The Virgin Birth of Christ

The Virgin Birth of Christ, by J. Gresham Machen ★★★★★

This book was originally written in 1930, and the version I read was a Baker House reprint (with a different cover from above) from 1965. It remains contemporary and relevant. I enjoyed reading this book, as I deeply appreciate the way in which Dr. Machen thinks and analyzes problems. It is scholarliness that is often missing nowadays in Christian circles. Dr. Machen, who dates from 1881 to 1837, spent a number of years in Germany studying in the schools of higher criticism, and thus became familiar with the work of Harnack, the Tübingen School, and other scholars of the liberal theological tradition, much of which he countermands in this volume. He was particularly troubled by the deep spirituality of those liberal scholars. Yet his ultimate conclusion was that they had abandoned the faith of Christianity. Machen fought the liberalism that was tearing apart the mainstream denominations in the US and Europe, appealing for a return to classical Christianity as it has been passed down through the ages. To be expected, the predominance of the references in this book refers to writings in German, with a few French, Latin and English references also included.

This book really is in two parts. The first is a review and analysis of the virgin birth stories as found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. First, there is a chapter that reviews statements found in the 1st through 3rd century by Christian writers, confirming that the virgin birth stories were not fabricated at a later date in the Christian church. Machen starts with Luke, analyzing first the two hymns in the first chapter of Luke, and showing their consistency with the Jewish culture at the time of Christ. Machen then analyses all of the passages under contention, including the visit of the magi, the two genealogies, areas where it might be contended that there are irreconcilable differences between the Matthew and Luke stories, the impossibility of there being a common source for both birth narratives, and how both narratives are consistent with the secular history of the Palestine region. In so doing, Machen concludes that the virgin birth is truly the only proper reading of the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke. Machen also shows in a vigorous fashion that the virgin birth narratives could NOT have been inserted into the text at a later date.

The second section then addresses the possible origin for the virgin birth narrative if the story is not actually true. Two possibilities exist. The first is Jewish, being formed after the writing of Matthew and Luke in attempt to merge Old Testament prophecies into a New Testament narrative. The exteme unlikeliness of this happening is emphasized. The second possibility is from the secular realm. There are narratives from other religions that suggest a “virgin” birth (eg., the Siddhartha Buddha, or Alexander the Great) or in Greek/Roman mythology, yet a close examination shows that this is nothing of the case with those stories, and very unsimilar to the Scripture virgin birth narratives.

Much of the writing to this point is fairly technical in nature, and not easy to plow through. The final chapter of this book ends with asking why this is such a big deal. Is it really important to believe in the miraculous virgin birth of the Lord Jesus? Machen ends with an unequivocal “yes”.

Machen occasionally mentions an alternative to the miraculous virgin birth that should be mentioned now. There are stories of angels making women pregnant in the literature, and perhaps other means of getting Mary pregnant without sexual intercourse with another male person. This can be found both in ancient literature as well as throughout history since then. The possibility of Mary conceiving via an “alien/angel” interaction has been offered, especially since ancient humanity was quite naive as to the technical possibilities of the present. This is a rather weak argument since ancient civilizations were not as naive as we suppose them to be. The movies “The Gods Must be Crazy I and II” reinforce this notion that “primitive” man would believe almost anything. To suppose that “angels” using advanced technologies incorporated “sinless” DNA into Mary’s ovum has many problems, the greatest being that it reduces “god” (and man!) down to a digital information entity. Surely God (and man) is more than just an information scheme! Surely Mary’s conception did NOT (and could not) require an intermediary in order to serve the Scripture as it is written.

Machen gives much to think about. He was a brilliant mind and capable defender of the faith. This book is a technical volume and not meant to be read by anybody. For those who wish a scholarly defense of the faith, then this book is a must which I highly advise.

PCT 2022 – Anfang und Ende

Sadness and sorrow are emotions easily felt but difficult to express on paper. It takes a poet to do that, which I am not. I have had a significant amount of grief in the last few days regarding hitting the trail again. There were moments when I thought that I had found a solution: I found a far more comfortable pack, and I found someone who would be hiking (sort of) with me. I knew that before I returned to the trail, I needed to try hiking some trails close to home with a full pack. That I did yesterday, only to find that strength-wise, there was no problem. Instead, back pain, neck pain, and pain radiating down the arms from the brachial plexus was an issue. True, it was a pack that weighed in at about 30 lbs., something that I would need to be carrying through the Sierras. It would not be an issue if I were doing a 2-4 day hike, but to be doing a hike with multiple segments, some of which would be 5-7 days in duration, will probably no longer be feasible for me.

