Category Archives: Creation

N.T. Wright on the literal meaning of “literal”


Should I burn my mother-in-law?

In April I flew to Iowa to meet my family and bury my great Aunt.  She was an amazing woman who grew up on a farm during the depression, won a state basketball championship in high school, and was one of the most honest, spirited persons I have ever known.  She loved the Lord, served her church faithfully, and upon her death was cremated.  Since then several people in my family have talked of being cremated when they die.  This includes my mother-in-law who asked me about this very subject last night.  I have given it some thought but wanted to see where others stood on the issue.  John Piper gives several reasons why he does not counsel people to be cremated:

1. Burning people was associated with pagan religions in Scripture.  “The biblical pattern is that burning your children is pagan and burying your loved ones is a sign that you believe in the resurrection.”

2.  Scripture speaks of believers who die as though they are asleep.  This is most symbolically represented by the placing of a body in a casket and then burial in the ground.  You want to symbolically put it to rest, not destroy it.

3.  The bible has such a high view of the body.  It is God’s creation.  God will redeem it upon his return.  It is the temple of God while the believer lives on earth.  All of these truths should lead every believer to treat the body with respect, and Piper does not feel that cremation necessarily does this.

4.  Although the financial cost may be cheaper, the emotional cost on family members who don’t want to see this happen to a loved one may outweigh the material cost.

He makes good points here, but there are arguments on the others side as well.

1. The Bible never explicitly states that cremation of a deceased loved one is a sin.  When Piper says that “burning your children is pagan,” he is referring to child sacrifice in the OT which was murder and an abomination.  Those who speak of cremation are dealing with a person who is already gone, although a funeral is a religious ceremony as well.

2.If our desire was really to follow biblical patterns for burial, we should be placing bodies in catacombs wrapped in linen and spices.

3. In a hundred years it will be as though the body had been cremated when it returns to the dust of the ground.  Furthermore, many people have died in various ways that have affected the body and this will not hinder God in creating a new-redeemed body for the believer.

So my question is whether or not this issue is more a matter of preference, or if there is clear biblical teaching and principles that should be followed?

Best video of the day: mockumentary of “The Majestic Plastic Bag”

Here’s an extremely well done mockumentary, narrated by Jeremy Irons, depicting the “majestic plastic bag” as it makes its way across California and to its home in the Pacific Ocean. It’s part of an effort to pass a bill that deals with pollution in California. But, regardless of your take on this bill, this is worth watching. Very well done.

The Naked Mole Rat is Real!!

For those of you who read the blog regularly, you might remember that Marc introduced us to the Naked Mole Rat, a creature I thought was completely made up (Maybe I need to get out more.).  Imagine my surprise today when scrolling through a slide show of the worlds most ugly and creepy looking animals, I ran across……….the Naked Mole Rat!!!  If you’ve never seen one, here’s your chance.

Naked Mole Rat

An irrefutable argument against evolution in 10 words

Such rigorous logic. Simply irrefutable.


The creation debate continues, and continues, and…

It never stops, does  it? The most recent hurrah developed around Al Mohler’s speech at this year’s Ligonier conference, “Why Does the Universe Look So Old?“, in which he unsurprisingly argues for a young earth, 24-hour day view of creation. Apparently he sees this as the only view that takes scripture seriously – i.e. it doesn’t try to “bend” scripture to fit science or cultural preconceptions.

The folks over at BioLogos responded by initiating a discussion on the subject, one that has generated quite a bit of comment so far.

  • Karl Giberson offered three questions that he would like to see Mohler respond to in more depth. Actually, this felt like one of those posts where the “questions” are really a platform for pointing out where you think the other person is wrong. But, it was still interesting.
  • Today, Peter Enns weighed in arguing that both the new atheists and the traditional creationists make the mistake of viewing Scripture as claiming to be scientifically accurate. Instead, he contends that we need to see them as ancient “fictional” narratives about who created everything, rather than “scientific” accounts of how they were created.

No wanting to be left out of the discussion, Scot McKnight offers some thoughts of his own. He’s particularly concerned about the tenor of Mohler’s speech, criticizing him for making this a battle rather than a conversation.

