Creation Debate: Genesis 1 & 2

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I had to go back and watch the Creationism Debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham from the other night. I didn’t watch live, but I did follow along with some of the reaction on Twitter. I dropped in my uninformed two cents on Twitter as well: here, here, and here. Those comments were not in response to anything Nye or Ham said, mostly just my response to how I would anticipate a scenario plotting a “science guy” against the head of the Answers in Genesis ministry.

It’s science versus religion. Again.

It’s creation versus evolution. Again.

I’m tired of these two parties facing off, and I still am unsure why we need to belabor a debate between the two. As I tweeted the other night, creationism ought to be large enough to hold evolutionism within it. In my opinion, these do not need to be adversarial perspectives.

Like I said, I went back and watched the debate later. And it was more or less as I expected it to go.

Actually, I think I even had higher expectations for it than it ended up going. It seemed to just scratch the surface. I really hoped Bill Nye’s voice would dig deeper than it did. There was little information that we haven’t all heard already. Both men seemed too intent on defending their own perspective than actually asking questions about the other’s perspective.

The first 90 minutes was not very exciting, but it was rather frustrating. Ham spent most of his time talking about how it is impossible to prove the past based on historical science, but that you can prove the present based on observational science. He said that while we may all have the same evidence available to us today, we each draw different conclusions on it about the past. In short, according to Ham, historical science is relative to individual bias.

Ham said his belief is that the Genesis 1 account is the only proof we need to know the facts about our origins: that our Creator, in six days, created everything we see, and our world is only 6,000 years old, and that we know that to be fact because Genesis says so.

In essence, Ken Ham believes Genesis 1 to be observational science and not historical science.

The problem with that, unfortunately, is that Genesis 1 wasn’t written until way later by individuals who were trying to record their own origin stories for themselves.

The Bible didn’t just fall from heaven with Genesis 1 already written out for us. Scripture is written by humans. Inspired humans, sure, but still humans. And the humans who were writing the book of Genesis were living in the 1000-500s BCE. And the world, according to Ham, was created in the year 4000 BCE. So the authors of Genesis were writing 2500-3000 years after the fact.

Which means they weren’t using observational science at all.

They were using historical science.

Which, if I understand Ham correctly, doesn’t prove anything at all.

From where I’m sitting, his own argument is working against him.

What complicates this situation even further is that entire book of Genesis wasn’t even written by any one person. You may have noticed I said “authors” before…as in plural writers. These writers were coming from different regions and had different accounts for their origins.

Ever noticed how in Genesis 1, God speaks everything into existence ex nihilo – out of nothing – yet in Genesis 2, God actually forms Adam and Eve out of the dust of the ground?

In chapter 1 he speaks humans into life.

In chapter 2 he creates them out of materials.

Why the difference? Because these two chapters were compiled together later to tell the entire story, and they were written by totally different people groups. This also accounts for the 500 year gap I have in the time they were written (1000-500 BCE). Genesis 1 was written by a priestly group around 500 BCE during the Babylonian exile, while Genesis 2 was written much earlier around 950 BCE in the southern tribes of Judah.*

* – In fact, the entire Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy – were written by four major people groups over that 500 year span, and then compiled together later. This is called the Documentary Hypothesis. It’s ironic that is a Wikipedia link, because it too was compiled by multiple authors with multiple edits all over the world.

All that to say, Ham’s foundational understanding of the Book of Genesis is mistaken. Which, is somewhat embarrassing since he’s created an entire museum and ministry based on his beliefs on that misconception.

And if the two narratives are different – did God speak us into existence or form us out of materials? – they can’t both be factual, can they? If two different eye witness accounts are given at a crime scene, then one of them is inherently false, right?

Not necessarily.

Something doesn’t have to be fact for it to be true.

