A New Catechism

Redeemer Presbyterian Church (NYC) and The Gospel Coalition have come together to develop a new catechism:

So, with all that in mind, we decided to adapt Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism, to produce New City Catechism. While giving exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of these great Reformation-era catechisms, New City Catechism also looks at some of the questions people are asking today.

We also decided that New City Catechism should comprise only 52 questions and answers (as opposed to Heidelberg’s 129 or Westminster Shorter’s 107). There is therefore only one question and answer for each week of the year, making it simple to fit into church calendars and achievable even for people with demanding schedules.

We wanted to do one more thing. We found that parents who teach their kids a children’s catechism, and then try to learn an adult one for themselves often find the process confusing. The children are learning one set of questions and answers, and the parents are learning another completely different set. So New City Catechism is a joint adult and children’s catechism. In other words, the same questions are asked of both children and adults, and the children’s answer is always part of the adult answer. This means that as parents are teaching it to their children they are learning their answer to the question at the same time.

I’ve just begun to look through the New City catechism. This Q and A caught my attention:

Q: How and why did God create us?
A: God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.

Here is the similar question and answer from the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 17. How did God create man?

A. After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfill it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall.

I certainly can appreciate the desire to simplify the catechism answers. When I’m helping my children learn them, I tend to paraphrase when necessary to make sure they can grasp the concepts in an age-appropriate way. But, I think it is very interesting what is left out from the Westminster version: “formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls” especially given the current origins debate.

Any thoughts?

Tim Keller: Sin, Hell, and Homosexuality

Recently, Dr. Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, wrote a very systematic and detailed critique of some of Dr. Tim Keller’s comments on homosexuality. Dr. Keller’s comments come from an interview that he gave at Veritas Forum back in 2008. The comments have been discussed elsewhere before, but this really was the most in depth treatment that I’ve read. I highly recommend it.

For me, while Dr. Keller’s remarks on homosexuality are disappointing, it is his redefinition of sin and hell that I find much more troubling. Dr. Keller states that sin doesn’t send a person to hell, but rather self-righteousness does and that sin is just what is bad for “human flourishing.” Dr. Gagnon addresses this in two parts of his critique:

Is it the case that homosexual practice will not send anyone to hell? Rev. Keller declares categorically that homosexual practice (and sin generally) will not send anyone to hell but only the self-righteousness of thinking that ‘I am my own savior and lord.’ ‘And that is the reason why Pharisaism, moralism, Bible-believing people who are proud and think that God is going to take them into heaven because they are good, that is sending them to hell.’ But claiming to be a follower of Christ while repeatedly and unrepentantly engaging in gross sexual immorality will not send one to hell? Certainly, refusing to accept Christ as one’s Savior and Lord confirms one’s destination will not be heaven. But what is misleading in Keller’s presentation is that self-professed believers who engage unrepentantly in homosexual practice or in other ways show themselves to be slaves of sin will not inherit God’s kingdom because they show their ‘faith’ to be something other than saving faith. …

I find it hard to believe that Keller would have been so misleading in his answer if the question was about unrepentant serial killers, those who regularly defraud others of their life savings and refuse to repent, or unrepentant perpetrators of rape, incest, or pedophilia.

And,

Is the only thing bad about sin that it does not help human flourishing? Rev. Keller appears to have a reduced understanding of sin as merely something that is ‘not good for human flourishing’ but can’t send one to hell. ‘We want people to do things that are good for human flourishing but that is not what sends people to heaven and hell.’ Rev. Keller, intentionally or not, was giving the impression that homosexual practice is not so bad. It’s kind of a minor sin. It’s just not going to give a person an optimal life where ‘human flourishing’ can take place. This is incorrect. Immoral behaviors are also grave offenses to God. …

Human sin is what creates the judgment of hell in the first place. True, one is delivered from that judgment if one puts one’s faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. But if one claims to have such saving faith while continuing to live unrepentantly in egregious immorality then one is a liar.

Some might say that Dr. Keller was simply contextualizing his answers given the hostile audience he was addressing. However, his idea that sin is that which is not good for human flourishing and that people don’t go to hell because of sin are common themes that appear in a number of his books, sermons, and interviews.

