Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Blinders We Wear

Isaiah 55:8-9
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

We as Christians live much of our lives wearing a set of blinders, one which we have mostly because we are finite and mortal—human. For those who don’t know what blinders are, they are the pieces of leather which were put on horses on the sides of their eyes to limit their vision to just in front of them, so that they wouldn’t be spooked by peripheral movement. Blinders are vision-limiters. And we wear them. Sometimes they’re so big that we’re lucky that we’re able to see anything out of them at all. We have them because we are humans and we are finite, limited—unable to see things outside of our limited perspective. But sometimes, we can see more than we give ourselves credit for.

It’s kind of like looking at the sun through a pinhole in an index card. Sure it allows you to see the actual shape of the sun, but you’re doing so at the expense of the blinding glory and power of the sun. (I know that’s the point with the pinhole card, but bear with me in this.)

There are various ways that we as Christians are affected by the blinders we wear. And some of these effects are devastating. Rather than explain in-depth what I mean in some seminary-esque lecture, I shall simply give some examples.

1) I had the opportunity to explain to a friend of Katie’s the background of the name Jehovah. Her friend was a Jehovah’s Witness who was investigating some of what she believed. (In brief, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jehovah was a name given specially to them as part of a new and recent revelation; it is actually a medieval misreading of the name Yahweh in the Hebrew text.) I spoke the truth honestly and clearly. And I did not convert her (so far as I know). Neither did Katie. I may never have any interaction with her again. And if I look with blinders on, seeing only what I see, then I have failed to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20.
The point here is that what I did is not the end of things. It’s the end of the part of the picture that I can clearly see, but it is not the whole of the picture. It is one pixel in the multi-million pixel picture that is the life of that woman. I had the chance to make that pixel a point of light, and I did so. Maybe God plans to put a whole bunch of pixels of light together and make a picture of light, and she will one day be saved. And maybe not. I don’t know. But if I’m willing to see things without my blinders on—willing to see the big picture, then I will realize that her salvation is not in my hands: it is in the hands of God, and he uses a lot of different people to fill a lot of different roles—more than I am ever able to see or understand. If I can realize that the picture is larger than my pixel—even if I can’t see it clearly—I will realize that I have done what God wanted and fulfilled my role.

2) My father’s church is struggling to ‘survive’ in the sense of both finances and numbers. It was that way almost 8 years ago, and it’s still that way. Will it persist? Will it have to close its doors? I don’t know. God knows, but I don’t know. But if that church has been faithful to do what God has required of it, then it has done what it was supposed to do. Staying alive, being full, having the resources to do a lot of programs, having lots of young children, having great outreach programs, supporting lots of missionaries—none of these things is necessarily (or solely) the calling of my father’s church, or of any church for that matter. The church is not called to be ‘successful’ by human estimation. It is called to do what God calls it to. For some churches, that may look like what we call success. For others it may not.
But the church has done its duty and been faithful if it has done its best by the power of God working in it. If we wear our blinders then the struggle or closing of a church is a sign of failure. That is not necessarily true. The work of the individuals within the church goes on even if the church closes. The work of the denomination goes on even if the church closes. The work of the Church universal goes on even if the church closes. And God’s work in the whole world goes on even if the church closes. Sure, a church might be a number of pixels in the picture—more than the few pixels that I personally can see and affect. But it’s still not the whole picture. And if we can try to see the whole picture, we’ll realize that it goes beyond the church of which we are a part. Besides which, the closing of the church does not imply that everything good in that church is gone—the people, the effect the church had on them, and the work they do for God will go on.

3) I grew up in a denomination which at times I reflect upon and am unimpressed by. Sometimes I reflect upon the CRC and unimpressed is an understatement of my feelings about the character of the denomination. And if we wear our human blinders, then watching things go down the drain—one by one—is the end of the world as we know it. But once again, if I can remove the blinders of human limitation and see things more as God would see them, I would realize that the work of the CRC is more than the work of the CRC. It is the work of individuals in the CRC. It is the work of programs made up of individuals. It is the work of churches made up of individuals. It is the work of programs made up of multiple churches. It is the work of the Church universal, beyond the CRC.

In short, once again, the picture is bigger than any part which we can look at. This is not an excuse to do nothing. God calls individuals to be faithful to his call on their lives. He calls programs to be faithful to their calling. He calls churches to be faithful to their calling. He calls denominations to be faithful to their place and calling. And he calls the Church universal to be faithful to its calling.

But if we live with our human blinders on all the time, we will limit our view to seeing only one part of the picture, and when that part of the picture seems to remain dark (or go dark), then we drop into despair, seeing only what we perceive as a sign of failure. But if the Bible is clear on anything (it’s actually clear on a lot of things, but that’s neither here nor there) it is clear on the fact that standards of success and failure should be defined by God and have been especially redefined by the coming of Christ and his sacrificial work. We do not measure success and failure by human standards but by God’s standards.

So don’t lose hope. Be faithful to your calling and trust that God does plan to work all things out, and you are just one part of that plan. If you ensure that the pixels which you are given to light up in this world are lit up as God wanted them to be, then you have succeeded in your given mission (by the power of God) and responded faithfully to your calling. One day we will see the whole picture, and we will see the pixels which we lit alongside of the millions and millions of pixels which others lit, and we will realize that we were just one part of a massive picture of light. And God will say to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Genesis 1: Post #4: God’s Great Plan in Genesis 1

Proposition #11
“Functional Cosmic Temple Offers Face-Value Exegesis”
This proposition itself is fairly self-explanatory, but it carries a good deal of weight: being able to read the text at face-value, hearing it in much the same manner as the original audience would have heard (and the original author would have intended it be heard) allows us to read the text a new and unique light that takes into account various factors. People have tried to read Genesis 1 as a number of things: myth (but it’s told as factual, not mythical), poetry (but the text simply is not near Eastern poetry at all), polemic (but the author’s intent is not notable polemic), theology (but it makes far more than theological points), literary (it belongs in a certain time and place—and must stay there) or other variations on such themes as these. What all of these lack is the fact that the author wrote the text as an Israelite and for Israelites, so it had a unique purpose for the Israelites
Being able to read the text at face value:
1) recognizes Genesis 1 for the ancient document that it is;
2) finds no reason to impose a material ontology onto the text;
3) finds no reason to require the finding of scientific information between the lines;
4) avoids reducing Genesis 1 to merely literary or theological expressions;
5) poses no conflict with scientific thinking to the extent that it recognizes that the text does not offer scientific explanations.