Dreams die hard. Perhaps next year I will find a solution. Perhaps not. It is in God’s hands. Betsy certainly is happy that I am not hiking. Don’t get me wrong; my favorite person is Betsy, and my favorite times are with her. The adventure side of me rages on. What would that trail look like? What would it be like going over Forester Pass or hitting the region of the high Sierra? My hike through the Southern California desert was filled with great joy, though I developed momentary problems that demanded rest. I had mastered the art of long-distance hiking, which is a skill in and of itself, very much unlike regular backpacking. I had devoted hours upon hours to training hikes and preparation. Perhaps my biggest mistake was not doing more training hikes with heavier packs; the pack I used weighed about 17-20 lb maximum.

To assuage my sorrow, Betsy and I went down to the Strip to see Rich Little. He was quite funny and nice to listen to someone with a conservative mindset. In 1.5 hours he had us all laughing and enjoying some political humor, while he reviewed his life story of coming into show business, and then imitating all of the really famous stars that he had gotten to know (and there were MANY!). We got to sit within 6 feet of him, and he even ended by shaking Betsy and my hands. Super-cool! Go see him if you are in Las Vegas, as he won’t be alive too many years more.

Rich Little at the Tropicana

I appreciate the supportive comments that many of my friends have sent me. Sadly, a few people have tried to offer instructions to me as to what I’m doing wrong, though clearly having no clue as to what it involves to do a thru-hike. Adding insult to injury is something that only Fortunato would do, but unlike Amontillado, I will not vow revenge.

Why did things go wrong? I consider several issues were problematic here. First, perhaps more extensive training with a heavier pack should have been done. Secondly, our life had a tremendous disruption because of our recent move to Las Vegas, and that was always on my mind. Thirdly, I knew that Betsy was uncomfortable being alone in a new city, something that pricked my heart well. Fourthly, there was a huge psychological aspect to the hike which I did not account for. The fire to abuse myself and suffer great pain was diminished. I had no cause that I was hiking for. I felt like I was endlessly engaged in a self-flagellating procedure that offered me no redemption. The joy of having a friend or comrade with me was completely absent. All of these things added up to the extinguishing of a dream.

So, I am exploring options with Betsy. I need to pick up my resupply packages, and in traveling to Kennedy Meadows (South) will take Intrepid with Betsy and me to help them start their hike. I will pick up most of the resupply packages that I sent. I hope to get in some car camping, though that is not Betsy’s forte. I will be looking for short trips (1-2 nighters) that I could do, perhaps with the grandchildren? Maybe I need to start cycling more? I love cycle touring, and it is easy to break up a trip into small segments, thanks to the liberal bicycle policy of Amtrak. Who knows what the future holds. I’ll try not to waste the rest of the summer moping. I welcome friendly and informed advice.

P.s. “Anfang und Ende” means “Beginning and End” in German

PCT2022 The Beginning

The Walker Pass Memorial Plaque

14June2022 Betsy dropped me off at the Centennial Hills Transit Station where I boarded an express city bus to downtown. Connecting with the Amtrak bus was not a problem. The bus also picked up passengers at the South Transit Terminal, and stopped in Barstow for a 40 minute break before heading to Bakersfield. The bus also stopped in Mojave and Tehachapi before arriving in Bakersfield on time. I was able to hop a city bus up to Lake Isabella and found my motel without a problem.

The city bus that would take me to the Amtrak bus terminal
The Amtrak bus
The hotel. It’s a dive, but one gets a good night’s sleep, and it gets you to the trail ok. It’s about ½ mile walk from the bus terminal.

Early the next morning I was fully packed, back at the bus stop. By 7 am, I was at Walker Pass Trailhead, eager and willing to hit the trail. Thru-hikers who had camped at Walker Pass were now up and also eager to hit the trail. I started up with vim and vigor.

The start of the PCT just past Walker Pass. It immediately starts climbing after this flat spot.
Moving up the trail, the Walker Pass road remains visible for over a mile. One soon gets out of the Joshua Tree elevations (of about 3000-6000 ft). It had a great amount of beauty, and was very mountainous.

