A mélange is a mixture, a medley, an array of miscellany combined together for a common purpose. That is what you will find in the next issues of Solid Ground—a potpourri of thoughts and reflections addressing issues I think will be relevant to you as an ambassador for Christ.
Characteristically in Solid Ground articles, I focus on a single concern, teasing out details of an individual topic to provide insight that will better equip you to navigate cultural issues as a Christian ambassador.
Often, though, a deep dive isn’t necessary; a shorter vignette will do the job. Find here a collection of such vignettes—a mélange of thoughts on a variety of topics I think you will find helpful in your own walk with Christ.
For those taken with the recent fad of “practicing” at prophecy, you might want to consider Peter’s instruction on the nature of revelation in 2 Peter 1:20–21:
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Note two details of this text that many have missed.
First, since God is the author of prophecy, every word of prophecy (or of Scripture, for that matter, for the same reason) has a specific, determinate meaning. The particular “interpretation” of a prophetic message is not a matter of individual whim, but is tied to the meaning God had in mind when he inspired the words.
Consequently, there are no private messages in the text. There is only one message intended by God for all readers. There may be several ways to apply the meaning of a passage, of course, but the meaning itself is fixed. If the application is not tied to that fixed meaning, then your effort has missed the mark.
Second, since prophetic words are God’s own words, there’s no point practicing to get it right. Note Peter’s point: No prophecy was ever made by an act of human effort. In the case of authentic prophecy, then, practice cannot make perfect. The message is perfect already because God doesn’t make mistakes. Since prophecy is an act of divine will and not human will, a genuine prophetic word can never err.
Perfect accuracy distinguishes true prophets from false ones who “malign the truth”—Peter’s warning in the very next verse (2 Pet. 2:1–2). Biblical prophets didn’t practice. If they didn’t get it right the first time, they were dead men (Deut. 18:20–22).
Remember, whenever you “practice” prophecy, you announce to the world that you are laboring in your own effort. Any message forthcoming will be the fallible product of your own lips, not the inerrant proclamation of God’s word. Don’t sign his name to it. If you’re in a group that’s prone to this dangerous practice, remind each other that you’re not speaking God’s words, but your own. Then thank God you’re not living in a theocracy.
There is a rejoinder to my concerns about practicing prophecy. In the Old Testament, the claim goes, prophecy worked differently than it did in New Testament times. Given the different standards, then, practicing prophecy makes sense.
Though Scripture never explicitly states that prophecy rules have changed from one testament to the other, some details suggest they have, people argue. For one, there’s no requirement that the church execute errant prophets as Deuteronomy dictated.
This first concern is easy to answer. Clearly, the punishment for prophetic error is going to be different for Jews in a theocracy than for Gentiles not part of the commonwealth of Israel. Different punishments, though, has no bearing on our underlying concern. Homosexuality isn’t a capital crime in the church either, but it’s still sin. Likewise, though false prophets aren’t executed, that doesn’t change the fact that true prophecy must by nature be perfectly accurate since its source is God, not man.
Do not forget Peter’s line of thinking. According to him, no prophetic product—whether spoken word or written word—is a mere act of human will. If New Testament prophets can be compromised by human shortcomings, how do New Testament Scripture writers avoid that liability? After all, they’re human, too. No, in both cases, their accuracy is ensured by the decisive role of the Holy Spirit regardless of covenant era.
The second indication offered that Old Testament seers were held to a different standard of accuracy than New Testament ones is that, in one case at least, a genuine New Testament prophet’s prediction was partly true and partly false.
Agabus predicted that Paul would be bound by the Jews and delivered into the hands of the Gentiles (Acts 21:10–11). Paul was bound and taken captive, as predicted, but by Romans, not Jews (Acts 21:30–33), so Agabus’s prophecy was only partially accurate. Bona fide New Testament prophets, then—the argument goes—can produce an amalgam of truth and error, making it necessary for the church to winnow prophetic words carefully to separate the good from the bad (1 Thess. 5:19–21). Practice, presumably, might correct this shortcoming.
Agabus made no error, though. If he spoke amiss here, so did Peter in Acts 2. At the close of his famous sermon on Pentecost, Peter said, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
What? The Jews crucified Christ? Not so. It was Roman soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross. Had Peter’s memory failed him so badly in two short months? Hardly. Peter was obviously not referring to those who carried out the execution, but rather to those who were responsible for it.
The same is true with Agabus’s prophecy. The Jews dragged Paul out of the temple and beat him mercilessly until Roman soldiers bound him and took him into protective custody (Acts 21:27–33). Clearly, the Jewish leadership was responsible for Paul’s seizure and detention, not the Romans. Agabus’s prophecy, properly understood, was perfectly accurate, no practice required.
Flooded with Floods
In a debate on the existence of God, well-known skeptic Michael Shermer attempted to discredit the biblical account of the flood by citing a similar Sumerian account written much earlier than Moses’ record. Many other cultures have flood stories in their mythologies, Shermer pointed out. Therefore, he reasoned, all are myths.
