Thursday, May 14, 2015

We Are Not Cattle

Talking about vaccines is like walking across a floor covered in syringes and hoping you don't get poked. No matter what you say, you're bound to offend someone and feel their sting. It's a touchy subject with advocates on both sides of the debate screaming loudly over their counterparts on the other. As a parent of a 10-month old little boy (the cutest little boy God ever created, by the way), I've been doing my research and learning everything I can about vaccines.

That's why I was excited when I heard that Christianity Today had used this month's issue to tackle the subject. Perhaps they would include compelling arguments from thoughtful Christians in the various camps, or maybe they would take space to discuss the need for civility in the debate. Or, hope upon hope, they might point to a third way, past all the arguments.

Instead, I found the cover headline: "For the Love: Why we of all people should get our vaccines." And when I opened up the magazine, I found an article entitled, "Why I Still Vaccinate," written by Matthew Loftus, a medical doctor who nearly died from an adverse reaction to a vaccine yet argues vehemently that, for Christians, there really is no debate left to be had.


Unfortunately, there is nothing new in Loftus' article. It's the same old argument from the pro-vaccine camp: Vaccines prevent horrible and deadly diseases, and they only work if most of us get them (the herd immunity deal). Added to the party line was a new Christian spin: Vaccines are really about loving our neighbors, so Jesus would have us get them and give them to our children.

I find little to commend in Loftus' approach to applied ethics. Medical knowledge and the experience of nearly dying from a vaccination may make him a somewhat bulletproof advocate for the vaccine industry, but they do not make his arguments biblical.

The herd-immunity concept is not justifiable, though it is aptly named. If children were cattle, then it would make sense to sacrifice a small percentage for the good of the herd. (Vaccines irreparably harm some kids. If they did not, the U.S. government would not have a special vaccine court to compensate the families of such children, since it is illegal to sue a vaccine manufacturer.) But each child has been created in the image of God, and we are not free to play Russian roulette with any of them—certainly not our own. Our children are our neighbors too. Shouldn't we love them enough to keep them out of harm's way when we can?

This is where parents must make a tough decision. Each family must decide whether the vaccines are worth the risk, whether they think their children will fare better with the CDC's schedule, an alternate, or none at all. Many factors must be considered: Will the child be in daycare? Will they be breastfed, giving them the ability to build natural immunities? Is there a family history of disabilities that may be linked to vaccines? Parents should read the studies, listen to the stories, watch the documentaries, and talk with their doctors—but ultimately moms and dads will have to decide what's best for their children.

Our communities and our nation are strongest when our families are strong. But the herd immunity idea puts the community above the family and, in doing so, actually weakens both. In the end, more information is needed, more unbiased studies are warranted, and the conflicts of interest between the government and big business need to be broken apart so decisions can be made with good information.

Jesus isn't commanding you to vaccinate your kids. He's commanding you to love them right alongside your other neighbors. How you do that is still up for debate. But Christianity Today isn't doing us any favors by staying safe and only publishing one side—the politically correct side—of the story.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Home Fires That Burn

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
—Malachi 4:5-6

If life were a movie, Baltimore wouldn't be crumbling under the angered fists of protesters, gangs, and the desperate poor. This scene has already been played out—in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Los Angeles, and in a dozen other places across the home of the free—so it makes for a poor storyline to see it again. But here it is. And once more, as if on cue, a cry for justice has turned into a cry for blood, and the only thing being wrought is more injustice.

I believe there is a tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy at work in all the looting and burning. The shouts of "Black lives matter!"—true though the sentiment might be—masks a deeper cry: "I matter!" And though the current protest finds its lifeblood in the African-American story, this longing is not unique to any one race or city. It is the longing of every human heart for home. But "home" is receiving the full brunt of the fury. By attacking their own city, the rioters are, in essence, agreeing with the very injustice they came to battle. Every shattered window and torched convenience store loudly proclaims that the folks who live in this neighborhood actually don't matter after all, that home is just an illusion.

Every night when I come home from work, I make sure to give my son lots of hugs. I tell him, "I love you," more than once, though he cannot yet understand my words. I build a tower out of fabric blocks that his mother made for him, and I cheer when he crawls across the room to knock them down. Laurin and I pray for our sweet boy before placing him in his crib for the night. He knows "Thank You, Jesus," and he smiles, because we show him those words in sign language at every meal and every nap.

