Not So Fast, My Mito-Replacing Friend

A year ago, I wrote about a controversial three-parent IVF technique intended to avoid mitochondrial disease. I argued that it is both medically unsound and an affront to God, the Author of Life. Many folks disagree with both positions. Some scientists, however, are coming around to my position – at least on the medical side.

Three biologists published an opinion piece in a recent edition of the journal Science (summarized here). They argue that government agencies (especially in the UK) should not be rushing to clinical trials of mitochondrial replacement. The macque monkeys in the original trial have not yet reached adulthood. They suggest at least waiting to see if any problems develop. Their concern? Just as I mentioned last year, the interaction between mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA is not fully understood. Mitochondrial replacement may actually cause unanticipated issues.

Now, these scientists do not agree with my theological position. Of course, their identification as evolutionary biologists reveals that we have many differences in our views of this world. While I think MR should be abandoned, they still find the technique promising and important. It just is not ready for a “leap of faith.”  I suggest that these scientists have taken their own leap of faith in accepting evolution as the cause for the beautiful complexity of life. They should reconsider the reasonable evidence for an intentional and artistic Creator.

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Are Boston Bombings Another Warning From God?

Today, two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Casualties are uncertain, but mounting. It was another horrific shock for America. I pray for those impacted by this bloody violence. Still, I wonder, is it possible that this is another warning from God?

The lion has roared;
who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
who can but prophesy?
Amos 3:8

In America,

  • we kill over a million unborn children per year, call it choice, but we expect God to save our lives
  • we made Fifty Shades of Grey (trilogy about sadomasochism) the runaway best sellers of the year (all 3 books), but we expect God to not judge
  • we care more about media celebrities and athletes than we do about pastors, teachers, doctors, and other helpers, but we expect God to provide for our needs
  • we think science offers better explanations for life than its Creator, but we expect God to enrich our lives
  • we try to redefine God’s gift of marriage, but we expect God to bless our families
  • we spend money we don’t have, personally and at all levels of government, but we expect God to prosper us
  • we glorify lust, violence, greed, and selfishness, but we expect God’s blessings
  • we divorce for no reason, commit sexual immorality for any reason, and push back God’s limits as out of date, but we expect God to strengthen our relationships
  • we spend our time and treasure on entertainment, but we expect God to solve our big problems
  • we trust in technology, neglect prayer, but we expect God to answer anyway

Why do we think that God’s judgment is not imminent? Amos, a rancher in the 8th century BC, saw similar problems in his nation (Judah) and in the neighboring nations. God sent him to give a warning to the nation of Israel in about 760. It was two years before a powerful earthquake (archaeological evidence suggests it was an 8.2 Richter scale disaster that destroyed several cities). Amos announced that God, the Lion of Zion, was roaring in warning, but the people paid no attention. Within a generation, the northern kingdom, Israel, was completely destroyed. In 722, Assyria removed what was left of its people and decimated the capital, Samaria. America needs to learn from this example or it faces the same perilous judgment from God.

Would God really send a disaster like these bombings as a warning to America? Amos faced a similar question about God’s chosen people. Certainly, God would not allow harm to come, right? God, through Amos, promised the opposite: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)

Is a trumpet blown in a city,
and the people are not afraid?
Does disaster befall a city,
unless the Lord has done it?
Surely the Lord God does nothing,
without revealing his secret
to his servants the prophets.
The lion has roared;
who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
who can but prophesy?
Amos 3:6-8

What did that punishment (and warning) look like? What was God trying to do? Listen again to Amos:

I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me,
says the Lord.

And I also withheld the rain from you
when there were still three months to the harvest;
I would send rain on one city,
and send no rain on another city;

yet you did not return to me,
says the Lord.

I struck you with blight and mildew;
I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards;
the locust devoured your fig trees and your olive trees;
yet you did not return to me,
says the Lord.

I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword;
I carried away your horses;
and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils;
yet you did not return to me,
says the Lord.
Amos 4:6-10

Natural disasters, drought, famine, warfare – all were warnings from God so that the people would return to Him. And yet, they would not. Is America as ignorant and prideful? What if Katrina, Sandy, droughts across the midwest, the financial crisis, the Newtown shootings, and today’s bombings are all part of God’s warning to America? What happens if we still refuse to turn to Him?

Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!

For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind,
reveals his thoughts to mortals,
makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
 the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

2013: Contending for the Faith

What is your focus for 2013? I think God has revealed mine over the last few weeks and crystallized it through the study of the small, often-neglected letter of Jude. I taught Jude in my Sunday morning Bible study just before Christmas. (We finished a 13 week study of 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude.) Here is the part that has stayed with me:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 3-4 NASB (emphasis mine)

I work with a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Mormon, a neo-pagan sympathizer, an agnostic, a young Christian, and some nominal Christians — coming from 5 different countries. That is just on my team! You should hear us discuss religion, philosophy, politics, or sports. There is a great diversity of opinions. How should a Christian approach such an opportunity? Sadly, I think many Christians are ill-equipped and frankly afraid to stand out.

