Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

הללויה להקת חינוך - Hallelujah

Whatever the language,
wherever the tongue,

הללויה להקת חינוך
[Hallelujah Corps Education]

הללויה- ליאונרד כהן
ביצוע להקת חיל החינוך והנוער
תרגום קובי מידן ,עיבוד דרור אלכסנדר
במאי מיכאל יוסף
הפקה ניר פייבל ע במאי ומפיק בפועל - כפיר גורגה
צילום ועריכה מייקל בהרם
ניהול אומנותי - רס"ן רן שפירא

Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen
Performing band - Education and Youth Corps
Translation - Kobi Meidan
Dror processing - Alexander May Michael Joseph
Fable paper production by director and executive producer - Kfir George
Photo Editing - Michael Bahram
Artistic director - Major Ran Shapira

The Meaning of Jesus' Birth to the Romans of the Ancient World

Luke’s Counter-Cultural Christmas Story:
Jesus’ path to peace and joy

By Paul T. Penley
December 16, 2014

Was Jesus born to save us from this world or bring peace to the earth?
Luke’s counter-cultural Christmas story answers this question.

What a Birth Means to a Mom

For many of us the story of our birth doesn’t answer questions about the purpose of our life. Birth stories typically amount to no more than nostalgic moments at family gatherings. One parent (if you’re so blessed to have a relationship with one) smiles wide and recounts an anecdote for the hundredth time to the chagrin of all who must endure it. My mother is guilty of it all the time.

Her favorite tale is my in utero umbilical cord trick. I had tied the cord in a knot while in the womb. When I popped out, the doctors knew I was a few good pulls away from starving myself. “It is a miracle he’s alive today,” my mom always says, normally adding, “God must have created him for an important purpose.” With this statement, my birth story turns into a mandate. It puts serious pressure on me to do things that matter. Every good thing I do now becomes potential material for my mother to link back to my providential preservation at birth. I really need to start producing some of that material.

The Meaning of Ancient Births

Ancient biographies of great figures such as Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus use circumstances at birth to predict greatness. The Greek historian Plutarch recounted two particular signs predicting Alexander the Great’s conquest of the known world. First, the Temple of Artemis burned down in Ephesus when Alexander was born. Second, his dad’s triple victory on the day of his son’s birth tipped off the prophets to his significance.

“On the same day, three pieces of news reached Philip (Alexander’s dad), who had just captured Potidaea: Parmenio’s defeat of the Illyrians in a great battle; the victory of Philip’s racehorse at the Olympic Games; and the birth of Alexander. Pleased as he surely was with these tidings, Philip was even more elated by the prophets, who declared that his son, as he had been born on the day of a triple victory, would be unconquerable” (Plutarch, Life of Alexander 3)

What did all this mean? Magi in Ephesus believed the burning of the Temple to Artemis foreshadowed the coming destruction of the Persians who ruled the area. And they were right. Alexander did exactly that during his unstoppable conquest across the known world building the Greek Empire. The activity around his birth prophesied that conquest. It was no coincidence. That’s why ancient biographies of heroic figures began with a birth story.

If the signs around ancient births deliver symbolic messages, it makes me wonder what missing messages are tucked into the birth narratives of Jesus. What statement is being made by the sequence of events around Jesus’ birth that we overlook today?

The Birth of Two Different Saviors

You might know that only Matthew and Luke wrote birth stories. The earliest Gospel Mark provides no such account, and John’s Gospel focuses on divine origin rather than physical birth. When we analyze the biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth, we find two very different stories. We find logistical differences in the genealogies. We find different geographical movements:

Matthew starts in Bethlehem and sends the family to Egypt after the birth.

Luke starts and ends in Nazareth with a trip to Bethlehem for the birth.

It’s important to ask why.

In the big picture, Matthew’s account presents Jesus in terms most meaningful to Jews immersed in Scripture. Luke describes Jesus’ birth for Gentiles immersed in a Greek-speaking Roman world. Their audiences demand two different depictions of Jesus’ birth. For each Gospel to foreshadow greatness at birth, they could not tell the same story to two different audiences.

So how do Matthew and Luke contextualize their birth narratives for different audiences? To summarize, Matthew proclaims Jesus will “save his people from their sins.” Luke’s Jesus will save “all people.”

Matthew connects Jesus to the “Immanuel” Isaiah prophesied
who is born in Bethlehem where Micah predicted.

 Essentially Matthew introduces the “ruler of the Jews.”

The elements of his birth story derive from messianic expectations of the Jews carefully tied to Scripture.