More than anything, I want my son to know that he matters to me and to our heavenly Father. I want him to know he has a home here in this world, and when this world is over, if he wants it, a home with Jesus.

There is something broken in Maryland—and all across this world—something that cannot be repaired by police sensitivity training, neighborhood watches, or social programs. Nothing can replace the family—a mom, a dad, and their children. Everyone needs a home—a mom and dad to tell us we matter, to speak deep into the recesses of our hearts in the unique ways that only a mom and dad can. 

I wonder how many acts of senseless violence might be left undone if each angry face knew he mattered, not only to his mama, but to his dad too—and also to his Maker. Could it be that what's spilling out into the streets began years ago with hugs that weren't given, "I love you"s that went unsaid, and prayers that were never prayed? I know a bit of what it's like to grow up that way—and my heart aches for anyone who longs for home.

Today, just 40 miles from Baltimore, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that may very well change our nation's legal definition of marriage. If the highest court in the land should decide to make gay marriage legal in all 50 states, they will condemn millions of children to the same fate as many of those young men and women in Baltimore: a home that will never really be home because it lacks the love of either a mother or a father.

Those who support gay marriage want us to believe that love is all that matters—that a dad (or a mom) isn't necessary as long as there's love. But that's just not true. Don't take it from me. Take it from Heather Barwick. In her recent letter to the gay community, Heather writes about her experience growing up with two mommies and the pain that it caused her:

Gay marriage doesn't just redefine marriage, but also parenting. It promotes and normalizes a family structure that necessarily denies us something precious and foundational. It denies us something we need and long for, while at the same time tells us that we don't need what we naturally crave. That we will be okay. But we're not. We're hurting.

If our nation continues down this path, the meaning of family will not really be changed. Only God can define marriage, and therefore the family. But we will be doing the cultural equivalent of looting and rioting—setting fire to our own homes and pretending that what we're doing is somehow noble.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Christian Love in an Age of Gay Wedding Cakes

At first, I found it hard to believe that the battle for religious freedom in America was being waged over wedding cakes and floral arrangements. But then, as I really thought about it, it began to make sense. Wedding days are epic—for everyone involved. This year, Laurin and I will celebrate our second anniversary, and as I look back on our wedding day, I think of it as the day we began our family, as the day that my bride and I stood before our heavenly Father and most everyone we know to declare our love and commitment to one another. It was
a big deal, and the day's memory will live on forever in my mind. As such, the details—including the cake and the flowers—are important.

Last week, Jessica Kantrowitz wrote a blog post where she applied Jesus' commandment about going the extra mile in Matthew 5:41 to the Christian baker's dilemma with gay weddings. The result was a popular meme that rewords Jesus' command: "If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two." Kantrowitz argued that since the Romans were despised by the Jewish people of Jesus' day and that Jesus' teaching applied specifically to Jews who were forced into service by Roman soldiers, we ought to take the same tack with gay couples who come to us for wedding cakes. 

True enough, the Romans were idolators and were an occupying force oppressing the Jews in the Holy Land. So Jesus' command is radical. He's giving a real-world example of non-retaliation and love for enemies. And that's the first place where Kantrowitz' comparison falls apart for me: Whoever said gay couples were Christians' enemies? 

I'm sure there are Christian folks out there who view gay men and women as the enemy. But even those who do must admit that Jesus was pretty clear about what to do with our enemies: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43). Jesus is clear: Whether we consider someone a friend, a stranger, or an outright enemy, we are to love them. So the only question we should be asking ourselves when it comes to these gay wedding cakes is this: How would Jesus have me love these folks?

Many have answered this question by saying Christians ought to bake the cake. Kantrowitz goes further and insists we ought to bake two cakes. But is helping our gay neighbors celebrate their wedding days via pastry and confection really the best way to love them? For a few very important reasons, I think not.

As a Christian who believes that homosexual activity is sinful, I don't want to be counted among those endorsing it. That's not to say that I want Constitutional rights stripped from my gay friends and neighbors (though I don't believe that gay "marriage" is one of those rights), nor do I want them to be discriminated against in normal, everyday commerce. Let me be clear: If a gay man or woman comes into a bakery and wants to buy a cupcake, the baker—Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or other—should let them buy as many as they want. But when it comes to crafting a special wedding cake and celebrating a monumental event like a wedding, no one should be coerced.