In his book, The Reason for God, Dr. Keller explains his view of hell (borrowing heavily from C.S. Lewis):

Modern people inevitably think that hell works like this: God gives us time, but if we haven’t made the right choices by the end of our lives, he casts our souls into hell for all eternity. As the poor souls fall through space, they cry out for mercy, but God says, ‘Too late! You had your chance! Now you will suffer!” This caricature misunderstands the very nature of evil. The Biblical picture is that sin separates us from the presence of God, which is the source of all joy and indeed of all love, wisdom, or good things of any sort. … If we were to lose his presence totally, that would be hell — the loss of our capability for giving for receiving love or joy. …

Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life going on and on forever (76-77).

Dr. Keller goes on to say:

In short, hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity. We see this process ‘writ small’ in addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First, there is disintegration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction. Second, there is the isolation, as increasingly you blame others and circumstances in order to justify your behavior. … Personal disintegration happens on a broader scale. In eternity, this disintegration goes on forever. There is increasing isolation, denial, delusion, and self-absorption. When you lose all humanity you are out of touch with reality. No one ever asks to leave hell. The very idea of heaven seems to them a sham (78).

This annihilistic view of hell does not seem to fit with the picture of torment that the Scriptures teach and that the Westminster Standards describe this way:

Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

A. The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell-fire forever (Larger Catechism)

And,

II. The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power. (Westminster Confession of Faith, emphasis added)

Dr. Keller also gives his definition of sin in The Reason for God:

Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from him. …

So, according to the Bible, the primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things (162, emphasis original).

This redefinition of sin also seems different from the Biblical descriptions of sin. The Westminster Standards define sin as:

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. (Shorter Catechism)

And,

VI. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal. (Westminster Confession of Faith)

I understand the desire to explain Biblical concepts in new and fresh ways to gain a hearing with an especially jaded culture. However, we must be careful that our explanations are consistent with Scripture and that we aren’t simply softening the truth to make it easier to accept.

The Keller Model for Pastoral (and Congregational) Burnout

Over at the Old Life Theological Society, D.G. Hart has an interesting post on Dr. Tim Keller and his model for city church growth. Hart wonders whether Keller’s influence is waning and points out that Keller sounds fatigued in his recent posts. Hart sees a good reason for exhaustion in Keller’s latest model for city church growth:

Although Keller’s failure to be the Presbyterian minister his credentials say he is aggravate the bejeebers out of me, this time his call for a gospel movement seems tired, bordering on #sotenminutesago. It used to be that a megachurch in New York City receiving favorable press coverage in both religious and secular publications was novel. Now it’s not. …

In this case, though, Keller himself sounds fatigued. The reason may be that the only way he can conceive of transforming the city is to concoct a set of hoops and ladders that only the Navy Seals could negotiate. According to Keller, a gospel movement requires three things: a contextual theological vision, church planting and church renewal movements (that’s only one thing even though its a mouthful and a bit redundant — you need a movement to have another movement), and specialized ministries. Here’s where tiredness sets in, at least for readers:

Hart then quotes from Keller’s most recent book, Center Church:

Based in the churches, yet also stimulating and sustaining the churches, this third ring consists of a complex of specialty ministries, institutions, networks, and relationships. There are at least seven types of elements in this third ring.

1. A prayer movement uniting churches across traditions in visionary intercession for the city. The history of revivals shows the vital importance of corporate, prevailing, visionary intercessory prayer for the city and the body of Christ. Praying for your city is a biblical directive (Jer 29:4-7). Coming together in prayer is something a wide variety of believers can do. It doesn’t require a lot of negotiation and theological parsing to pray. Prayer brings people together. And this very activity is catalytic for creating friendships and relationships across denominational and organizational bounderies. Partnerships with Christians who are similar to and yet different from you stimulates growth and innovation.

