessary for replication of DNA and the transcription/translation of RNA. So proteins are essential for the synthesis of proteins. Classic chicken/egg conundrum.

    Jeff and sdb – “Isn’t the question, “did God tell us he created the universe in six days?” The use of idiom, metaphor, hyperbole, and other literary devices are compatible with truth telling. The Genesis creation narratives have not been universally understood to be historical. Adopting an interpretation that makes creation an illusion is problematic in a way that adopting say Klein’s literary framework is not.”

    This is exactly right. Even Augustine believed the “days” were allegorical, and he makes a compelling case for this view in Confessions. Not to go overboard, but understanding the Genesis 1 account as a literal 7 days almost requires an open theist view: it requires belief that God constrained Himself to time before creating time, which is nowhere in evidence in Scripture.

    Bryan – “If you believe in evolution, there is no Adam and there is no Eve. Thus, there is no fall, and therefore there is no need for a Savior to come and crush Satan’s head and forgive sins.”

    This is a straw man argument. I believe in evolution, but also believe God created a literal Adam and Eve. There are many ways this could have happened, including physical evolution of humans until God breathed life into Adam and Eve, effectively giving them a soul, which humans had previously not possessed. I don’t accept this view personally, but the point is one can believe humans evolved from other species and still believe in a literal Adam and Eve. My personal view is that God directed evolution to a certain point and then created Adam and Eve separately using the same biological principles he used with the rest of life. This view is 100% compatible with Scripture.

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  54. SDB,

    Admittedly I’m a layman. When I say speciation, I’m referring to the development of a new lifeform unlike one previous to it and with which it cannot reproduce, or something to that effect.

    Wanting to observe the formation of a new kingdom of life is really moving the goal posts.

    Not really. It’s just my use of the wrong terminology. I’m not even looking for new kingdoms of life. Let’s stay within the animal kingdom. I remember seeing a video once of Richard Dawkins talking about how whales and horses both descend from the same common ancestor. Evidence for this was some tiny piece of bone. I’m simplifying things, and it was only a five minute clip or so, but I’m watching it and thinking, “This is only going to convince the already convinced.”

    I’m not a scientist, but as I remember from my school days, the evidence for evolution is such things as similarities in structures (bat wing bones look like hand bones), some genetic similarities, and so on. What I know, and again, I’m no specialist, just isn’t very convincing. A Common Designer who reused designs in particular ways could just as well account for most of it as far as I can tell.

    I don’t see how that could be observed.

    It can’t be, and that’s a big problem for the theory. It’s why I tend to view evolutionary theory more as a philosophy and less as actual science. Like I said, the theory of evolution isn’t new. The Greeks taught it, though not Darwinian evolution. It seems very presuppositional to me, a theory looking for confirmation and not something that was actually put together through observation. I’m not sure that’s unique to evolutionary theory. Seems to me all knowledge works that way to some degree. But it does make me skeptical that we’ve demonstrated evolution in the same way we’ve demonstrated other things in science.

    Do you make similar demands of other theories? Did you accept atomic theory before the imaging of atoms in the 1989? Do you believe in electrons?

    Well, I was born in 1975 and didn’t have any real chemistry education at all until 1990-1991 or so, so I don’t know. I will say that there are far fewer problems reconciling atomic theory with Scripture than evolution. So, the buy-in is much easier.

    Personally, I tend to favor a literal 7 day creation and an old earth, but I’m not dogmatic about it. I don’t think it’s impossible that some form of evolutionary theory and Scripture could be reconciled, but I have my reservations, especially when the strongest proponents of it have been people such as Pete Enns.

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  55. VV,

    This is exactly right. Even Augustine believed the “days” were allegorical, and he makes a compelling case for this view in Confessions. Not to go overboard, but understanding the Genesis 1 account as a literal 7 days almost requires an open theist view: it requires belief that God constrained Himself to time before creating time, which is nowhere in evidence in Scripture.

    Robert Letham wrote an essay, I think in the Westminster Theological Review, that outlined many of the positions on Genesis 1 in interpretive history, particularly in the Reformed tradition. He wrote it at about the time the PCA was debating the issue, if I’m correct. The takeaway is that historically, one cannot make the case that the literal 24-7 view has been the unanimous teaching of the church. People have been debating whether the days are allegorical or not for generations.

    That being said, I’m not sure I follow how literal 7 days would require God constraining himself to time before creating time.

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  56. @Robert I see. I think the speciation of organisms in the bacteria kingdom covers what you have in mind.