Wedding cakes and floral arrangements are not normal, everyday commerce. They are important contributions to what is intended to be the most special day of a couple's life together. They are, in and of themselves, celebrations of the couple and their relationship. And if a Christian baker or florist is compelled to participate, that Christian is denied the right to submit to his or her conscience—something that every human being should be able to do. Martin Luther said it well when he stood before the Diet of Worms in 1521 and was commanded to recant of his gospel teaching:

[M]y conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.

Luther was right. It is not safe or right for a Christian—when convinced by the Word of God—to go against his or her conscience. We will answer to God one day for every decision we make and every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:10). What more important religious right could there be, then, but the right to yield to one's own conscience?

When it comes to love for our gay and lesbian friends and neighbors, I would like to be reckless and lavish—just as God is with every one of us—but because this is such an important issue, we must think Christianly about what it means to love in this situation. If we believe that sin is deadly—that there is a coming judgment when those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will be lost forever—then how could it ever be loving to celebrate and help facilitate the sealing of a relationship that God has said leads only to death?

I know that may sound harsh, but I am writing to those who are convinced that the Bible is the Word of God and that sin is as weighty a matter as God says it is. No, homosexual sin is not heavier than other types, but because it too often manifests itself in a person's identity and, now, in a couple's lifelong commitment, it is not a small thing to be trifled with. Therefore, the most loving thing a Christian baker or florist can do is to stand aside. The gay couple may not understand. They may even become angry and offended in the moment. But there is power in the testimony of someone so in love with Jesus that they cannot yield to pressure from other people. It is not loving to celebrate an adulterer's philandering or a thief's latest score. And it is not loving to celebrate a gay couple's decision to live permanently in unrepentant sin.

Love is not merely doing the seemingly nice thing. If it were, Jesus would have never spoken harsh words to the Pharisees of His day, He would have left those money changer's tables upright, and He never would have offended people by telling them who He was: the Son of God. If Jesus had "loved" the world in that way, they would never have crucified Him. And we'd all be without hope. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Jesus' Most Political Day

Last week marked the beginning of the official 2016 presidential campaign season as Senator Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for POTUS. But Cruz didn't merely announce his run for the highest office in the land; he did so at Liberty University. Conventional wisdom suggests it would have been more prudent for Senator Cruz to have picked some place a bit more neutral, a bit more middle-of-the-road conservative. Sure, there's a primary to be won and a base to be energized, but even religious commentators are questioning the senator's decision, arguing that the religious right wing of the GOP has all but been dismantled.

While I understand the desire to unhitch Jesus from right-leaning (or even left-leaning) political causes, I believe we do ourselves a great disservice when we imagine a politically neutral King of Kings.

Today is Palm Sunday. It's the day when we celebrate Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, the week that led to His crucifixion and resurrection. On this day nearly 2,000 years ago, men, women, and children tossed palm branches in Jesus' path and shouted "Hosanna!" which means "Salvation!" or "Liberty!" Jesus, for His part, rode atop a donkey's colt. He did this in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, which says:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey was a declaration that He was the king Israel had been waiting for. And while Jesus reigns in the hearts of all who trust in Him for their salvation, it is impossible to deny the political statement Jesus made that first Palm Sunday. The very next verse of Zechariah tells us what kind of king Jesus would be:

[H]e shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Palm Sunday leaves us with a choice: Will we submit to Jesus' rule or will we continue to rebel against His authority? And that's where it gets political. Since Jesus has claimed dominion over everyone and everything, we are not free to push Him out of our political decisions. Here in America, we enjoy the right of a type of limited self-government. Since we get to vote, we get a voice in who our leaders will be and in what direction we'd like our nation to head. And Jesus gets to tell us who to vote for. After all, He is King over everything—including our political choices.

Ted Cruz announced His candidacy for president at Liberty University. I'm sure, to some extent, this was a calculated move to try and reconstitute the coalition of conservatives who swept Ronald Reagan, and later George W. Bush, into power. But I believe it may also be something more than that.

Liberty, whether or not you agree entirely with its theological and political convictions (I certainly have a few reservations), has built into its mission the goal of "develop[ing] Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge, and skills essential for impacting tomorrow's world." In other words, Liberty wants to fill the world with leaders who will yield their authority and influence to Christ. It's a way of living out Christ's reign across the world, but especially across our nation.

