Archive for category The Bible

Love Does It My Way

coverThere have been very few instances in my life where someone has shown me a book, I’ve read it, and it significantly changed my life for good or ill. So when, for nearly a year, my Twitter feed and Facebook timeline routinely had quotes from and reviews of Bob Goff’s book Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World, I had cautioned optimism that perhaps there might be something I was missing out on by not yet having read it myself. So, after finishing a fiction book this summer, I decided to finally give the book a try. My cautiousness was warranted. Read the rest of this entry »

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2b or not 2b, lol

As I mentioned in a previous post, I really don’t like “The Message” by Eugene H. Peterson. I will probably type up an exhaustive list of reasons why in a subsequent post, but for now it is sufficient to say that I hold it in the same regard as I do the current History Channel (sans aliens): technically correct, but completely missing the point.

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The Bird

I dislike The Message. A lot. If there is one thing I can point to in the modern Christian world that is the embodiment of most things I find objectionable about modernity creeping its way into the Church, it would be The Message. My problems with it are many, spanning from how it assumes that the modern reader is too ignorant to understand anything outside the vernacular to the stripping away of anything resembling the poetic, the historical, or the traditional. It takes scripture and turns it into pop fiction and in doing so rips out it’s soul. Which is why, one day, I decided to illustrate my distaste by rewriting Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven in the same way the authors of The Message would have translated the psalms. Below is my meager attempt at satire.

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Restoration of American Christianity

Author’s Note: This paper was written for a course on the history of American religion. There is no spirituality in this paper. It is an objective view on the Restoration movement of 1800-1840. It focuses on the two main groups that formed in this period: the New Testament Christians (Disciples of Christ, the Christian Church, or Church of Christ) and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). It looks at the beginnings and growth of these groups and puts them into the context of a public yearning to feel its own power in a democratized setting rather than being told by an authority, as well as how each movement, in its own right, turned itself into a somewhat ironic and self contradictory form of what it originally had set out to be.

That being said, if you do not want to read all 20 pages (when printed), then I wouldn’t blame you. It is admittedly long and tedious and I had to research and write it. However, if you are, or ever were, or plan on being a member of a Restorationist Church, I highly recommend this paper for your consideration. Knowing your roots, even if its just a very fast overview and analysis, can empower you to not only learn of your heritage, but perhaps spawn a longing to take more research upon yourself. If this paper causes you to become curious or perhaps even a little doubtful of the meaning of your church’s dogma, then it has done its job. I do not mean this as a criticism of any religion in particular, only an analysis on what their purpose originally was in the context of the time. I hope you understand this.

Restoration of American Christianity

In the early part of the nineteenth century, Christianity took a turn. The Christians at the time saw around them a sea of confusion and of man made authorities. The quest for unity in the church was a daunting one but one that was undertaken by some of the most famous theologians in history. The restoration movement sought out to unify the church under a single banner of Christianity and return it to a primitive, pure state which scripture was the only creed and God the only authority. Two groups, the New Testament restorationalists and the Mormons, who shared this same end, but whose paths took radically different roads, attempted this goal.

It could be said that the restoration movement started several decades before historians normally say it began. The entire idea behind the restoration flowered within the bed of a rich pot of ideas that had been brewing since the Revolutionary War. After America gained its independence, the culture of democracy abounded throughout the new nation. Gone was the rule by monarchs and authority figures chosen from outside the popular rule. In its place was the new philosophy of rule by popular representation. The power in the country was placed not in a social elite, but instead in the hand of everyday people (( Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (Yale University, 1989), 127. )).

The move to the popular power was the key component in several major religious movements at the time. The reason that movements took root because of this radical change in thinking is simple, and there are two reasons for it. First is the realization of the parishioners that the ministers in the pulpit could be subject to their views and not the other way around (( Ibid., 133. )). Should dissent arise within a church due to scriptural or dogmatic issues, members could simply pressure the minister or leadership to resign and replace them with someone with more appeal to their wants and needs. It was not uncommon during this period that churches would disagree within the membership. In such cases, instead of bending to the will of an arbitrary authority to work out the differences and have a final say in the matter, members would simply leave that church and found their own with a minister sympathetic to their views (( Ibid., 170. )).