Did God create the world in six actual 24-hour days? Personally, I don’t think so. But I don’t think that’s the point of Genesis 1. There are lots of beliefs on this: Maybe he’s been orchestrating everything from the Big Bang and beyond. Or maybe he set everything up the way he did so that it would look like it’s 4.6 billion years old. Or maybe it literally is 6 days worth of creation.

But again, I don’t think that’s the point.

The point is that Genesis 1 is not a list of facts or an eye witness account or a history book or a record of events.

Genesis 1 is a poem.

It’s a poem about our origins, and poetry doesn’t have to be fact to hold truth for our lives. In fact, I would submit that poetry, music, art, or dance can convey more truth than any string of words on a page.

Because these things evoke emotion and beauty and love and can transcend the facts. This is something that an order of events cannot do.

Genesis 1 opens with three sets of separations: light and dark, sky and water, land and sea. And with each separation, God looks at what he has done and declares it “good”.

And then it fills those three separations with various items: the sun, moon and stars*; birds and fish; plants and animals. And each time he fills up a space, he declares it to be “good”.

* – If the sun wasn’t created until day four, then how did God measure the first three days?

But then he saves the best for last.

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;*
male and female he created them.”
Genesis 1:27

* – Something I just noticed, and need to look deeper into…there was no punctuation in the original Hebrew text, which means this semicolon could be a comma and the two commas could be semicolons.  Seems insignificant, but that would draw the focus of what it means to be made in God’s image away from “his own” and toward the “male and female” part instead. The image of God is both genders, not just male. Hmm.

Finally, God gives mankind a few pointers. He says to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “rule over every creature” and to “eat fruit for food.”

Ultimately, what we have here is a poem about who we are, where we came from, and how we are supposed to live. Genesis 1 was never supposed to be read as a list of facts, history or “observational science” (as Ken Ham calls it). It was meant to evoke a greater Truth: that the Creator of the Universe made all of this for us.

For us.

I’m currently writing this from the ski lodge at Monarch Mountain in Colorado. I’m speaking for a middle school ski retreat, and our sessions have centered on creation and that we are God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). We’re currently getting completely dumped on with snow: 17″ yesterday and it’s still coming down. Amazing conditions.

God created these mountains for us to enjoy. The Creator designed these ski runs so that we might experience joy – “Life to the Full” as John 10:10 says.

So the point of Genesis 1 is found here. This creation is for us, his masterpiece, to enjoy and experience.

That is how Genesis 1 plays out. And Genesis 2, while different, has other truths for us to encounter. This is where we meet Adam and Eve. Let’s take a look at these names really quick.

Adam: Hebrew for “man”. Derived from the Hebrew word for earth (adamah).

Eve: From the Hebrew word “to breathe” (chawah) or the related word “to live” (chayah).

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Wait. What?

When God breathes into the dirt, we find both of these names. Adam: man of the earth. Eve: to breathe or live. One doesn’t have to scratch their head long to piece together the fact that these feel less like names, but more like representations for all of humanity.

Which begs the question: were they even real people? When we draw our our family tree back to the beginning, will we actually find the names Adam and Eve there? Or are their names there to illustrate something bigger?

I don’t know. None of us do. Because this chapter is believed to be written even longer ago than Genesis 1 was. It’s our origin story as God-worshippers. It’s our creation narrative. It’s a story, and the point isn’t whether Adam and Eve are our great-great-grandparents.

The point is to tell about how things came to be. It’s backstory. Pre-history.

It’s setting the stage for how Abraham would father a nation of God’s chosen people, Israel, and how they ended up in slavery once in Egypt, and how they were delivered out by Moses only to find themselves back in bondage in Babylon years later.

The point of the first few chapters of Genesis is not to record the beginning.

The point is to explain who we are, why we are here, and how we got to this point.

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. This was supposed to be a post about the debate, but instead I got carried away with Genesis. That was a long long way of explaining the fact that Ken Ham’s argument is slightly misguided and doesn’t really thrill me to support his perspective from the start.

During the audience Q&A session, someone asked Ham whether he would still believe in God if he knew for certain that the Universe is not only thousands of years old.