But Jude was compelled to write and challenge Christians to “contend” for their faith against false teachers even in the church. What does it mean to contend? Type “contend” in the Google image search, and most of what you will see are pictures of athletic events (including lots of boxing gloves). Sometimes Google gets it right. The Greek word used in Jude 3 (epagonizesthai) was mostly used in reference to sporting contests in the stadium. It is the root of our word “agonize.” As Michael Green states, its use here emphasizes that defense of our faith will be “continuous, costly, and agonizing.” (172)

For what do we contend?

And for what do we contend? “The faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” There is objective truth. There is a historical basis for the facts of Christianity. The apostles (and others) were eyewitnesses of his death and Resurrection. We can’t water down the New Testament as some good ideas or interesting teachings or the life of a good man (Jesus). No! It is a testimony to the life, teachings, death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus, the God-man. And it is His invitation to us to join Him in everlasting relationship.

Do we have false teachers today? Of course. There are all kinds of lists of false teachers on the internet. My goal isn’t really to create a list of them. However, there are some whose influence must be countered. As Jude says later, their presence in the church is like a “hidden reef” (v 12). They promise much but don’t deliver (“clouds without rain,” “autumn trees without fruit”).

What does contention look like?

For me, I think God is challenging me to use the blog as a platform for contending for the faith. The Bible is under attack. It doesn’t need my defense. It will stand as God’s Word forever, no matter what I say. However, we must contend for this faith revealed through the Scriptures in order to “have mercy on some, who are doubting;  save others, snatching them out of the fire;” (v 22-23) It is for people, whom God loves, that we must contend.

So, when New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman from UNC declares that most of the New Testament is a forgery and becomes an agnostic, it is time to step up and call him a false teacher, a wandering star, who reviles angelic majesties and rejects authority (v8, 13). Choosing the way of Balaam, his destiny is that of Korah if he will not repent (v 11). The New Testament documents are trustworthy and reliable. No matter what he says, scholars haven’t suddenly debunked the Bible. And there is reasonable evidence to back it up (much more on this later, I suspect).

But contention is not just a scholars’ battle with words. Just before Christmas, one of my coworkers asked to borrow a Bible. He is feeling the need to read it and seek greater understanding. I didn’t just let him borrow a Bible; I bought him one! And now we are set to discuss its truths and challenges as the days go on. I will argue for the truth, but I will also reach out to those who need to understand it. It will be costly and agonizing, but it is worth it!

How will you contend for the faith in 2013?

 

Source

Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude. vol 18 in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Intervarsity Press, 1987.

Horror Movies and a Little Theology of Fear

Today is Halloween, an observance when much of our society celebrates fear, evil, darkness, and the paranormal/supernatural. While children dress up to rake in candy, many teens and adults search for the next scare. Hollywood obliges this year with these movies and themes: “Silent Hill: Revelation 3D” (demonic world), “Paranormal Activity 4” (demonic possession), “Sinister” (supernatural killer), “VHS” (gore, abandoned house), “#holdyourbreath” (serial killer and possession), and “Smiley” (serial killer). How lovely!

The Theology of Horror

When “The Blair Witch Project” came out (1999), I went to see what all the hype was about. The movie did a great job of creating an overwhelming sense of dread and fear. You never really saw or understood what was happening. All you saw were the fearful reactions of the victims as they eventually succumbed to an unseen evil. It was spooky and effective. It was the first time after a movie that I ever looked around the parking lot carefully before heading toward my car. Once in my car, I stopped to think about why I would be scared. Then it hit me, in the “Blair Witch Project” there was no God. It had lured me into creepy forest away from His light and truth.

This same theological assumption is the basis for fear in most scary movies: “There is no good God that can help you.” Evil is unrestrained, unstoppable (Jason, Michael, Freddy), and unredeemable. The unwitting victims are left alone in an uncaring universe. Most of them die. Look at the tag line from this year’s “Sinister”: “Once you’ve seen him, nothing can save you.” It is the absence of God that creates terror.

Healthy Fear (of God)

The Bible assumes that fear is a natural human reaction to the unknown and even the supernatural. When angels appear in the Bible, their first words to quivering humans are usually, “fear not.” Fearing God is a good thing. He is the judge of all people. His ways are often inscrutable. And His commands are absolute. Sometimes, we get so comfortable with our grandfatherly images of God that we forget He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that it is a bad idea to keep on sinning after knowing the truth: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:30-31)

Paralyzed No More

But this kind of reverential fear is far from what horror movies exploit. There the fear is of evil (not the holiness of a righteous God), uncertainty (not a sure judgment), helplessness (not God’s omnipotence), and being alone (not the continual presence of God). Horror movie fear paralyzes. Fear of God motivates us to change our direction back to Him. Proverbs 1:7 says “the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge.”

Still, God does not leave us paralyzed by earthly fears. He restrains evil, and Satan will not win. Jesus casts out the demonic. They have no authority over Him. He guides our future. He is always with us. He loves us more than we deserve or can understand. These are the truths that drive out the paralyzing fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18

So, let’s walk away from those earthly fears fueled by Hollywood. (After my revelation about the theology of “Blair Witch Project,” I have not seen any more horror movies.) But, let’s recover a healthy fear of our Creator and Judge.

“I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” Jesus in Luke 12:4-5