The second reason for these movements with the revolutionary idea of democracy flowing over the young America is the want to move away from anything resembling British authority. For the most part in pre-revolutionary America, people were indifferent towards the Anglican and Catholic churches. Afterwards, however, there was a major move away from these churches towards the other smaller American Protestant faiths. The reason for this was rooted in the same idea of the need to get away from authority, but this reason was aimed at a specific brand of Christianity. These versions were not only identified with the enemy of America during the war but also with supreme authority. The king was the foremost power in the Anglican Church and the Pope in the Catholic. With the advent of democracy, bending to the will of these powers was something that did not go over well with the religious ideals of the day in America.

With this philosophy in mind, and the numerous splinters appearing in the Protestant denominations within America, Christians and those thinking of converting were becoming increasingly concerned. Each of these splinter congregations was proclaiming to be the true way to salvation. In addition, in order to carve out an identity for themselves, these congregations would define themselves by denouncing all others as heretical. For the lay-person, these allegations flying between churches and with all the definitions of truth to choose from, questions arose about who exactly was right. Without the authority of an overarching power to quell dissent between churches, any church was able to proclaim that they alone were the holders of absolute truth. People then were forced to choose with virtually no clue as to who was proclaiming the real truth. But a choice was often felt necessary because of the fear instilled by various churches that if the people did not follow their particular brand of truth then they were destined for hell.

Certainly there was a need for unity within the American protestant churches. The need for this unity spurned several attempts outside the denominational boundaries to reel in the fringe congregations. However, more importantly the restoration movement, at this time, there were also attempts within denominational sects that looked to define a more over arching authority to rule over the branches. In particular, the Methodists were keen to place a superintendent in charge of the boards of the Methodist church (( Paul K. Conkin, American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 4. )). This move towards autocracy angered one preacher perhaps more than any other. His name was James O’Kelly, a Methodist minister from Virginia. O’Kelly saw this move back towards a authoritarian structure as analogous to moving back to something resembling the Catholic Church (( Everett Ferguson, The Way of Life (Abilene: Biblical Research Press, 1967), 68. )). He decried it as a move meant only to favor preachers’ prestige and power within the church.

The Methodist proposal for a superintendent troubled O’Kelly so deeply that in 1792 he presented to the Methodist convention appeals taken from ministers who sympathized with his objection. Unfortunately for them, the measure was voted down, but this did not stop O’Kelly and his supporters from using the democratic method. As a result, the “Republican Methodist Church” was formed as a breakaway sect of Methodism (( Conkin, American Originals, 4. )). In 1794 at the suggestion of Rice Haggard, the group renamed itself simply “Christians.” This movement, curiously, was a claim to unity rather to division. O’Kelly was after a unifying force other than a human-created authority. He was seeking authority from heaven. As such, the newly formed sect adopted several principles that in time became the foundation for the entirety of the New Testament restoration movement. These principles included the ideas that Jesus Christ was the only head of the church; second, the name “Christian” was a term that referred to all those in the church, regardless of denomination; third, the only creed that the Christian should follow is that of the Bible; fourth, Christian character is the only test needed for membership in the church; fifth, the right of private judgment and liberty of conscience is the privilege and duty of all (( Ferguson, Way of Life, 68. )).

As stated before, the newly formed “Christian” church was as move towards unity in the eyes of O’Kelly and the other ministers who were sympathetic to his cause. The ideals behind the reasons for unification are clear from the five main points proposed by the leaders of the new church. They were looking to move the church back to a doctrine that was pure and unaffected by he centuries of human intervention in the way dogmatic law was interpreted. In short, they were looking to restore the church to a more primitive state. However, as the idea was close to what would later be the full-blown restoration, the O’Kelly movement and the Christian church did not fully intend to move the church back to a form of church that was later to be termed the “New Testament Church.” Instead, they simply wanted to remove from church tradition the idea of authority vested in a single man or man-made body. Turning to the Bible as the only creed and Jesus as the only head gave the authority in the church back to the divine and out of the hands of men.

This trend, however, was not limited to the northeast of American thought. In the south, like-minded congregations learned of the movement in the north and sent a letter to a Christian newspaper published by Elias Smith in New England (( Conkin, American Originals, 5. )). In this letter the congregations sent greetings and wishes of fellowship with their New England brothers. The response was positive and in 1811 a conference was held in Virginia for talks of union between the two groups. Smith was the only representative for the New England congregations but this did not hamper the discussions of fellowship. Unfortunately, due to the small number of representatives and the relatively few followings of the new movement, the union was not so much a conglomeration as it was a meeting to show that two like-minded groups geographically removed from each other shared a common ideal (( Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America (Cambridge: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1996), 12. )).