Within about 10 minutes, my back started to kill me. It was something that I just could not ignore, as it got worse and worse as hiking when on. Soon, the pain from the backpack dominated all thinking. I knew that something was wrong, and that I could not go on with the status quo. So, after about 1.7 miles and an hour on the trail, I turned around. I caught an 8:50 bus back to Lake Isabella, and was able to get back home by 1 am the next morning, though it would have been much sooner had I realized the problem with taking public transportation through the Strip late at night. The Strip is a zoo at night.

So, what am I going to do? I have a lot of options available. The first thing is to change how I did things from the start. This morning, I repacked everything in the Gossamer Gear Gorilla. To my surprise, everything fit. I figured out additional means of lightening up the load. I’ll probably only take four liters, and hopefully not start on a very hot day. Doing the trail with somebody could help. Training hikes with a full pack will be necessary, which I’ll start in the next few days. With the aching bones, being careful to maintain a Ibuprofen on board will be totally relevant.

If I find that I can’t manage, then I will do a road trip to pick up my resupply mailings at Kennedy Meadows South, Independence, and Kennedy Meadows North. The VVR package will be left for a needy person or two. It’s in God’s hands. Meanwhile, I’m home with Betsy, the love of my life, and life doesn’t get any better than that!

Final Preparations PCT2022 t-1

It is now only two more days before I depart for the trail. Suddenly, there is much on the agenda. I need to take care of the final resupply packages, which include a bucket that I’ll mail on Monday as well as four boxes that Betsy will send later on. I have not gotten in a few last raining hikes, but still think I’m ready. The forecast suggests that my first few miles will be hotter than average, meaning that I will need to limit my hiking in the heat of the day. Thankfully, the weather is cooling off a bit as I write this.

I made my final review of all my equipment. I set up my tent out on the golf course late one night. I tried out the Sawyer squeeze and realized that it was old, didn’t work, and needed to be replaced. I played around with my stoves, decided to get a 750 ml titanium cup with handles to use with the MSR pocket rocket stove. The final weight (without the fuel canister) is now 7.2 oz compared to the 13.1 oz I used for the Jetboil Flash Lite stove that I was previously using. I blew up my air mattress to make sure there were no leaks. Everything packed nicely into my backpack, so I now feel ready to go.

New Sawyer Squeeze
Final stove arrangement
Stove packed
Thermarest air mattress – deflated
All of my stuff for the high Sierra, including micro spikes and a bear canister
Fully packed pack

Other chores involved taking care of odds and ends around the house with Betsy, mailing my final resupply, and assuring that my electronics were up to speed. Finally, I am doing this post on my iPhone as a warm-up to doing this every night on the trail. I think I’m ready, and tomorrow I catch busses to take me to Lake Isabella. You can follow me on this blog page as I will NOT be posting to Facebook. My public InReach breadcrumbs which will tell you exactly where I’m at at all times (if I’m on the trail) can be found at share.garmin.com/PuyallupPilgrim

I welcome your prayers. You are welcome to contact me but please don’t use Satellite messaging unless it’s an emergency. Also, it may take a week or two for me to get back to you.

PCT – 9 days and counting

Resupply packages ready to mail

On 14JUN in the early AM I will be hopping a city bus down to downtown Las Vegas, where I’ll be connecting with a Trailways bus to Bakersfield. From there, I’ll take a Kern County bus up to Lake Isabella where I have a motel room (I’ve stayed there before) awaiting me. I will also pick up last-minute supplies in Lake Isabella, such as some fresh fruit, for the trail. Very early on 15JUN, I will be boarding another Kern County Transit bus to Walker Pass, where, at about 7 am, I disembark and start my journey north on the PCT.

Preparations have been extensive. I needed to obtain a consent to hike the High Sierra through Yosemite. I needed to prepare resupply provisions. True, I could have picked up many things on the fly while on the trail, but then, that can become another hassle that I’m trying to avoid. The four buckets go out on Monday to Kennedy Meadows South, Independence, Vermilion Valley Resort, and the Kennedy Meadows North. I am using buckets since these items are going to remote locations which are prone to injury and vermin. I almost certainly will be leaving a lot of food for fellow hikers, but then, better to have too much food than too little.

I’ve posted both on this blog site and on Facebook a few of my training hikes. I thought that there would be a problem finding training hikes in Las Vegas, but the opposite proved to be the case. I’ve worn out a pair of Altra Lone Peaks and will be starting the trail with a fresh set.

