Ham-Handed Hermeneutics VIII: The Hexæmeron of Basil of Cæsarea – Preface

IN his Hexæmeron, a Lenten series of homilies on the six days of creation, Basil of Caesarea provides us with his interpretation of Genesis 1. In contrast to the default practice of reading Genesis 1 metaphorically or allegorically, Basil insists upon a literal reading of Genesis 1.

As I am writing this series of posts, in the season of Lent, I plan to proceed by giving each Homily its own separate post. Hopefully, at the end of this series, I will be able to write a post summarizing the Hexameron as a whole and its relation to modern YECism. So, what you will see in this series of posts is my own grappling with Basil’s exegesis of Genesis 1 as kind of a running but far from exhaustive commentary.

You can find the full text of Basil’s Hexameron and other extant writings of the Church Fathers on CCEL.org. Continue reading “Ham-Handed Hermeneutics VIII: The Hexæmeron of Basil of Cæsarea – Preface”

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Stop Playing Chess on my Checkerboard!

In the past few weeks, I have had numerous on-line interactions with YECists (Young Earth Creationists). Prior interactions inspired my recent posts on the tendency of many YECists to react to simple statements in accord with orthodox Christian doctrine with shock and seemingly “righteous” indignation and, subsequently, in defense of their YEC beliefs and supposedly in defense of Christian orthodoxy, they frequently make assertions deemed heterodox by the Christian tradition.

When the error is brought to their attention via relevant quotes and links to texts, YECists will not change their position but change the authoritative source of their assertion. That is, in their initial reaction, they will claim that their position is the traditional orthodox position. Yet, when I or someone else provides evidence from Church Fathers, councils, and creeds to demonstrate their error, then, persisting in their error, YECists will reject the arguments of the Church Fathers, councils, and creeds. Usually, at this point, YECists will then claim that it does not matter what the Church Fathers, councils and creeds say for those teachings are the “fallible words of men” and their position is based in the “infallible Word of God.” In other words, they retreat into the argument that their position is the biblical position based on the plain reading of the text (of course). Any position that is contrary to their position is then obviously not biblical but shaped by non-authoritative extra-biblical sources.

Of course, for those of us familiar with the development of doctrine, this begs the question (and I think I am using this idiom in its proper sense from logical argument). Arius assumed that his teachings were biblical. Apollanaris assumed his teachings were biblical. Yet, whether YEC and indeed the doctrine of inerrancy into which YECists ultimately retreat are biblical and in such a way that excludes all other interpretations of the Scriptures is precisely the question at hand.

Having a “dialogue” (and I use the term loosely) with a YECist is quite predictable in its circularity and its self-serving inconsistency. I have written the following dialogue as a way to draw you into the limited circle of reasoning that is characteristic of YECism. Continue reading “Stop Playing Chess on my Checkerboard!”

Heresy is the New Orthodoxy II.1: Double-Standards and Hypocrisy

Or I Feel Like I’m Taking Crazy Pills!

So, last time, I mentioned that a friend of mine posted my Part II of this series on a Facebook page called Evidence for Creation. At first, I watched the discussion unfold without commenting but against my better judgement I jumped into the fray. As with most internet exchanges, it did not end well. It barely started well. And I am certainly not innocent, here. I get a little frustrated after being on the defensive and arguing in circles for about 400 posts. My patience wears a little thin especially when someone suggests that I need still more education and really means that I need to read a particular scholar that agrees with them. Meanwhile, the majority of YEC contributors demonstrate a pervasive anti-intellectualism but I’m the one who needs yet another MA. We’ll get to this double-standard.

What would be apparent to anyone (except the YEC contributors) to this thread would be that at almost every turn of the argument and with every new contributor they confirm the main thesis of my post. My argument is: Many YECists, in their endeavour to defend their commitments to their particular version of “biblical inerrancy”, their peculiar interpretation of Genesis 1, and their belief that the earth is less than 7,000 years old will frequently employ statements and make assertions and recapitulate arguments that were deemed heretical and unorthodox by the Church. Moreover, the traditionally orthodox position that I set forth is greeted as heretical. Additionally, I am frequently rebuked, my faith in and commitment to Christ is questioned, and, so, the question of my salvation is up for grabs (Christ’s grace is apparently not sufficient to cover my supposed doctrinal errors).