2. A number of specialized evangelistic ministries, reaching particular groups (business people, mothers, ethnicities, and the like). Of particular importance are effective campus and youth ministries. Many of the city church’s future members and leaders are best found in the city’s colleges and schools. While students who graduate from colleges in university towns must leave the area to get jobs, graduates form urban universities do not. Students won to Christ and given a vision for living in the city can remain in the churches they joined during their school years and become emerging leaders in the urban body of Christ. Winning the youth of a city wins city natives who understand the culture well.

You can read the rest of Keller’s 7 elements and the conclusion of Hart’s post here. I really recommend you do.

Does Grace Make Christians Just?

One of the hottest topics in evangelical circles is “social justice.” Many authors, including Kevin DeYoung, have addressed the subject of justice and the role the church should have in pursuing it. Dr. Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York (PCA), has also written a book on the topic of social justice. In Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, Dr. Keller explains his view on what justice is, why and how Christians should pursue it.

Dr. Keller opens his book with an explanation for why he wrote Generous Justice:

Most people know that Jesus came to bring forgiveness and grace. Less well known is the Biblical teaching that a true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to see justice in the world. (8)

This really is the central theme of the book, and Dr. Keller works hard to drive this point home. He writes that his book is for people that “have not thought out the implications of Jesus’s gospel for doing justice in all aspects of life (9)” and those that don’t understand yet “that when the Spirit enables us to understand what Christ has done for us, the result is a life poured out in deeds of justice and compassion for the poor (10).”

According to Dr. Keller:

[T]he Bible is a book devoted to justice in the world from first to last. And the Bible gives us not just a naked call to care about justice, but gives us everything we need – motivation, guidance, inner joy, and power – to live a just life. (11)

Continue reading

Dr. Ron Choong and Project Timothy: The Bible You Thought You Knew

In the last year or so, Dr. Ron Choong has become known for his views on the historical Adam. Last week, Pastor Wes White posted an update on Dr. Choong and Metro New York Presbytery’s decision not to investigate based on his view of Adam as a group of hominids adopted by God. In researching Dr. Choong’s publications, I discovered that he is the founder of an organization, the Academy for Christian Thought (ACT).

According to their website, ACT was founded by the Rev. Dr. Ron Choong, an ordained minister in the PCA, to be a “research and educational non-profit organization in New York City.” Their goal is:

to engage the urgent issues of our times and persistent questions of all ages. We encourage interdisciplinary engagement with every field of human inquiry to better understand the impact of history, philosophy, culture and the natural sciences on the Christian faith. We seek to articulate an enriched worldview with integrity and foster a climate of inquiry within a sanctuary of doubt we call a theological safe space (TSS).

Their mission includes providing a theological safe space (TSS) to develop apologetics that “engage the natural sciences and world religions for fruitful dialogues,” to “foster a missional church climate in a global secular culture,” to “bridge the academy to the church,” and to develop discipleship programs that “commit to making the discipleship of the mind and body a priority.”

They go on to explain how they seek to develop such discipleship programs:

We develop globally relevant and conceptually holistic discipleship programs. In the sciences, we inquire into methodologies to distinguish science from scientism and evolution from evolutionism. …  In biblical theology, we teach a method of interpretation that engages other religious convictions and scientific inferences while remaining faithful to the confessional integrity of the Bible as a trustworthy, divinely inspired writing of fallible, human effort.

ACT confesses a belief “in the divine inspiration and entire trustworthiness of the Scriptures.” What is interesting is that infallibility and inerrancy are not used to describe their view of the Scriptures.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York, a sponsor of ACT, has hosted ACT seminars and lists ACT as a valuable resource. Dr. Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer, is one of three pastors on ACT’s Board of Reference.

One of ACT’s programs for discipleship is called Project Timothy (PT):

PT is a program of ACT – a ministry that encourages interdisciplinary engagements with every field of human inquiry for a fruitful understanding of Christian belief. PT provides a climate of inquiry within a sanctuary of doubt that we call a theological safe space (TSS) – to engage the Global Secular Culture. … PT teaches a method to make sense of the Bible by considering what the writer of each book intended to say, what the original readers and hearers would have understood and how we today might understand the texts for ourselves.