Propsition #12
“Other Theories of Genesis 1 Either Go Too Far or Not Far Enough”
Here Walton treats a few of the most popular positions on reading Genesis 1 in light of his findings:
Young Earth Creationism (YEC):
This is the view that the earth was created in all its form in consecutive 24-hour days as recorded in Genesis 1. This view, says Walton, holds the distinction of being willing to take the text at (perceived) face-value and stick by that straightforward interpretation, no matter how much ridicule you may face for doing so, and he has deep respect for those who are able to stick by their Christian guns. His critique is that, while they have a correct reading for yom, which is a 24-hour day, their reading of bara has been to narrow and as a result, they still subscribe to a material understanding, thereby having the wrong face-value reading.
Old Earth Creationism (OEC):
OEC often reads into the text of Genesis 1 scientific theory fitting behind the scenes and between the lines, and so they understand the 6 days of creation to be 6 undetermined periods of time. As previously mentioned, this view does not at all understand the true meaning of the word yom and it is still wholly a material understanding. It also has a tendency to attempt to read modern science (which as noted is a changing filed with mutable ‘conclusions’) into an ancient text, which is not out of the realm of God’s ability but doesn’t seem to be the point of Genesis 1.
Framework Hypothesis:
This view sees the literary and theological truths expounded in Genesis 1 and concludes that those findings are the purpose, a reading of the text that Walton claims is too narrow, not taking into account the fullness of the text.

Proposition #13
“The Difference Between Origin Accounts in Science and Scripture is Metaphysical in Nature”
Before anyone gets scared off by the word ‘metaphysical,’ let me explain this simply: many people in their understanding of creation have relegated anything knowledgeable to natural causes of the God-designed universe and anything unexplainable to the supernatural work of God. But as we get to know more and more of the way the world works, more and more is attributed to God, until we (theoretically) just need God to set off some Big Bang and then things go merrily on from there. However, this distinction between the natural and supernatural parts is a modern, not a Biblical distinction. In Scripture, we see that the natural and supernatural run together in different layers, even interacting in ways at times, running simultaneously. We can see this in 1 Chronicles 14:15, where David is told by God that when he goes to battle and hears marching in the treetops (of the supernatural forces of God’s army) then he can go to battle for God is with him.
A more correct understanding is that the natural and supernatural form two layers, with the lower layer being the realm of the material, the realm in which we see and understand how the world works—the realm where science operates and can only operate, given its current design. The upper layer is the supernatural layer of the work of God, which covers the whole lower layer, since God is the ultimate cause and the material outworking as we see and understand it is the second cause. Our knowledge of the lower layer in no way decreases God’s work but simply gives us glimpses into how God made it happen.
The really important stuff in this proposition and chapter is the claim that science is unable to study the top layer: science has taken it upon itself to concern itself with the matter of the functions of the material world and the understanding thereof. In their intent to study sequences of causes and what causes what, they are missing something—purpose. Science can tell you what something is made of, how the parts interact, the laws the govern the interaction and making of parts, and even how something can be used, but it cannot tell you what the purpose of something is. The reason for this is that the purpose is not provable. Science demands that something be provable in repeatable, controlled, tests, and the purpose of something, at least the ultimate purpose in the greatest scheme, is not provable. For instance, science can determine the purpose of a part within a cell, a cell with an organ, an organ within an animal, an animal with an ecosystem, an ecosystem within a planet, and can determine the causes which that planet has within its solar system, etc. But it cannot answer why it all exists. It simply is not set up to do that. The why of everything existing—the grand purpose which everything feeds into, no matter where it falls in the sequence of causes and effects, is called teleology, a word meaning the study of the telos, a Greek word for end or goal which has come to mean final and ultimate purpose.
Science cannot prove that there is no telos to the cosmos. It also cannot prove that there is a telos to the cosmos. In this way, science is telos-neutral. However, science has in the past tended to emphasize the one and not the other—they have tended to emphasize that it cannot be proved that there is a telos, so there must not be telos. What science has failed to recognize is that they are unable to prove that there is not a telos to the cosmos.
Why this is important to Genesis 1 is this: Genesis 1 cannot be a viable scientific account of creation because it affirms, without a doubt, that there is a telos to the cosmos. In fact, Walton would contend that, because of the functional nature of the account of Genesis 1, the text is concerned only with the upper level—the level of the telos and how all things fit together into God’s grand plan, and it is not at all concerned with the material mechanisms. In fact, it is the extreme teleology of the Biblical understanding of all created things (that all things were created with a very specific purpose in God’s plan) that bolsters the idea that the account of creation would be far more concerned with how things serve to further that great plan, rather than with how they were made.

(All quotes, unless otherwise noted, and all creative material work unless I specify it as my opinion, comes from John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Genesis 1: Post #3: Genesis 1 as Temple Liturgy

Proposition #7
“Divine Rest Is in a Temple”
If we read Genesis 1 as an account of the material creation of the cosmos, then day seven seems odd, a kind of a theological postscript to the real narrative of creation. But Walton contends than an ancient reader would have immediately understood two things: 1) Genesis 1 is a temple text and 2) day seven is the most important of the seven days and therefore the more important part of the temple text. In a functional account of creation, day seven would be the climax and the pinnacle of the narrative. Why? Because in an ancient mindset it would have been readily understood that “Deity rests in a temple, and only in a temple.” A temple is a place for divine rest (rest not meaning divine sleep, but divine sitting back, looking on the functional system, and letting it do what it was designed to do).  In fact, the Hebrew word shabat (from which is derived the word Sabbath) is an action which leads into a state of menuha, a position of safety and stability. The temple in which deity takes up rest is his headquarters (not primarily a place of communal worship as in churches today) from which he executes all the business of his realm, in this case the business of the entire cosmos.

