The World That Missionaries Made

Recently, Robert Woodberry created a stir when he published his findings on the impact that evangelical missionaries have had on developing countries. The current consensus among most anthropologists and sociologists is that missionaries have had an overall detrimental effect on the cultures in which they engaged. Woodberry, an assistant professor of sociology at the Univ. of Texas argues that, rather than exerting a negative influence, conversionist missionaries played a pivotal role in the rise of democracy in majority world nations. In fact, the evidence indicates that such missionaries were the key factor in those countries.Woodberry

The Southeastern community has an opportunity to hear Dr Woodberry make his case. The Bush Center for Faith and Culture and the Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies are hosting a lecture by Dr Woodberry this Thursday, at 7 pm, in the sanctuary of Wake Forest Baptist Church. The church is located on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can register for the event here.

Are You a Christian or a Jesusist?

Recently a Presbyterian minister posted a blog in which he claimed to be both a Christian and an atheist. I suggest that, rather than being a Christian, he’s a “Jesusist”. What’s a Jesusist, you ask? And how is that different from being a Christian?

A Christian is someone who accepts the biblical account of Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate Son of God. By faith he or she trusts that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Very God and very man, Jesus Christ is our salvation. His sinless life, vicarious death, and triumphant resurrection accomplished the redemption of the individual believer, the Church, and ultimately Creation. In short, a Christian is someone who, like Simon Peter, confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We believe Jesus as able to do what he did because he was who he claimed to be.

But what about those who admire Jesus for his ethical teachings and selfless actions, but don’t believe he was (in the words of Charles Wesley) “the Incarnate deity”? Many want to emulate the sacrificial life of Jesus, but they do not accept the Gospel accounts of the miraculous and the supernatural as factual or historical (John Dominic Crossan comes to mind). Such admirers see Jesus merely as an exemplar, but often they want to call themselves Christians also.

It seems to me that a more accurate label for those who admire Jesus and his teachings but do not accept his deity or place their faith in his finished work would be “Jesusist” rather than “Christian.” Just as a follower of the teachings of Karl Marx is a Marxist, and an adherent of Darwin’s theory is a Darwinist, a Jesusist is someone who aspires to follow what they understand to be Jesus’ philosophy of life. Marxists and Darwinists don’t worship the founders of their respective ideologies, and Jesusists don’t worship Jesus; they simply admire him. Unfortunately, Jesusists often want to call themselves Christians, and this creates confusion.  So the Presbyterian minister who professes atheism is not a Christian. He’s a Jesusist.

New Testament scholars as diverse as Albert Schweitzer to N. T. Wright have demonstrated that one cannot successfully separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith, regardless how hard some may try (I’m thinking now of the various “quests for the historical Jesus”). Attempts to demythologize the Gospel records by removing the layers of the miraculous have been akin to peeling an onion—once you’ve removed every layer there is nothing left.

Jesus himself does not let us get away with being merely a Jesusist. “Who do you say that I am?” he asks. A Christian responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Crossposted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

The Rise of Young-Earth Creationism (The Age of the Earth Part 7)

(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5) (Part 6)

As we noted earlier, most Christians, including evangelicals, accepted the view that the universe was millions and perhaps billions of years old. This is true up through the first half of the 20th century. R.A. Torrey (1856-1928), who helped to found both Moody Bible Institute and Biola University and who edited a series of books called The Fundamentals (from which we get the term “fundamentalist”), held to the gap theory. Even William Jennings Bryan, of the Scopes Monkey Trials fame, held to a day-age interpretation of Genesis One.40 questions creation evolution

Two of the most ardent anti-evolutionists of the 20th century were W. B. Riley (1861-1947) and Harry Rimmer (1890-1952). Riley, editor of The Christian Fundamentalist and president of the Anti-Evolution League of America, held to the day-age position. Riley insisted that there was not “an intelligent fundamentalist who claims that the earth was made six thousand years ago; and the Bible never taught any such thing.” Rimmer, a self-educated layman and apologist known for his debating skills, held to the gap theory. In a celebrated series of debates, the two men argued for their respective positions with Rimmer generally considered to have been the victor.

Up until 1960, the view that the proper interpretation of Genesis requires that the earth be less than 10,000 years old was advocated almost exclusively by George McCready Price, an apologist for Seventh-Day Adventists. Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the writings of their denomination’s founder, Ellen G. White, are divinely inspired and are to be treated as Scripture. White claimed she received a vision in which God carried her back to the original week of creation. There, she said, God showed her that the original week was seven days like any other week. Price worked tirelessly to defend White’s position as the only view that did not compromise biblical authority.

In 1961, John Whitcomb (1924-) and Henry Morris (1918-2006) published The Genesis Flood, which has sold over 300,000 copies and launched the modern creationist movement. Whitcomb and Morris argued that Ussher’s approach to determining the age of the universe was generally sound and that the universe must be less than 10,000 years old. Combining flood geology with the mature creation hypothesis, The Genesis Flood presented a compelling case for young-earth creationism. It would be difficult to exaggerate this book’s impact in shaping evangelical attitudes towards the question of the age of the earth. In many circles, adherence to a young earth is a point of orthodoxy.

As the earlier parts of this series demonstrates, the real debate has been between creation and eternalism, and it is a debate that continues. The big bang hypothesis gives strong support to the notion of the universe having a beginning. Some Christians welcome this development while others point out that the hypothesis also posits this beginning to have occurred over 13 billion years ago. Evangelicals are divided as to whether the big bang scenario can be reconciled with the Genesis creation account and subsequent genealogies. (Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution)

Crossposted at www.theologyforthechurch.com