    “ A Common Designer who reused designs in particular ways could just as well account for most of it as far as I can tell.”
    The problem you run into are the so-called “scars” in the genetic code. They aren’t functional, and they fade out as you get further apart evolutionarily. This is a confirmation of the theory, not something the theory has to explain. This is why it has such explanatory force.

    “theory looking for confirmation and not something that was actually put together through observation. I’m not sure that’s unique to evolutionary theory. Seems to me all knowledge works that way to some degree. But it does make me skeptical that we’ve demonstrated evolution in the same way we’ve demonstrated other things in science.”

    So the two ways that science generally advances are through theoretical breakthroughs and observational breakthroughs. The most famous example of a theoretical breakthrough advancing new science is Einstein’s theory of relativity. This was inspired by electrodynamics and driven by thought experiments. Einstein made a number of pretty bold claims that were testable. This was a theory looking for confirmation (and he got it!). The alternative is approach is explemplified by evolutionary theory. We observe similar species, we find species with vestigial body parts, and we find fossils of species that no longer exist and we don’t find fossils of modern species. Darwin synthesized these observations and gave an account for how this diversity of life grows. Once genes were discovered, a strong falsifiable hypothesis could be formed – unused portion of the code should replicate, but do so less well than functional portions. Thus the more removed species are from one another, organisms should have fewer commonalities among the unused portions of the code. This is what is observed. Now it is true that we don’t have a time machine that allows us to constructed a time-lapsed film of evolution taking place. But then most theories have unobserved components to them as well. In chemistry, you can’t observe a “bond”. You can’t observe an electron. In physics, you can’t observe a gravitational field, dark matter, or dark energy. We accept their existence on the basis of their explanatory power. But of course, a better theory could in principle come along that makes the concept of an electric field obsolete (as was the aether). But this is how science works.

    As far as reconciling evolutionary theory with scripture, this strikes me as mistaken approach. We don’t talk about reconciling scripture with the heliocentric model of the Solar System. We accept that scripture wasn’t teaching us the geometry of the Solar System, so the fact that it adopts phenomenalogical language isn’t surprising. Similarly, it is not at all clear to me that the creation narratives in Genesis, Job, the Psalms, etc…. are teaching us the providential means that God employed to bring the world as we know it into existence. One needn’t follow Enns to recognize that the thrust of Genesis is not about the means of creation. Richard Pratt’s lectures on primeval history are really quite helpful. When we ask the right question (what is the purpose of this text), then we find that the problems with science and scripture are a bit less troublesome.

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  57. @Robert thanks for the pointer to Robert Letham‘s article. Do you have a link to a pdf of it? It seems to have been taken down from the puritan board, and I can’t seem to find it elsewhere.

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  58. Robert – if the days of Genesis 1 are literal 24 hour days, then God constrained Himself to a span of 24 hours before creating a unit of measure for 24 hours. This is possible, but seems highly unlikely.

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  59. Some of you guys may be interested to explore the writings of Dr. Gerald Schroeder. Schroeder is a brilliant orthodox Jew with a doctorate in nuclear physics and planetary sciences from MIT, who has written cogently on harmonizing an old earth with the Genesis account of creation via quantum physics.

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  60. @ VV: ??? God is unable to measure time periods without a sundial? I thought the second was based on the oscillation frequency of atoms of cesium.

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  61. @ SDB:

    You’ve appealed to Einstein’s theory of relativity as an analogy to evolutionary theory, and with some justification. But there is also a difference. Einstein’s predictions were specific, quantified, and risky: Mercury’s orbit will precess by 574″ / century. Light will be redshifted by gh/c^2.

    Take the other end of the spectrum, string theory. Beautiful math, very hard to make specific, testable predictions — so much so that the scientific community debates whether it is science at all.

    I think evolution falls somewhere between. Predictions are made — but they aren’t nearly as specific, quantifiable, and risky as the predictions made by relativity. As a result, evolutionary theory shows a flexibility (to its proponents) or slipperiness (to its opponents) that relativity lacks.

    To take one example. It is often said that “if we could find one species without an ancestor common to all of life, it would disprove evolution.” So evolution is theoretically falsifiable, right? Yet, viruses are precisely such species (Brussow 2009) — yet no-one considers the existence of viruses to be a threat to evolutionary theory. Why not? Because viruses sit right on the edge of life to begin with; they don’t “count” as evidence against the theory.

    Interestingly, humans and Neanderthals actually have no current candidate for common ancestor: http://archive.news.indiana.edu/releases/iu/university-wide/2013/10/last-common-ancestor-neanderthals.shtml

    But this doesn’t falsify the whole theory because it is believed, with justification, that such an ancestor will be found.