Proposition #8
“The Cosmos Is a Temple”
Walton shows, through various avenues, that in ancient Near-Eastern mythology, the conceptualization, formation, and purpose of the cosmos and the temple were practically synonymous acts, showcasing the authority of the deity and serving as a place from which to execute that authority. And this is equally true in the case of the tabernacle/temple of the Israelites, which has often been seen as a microcosm of the entire cosmos and seen to be containing many images of both creation in general and the Garden of Eden in particular. In short, the Garden of Eden, the temple/tabernacle, and the entire cosmos are all similarly conceived sanctuaries in which God resides and in which humans can come and interact with and worship God. This is especially clear simply from Scripture in Isaiah 66:1-2c:
“Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.”
So while the ancient Israelites were certainly paying attention to the functional, not material aspects of God’s creation of the cosmos, the function which they were most interested in was the function of creation as the temple of God, the place of God’s authoritative rule where humans could meet with him and worship him.
Here is what Walton has to say:
“The most central truth to the creation account is that this world is a place for God’s presence. Though all of the functions are anthropocentric, meeting the needs of humanity, the cosmic temple is theocentric, with God’s presence serving as the defining element of existence. … The establishment of the functional cosmic temple is effectuated by God taking up his residence on day seven.”

Proposition #9
“The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration”
When a temple is made, there are two stages prior to use—creation and inauguration. The creation deals with the material building of the temple, the wood, stone, and gold that goes into it. Then comes the inauguration, and it is not until the inauguration was complete that a temple would have truly been considered a temple. In much the same way, the earth, in whatever form it took prior to the account of Genesis 1, was a collection of well-organized materials. But then came Genesis 1, and the seven days of creation are a seven-day inauguration ceremony for the greatest temple ever made—the cosmos.
We can see this happening in Exodus n the portrayal of the making of the tabernacle: in Ex. 39:32 it is reported that all the work on the tabernacle was complete. But the tabernacle-making wasn’t finished yet—the inauguration had yet to be completed; so then we have the blessing of Moses over the tabernacle in 39:43 and the description of the organizing of the things in the temple and the entrance of the glory of the Lord in Ex. 40, so that by Ex. 40:34, the temple is actually complete.
Walton even suggests, perhaps accurately and in conjunction with others, “that Genesis 1 could have effectively served as the liturgy” of a festival which celebrated the inauguration of the tabernacle/temple, such as the festival spoken of in 1 Kings 8:65 with the temple of Solomon.
This would allow us to more accurately handle the present discussion regarding the term ‘day’ in Genesis 1 (Hebrew yom). Many have tried to see ‎yom as referring to a period of time, rather than to a 24-hour period, but the language simply does not accommodate such a reading, given the usage of yom elsewhere in Scripture. But if the seven days of Genesis 1 are in fact the ‘inauguration ceremony’ of the cosmos, then they could very well have been seven, literal, 24-hour days in which God set up, not the material origins of the universe, but the functional origins of the universe as the temple of God.

Proposition #10
“The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins”
This may seem fairly obvious from previous discussions, but here Walton makes a point of coming out and saying a few things which he has previously implied. First off, he states that, unless it can be proven alongside of his theory that Genesis 1 does contain an account of the material origins of the cosmos, it should not be retained simply because that is what we are accustomed to. That being said, he makes it abundantly clear that he is not saying that God did not meticulously and powerfully make every material thing, but simply saying that Genesis 1 does not tell that story. (And given that the rest of Scripture is far more concerned with what the purpose of the earth is for a good life for humans and for the glory of God, rather than how it works, this seems to me to be very consistent with the witness of Scripture as a whole.)
Walton addresses systematically the possible places where material origins could be discussed ad this is what he comes out with:
= Days one, three, and seven speak of no material creation at all.
= Day two, the firmament, is potentially material, but it is clear that the Israelites had more concern with what it did and little concern with how it was made.
= Days four and six have material components but they are discussed on a functional level.
= Day five speaks of the function of the created beings and uses the verb bara, previously established to be a verb concerned with the functional, not material creation.
Then Walton takes his vehicle to a place where the rubber hits the road with a screeching that many might find uncomfortable and others will love the sound of: if all of this is true, then Genesis 1 does not support a young earth position. It also does not support an old earth position. It simply doesn’t rule out, or confirm either one—it just doesn’t speak to the age of the earth. And I quote:
“If there is no biblical information concerning the age of the material cosmos, then, as people who take the Bible seriously, we have nothing to defend on that count and can consider the options that science has to offer. Some scientific theories may end up being correct and others may be replaced by new thinking. We need not defend the reigning paradigm in science about the age of the earth if we have scientific reservations, but we are under no compulsion to stand against a scientific view of an old earth because of what the Bible teaches.”
God still made the earth—functional and material. Colossians 1:16-17 and Hebrews 1:2 affirm that God is the source of all that exists, material, functional, or anything else you can think of.
But then what do the seven days do? The seven days add two things to the material world: 1) humanity in God’s image and 2) God’s presence in his cosmic temple. “Without those two ingredients, the cosmos would be considered nonfunctional and therefore nonexistent” and this is consistent with Scripture’s understanding that the cosmos exists for humans second and God first. Once Genesis 1 has passed on, the material temple has been granted the presence of the Deity and the presence of the priests (human beings, ministering before God in his temple) and is therefore complete.
One major objection which many hold and which I held to this view is the question of death. A material world implies death, unless it is without animal life or even plant life, since both require death. But Walton contends, perhaps rightly, perhaps not, that Paul is not speaking about death in general, but about death for humanity as it came into the world through sin. Death came to humanity through sin in the fall, but that does not mean that it didn’t exist in the rest of the world prior to the Fall. Once humans sinned, the mortality with which they had been created as a part of the earth (‘from the dust’) their one antidote to mortality, the Tree of Life, was denied to them and so death came to humanity through the Fall.