The southern sector of the Christian movement was lead in part by Abner Jones, a Baptist minister with an extreme dislike of anything smacking of Calvinism. Jones met Smith in 1803 during a meeting in Portsmith, New Hampshire. Jones was the man who first proposed a total change in the way the new Christian church was run, from one of simple biblical authority to a total restoration of a New Testament type church. Later in 1803, he would form his own church to cement his teachings into reality. Smith and Jones eventually set forth together on the trend of annihilationsim, that is, to tear down everything and to start over with nothing but the New Testament as a guide to what the church should actually look like. Eventually though, Smith grew more and more friendly with the Unitarians in the region, mainly due to the fact they shared his views concerning the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Smith being antitrinitarian. So much so, that after a while Smith left his own congregation to lead a cause to unify the New England Christian church with the Unitarians in creating a new seminary. A small number of churches followed his lead but by the time it was all said and done they gave so little support that the seminary become totally Unitarian (( Conkin, American Originals, 6-7. )).

The path that Smith took is almost mirrored verbatim by Barton Stone. A Presbyterian minister in Kentucky, Stone had deep reservations, almost hatred, of John Calvin, a central figure in Presbyterian doctrine. He regarded Calvin’s doctrines as complete fabrication when juxtaposed against scripture. During the 1801 revival at Cane Ridge, Stone revealed his convictions in a sermon that insisted on having the only Christian creed be the Bible as the prerequisite to salvation (( Hughes, Reviving, 96. )). This stance aligned him with Jones but alienated him from the mainstream Presbyterians. Dissatisfied with the response, Stone founded the Springfield Presbytery in 1804 to further his doctrinal studies. While Presbyterian in name, the Springfield Presbytery was not active within the larger Midwest presbytery (( Conkin, American Originals, 7. )). After much examination of scripture and doctrines, Stone and others from the presbytery decided that in order to cement their beliefs, and in part to stay the Romanization of their organization, they would dissolve the Springfield Presbytery. This action was instigated by the writing of the “Last Will and Testament of The Springfield Presbytery,” a half-serious, half-satirical commentary on the shortcomings of Presbyterianism and the need for churches to align themselves with Christ instead of with denominational doctrines (( Ferguson, Way of Life, 69. )). This move was highly symbolic in that it showed Stone’s resolve to make congregations autonomous and to need for a return to the New Testament church. After dissolving the presbytery, Stone opted to call his new following the “Christian” church, a move done by Smith around the same time and again at the behest of Haggard (( Hughes, Reviving, 108. )). He also began showing signs of antitrinitarianism, a personal move on his part that left him more in line with the Unitarians than with his own movement. However, Stone was now allied with both the southern congregations of Jones and the northern congregations of Smith, laying a widespread foundation for the most significant phase in the New Testament restoration.

Thomas Campbell and his son Alexander are generally regarded as the fathers of the restoration movement. While this is not entirely true, as seen by the preliminary material above, they did play the most important role in the movement insofar as they unified and cemented the doctrines that would eventually be the core of all restoration church dogma. Thomas Campbell was a Presbyterian minister from Scotland who came to American in 1807 to try and get his poor health under control (( Ferguson, Way of Life, 70. )). He found work in the ministry in Pennsylvania and quickly came into trouble with the local Synod, or church council. Campbell had a knack for going up against the Synod for his peculiar way of understanding the scriptures and also for his unwillingness to adhere to creeds set forth by the Presbyterian Church. In 1809, Campbell withdrew from the Synod and he, along with several sympathizers, formed the “Christian Association of Washington (Pa.)” which, while itself not a church, promoted nondenominational Christianity within existing churches (( Ibid. )).

Thomas Campbell’s son, Alexander, had been left in Scotland by his father, along with the rest of the family, while Thomas made arrangements for them to join him in America. After a shipwreck, the family was forced to stay an extra year in Scotland. Alexander took this opportunity to study at Glasgow where he soon came under the guidance of the Independent Christian church. This experience moved Alexander from his Presbyterian roots to a position that was close to that of his father. In 1809, Alexander finally got the chance to reunite with his father in America where he soon learned of his father’s ideas. Thomas showed his son a document he had written and presented to his association called a “Declaration and Address” in which he outlined a type of constitution for the association as well as a plan to unite all the churches (( Conkin, American Originals, 15. )). Thomas firmly believed that he could start a movement that would finally reunite all the churches under a broad banner of Christianity, for he saw only one church unified by the belief in Jesus Christ. He wanted a church that was made up of all who believed in Christ and who obeyed His commandments. Thomas’ plan therefore was to strip Christianity down to its barest essentials and begin again with the New Testament as a blueprint.