It made me think of winter in Chicago, where I grew up. When the snow begins to fall, kids might hear their grandfathers talk about the great blizzard of ’67. Some will hear about four days of storm with drifts five feet high. Others will hear of a snowstorm that lasted a week and buried whole houses.
When boys compare their grandfathers’ tales, do you think they conclude that old timers just have a habit of making up yarns about blizzards? I suspect not. They probably figure their grandads ramble on about the blizzard of ’67 because it snowed pretty hard that winter. It did. I was there.
It’s true that virtually every major culture has a flood story in its folklore. It’s curious, isn’t it, that there aren’t any worldwide fire myths or global hailstone tales mixed in. Everybody talks about the flood, though. Maybe the best explanation is that there really was a flood of such magnitude that it kept people talking for thousands of years, even though some of the details got mixed up in the retelling.
I think we owe thanks to Michael Shermer for pointing out all the corroborating evidence for a worldwide flood.
Sowing the Seed Recklessly
When I boarded a little commuter jet to Northern California, I quickly found my seat on the plane and buried my nose in a book. I had no way of knowing someone was reading over my shoulder.
“What are you reading?” A lady’s voice floated timidly over the top of the seat. I chatted with her a few moments about the Lord, wrote the book’s title on the back of my business card, wished her a pleasant trip, and plunged back into my study.
Three weeks later, she showed up at the bookstore at my church, titles in hand. Within a month, she’d become a Christian.
In New Testament times, farmers didn’t sow in neat rows. Instead, they pitched handfuls of seed among the furrows, scattering it recklessly in the breeze. Some seeds flourished, some failed; it was the ground that made the difference.
Often, I’d talk about the Lord with folks at church, in a restaurant, or on an airplane. They’d nod with appreciation but depart unchanged. Months later, I’d find out it was seed carried by the wind of the Spirit, as it were, to an unnoticed bystander that bore the fruit.
The Parable of the Sower instructs us not to prejudge our audiences. Instead, like the sower of old, we are to scatter our seed, letting it fall where it will. We never know who will be listening in or reading over our shoulders. We never know what small, seemingly insignificant seed will bear fruit to eternal life.
The “Seamless Garment” Unravels
I continue to be mystified at the “consistently pro-life” crowd who reject capital punishment as a matter of pro-life principle—complying with the so-called “seamless garment” argument.
Exactly what pro-life principle is in play here, though? Strict “pro-life” consistency—if “pro-life” simply means “not taking any life”—would require more than opposition to abortions and executions. It would require the Eastern doctrine of ahimsa: harm no living thing, including microbes and mosquitoes. That would be “consistently pro-life.”
No seamless-garment pro-lifer goes this far, though. Why not? Because they know there’s a big moral difference between human beings and bugs. However, there’s also a big moral difference between innocent unborn children and cold-blooded killers.
“Pro-life” is actually shorthand for the more cumbersome “We are ‘pro’ the lives of innocent children and against destroying them for frivolous reasons.” Nothing about the logic of the pro-life view, properly understood, requires opposition to capital punishment.
Ironically, capital punishment turns out to be the real pro (in favor of) life position. Executing guilty people is a way of affirming the value of the innocent life being preyed upon by murderers. I didn’t make this up. God did:
Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man. (Gen. 9:6)
Pretty straightforward. Twenty-one different offenses called for the death penalty in the Old Testament. Again, God’s idea. If Jesus reversed this principle, apparently Paul missed it:
For [the ruling authority] is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. (Rom. 13:3–4)
If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. (Acts 25:11)
If I am a morally inconsistent pro-lifer when I promote both the Fifth Commandment and capital punishment, then God is, too.
When Is a “Transition” Really a Transition?
According to classical Darwinism, the development of living things was a slow, gradual process advancing by miniscule steps over long stretches of time. If you could collapse the process through time-lapse photography, it would look like an animated cartoon made the old-fashioned way: a series of images—each slightly modified from the one before—flashing in sequence to create a fluid, visual story of descent with modification.
Each “page” in this sequence would be a transition. The story for any particular branch of the evolutionary tree would be made up of thousands upon thousands of steps of transition (“pages” of the animation), with each successive stage not only fully functional itself, but also better adapted to its environment than its predecessor.
Of course, no such animation exists because the fossil record has not provided paleontologists with the pages needed to create a fluid visual history. Even so, it is still possible—at least in theory—to reconstruct the account from fragmentary evidence. There are two different ways this could be done.
First, a fossil may be identified as transitional if it is closely connected in time with a series of other fossils, and the sequence—when taken as a whole—displays a gradual development from one kind into another. Fuz Rana, author of Who Was Adam? explains what this would look like for human evolution:
To uphold the theory, the hominid fossil record should be rooted in a single knuckle-walking apelike primate that existed between 6 and 5 million years ago. Over time, a variety of hominids should appear in a branching, treelike pattern from this ancestral form, and a clear evolutionary pathway from this supposed ancestor to modern humans should be evident…. Hominid fossils should also document the gradual emergence of the anatomical and behavioral traits that define humanity. [Emphasis added.]