Generally, a day on the trail consists of waking up, resisting the urge to stay in the sack, making a simple breakfast (I do like hot chocolate or coffee), oatmeal or a granola bar, collapsing the tent and packing my bags, and heading up the trail. I will usually sing a few dittys (the Doxology, the Nicene Creed, the Gloria Patri, and Schönster Herr Jesu), while I start out slow on the trail. Then, it is about 8-12 hours of just walking. I try to take lots of photos. I stop once in a while for breaks and for lunch. I generally am deeply engaged in thought, or brain fog, during the walk. Having free time to think, I can also engage in prayer for family (beloved wife, 5 siblings, 4 children, 13 grandchildren) plus prayer for friends that I know are going through various trials in life. Hiking is always a time to reflect on God’s goodness to me. Serious attention is always paid to the trail and whatever dangers it may present. Once I feel that I’ve hiked far enough (a distance ranging from 15-25 miles) I find a decent campsite, set up my tent, and cook dinner, which is usually very simple. I don’t cold soak my foods; perhaps someday I will. Climbing into my tent, I’ll write my blog entry for the day, perhaps get in some reading, and struggle for some serious shut-eye. I usually wake up 2-3 times at night to urinate; hey, that’s what geriatric male hiking is all about.

I usually will do some reading in the evening, and that I will do on my iPhone Books and Kindle apps. I read a chapter or two of Scripture and then some serious book. My future blogs will talk more about what I have set apart to read. I find that I don’t read too well while hiking; I am usually too tired and the brain fog prevents serious reading. I’m not sure how some people can pack large paperbacks; that just isn’t congruous with my way of doing things.

You will be able to follow my journey on the trail. The InReach mini will leave bread crumbs as to my current and past locations. That is accessible at https://share.garmin.com/PuyallupPilgrim . I will also be sending my wife and a few select friends a text when I hit the trail and retire from the trail every day. I mentioned that I have a theme song this year that I will be keeping in mind. Here are the words (auf Deutsch), and then my verbatim (not poetic) translation. The usual English translation is poor.

Schönster Herr Jesu,
Schöpfer aller Dinge,
Gottes und Marien Sohn!
Dich will ich lieben,
Dich will ich ehren,
Meiner Seelen Freud und Wonn.

Alle die Schönheit
Himmels und der Erden
Ist gefaßt in dir allein.
Keiner soll immer
Lieber mir werden
Als du, schönster Jesus mein!

Schön ist die Sonne,
Schön ist der Mond,
Schön sind die Sterne allzumal:
Jesus ist feiner,
Jesus ist reiner
Als die Engel im Himmelssaal.

Schön sind die Blumen,
Schöner sind die Menschen
In der frischen Jugendzeit;
Sie müssen sterben,
Müssen verderben:
Jesus lebt in Ewigkeit.

Translation:

Beautiful Lord Jesus, creator of all things, God’s and Mary’s son. You will I love. You will I honor. You are my soul’s joy and ecstasy.

All of the beauty in heaven and on earth is held in you alone. Nothing will be more my affection than you, beautiful Jesus.

Beautiful is the sun[shine], beautiful in the moon[shine], and especially beautiful are the stars. Jesus is more spendid, Jesus in purer than all the angels in the sky.

Beautiful are the flowers, more beautiful is mankind in their fresh youth. They must die, they must rot [or spoil away]. [Only] Jesus lives forever.

The hymn certainly was NOT sung by the Crusaders but did originate in the 1600s or before. It is a fitting song for pilgrims on pilgrimage. And thus, Pilgrim will use this song as the 2022 hiking theme.

Kudos to the Hiking Rev on YouTube for being an inspiration for me to do “it” this year. His vlogs are awesome coming from another old geezer (Alte Knacker), and most of his advice is consistent with what I’ve discovered while long-distance hiking before.

I have no idea whether I’ll accomplish my goals for this year. It doesn’t matter. My wife, family, church, and friends are the most important thing to me. I am older now, and various parts of my skeletal anatomy hurt constantly. I have the strength to do as planned, but other circumstances may prevail. Only God knows what will ultimately become of my hike. Soli deo gloria.