Luke introduces the “Lord of the world” to Gentiles. So he goes in a different direction.

Luke 2 and the Roman Empire

Luke avoids exclusivity and calls Jesus a Savior “for all people.” Jesus will bring “peace on earth.” He is the Lord of all not just king of the Jews. However, Luke is not just presenting a generic “Jesus for everybody.” Luke is doing something more specific than we typically realize. Remember Luke’s audience grew up in a Greco-Roman world around modern-day Turkey. They had specific traditions from the Greek-speaking Roman Empire that Luke was challenging in his presentation of a new Savior.

How do I know? Good question. In Luke’s birth story, he immediately connects it to a Roman census issued by Caesar Augustus. Luke 2:1 reads, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Of all the events and figures he could have mentioned, Luke wants his readers to place Jesus’ birth during the reign of Augustus in the Roman Empire. Being the only mention of Augustus (at least by name) in the entire New Testament, it stands out and begs the question: “Why?” What is it Luke wants us to see? How exactly does the birth of Jesus relate to Augustus’s Roman Empire?

For those 3 of you out there who have been asking this question your whole life, get ready for your thirst to be satisfied in this excerpt from my book Reenacting the Way (of Jesus). For the rest of you, just go with it for a few paragraphs. It’s going to get good.

The Gospel of Augustus

In 9 BCE the Proconsul of Asia, Paulus Fabius Maximus, advised the koinon of Asia (i.e., the governing assembly of the Roman province of Asia) to change their calendars from the local lunar calendar to the solar calendar used in Rome. I know. It’s such a big event you are wondering how you hadn’t heard about it before.

Asia Minor moves from a lunar calendar --> to the Roman solar calendar

The Proconsul specifically recommended the first of the year be placed on September 23, the birthday of Caesar Augustus. His reasoning was simple. Since the birth of Augustus ushered in a new age of peace and prosperity, his birthday should be the first day of every year.

The governing assembly loved the idea. They all knew it would please the emperor and possibly attract more imperial tax dollars. So they put together a good PR campaign to milk it for all it was worth. They posted a declaration of their decision in every major city. Read this translation carefully and listen for the same language you’ve read in Luke’s birth story of Jesus:

Providence has filled Augustus with divine power for the benefit of humanity, and in her beneficence has granted us and those who will come after us [a Saviour] who has made war to cease and who shall put everything [in peaceful order] . . . And Caesar, [when he was manifest], transcended the expectations of [all who had anticipated the good news], not only by surpassing the benefits conferred by his predecessors but by leaving no expectation of surpassing him to those who would come after him, with the result that the birthday of our god signaled the beginning of good news for the world because of him. (Lines 34-41 quoted from Graham Stanton, Jesus and Gospel [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Pr, 2004], 32)

For the Christian reader this inscription sounds full of heretical language. It seems to apply titles and roles to Augustus that are religious in nature and only appropriate for Jesus. Yet, the language is fully political:

In the time of Augustus, a Savior full of divine power whose birth signaled good news for the world was nothing other than the emperor who brought political and social stability. The birth of Caesar Augustus created the Pax Romana, or Roman peace. He saved the civilized world from disarray. So his birthday is a gospel to proclaim.

The Gospel of Jesus and Augustus

How does the “good news” of Jesus’ birth relate to the “good news” of Augustus’s birth? In the gospel of Augustus above and the gospel of Jesus in Luke, both are “Saviors.” Both bring “peace to the whole world.” Both are sent by divine providence.

In a Roman world, the arrival of a Savior would not mean a few individuals can now be snatched away to heaven from the perils of this planet or the afterlife. Luke and his audience wouldn’t see Jesus as a personal savior who intends to bring peace to one’s soul. It is much bigger than that. It is a direct challenge to Caesar. Jesus arrives to rule the world and restore order.

Why does hearing the precise meaning of Luke’s birth narrative matter? Because many of us associate “savior” with someone who just takes care of our sins or personal needs or fears of the future. “My savior solves my problems.” While those issues may be addressed in the Bible elsewhere, Luke’s vision for saving goes way beyond a personal spiritual experience. It has ramifications for the entire world and all of its social structures. Jesus’ birthday in Luke anticipates justice in society not personal justification in heaven. It concerns the same realm over which Caesar exerted his control.

But, Luke’s intricate connection between Jesus and Caesar doesn’t stop there. The entire scale of his birth narrative mocks an ancient practice of flagrant Caesar self-promotion.