    Hence, the proposition “Neanderthals and humans shared a common ancestor” is much less risky than “Mercury’s orbit will precess by 574” / century. The possibility of as-of-yet-unfound ancestors provides a way to accommodate seeming failures-of-theory into a new, larger theory.

    A similar kind of thing is happening right now with epigenetics: it turns out that not all traits are passed down through DNA, thus challenging “the modern synthesis.” So the theory shifts, exhibiting flexibility in the face of falsification.

    Relativity did not have those degrees of freedom. It lacks the flexibility or slipperiness that evolutionary theory possesses.

    The takeaway is that those who are evolution-skeptical could benefit from seeing specific, quantified, risky predictions made and then fulfilled by evolutionary theory.

    For what it’s worth, I think you may be underestimating the exegetical challenges of the old-earth theory. It’s not just the age of the earth, but the federal headship of Adam, the universality of the flood, the origin of languages. Really, Gen 3 – 11 are all subject to the same arguments that Gen 1 – 2 are.

    Not to say that you’re wrong; just that it’s not as easy as “metaphor!” God ends up looking like a horrible communicator if He tells us that “Eve was the mother of all the living” when in fact she was not; or when Jesus tells us that “from the beginning, God created them male and female” when what He really meant was that ‘At some point in the process which was quite recent compared to the beginning, God took an already extant male and female and made them living souls.” That’s some serious circumlocution. Or when Peter says “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished” that what he really means is “the earth was formed from materials from the solar nebula, and through water, the area surrounding the Black Sea drowned.”

    At some point, the circumlocution just looks like deception.

    Again, not saying that your wrong; just pointing out that it’s not easy.

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  62. Jeff – I understand your point. My point is that if the Genesis 1 days are 24 hours, then God established the length of a day before creating the Earth. As I said, that’s possible but seems unlikely.

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  63. Jeff – FWIW, there is good evidence for a global flood as recently as 12,000 years ago. And Adam can still be our federal head because he was the first “human” with a soul, even if Homo sapiens evolved from another species.

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  64. @Jeff I should have been clearer – I was contrasting relativity theory and evolutionary theory. Relativity is an excellent example of a theory looking for confirmation. It was for Popper the best example of what science should be. It made a clear falsifiable prediction. Examples like relativity are rare though. Evolutionary theory is the construction of a framework to explain the observations. Knowledge about the world around us advances by both approaches.

    “Again, not saying that your wrong; just pointing out that it’s not easy.”
    Fair enough. There are certainly exegetical challenges, but I think a lot of these are solved if we ask the right questions about the text. I don’t think it is as easy as sweeping the challenges under the metaphorical rug, but we also have to understand the use of idiom, figures of speech, and literary devices that were in circulation at the time the text was written. For what it’s worth, I hold to a historical Adam and Eve and fall, but I understand them to have evolved from early creatures before they were ensouled. I doubt the historicity of the flood and Babel accounts, but I could of course be wrong on these. Lot’s to learn to be sure!

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  65. As usual, I’m late to this discussion. Trigger warning for Sasse fans. I’d like to see Ben Sasse get some real world work experience besides various bureaucratic positions before I’m willing to pull the lever for him in 2020.

    @SDB: how do you stay within confessional boundaries as they were historically understood with respect to the days of creation and Adam and Eve? It’s not enough to cite Hodge and Warfield, IMO. Scientifically, I don’t see why it’s impossible that the universe was created in full maturity just as Adam and Eve were. It’s also possible there was a non-constant speed of light and thus time passed more quickly in the past. I’m not an astrophysicist nor an evolutionary biologist but I will say science has a major truth problem these days and its institutions are severely in decline. I have no problem with the idea of evolution or natural selection.

    @SDB: What has changed about transmitting the faith? IDK. Evangelical theology, piety and practice has worsened significantly if you believe David Wells and read Barna and LIfeway polls which show that 57% of evangelicals hold beliefs that deny ecumenical creeds.. Still, I can’t see that conservative offshoots of mainline Calvinist churches do any better. I can point to examples of children of several OPC ministers that do not believe. The grown children of OPC parents either do not believe or do not attend confessional churches which are usually bad places to try to raise children for a variety of reasons. I’d say that Christians are abandoning Christianity thus they are not transmitting it to their children.

    @Zrim: thank you for those helpful quotes. I’m going to get that book. I also recommend the Rev. Shawn Mathis’ book “Uniting Church and Family.” I’ve often wondered if the application of Patristic opinions to our own time is relevant. During the Patristic period, there were so few Christians that you didn’t have many options besides going to the public schools and living in substantially pagan communities. It’s like being a NAPARC member in California. It wasn’t until Constantine that Christianity became more widespread that critical mass might have been achieved for something like Christian schools. Now the situation is going in reverse. Decisions we make depend on circumstances and conscience, not what others did in other circumstances.