(All quotes, unless otherwise noted, and all creative material work unless I specify it as my opinion, comes from John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Genesis 1. Post #2: What God Really Did in Creation

Proposition #3
““Create” (Hebrew bara) Concerns Functions”
One word that I have found interesting to examine in my study of biblical Hebrew is the verb bara, a verb that appears about 50 times in the Old Testament (and a few instances of note in Genesis 1) and is typically translated ‘create.’ The interest in it comes from the fact that this verb concerns an action which is only ever an action performed by God—if a human being makes something, a different verb is used. So in the Old Testament, if bara is used, the activity is inherently divine and humans cannot participate. Walton, with extensive discussion, contends, I believe rightfully so, that bara is a verb that is not only inherently divine, but also concerns creation within the aforementioned functional ontology.

Proposition #4
“The Beginning State in Genesis 1 Is Nonfunctional”
If it is true that the creation account in Genesis 1 speaks not to material creation but to functional creation, then it is also true that the chaos that is spoken of in 1:2 is most certainly a chaos that is nonfunctional, or even anti-functional. The two Hebrew words that are typically translated “formless and void” (tohu and bohu) are another source of proof which Walton employs for support of his position. The word bohu is rare, and it is difficult to pinpoint a meaning for it, although its semantic range deals with ‘nothingness.’ Tohu appears more often in the Old Testament, and its semantic range deals not so much with nothingness but with a state of nothing useful—unproductivity. So the phrase of what the world was pre-Genesis 1 was not so much that there was nothing (although I fully believe in creation ex nihilo) but that whatever was there was simply unproductive—not carrying out its intended function.

Propositions #5
“Days One to Three in Genesis 1 Establish Functions”
= Day One: In Genesis 1:5, God “called the light day and the darkness he called night.” Why? Why not just call light ‘light’? The simple, perhaps guessable, answer is that God was talking about making a period of light for human beings, not the ‘material’ creation of light. In 1:4, it says that God “separated the light from the darkness,” a nonsensical statement unless the text is speaking about God’s designation of a period of light. This standard can be extended to 1:3, where it reads “let there be light.” If this is referring to a period of light then God’s creation of the light is an act of creating a function intended to support human existence and it is also the creation of some measure of time.
= Day Two: For hundreds of years, we have known full well that the earth is not covered by a protective dome which shields us from masses of water above (the firmament of day two). Typically, it has simply been said that this was God speaking to the Israelites at their level. But then what do we think of creative activity on day two? Do we ignore it? This is far less of an issue if we understand that what God did on day two was to create something functional; the functions of the firmament were twofold: 1) make a safe space for humans to live and 2) control the weather, esp. precipitation. So day two was not so much about creating the ‘sky’ as we like to say, but about God’s creation of “the functions that serve as the basis for weather.”
= Day Three: people have been put into a quandary because they think that God didn’t ‘make’ anything on day three. Well that’s true, if you still work from a material standpoint. From a functional standpoint, on day three, God made a functional differentiation of terrestrial space. Others have noted that God’s creative act involved two things on day three (water and dry land, and vegetation). But in fact, if you think functionally, this is not two acts but one: it is the creation of the production of food by placing soil, water, and the principle of seed-bearing all together.
All in all, we see then that this is the functional creation of the first three days of creation: time, weather, and food—the three foundations of life.

Proposition #6
“Days Four to Six in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries”
= Day Four: the creation of the sources of light is difficult to make sense of from a material standpoint, but from a functional standpoint it is very simple. The light-sources serve to act as the functionaries of the functions of day one’s creation: they provide light upon the earth and they divide time into measurable segments.
= Day Five: rather than carrying out the function of their space as do the functionaries in day four, the functionaries of day five are put into the function established in day two and are meant to carry out their own functions. Animals of the water and sky are created and ordered to carry out their lives with their place in the functional system: “be fruitful and multiply and fill…”
= Day Six: these functionaries were also put into their space as it was designed on day three, wild animals placed on the land and told to be functional in their own way: “be fruitful and multiply and fill…”
= Humanity: (due to their special nature, they get their own category, despite being created on day six.) Three other things are of note in the creation of humans in Genesis 1:
1) Humans, like the other animals of day six, get placed on the earth and instructed in their functions, but unlike the other animals, they have an extra function: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over…”
2)  While all creation is made to function underneath human beings (earth for the animals, animals for the humans, etc.) human beings are made in the image of God (a statement that in the Hebrew is repeated to a degree that is somewhat ridiculous) and as the bearers of the image of God, they are his vice regents, his agents in the world.
3) There is little concern over the material from which humans are made; the reference to dust in Genesis 2 is not a statement of material composition, but rather a statement of origin—a reference to the earth-bound and mortal nature of the created man. So the concern is not with material origin, but with archetypal origin, a concern with the interconnectedness of all human beings and their connectedness to the earth and its mortality.
So the creation (very simplified) might look like this: the creative acts of the first three days have the function of creating appropriate space for the created beings of the following three days, the pinnacle of which are human beings, whose function is to rule over the created beings and the space designed for them, and all of this serves to give glory to God.

(All quotes, unless otherwise noted, and all creative material work unless I specify it as my opinion, comes from John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Genesis 1. Post #1: The Foundations of Functional Ontology

“For the Israelites, Genesis 1 offered explanations of their view of origins and operations, in the same way that mythologies served in the rest of the ancient world and that science serves our Western culture.”

Walton begins his examination of Genesis 1 by trying to make clear that our reading and understanding of Genesis 1 hinges on our ability to enter into the culture in which the text was written and understand the solid principles that are there, applying them to our current setting. Working from that starting point, Walton moves on to offer a series of 18 propositions about Genesis 1 and the truths which it contains, some of which I will treat separately and others of which I will treat in groups.

Proposition #1
“Genesis 1 Is Ancient Cosmology”
This may seem fairly obvious, but it is a nail that needs hammering nonetheless: “it [Genesis 1] does not attempt to describe cosmology in modern terms or address modern questions.” As the saying goes, ‘the Bible is not a science textbook.’ A viewpoint that seeks to find modern science in Genesis 1 or to allow Genesis 1 to dictate modern science is labeled ‘concordism,’ and such an activity is not simply an adding of new information to the reading of the text, but a changing of the meaning of the text, something that flies against a proper understanding of the supreme authority of Scripture. And anyone with their head in the scientific world knows that reading the Bible especially to fit current scientific consensus is dangerous; like terms and conditions, scientific consensus is subject to change.