Singing Caesar’s Praises

The angels in Jesus’ birth story don’t get much attention. We typically pay attention to what was said not who said it. However, that wasn’t the case for Luke and his Greco-Roman audience. When an army of angels takes center stage to sing about Jesus the Savior, Luke knows his audience will make another connection. The singing angels weren’t the only chorus in town that sung about the good news of saviors and lords.

In many eastern Roman provinces, the [reigning] Caesar was honored at athletic competitions and worshipped at imperial temples. At the time of Jesus’ birth, temples to the god Augustus and the goddess Roma stood in key cities where Luke and Paul did ministry together (e.g., Pergamon of Asia, Ankyra of Galatia, and Nikomedia of Bithynia). People worshipped the emperor like a god at these temples.

At the city of Pergamon (one of the seven churches of Revelation located in the Roman province of Asia where Luke travelled), organizers named their athletic competition the Kaisareia [Caesaria] in honor of the Caesar. The Caesars loved the flattery. And the organizers knew it. Besides running and wrestling in honor of Caesar, the competitions expanded to kiss Caesar’s [royal] ass through poetry and song. Performers composed verse like Horace’s Odes (see Ode 1.12) to thank God for sending Caesar Augustus to save the world.

Heavenly Angels One Up Caesar’s Choir

So what do these Caesar-loving songs have to do with the singing angels in Luke 2:1-20? I’m glad you asked. Early in Augustus’s reign he visited one of Pergamon’s celebrations in his honor and heard a chorus of men sing his praises. He was quite taken by their melodic compliments. The gesture of the Asian chorus so pleased the emperor that he ordered the singers to become a permanent fixture in Asia’s honorary contests.

To make it feasible Augustus established a special levy to financially support the existence of a forty-person male chorus. The chorus quickly became an elite social club with hereditary rites. They gathered at one event after another to sing the praises of the Caesars. They guaranteed top-quality sycophancy for stroking every emperor’s ego.

When Luke’s audience heard about a massive angelic chorus singing the praises of God and his appointed Savior, the closest experience would be imperial singers. They had heard the songs sung by the choir praising Providence for Caesar’s peaceful rule over the world.

But the comparison would quickly become a contrast. Jesus’ birth elicited the presence of countless angels from heaven. Caesar Augustus had to pay a group of men to show up and sing his praises. One of those choruses is clearly superior. One of those births must be more important. Luke’s contrast would have made a statement to any Hellenistic audience who had grown up in the Pax Romana [the Peace of Rome] established by Caesar Augustus. There is a new emperor in town. He is a much bigger deal. And his name is Jesus.

Jesus Delivers What Politicians Propagandize 

Jesus’ birth should be heard as a polemic against political pretenders promising to deliver what only he can. As Luke makes clear, Jesus is savior and not some Caesar. His birth is the real good news. He is the one who will bring peace and joy to the whole world—even beyond Rome’s Empire. That is why endless angels from heaven sung about Jesus’ greatness whereas Caesar had to settle for some dudes he paid. Rome is only a parody of the reality found in Jesus.

To honor Luke’s counter-cultural Christmas story, don’t just watch the 50th anniversary special of Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Instead, embrace Jesus’ delivery of what the Roman Empire promised. He is the restorer of order and peace. Our lives should be ordered around him like the Asians rearranged their calendar around Augustus’s birthday to acknowledge how he authored a new world.

Jesus has the way to bring peace and justice to every society. Not surprisingly [then], Jesus’ method for remaking the world doesn’t look like Rome. Jesus does not bring about revolution through conquest and fear of reprisal. He doesn’t silence dissidents with the sword or subjugate nations involuntarily. Jesus delivers in a whole new way. Jesus’ kingdom policy involves compassion, justice, suffering to serve others, and empowering the oppressed and ostracized. Enemies are loved rather than slaughtered and arrogance is replaced by humility. These are the hallmark moments of Luke’s Gospel.

Social transformation results from personal transformation demonstrated publicly. Jesus’ kingdom is no spiritual escape from the complexities of life in this world and its societal structures. It is designed to reorder it all. It intends to address the same problems for which politicians develop policies and programs. Luke’s counter-cultural Christmas story calls us to re-commit to the way of Jesus rather than methods of unjust power brokers. Jesus can create peace in situations where human factions only foster violence.

Jesus Can Resolve Tribal Conflict

What does it look like for Jesus’ plan for peace to confront Rome’s lust for power? Return for a moment to the tribal genocide of Rwanda back in 1994. According to one eyewitness report, a group of roughly 13,500 Christians gathered in a small village 13 miles from Kigali to find refuge from the fighting. Although millions sought safety away from city centers, this particular gathering set itself apart because of their unique constituency. There were both Hutu and Tutsi people together.