Project Timothy seminar materials are available for download through ACT’s online store. All of the following quotes are taken from Ron Choong’s The Bible You Thought You Knew: Volume 1 (New York: Academy for Christian Thought Publications, 2011).

Project Timothy’s The Bible You Thought You Knew opens with some thoughts about the goals and aims of Project Timothy:

TTT [Thinking Things Through] in a TSS [Theological Safe Space]: Are our beliefs consistent with each other, are they philosophically coherent, and are they scientifically convergent? While neither philosophy nor science leads to God, they are helpful tools to keeping a check on our prejudices and biases. We are wonderfully capable of convincing ourselves that our thoughts are true because we wish them to be so. If we are indeed committed to thinking things through, we need a safe place to do that thinking without fear of being denigrated or misrepresented. … In a TSS, we can question one’s view without questioning their motives or character. And we can change a view we once took for granted if it is no longer defensible in a holistic confessional Christian worldview (viii-ix).

And,

PT [Project Timothy] provides a TSS [Theological Safe Space] to question assumptions about the scriptures. This strengthens our beliefs and equips us to responsibly proclaim the Gospel (x).

Dr. Choong goes on to describe the approach Project Timothy takes with the Scriptures and science:

Since the question of biblical reliability cannot be affirmed by its historicity, literary, or theological components, we pay attention to these characteristics of the Scriptures to get within hearing distance of the writers’ intent. Thus you will find lapses in historical and scientific accuracy as we increase our modern accuracy of historical and scientific knowledge. Even doctrinal articulation of theological points need to be revised in each generation to account for our greater understanding of the world we live in (xiii).

And,

Biblical knowledge is an older source that is limited to disclosure (divine revelation) rather than discovery (human investigation). So science is an extremely helpful check on our interpretation of the Bible. By looking for convergence between our conclusions and what our minds can discover about the creation of God, we can compose a more comprehensive image of reality (xv).

While Project Timothy’s seminars cover all of the Old and New Testament books, this overview will look mainly at how Dr. Choong applies the above ideas to Genesis.

According to Dr. Choong, Genesis was written around the 6th century BC as the Jewish people were returning from their Babylonian exile (1). As such, it was not written by Moses, although Moses may be the author of some parts (3-4). The purpose of Genesis 1-11 was to provide a polemic against the Babylonian gods, not to explain the “how” or “in what order” of creation:

The final form of these primeval accounts described in Genesis 1-11 was completed during the postexilic period, later than most of the Pentateuch, to tell us about God who created everything including all of the “gods” worshipped by the Babylonians. They were not intended to tell us how the universe was made, how life originated from inorganic matter, or exactly how human beings first came about. Rather, they were intended to counter other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts (1).

What does this mean for modern Christians and the meaning of Genesis?

The Christian should read Genesis 1-11 with the assurance that we worship the creator of all that exist, and not be troubled by working out the mechanics of creation itself, because the Bible is silent on this matter. Any theological reflection that engages literature, history, philosophy, and science will always result in provisional insights, none of which should form litmus tests of faith (1).

Dr. Choong believes that the Torah was written backwards starting with Exodus, then Genesis 12-50, and finally Genesis 1-11. Because it was written to combat other ANE creation accounts, we should not read it as historical or scientific:

The story of Israel actually begins with the exodus event, recorded in the book of Exodus. It was in the Sinai desert that different tribes of former Egyptian slaves formed the People of God YHWH. … The stories of Genesis 12-50 were told as a prologue to the exodus event and later, the accounts of Genesis 1-11 were told to link the formation of Israel to the very formation of creation itself. Every people group may trace their lineage back to the origins of creation, life and humanity, and Genesis 1-11 is Israel’s account. This account is theological rather than strictly historical. Thus, although it possesses dimensions of history and science, Genesis 1-11 is not historical or scientific and cannot be judged as such (2).

Why does Dr. Choong believe that Genesis 1-11 is not meant to teach us about the origins of the universe and life? He explains that:

Genesis 1 refers not to the origins of the material universe, but to how those pre-existing materials are now designed to function by God. The correct translation of Genesis 1:1 is “When God began creating” (15).

