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I am in the 45th year of this ministry which we call Does God Exist? When you have given as many talks as I have, written as many articles as I have, taught as many classes as I have, and answered as many letters and e-mails as I have — you have generated a number of people who are antagonistic to you and a number who have found your efforts to be helpful. Those who are antagonistic fall into two broad camps — those who feel I am too conservative and those who feel I am too liberal. Both of these groups like to coin labels to fit what they perceive our errors to be. I have acquired quite a collection: “theistic evolutionist,” “mitigated evolutionist,” “literalist,” “progressive creationist,” “old-age creationist,” “shadower of Darwin,” “flaming liberal,” “modern infidel,” “scientific creationist,” “naive literalist,” “modernist,” “ignorant Biblicist,” and “liberalist” — just to identify a few. There are many more that have obscenities, racial implications, Americanisms, and/or profanities that we will not include in this journal.

You may notice that these descriptions are on all sides of the various issues that we explore in this journal and in our ministries. Some are from the skeptical side of the issue, but most are from the religious side. I believe there is some value in looking at where some of these antagonisms are coming from, because a number of them are valid concerns and have some useful concepts involved that we all need to be aware of.

The title for this next section is From the Conservative Side.

I put the word “conservative” in quotes, because I do not think any of us really know what the word means in religious matters. Many times I have met with people who had very conservative views on how the church should conduct their worship, or what the worship service should include. These same folks were, in some cases, very liberal in their morality values and standards. They would be vehemently opposed to a congregation sending money to a children’s home, but saw no problem in social drinking or abortion. In matters of apologetics, which is what this ministry is about, these would be folks who believed that the earth was about 6,000 years old, that Noah had in the ark two of every species of animals on the earth today, and the giants (nephilim) of Genesis 6 were in fact huge men towering well over 10 feet tall. Any suggestion that the earth was older than 6,000 years or that life has changed throughout the history of this planet would be viewed as a liberal intrusion to the church and sure to weaken the faith of young people. A frequent accusation of this system of belief is that those who accept scientific explanations of things twist the Bible to fit science.

The fundamental concern of this group of believers is valid. We cannot be biblical minimalists who reduce what the Bible says to such a level that it is obvious that we do not believe the Bible is God’s word, and thus literally true. If I do not accept the biblical statements about man’s creation and the Garden of Eden, why would I believe that Jesus was in fact born of a virgin or that he rose from the dead? If I do not believe what the Bible says about these matters, why would I believe it is accurate in condemning adultery or any other moral issue? It is valid to suggest that if we say something in the Bible is false and something else is true, that we have reduced the Bible to a choice and not a guide.

This next section is From the Liberal Side

Street directions--Liberal or Conservative.Once again I put the label in quotes, for the same reasons as stated earlier. Many of these folks would suggest that it is my poor education (or non-education) that is causing me to take a document that was not intended to be a history book, and make it into something it was not intended to be. The accusation here is that the cosmology of Genesis 1 is the belief system of the day in which it was written, and must be interpreted as such — not as a testable account relevant to twenty-first century science. The stories of the Old Testament concerning David and Goliath, the flood of Noah, Jonah and the great fish, and the like are just that — stories to teach an object lesson and not histories of what actually happened. For many of these folks even the miracles of Jesus were object lessons and not historical events. The feeding of the 5,000 is said to teach us that generosity can motivate others to give. The idea is that Jesus did not miraculously create the food, but motivated those there to give what they had stashed away.

If the Bible is perceived as a group of fairy tales, then like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Great Pumpkin in the Peanuts comic strip, they will be discarded by many people in the name of what is reasonable and what can be documented. Trying to offer an apologetic for the validity of biblical events is viewed to be futile, because the events never really happened but are object lessons, and their value is reduced when they are put to rational testing. My experiences in Europe have been that a vast number of people in most European countries view the Bible as impossible for enlightened humans to believe. It is no help that sometimes fundamentalists have caused a weakening of faith in people by trying to defend a biblical story with evidence that can be easily shown to be bogus.

The extreme members of the liberal view have even gone so far as to suggest that any attempt at apologetics is misguided. Some would make that claim simply on the basis that man is incapable of comprehending the complexity of the cosmos and the creative process that accomplished it. Others would maintain that everything God has done was accomplished by miraculously speaking it into existence. Both liberals and conservatives have been known to suggest that since God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8 – 9), God must function in such a way that humans cannot understand anything God does. This view contradicts the spirit and statements of the Bible. Passages like Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:18 – 23; Proverbs 8; and many others encourage man to learn from the creation and to build faith from seeing God's wisdom, power, and design in all that surrounds us.

This section is In the Middle.

I had a well known preacher tell me in 1968 when I started this ministry, that as long as I was being chastised by both the liberals and the conservatives I was probably teaching what was right. The fact is that both sides I have tried to briefly describe have valid points to A road towards a sunset.make. There are risks involved in any interpretation of scripture. Our definition of taking the Bible literally has always been that you have to look at who wrote it, to whom it was written and why, and how the people to whom it was written would have understood it. I try to apply this principle to any passage of scripture that I am studying. That sometimes takes a lot of time and work.

