Communicating Compatibility in Christian Higher Education, Part 4. Daniel’s Letter

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May 24, 2010 Tags: Education

Today's entry was written by Daniel Camacho. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Communicating Compatibility in Christian Higher Education, Part 4. Daniel’s Letter

Introduction by Darrel Falk
In Part 3 of this series, we described the circumstances surrounding the following letter from Calvin College student, Daniel Camacho, to Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis. We are posting it here as part of our series on Christian Higher Education because informed student opinion is crucial as we journey along the road ahead. It is the students of today, after all, who will lead the church of tomorrow. Daniel is very forthright in what follows. Students tend to be that way, and that is one of the many aspects of what makes college teaching such a fulfilling experience. They tell you what they think—no holds barred. Although we believe it is important for Daniel’s thoughts to be heard, we also hope readers will reflect on BioLogos’s overarching views on how this very significant problem for the church will need to be addressed. Consider reading, for example, the essay "On Feeling at Home in the Family" which explains why the solution to the current dilemma will require considerable patience on the part of all of us. The essay, "Surprised by Joy" explains why this issue is so important to me, personally. As you continue to reflect on the ramifications of Daniel’s words, consider reading "A Plea to My Shepherds" by Stephen Blake or "A House of Sand and Fog" by Karl Giberson.

Daniel's Letter

I'm not interested in a debate or in a war of words. Nevertheless, I would like to extend my courtesy to you and your readers by providing a response to clarify the content of my article.

My article for the Chimes was a brief reflection on your "State of the Nation 2" address, and it was published as an opinion piece (in the op/ed section) for Calvin's student newspaper. Appropriate to its context, it was never meant to be a scholarly piece, a formal refutation, or a professional journalistic article. When I wrote this article, it was unforeseen that I would ever garner the attention of anybody outside of the small circle of students on campus who read the Chimes.

Therefore, I was amazed when I discovered that you had not only read my article, but had proceeded to reproduce it on your website in an attempt to invalidate my points. I lament the fact that you have decided to harm the reputation of Calvin College and its students.

You say that my article "illustrates clearly the overall state of this Christian college, which is one of many institutions that continues to contribute to the undermining of biblical authority in our culture. They will have much to answer for when Christian educators stand before the Lord one day—and they will be held accountable." Mr. Ham, rarely do you make a rhetorical lapse by explicitly saying what some of your claims obviously entail, but what is implied by many of your claims is quite disturbing. (More on that soon.)

You have labeled my article as an "emotional outburst". Were my words very passionate? Yes, they were. Were my words uncharitable at some point? Probably. But do I still stand behind the main thrust of my article? Absolutely. I am not, to borrow your words, a "child who throws stones at others and then ducks behind a woodshed so he can't be held accountable". I may be a freshman in college, but please don't liken me to a child. Thank you.

Anybody reading your blog posts would rightfully assume that the main point of my article was to accuse you of being a "liar". Unfortunately, you have been very misleading in your portrayal of my words. Technically, there is no point in the article in which I call you a liar. I did assert towards the beginning that your State of the Nation 2 address contained "many lies, inaccuracies, and caricatures...". However, my article would have remained completely intact if I had removed the word 'lies'.

The main point of my article is that you are promoting a culture war, presenting people with false dichotomies, and compromising the Church. For some reason, you were very offended and sensitive about the inclusion of that one word: lies. You and AiG have latched onto that one word and have decided to make that the center of engagement. But focusing on this minor detail merely evades my point. If it suits your purposes, scrap the word 'lies' and replace it with 'misrepresentations'/'distortions of data'. My article is ultimately about the culture wars and your contribution to them. This is evident to any thoughtful person who reads my article. Please notice that my point does not concern the age of the earth, the theory of evolution, the meaning of "six days" in Genesis, etc. These are issues that I simply do not take up. In fact, I have no interest in debating these points with you. That is not the point of contention, and it never was.

Now this may befuddle you, but I hope that you will come to see what I mean. You must come to understand why you have elicited such a powerful reaction from me. You stress the importance of believing in the literal six-days mentioned in Genesis. You promote a young earth and denounce any interpretation that would factor in 'millions of years'. According to you, Mr. Ham, a departure from these propositions would inevitably undermine the authority of Scripture. I don't think this is true.