An illustration may help here. If you fly over Orange County in Southern California at low altitude, you can clearly see the transition between the southbound 405 and the westbound 55 in Costa Mesa near my old radio studio, followed by the link to the 73 Toll Road through Irvine to San Juan Capistrano, finally hooking up with Interstate 5 headed south to San Diego. The route consists of a series of connected segments that flow seamlessly, creating a clear course from Costa Mesa to points south. Even if small clouds obstruct some of your vision, the section-by-section pathway is obvious.
This illustration parallels the first way of identifying evolutionary transitions: seeing historically close-connected, gradual anatomical changes in the fossil record that document relatively unambiguous, evolutionary pathways that directly link one transition to its successor.
Darwinists readily acknowledge that this sort of evidence has not characteristically been forthcoming. As you can see, though, it is the kind of data required to give us confidence that any alleged ancestral relationship is credible.
In the absence of a gradual, step-by-step record of evolution, paleontologists have adopted a second approach to identifying transitions. On this method, if a fossil seems to be midway in development between two other specimens (if it shares physical characteristics of both) and falls between them in time, it is considered transitional even if the distances in time are very great. This is the empirical situation paleontologists actually face when surveying the fossil record.
There is a serious problem with this approach, though. To illustrate, imagine yourself now flying tens of thousands of feet higher than your earlier pass over Orange County. Instead of scattered clouds, a massive front covers the continental U.S. save for occasional gaps that allow you to glimpse short pieces of highway separated by hundreds of miles of landmass that’s obscured by clouds.
Your task is to determine which sections of road connect with each other to form routes to specific destinations like L.A., San Francisco, or Seattle. Would you be justified in inferring a connection if one section in West Texas fell between a length of highway in central New Mexico and one in southern Arkansas as long as each section ran roughly in the same direction?
I think you can immediately see the peril of this approach. Clearly, there would be no way to tell from the empirical evidence alone which sections of road connected with other segments of highway to lead you to a specific destination. In the same way, how can we have confidence that one specimen in the fossil record is the ancestor of another specimen that is millions of years removed from it in time?
You might reason that, since the landmass is continuous, all roads must be connected in some way. But if you made that assumption flying over Hawaii, you’d be wrong. Hawaii is a cluster of islands. All highways do not connect but branch out briefly and then stop at the shore.
The lesson here is simple: You must first know that the highways link up before you can trust that any particular segments of the roadway connect the route. By parallel, you must first assume that evolution is true before you can place alleged transitions in their “proper” evolutionary pathways.
This is precisely how paleontologists proceed. Henry Gee, senior editor in biological sciences for Nature, is candid about the problem of reconstructing evolutionary lineage given the fragmentary fossil record—a problem complicated by “deep time,” his term for the eons that may elapse between specimens.
Regardless, Gee is convinced we can “recognize various attributes that suggest kinship to humanity,” even though—since, he points out, fossils never come with birth certificates—we “would never know whether this particular fossil represented your lineal ancestor.” What is the source of Gee’s confidence? “Evolution…is not in doubt, because if we didn’t have ancestors, then we wouldn’t be here” (emphasis added).
You can immediately see the problem with this approach. The minute you make Gee’s assumption, you corrupt the process. There is a big difference between demonstrating that a fossil might be transitional based on the empirical evidence itself and declaring that a fossil probably is transitional because the paradigm requires it.
Simply put, fossils are declared transitions in virtue of the favorable connections they create on the Darwinian map. But whether or not life is connected in that way is the very thing at issue in the debate over evolution.
Of course, if you assume what you need to prove, it all makes sense. Your mind can easily fill in gaps, even when they are many and massive. When new information disqualifies one scenario, the pieces are merely moved around to offer another scenario that conveniently arrives at the same conclusion.
Track the suggested pathways of human evolution displayed in National Geographic over the years, and you’ll see what I mean. The map is constantly shifting. Routes originally thought to be on the superhighway to modern man are now considered evolutionary dead ends, but the underlying map is never in question.
This process has a name. When Darwinists take this route, it’s called arguing in a circle.
In the next issue of Solid Ground, I’ll provide another mélange of thoughts, reflections, and responses to issues of interest about the Christian worldview.
 For more detail, see the outline on capital punishment at str.org: https://www.str.org/w/the-bible-and-capital-punishment.
 This distinction was first suggested to me by Fuz Rana of Reasons to Believe.
 Fuz Rana, Who Was Adam? (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), 141–2.
 Henry Gee, “Setting the Record Straight: A Response to Creationist Misinformation about the PBS Series Evolution,” https://ncse.ngo/files/pub/creationism/NCSE_2001_PBS_Evolution_series.pdf.