These tribes were supposed to hate each other. If these Christians had adopted the cultural values of the militants, they would have been fighting one another instead of hiding together. This type of mixed gathering was unacceptable to the militias.

Their safe haven was eventually exposed to rebel militia who rounded them up at gunpoint. The rebels demanded the Hutus and Tutsis separate so that only the inferior tribal people would be killed. In response, the leadership of this Christian gathering proclaimed, “We will not separate. For we are all one in Christ.” The apostle Paul would have been proud. He had used that same line to stop senseless conflict between Jews and Gentiles.

The recognition of each person’s equality before Christ provided an alternate path to peace that day. The tribal conflict was swallowed up for a moment in the superordinate identity of one true humanity. Unfortunately, that moment did not last long.

The potential power for peace was quickly silenced by the sounds of machine guns spraying bullets and spilling the blood of all those gathered in the name of Jesus. Although Jesus’ kingdom policy had resolved the division and conflict between thousands of Hutus and Tutsis, a few men with Romanesque military tactics believed more strongly that violence would relieve their fears and accomplish their cause. The ensuing murderous scene is too horrifying to imagine.

On the one hand, the massacre stands out as a sign that Caesars are still promising peace and joy by means of bloodshed and dominance. On the other hand, the shared death of Hutus and Tutsis is a symbol of promise for a world that needs to be saved from more projects of dehumanization and destruction.

Jesus can save the world. He can bring peace “on earth” if we embody his ways. That is the “good news of great joy” to proclaim to all that have succumbed to the illusory promises of establishing peace through death, joy through terror, and salvation through domination.

The Gospel Is Bigger Than You

Jesus’ global plan for peace and joy is rarely the gospel we announce. Too often we settle for a tiny, personalized announcement of inner peace. Or we give up on seeing large-scale peace for all people today and relinquish our hopes to an afterlife or idyllic world to come. I hope these failures on our part only reflect a misunderstanding of Jesus and not our fear to follow him.

For a deeper look at Luke’s birth narrative in Roman context and concrete ways Jesus is bringing large-scale peace to the world, read chapter 2 in Reenacting the Way (of Jesus).

Biologos - Adam, Eve and Human Population Genetics, Part 3: Language, populations and speciation

Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics
Part 3 -
Language, populations and speciation

In this series, we explore the genetic evidence that indicates humans became a separate
species as a substantial population, rather than descending uniquely from an ancestral pair.

by Dennis Venema
December 12, 2014

In yesterday’s post, we drew an extended analogy between genetic change within a population over time, and change within a language over time. While no analogy is perfect, this one is remarkably good – and it will continue to be useful as we now turn to discussing how new species form.

Flags of Friesland and England

With a last name like Venema, it will come as no surprise to many that I have Frisian ancestors. Friesland is a province of the Netherlands with a distinct language, West Frisian, that is one of the most closely-related modern languages to English. My paternal grandparents, immigrants to Canada in the post-World War II era, spoke a delightful hodge-podge of English, Dutch and Frisian to each other, often using mostly Frisian and only reverting to Dutch or English if it happened to have a better word for the concept at hand. As a child, I remember hearing Frisian and noting how similar many of its words were to their English equivalents – far too many similarities, I thought, to be merely coincidence. A well-known sentence will serve as an illustration: it is pronouncedessentially the same in both Frisian and English:
Butter, bread, and green cheese is good English and good Frise.

Bûter, brea, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk.

Later, I would come to understand the reason for these striking similarities – English and West Frisian are modern descendants of an ancient language – they share a common ancestral population of speakers. As we have seen, languages change over time. In the case of English and West Frisian, the original population, which spoke a language ancestral to both modern-day English and modern-day West Frisian, was divided: some remained on the European continent, and others travelled to what is present-day England. Once separated, each sub-group – which at the point of separation spoke the same language – went on to acquire differences over time that were independent of each other. In due time, the changes that accumulated in both groups rendered them mutually unintelligible to each other: they had become separate languages. The precise point at which they became “different languages” of course is impossible to pin down, since there was no such precise point when it occurred. Both groups changed their language over time incrementally, as a process on a gradient.