But lest you think this is merely my opinion, I'd like to point out what other Christians think. John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and recognized for his ministry "Desiring God", allows elders in his church to disagree on the age of the earth. Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, also allows elders in his church to disagree on the age of the earth. He has even gone so far as to write:

"In the end, it must be admitted that the age of the earth is simply not stated in the Bible and it may be young or old. Furthermore, both young and old earth advocates are inferring from the Bible a position that the Bible simply does not clearly state. It must also be admitted that the age of the earth is not a great concern in the Bible; as Augustine rightly said, it is not a scientific textbook seeking to answer the ever-changing inquiries of science, but rather a theological textbook seeking to reveal God and the means by which He saves us."

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC, has openly admitted and preached that certain parts of the creation narrative should not be taken literally.

So why do I bring up these three pastors in particular? Because all of them are conservative evangelicals, who hold to Biblical inerrancy, and to the historicity of Adam and Eve. They are also some of the biggest Christian leaders here in America. Now, you may want to play the 'Man's authority' card at this moment in order to dismiss them. And you can play that card if you wish. But please consider the implications of that move.

Mr. Ham, my issue with you and AiG arises from a pastoral concern. Jesus warned his disciples about religious leaders who "tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulder's". I believe that Jesus Christ is the one and true savior of this world. One of my greatest longings is to see people recognize him as the Redeemer of their lives and this cosmos. I am not ashamed of the Gospel. But let us remember that Jesus himself is the stone of offense that causes stumbling. We must not make people stumble with our own fancies. Let the world be offended because there is a Creator and we are mere creatures, because God became flesh, because Jesus died for the sins of the world, and because Jesus rose from the dead. Not because the earth is young and dinosaurs are in the Bible!

I respect Christians who are young earth creationists. I am sensitive to their concerns because I often share them. In fact, I used to be a young earth creationist. Sadly though, for many people a departure from young earth creationism means a departure from the Christian faith. Inversely, many people are not able to commit to Christ because the age of the earth and dinosaurs become a stumbling block to them. Your desire to make a particular understanding of Genesis the foundation for Christianity and Biblical authority can potentially be a source of stumbling for many.

That is why I compared you to the new atheists, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. For both sides, it is all or nothing. Both you and they assert that if young earth creationism is false, then there is no point in trusting the Bible, and if evolution is true, then God does not exist. After publishing my article, I realized I wasn't the only one making such comparisons. Tim Keller, who I mentioned previously, wrote this at a conference held in NYC this past fall:

“Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one ‘truism’—that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given."

It is easy for you to target certain people (such as Calvin College students) and to ignore the concerns of many Christian pastors, theologians, and scientists. As stated in my original letter:

"You know one of the reasons why American Christianity is in a bad state? Because of the idolatrous nationalism of people like Ken Ham; an idolatry that elevates America above the world, and equates it to Israel, betraying our ultimate allegiance to the City of God."

I stand behind my words Mr. Ham. The imagery in your message is literally just as full of the American Flag as it is of Scripture or the Cross. "America was founded upon the absolute authority of the Word of God...". And so begins the narrative that you love to tell your listeners. You go on and on about how “Christian” America used to be. But your story is very selective and very deceitful. The same periods that you romanticize so well are the same periods in which "Christians" in this country owned slaves, oppressed women, and took advantage of Native Americans. A story can be a lie not only when it puts forth false ideas, but when it consciously omits many important details. In your public response to my letter, you wrote:

"The USA has been (as far as I know) the greatest Christianized nation in the world. And even though God gave specific blessings—and curse warnings—to Israel, His principles apply to all people (as God does not change) and all cultures, regardless—as I explained briefly in the presentation."

That is a bold claim to make with little or no reservations. But let me assume that you are right for the moment. Please help me make sense of something that appeared in your "State of Nation 2" address. Around minute 56 of the video, you begin to focus on some verses from Deuteronomy. These verses deal with the blessings and curses Israel was to receive based upon their obedience to the Lord. During this portion, you are applying these verses to America. At one point, while focusing on the curses, you flash these verses across the screen:

43 “The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. 44 He shall lend to you, but you shall not lend to him; he shall be the head, and you shall be the tail. (Deuteronomy 28: 43-44).

After showing these verses you comment, "Which sounds like today...exactly what's going on." After saying this, you quickly change the subject. I'm afraid to fill in the blank. Although you will most likely assure everyone that you are not referring to immigrants in America or people from other countries that do commerce with America, what exactly are you referring to? It is disturbing to see you put such things forward in such a subtle way.