So, if Genesis 1-11 is not historical or scientific, what is it?

The first 11 chapters are primeval histories, not chronological ones. They are mythological. This does not mean they are untrue, but that they refer to events before there were human witnesses. They are therefore unverifiable and unfalsifiable. … The first five of these then stories up till the account of Shem, are not intended to be understood literally or even historically(12-13).

Dr. Choong believes that differences in the order of creation as told in Genesis 1 and 2 indicate that multiple perspectives on creation are given and, therefore, that Genesis 1 and 2 cannot be taken literally:

The religion-science debate is rooted in Genesis 1, which describes the creation of the world in a poetic fashion and employs a seven-day week framework. This seven-day chronology has sometimes been interpreted literally by religious persons opposed to scientific theories such as biological evolution and natural selection, so that the data from fossil records, geology, dinosaurs, and the like, must somehow fit into the seven days of the Genesis 1 creation account.

Genesis 2, on the other hand, discusses the creation of humans and then animals in an order that reverses that of Genesis 1. This makes any simple harmonization of the two accounts untenable. These two versions of creation cannot be reconciled at the level of logical order or sequencing. The narrators of Genesis 1 and Genesis 1 were different persons who lived centuries apart from one another. (13).

Dr. Choong notes that most modern people look to science instead of the Bible to answer such questions as the origin and development of life, but that this was not always so:

Most people, whether religious or not, look to the realm of science for hard data about the environment and cosmology. Prior to the modern period and the rise of the natural sciences, people tended to be more simple or naïve about such things and tended to think (if they thought about it much at all) about the origin of the world in religious and theological terms (Footnote 39, 13).

Given that Dr. Choong believes that Genesis 1-11 is silent on the “mechanics of creation itself,” what does he believe about the compatibility of evolution and Christianity?

Does the process of evolution undermine God’s Glory as Creator? Not at all (6).

And,

Is the six-day creation account central to the Bible? Probably not. … The entire creation v. evolution controversy is based on a false dichotomy. (6-7).

What about Adam? Dr. Choong recognizes that many Christians insist on the historicity of Adam, but he sees some flexibility in the interpretation:

The OT description of the origin of humanity (adam) surely arises from an actual historical event. That much is evident. But whether the figure of biblical Adam represents a pre-existing group of people or a specially created modern-looking like human who was not born (hence, with no navel) and whether Eve refers to a single female crafted from a single rib, ought not divide the Church. There is sufficient grace in theological space to allow for variance in interpretation, as long as they remain provisional and open to review as we learn more and more about ourselves. Thus, we note the inconsistent use of the Hebrew word “adam” in the Bible and cannot say with certainty whether a first human couple was specially created with no biological link to other life forms (7).

Dr. Choong believes that:

Sometime in the distant past, God chose one hominid branch to receive the “image of God,” the potential to relate to God in love (7).

And that:

Such a convergent explanation of what the biblical writers were trying to convey is an example of a responsible apologetic that is at once faithful to the authority of the inspired Bible and accounts for the empirical findings of human discovery. … Did God create one male and one female from which to populate the Earth? Perhaps, and perhaps not. We will never really know. But the Hebrew word “adam” means humanity (7).

Since Adam’s name is also the Hebrew word for “humanity,” Dr. Choong sees biblical support for his view that the historical Adam of Genesis was a group of people and not a single individual:

Is there any reason to think that the biblical Adam was a single person? Yes. Genesis 5:5 refers to the exact age that Adam died, suggesting that Adam was a particular male who was never born but emerged as an adult with no navel and no childhood. Where it gets tricky is whether he also contributed one of his ribs to form Eve. These contrasting hints allow some theological space for a difference of opinion. … Finally, did Paul himself not refer to Adam as a first particular human? Most Christians use Romans 5:12 to infer that the Pauline Adam must be a singular adult male who was the second sinner (8).