Now, as they were responding to my post about Apollinarianism, it was not surprising that the main focus was what Jesus knew, how and when did he know it. Yet, time and again and in predictable circular fashion and as new people joined the thread (having read my post or not), the orthodox position that during the incarnation there  were things Jesus did not know was rebuked as unbiblical and heretical and tantamount to denying Jesus’s divinity.

Double-Standards

Now, a few of the contributors did throw in the occasional theological term like Trinity, person, etc and one individual even mentioned the hypostatic union as though that doctrine somehow supported Jesus’s omniscience during the incarnation. Yet, Continue reading “Heresy is the New Orthodoxy II.1: Double-Standards and Hypocrisy”

Heresy is the New Orthodoxy III: Modalism à la Mode

A recent twitter exchange with a Young Earth Creationist (YECist) has been the source of inspiration for this series of posts providing me with examples of the resurgence of heretical arguments in an effort to defend YECism and their peculiar though popular way of interpreting the Bible. In the last post (tap here), I addressed the use of arguments akin to those of Bishop Apollinaris of Laodicaea in the fourth century.

A friend of mine posted Part II to a YEC Facebook page and sure enough there was a strong reaction to the idea that during his incarnation Jesus set aside his omniscience. As my friend and I kept pointing out as we “dialogued,” many of the assertions that they made demonstrated my argument. In this post, and following the turn of this same twitter exchange that motivated the first post I review the Christological heresy known as Modalism or Sabellianism.

What is Modalism?

Modalist theories were around prior to the Council of Nicaea and were therefore historically prior to Apollinarianism. Reformed Theologian Louis Berkhof described Modalism in this way, like the Gnostics,  Continue reading “Heresy is the New Orthodoxy III: Modalism à la Mode”

Heresy is the New Orthodoxy II: Apollinarianism Abounding

Or What Did Jesus Know and How Did He Know It

A Dubious Test of Faith

In the previous post (click here), I noted that in on-line interactions with Young Earth Creationists (YECists) it is never long before the YECist questions my faith, often in a way that demonizes me, or on more than one occasion by suggesting that I am really an atheist in disguise (which for YECists amounts to pretty much the same thing). In their judgement, I am either deceived by the devil or a deceiver in league with the devil. There does not seem to be an available third option. Yet, what truly intrigues me is that these condemnations usually occur when I have asserted something in accord with orthodox Christian doctrine. Ironically, the counterclaim that YECists offer as a corrective rebuke to my orthodox asssertion is usually a blatantly heterodox or heretical statement.

Hybrid Jesus!

The most frequent heretical assertion that I encounter in these exchanges is the assertion that Jesus was omnipotent during his earthly ministry. This assertion is similar to the Christological heresy known as Apollinarianism (or Apollinarism). Apollinaris of Laodicaea voiced his theory in the fourth century as he attempted to defend Jesus fully divinity against the Arian theory. It was condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD because it undermined the Nicene affirmation that Jesus was fully human. Continue reading “Heresy is the New Orthodoxy II: Apollinarianism Abounding”

Heresy is the New Orthodoxy

Or The Litmus Test of Young Earth Creationists

The Web of Gnosis

Over the past year, I have been openly critical of the teachings of Ken Ham and his organization Answers in Genesis. The more I attended to their teachings — beyond the obvious and overt commitment to Young Earth Creationism — the more I discovered that this fundamental commitment is bolstered and defended by a web of less obvious commitments. Many of these commitments are simply bizarre (i.e. Dragons in literature are evidence that human beings lived at the same time as dinosaurs) but others are outright heretical with respect to the traditional teachings of the Christian Churches.