    That said, my kids go to the public schools and so did I. Augustine learned from attending public schools that it’s important that kids have friends of good moral character. I learned from attending them that it’s important that they get enough exercise and aren’t bored. And that they have friends of good character. The method of schooling, therefore, depends. The NEAP results aren’t encouraging – only 33% of 8th graders read at a proficient level which seems to be defined between the white and Asian reading performance mean.. The Department of Education’s reports on sexual misconduct and violence in public schools are pretty eye-opening also. Everyone’s mileage may vary with schooling method which is adiaphora (sp?) in my opinion. It’s very important to make school decisions with all the facts in hand and base your decisions on your circumstances and your conscience, not just on what the Fathers wrote.

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  66. @walt Good questions. I believe in a historical Adam and Eve. Do the confessions require a particular interpretation of the days?

    The difference between a mature Adam and “mature” universe is that it makes events we can observe merely illusions.

    You can’t solve this problem with a variable speed of light. We now have measures of distance to nearby galaxies independent of the speed of light. We also observe light echos from eruptive events. A variable speed of light would reveal itself in a shortened timing delay.

    Another problem is that changing the speed of light changes the energy levels of atoms and molecules. This is not observed either.

    As far as the shift in Christian piety goes, your prescription is fine as far as it goes, but it begs the question.

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  67. SDB: “The difference between a mature Adam and “mature” universe is that it makes events we can observe merely illusions.”

    That would happen with a mature Adam also. Every anatomical feature (belly button!) tells a tale of being formed by gene expression and physical forces.

    For example, my right thumb is 1/8” wider than my left. Reason: decades of guitar playing.

    The same would be true of the loaves and fish created by Jesus. Some sommelier would (claim to) be able to tell you the vintage of the wine created at Cana.

    The bottom line is that any miraculous work of God must either be discontinuous with creation or else be reinterpretable as having some kind of natural history.

    And in the case of miracles, that natural history is illusory.

    Is that deception? Or is it just art?

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  68. @ DGH:

    The quotes in OP are fascinating, in part because they reveal that it is possible to be faux-2k. Rather than focusing on doing the church and its ministry, faux-2k positions itself as “opposing fundamentalism”, but by replacing one brand of political engagement with another. Hence, opportunities to compromise are plentiful.

    I wonder if that’s what Ali is worried about?

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  69. SDB: None of us .. are are doing a great job of passing on our faith effectively to the next generation.

    BM: That’s because most of your generation of conservative protestants decided it was ok to let the secular government raise your … children rather than sending them to a Christian school or homeschooling them … 8 hours per day five days a week of “there is no God, you evolved, and being depraved is superior to believing the Bible” is going to have a lot more impact than one hour per week at church on Sundays.

    Hm. My biggest problem with this is that it leaves out election, assuming that there is a cause-and-effect line that we can draw between “what we do” and whom God calls to Himself.

    But let’s assume that secondary causes have some kind of effect.

    My kids went to public school K-5 and are now at the Christian school where I teach (6-12). I myself attended a variety of public and post-Christian schools. There are definitely differences between public and Christian, but not what you describe above.

    For one thing, both Caglets had several Christian teachers in the public school.

    For another, religious topics were not discussed by the teachers beyond a couple of one-liners (from the Christians, honestly). So not at all “8 hours a day, 5 days a week of there is no God, you evolved, and being depraved is superior to believing the Bible”

    For yet another, the biggest faith challenges for both Caglets were from their peers. For Caglet #1, her whole peer group read the Percy Jackson series. One of her peers decided to hold “sacrifices to Athena” on the playground. And that led to a very productive discussion about the sin of idolatry, the blurry line between play-acting and reality, and whether it is OK to pretend to sin. In the end, her faith became stronger as a result of clearly seeing that some people are attracted to some kinds of sin (her peer was entirely in earnest about it), and that we don’t have to go along just to maintain friendships.

    Now in the Christian school, challenges continue. There are not 8 hours a day, 5 days a week of “there is a God, you were created, and being non-depraved is superior” — because English and math do not concern themselves, in the main, with those topics. They *do* have Christian teachers who *do* discuss theology as appropriate, but it’s not 8/5.

    And, sometimes the theology espoused by a particular teacher is in conflict with what they learn at home. Bryan, which is better: To hear a false idea at a secular school, where your children already know not to take such ideas seriously, or to hear a false idea at a Christian school, where your children are primed to trust what they hear because it is “Christian”?