And he didn’t answer the question.

How can someone who’s belief in God is so foundational for his way of life not immediately answer that question with a “yes”? If your entire theology is based only on the fact that the Universe is only 6,000 years old, the I question your faith and direction.

Is your God not big enough for that possibility?

I mean, it sure feels like the Creator of the Universe ought to be.

In fact, when we refuse to ask ourselves the difficult questions about life and doubt, I think we are being as faithless as possible. Is it really faith if you’re avoiding the tough questions? Are you scared? Are you afraid that the God you believe in is suddenly going to abandon you because he’s been around longer than you thought?

Ultimately, I was struck with how pointless the discussion really seemed in the end. Bill Nye was honest and curious and admitted when he genuinely didn’t know the answer because science hadn’t figured it out yet. But creationism can use “God’s Word” as a crutch for avoiding the struggle of doing the work that faith requires.

I believe in a Creator who reigns in my life and in the world. God is bigger than our questions and our doubts and our unbelief. It frustrates me when we get so caught up in the facts that we miss that point.

Anyway. There was way more I was going to discuss about that debate, but I think I’ll just leave it there. I just wish we could quit labeling evolution/science as a rival to Christianity. I support teaching scientific fact in schools, and I hope it propels us all to ask deeper questions about our God, our world and our theology.

Okay, I’m going to go ski now.

-apc.

why you should intern at jacob’s well this summer.

JacobsWell_mThere are still a few more days left to apply to be a youth ministry intern at Jacob’s Well Church, and I think you should apply! In 2012, we piloted our internship program, and our two interns – Grant and Jourdan – did an amazing job. I had a thought last week: who better to convince others to intern at Jacob’s Well than the interns themselves!

I asked Grant and Jourdan if they would write a brief paragraph or two about their experience as a youth intern and why you should apply. Let’s see what Jourdan had to say…

jourdan“Jacob’s Well was the best of the many different internships that I have done. I learned the obvious: like creating curriculum and running successful junior high events. I also learned some unexpected things about how an office space can also be a place of prayer, silence, study, celebration and community with a staff. I was stretched and challenged during my time at Jacob’s Well in a sometimes hard but definitely God-working way!

By leaving my comfort zone of what I knew, God provided an experience that I could not have found anywhere else. And that’s why I think you should apply for the Jacob’s Well internship.”

– Jourdan

And here’s what Grant had to say about his experience last summer…

395284_359927797428139_1161677418_n“I loved every second of my time at Jacob’s Well. One of the things that has really stuck with me has been the sense of community and how that makes everything at the church more effective. I grew a lot during my short stay as an intern: as a youth leader, as a listener, as a student and in my relationship with Jesus Christ.

The people at Jacob’s Well are some of the wisest, hilarious, creative, caring, loving, and awesome people I have ever had the privilege meeting – and I haven’t even mentioned the students yet! The student are full of life and spirit and every student is willing to let you be a piece in their incredible story. It is an ABSOLUTE JOY to work with them.  

So to any future interns that might be reading this – get ready for one of the best ‘job’ experiences of your life. I guarantee you will not regret joining this amazing team and community!”

– Grant

Seems like a convincing enough argument to me, so what are you waiting for? Head over to the JW website for more info or just download the application! There are only a few more days to get your application in…so hurry it up! Can’t wait to spend the summer doing ministry alongside you.

Download: Jacob’s Well Internship Application

-apc.

closing the gap between “big church” and youth ministry.