Species form through a process much like language development. Should two populations of the same species become separated, they too can accumulate genetic changes that shift their average characteristics over time – changes that are not shared and averaged across the two groups due to their genetic isolation. In many cases, geographic isolation acts as the first genetic barrier – much like the ancestors of the English parting ways with their continental cousins. Once separated, should enough genetic changes accrue between the two populations, eventually they will not recognize each other as members of the same species – which would be analogous to my experience as a modern English speaker in present-day Friesland.

Species, like languages “begin” as populations – and “begin” isn’t the right word

Our language analogy also helps to counter some common misconceptions about how species form. Often when I am speaking about human origins, folks who have heard about modern humans descending from around 10,000 ancestors wonder how on earth those 10,000 people suddenly appeared on the scene without ancestors. Of course, they didn’t suddenly appear – they too have a population that gave rise to them, and so on – stretching back to our shared ancestral populations with other apes and beyond. There is in fact no point in our evolutionary history over the last 18 million years or more where our lineage was reduced below 10,000 individuals – and 18 million years ago our lineage was not even close to “human” in any sense, since this timepredates any hominin (i.e. species more closely related to us than to chimpanzees) in the fossil record. The 10,000 number is simply the smallest population size we have in our history over the last several million years. The lineage leading to modern humans experienced what is known as a population bottleneck, a time when our ancestral population size was reduced to around 10,000 breeding individuals, only to expand again afterwards.

Despite these explanations, it is a common misperception to think that species, should one go back far enough, started off with one ancestral breeding pair “becoming different”. Hopefully our language analogy is useful here. It is of course not reasonable to expect that English or West Frisian got its start when two individuals began speaking a new language. The lineage that led to either modern language did so as a population of speakers – and each generation within both lineages was perfectly intelligible to their parents and their offspring. In the same way, species form as populations shift their average characteristics over time – but always remaining the “same species” as their parents and their offspring. So, to speak of a language or a species “beginning” is to hit up against the limits of language. Neither “begins” in some sort of discontinuous sense – they become, over time, in continuity with what came before.

So, one of the reasons for the common expectation that humans had a discontinuous beginning with a single ancestral couple has nothing to do with Genesis or Judeo-Christian theology: I have met many non-theists who also have this same expectation. We are used to thinking in discontinuous terms – species should have a defined beginning – and we are used to thinking that species therefore begin with a radical change to a single ancestral pair. For evangelical Christians, these incorrect assumptions about how species get their start fit hand in glove with the common view that since species require a discontinuous start, only God can miraculously provide it through an event of special creation. Once one understands how species form as populations over time, however, one is then prepared to investigate the question of how large our population was as we became human – a question we will begin to address in the next post.

For further reading:


Dennis Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling using the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Dennis is a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his family enjoy numerous outdoor activities that the Canadian Pacific coast region has to offer. Dennis writes regularly for the BioLogos Forum about the biological evidence for evolution.

Biologos - Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics, Part 2: A premier on population genetics

Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics
Part 2 -
A premier on population genetics

In this series, we explore the genetic evidence that indicates humans became a separate
species as a substantial population, rather than descending uniquely from an ancestral pair.

by Dennis Venema
December 10, 2014

Evolution as gradual change at the population level

One of the most common misunderstandings about evolution is failing to appreciate that evolution happens topopulations, not individuals. But, you might interject, populations are made up of individuals – so how does that work? The answer is that yes, genetic variation enters a population through mutations in individuals – but that only when such variation accumulates within a population and shifts its average characteristics do we observe its effects.

Perhaps an analogy will help here – one that I have used before, that of language change over time. Languages are like populations – they have a large number of individuals who speak it. While each individual has their own particular quirks (favorite phrases, word preferences, and perhaps even chronic spelling mistakes) any one person cannot, on the whole, cause significant change to their language within their lifetimes. Additionally, any person who does change radically from their language group will effectively be placing themselves outside it – if their changes are large enough to hinder their intelligibility to others. So, language evolution is not an individual affair. Yet languages do change over time, and individuals do contribute to that change. Someone might invent a new word that catches on, for example. Others might be part of the “catching on” – hearing a new word, or new phrase, and repeating it to others. Over time (perhaps generations) a language will slowly adopt new words, new spellings, and new rules of grammar (such as split infinitives in English – to boldly split what no man has split before – but I digress). Yet, such adoptions are gradual. They enter the language as rarities, slowly become more common, and eventually become the “normal” way of doing things (much to the chagrin of English teachers). Thankfully, such changes typically take longer than one generation, sparing those of us who cringe at the novelties of our day. If the English words “there, their and they’re” ever officially collapse into one word determined solely by context or the use of apostrophes to form plurals becomes standard, I’m thankful I won’t be here to see it.