Ireland

Ireland: A Concise History from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day, by Paul Johnson ★★★

I had this book sitting on my shelves for years, and finally got around to reading it. Ireland: the Emerald Island, the land of pots of gold and Leprechauns, of St. Patrick, of fields of green as far as the eye could see. What more could a person want? Truth be told, Ireland has been anything but a land of peace and prosperity. The British originally invaded Ireland in the 12th century and found there to be barbaric, savage conditions among the Irish. Any attempt since then for the Brits to bring law and order and civility to the Island has been thwarted. The Brits certainly were never saints toward their treatment of the native Irish, and many of their decisions only brought increased sorrow to the Irish. But, whether it be by allowing the Irish relative freedom or ruling with an iron fist, peace has been wanting on the Island. Much has been the fault of the Irish; whether it be sectarian or religious issues, the island has been rent with the clash of differing ideologies, whether it be the Protestant vs Catholic clash, or the amount of tolerance for the British ruling their Island, discord among the Irish has always been the prevailing theme. Natural calamities, such as the potato blight, only contributed to the pathetic state of the inhabitants of this island. Ireland has served best at exporting its population to other countries, such as Canada and the United States. Johnson ends the book in the early 1990s (when the book was published) with a glimmer of hope. Sadly, based on Irish history, this glimmer is probably wishful and illusory. I can only hope that Johnson is correct in his optimism.

I’ve read many of Paul Johnson’s books, and have rated them as 4-star and 5-star books. He is an excellent author and historian who can hold your interest. This book assumed better than a cursory knowledge of Ireland, and so a modest amount was missed as to what he was talking about. Johnson, being Catholic, did a fair job of hiding that from the reader; still, it is impossible to have a neutral, unbiased opinion regarding the disaster that we call Ireland. This book is very much worth reading, though I hope that the prospective author is a bit more informed as to the history of Ireland than I was.

Thy Word is Truth

Thy Word is Truth: Thought on the Biblical Doctrine of Inspiration, by E.J. Young ★★★★★

This is not a so-called scholarly text. It is a set of 11 short chapters that I presume were originally lectures or sermons that Dr. Young gave regarding the issue of the inspiration of Scripture. In this short book, Young systematically attacks first the old German school of higher Biblical criticism and then segues into an attack on Barth, Brunner, and this school’s newer neo-orthodox position. Scattered throughout, Young constantly reminds us of what the orthodox position was until about 1800.

The fundamental theme is that either the Scriptures are the very words of God or they are not. If they are the words of God, then minor translation errors and minor scribe errors might be present, and translation will yield some differences in the rendering of various passages, especially from the old Testament. Under no circumstance will there be found fatal flaws, though there might be sets of passages that seem to be at odds. These so-called contradicting passages are few, and explanations could be offered that we simply don’t know. The contradicting passages do NOT warrant trashing Scripture or offering an explanation that is anything less than the full inspiration of Scripture.

I’ve always appreciated Dr. Young. I’ve heard a few of his lectures (on audiotape) and read a few of his books. He has stood as a true scholar of Scripture and is unwavering in his defense of the word of God. His arguments against the documentary hypothesis (that the Pentateuch is actually the product of 4-5 authors), as well as the claim that Isaiah is actually the product of 3 authors in differing time periods, still stand as a high point in the defense of the inerrancy of Scripture. You can’t have it two ways. The New Testament attests to the Old Testament. Thus, either Jesus, the apostles, and Paul were wrong, or the higher critics are wrong. It can’t be both ways. I’ll put my vote in for the NT authors as well as the words of God incarnate as found in Jesus Christ.

I had this book on my shelf for about two years before getting around to reading it. It was purchased from Amazon, and the price for a hard-bound edition is now too high to be affordable. It is a gem, and readable by anybody of any educational level. A clear-cut exposition of the inerrancy of Scripture should be read by all mature faithful Christians. Young’s text certainly fills the category of an inerrancy text that could/should be read.

Blood and Thunder

Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, by Hampton Sides ★★★★

Hampton Sides masterfully assembles a picture of Kit Carson that is worth remembering. This book is the story of the life and times of Kit Carson. Carson was a short, not terribly muscular man, illiterate, yet succeeded in becoming a legend in his time. Many contemporary books about Carson were fiction paintings a super-human person, exactly what he was not. Yet, Kit Carson was a man most deserving of the highest honor. He left home at a young age, not wishing to be bound by an apprenticeship. He became a trapper in the wild west, where he learned various Indian languages as well as French and Spanish. His trapping experience and Indian language fluency allowed Carson to eventually serve as a mountain guide. He was greatly responsible for blazing the Oregon Trail. He also guided military missions in California and was as responsible as anybody in helping California gain freedom from Mexico. Numerous were his touches with death throughout his life. Kit Carson fought tirelessly to defend the Indian from thoughtless military action, though he served as a military guide to put down Indian misdeeds, eventually even acting as an Army colonel to quell Indian rebellions. Sides is fair in his treatment of the Indian nations, neither idolizing them or turning them into heroic innocent savages, nor of picturing them as subhuman beasts. Kit Carson seemed to show better balance than most regarding public policy toward Indian affairs.