Giraffe_family_by_valkyrjandisclaimer: originally i had no intention of having a photo that was at all related to this post. i just wanted a picture of a giraffe because it’s my patronus. but this picture seemed to fit. now it feels childish and cheesy. oh well. moving on.

how do we address the increasing number of individuals leaving their faith communities after they graduate high school?

it’s been well documented that today’s students are graduating high school and leaving their faith communities. i have experienced this myself in my years of doing ministry: students are highly involved during middle school and high school – even join the student ministry leadership team – but then vanish after their first semester after graduating. sometimes they ditch even before they make it to graduation. often times students finish their time in the youth ministry and don’t have a reentry point into the church until they’re married with children.

in the past, we’ve tried to cure this by creating a “college ministry” or “young adult” ministry or “20somethings ministry”. typically these are underfunded, understaffed and unattended. in short: they quickly become massive failures. they develop a lot of hype, kickoff with a bit of momentum, then just turn into cliquish small groups. it’s not working. i think we’ve been doing it the wrong way for a long time now.

when i was growing up, i called the main worship gathering “big church”. it wasn’t for me – it was for my parents and my sunday school teachers and the old fogies that get up and speak at the congregational meetings. there was a distinct dichotomy set up: the main gathering was for the adults, and the sunday schools/youth ministry was for the kids/teens. they were separate, age-appropriate spaces; there was no blending between these groups.

while i believe strongly in age-appropriate spaces, i think we miss a terrific opportunity to include our students in the congregation as a whole. yes, we create a place for belonging at that age-level, but we unintentionally communicate to our students that the main worship gathering is not for them. no wonder they have no interest getting involved at their church after they graduate high school! they’ve had 18 years of non-verbals telling them that “big church” isn’t where they belong!

personally, i don’t believe the answer to reaching young adult populations begins with a new program directed at that age group. i think the answer begins in elementary school. and in middle school. and in high school. the answer is found in integrating our children and teenagers into the community at large in whatever creative ways we can. let the kindergartners play tambourines in the worship band. let the middle schoolers run the slide projector. even let a few high schoolers help preach!

i think the most important thing youth pastors can do is integrate their students into the rhythms and practices of the entire congregation. add the men’s breakfast to the high school calendar. get some middle schoolers to do the call to worship. have students serve communion and read scripture during the service. even pausing weekly events and gatherings to engage in community-wide practices is important.

when we are able to give our students ownership of their church congregation throughout their childhood and teenage years, they will feel a sense of belonging when they graduate high school and enter the adult world. we need to begin valuing our students’ lives beyond high school, and i believe that beings at age 0.

– what ways do you engage your children and students in your congregation’s rhythms and practices?
– what ideas do you have for how to engage them in worship gatherings in the future?

-apc.

could MJ play at fifty?

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DISCLAIMER: i’m sitting in a class called “writing for effect” right now and we’re doing a ten minute free writing exercise. the prompt is, “write about whatever is running through your mind right now.” there are two things on my mind. dissecting justin timberlake’s new album track list (but that blog is coming later this week and requires way more time and intentionality). the other one is from this article…”could michael jordan still play at 50?” here’s what i wrote. unedited…just ten minutes of flow.

Prompt: Could Michael Jordan still play at 50?

Could Michael Jordan still play at 50? The real answer is…SHOULD he play at 50?

There is no doubt in my mind MJ could be a 6th man and play a productive 15-20 minutes and put up 10 points a game. But if we learned one thing from his stint with the Wizards it’s this: MJ’s legacy can be tarnished. Luckily he had a few moments where he managed to transcend his otherwise unfulfilling return from retirement. Let’s be honest though, when we consider MJ’s career, we usually ignore his return because it doesn’t fit into his larger-than-reality persona that he managed to create in Chicago.

What would happen to his legacy if he returned and only averaged 5 points? Right now our memories tell us he can do anything, but what if the reality doesn’t line up with our hopes and dreams? What if he ruins it? What if he doesn’t live up to his own greatness.

He CAN’T live up to our expectations. He just flat out can’t. Our expectations are that he would average double digits, but our underlying motive is that he would have at least one moment where we saw a glimpse of the old MJ: the player that could make grown men look silly. Our underlying desire is to be wowed again, and averaging 10 points a game is not being wowed. Even if the dude is 50 and could be the father of half the league.