Just as a language has many speakers, a species has many members. They must be genetically compatible – i.e. speak the same language – but they are not all genetically identical – they have their own particular variation within an acceptable range to be in the group. In other words, though populations are a unit (they interbreed) they have genetic variation.

In the terminology of genetics we can understand this in terms of genes and alleles. While all members of the population have the same genes, they do not all have exactly the same version of any given gene. Different versions of a gene are called alleles, and they arise through mutations – that is, copying errors when chromosomes are replicated. For humans, we may have up to two different alleles for any gene – the allele we inherit from our mother, and the allele we inherit from our father. If have two different alleles, we are said to beheterozygous for that particular gene. If we have two identical alleles for a gene, we are homozygous for that gene. While any individual can have up to only two alleles, populations as a whole can have hundreds or even thousands of alleles.

In any given generation, the vast majority of the alleles present in a population were inherited from the previous generation – just like a language group learning from their parents, and picking up the language as a whole, but also some of their particular linguistic quirks. Each generation also can contribute its own novelty to the population in the form of new alleles arising through mutation – just like teenagers coming up with new words or phrases. These new alleles, are rare of course – they are only held by one individual at the beginning. Over many, many generations, however, such new alleles can become more common within a population if they are passed down, progressively, to more and more offspring. In time, the new allele might become the most common one within a population. Many generations later, it might be the only allele present for that gene in the entire population. Combined with the actions of other new alleles of many other genes, over time the average characteristics of the population can change. While it’s challenging to imagine this for genes and alleles, it’s simple to illustrate with language – for example, the change we see in linguistic trajectory towards present-day English in a verse from John’s gospel:

John 1:29, West Saxon Gospels, c. 990

Anothir day Joon say Jhesu comynge to hym, and he seide, Lo! the lomb of God; lo! he that doith awei the synnes of the world. (Wycliffe Bible, 1395)

The nexte daye Iohn sawe Iesus commyge vnto him and sayde: beholde the lambe of God which taketh awaye the synne of the worlde. (Tyndale New Testament, 1525)

The next day Iohn seeth Iesus coming vnto him, and saith, Behold the Lambe of God, which taketh away the sinne of the world. (KJV, 1611)

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (KJV, Cambridge Edition)

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (NIV, 2011)

Note well that these “forms”, as we see them here, themselves have many gradations between them, of course. These selections are useful for our illustrative purposes, however. Note that the overall shift to the “modern” text is the cumulative result of many individual changes. To return to our analogy, if every word is a gene, we see shifts in alleles over time as follows:

cwæð → seide → sayde → saith → said

synne → synnes → synne → sinne → sin

to hym cumende → comynge to hym → commyge vnto him → coming vnto him → coming unto him

Though the changes in each word contribute to the overall transformation, each word has only a relatively minor effect on its own. Yet the combined actions of changes in many words, over time, can change West Saxon to modern English. There are not, however, large jumps at any point along the way – each generation of speakers could easily understand their parents and their children – but over time, the shifts are large enough that West Saxon and present-day English are not even close to being the same language.

In the next post in this series, we’ll consider how changes in alleles can lead to new species – much like change over time can lead to new languages.

For further reading:


Dennis Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling using the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Dennis is a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his family enjoy numerous outdoor activities that the Canadian Pacific coast region has to offer. Dennis writes regularly for the BioLogos Forum about the biological evidence for evolution.

Biologos - Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics, Part 1: Scripture, science, and defining the issues

Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics
Part 1 -
Scripture, science, and defining the issues

In this series, we explore the genetic evidence that indicates humans became a separate
species as a substantial population, rather than descending uniquely from an ancestral pair.

by Dennis Venema
November 12, 2014

Note: In this series, we explore the genetic evidence that indicates humans became a separate species as a substantial population, rather than descending uniquely from an ancestral pair.

Back in 2011, Christianity Today ran a cover article on what was fast becoming a hot-button issue for Evangelicals – the genomic science that indicates humans descend from a large population, rather than from a single couple in the relatively recent past. Since 2011 Evangelicals have become increasingly aware that modern genetic studies of humans support this conclusion; however, there remains a great deal of confusion about exactly how this genetic evidence works, and, not surprisingly, suspicion about its accuracy. In this series, we will explore several lines of genetic evidence that shed light on our species’ past in an attempt to rectify these misunderstandings.