In short, God did not design to communicate the truths in Genesis 1 in any way other than the way that its audience would have understood. So if God did not intend to reveal details about cosmic geography as it ‘truly’ took place, then he intended to make some kind of different point by what he did say in Genesis 1, and what we find there is, like many other things in Scripture, culturally-conditioned; for instance, Bible translations often translate ‘mind’ when the Hebrew word means ‘guts,’ because everything that Westerners associated with the mind was associated with the internal organs in the ancient world. So God doesn’t need to revise peoples’ thinking along such lines, but is pleased to speak to humans on their own level, as he did throughout Scripture.

Proposition #2
“Ancient Cosmology is Function Oriented”
This is the proposition which I was referring to when I spoke of a complete paradigm shift in the viewing of Genesis 1; as such, it is this proposition, above all else, that must be understood and internalized to make sense of the matter, despite how difficult it may be.

In our Western world, we believe that existence is tied intrinsically to the material. A chair exists because it is material, a ghost does not exist because it is immaterial, etc. If our senses (esp. sight and touch) can interact with it, it exists. But this is not the only way to think of existence. Does a company exist when it is official? Or when it has a building? More likely we would say that it exists when it is doing business. In short, some things we say exist only when they are performing the function which they are supposed to be performing. The question of existence is a philosophical topic known as ontology, and is simply the study of something’s ‘being’—its existence. In our Western mindset, we hold to a material ontology: something exists because it exists in space and we can sense it there. But in the ancient world, the ontology was primarily a functional ontology, much like the company that I mentioned earlier: something exists because it carries out its appropriate role. (Walton spends a fair amount of time substantiating this claim from multiple near-Eastern cosmologies and makes his case quite well, though you’d have to read the book to see that.) Why this is important is this: “If ontology defines the terms of existence, and creation means to bring something into existence, then one’s ontology sets the parameters by which one thinks about creation.”

You might see where this is headed now: when we read Genesis 1, we immediately think about God’s creative acts as pertaining to his creation of the material forms which we interact with in the world. But that was not what the ancient Israelites had in mind when they read Genesis 1; rather, they had in mind God’s work in creating a series of functions which, when working together, made for a functional and ordered system. So in such a system, the sun does not exist because it is a burning ball of gas, but because it lends light and warmth for the earth (and numerous other functions) and especially for humanity, since humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creation and the reason for creating the earth.

So in such a system, the actual act of creating is not about bringing the material of a thing into being (which, by the way, the ancient Israelites fully believed that God did by himself, from nothing) but rather by making something a functional part of an ordered system, often from a previously nonfunctional condition.

It is at this propositions that I must stop until the next post. As it is, this is plenty of information, and the second proposition is very difficult to wrap around, given how entrenched we are in modern, material ontology (this is not bashing this, just saying that to understand Genesis 1 properly, we need to be able to step outside of material ontology). In the next post I will continue with the propositions, some of which are less weighty and less thought-provoking than the second proposition. So consider what I have said already, mull over it, think about its possible outworking, and stay tuned for continued reading.

(All quotes, unless otherwise noted, and all creative material work unless I specify it as my opinion, comes from John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thoughts on the 5th of July

“This is the greatest nation on the earth.” I heard that a number of times last night. And as a citizen of a country other than the aforementioned greatest country on earth, such a statement always sounds a little harsh. But I suppose that it is fair: America is an incredible nation, with international influence, extensive might, and an average standard of living that ranks high above most, if not every, country that currently exists or has ever existed.
I guess the real reason that such a statement rings in my ears is my familiarity with ancient mythology. In ancient mythology, the most classic motif, and also the most deadly, is hubris—proclaiming oneself to be in a better station in life than one really is. It was commonly an action of a mortal who claimed to be better than a god in some way or another. The end result was that the god would appear, show that he or she was far superior, and then kill or curse the mortal in a fitting way that would serve as a lesson to all.
            As far as the statements spoken all across this country yesterday, are they hubristic? Yes and no. In one sense, they are not: America isn’t claiming anything that isn’t arguably true—it is a pretty great nation. In another sense, it is hubris, because there is a sense in which a declaration can be hubristic if it is somewhat true but ignores major factors in the process. For instance, the proclamation from a mythological king that his is the greatest country on the earth could be hubristic, not because it is untrue, but because it fails to recognize from where that greatness comes.
            Now this is Texas, and three things were a part of this 4th of July celebration (and I would assume most celebrations in Texas): the Star Spangled Banner, Deep in the Heart of Texas, and God Bless America. I actually heard plenty about ‘God bless America’—a lot more than I would have heard at celebrations in other parts of the country. But here’s the interesting thing: there are two statements—‘God bless America’ and ‘America is the greatest,’ but the connection between the two is vague and often nonexistent.
            A mythological king under the patronage of Poseidon who proclaimed that his nation was the greatest and then asked that Poseidon bless his city, with no mention of how his city got to be the greatest (by prior blessing of Poseidon) would be liable to lose his capital city to a Poseidon-induced tidal wave in short order. What about America? Is America professing her own greatness, and asking God to bless her, without accepting or proclaiming that it is God who has made her great? If you asked most people at that festival last night, many of the ones who cheered and clapped at the phrase ‘God bless America’ would tell you that America is great because it has hardworking people, dedicated military, etc. God’s blessing would be further down the list, if it appeared at all. But at the end of the day, I as a Christian must confess that it is God who not only can bring blessing in the future (as many are willing to admit, it would seem) but has also brought blessing in the past (as fewer, it would seem, are willing to admit.)
            What do we as Christians do then, when the nation which we live in and love is standing on its pinnacle and proclaiming that it is the greatest, and beseeching God to turn an eye to its future without realizing that its tendency to fail to accept God’s prior provision—rather taking such blessing as its own work—might well lead it to suffer something less than blessing from God? On the one hand, we could simply ignore it, accepting that I have it right and most people have it wrong, and so long as I’m in the right, everything is OK. That would be easier—it’d certainly be easier for me! Saying the pledge of allegiance in America is probably some minor level of treason on my part. So sticking my head in the sand would be easy (and perhaps justifiable).
            But if we really do love this country as much as we say we do, and if we really do profess that we desire to maintain the American way of life (which might need some adjusting as well…) so that future generations can enjoy the freedom and standard of living which we enjoy, then we have to work to protect that way of life. We sing salutes to soldiers who we say are protecting that way of life for us and trying to lead others to such a way of life throughout the world. So perhaps we at home should be willing to do the same thing, knowing full well that life as we know it in America, blessed as it is, comes only because of God’s favor extended to this nation, and if this nation would have any hope of seeing ‘God bless America’ in the future, they need to be willing to accept that God blessed America in the past and they need to work to make a nation that is less undeserving of God’s national blessings.