His track record doesn’t support his success either. Retiring once to try out baseball: failed. Coming back to play at 40: not necessarily a success. He simply cannot live up to our tall-tale expectation.

Or could he?

What if he did?

No no no. He couldn’t.

But maybe?

This series of “what if” questions is what MJ risks. Could it be amazing? Absolutely. But is it worth the risk if it doesn’t work out? My head tells me that he’d be putting his career on the line and making arguments for Kobe and LeBron to truly enter the “best ever” conversation. But my heart says do it.

So…please come back MJ. but only if you succeed. For our sake and your own.

UPDATE: this is part two of our exercise: write a response to your own writing that is intended as a letter, blog, poem or paragraph directed towards a high school audience. again, this is a ten minute free writing assignment. no editing, just flow.

What can MJ teach us about legacy?

Legacy: what we leave behind. Michael Jordan is pretty much inarguably the greatest NBA player of all-time. He did things no one else ever did. He made grown men look silly. He left us with our hands over our mouths in awe and wonder of the freak he was.

But legacy has a way of growing and maturing over time. Like cheese or wine or tabasco, the longer a legacy sits on the shelf, the longer society has the ability to glorify (dare i say deify?) a legacy to where it transcends the facts and figures of a lifetime.

MJ turns 50 next week, and the question on everyone’s chapped lips: could MJ still play at 50? My primary argument is that he should not. It could tarnish his legacy. It could ruin what he spent decades creating.

But the real question we should be asking is this: what legacy is MJ going to leave beyond 50? What if his post-NBA career managed to out-shine his playing career?

See, MJ – just like everyone else – is on a life-long journey of leaving a legacy. We know what he’s done from 0-50…what will people say about years 50-100?

As you navigate your personal journey, consider what you want your legacy to be, and what you want to be remembered for. Will you do something huge that will change the landscape of this world? Maybe it’s something tiny, yet still significant, that no one even knows about. Maybe it’s revolutionary. I don’t know. But maybe you do.

But your journey is happening NOW. What are you doing right this moment that you want to be remembered for? Are you living life with legacy in mind? Often we think about the future so much that we ignore the present. Where are you impacting this world in a way that is leaving your thumbprint behind? No matter how obvious or imperceptible, our legacy is being created right this moment. Let’s be conscious of that and live into this reality.

the mysterious workings of the adolescent brain.

i just discovered this TED talk from back in september on adolescent brain development. as with most conversations surrounding the teenage brain, we’re talking specifically about the pre-frontal cortex: things like decision making, planning, inhibiting inappropriate behavior, social interaction, self awareness…you know, all the areas where middle schoolers really stink.

here are some interesting thoughts (well, at least i think they’re interesting) i was left with after watching this TED talk, and what they specifically say about youth ministry…

there is a significant decline in grey matter in the pre-frontal cortex following the peak of adolescence. this means that at the height of adolescence, there are more cell bodies and more synaptic connections between cells, but as we age and move past adolescence, our brain begins to eliminate the synapses that aren’t being used, and strengthens the synapses that are being used. the environment that young people are surrounded by dictates what parts of their brain are strong, and what parts are weak.

the limbic system is hyper-sensitive in adolescents compared to in adults. the limbic system is deep within the brain, and it is connected with emotional processing. the limbic system is what gives us the rewarding feeling that comes with taking risks. this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but middle schoolers are more likely to make stupid decisions, and this limbic business is an obvious connection to that fact. previously, i have always attributed this to a lack of forethought because of their under-developed pre-frontal cortex, but apparently their brain is running double duty.

so what does that mean for youth ministry? first, in regards to this grey matter business, it means that if students do not experience Christian community, missional living and an identity found in Jesus Christ during adolescence, their ability to access these things into adulthood is supremely diminished. therefore, it is important that we expose our young people to environments in which they can experience these things during their adolescent years.

and in regards to this limbic system stuff…if a middle schooler’s brain is encouraging them to take more risks, is it important that we partner with this instinct somehow? or would that be taking advantage of their hyper-sensitivity by creating an attractional youth ministry model? how can youth ministry engage the risk-taking limbic system in healthy ways? more questions than answers here, but i wonder what risks we are taking that aid in the spiritual formation of our teenagers?