Defining the issues

Part of the challenge this subject generates for Evangelicals is due to confusion over exactly what the science can and cannot say about human origins in general, or the historicity of Adam and Eve in particular. Briefly stated, genetics is well suited to addressing scientific questions such as whether humans share ancestry with other forms of life, and what our population structure looked like as we separated from our evolutionary relatives. And what we see in the genetics of our species is unremarkable for a relatively large-bodied mammal – we do indeed share common ancestry with other species, and we descend from a large population that has never numbered below about 10,000 individuals throughout our evolutionary history. Scientifically speaking, these issues are straightforward and uncontroversial.

In addition to these scientific questions, however, Evangelicals are also strongly interested in the question of Adam and Eve’s historicity: were they a literal couple that lived about 6,000 – 10,000 years ago? Unfortunately, genomic science is not at all equipped to address this question – it simply does not have the ability to establish (or rule out, for that matter) the historicity of any particular individual in the ancient past.

For many Evangelicals (or for that matter atheists), the idea that we are the products of evolution and became human as a large population over time is on its face contradictory to the idea that Adam and Eve may have been historical individuals. The reason, of course, is not a scientific one, but rather an interpretation that the Genesis narratives preclude understanding Adam and Eve as anything other than the first humans, directly created by God without shared ancestry, who are the sole genetic progenitors of the entire human race. This is, of course, a very common evangelical interpretation of Genesis, but it is not the only one – several other options are available that attempt to respect both Scripture and science. After all, Genesis has long been noted to imply that Adam and Eve’s family is part of a larger unrelated population (for example Cain worries about being killed for his sin, leaves to build a city elsewhere, and takes a wife in the process). The fact that Genesis presents these facets of the story without comment or clarification also shows us, in my opinion, that the narrative is simply not concerned with telling the story of our genetic origins, but rather is focused on theological concerns.

So, the decision to equate the historicity of Adam and Eve with the expectation that humans descend uniquely from an ancestral couple is a hermeneutical one, not a scientific one. As such, the historicity question needs to be addressed hermeneutically, not scientifically – it simply lies outside the purview of what genetics can tell us.

Evolution as a population-level phenomenon

Aside from the hermeneutical issues surrounding human evolution and population genetics (which are confusing enough for many of us), there are the scientific issues – which, for many Evangelicals, are similarly fraught with misunderstanding. One of the main misconceptions is failing to understand that evolution is a population-level phenomenon: species form slowly, as populations, due to the accumulation of numerous slight genetic differences that shift the average characteristics of a population over time. All that is required to start this process is to have some sort of genetic barrier between two populations – perhaps a geographic barrier to start. Once two populations of the same species are reproductively isolated, genetic changes in the one population are not shared with the other – and vice versa. Over many, many generations enough changes may accumulate in the two populations that their average characteristics are different enough such that they would no longer recognize each other as members of the same species. At this point, even if the two populations were brought into contact again, these differences (perhaps behavioral or physical) would keep the genetic barrier in place by reducing or preventing interbreeding, and thus prevent the two groups from collapsing back into one large population.

If, on the other hand, one is used to thinking that species form when they are founded by a pair that has undergone a marked genetic change compared to their source population, one is more likely to think that it would have been possible for humans to get their start in such fashion. These sorts of misunderstandings are common among non-scientists, and Evangelicals are not immune to them. For example, even among Christians who accept that we share ancestry with other life, I frequently get asked what “the mutation” was that “made us human”. Sometimes, folks wonder how such a dramatic mutation could have occurred in two individuals at the same time to provide a male and female member of the same (brand new!) species – and speculate that God must have directed it to occur to form Adam and Eve. Their understanding of human speciation is that it was sudden, involved only one couple, and required dramatic genetic change. In reality, speciation is almost always precisely the opposite: it’s slow, takes place in a population, and requires the accumulation of many discrete genetic differences, none of which are particularly dramatic. In the next post in this series, we’ll begin to explore how a population can accumulate genetic changes, and perhaps shift its average characteristics over time – beginning with how genetic diversity arises in the first place.

For further reading


Dennis Venema is professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. He holds a B.Sc. (with Honors) from the University of British Columbia (1996), and received his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2003. His research is focused on the genetics of pattern formation and signaling using the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Dennis is a gifted thinker and writer on matters of science and faith, but also an award-winning biology teacher—he won the 2008 College Biology Teaching Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers. He and his family enjoy numerous outdoor activities that the Canadian Pacific coast region has to offer. Dennis writes regularly for the BioLogos Forum about the biological evidence for evolution.