Although there are many more things that I can write about and analyze, I don't feel the desire to do so. A great Cloud of Witnesses surrounds you. You can marginalize my voice but you cannot drown out the voice of the entire Body. Referring to my classmates and I, someone wrote to you saying, "This young generation, and its arrogance, will soon see the refiner's fire". The reality is that some of us have become disenchanted with the culture wars, and we have dared to dream of another way.


Daniel Camacho will be a sophomore at Calvin College this fall. He is majoring in Philosophy and Classical Languages. He aspires to do ministry in the future, and plans to attend seminary after college. One Camacho’s main interests is the intersection of faith with science in the life of the Church.

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Martin Rizley - #15102

May 25th 2010

In response to these encroachments on freedom of speech and religious liberties, Christians must speak out; they cannot ignore that powerful forces that are at work to erode the freedoms we have long enjoyed in the West, with its Judeo-Christian cultural heritage.  Can you deny that there are many forces at work in our culture that would like to erode that heritage, and enshrine secular, humanistic values in our legal system, eradicating every trace of distinctively Judeo-Christian values from our legal system? Someone’s value system will be enshrined in our legal system; there is no such thing as a ‘neutral’ legal system.  Should Christians not be concerned about our civil laws?  Does being ‘spiritual’ and ‘loving’ mean leaving matters of the cultural standards and civil law to non-Christians?  Tell that to Martin Luther King!  I am convinced that there is no way to be engaged with our culture in the way we NEED to be engaged at the present time without provoking strong negative reactions from many, many people.  They may accuse Christians of hatred; but it is they who hate our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage and want to destroy it.


John VanZwieten - #15114

May 26th 2010

To answer your above questions: No, Yes they should, No.

I’m glad you brought up Martin Luther.  Did he preach “culture war”?  No, he preached nonviolent resistance.  Surely you can see the difference.

Given the state of western Christian marriage and sexual ethics, I hardly think we need to be out in the public square talking about homosexuality.  Not that it should be an arrestable offense, but it’s rather stupid. 

If you are unhappy about the culture, then work to change it.  You have a pulpit and people who come listen to you every week who have the ability to shape culture in small and large ways.  Teach them to hate their own sin as much as God hates it.  And teach them to love others, even their enemies, as Christ commanded and demonstrated.  Then teach them how they can create culture and redeem culture.


merv - #15119

May 26th 2010

There are two essential themes that you both [Martin & John] weave together here (leaving aside your appeal to our American cultural heritage for the moment, Martin ...  some of us take some issue with that, but I won’t raise that here & now) —- your two themes are like the flip sides of the same coin.

John probably appeals to Jesus’ reprimand of those ready to stone the unfaithful woman ....  Jesus eventually says to her, “...and neither do I condemn you…”

and Martin will be eager to complete the rest of the sentence as Jesus says:  “...go and sin no more.”

When one side of this coin seems (or actually becomes) overbearing, the other side wants to provide the corrective action of restoring the diminished side.  John, you probably see a need to recover the lost aroma of grace, and Martin sees the overwhelming need for repentance.  What might get really interesting would be to hear you two try to cross sides and see if or how you can acknowledge how the “other side” has a legitimate claim to action, and how you weave their concerns into your own view of the world—-since BOTH are Biblical mandates, are they not?

—Merv


Martin Rizley - #15129

May 26th 2010

Merv,  The passage you quote is an excellent one for bringing these twin emphases together.  On the one hand, Jesus made it clear that on one can look down the nose at others, because we have all fallen short of God’s perfect righteousness, and are saved, if at all, by God’s grace alone, not by our works.  God pardons our sin and accepts us freely for Christ’s sake alone—not because of some moral attainment of our own.  If we think we have made God our debtor by ‘measuring up’ to some moral standard, we are greatly deceived, for we all stumble in many ways and stand in constant need of His mercy and grace.  Jesus made that crystal clear to those who wanted to stone the adulterous woman.  At the same time, however, He made it clear that there is an objective standard of righteousness to which our lives should conform. It is our failure to fulfill that standard that makes us spiritually needy ‘transgressors’ in need of redemption.  To receive the gift of salvation, we need to repent of our sins, instead of justifying them, by turning to Christ in faith.  The message we proclaim to others must affirm both of these truths.