And, on a related note, Huffpo’s new Religion and Science discussion continues with Clay Naff’s rather unhelpful post arguing that we need to reject both the traditional view of an all-powerful God creating the universe (in any way), or the growingly popular secular notion that ours is just one of many possible universes. Instead, he argues that he most intellectually viable position is that a limited being created everything through an evolutionary process.

John Walton on reading Genesis as an ancient text

To help whet your appetite for our upcoming book discussion of John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, here’s a BioLogos clip of Walton talking about why it is important for us to read Genesis as an ancient text and how this will help us discern the “temple” imagery in Genesis 1-2.

By the way, you should be hearing from Billy on the date, time, and location for that book discussion sometime in the next few days.

(HT Internet Monk)

Billy gave me some lame excuse about moving and not having internet access for a while. He said he’d log in with some responses as soon as he can.

Sustainable stewardship (Acton 6)

The discussions surrounding ecology and economy at the Acton conference raised two sets of questions: (1) the relationship between creation and human flourishing; and (2) the relationship between free markets economics and the growing ecological crisis. I talked about the first of those questions yesterday, so today we’ll move on to the second question.

Unfortunately, the sessions that I attended did not really address this question directly. The best that I got from most seminars were various comments leading me to believe that most thought that market forces themselves would eventually address the ecological concerns. For example, one person argued that market forces would never allow us to exhaust completely a natural resource because it would eventually become too scarce, and consequently too expensive, to continue pursuing. Others seemed to think that the market would eventually come to see environmentalism as good business and develop adaptive technologies that would address ongoing environmental concerns. And, most seemed to think that the real solution was to develop more virtuous societies who would not pursue market economics in such abusive ways. Overall though, very few people offered a cohesive argument for how free market economics could be expanded globally, along with the corresponding rise in the consumption of natural resources, without have a correspondingly deleterious effect on creation.  (Did you like my use of “deleterious”? I thought it made this paragraph sound much more intellectual.)

One exception to that was a seminar I attended on the last day arguing that consumption was not the problem at all. This lecture specifically criticized any “stewardship” model for creation ethics because such models are unable to provide specific direction for concrete action (precisely the problem we discussed in yesterday’s post). According to this lecturer, stewardship models can give us the environmental “why” (it’s God’s creation), and the environmental “what” (take care of it), but they are fundamental incapable of providing any concrete “how” (how exactly do you do this?). In its place, he offered the principle of “environmental sustainability.” Throughout the lecture, he argued that the ecological problem does not result from over-consumption, but from faulty design. The production and consumption of products harmful to the environment, he argued, is necessarily wrong-headed. And, it doesn’t help for us to do less of it (reduce consumption and/or recycle), because that just succeeds in destroying the environment more slowly. As he commented frequently, “Being less bad is not good.” (His biggest target here was the idea that we can save the world through recycling. He pointed to recent research suggesting that the recycling process itself is harmful to the environment and, thus, can’t be part of the solution).

Instead, he argued that we need to look more closely at how we are designing the products that we use. Rather than creating cradle-to-grave products that are designed to end up in a landfill some day (he pointed out that very few things are 100% recyclable), we should design cradle-to-cradle products that are fully recyclable and, thus, fully sustainable. And, he argued that the best way to find ideas for such products is to look at creation itself. He claimed that the natural world is replete with products that could be used for industrial purposes, but are not harmful to the natural world itself (e.g. the protein-based adhesives produced by mussels). (Interestingly, he did not consider the harmful consequences that could result if we began replicating such “natural” products on a scale never seen before in nature.)

Unfortunately, this approach also remained almost entirely theoretical. Very little of this is actually being done today and it seem highly questionable that such products and processes could be done on the scale necessary to sustain modern markets and industry. (Since he suggested throughout that cutting consumption was not necessary, he presumably believed that his proposals could at least sustain current levels of consumption.) To believe that we should just sustain current levels of consumption in the hope that someday we will have a solution to the problem, given the widespread destruction we’ve already caused and the potential for future destruction caused by growing majority world economies, is simply inadequate.

Creation theology and human flourishing (Acton 5)

As I mentioned in my last post, an emphasis on free market economies as a key to human flourishing raises at least four questions: sin, power, the nature of human flourishing, and the impact of all this on the environment. I’ve already tried to explain some of the questions that I have about the first three, so in this post, I’m going to talk about ecological issues.