As an example, in Genesis 6 we have an account that has been mishandled by a wide range of teachers. Some have found aliens, or super heroes, or ghost creatures in this account. The chapter in which the account is given is the flood chapter. Is the flood of Noah a story about alien visitation or ghost creatures afflicting mankind? Certainly not. The word translated “giants” in Genesis 6:4 came from the Vulgate translation where the Latin gigantus was rendered from the Hebrew word nephilim which literally means “fallen ones.” “Fallen ones” certainly fits the theme of chapter six if you look at who wrote it, to whom it was written, and how the people of that day would have understood it. This is not an object lesson passage as the liberals might claim. For those who regard it as a separate story, the word nephilim is not inconsequential to the rest of chapter six. You cannot allow a superficial reading of a few verses to project a message which ignores what the context is about or what the words literally mean. That will only cause a misunderstanding of what the author of the passage intended to convey. This is just one example of stories in the Bible that have been radically misrepresented by people from all sides of the faith spectrum.

The Higgs boson“In the middle” does not mean “out of touch.” We do not have to reject modern science and our understanding of how things work scientifically to believe the Bible to be true. I recently read an article by a preacher condemning quantum mechanics as a tool of Satan. The article was written on a computer and distributed by a system that depends on quantum tunneling, a product of quantum mechanics. We cannot reasonably condemn modern science and then go to the doctor and have the things we condemned save our lives. The discovery of the Higgs boson in July 2012 made the Standard Model of modern physics appear to be valid. The particle was called the “God particle,” but all that meant was that it was the tool to be used in forming mass and the things that make up the physical world. What has happened with the Higgs field and the Higgs boson is that science is understanding more of the complexity of producing mass and charge and it has been found to be so complex that a chance explanation for it to happen is virtually impossible.

When you look at Jesus and the apostles, I believe you see that they were also “men in the middle.” Much of the adult life of Christ was spent opposing the legalists and conservatives of his day. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus points out that the scribes and Pharisees did all the right things in worship but “omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (KJV). In Matthew 5 through 7 Jesus makes a contrast between the legalistic interpretations of the Old Law and the beautiful attitude changes that Christianity would provide. The Apostles faced the same extremes, not only from the Jewish leaders that Jesus dealt with but also the Nicolaitans and Gnostics who were on the liberal end of things. Many of the warnings given to the early church involved these “liberal” groups as well as the “conservative” legalists.

It is important for us to continue to search for truth without getting swept up by either extreme we have mentioned. The Bible makes it clear when something is a miracle and when it is a natural event. In the Old Testament the word choices in the Hebrew clearly define miracles. If the Hebrew word bara is used in reference to a process or event, then God has done something that is miraculous to us. The word bara is never used in reference to something a human can do. When the Hebrew word asah is used it describes something that has a natural cause and man can in all probability duplicate it. Sometimes an event may be described without the clear word choices, and we may not be able to answer whether the event was a miraculous act of God, but the cases where this happens are extraordinarily rare.

Difinitions of two Hebrew words.

When the Bible says something was a miracle, the question of whether it happened or not is a matter of faith. If you do not believe miracles ever happen, then all claims of miracles have to be assumed to be just stories to convey a message. This may be useful for object lessons, but it makes the reader's relationship with God very distant and impersonal. I believe we should take the Bible literally, and that means that if an event is said to be a miracle, or would have been understood by the people of the time to have been a direct act of God, we accept that and assume that in fact it was. The virgin birth of Christ, his resurrection, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, walking on the water, and the demon exorcisms are just some of the miracles that we either accept on faith or reject. If you do a careful study of the miracles of Christ you will see there was a purpose that each of them served.

So was there a flood? I believe there was because it is presented as an event. Did Noah build an ark? I believe so because of the concordance of a variety of stories in different cultures that give the same account, and because the Bible records it as history. Was it made of planed wood with modern stalls and watering systems? I do not believe so because the culture of that time did not know about those things. Did it have two of each of the 26 million forms of life that have lived on this planet? The Hebrew word for “kind” is not the same as the English word “species” so that is not what the Bible says. Did it cover the whole globe or the part of the earth where man lived? I was not there to personally answer that question, but passages like Luke 2:1 and Colossians 1:23 show global wording can be used for things that were not global. The flood covered all people living at the time whether or not it covered the whole planet. The question of whether uninhabited lands were covered is irrelevant to the account given and diverts our attention from the primary message of the account.

Being the “man in the middle” means that I do not have the answer to every question. I am still learning and growing and trying to understand all of God's Word. I may change my opinions on various items and issues as God continues to work with me. I am encouraged that even the apostles had to go through the same process. Peter had a terrible time understanding that the gospel was for all people, and that we are all equal. His struggle was so great that the Apostle Paul had to discipline him as described in Galatians 2:11–14. None of us should be so arrogant that we feel that we have nothing to learn or that there is no issue on which we might need to change our opinion. I love the motto, “Where the Bible speaks we speak and where the Bible is silent we are silent.” The challenge for all of us is to actually do what the motto says.

— John N. Clayton

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