Ham on Nye: Creation, Evolution, and Adventures in Missing the Point

No doubt most of us were aware of the highly promoted debate over origins at Answers in Genesis’s Creation Museum last night, even by those who had no intention of tuning in. Well, I did tune in, and here are a few thoughts about it.

The Debate. I’ve been concerned that Ken Ham would demolish Bill Nye since they announced the debate a few months ago. After all, Ham is an engaging speaker with a unique accent who has spent the last 30-odd years polishing his rhetoric regarding this issue, while Bill Nye, like most scientists, has been doing a lot of different things with his time instead of doggedly repeating the same information. My fears were confirmed when Ham basically trounced Nye. Debates are measured by rhetoric and argument, not by who is “right.” And in this case, Ham won. He was better organized, better spoken, and seemed on top of his game. Nye, on the other hand, seemed scatter-shot, at one point meandering his way through five complex scientific arguments in only two minutes, jumping from topic to topic without logic or clarity, and bringing up information that AiG has spent a lot of time and money providing detailed “answers” to (what about the Ark? The Missoula flood? The Grand Canyon? Mount St. Helens? Etc.). Nye also couldn’t resist the bait to jump into Biblical interpretation and expose his ignorance of theology even more, which accomplished little more than reinforce in the hostile audience’s mind that he wasn’t taking them or their Bible very seriously.

The Problem. I was really conflicted by the debate. I share a faith in common with Ken Ham and so I wanted to be loyal to the Christian debating the atheist. But at the same time, I share the scientific convictions of Bill Nye, and so I wanted him to do well enough to show the many Christians who blindly accept AiG’s teachings on Genesis that there are other choices, and to be open to new possibilities.

Of course, that was impossible. Bill Nye is an atheist, and he is in no position to offer alternative readings concerning Genesis. But I was at least hoping that Ham would be bested scientifically once or twice, enough to start cracking the invincible armor of fundamentalism in his audience. But ultimately that’s the problem with the creation vs. evolution debate. Both the atheist and the creationist depend upon Genesis being literal history – the creationist in order to feel secure, and the atheist in order to be free to reject it as ridiculous.

The Solution. This was a debate in which the vast majority of people were excluded. We had a debate between the relatively small group of atheists and the relatively fringe group of Christians who believe in a young earth, both of which are fighting over whether taking Genesis-as-history is insane or reasonable.

To me this misses the point entirely. Because the whole debate turns on whether Genesis is history, or at least history as defined by modernism. Once we realize there are other options, once we inject the conversation with other possibilities, the whole fight is seen for the silliness it is. What if Genesis isn’t history? What if ancient Hebraic writers in the Near East were inspired by God to record an origins account after the fashion and in the genre of ancient Near East cosmological world-pictures? Well, suddenly we’re in a whole new realm in which the opening of Genesis is written to conform to a well-known and well-researched ANE literary genre that is not intended to be taken as precise history, but is rather intended to set up a certain people for a certain task and a certain way of living. And there are strong indications that Genesis conforms to this kind of literature. The world model depicted in Genesis (heavens above, abyss below, earth in the middle, with the waters above and the waters below, etc.) is a world model that is common in the ANE, though there are also substantive differences in the Israelite version.

Once this is realized, we can ease off the “science vs. faith” confrontation. The atheist can’t use Genesis to excuse their disbelief if Genesis was never intended to be taken as factual history, and the Christian can no longer use Genesis to harm the cause of Christ by arguing insane things. Because we need the absolute faith of Ken Ham and the science of Bill Nye to work together for the glory of Christ, not work against each other. Those two impulses, redirected in harmony toward the world and for the good of the world, is a powerful thing that can move mountains.

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James B. Jordan on Heads of Household

In my lengthy series on patriarchy, I devoted one part to dealing with the claim that family and ecclesiastical life are governed patriarchally, that is, by “heads of households,” essentially presumed to be the males of the family and church.

Well, just today I got some new work from theologian James B. Jordan that ties neatly with that and expands upon some of my comments, an essay titled “Heads of Households and Household Baptism,” in Rite Reasons No. 104. His intent is to criticize the patriarchalist impulse evident in “household” churches, but the way he goes about doing this is by exploring what a “household” was in the Greco-Roman empire.

He writes that the “assumption” that the “husband of a nuclear family is the ‘head’ of his ‘household'” is something that “has no foundation anywhere in church history, and it is not found in the Bible.” He calls it a “problem” for churches that are patriarchalist in structure: “women do not think as men do, and [so] soliciting the advice and counsel of women is essential for the healthy governance of the church.”

Then, following Wayne Meeks’ The First Urban Christians and Meeks other scholarship, Jordan explores what a “household” was in ancient Rome. The term oikos was evidently far broader than the natural or immediate family, but referred to a vast network of relationships that included extended family, servants and bondslaves, friends and even clients of the household business. Examining the example of Lydia, Jordan summarizes that her household was “the people of her circle who look to her for leadership” in their social lives and for their livelihoods.

Thus, the conversion of households, while including any children and infants within it, also included non-blood relatives or kinsmen, but encompassed any who looked to Lydia for advice and trusted her. Her baptism spurred her whole social network (if you will) to imitate her in getting baptized as well.

And though Jordan does not support women’s leadership in the Church, the implications of his argument lead is directly there. For what else can we conclude but that the households of all the women listed in Romans 16 with their households are, in fact, the overseers of large social groups (“households”) which they continued to oversee once the whole household had been baptized and brought into the Church?