Mairnéalach - #15146

May 26th 2010

Martin,

You raise a good point when you say that the ancient pagans hated the Christians because the Christians were more loving than them. The Christians took care of the sick, not only their own, but the unbelievers as well. This is a worthy goal, and if we are to be hated, it should be for this, not for our proud ignorance.

Of course, unspiritual men will glorify their own research and try to extract moral principles from it, but they only fool themselves. Darwin tells us useful things about creatures and their behavior, but modern biology is descriptive, not prescriptive. Prescription is the realm of the spiritual, and of course the bible says that giving one’s life for a brother is more important than passing on one’s genes.

If you want to fight a war, then mock those who draw their own moral principles from watching the mating habits of bonobos in the jungle, like the estimable Maureen Dowd. That’s “Darwinism”, and it’s purely worthy of ridicule. The knowledge of the mating habits, however, is just knowledge, and it’s foolish to try to debunk that. There are real evil knights out there, but for some reason you are more concerned with the windmills. Perhaps because you are addicted to the romance of your quest.


JKnott - #15148

May 26th 2010

There’s certainly a difference, and a profound one, between being hateful and being called hateful, between wanting to be loving and wanting everyone to THINK you’re loving.  Or between having a rational (not rationalistic) viewpoint and being thought rational by your peers and/or enemies.  Rather than worrying too much about our critics, we should be concerned primarily about our own faithfulness, reasonableness, love, etc.  On the other hand, oftentimes one’s own critics do have a point and we should listen to them and try to discern when that is. But never to simply write a blank check and say “I’ll do whatever will make you happy with me.”  It’s a narrow road but the only one worth travelling down. Also, criticizing others is not out of bounds…otherwise how could we listen to the criticisms of others? Or how could we criticise the criticisers? There is a loving criticism, and some more “conservative” voices sometimes practice that better than other more “liberal” ones.


John VanZwieten - #15150

May 26th 2010

Merv,

That’s a decent way of putting it.  What I think I see (in myself first, and other believers as well) is a tendency to apply one “side of the coin” to myself (the grace side, of course) and the other side (sin and repentence) to others.  This is a natural tendency, but I see it heightened by the “culture wars.”

If American Christians for a generation need to flip that coin around—applying grace to others and the need for holiness to themselves, and if that’s what Daniel is talking about “dreaming of another way” then I say, “Go for it!”


Martin Rizley - #15151

May 26th 2010

Mairnéalach,  The early Christians, like the Jews before them, were accused of being ‘haters of mankind,’ not because of their loving actions—like caring for the sick and adopting abandoned children, which they most certainly practiced—but because of the perceived intolerance of their message and their proclamation of coming judgment on mankind.  Whereas pagan religions embraced wholeheartedly the principle of religious pluralism and relativism (“I have my gods, you have yours, let’s all just be happy and do our own thing”), the Christian message had a tone of exclusivity and severity to it that was intolerable to the ancient world.  The Christians proclaimed that the God of Israel was the only true God, and that all the gods of the nations were worthless idols.  They warned their contemporaries about a coming judgment, in which all who served idols and lived to indulge the flesh would be condemned to hell.  And they presented Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior of men, and called upon all to abandon their pagan religions by embracing Him as the only true God.  They refused to affirm the legitimacy of the pagan gods and pagan values, and were therefore seen as ‘hateful.’


Merv - #15187

May 26th 2010

JKnott, you make a good point about the value of criticism.  I think the healthiest relationships (whether they be personal, communal, or even organizational & national) are those in which there is enough safety and security that criticism isn’t perceived as attack.  It would seem that the relationship between TE-sympathetic organizations and, for example, “Ken-Ham-sympathetic” organizations is not at that point.  If one side has open wounds from perceived mockery heaped on them from the other side, then even the gentlest of criticisms are met with defensiveness, all the cannons get loaded, and any real value of critical exchange is forfeited.  And it doesn’t help if one side really does have more adjustments they need to make than the other.  (i.e.  rarely would needed change apply 50-50 to two different parties.)

I think until we get on the safe ground with each other, this just continues.  I don’t see how it can be stopped at a higher organizational (i.e. somewhat impersonal) level.  But this certainly applies to our one-on-one relationships with each other.