Such a goal sounds radical, but maybe that's only because we've grown accustomed to faith that never leaves the pews, to convictions that stay firmly embedded in our hearts and nowhere else, and to a never-ending political debate in which a Jesus of our own making is used to champion our causes. Maybe it's time to simply yield to our King. Otherwise, we're in danger of becoming the "Hosanna!"-shouting crowds—those people who were eager to crown Jesus king if it meant that He would fulfill their dreams but who turned on Him just five days later when it seemed Jesus would not be the enemy of Caesar they had hoped for.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why Some Debates Need to End

This week, the title of Richard Weaver's oft-cited work, Ideas Have Consequences, rang true in Colorado. On Friday, it was announced that Dynel Lane, the 34-year-old woman who allegedly lured a 26-year-old mother-to-be, Michelle Wilkins, into her home in an attempt to steal her still-developing seven-month-old unborn daughter, would not face murder charges. After promising her a deal on baby clothes via a Craig's List ad, Lane attacked Wilkins, cutting open her womb and removing the baby girl. Wilkins survived, but Aurora—that's the name the child was to receive—did not.

There are moments when there are no words. Aside from the demonic, I don't know what kind of evil could possess a person to commit such a horrible crime. But what is almost as shocking is that the law in Colorado has no appropriate response. Colorado is one of a dozen states where the violent killing of an unborn child is not considered a homicide. Though there was a bill put before the state legislature in 2013 to reverse this injustice, the legislature failed to pass it, fearing it would interfere with abortion rights. 

There it is: If an unborn child—at any stage of development—is a human being, then killing that child would be murder. But that would place abortion among the cruelest of acts, so definitions need to be reconsidered and our laws need to be double-checked for careful wording.

I know of no one who celebrates the actions of Dynel Lane. But is what she did really so different than abortion—from Aurora's perspective? For Aurora, it makes no difference if her beating heart was stopped with the consent of her mother. For Aurora, it matters little if the procedure was performed by a licensed abortionist or a deranged attacker. The result is the same—her life was snuffed out violently. Aurora was robbed of every good gift this world has to offer. 

Though I believe that Aurora is being held in the arms of her Creator tonight as I write this, I also believe that Aurora's worth as a daughter of the King knows no limit. Colorado's laws do not reflect that reality, and as a result, it will be impossible for Aurora to receive justice in the state's courts. 

Ideas have consequences. To justify abortion, we must also justify a murder like Aurora's. Because in reality, they aren't very different. The debate over abortion seems never-ending, to the point that some Christians even entertain the notion that the issue should be considered "controversial." There is no controversy here for me. I think that if we consider Aurora and the tens of millions just like her who have met the same fate, "controversy" becomes one of those words that has now lost all meaning. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Missing the Forest for the Trees: A Reaction to Dr. John Walton's Adam and Eve—Part Three

Though it may not seem like it from the previous two posts, I believe there is a lot to admire about the work or Dr. John Walton. I appreciate him as a Bible scholar, especially as one who is attempting to address the great issues of our day. Writing about Genesis is not an easy task, and I applaud Dr. Walton for taking up the challenge. Perhaps that's why I find some of his statements so troubling. 

We need scholars to shed new light on familiar passages of Scripture, to help us understand what the Bible teaches in an age of new challenges. What we don't need are compromises that impose something foreign on the beautiful gift of God's Word. This is my concern with Dr. Walton's recent theories concerning the early chapters of Genesis. He writes: 

The distinction between innocence and sinlessness or sinfulness is important, and it's one that Paul makes. He says in Romans 5, "Sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not [charged] where there is no law." Sin, in that sense, isn't so much a matter of behavior as it is being held accountable for certain behavior. When I say the first humans were innocent, I'm basically saying they were not yet held accountable for what they did (45). 

In effect, Dr. Walton contends that Adam and Eve sinned (erred morally) before the fall, but it wasn't called sin or credited as sin because there was no law to err against. But this line of thinking flies in the face of Paul's teaching in Romans: "For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law" (2:12). It seems God makes no distinction between those who sin apart from the law and those who sin in full knowledge of it. The law brings us knowledge of our sin and guilt, to be sure, and it gives us the grace of accountability, but it doesn't create sin. 

Dr. Walton mentions Romans 5:13 to make his point, but if he would have continued reading, he would find "Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam" (v. 14). Adam's sin was against a command, but Paul here again makes no distinction: death comes through sin, whether that sin violates a direct commandment or not. 