-apc.

the summit.

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the summit was awesome to say the least. easily the best youth ministry conference i’ve ever been to. the youth cartel (marko and adam) decided they wanted to start a revolution in youth ministry, so they hosted this event as a thinktank for cultivating new ideas. it worked.

well, i should say that it will work – after i somehow sift through the outrageously mindmelting info i encountered it will work. but the last two days since i returned has been an overwhelming experience. how am i supposed to implement all the genius ideas and concepts i was presented with? what does all this mean for my ministry? how do i take this info and turn it into something practical and effective?

eighteen presenters took the stage within 24 hours of each other. most of them had written books or dissertations on the subject they were speaking on, but they had to cram it into a 12 minute TED-talk-style presentation and they went back to back all evening, morning and afternoon.

it was like drinking from a youth ministry firehose.

it was so refreshing, but i feel like for every nugget if information i was able to retain i totally missed out on about 202 other brilliant thoughts, ya know? thankfully, all the talks are downloadable and i can sift back through them over the next few weeks, months, years…

but for now, here are a couple bits that i’m currently chewing on…

“memories and experiences are not biodegradable…somewhere between the ages 6 and 16 figure out how to cope with life, and eventually it becomes habit.”
rhett smith, family counselor and author of “the anxious christian”

“we often times have to articulate what it is we think and what it is we believe in order for that belief to form us. when we talk we construct our identities.”
amanda drury, phd in practical theology, princeton theological seminary

“ideas need to have sex with each other. you may have half of an idea, and you need to meet the person that has the other half.”
charles lee, ceo, ideation

“it is not the success or failure of the risk that defines us. it is our response.”
bobby john, serial entrepreneur, tech savant, lay pastor

“hopeful imagination repersonalizes the gospel and it reprioritizes the atonement where it should be – it is enough.”
chris folmsbee, youth min consultant, and director of barefoot ministries

“i think the most dangerous thing in the world is a young person who has no one to be accountable to.”
gregory ellison ii, dissertation on muteness and invisibility in youth ministry

those six quotes are consuming my thoughts this week. maybe it will be six different quotes next week. hopefully it will be stories about how these thoughts have created something new and beautiful.

-apc.

noticing. accepting. loving.

i just found out that an 8th grader shot and killed himself in the hallways of his junior high school. it happened in stillwater, oklahoma, this morning. what an absolute tragedy. stuff like this should never happen.

there is a lot of conversation centered around whether there was bullying involved or not. the school claims that there was no history of bullying because nothing showed up in their computer database. my first response: your bullying prevention system is an anonymous formal computer system? my second response: there was zero history of bullying on his record? none at all? as in, it never happened, or was it not reported? or was it just not noticed at all?

i can tell you this: no one knew who this kid was. the article i linked above says that the student was “known for his smile and his red hair”. i could have taken a quick glance at his photo and known those qualities. but that’s not the biggest reason i know no one knew who he was. the real reason is that if people had known who he was – noticed him, accepted him, loved him – he would not have taken his life this morning.

i am in no way pointing fingers here, but i am very curious – where are the teachers, parents, counselors, club leaders, and pastors? it’s not hard to prevent a middle school suicide. a hug could do it. or a daily high five. or by just looking them in the eye and telling them that they’re awesome. by recognizing when they’re having a tough day – which is most days – and asking them about it. it’s not rocket science and it certainly doesn’t take much effort for us to be there for the kids in our world.

– every middle schooler is begging for someone to notice them.
– every middle schooler is searching for someone to accept them.
– every middle schooler is hoping someone will love them for who they are.

can we please commit to being that someone for the teenagers in our midst? their futures and their lives depend on it.

-apc.