According to Dr. Choong, Paul’s use of Adam is not as clear cut as it might seem to be. The real issue is not anthropology but soteriology. In other words, what matters in Paul’s use of Adam are the issues of sin and salvation:

The reality of sin is central to Christianity. The reason Jesus died on the cross is because of sin, so if the first humans did not sin, it makes the Cross redundant. … A literal reading of Paul suggests that sin entered the world through a single human being, and through another, all will be justified. This would describe universal sin accompanied by universal salvation or universalism – something Paul himself would reject outright. … So whatever Paul meant, he could not have meant this phrase literally (8).

Dr. Choong goes on to explain that the doctrine of original sin (a sin nature inherited from Adam as a result of the Fall) is also not found in Paul’s writings despite what many have believed:

While most of the Church Fathers saw that Adam was punished for his sin with sinful desires, Paul himself said no such thing. In fact, to our surprise, Paul in Romans specifically introduced the doctrine that Adam’s punishment was an expected outcome of his created humanity rather than something he did wrong. …

Elsewhere, Paul uses sin to describe behavior as in the teaching that sin was not caused by Adam and Eve but is a term that describes the defiant behavior of Adam and Eve. In this interpretation, Adam and Eve were made loaded with sinful desires already – not that Adam sought out sinful desires. This use of the word sin as behavior finds great convergence with the biological nature of human imperfection, despite our having been made good. But when Paul personified the word sin, his notion of a pre-Adamic existence of sin meant that Adam could not be blamed for any existence of sin per se (8-9).

According to Dr. Choong, therefore, Adam and Eve did not gain a sin nature through the Fall that they then passed on to their descendants. They were made with sinful desires:

If we think that there was perfect morality before Adam and Eve were ejected from Eden, we cannot explain why in their perfect state of moral goodness, they both disobeyed God – how can perfect goodness turn bad? (38)

Because Paul uses personification to explain sin, Dr. Choong believes that Paul’s use of “Adam” may also be a personification of sorts:

Paul expressed the word [sin] to mean at least three different things: a person, a causal agent that may or may not be personified, and a primeval state of the human condition that we inherited. Thus we conclude that Paul in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 did not intend to declare the doctrine that Adam of Genesis was a single progenitor of humanity who was never born, and biologically gave rise to Eve who was crafted from one of his ribs, thus losing a rib in the process (10).

So, what conclusion does Dr. Choong come to regarding Adam and Eve?

What we can say is that Adam and Eve were certainly historical figures. What we cannot say for sure is how many of them there were. Pure literalists suggest two – a male named Adam and a female made out of Adam’s rib named Eve. Although genetic markers suggest a much larger pool of first humans, science along cannot be trusted for a dogmatic statement of faith, so we ought not to rely on biology to determine a biblical interpretation. But the undisputed point that leans towards the origins of humans as a community rather than as a single couple is neither historical nor scientific, but purely scriptural – the Hebrew meaning of Adam is humanity (10).

Dr. Choong also applies his hermeneutic approach to other parts of the Torah. For example, the account of Noah and the flood isn’t an historical account of a family of eight that survive a worldwide flood with lots of animals:

There were already flood stories in the Ancient Near East. So an adoption of such a story would effectively make the point (16).

In fact, according to Dr. Choong, it’s dangerous to attempt to read Noah’s story literally:

The account of Noah’s Ark was not meant to explain the origin of spectral optics that formed the first rainbow, or to showcase ancient naval architecture capable of surviving a global flood. This would reduce biblical theology to the natural sciences. The rainbow is symbolic of a war bow (as in bow and arrow). … The fate of Noah’s three sons does not imply that all Africans are doomed from the beginning because Ham saw his father’s nakedness. … A literal reading of Ham (dark-skinned) led to the justification of African slavery by some in the Christian Church in the West. … Hence, to take a literal-historical reading of Noah’s story would reduce biblical theology to racism, sociology, and pop psychology (12).

The account of the Tower of Babel is also not meant to be read literally, but rather, symbolically:

The Tower of Babel does not explain the origin of human languages or prohibits skyscrapers. That would reduce biblical theology to evolutionary biology and structural engineering. Rather, it uses the mighty towers called ziggurats (“to build on a raised area”) found all over the Ancient near east to make a point about human hubris and lack of respect for the almighty God (12).