This book is a riveting story of Kit Carson, a most amazing person. It is also the story of the US siege and conquering of the Southwest United States. Untold by Sides were the many eventual battles that would be fought to finally subdue the Indian tribes. Carson interacted with many other well-known characters, including Presidents Polk, Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant, as well as Fremont, Kerny, Sheridan and Sherman. He was well known (and often friends) of many of the great Indian chiefs at the time. Based out of his home in Taos, New Mexico, Carson seemed to be called away for duty more often than he was able to stay home. He had eventually fathered six children and adopted Indian kids. Sadly, both his wife and he died within a month apart, leaving penniless orphans to the care of distant relatives. Side stories in this book included glimpses into the Mexican campaigns, the western aspect of the Civil War, the numerous pre-civil-war Indian battles, the American conquest of California, most of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as the numerous attempts to find something useful to do with the land of New Mexico. This book was a delightful reading experience, though the interweaving stories often left the reading to be a little choppy. I’m not sure what Hampton Sides could have done to prevent that. If you hold an interest in American history, then this is a fair, even-handed recounting of the Wild Southwest and Kit Carson.

Theistic Evolution

Theistic Evolution; A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, Edited by Moreland, Meyer, Shaw, Gauger, and Grudem ★★★★★

This book sat on my shelves for a number of months before I was able to read it, and even then, I interrupted the reading of this book in order to complete other books that needed my attention. It’s a thick text, and cannot be speed-read. Thus, there was a challenge of time in making it through the book while being able to savor its pages. There were many days on the back porch of our house (which was most conducive to reading) that afforded me the luxury of devouring this text.

This text is an expansive though not exhaustive compendium of a current intelligent design response to theistic evolution. There is no major “new” material. The essays represent a collection of some of the best thinking rebutting theistic evolution. Yet, the papers are well organized in order to offer a smooth flow of material for the reader who chooses to read the book from cover to cover. That is what I chose to do. The book, as the title suggests, breaks up the issues into the scientific critique, the philosophical critique, and then the theological critique of theistic evolution. I am not going to explain theistic evolution; if the reader of this book review doesn’t know the basic tenants of theistic evolution, then the best starting point would be to purchase this text and read it.

The scientific critique of theistic evolution is no different than the critique of atheistic evolution. To that end, there are a plethora of texts, including (some of the best texts) written by authors of this section, notably Stephen Meyer, Jonathan Wells, and others. There is no “bad” chapter in this section. There are more recent texts that have been published that would provide better source material for debate. Honestly, speaking as a scientist myself, I find this section personally supererogatory though essential in the public square. It is a bit of wonder that the “theory” of evolution as it is taught could be found so strongly believed by people who consider themselves the cream of human erudition. I would find the origin of life coming from little green men from the planet Xylon more believable than that of Darwin’s ramblings. Chapter 17 by Christopher Shaw “Pressure to Conform Leads to Bias in Science” particularly hit home to me, and was a real gem. One of my professors in graduate school had a sign over his desk that stated “The object of research was to get a grant”. Most laboratories operate to a large degree under that motto, since the cost of doing research is astronomical and it is impossible to have independent laboratories. Either the government or wealthy pharmaceutical firms are funding these ventures. Funding demands compliance with prevailing norms, which is precisely what Shaw is referring to in chapter 17.