Alexander was completely sympathetic to his father’s views and in 1810 began delivering sermons to the association’s churches to try and relate it to the masses. He was not the most eloquent speaker, nor the most inspiring. Alexander was, however, a born debater and used his logic and preparation to deliver stunning sermons (( Ibid., 18. )). Through a logical progression of ideas and scriptural analysis, he hoped to define what the New Testament church should be. In 1811 the Christian Association of Washington renamed itself the “Brush Run Church,” with Alexander as is minister. The church quickly, yet somewhat reluctantly, joined the Redstone Baptist Association as Alexander’s popularity as a speaker and debater grew. In 1816, Campbell made a groundbreaking sermon in which he denounced the convictions of the Calvinists as a total depravity. He also argued that the church was to rest only upon the authority of Jesus and that the Mosaic law no longer applied to Christians because Jesus had fulfilled that law (( Hughes, Reviving, 23. )). He did this in part because the way he read scripture told him it was true, but also he had been brought up watching difference denominations, even difference congregations picking and choosing which Old Testament moral codes to follow and which to disregard. In his one fell swoop, Campbell simply took all authority away from the Old Testament and gave total authority to the New Testament.

Even with the Campbells’ popularity, the movement they started did not move at a fast pace for some time. It wasn’t until 1823 that their movement really picked up speed and grew rapidly. In that year, after much rhetoric against the Calvinists, Alexander was running the risk of having his church removed form the Red Stone Association. Fortunately for him, a small Baptist association in Ohio known as the Mahoning Association contacted Campbell and asked him to join their association (( Conkin, American Originals, 22. )). He jumped at this opportunity, leaving the Red Stone Association before it had a chance to discharge him officially, but while technically a part of it. During this time, Alexander began publishing a monthly magazine called “The Christian Baptist” which allowed him to spread his doctrinal ideas in a well-organized debating style to people far from his home congregation. In this magazine he lashed out at all forms of ecclesiastical organizations and formalized clergy. He argued that no special authority should be given to ministers with scholarly training, ordination, or any kind of special calling by the Holy Spirit. He also denounced instrumental music and preached about the inherent equality of all Christians to one another (( Hughes, Reviving, 30. )).

In 1825 the Red Stone Association finally took action against Campbell and forced his congregation out. The Mahoning Association dissolved five years later leaving the congregations autonomous. Sensing the need for continuity between all the now- independent churches, Alexander renamed his movement the “Disciples of Christ.” He then dropped the name “The Christian Baptist” from his journal’s title and replaced it with the “Millennial Harbinger” (( Ferguson, Way of Life, 72. )). The name was significant because it reflected not a millennialist idea of the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth after the tribulation (an idea Campbell fervently detested); instead, his choice of title was to reflect his wish for a millennium of peace and happiness for the church under unification as a New Testament church. This journal became the vehicle for Campbell’s movement as he was able to use it to settle disputes between new congregations, cement doctrine, and evangelize to outsiders. Indeed, Campbell used this journal to act as a de facto bishop over his new church (( Conkin, American Originals, 26. )).

Stone and Campbell had met once before in 1824 during Campbell’s trip to Kentucky from Ohio and the two struck a chord with one another, seeing that their two movements closely resembled one another. Over the next seven years the two would trade correspondence. Despite sharing exchanges that indicated some jealousy between the two regarding who was playing a more prominent role in the move to a New Testament church, they announced the union of the two movements into a single force in 1832. The combination of the two into the Christian-Disciples movement was the biggest boost to the growth of the New Testament restoration (( Ibid. 28-29. )).

The New Testament restoration was not without its problems though. Despite sharing of the ideal of unity, the Christian-Disciples disagreed over several doctrinal issues. The foremost of these was the issue of baptismal immersion. While not going into specifics over who believed what, it is important to note that this issue caused many congregations to leave throughout the entirety of the movement.. To add to this, it should be pointed out that the Christian-Disciples movement eventually split apart (( Hughes, Reviving, 192. )). The union between the two was never a fully unified effort by either side and was more symbolic than it was functional. In the 1840’s the two sides began to argue over what could be considered trivial issues such as the use of instrumental music in worship. While it was not official, congregations began ceasing fellowship with each other. The official divide did not happen until the early twentieth century at which time three churches emerged: the liberal-minded Disciples, the instrumental Christian Church, and the Churches of Christ who only allowed a cappella music. Since then, these three major denominations have further split into about thirty distinct flavors of restorationalist churches (( Ferguson, Way of Life, 73. )).