I'm not quite sure why Dr. Walton feels it's necessary to paint Adam and Eve as sinners before the fall. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that they were in any way immoral prior to that blasted fruit. They were said to have been created in God's image. One of the primary ways theologians throughout the ages have understand the imago Dei is as a reflection of God's character—his holiness. 

And that gets us to a deeper point about sin. Sin is not mainly a violation of a commandment. That's putting the cart before the horse. The commandments exist to reveal God's heart. Sin occurs whenever we act against God's goodness, truth, or beauty, whenever we fail to walk in His ways. The commandments were given as guardrails to keep us on the path, but they do not, in themselves, create the path, nor do they create sin. 

In fashioning his Adam and Eve as ignorant yet fully-engaged sinners, Dr. Walton has minimized the serious nature of sin. If Adam and Eve were already sinners, then the fall was just a legal status change. Before the fall, they were counted as righteous, even though they were sinners. And with that bite of forbidden fruit, their label was simply corrected. We are no worse off than they before the fall—at least not morally. The only difference is that we're counted guilty and hell bound, apart from Christ. 

And in redefining sin as he has, Dr. Walton has also changed our hope. To be saved from our sin is no longer to have a new heart, but rather to be rid of the commandments. Our innocence can never be regained, our purity never recaptured. If Dr. Walton is right, and the blessed state of the Garden was ignorance rather than sinlessness, we are only now shooting for second-best. The power of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil cannot be undone. There is no regaining innocence when innocence never really existed in the first place. 

What we do with Genesis matters, for when we begin messing with the beginning of the story, we undoubtedly change the ending.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Missing the Forest for the Trees: A Reaction to Dr. John Walton's Adam and Eve—Part Two

Reading my last post, one might draw the conclusion that I'm a strict traditionalist—someone who blindly upholds older interpretations of Scripture for tradition's sake. But actually, I hold (however loosely) some fairly novel beliefs regarding some of the most familiar passages of the Bible.

For example, I am energized by Ben Witherington III's hypothesis that Lazarus (not John) was the Beloved Disciple who wrote the fourth Gospel. I believe, based on recent comparative linguistic studies, that the "still, small voice" Elijah heard in 1 Kings 19 was neither still nor small. And I think there's strong evidence in the original Hebrew that "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6 ESV) should really be rendered "Train up a child in the way he will go ..." With that sense, it's actually not a word of advice to parents, but a solemn warning.

I hope that any conclusion I draw is based on the text itself. I want Scripture to inform my understanding of Scripture. And I hope that I'm never so convinced of a new idea that I let it blind me to the plain and clear teaching of God's Word. This is why I'm so concerned about Dr. John Walton's views on the book of Genesis, as presented in a recent Christianity Today interview. I'm afraid that in his attempt to shed some much needed light on the creation account(s) of Genesis 1 and 2 using other ancient Near Eastern texts, he's placed himself at odds with what Scripture plainly tells us.

For example, Dr. Walton believes we jump to the conclusion that Adam and Eve were created immortal. This is not so, he says:

The fact that God provided a Tree of Life suggests to me that there was death before Adam and Eve. Sin is the reason we lost access to the remedy and are therefore subject to death. It’s not like death came into existence when Adam and Eve sinned. I don’t know if we can even talk about death “existing.” And it’s not that animals, plants, and cells did not experience death. Death at the cellular level is required for development. For those who are willing to accept evolutionary theories, death prior to the Fall is not a problem (44).

For Dr. Walton, death is inevitable; the fall makes no difference. But he's muddying the waters a bit with his insistence that death, at a cellular level, must take place for there to be development in living organisms. As he noted in the interview, "When Paul focuses on why humans are subject to death, he’s not concerned about death at the cellular level" (44). I would submit that nowhere in Scripture is anyone concerned with the death of cells. Dr. Walton is introducing a modern scientific concept and imposing it on the ancient book of Genesis. And he does this, apparently, so he can play fast and loose with the concept of death. 

Every ancient reader of the Bible would have known what Scripture means by "death." Those of us who have seen a loved one die, or have had to put a pet to sleep, or have even mismanaged a houseplant know what it is for something or someone to die. Paul says that "sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin" (Romans 5:12). But according to Dr. Walton, what's really meant here is not that death came into the world through sin. Death was actually already quite at home. Instead, the only thing that changed when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was that Adam and Eve were judged. Mankind lost access to their temporary remedy for death—the Tree of Life. 