Fun Facts about American Patriotism from a mildly sarcastic Canadian:

On-board a military vessel is 'sovereign territory' and for all intents and purposes is considered the soil of the country which owns that ship. So although penned by an American author, watching an American flag fly over an American fort, the Star Spangled Banner was written on British soil.

While the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th, 1776, the war for independence began on April 19, 1775 with the battles at Lexington and Concord.

The popular song This Land is Your Land was written as an antagonistic response to God Bless America by a communist-friendly songwriter.

Martin Van Buren was the first American president who was born as an American citizen, and he was inaugurated in 1837.

My Country, ‘Tis of Thee, although written by an American, uses the tune of God Save the Queen, the British national anthem (and Canadian royal anthem).

In 1812, America launched a war against Britain due to tensions between America and Britain and the American expansionist dream. The British repelled various American attempts to take British territory and succeeding pushing into the Chesapeake Bay and burning Washington D.C. With the Treaty of Ghent in 1818, the Americans lost their first war, failing to wrest any territory from the control of the British military and the local militia who would later form the country known as Canada.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Genesis 1:1--"In the beginning God created...": Is that right?

Many Christians have memorized, often unwittingly, the very first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” It has been ingrained in the collective mind of Christianity for centuries and has, in recent times, come to represent the firm belief that God created everything in the universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). I am not here to challenge that belief. What I am here to challenge is the current typical English translation of the Hebrew for Genesis 1:1-3.

I could list out various translation choices for Genesis 1:1 in some of the more popular English translations, but that would be pointless. Almost any translation you can think of (NIV, ESV, ASV, NASB, NLT, KJV, NKJV, etc.) translates it as: “In the beginning God created the heaven(s) and the earth.” The only mainstream translation to offer a variant of any significance is Young’s Literal Translation (YLT), which reads: “In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth.”

Now one (or two) of two things might strike you upon reading the YLT translation: one, the translation doesn’t seem that ultimately different. Two, how did the translators get to that translation? I shall answer the second question first, as a way of getting around to answering the first question.

Here’s how one gets that translation: the initial word in the Hebrew text is the word breshit, pronounced “bray-sheet,” followed by bara, then elohim. Traditionally, these three words, translated in order, would be: “in the beginning, he created, God…” (with the subject following the verb as is standard in Hebrew). But the word of interest here is the first word, breshit. This word as we see it here is a compound word, a combining of a noun and a preposition. The simple preposition b, meaning “in” is combined with the noun reshit—“beginning” to create the ultimate form. But you may notice something even now. The word is missing the definite article, the simple word “the;” if it had the definite article, the form of the word would be bareshit (pronounced “baa-ray-sheet”), but that is not what we have here, so the translation of breshit at this point would simply be “in a beginning.” But we know that this is not “a” beginning but “the” beginning—not just some beginning, but the original beginning of all things. So how do we get the definite article? Can we imply it? In a sense we can.

In Hebrew it is common to have two or more nouns in something called a “construct chain.” These two words imply a certain level of possession, so that we translate it with the word “of.” So if two nouns were side-by-side in Hebrew, such as the noun melek (king) and the noun yisrael (Israel) then the translation of melek yisrael would be “king of Israel.” Another rule in Hebrew is that if two nouns are in a construct chain, they do not have to contain the definite article in order to actually be definite. In other words, melek yisrael can be translated as “king of Israel,” “the king of Israel,” “king of the Israel,” or “the king of the Israel.” In context we can rule out the second two as nonsensical, but it isn’t certain which of the first two it is.

Now while this construction most often occurs with two nouns, it can occasionally happen where the last noun in the construct chain, the one that everything else modifies, is actually a verb and not a noun. This is the case here in Genesis 1:1—the noun breshit is in construct with the verb bara. So the combination of the words would be “in the beginning of he created.” Well, that makes no sense at all. However, one way to understand the verb at hand is to understand it simply in terms of the thing done and the person doing it, i.e., a creative act upon the part of God. So try this translation: “In the beginning of a creative act upon the part of God.” Well, that’s still not very good English, so here’s the translation of my Hebrew professor, a world-acclaimed Hebrew language scholar: “In the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth,” or even “When God began to create the heavens and the earth.”

So why does this difference matter? Well, what it means is that verses 1 and 2 are setting the stage for the first real action in the story which we only find at the beginning of verse 3. So if a translation were appropriately taking into account this feature of the Hebrew it would look like this:

“1. In the beginning of God’s creating the heaven and the earth, 2. the earth was formless and void, and the Spirit of God was circling over the water. 3. And God said: “let there be light,” and there was light.”

In this structure, verses 1 and 2 are like the words on-screen at the beginning of Star Wars movies which simply set the scene and then segue into the first action of the storyline, which we find in Genesis 1:3.

If we hold the original translation then it seems like the first action of God in creation is found in verse 1: “…God created the heavens and the earth.” But in reality, that’s not what the text says; rather, the text says that the first act of God in creation, and really the first thing regarding the universe, is in verse 3: “God said: ‘let there be light,’ and there was light.” So the first creative act of God is that God created light.