Dr. Choong warns that a literal reading of Scripture can cause great harm:

Always consider the medium used to convey the biblical message. Taking many biblical accounts literally wholesale is not a harmless act of naivete. It can actually be dangerous in creating bad theology to fuel racism, sexism and a host of social ills that are morally repugnant (15).

To summarize what Dr. Choong is teaching through Project Timothy’s The Bible You Thought You Knew, Moses didn’t write Genesis, Genesis was written as a polemic against the Babylonian gods, Genesis does not teach ex nihilo creation, Genesis does not speak to how the universe began or where humans came from, Adam is best understood as a group of hominids adopted by God to be imago dei, Adam and Eve were not created with perfect morality, Paul’s Adam wasn’t necessarily the singular progenitor of the human race, Noah’s flood was an adopted ANE story retold for Israel’s purposes, the Tower of Babel doesn’t explain the origin of languages, and interpreting the Bible literally can be dangerous.

BioLogos’ “Vision for Change”

In March, Dr. Tim Keller hosted BioLogos’ third Theology of Celebration workshop at the Harvard Club in New York City. Unlike the previous workshops, this workship did not conclude with a statement but with an “urgent desire to bring about change.” What needs to change? The sentiment at the workshop was that the church is in danger because so many pastors believe or even accept the possibility that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Apparently, young earth creationism is the new “great evangelical disaster.”

While BioLogos states that they value “gracious dialogue with those who hold other views,” in their articles and interviews, they often seem quite dismissive or even hostile towards those who disagree, especially proponents of Young Earth Creation (YEC) and Intelligent Design (ID). They are especially distressed that despite all the “evidence” in favor of evolution so many evangelicals are still clinging to literalistic interpretations of Genesis.

BioLogos defines Young Earth Creationists (YEC) as denying “the revelation of God in nature and the gift of science.” Dr. Karl Giberson, formerly VP of BioLogos, believes that Young Earth Creationists represent an “intellectually impoverished parallel culture” that drives the “best and brightest evangelicals out of the church”:

Survey results recently reported by Christianity Today clarify once again the sober truth that evangelicals are not making much progress in accepting well-established mainstream scientific ideas about origins. Particularly disturbing is the finding that only 27 percent of evangelical pastors “strongly disagree” with the statement that the earth is 6,000 years old. A higher number “strongly agree” that the earth is just 6,000 years old, a conclusion refuted by mountains of evidence. Seven in 10 evangelical pastors “strongly disagree” that “God used evolution to create people.” …

The dismissive and even hostile approach to science taken by evangelical leaders like Ken Ham accounts for the Barna finding above. In the name of protecting Christianity from a secularism perceived as corrosive to the faith, the creationists are unwittingly driving the best and brightest evangelicals out of the church — or at least into the arms of the compromising Episcopalians, whom they despise. What remains after their exodus is an even more intellectually impoverished parallel culture, with even fewer resources to think about complex issues.

According to BioLogos, it’s not just the YEC that deny “science.” In an interview between Dr. Karl Giberson and Dr. Francis Collins, they dismiss the idea that proponents of Intelligent Design are conducting research:

Karl Giberson: What do you think of this project that the Discovery Institute has launched, with a laboratory where they want to do genuine scientific research, with their own in-house scientists? That’s a very strange development.

Francis Collins: It is very hard for me to imagine what they will do. Science by its very nature ought to be unfettered by any particular perspective on what these right answers are supposed to be. And yet here you are setting up this scientific circumstance that has as its goal to support intelligent design theory. That is counter to the way that science has to be conducted. And furthermore, as everybody has pointed out, intelligent design has this major fundamental flaw. It has no predictive value that anyone can discern. And it has no scientific strategy to demonstrate the correctness of its position because it’s implying divine supernatural intervention, which by definition science isn’t really able to establish. It’s the wrong set of tools.

