A Theology of Space Travel

Is Earth our only home? As a Christian, what should we think about space travel, colonizing planets, and transforming the universe? Could other life be out there? One of my long-term goals is to think through these issues a bit from a Christian standpoint. Some of my foundational assumptions are (not in order of priority):

[1] Postmillenialism

[2] Creation

[3] Human uniqueness

[4] Endurance of the Earth

[5] Inspiration of Scripture

Postmillenialism means that we may be here for 200,000 years more before the return of Christ. James Jordan addresses this a bit in his essay, “An Antidote for Yuppie Postmillenialism.”, He writes:

…does the Bible anywhere say that planet earth is our only project? If God has given us the ability to travel to other planets, perhaps they also are to be developed and glorified as part of his universal plan – all before Christ returns. This could take hundreds of thousands of years. (One reason I enjoy the marvellous science fiction stories of Cordwainer Smith, a devout Christian, is because they communicate a feel for such a universal development and glorification.)

So I hope to dig into this from time to time, both in private and on this blog.

More on Antinomianism

Andrew Sandlin wrote a good post this week on the same subject that I keep seeing – Christians who use grace as a cover for antinomianism. Sandlin says:

We ourselves are required to rebuke evil and have no company with it (Eph. 5:11–13).

What many of today’s grace-talking non-judgmentalists actually want is a grandfatherly God who overlooks their rebellion and favors them despite their gross, unrepentant sin.  They want to fornicate, despise God’s church and its ordinances, observe pornography, abuse prescription (and illegal) drugs, profane God’s name, revel in lewdness, spurn the godly counsel of parents and pastors and teachers, eschew hard work, and otherwise lust to be accepted by an apostate, pagan culture — all while assuming the pious protection of God’s grace.

 

Foundational Thinkers

In the theological circles that I identify with there are many streams of thought which converge in the current conversation. I would like to briefly identify some of the great thinkers, past and present, who define that conversation.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

Eugen Rosentstock Huessy (ERH) was a German Christian thinker. Peter Leithart discusses him in this article, which I will quote here.

The scope of his life’s work is impressively unclassifiable. He disdained the disciplinary confinements of the modern university, and the disdain shows. He wrote on language, religion and the Bible, calendars, time, and grammar. He published a massive history of the Western revolution and a three-volume Soziologie, as well as a monograph on his academic specialty, medieval German legal history. When he came to America, he took a chair in German language and culture at Harvard, but he could have taught sociology, law, philosophy, comparative religion, or any of a half dozen other disciplines. Harvard didn’t know what to do with him. Since he talked a lot about God, they sent him to the divinity school.

Openly orthodox, Rosenstock-Huessy was also a remarkably progressive thinker, embodying what Chesterton, one of Rosenstock-Huessy’s favorite authors, described as the adventure of orthodoxy. This is evident particularly in his meditations on time, and the fundamental temporal orientation of his work. He observed that institutions, ideas, and systems have their day—and then something new is needed: “Philosophies have their time. It is a misunderstanding to attribute a perennial character to any particular philosophy. Philosophy is the expression of a zeitgeist. Philosophies must be buried at the right time. The Jesuits know that Thomism is dead.” He spoke of the world entering a “Johannine” age of history, an age of the Spirit that would move quite differently from the earlier ages of the Church: “each generation has to act differently precisely in order to represent the same thing. Only so can each become a full partner in the process of Making Man.”

I have not read ERH myself, but need to and hope to find the time to in the future.

René Girard

Rene Girard is a French philosopher famed for his theory of “mimetic rivalry” and his discussion of the scapegoat mechanism in society. Perhaps a portion of this interview will serve to summarize his views:

NPQ: Is Christianity superior to other religions?

Girard: Yes. All of my work has been an effort to show that Christianity is superior and not just another mythology. In mythology, a furious mob mobilizes against scapegoats held responsible for some huge crisis. The sacrifice of the guilty victim through collective violence ends the crisis and founds a new order ordained by the divine. Violence and scapegoating are always present in the mythological definition of the divine itself.

It is true that the structure of the Gospels is similar to that of mythology in which a crisis is resolved through a single victim who unites everybody against him, thus reconciling the community. As the Greeks thought, the shock of death of the victim brings about a catharsis that reconciles. It extinguishes the appetite for violence. For the Greeks, the tragic death of the hero enabled ordinary people to go back to their peaceful lives.

However, in this case, the victim is innocent and the victimizers are guilty. Collective violence against the scapegoat as a sacred, founding act is revealed as a lie. Christ redeems the victimizers through enduring his suffering, imploring God to “forgive them for they know not what they do.” He refuses to plead to God to avenge his victimhood with reciprocal violence. Rather, he turns the other cheek.

The victory of the Cross is a victory of love against the scapegoating cycle of violence. It punctures the idea that hatred is a sacred duty.

I have his book “Violence and the Sacred” but have not read it yet.