The philosophical section is necessary since the philosophy of science itself is at stake. When science has lost its moorings, any craziness could be presented as “gospel” truth, and we are witnessing precisely that fact. This section also shifts toward specifically addressing the issue of theistic evolution. Essentially, science has forced out any explanation of our observable world outside of methodological naturalism, i.e, if you can’t see it, smell it, hear it, feel it, or detect it on some sort of instrument, there is no reason to believe that it is an explanation. Yet, evolution is mostly a retelling of a “historical” event, which by definition falls outside of the realm of science. Collins’ chapter is a gem in detailing how we think about God’s action in the world. This chapter is a brief summary of several books that he has written on the topic (all of which are excellent reading material), helping us to think of God in very active terms in this universe. It is just another way of saying that we are not deistic in our belief in God. It is strange that the theistic evolutionist has God active in the very first stages of the creation of the universe (setting preliminary conditions that necessitate the evolution of man), then disappearing during the development of life as we know it, and finally reemerging as a God that interacts with man; the theistic evolutionist truly has created a god in the image of man. Also worthy of special mention was Colin Reeves’s chapter on the interaction of science with Scripture; salient points about the realms of science and theology were most apropos. Other chapters on the problem (or pseudo-problem) of natural evil, and that of the development of moral conscience, remain issues explained by Scripture but left wanting by the theistic evolutionist. Finally, West removes any doubt that CS Lewis was a theistic evolutionist, as his writings remove any thought that he truly held to a belief in evolution.

The theological critique of theistic evolution should never need to be if the Scriptures were held to be the divinely inspired word of God. The inerrancy of Scripture is fundamental to the Christian faith and especially among those who label themselves evangelical Christians. Yet, we see that evangelicals will sadly call themselves theistic evolutionists. Grudem details twelve Biblical doctrines that are violated with theistic evolution, and Currid (with the Old Testament) and Waters (with the New Testament) quote and expound on the critical Scriptural texts to defend against evolutionary beliefs. I believe their arguments to be sound. Allison then proceeds to show how evolution was addressed in church history; though Allison is a great church historian, this chapter is a touch weak in expressing the diversity of thought in church history. As a simple example, Augustine suggested the possibility of an old-earth style of creation, but this was ignored in Allison’s discussion of Augustine’s thoughts on creation. Finally, a discussion of BB Warfield and his reluctance to accept anything but a most limited definition of evolution was discussed.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is definitely not a book that everybody should read. It is encyclopedic, yet individual topics all deserve more exploration by the interested reader. There are gems scattered throughout this book. It is a book that needed to be written, and for select folk would serve as an aide in knowing how to answer the Christian who claims that evolution as a blind unguided force in the development of man is true.

Within a month, Lord willing, I will be back on the Pacific Crest trail, and crossing Carson Pass in California. Kit Carson, an illiterate mountain man, has many geographical features named after him, including the capital of the state in which I currently live. I will be reading a biography of this most interesting man in the weeks to come, and hopefully have a book review available before I hit the trail. Carson’s biography will also provide me with a little lighter reading material, though it is already generating much intrigue and thought. Until then, до свида́ния!

The Truth in Both Extremes

The Truth in Both Extremes: Paradox in Biblical Revelation, by Robert S. Rayburn★★★★★

This book was read in digital format on my iPad. I did this for two reasons. First, the printed version was considerably more expensive than the digital version. Secondly, the book is very heavily referenced, and the references were quite valuable to read, which was much easier to do in the digital format. Rob Rayburn was my pastor for approximately 25 years, and the book was written in a pastoral format, quite easy to read, as though Dr. Rayburn were speaking directly to you. Rayburn gave a series of 8 sermons in 2001 which were the core of what this book was all about. In those sermons, pastor Rayburn summarized what is contained in this book. This book expands upon his sermons and provides a more systematic approach to the notion of opposing tensions in Scripture that are not intended to be reconciled.

The first two chapters develop the concept of opposing and seemingly contradictory truths presented in Scripture, with no Scriptural mention of how to explain these diametrically opposite truths. As Rayburn notes, he did not invent the notion of doctrinal tensions in Scripture. Giants of the faith, including Augustine, Calvin, many Puritans, Spurgeon, as well as JI Packer develop this notion that complex truths are presented in Scripture, both of which are to be believed, both of which must be held with equal weight, and both must not be attempted to be synthesized into a “new” truth, à la Hegel.

Subsequent chapters each individually cover a specific topic of two truths held in tension. I use the phrase “held in tension” as Rayburn frequently will use that term, though it is a tension that is held only if it really bothers you that a Biblical truth might be presented in two extremes. The first is that of the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is one, yet God is three. It doesn’t seem right, but then, why would we assume that God is ontologically “simple”. (N.B., in a way, God is ontologically simple, but I am not interested in arguing this point at this time). The next chapter discusses how Jesus was both man and God, and not a fused entity (tertium quid), both natures present and distinct, both without suggestion that Jesus was “half-man, half-God”, but instead, fully man and fully God simultaneously. Next, Rayburn attacks the “sticky” dilemma of the sovereignty of God and freedom of man, i.e., man’s full responsibility for sin, yet God foreordains all that would come to pass. In my own humble opinion, for a God that exists outside of time and space, the converse would be more challenging for God to create; man’s full freedom without God’s sovereignty or the very dull and uncreative possibility of God’s sovereignty without man’s freedom. This doctrine shows God to be super-cool!!!!!