Now you might wonder what the implications of that are. Well I’ll tell you. I don’t know. I really don’t know what the implications of that are, though I’m sure scholars have postulated any number of things. But although I can’t make any statements about what the value is of knowing that ‘God created light’ is the first act in the Bible, at least now I have brought out that particular point and perhaps further thought and discussion will bring out some of its practical value or allow you to see things in a new light.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

You Can Call Me YHWH

Exodus 3:13-15

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

Perhaps you know the history of the name of God in the Old Testament (OT): throughout the OT, God is most commonly referred to in one of two ways—both of them reflected in this passage. The first way is in the use of the generic term “elohim,” which is typically translated “God.” The second way in which God is referred to is by the proper name of God: “YHWH” with the consonants pronounced Yahweh and translated as “the LORD” throughout the OT. In the history of its use, it eventually became taboo to speak the name YHWH (although it was spoken by many of the figures in the OT and its being spoken was perhaps not completely outlawed until 70 AD). Given the sacredness of the name YHWH and the commandment not to take the name of the LORD in vain the Israelites figured that it would be safest not to say it all, so when they encountered YHWH in writing they would simply read “adonai” (Lord).

So that’s a very brief history of the use of the proper name of God in the OT. Now we go to our text above since it is the passage where the given name of God is expressed. Moses says to God: “what can I call you?” And God’s response is that he is defined not by a name but by a quality—by the quality of complete self-existence: “I AM WHO I AM” or simply “I AM.” This is his identity—his overarching, ‘this is who I am, I am this to everyone’ kind of answer. But God isn’t done. He adds something more, something special, unique, and expressly covenantal: “The LORD” or more notably “YHWH.” It’s like someone saying to you: “I’m the most important person in the world, but because you and I are in a covenant, you can call me Richard.”

Christians, in similar vein as the Israelites, rarely actually use the name YHWH. Much of this comes from an attempt to try and avoid offending Jews, who believe that it is blasphemy to say “YHWH.” However, this decision isn’t exactly Biblical; in fact, the principle behind it is exactly the kind of legalism which Paul says that we as Christians no longer need to worry about. And if we’re worrying about blasphemy in the eyes of Judaism, we’d also have to stop claiming that Jesus is the proverbial “Son of Man,” we’d have to stop talking about God as triune, and we wouldn’t say that Jesus is the Son of God. (Although there certainly are times to hold this consideration in mind.)

And yet, despite the ultimate invalidity of this concern, we still never refer to God by the name that he gave to his covenant people; rather we refer to him by terms about him. It’d be like never referring to someone by their actual name but rather by their character, relationships, actions, etc. We do it so thoroughly that it has been written into the text of almost every Bible that we use, where the proper name of God is simply translated “the LORD.” We have had no choice in the matter—no one has discussed whether to translate it “YHWH,” it is simply constantly “the LORD.”

So now you may ask why this matters; well, take Psalm 42/43 (they were likely one Psalm originally): this Psalm is a swirling, chaotic, explanation of a troubling time which uses the term “God” all throughout. Yet there in the middle of the Psalm at verse 8, acting as a place of firm footing, is an expression of the endless love of God and in this one instance, the Psalmist uses the name YHWH. So as a point of hermeneutic interest, you can see how the use of the specific term in this one verse instead of the general term found through the rest of the Psalm calls attention to this particular verse, highlighting the importance of a steadfast foundation upon the covenantal God YHWH.

While tipping my hat to the concerns about the offensive nature of the use of the term YHWH, I must confess that I have serious objections to not referring to God by his name. For one thing, there’s the simple awkwardness of referring to God without using his proper name even though he specifically gave it to his covenant people (whom we as Christians are). On another level, one of the questions hermeneutics asks is not simply “what is said,” but “why might it be said that way instead of another (perhaps more intuitive) way.” And the use of YHWH instead of elohim offers perhaps more insight throughout the OT on that level than any other possibility out there. So why do we ignore it? Why do we allow translation committees to simply decide for us that we ought not to concern ourselves with this? God gave a covenant name to his covenant people and throughout Scripture it is used to remind people of the covenant nature of Israel’s relationship with God. Shouldn’t we, as people of the new covenant with God, also use the covenant name of God when we speak in covenant contexts?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Danger of Seeking Truth in Science

Much is made within the traditional Christian community of the dangers of getting too deep into science—of being overly influenced by it. But I would contend that it is not that scientific study or the findings of the scientific community are inherently dangerous, but rather that reliance upon the findings of the scientific community as worldview-definition is unavoidably dangerous. As a means of defining worldview, the findings of science are bleak, narrow, and harsh—void of any intrinsic meaning, purpose, light, or care; they are the very definition of what we would call “inhumane”—principles which would be abhorrent to apply in practical ways to the life of one’s pet kitten but which are applied to humanity nonetheless, at least in theory. To base the foundation of one’s life on findings which uphold the principle that all life exists solely to live and die while acting out a simple desire for self-definition at any cost is the ultimate crime to collective humanity—a crime which will drive it into its proverbial grave.

If you think that the majority of the Western world is post-Modern and has moved beyond the modern reliance on the scientific community as the source of most, if not all, ultimate answers, I challenge you to ask those on the street what knowledge is and listen to them talk about data, facts, academic experts, and unbiased principles. The reliance on the modern scientific community for final answers is still the majority Western worldview, but is that the fact that the dominant Western worldview comes with more problems than answers. This is evidenced, in a way, by the fact that few people actually live their lives in this manner—they realize how unhelpful it is as a worldview, but they claim it for lack of a better alternative. After all, how many people for whom the source of answers about the purpose of life is the findings of the scientific community really live their lives as true utilitarians—crushing or throwing aside any who might impose upon their self-definition? Or to say it another way is to say it the same way: how many people carry a 9mm to execute any who threatens their project to immortalize themselves through accomplishment, propagation, and the production of famous and large artifacts?

On the surface, science attempts to answer the basic human drive towards immortality by justifying life as the scrabbling attempt to self-define—from the struggles of mating mantises to the struggle to build enduring monuments of stone and steel. It gives to humans the right to fight—by any means necessary—to say in an undeniable voice for centuries and millennia: “this is me, I am immortal, and nothing you can do will erase that.” From a purely scientific standpoint, those who ordered the building of the pyramids are those who reached the pinnacle in some sense: they found a way to immortalize themselves, carving their names into the very stone of time. Or consider the one who commissioned the Great Wall of China, a monument which is written on the earth so as to be seen from space. Did they not write their mark on the planet—the permanent medium of the ages? Yet all it takes is a few ill-placed explosive devices and the monuments are gone.