Cornelius Van Til

Finally, there is the great Cornelius Van Til. Van Til is well-known for being a pioneer of presuppositional apologetics and the transcendental argument for the existence of God. He stressed the antithesis between the believer and the non-believer. Van Til said this of his own method:

My understanding of the relationship between Christian and non-Christian, philosophically speaking.
1. Both have presuppositions about the nature of reality:
a. The Christian presupposes the triune God and his redemptive plan for the universe as set forth once for all in Scripture.
b. The non-Christian presupposes a dialectic between “chance” and “regularity,” the former accounting for the origin of matter and life, the latter accounting for the current success of the scientific enterprise.
2. Neither can, as finite beings, by means of logic as such, say what reality must be or cannot be.
a. The Christian, therefore, attempts to understand his world through the observation and logical ordering of facts in self-conscious subjection to the plan of the self attesting Christ of Scripture.
b. The non-Christian, while attempting an enterprise similar to the Christian’s, attempts nevertheless to use “logic” to destroy the Christian position. On the one hand, appealing to the non- rationality of “matter,” he says that the chance- character of “facts” is conclusive evidence against the Christian position. Then, on the other hand, he maintains like Parmenides that the Christian story cannot possibly be true. Man must be autonomous, “logic” must be legislative as to the field of “possibility” and possibility must be above God.

 

 

The Correctly Updated Version (CUV)

The Correctly Updated Version of the Bible is my paraphrase of the Scripture as revised by great theological themes of the modern American Church. Today’s passage is Matthew 21:12-17. The CUV text follows:

And Jesus entered the temple and saw some selling and buying in the temple.

And he approached the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

And they responded, “That is your interpretation of the passage. You can’t just take a verse out of context like that and you certainly can’t judge someone else. Perhaps the intention of our heart is correct, even if we are doing some things that others find questionable.”

Another continued, “Yaweh will sort these things out, but on this side of the Resurrection, we just have to agree to disagree.”

Charles Finney the Scary Heretic

My last post on wine in church reminded me that the source of all this frustration is the stupid Prohibition movement which still leaves its mark on American churches in the form of grape juice. Many of these movements stemmed from the crusading fervor of heretics such as Charles Finney. I call him scary both for his beliefs and his personal appearance [see below].

Finney’s heresies are ably outlined by Michael Horton here. Essentially, he taught a form of Christian perfectionism that meant not only that you *can* be free from sin prior to death [not possible] , but that you *must* be like this in order to be saved! Horton quotes him:

… full present obedience is a condition of justification. But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed … But can he be pardoned and accepted, and justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.

You cannot be justified while any degree of sin remains in you! Christ cleaned the slate and now it’s up to you to get it done! I grew up in a church that held this man up as a hero and it plagued many years of my life with thinking that I didn’t measure up because I kept sinning. It is a theology that warps and destroys souls. If you want to see the extreme, cultish version of where it leads [including free love], read The Kingdom of Matthias. Finney -> Matthias -> Sojurner Truth, the 1800’s creep me out.

But out of all this perfectionist fervor came Prohibition, amongst other weird things like Quaker Oats and Graham Crackers. Graham was another perfectionist with bizarre dietary theories that are probably right at home with our modern practitioners of magnets and needles. Susan Cayleff writes in Wash and Be Healed, “Graham admonished his listeners against culinary gluttony, believe that the stomach was the center of the system, and advocated the use of only whole grain bread, unbolted. This belief eventually produced the “graham cracker,” which was a dietary mainstay in hygenic households.”

The Wikipedia entry on Graham says, “Graham was also inspired by the temperance movement and preached that a vegetarian diet was a cure for alcoholism, and, more importantly,sexual urges. The main thrust of his teachings was to curb lust. While alcohol had useful medicinal qualities, it should never be abused by social drinking. For Graham, an unhealthy diet stimulated excessive sexual desire which irritated the body and caused disease. While Graham developed a significant following known as Grahamites, he was also ridiculed by the media and the public for his unwavering zealotry. According to newspaper records, many women fainted at his lectures when he aired opinions both on sexual relations and the wearing of corsets…In 1850 he helped found the American Vegetarian Society modeled on a similar organization established in Great Britain.”

Vegetarianism, socialism, sinless perfectionism, prohibition, it’s all there. These folks figured that your diet produced sinful lust in you, so it must be regulated. Alcohol was evil, so it must be eliminated. They placed the source of sin in the object outside of you, rather than your own failure of self-control. Due to these fine folks, most churches today disobey Jesus and use grape juice in Communion.

 

I’m Going Crackers

Sigh. I know that the church we are attending is not everything I hoped and dreamed of. I know it, I do. But why oh why do churches use grape juice and crackers in the Lord’s Supper? It probably doesn’t phase a lot of folks, because they don’t think about it much, but once you think about it, it drives you…crackers…as the Brits say. People who know that every word of Jesus is important and to be obeyed think nothing of ignoring him when he says “bread” and “wine.” As if bread is the same as Saltines and wine can be grape juice.

James Jordan has put it better than I can:

But do the churches do these things? Let’s see. First of all, Jesus said to bring wine. How many churches use wine today? The American evangelicals have decided to give wine over to the devil, instead of claiming it for Christ. As a result, they use grape juice. Jesus, however, used (alcoholic) wine. He turned water into wine as the first manifestation of His Kingdom. He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard which shows what He was drinking (Matt. 11:19). He prescribed just this kind of liquid for His meal.