The irony of he entire New Testament restoration movement is that the dream of restoring the church to its primitive form and unifying all Christians under one church roof never was realized. In fact the opposite occurred. Campbell and Stone ended up creating just as much doctrinal red tape, then they had hoped to dispose of by restoring the church to its “original” form. Consequently, the authority they used to justify their movement, the New Testament, was used also to undo the unifying effect they strove for. By appealing to their quest for the true church of the New Testament, they condemned other denominations for breaking with it in the first place. They alienated themselves from other congregations and became an elitist-like denomination in direct opposition to what they had set out to achieve.

As stated before, the restoration movement of the first half of the nineteenth century followed two radically different yet intimately connected paths. Both paths sought to end the confusion and the discord present in the Christian church at the time. The first of these paths was a restoration of the church to a primitive state, owing all authority to the New Testament. The second, however, took the path of creating entirely new scripture to be the basis of authority. This second path of restoration of the church was the Mormon movement.

The sole leader of the Mormon movement during its conception was Joseph Smith Jr., the son of a poor farmer. His father had lost all the family’s money on a speculative venture and remained a frequently moving tenant the rest of this life. He spent much of his time and effort trying to rebuild a fortune and to redeem the family name. The family was never deeply involved with religion. Smith himself was seen once or twice attending the local Methodist church and he enjoyed greatly learning about the occult. One of his pastimes was to use the three seer stones he possessed to locate treasure and underground water for people for a price. He was a frequent visitor of treasure hunters and was always interested in new ways to making money, just like his father (( Conkin, American Originals, 163. )).

Smith was admittedly wary of all types of religion. He viewed the church at the time to be in a confused state with no one sure of what to believe. This was the same conclusion drawn by the restorationists of the New Testament restoration. Authority in religious matters seemed to be a huge issue at the time (( Marvin S. Hill and James B. Allen, Mormonism and American Culture (New York: Harber & Row Publishers, 1972), 16. )). Smith was deeply troubled by this, and by his own account he went out in 1820 to a field near his hometown of Palmyra, New York, to meditate on what he should do. It was in this field that Smith would receive the answer to his question of who to believe in this time of confusion.

While meditating in the field, Smith claims to have been visited by both God and Jesus in the flesh. They blessed the young Smith and shared with him their concerns over the state of the church. They told him that he should not affiliate with any sect as they had all strayed form the path they were supposed to have taken, and he himself would be the new prophet who would lead the Christian church back to the right path (( William E. Barrett, The Restored Church (Desert Book Company, 1977), 22. )). Three years later, the angel Moroni, who had once lived as a human on the American continent, visited Smith. He told Smith of a history that was written on a set of golden plates which Moroni had himself helped to compile that chronicled the history of early. The history was to be a completion of the gospels as Jesus had revealed Himself to the ancient Americans. Moroni showed Smith where he had hidden the plates and two seer stones (identified later by Smith as the Urim and Thummim of the Old Testament) accompanied the plates to allow Smith to translate them (( Conkin, American Originals, 164. )).

According to Smith, he went to the place Moroni had showed him (a hill only three miles from his home) and discovered the plates just as promised, but he could not remove them from their resting place. He was told in a vision that he was not pure enough to take the plates and that he had to purify himself in order to be free of the world. For four years after, Smith would meditate and resist the temptations of the world so that he could possess them. In 1827, Smith returned to the hill and successfully removed the plates and took them home (( Barrett, Restored Church, 24-25. )). The plates were in a metallic, book-like binding which reportedly weighed about fifty pounds. They were inscribed with Egyptian-like hieroglyphs but were in actuality an ancient form of Hebrew. The two seer stones were fastened into a frame that resembled eyeglasses. However, when observed translating, Smith would only use one stone that he placed into his hat and then covered his face with it (( Conkin, American Originals, 164. )).