The film Citizen Kane tells the tale of a man who built a financial empire and with his wealth created buildings, institutions, and projects rivaling any before him. Yet death came. And with death his legacy began to be questioned and torn down, and the one thing which he wished to have with him at death above even his own legacy unto immortality was lost to him. When I contemplate such things, the words of a song from Don Francisco come to mind:

Rome is full of ruins, Babylon is gone
The Temple’s just a memory, that some still dwell upon
But deep within a place that sword and veil had once denied
The Tree of Life is growing, living waters flow beside.

A human seeks immortality as a response to the inevitability of death, and a worldview based on pure scientific study claims that it is acceptable—and even accurate to one’s nature—to strive for immortality at any cost, whether by building pyramids, starting a family legacy, forging an empire, creating fine works of art, or becoming fabulously wealthy. But the simple fact of the matter is that any attempt in this direction is a lie unto oneself. Even the finest works which attempt at immortality can be eradicated: wealth is lost, art is consumed, empires fall, families are swept away, and pyramids are torn down or eradicated.

I stood on the Acropolis at Sparta and looked out over the surrounding ruins. The Spartan Empire, the scourge of the Aegean Sea—known for their power, ruthlessness, and ability to create a society of martial dominance—is gone. Almost nothing remains. But as I stood there and looked, the sun was setting over snow-capped mountains, and I realized that all that remains of a society which attempted to breed immortality into its DNA is the view that they had from their front door, a view which was neither created nor sustained by them.

I’ve watched some post-apocalyptic movies where even the beauty of God’s created world is muted, along with the works of man—the sun was darkened, plants killed, water licked up. And even today, in many ways and places, humans have consumed, by folly and self-absorption, the beauty of the created world. Yet even that cannot kill the truth that:

Far beyond all human reason and words upon a page
His glory lightens all who fret their hour upon this stage
To know Him is our freedom, to hear Him is release
To fix your heart and soul on Him is rest and perfect peace

A worldview that is based purely upon the findings of the scientific community is futile. It is bleak, narrow, and meaningless, and though it may take death to impart the reality, living by its principles will never reach immortality. Yet it is the dominant secular Western worldview—the way that humans seek to fight the inevitability of death and to create immortality.

But immortality is only to be grasped in the Tree of Life and in knowing Christ and his glory as our light, our freedom, our release, and our perfect peace. And our mission to those who attempt to find ultimate truth and escape from mortality in scientific study is not to replace scientific study as a source of truth but to replace it as a source of ultimate truth. Our mission to them (which is part of our greater mission) is to tell people that the immortality they seek is never stored up in earth, “where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,” but in heaven, “where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

(The lyrics mentioned in this essay come from Still Your Soul in Silence by Don Francisco. This song, like all of his songs, is available free for download from his website: http://www.rockymountainministries.org/membersite.html)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus: A Response

I felt the need to respond to a video that appears to have become popular in the internet world as of late:

So here's a few thoughts:
He didn't seem to be doing too poorly until he got to the part where he called religion "the infection." He's operating under the assumption that the organized religion of Christianity is a human institution, which, for the sake of argument, I can agree with, although I tend to believe that God can support and bless the work of humans as he has done in many times and in many places with the Christian religion.
But assuming his stance, he still fails on another point: he is assuming that his loving Jesus somehow comes unmediated through humanity. His loving of Jesus, just as the Christian religion's attempt to faithfully be the body of Christ, comes through humans, making both streams potentially impure. However, the benefit of having the background of the religion is that now you're working with 2000 years and billions of people who can act as boundaries to guide you--something you don't get in the same helpful measure when you distance yourself from organized religion and make it about 'you and Jesus.'
On another note, he makes it seem like there is no value whatsoever in the motions of religion, which, although such motions will not save, they are beneficial in places within the order of salvation. And I would direct him (or others) to James K. A. Smith's discussion of "liturgies" in his book Desiring the Kingdom to better get at some of that.
It's really a case of his misunderstanding what religion fundamentally is from a Christian standpoint; his definition of "Jesus is God searching for man and religion is man searching for God" is simply flawed. It is an accurate secular definition of religion but it is not accurate (or should not be considered accurate) from the standpoint of a Christian. A better Christian definition of religion as far as a Christian is concerned (and I could write papers, books, etc. on this, so don't push it too much) is that it is a Christian response to the grace of Christ.
His claim that organized religion is a human product is accurate, but it is accurate at the same level at which we say the Bible is a human product. God designed it, God ordained it, and God has had his hands in many parts of it. There are parts that the human hand is pretty obvious, and it doesn't end well, so we tread with caution and do our best to parse out what is worth keeping and what isn't. But that means we fight to find the right and the wrong in the Bible (and in organized religion), not completely throw it out.
Finally, his claim that Christ's cry "it is finished" is a little confusing and though I can't say exactly where he took it, the implications are a little problematic. As far as I can tell, it seems to imply, given the previous content, that the need for organized religion is gone. Well, people haven't changed in their need for organization because Jesus died on the cross; at least, I don't think "need for organization" made it into any discussions pertaining to atonement. And in another direction, if we think of Christians as the kingdom of God upon the earth, we generally speak of an "already, but not yet" kingdom, and if you choose to take his statement this direction, he would be implying that it is simply an "already" kingdom.
My older brother Luke once said: "Giving up on religion to follow Jesus is like giving up on marriage to love your wife." If you absolutely have to parse it out, there's one that is more important and more critical than the other. But if you're in a position of needing to divide the two, then you're doing one of the two--or more likely both of them--wrong in some form or another. If your marriage is getting in the way of you loving your wife, then it is true, loving your wife is more important the marriage; but it's also true that you have a misconception of loving your wife and a misconception of marriage if your marriage hinders you loving your wife. Similarly, if Christian religion is getting in the way of you loving Christ then, technically speaking, loving Christ is more important. But practically speaking, you are probably misunderstanding both what it means to love Jesus in this world and what the Christian religion is if you think you can somehow separate the two.
I guess the best I can say is that it appears that the baby was in the bathwater on this one and is now floundering in the yard with the soap suds; someone should probably go and retrieve him...