    The peer challenges haven’t gone away. The Caglets still have to negotiate the world of friends who tempt them to sin, or who are mean and drama-prone.

    Now: Are public and private equivalent? No. We’re paying tuition on purpose, and for a variety of reasons, including the opportunity to have the Caglets be taught by my excellent peers.

    Still and all, the situation you describe is a completely incorrect characterization.

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  70. Everyone’s mileage may vary with schooling method which is adiaphora (sp?) in my opinion. It’s very important to make school decisions with all the facts in hand and base your decisions on your circumstances and your conscience, not just on what the Fathers wrote.

    Walt, agreed but the point of referencing the early church was to say it’s part of the weighing process (not the the only piece), bu even more to show how remarks like these are more in line with fundamentalism than historical Christianity:

    “No, I believe parents are supposed to train up their children in the way they should go (a verse my Reformed K-12 school displayed prominently on a sign by the road). Sending a child to a government run indoctrination center where they teach common core nonsense is hardly training them up in the way they should go. God’s prescription is to train children up in the Bible. Sending kids to a pagan (actually, worse than pagan) education is a direct violation of God’s prescription, and thus one could argue is sinful.”

    Ironic that this fellow presumably went to a Reformed school and credits it for his educational fundamentalism.

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  71. SDB,

    The problem you run into are the so-called “scars” in the genetic code. They aren’t functional, and they fade out as you get further apart evolutionarily. This is a confirmation of the theory, not something the theory has to explain. This is why it has such explanatory force.

    But isn’t the problem with this is that a lot of the “junk DNA” has turned out to perform specific functions? At least that is what some in the ID community claim.

    As far as reconciling evolutionary theory with scripture, this strikes me as mistaken approach. We don’t talk about reconciling scripture with the heliocentric model of the Solar System. We accept that scripture wasn’t teaching us the geometry of the Solar System, so the fact that it adopts phenomenalogical language isn’t surprising. Similarly, it is not at all clear to me that the creation narratives in Genesis, Job, the Psalms, etc…. are teaching us the providential means that God employed to bring the world as we know it into existence. One needn’t follow Enns to recognize that the thrust of Genesis is not about the means of creation. Richard Pratt’s lectures on primeval history are really quite helpful. When we ask the right question (what is the purpose of this text), then we find that the problems with science and scripture are a bit less troublesome.

    In general, I agree with this. I don’t really expect Scripture to teach much science at all, if any. The modern creation-evolution debates obscure us to one of the primary points of Gen. 1–2, and that is to tell the Israelites that their god was the one true God and that he made everything else that the surrounding cultures worshipped as gods. I had Pratt as a professor at RTS Orlando by the way.

    Asking the questions the Bible was intending to answer is vital. That being said:

    1. One of my issues with people like Enns is that they think that since the text is speaking about x, it can’t be saying anything about y. He’s recently talked about Genesis as if we can basically discount much of its history because the book is about validating the choice of Judah as Israel’s leading tribe. It’s a false dichotomy.

    2. When I say “reconcile,” I really just mean reading science in a way that doesn’t contradict what Scripture affirms. I think a lot of modern evolutionary theory has some heavy lifting to do to reconcile it in this way with Gen. 2. God directly making Adam from the dust of the ground is hard to square with a theory of common animal ancestry. I don’t think it’s impossible, but as of yet I’ve been unconvinced.

    3. I don’t think Gen. 1 is telling us much or really anything about the providential means of creation.

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  72. @SDB WLC17 and WCFIV are pretty clear. See also Johannes Vos’ commentary on WLC17. Hodge and Warfield wrote when confessional subscription was on the wane and many took exception to the Westminister Standards. R. Scott Clark covers this in his book. The Rev. Greg Reynolds also has some excellent papers on confessional subscription. Unless the minutes of the Westminster Assembly state that the divines did not view the creation days as literal days, we should assume WCF IV means exactly what it says. There is no evidence from that they held an analogical, day-age, or framework view. Similarly, WLC 17 is clear about the creation of Adam and Eve. How do you stay within confessional boundaries without subscribing to the standards?

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  73. @jeff The difference is that the callous on your thumb exists. If Adam was formed with the memory of event that didn’t occur, that would be problematic don’t you think? When we watch a star blow up, did that star we watched explode really exist?

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  74. @robert I don’t find Enns so helpful or insightful. I read the press release and then skimmed the paper. As is often the case, the press release appears to sensationalize the result. The upshot of the paper seems to be that there was a mass extinction event among animals 200k yrs ago.

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