If the Wool Sweater Fits

While my primary aim in using social media is to point out problems with the teachings of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, this activity occasionally garners response from Ham’s defenders. In these brief exchanges, when I identify myself as a Christian, it is not long before I am demonized as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Or more gently, I have exchanged man’s fallible word for God’s infallible word. On occasion, I have even been accused of being an atheist pretending to be a Christian for the purpose of leading ‘true believers’ astray. I have never been an atheist but I have not always been a Christian. What an elaborate hoax I have played over the past twenty years of my life! I guess the joke is on me. 😉

No Creed is the New Creed

Ironically, I am most often charged with being a false teacher when I am stating a traditionally orthodox position and my conversation partner is defending a traditionally heretical position. Continue reading “Heresy is the New Orthodoxy”

XBox 360 and a Fasting 180

Fasting has been a part of Christian worship from the beginning. Yet, fasting is an oft neglected discipline at least for much North American Protestantism especially those with an aversion to liturgical calendars.

In Christian circles, we often put those who engage in spiritual disciplines on a pedestal. And yes, we are right to point to those teachers and mentors who worthy of emulation. Yet, in doing so, the “ordinary” Christian can use this lionizing of fellow saints often serves an excuse for our inability to do likewise. Moreover, I think sometimes it causes us to misunderstand the very men and women we are exalting.

This thought occurred to me during a Sunday School class when the topic of fasting came up. As we spoke, I became aware that our common assumption was that great men and women in the history of the Church engaged in fasting in order to pray and commune with God. And there is ample evidence in the texts we have in the tradition to validate and confirm that this assumption that fasting can enhance and lead to deeper prayer. Yet, as I facilitated this discussion, I experienced one of those wonderful paradigm shifts. Continue reading “XBox 360 and a Fasting 180”

Noah and the Flood — What’s Going on in Genesis 6-9 Part 2: Living Idols

At the end of this post, some of you may be wondering what all this has do with my promise to explain what I think is going on in the story of Noah and the Flood. Yet, I ask your patience and refer you back to my insistence that context literary, canonical and historical is of utmost importance when it comes to interpreting Genesis 6-9. (Previous Post)

In the Image of God

Recent discoveries (relatively speaking) have shed light on the meaning of many biblical phrases and concepts that share resonances with similar phrases and concepts in the broader Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context. Continue reading “Noah and the Flood — What’s Going on in Genesis 6-9 Part 2: Living Idols”

Noah and the Flood — What is going on in Genesis 6-9? Part I: The Big Picture

Given the amount of posts that I have devoted to a critique and satire of the teaching of Ken Ham and his organization Answers in Genesis, I think it is about time that I presented my own views of this well known but often poorly understood narrative. (See Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis Posts)

The first thing to note about this story is that it does not appear in isolation and should not be treated as such. Furthermore, the narrative as we currently have it was written at least 2500 years ago and this historical reality ought to inform our interpretation of the text as well. Continue reading “Noah and the Flood — What is going on in Genesis 6-9? Part I: The Big Picture”

#POPChrist Goes to the Ark Encounter — Part 2: The Lower Deck

This post continues the series about my trip to Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter. If you want to read from the beginning, then follow this link.#POPChrist Goes to the Ark Encounter — Part I: Ken Ham’s Parking Lot

Ken Ham’s Ark has three decks which are divided thematically pre-flood, during the flood, and post-flood.

Photo Op to Photo Shop

Immediately before entering the Ark, a photographer directs the visitor to stand in front of a blue screen for a photo. In the gift shop, you can purchase a photo of yourself with Ark Encounter themed images in the background. Of course, Joel and I purchased our photos for posterity’s sake. Now, even in this first week, the Ark was not terribly busy. Had it been busier, I wondered at the logistics of stopping people for photos. This process seemed to have the potential for being a log jam in the future. A “gopher wood” log jam, of course.

Boarding the Ark

As I boarded the Ark, a virtual jungle of animal sounds filled the atmosphere. I found myself surrounded by small wooden cages stacked floor to ceiling. The calls and whistles of various birds, the chattering of small rodents, the yowling of cats, and even the hiss of snakes could be heard coming from the small cages. Cool!, I thought.

Ham has stated that he wanted the Ark Encounter to be something akin to an exhibit that you might find at Disney or Universal. In this initial moment, I was reminded of the awesome transformation of sunny California afternoon to cool New Orleans evening on the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland. So far, Ken, not bad.