—Merv


John VanZwieten - #15208

May 26th 2010

Merv,

You also might consider the possibility that the “all cannons loaded” posture is organizationally beneficial for one or both of the parties.


DWDMD - #15279

May 26th 2010

“You know one of the reasons why American Christianity is in a bad state? Because of the idolatrous nationalism of people like Ken Ham; an idolatry that elevates America above the world, and equates it to Israel, betraying our ultimate allegiance to the City of God.”

We just had a “patriotic musical” in our church, in which the American flag was displayed higher, larger, and more prominently above the altar area than the Cross. Though I sing regularly in the choir, I did not participate in the musical because it seems wrong to identify the church universal with a particular government and nation. Also, these musicals have narration implying that America has earned special favor from God by its merit - thus rewriting history . Glorifying our country in God’s house is just plain idolatrous to me. People tend to forget that separation of church and state is a great advantage for religion. Throughout history, state religions have tended to be either dead or coercive. I lament the identification of evangelical Christianity with a certain political party and agenda, though of course we need to be politically active and faithful to our convictions. Would a patriotic display in the church bother anyone else?


Timothy - #15292

May 27th 2010

Yes, I love Ham’s false dichotomies, either you take Genesis literally in its entirety, or you dismiss the whole Bible as worthless.  Its almost like he is more concerned with his own private little war than people seeing value in Christianity at all.


merv - #15311

May 27th 2010

Diane, it bothers me too; but then again—-I’m a Mennonite (Anabaptist heritage that has historically seen the ugly side of cozy state-church politics.)  So no great surprise there.

You might want to check out a book by Lee C. Camp “Mere Discipleship” in which he addresses the problem of nationalism and Christianity.  (and he isn’t an Anabaptist that I know of.)  I reviewed his book on my own personal web site:  http://www.mbitikofer.com/opinions.html#merediscipleship
He has some great historical observations about Israel, Constantine, & other government issues right up to present day.

—Merv


merv - #15312

May 27th 2010

John, I can imagine that loaded cannons as an offensive to bolster your side’s position by showing the weaknesses or fallacies with the other side, if indeed your side is on a “Spirit-led” offensive (or is that some kind of oxymoron?) that needs to illuminate contrary positions for what they are.  Is this what you have in mind when you say “beneficial”?

—Merv


John VanZwieten - #15324

May 27th 2010

Nah, more thinking about contributions from amped-up supporters.  It’s hard to sell war bonds in peacetime.


Merv - #15339

May 27th 2010

Ahhh yes!  Here I was naively imagining people wanting to get along. 

“For if the trumpet gave an uncertain sound, who would prepare himself for war? “
I Corinthians 14:8

—Merv


DWDMD - #15350

May 27th 2010

Merv,
thanks for the good reference. I really enjoyed The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder also.
Stil very relevant.
Diane


Headless Unicorn Guy - #15648

May 30th 2010

”...They will have much to answer for when Christian educators stand before the Lord one day—and they will be held accountable.”—Ken Ham as quoted above (boldface emphasis mine)

I don’t know what you make of the wording of that statement, but in my experience the emphasized phrases are Christianese code words for Hellfire and Damnation.


Headless Unicorn Guy - #15649

May 30th 2010

But will they hear the message if the very people supposed to be bringing that message of grace are busy “making war” on their culture? —John VanZwieten - #15053

And when you need only look to Khomeniist Iran or Talibani Afghanistan for an example of what happens when God’s Anointed (TM) WIN their culture war and set to work building a Godly (TM) Society?

(Remember the example and warning of the French Revolution, i.e. the Republique of Perfect Virtue (AKA Perfection on Earth) always beckoning from the other side of the “regrettable but necessary” Reign of Terror.  And adding “God Saith!” just ratchets up the ante to literally Cosmic Importance.)


defensedefumer - #15812

June 1st 2010

@ Headless Unicorn Guy - #15649


With all respect Sir/Mdm, Chrisitanity, unlike militant Islam (an oxymoron), does not seek to change the culture or politics of the country. As Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world,” (John 10: 36). Sadly, some churches as mentioned by other people make Christianity so political and cultural misunderstandings arise.

Or a s a friend put it, if “God wanted to change the world via politics, Jesus would have been a statesman”. To equate mainstream Christianity and militant Islam is false analogy.

Jesus came to save the world by cleansing our hearts via the cross.


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