It's hard to imagine that Paul holds such a narrow view of death, at least the death he's discussing here. The power of his statement is all but washed away, and it does not match the cosmic view he takes just a few chapters later when he says that creation longs for the day when it "will be set free from its bondage to corruption" (Romans 8:21). In Dr. Walton's view, everything God created as "very good" (Genesis 1:31) was subject to death before the fall, so corruption is hardly a new or different reality for the natural world. Paul, however, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seems to believe otherwise.

But there's a deeper problem with death reigning before sin entered the world. As I showed in my previous post, Dr. Walton believes that Adam and Eve were not the first or only people God created in the beginning. They are just the only ones God allowed in the Garden. He writes:

[Adam and Eve] are the ones given entry to sacred space as representatives, just like priests serve in sacred space. Not just anybody could wander into the temple. Priests serve in sacred space, and they represent the people there. A priest’s role is not reduced to performing rituals. Priests are given access to God’s presence, and they mediate revelation. That’s what I believe Adam and Eve did (44).

On the one hand, I am grateful to Dr. Walton for highlighting the Garden of Eden as a temple, for that is how it functions in the story of redemption. However, by assuming there were other people created alongside or just before Adam and Eve, he's painted himself into a very awkward theological corner. 

Dr. Walton imagines Adam and Eve as mediators between God and those not chosen by God for access into the Garden. They were to deliver fruit from the Tree of Life to those who dwell outside of God's presence, passing it through the bars of the fence, so to speak. Problematic as it might be to imagine a two-tiered humanity (Jim Crow in the Garden, as it were), there is a tempting literary parallel here between the Old Testament high priest who entered the Holy of Holies to mediate between God and His people and the scenario Dr. Walton envisions here in Genesis. However, Dr. Walton's hypothesis begs the question: If there is no real sin in the world, why does mankind need a mediator?

Doesn't it seem more likely that the state of humanity before the fall would mirror in many ways the state of humanity after redemption? All believers are a priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). Jesus Christ, God Himself, is the only mediator we need (1 Timothy 2:5). If there were a temple today, you and I would have access to the Holy of Holies (signified in the temple veil being torn in two at the death of Jesus; Matthew 27:51). But Dr. Walton's imagined "others" create the need for a much more complicated scenario. 

Isn't it more likely that Adam and Eve constituted the entire human race in the beginning and, therefore, all people had access to God's presence—that they were a priesthood of believers as we are today? That Adam and Eve were priests does not mean there were others who were barred from the Lord's good presence—especially since Scripture explicitly says at the time of Adam's creation that there was no one else—"no man to work the ground" (Genesis 2:5).

Concerning the Tree of Life, once again, Dr. Walton imagines things that are simply not there. The Tree of Life, according to Dr. Walton, was to preserve the fragile life of human beings. In order to keep on living, Adam and Eve would need to eat regularly of the Tree. However, hear what God says about the Tree of Life:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken (Genesis 3:22-23).

All Adam had to do, according to the Lord, was to reach out his hand and eat of the Tree's fruit in order to live forever. Living forever in a sinful, separated-from-God state would be a curse, so in His mercy, God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. But notice that God is concerned that the man might eat from the Tree at all—just one time—not continually. The Tree of Life appears to be a remedy for death, not a prescription drug that merely keeps its symptoms at bay. In that way, the Tree of Life points forward to Jesus, our Life. It is not necessary to come to Christ again and again to be saved after each new sin. Yes, we "eat" of Jesus regularly through communion, through fellowship with Him, and in our personal confession of sin. But we need only come to the Lord once and for all in order to gain eternal life.

In Dr. Walton's view of things, original creation was like a new car, but a lemon of a new car. It works if we remember to add a quart of oil every 100 miles or so (i.e. eat of the Tree of Life to stave off death). I believe Dr. Walton is right to insist that creation was not perfect from the beginning. The Bible never says it was perfect, only that it was "very good." However, I don't think you need to see the world as broken in order for it not to be perfect. There is a state of goodness in which personal, physical, and spiritual growth are possible. There is goodness in discovering deeper relationships with loved ones and with God. Perfection implies stasis. That's not something Scripture promises us on either side of the fall or on either side of the end of the ages. Thank God.

Before I let this CT article go, there is one more aspect I'd like to consider, and I'll use my next post to do just that.