In the context of these discussions, questions of ecology actually arise from two directions: (1) How does ecology relate to human flourishing? And (2) how does this emphasis on free market economics relate to concerns about the growing ecological “crisis”? (Most of the Acton material that I saw placed the word “crisis” in scare quotes when talking about ecology, so I thought I’d do that too. They look nice.)  We’ll deal with the first question in this post.

My primary concern with respect to the first question was with the rather pronounced anthropocentrism involved in the emphasis on human flourishing. Most of the lectures assumed that creation exists for the sole purpose of facilitating the well-being of humans, and apparently it has no intrinsic value/purpose of its own. (I did attend one lecture that presented a different approach, but this seemed to be the creation theology lying behind many of the other proposals I heard.) But, such an exclusively anthropocentric understanding of creation’s purpose seems entirely inadequate for a robust theology of creation.

As far as I could tell, the primary concern seemed to be that if we view creation as having an intrinsic value of its own, quite independent of its facility for producing human flourishing, we would no longer be able to see humans as unique within in creation. Instead, we would have to view humans as just another part of creation. And, lurking in the background, was the concern that we would no longer be able to affirm a unique dignity and value for the human person. And, consequently, we would come to place the needs of animals and the rest of creation above the needs of humans. But, none of this seems to follow. It’s quite possible to see creation has having an intrinsic value and purpose of its own (e.g. to manifest God’s glory), while still seeing human person’s having a unique purpose and role within that broader plan (e.g., image-bearers in the creational theater of God’s glory). Indeed, I think recognizing the intrinsic value of creation is fundamental to an adequate ecological ethic, because it is this intrinsic value that provides direction for understanding what human ecological action should look like (i.e. facilitating creation’s purpose of manifesting God’s glory).

This idea that creation has intrinsic value hat should guide our understanding of ecological “stewardship,” came out in one of the lectures that I attended. This speaker contended that we should understand the “dominion mandate” in terms of “productive stewardship.” In other words, God filled creation with tremendous potential, all of which can and should serve to display his glory in and through creation. That is its intrinsic value. And, we have been gifted with the task of creatively cultivating that potential (as Adam and Eve cultivated the Garden) and expanding Eden until we have brought all of creation under our productive stewardship. In many ways, then, ours is a servant stewardship as we seek to unlock creation’s intrinsic potential. And, because of how God designed things, we will serve the purposes of human flourishing at the same time.

Unfortunately, his presentation also came with one notable flaw—the lack of any clear proposal for human action. It’s all well and good to say that we should “unlock creation’s potential,” but what does this mean in practice? For example, consider the process of drilling for oil. In doing so, we are tapping the potential of creation for the production of energy. That can be seen as a prime example of productive stewardship. But, at the same time we might be destroying natural environments, introducing pollutants into the world, and running the risk of significant environmental disaster (in case anyone’s not watching the news). At the very beginning of the process, though, how do you know? Given the finitude and fallenness of human persons, how can we ever actually know if a given action is productive stewardship or destructive evil? When pressed on this very point, the lecturer had no constructive proposals to offer. So, it’s hard not to see this is yet another example of find-sounding rhetoric that is difficult, if not impossible, to turn into practical action.

At the end of the conference, then, I’m confident that any adequate creation theology needs to be able to hold together the intrinsic value and purpose of creation, the need to foster human flourishing, and the ability to turn these principles into proposals for concrete action. It’s this third step that I found somewhat lacking in most of the presentations.

N.T. Wright video on Adam and Eve

Last week I asked those of us who live in/around the Portland area to indicate if they’d rather discuss Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One or Wright’s After You Believe. The response was unanimous in favor of Walton’s book. So, we’ll set a date/time for that soon.

In anticipation of that meeting, I will occasionally post related resources that you might find interesting/helpful. Today PreacherMike pointed out this video from BioLogos in which N.T. Wright discusses what it means to read Genesis 1-3 as a literary work (rather than a literal one). He contends that that we should stop trying to “flatten” the text and instead should “read it for all it’s worth” – i.e. as both history and myth. Anything else is “to almost perversely avoid the real thrust of the narrative.” Wright also expresses appreciation for Walton’s understanding of Genesis 1 as the creation of God’s temple/abode.