But do we do what He said? Usually not. And this is nothing new. For centuries the Western Catholic Church (“Roman” Catholicism) rejected the cup altogether. It has only been since the Second Vatican Council that Catholics have been able to drink wine in communion.

Well, what about bread? Suppose my wife phoned me at work and said, “Jim, would you go by the store and get some bread on your way home?” Now, let’s say I bought some saltines instead. My guess is that she would be unhappy. She would say, “Jim, that’s not bread; those are saltines. Don’t you know the difference between bread and saltines?” Or suppose I brought some pressed-out wafers home?

I think we know what bread is. I do. Don’t you? Bread is bread. If we believe in using unleavened bread, it should still be unleavened bread and not crackers or wafers.

Amazing, isn’t it? Jesus asks us to do two simple things, and century after century the Church comes up with weird substitutes. Why is this? Why can’t we just do what Jesus said to do? As I reflect upon this, it seems to me that the reason has to be that there is real grace in the Lord’s Supper, and that Satan fears that grace. Thus, Satan has persuaded people not to do what Jesus said to do.

I thought that at least a Presbyterian church would use real wine, never mind that they don’t allow baptized Christians to partake (the youth). But lo, they do not. Grape juice and crackers, just like every other shallow church on the block. Gag. Truly, the Protestant churches are much like the Medieval Catholics, as more and more folks are noticing:

Third, communion is administered infrequently, as in the late Middle Ages, so the faithful only receive a few times a year. And Evangelicals have found a new way to effectively deny the cup to the laity by avoiding the biblical element of wine. (Where is Jan Hus when we need him?) Against dominical command and the clear words of the New Testament, most Evangelicals persist in employing grape juice rather than wine in the sacrament. Paradoxically, those whose approach to Scripture might be deemed most literalistic choose to set aside Christ’s clear injunction.

Here, in a sense, is a modern Evangelical version of what the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles call a “work of supererogation.” Evangelicals may still reject the idea of accumulating surplus merit, but the implication of substituting grape juice for wine in the sacrament is that we know better than our Lord and can be more pious than Jesus. And some Evangelicals have an attitude toward alcohol that one could only describe as superstitious.

It’s really difficult to be a Christian in America when basic things like creeds, sacraments and liturgy are unheard of and wild notions to the vast majority of flocks. I hope it changes someday.

Dead Sea Scrolls: The Scroll of the Rule

I have been reading the Dead Sea Scrolls and I am currently in the Scroll of the Rule. Some things that have caught my eye are:

[1] The interpretation of Isaiah by these Essenes…close, but yet so far off to the truth. The Essenes had to leave the cities for their desert caves, and the Scroll refers to this by saying:

…they shall be separated from the midst of the habitation of perverse men to go into the desert to prepare the way of ‘Him’: as it is written, In the wilderness prepare the way of …. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. This (way) is the study of the Law which He has promulgated by the hand of Moses, [Scroll of the Rule VIII:13-15]

So just as John the Baptist went into the desert and lived apart from the mass of Israel, calling them to repentance and fulfilling the Isaiah passage, the Essenes withdrew. But they missed both the forerunner and the Messiah with their interpretation of the passage.

[2] The Essenes forsook the sacrificial system of the Temple much as later Rabbinic “Judaism” would do and yet claimed to be zealous for the law. I don’t know how they squared this circle. The law contains the sacrificial system for atonement but the Essenes believed the priesthood and the Temple to be corrupted and impure. The Scroll says:

…they shall expiate guilty rebellion and sinful infidelity and (procure) Loving-kindness upon earth without the flesh of burnt offering and the fat of sacrifice, but the offering of the lips in accordance with the law shall be as an agreeable odor of righteousness, and perfection of way shall be as the voluntary gift of a delectable oblation. [Scroll of the Rule IX.3]

and yet:

And they shall not depart from any maxim of the Law to walk in all the stubbornness of their heart. [IX.10]

Just as modern Judaism and Islam claim to keep Torah but in no way keep the sacrificial system, so the Essenes forsook the Law while claiming to keep it. I am interested to see if the other scrolls address these subjects in more detail.

Biblical Theocracy

James Jordan says:

The gospel is the announcement that Jesus is now king of the entire world, and that all nations are to be discipled. Israel was the model discipled nation, and now all nations are to be discipled. Israel’s history relates typologically to all the world now, as we are put into the olive tree. Everything God told Israel, including the Law, is typologically normative for all the world, for all nations. I call this “Biblical theocracy.”

The gospel is not theology or ideas. It is not experiences. It it not even the church considered merely as some kind of annabaptist worshiping community in the midst of a world that will never be changed. The gospel is a new creation, a new world. It is Christendom. It is theocracy. This is not “theonomy” as Bahnsen defined it, but it is close enough that it looks like it to many people. And the practical implications of Biblical Theocracy are often quit similar to “theonomy” as regards the discipleship of nations, because typological application is still application. And just as the early church directly challenged Caesar’s purported lordship, there is a need today for the prophetic people of God to directly challenge modern ideas of law and democracy and insist on the crown rights of King Jesus.