Each cage had a clay feeder and water trough which would have been easily accessible to Noah and his family. The cages are spaced apart in such a way that feces can be gathered easily. However, the cages were designed so that the visitor cannot see into them. The sounds suggest the presence of many small “animal kinds” that Ham posits were on Noah’s Ark.

Okay, I thought, that’s not a bad way to save some money and still get a number of animals on the Ark. It was a cool effect and I was ready for more. Keep in mind, as much as I am critical of Answers in Genesis, I was truly hoping that the exhibit itself would be like a ride at Disneyland maybe more Pirates than Star Wars but I wanted it to be genuinely entertaining. After all, Joel and I spent real money to see this thing. Yet, I came away disappointed because there were far fewer animals on Ham’s Ark than I anticipated and none of them were animatronic but that’s another deck.

Wooden cages with wooden feeders and clay watering devices. The cages are designed so that you can’t see into them. It gives the illusion of many animals.

image

Walls of clay jars that one can imagine carrying the various foods for the animals aboard the Ark.
Like the small cages, the visitor will see pots lined floor to ceiling along the walls. These represent the food for the animals. Remember, they need a year’s supply of food for everything from rabbit-kind to velociraptor-kind. Wait, I guess they can feed the rabbit kittens to the velociraptor pups.

The Pre-Flood Story

On the lower deck, through a series of visuals mostly consisting of posters (often tedious to read), the visitor is told Ken Ham’s version of the biblical narrative from Creation to the Flood. It is a truncated version of Ham’s Creation Museum.

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I say Ken Ham’s version for as much as he claims to be offering a plain reading of the text his version includes many details that are not found in the text and, in my view, distort and distract from the meaning of the text. For instance, Ham’s version includes dinosaurs.

I did not expect dinosaurs to play as large a role in Ham’s narrative as they do but there are dinosaurs around every corner. For instance, one will find dinosaurs in every portrayal of the paradisal Garden. But turn the corner and in illustrating the violence of humankind before the flood, Ham depicts human beings slaughtering triceratops for their horns much like modern humans slaughter rhinoceroses. In Ham’s theory, it is human activity of this type and post-diluvial environmental factors (like the one ice age) that wiped out the dinosaurs.

I am truly baffled that Ham’s view of the dinosaurs is not enough to cause even some of the more credulous Christians to question Answers in Genesis’s ability to interpret historical data let alone be trusted to interpret scripture for them.

Disgruntled Workers and Religious Fanatics

There were very few animatronic displays far fewer than I would have imagined. In one of the displays, Noah’s hired workers (another eisegetical moment) are complaining about the work and describe Noah as a religious fanatic.

Like the whole AIG narrative, this scene is more modern than ancient. If Noah was a historical figure and truly a monotheist and who in accordance with the later Mosaic law had no image of his deity among polytheists who worshipped images, then it is more likely that his contemporaries would have accused him of atheism and not being devoted enough to the gods. If there was a great flood coming, then maybe it was because Noah and his family had ticked off the gods by not worshipping them properly (see Job’s friends). As the other extant flood narratives suggest, it did not take much to annoy a god to the point of mass extermination. In one narrative, human beings are just to noisy and the gods can’t sleep. Anyway, his contemporaries would not scoff at the idea of a god causing a natural disaster. Rather, they would ask which god and likely try to appease them all just in case.

Yet, despite Ham’s claims to the contrary, he and the folks at AIG are not interested in historical accuracy but in the us vs. them narrative of the culture war. So, Noah begins to look a lot like Ken Ham and Noah’s critics begin to sound a great deal like the New Atheists (and frankly like anyone who is critical of AIG teaching). The fate of these scoffers is as follows.


Miniatures

Now, I will say that I enjoyed the detailed miniatures more than anything else in the exhibit. There is something about looking at a scale model world and a scale model Ark that is fascinating like a good detailed model train set. So, to end on a positive note, here are some of the images from the lower deck.

Notice Ken Ham’s inconsistency. Here he clearly has the modern giraffe and not his hypothetical notagirafficorn.

Princess Leia has a cameo.