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Jeff Cook - How Unlike the Eucharist, Parts 1 & 2

The Celebration of the Christ of the Eucharist

Less for Tech (by Jeff Cook)

Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and he is the author of Seven: The Deadly Sins and the Beatitudes(Zondervan 2008) and Everything New (Subversive 2012). He helps pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado. You can connect with him atwww.everythingnew.org and @jeffvcook
Spend Less on Tech, More on Wine (by Jeff Cook)
A wedding at taco bell is clever but lacks some of the holy.
I was baptized in a hot tub. I’m still bummed I didn’t wait for a more celebratory time and space.
I am aware there isn’t a secular/sacred divide (“for the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”). But as churches across our country spend countless dollars hiring speakers, purchasing the best tech, paying for upgrades to the building and new carpet for the floor–Don’t you think it’s time to move past cheap crackers and plastic thimbles in order to enjoy and receive the body of Christ broken for you?
Intimacy with your spouse ought to be elevated.
“Quality time” with your children deserves first consideration—so too, the sacramental: the physical events, times and symbols God tells us uniquely unveil his nature, love and character.
The quality of the elements churches purchase and offer speak to us all of how highly we view the meal, especially when compared to other events in our gatherings.

But “This is Christ’s body broken for you.” And for all your guests, family and enemies. And it should be elevated.
Those who love Jesus, may have come to hear a speaker or lift up their hands to music, but these are secondary, and need to be viewed as secondary by service creators. Is not the experience of Jesus, and that alone, worthy of your community gathering regularly? Are not all other centering events and experiences mere idols in comparison? Should we not embrace the perspective of the Baptist, who, when many came out to him, said: “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven … [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less”?
How can churches elevate communion in their gatherings? How can we transform large church auditoriums with theater seating to showcase the table? What are the most meaningful qualities to your communion experience?

* * * * * * * * * *

Lord’s Supper: Who is Unworthy? (Jeff Cook)

Who is Unworthy to Celebrate in Church? (by Jeff Cook)
I went to a large wedding a few years back in which the clergy invited only those who had jumped through the right hoops to come forward and receive the body and blood of Jesus. The leader then asked those of us who had not jumped through their hoops to “pray for the unity of all believers.” Of course, I sat there thinking, “The only thing keeping us disunified are your silly hoops.”
Unfortunately many choose to use the Lord’s Supper to display the in-crowd versus "everyone else". In such “celebrations” the power of the Lord’s Supper is actually inverted—showcasing the division of humanity and unveiling a God whose displays of affection and grace are conditional.
How unlike Jesus.
Christ didn’t give those who came to him a theological quiz before he fed them. Levi didn’t have his theology all lined out when he rose to eat with Jesus. The 5,000 were basically a mob. Some who received the first Lord’s Supper rejected the cross (Matthew 16.21-23)—and still Jesus invited them to the table and said: “This is my body broken for you.” In fact, the Gospel writers go out of their way to call Jesus’ dining companions “the sinners” (Mark 2.16, et al).
For some, communion was where clarity started.
In my previous post, I critiqued churches that have too low a view of Communion. In the next two posts I’d like to critique those who have elevated the Lord’s Supper so high It loses its primary function—the tangible display of God’s grace extend to all.
I would challenge those who reject an open table to answer the following: Where is the boundary marker clearly displayed in the Bible for who may eat the meal Jesus offersAnd has God really made it our job to judge who can and cannot commune with the Church?
In a previous conversation, some immediately turned to 1 Corinthians to argue that exclusivity at the table is Biblically required, that if the table were open to everyone some would receive the Eucharist in “an unworthy manner” (1 Cor 11.27). Those arguing this position apparently believed they (or their church) had the authority to tell the rest of us who is unworthy (something lacking in 1 Corinthians 11) and which hoops the guests they exclude have failed to jump through (something also lacking in 1 Corinthians).
Ironically, the purpose of 1 Corinthians 11 is to rebuke those who have excluded others (namely the poor) when gathering for the Eucharist (11.17-22). In response Paul teaches how to receive the elements, not who has the qualifications for feasting. Paul said, “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (v. 28). And again, “If we learn how to judge ourselves, we will not incur judgment” (v.31).
Paul does not say, “Pastors and overseers, ensure that only [enter the description of worthy folks] come to the table.” No. The only person Paul says you have the authority to deem unworthy is yourself.
By making the table exclusive, some churches are ironically telling those they believe most need a transformative encounter with Jesus not to come forward and have a transformative encounter with Jesus. How unlike Christ.
Next time we will push into this and discuss how Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners was prototypical and sets the standard for our practice today.