There seems to be no other choice. Given what we know about Greco-Roman households and the way they functioned, Paul’s repeated mention of households in Romans 16 and elsewhere along with the name of the person, man or woman, who oversaw the household really boxes opponents of women’s leadership into a corner. They must either deny the scholarship regarding Roman households and social structure, or deny that Paul spoke about churches in Romans 16 at all. But as Meeks points out (First Urban Christians, 75-77), the Greek phrase he kat’ oikon ekklesia is best translated as “the assembly at _____’s household,” (cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:5; Col. 4:15, etc.).

Defending the Faith: With our Minds or our Lives?

If you’ve spent any time at all studying apologetics, the practice of defending the Christian faith from all comers, you’ve certainly seen 1 Peter 3:15 used to defend the intellectual defense of the faith: “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being ready to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

I have come to think we’ve seriously misused this verse to justify our intellectual games, and so to get at what Peter is really talking about, we’ve got to look at three areas. Which direction does the passage flow? What is it that these Christians were supposed to be defending? And why would someone have asked them for a reason?

Which Direction does the Passage Flow?

Too often Christian apologetics becomes a kicking, fighting, knock-down, drag-out battle to the death, the goal of which is to leave your opponent an intellectually smoking ruin. But the passage does not speak of any of this at all. It says that Christians in the particular circumstance of this first-century Asian church ought to be prepared to explain the reasons for their hope to any who ask.

This is why I asked which direction the text flows. Because so often, Christian apologists go out looking for opponents and debate any and all comers who challenge the faith. The entire field of apologetics has gotten the central core of this verse backwards. They are answering the reasons brought against the faith by enemies, not giving reasons for those with honest questions. The word for “ask” (aiteo) in the Greek refers to one who begs or craves; thus, those whom Peter says to answer are those who craves an answer with honest sincerity, not those who are militant enemies. I certainly don’t recognize this call in much of what passes for apologetics.

Likewise, the answer given to these genuinely curious is to be given in “humility and trembling” (1 Pet. 3:15), not in arrogance and aggression. Again, I recognize almost nothing of this in what passes for contemporary apologetics.

What was Being Defended?

Peter doesn’t just have any question in mind that these Christians were to respond to. No, the honest questions of the curious were to be answered concerning “the hope that is in you.”

Notice that Peter is not addressing certainties. Hope possesses no guarantees, otherwise it would not be hope, and would instead be certainty. Peter is fundamentally uninterested in syllogisms or the latest archeological discovery that “proves” the Christian faith. Rather, he is interested in the “hope that is in you,” and to discover this hope, we have to let Peter define it. And, in fact, he does define it in the rest of the epistle.

He opens his epistle by speaking about this hope, writing that God has, in His great mercy, “cause us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection,” and “to an inheritance that is imperishable” that is “kept in heaven” until the moment for “a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time,” (1:3, 4, 5). The saints of this church “have been grieved by various trials” by which the “genuineness of your faithfulness” has been “tested” for the “unveiling (apocalypse) of Jesus the Messiah,” (1:7). They are to “set your hope on the grace that will be brought to you at the unveiling (apocalypse) of Jesus Messiah,” (1:13). And the hope of these believers that Jesus would soon appear and deliver them from their enemies, vindicating them as the true people of God, is to be set upon the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Foreknown from the beginning of the world, He was “made manifest in the last days for your sakes, who through Him are vindicated in God, Who raised Him from the dead,” so that “your faithfulness and hope are in God,” (1:20, 21).

So the specific issue at hand that Peter wanted these Christians to be able to respond to were outsiders wondering why the Christian community expected Jesus to come and vindicate them. The resurrection is only part of the answer, and the full answer was the whole scope of the gospel, not merely that Jesus died and was raised, but that He was enthroned in heaven and had departed them, leaving them the promise that He would deliver and rescue His people from their enemies and persecutors, a deliverance that would also vindicate the Church as the people God had allied Himself with and whom He would defend and protect, establishing them above the mountains.

Why Were They Asked for a Reason?

But why would an outsider be spurred to ask such a question anyway? What would make them curious about why the Church believed this? Well, because of the Church’s lifestyle. Already Peter acknowledges that “you have been grieved by various trials,” (1:6). The whole book was written in that light, Peter exhorting them to remain firm in their persecution, because it was the “tested genuineness of your faithfulness,” (1:7), encouraging them, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,” and instead to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,” (1:14, 17).

The rest of the epistle is written to justify Peter’s call to persevere in the face of persecution. “Beloved ones, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh,” and to “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak of you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation,” (2:11, 12). His call throughout the rest of the epistle is the same. Be subject to all human rulers, so that “by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people,” (2:15).

It is here that we encounter Peter’s true apologetic. “This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly,” for “when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God,” (2:19, 20). It is to this suffering that “you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps,” (2:21).

Peter’s interest is in behavior, not intellect. What will raise eyebrows and spur people to curiosity about the Christian community is its commitment to bearing persecution in the present with the hope in the promise that the enthroned Messiah will defend them for their faithful endurance. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, so that you may obtain a blessing,” (3:9). And this brings us immediately to 1 Pet. 3:15. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you,” (3:14-15). The whole matter of the question in the mind of the curious comes by the peaceful and non-violent suffering of the Church for the sake of the gospel. “Why do you not retaliate against those who rob and kill you?”

Peter even gives the answer the Church is to give when they are faced with these questions. “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (3:17-18). So remember, when someone uses 1 Peter 3:15 as an excuse for apologetic ballistics, that Peter is speaking of a defense of the faith centered in behavior, and particularly, in a life of suffering for the sake of the gospel. This is a defense of the faith by holistic lifestyle.