Pastor Rayburn then waxes pastoral (what he does best!) in the challenge of man’s assurance of salvation yet the need for attention to carefully walk the Christian life. This segues into the issue of how many people will be saved, few or many? The Scripture rightfully answers “both” without explanation, save for the admonishment to carefully attend to one’s own salvation. Are we saved by faith, or by works? Both. We are saved fully by faith, and fully by works, yet we have no reason to boast. It is God’s work. The Christian response to joyfully accept both polarities is most appropriate. The next chapter addresses two vexing issues. 1. Scripture promises both a life of wealth and blessing, as well as a life of troubles. Seeing both extremes in Christians throughout the ages leaves no doubt that both aspects may be true, and certainly with Job, that both may be true with the same person. 2. Does God answer our prayers? Yes and no. Whatever we ask in His name will be granted to us… or, will it? Scripture partially answers this question, as sometimes we ask selfishly or for evil gain, sometimes our prayers will be granted in the distant future, but often we may not ever realize an answer to our prayer. Yet Rayburn, in his inimical fashion, provides a good argument to continually seek the Lord in prayer, and that we will do.

The chapter on Biblical ethics and the dialectical truths contained therein is a bit problematic, and I find Rayburn’s arguments occasionally to be weak. Suffice it to say that Rayburn quotes (perhaps a touch critically) the ethical writings of John Murray, though I tend to lean in favor of Murray and not Rayburn. Yet, there is much in the Ethics chapter that is not controversial. Proverbs will often present opposing truths and expect a heart of wisdom to know when each truth should appropriately be applied. Issues of dealing with sinners in the church, dealing with the Government, dealing with the ordination of women in the church, and other issues are all discussed and not necessarily controversial. Then, Rob goes on to discuss the issue of lying vs. telling the truth. Should one lie to save a life? Doesn’t the Scripture occasionally advocate lying and show examples of God telling a lie? I tend to lean with Murray on this issue in the way he suggests that certain Biblical historical events are not necessarily normative. I feel that the issue is made problematic in that ethicists will usually present the dilemma as an either-or situation. Conversely, rarely do ethicists ever suggest that there might be a third alternative, and the ethical dilemma is more a fabrication than the way we should be thinking in complex situations. Finally, Dr. Rayburn delves into the sticky issue of unity in the church, while preserving the church from falsehood and heresy. Clearly, this is an issue that demands wisdom from on high, and will not be answered by weighing either unity or division too heavily.

Pastor Rayburn concludes by summarizing the need for the Christian to acknowledge that many of one’s beliefs will be two competitive, dialectical truths, both of which must be assumed to be true and yet both must equally be believed and acted upon by the Christian. To that, I heartily agree. There are just a few points that I wish would have been better developed in the book.

  1. How is a biblical Christian dialectic different from a Hegelian dialectic? Is not a Christian concession that two dialectical truths suggestive that A and non-A are both true caving in to the notion that truth does not or cannot exist? Rayburn perhaps should have committed one chapter to the philosophy of Biblical dialecticism.
  2. What are the boundaries to the dialectical principle? What about applying the dialectical principle to the issue of gender confusion? Could it be okay to say that one is both male and female as a dialectic? What about theological issues? Is Scripture the word of God or the word of man? While we accept the notion that Scripture contains man’s personality, is it possibly a dialectal issue that we can occasionally dismiss, as Karl Barth and others have done? How can the dialectical principle be abused in interpreting Scripture? If the 8th commandment against bearing false witness may be dialectical, what about the other nine commandments? Might there be an occasional reason, out of love, to commit adultery? Might I occasionally bow to other gods to save skin? Perhaps in edition 2 of this book a fuller argument might be presented.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is heavily referenced, and the references were also a delight to read. The book discusses a truth that is often poorly presented to Christians, leading to more confusion than good. It is a book that I would recommend to all Christians. It is not written in an academic style, and thus should be able to be consumed by most intelligent Christian folk.