So, rather than viewing those who disagree as “partners in the conversation,” proponents of YEC and ID are seen as barriers to the BioLogos goal of harmonizing evolutionary science and Christianity. As Dr. Falk wrote:

Should we try to convince all of the non-scientifically inclined evangelicals to cease believing that Adam and Eve are the first human beings? That would almost certainly be futile at this time—there is no point in trying. Besides it could harm their faith. What the church can, and in my opinion must do, however, is to make it clear that there are two ways in which evangelicals view this story. One is historical, the other, allegorical. To publicly acknowledge that and to make it clear that the latter view does not in any way disengage an evangelical from their faith would be of considerable significance. Let’s allow both views to co-exist in evangelicalism for now. I am convinced that we can eliminate the barrier by simply admitting that there are many deeply committed Christians who believe that many elements of the story of Adam and Eve is not historical. I think we need to tell our children that at a young age and I think we need to show them why there are committed Christians on both sides. It also would be good to show them why the historicity of Adam and Eve is not foundational to faith. (emphasis added)

Dr. Tim Keller, host of the most recent BioLogos Theology of Celebration workshop, said that it’s “the job of pastors” to develop a BioLogos narrative to combat YEC:

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. “We have arguments, but they have a narrative,” noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is “the job of pastors,” Keller said.

Along those lines, BioLogos has recently announced a new grants program, Vision for Change, to focus on ways pastors and other church leaders can help their congregations learn to accept the “truth of evolution”:

As our regular readers well know, the majority of evangelical Christians reject one of the most well-established of scientific theories—evolution. Evolution lies at the heart of many scientific disciplines; it is as fundamental to biology as 2 + 2 = 4 is to mathematics or as E = mc2 is to physics. If these basic truths were found to be false, entire disciplines would collapse. To the majority of Evangelicals, however, an anti-evolutionary view of origins is equally fundamental. In their view, it affects how we read Scripture and understand the Gospel itself—the very heart of our identity as Christians. If evolution were found to be true, it would be disturbing indeed.

While Christian scholars and scientists have actively worked on evolutionary creation and related topics for decades, their work has mostly failed to leave the ivory tower, creating a vacuum in the church. Well-meaning public figures have moved into the vacuum to proclaim that much is at stake if Christians ever yield to mainstream science. These figures preach that scriptural authority, Christian theology, and Christian morals and values will all collapse if believers accommodate their thinking to the discoveries of “man’s historical science.”

It’s time for things to change.

Why is it time for things to change? Because BioLogos believes that if the church doesn’t begin to accept evolution as fact and work to reconcile this “truth” with the Bible, then the church will lose its relevance and impact on the culture. It may even drive believers from the church. In light of the March meeting in NYC and these other statements, it appears very clearly that Biologos has an agenda. Dr. Falk sums it up this way:

We in the BioLogos community urge the Church not to surrender the evangelicalism tent to American fundamentalism. There is far too much at stake. …

We’ll exist within the tent together for awhile. Eventually, I think even the fundamentalists will come to see that they need to allow science books in their library and fundamentalism will undergo its own evolution.

Biologos may want to dialogue for a while, but what they really want is to enshrine evolution as a new dogma for evangelicals.

BioLogos Conference: Hosted by Dr. Tim Keller

I guess that answers the question about whether or not he supports them. From the BioLogos newsletter:

On March 20–22, 2012, noted evangelical pastor Dr. Timothy Keller hosted the meetings at the Harvard Club in New York City. That in itself has symbolic significance. Harvard University was founded on principles firmly grounded in the Word of God in its pursuit of truth. But since then, Harvard has lost its way. Some wonder if a segment of the church is now in danger of losing its way too.

A statement emerged from each of the first two “Theology of Celebration” meetings, which were held in November 2009 and November 2010. The third meeting, held in March 2012, showed that the conversation has reached a new level of maturity. Given data that was presented at the meeting—which convincingly showed that almost half of America’s protestant pastors hold or strongly lean toward a belief in a universe less than 10,000 years old—there was a deep concern for the church not only in America, but also worldwide. This time, leading evangelical Christians left with not so much a statement as an urgent desire to bring about change. The church of the coming decades cannot divorce itself from matters about which there is scientific certainty.