The first translation of the book of Mormon was done with the aid of Smith’s wife Emma, who transcribed what he dictated. Eventually, their neighbor, Martin Harris, came to take over the transcription while Smith was concealed behind a blanket (( Barrett, Restored Church, 34. )). Harris was the first convert outside of the immediate Smith family and was nearly the new religion’s undoing. Harris sought out two Orientalist, one at Rutgers and one at Columbia College, to look over the translations and to authenticate them. At Columbia, Professor Charles Anthon authenticated the writings until he learned of the nature of the plates and their origin. He then reportedly tore up the certificate of authenticity and denied all claims Harris had made. This did not stop Harris from believing that Smith was a true prophet though. He went back to Smith and asked to borrow some of the translations to show to his doubting wife. Smith agreed, but while Harris had them, they were lost. Some stories abound that Harris’ wife burned the work, but the official Mormon account is that they were stolen. Smith then had the plates taken from him by Moroni as punishment. The material that was lost covered about 400 years of the ancient Jewish people who had come to America and was the opening segment of the history written by Mormon. Smith was reluctant to translate the plates again as he reportedly had fears about the other version resurfacing and his enemies finding discrepancies between the two (( Conkin, American Originals, 165-166. )).

Guided by a vision, Smith was told that he could not retranslate any plates once they were translated. Therefore he was told to translate a new set of plates, the plates of Nephi, which held the same information as the Mormon history. Harris left the transcription job and was replaced by Smith’s cousin, Oliver Cowdery (( Barrett, Restored Church, 35. )). Cowdery, Harris, and several others were chosen at that time to see the plates for themselves. After intense meditation for several hours, the men saw a vision of the plates. After witnessing this they wrote a statement to the fact which was later included in the Book of Mormon. When the first edition was finished, the book was published by a Palmyra printer and went on sale in 1830 at which time Moroni took the plates back again (( Ibid. 38. )).

The actual content of the book is much too complex to be discussed here in any fair way. Suffice to say it chronicled the journey of an ancient Jewish people to America and their subsequent spiritual life (( Conkin, American Originals, 168-173. )). The book was not an especially a rousing success. Its confused wording and numerous grammatical errors made it laborious to read. However, it was still sold if for only curiosity on what the notorious Joseph Smith had written.

The origins of the Mormon Church can be traced to 1829 when Smith and Cowdery were directed by the angel of John the Baptist to baptize each other for the remission of sins and had bestowed on them the priesthood of Aaron (( Barrett, Restored Church, 69. )). The church itself was organized by Smith who was guided by revelations and turned out to be extremely disorganized. When baptizing new converts, Smith would give them titles such as elder, priest, or teacher, titles which did not hold any meaning at the time and which would later become no more clearer as Smith’s doctrines fully emerged. The church was set up to be a restored church that had been purified of the worldly ills that had befallen all the other Christian sects (( Hill, Mormonism, 22. )). Smith’s doctrine for the most part was simple and easy for the layperson to understand. He even agreed with Alexander Campbell on some major points. While the doctrines will not be covered here, they were in some ways a nod to the other restorationists at the time, but were also a departure from mainstream Christianity.

Mormonism was not without its critics. To be sure, critics at the time far out numbered the believers. Their criticisms were varied but a few major points were made in objection to Smith’s new religion. First there was the problem of Smith himself. Critics citied numerous examples of Smith being involved in treasure hunting and other get-rich-quick schemes. The entire religion therefore was nothing more than a very elaborate hoax. Smith had even gotten involved in several defrauding and banking schemes well into his prophetic career, helping boost opposition to him (( Conkin, American Originals, 163, 182. )). Second was the problem of the history Smith had proposed. There was no archeological evidence to support an ancient offshoot of Jews in America (( Harry L. Ropp. Are the Mormon Scriptures Reliable? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 55. )). Nor was the history even logical. One example given to support this is the description of the boats used to cross the ocean by the Jews in the book of Ether, an appendix to the book of Mormon written by Moroni. The boats are submarines with holes in the top and in the bottom that were to be opened when they needed air, but closed again if water should come in (( The Book of Mormon, Ether 2:20. )). Third was the book itself. Smith had translated it in secret. He was not allowed to go back and review translations. When some of the translations were stolen, he conveniently got a new set of plates. The text was often seen as more of a rant than a real document (( Ropp, Reliable?, 34. )). Finally, the plates on which the book was written were never actually seen by human eyes save for Smith. Cowdery even later recanted his statement about seeing the plates, although his statement remains in the book (( Ibid. 21. )).

As with the Campbell-Stone movement, the Mormon restoration ended up becoming an irony. The authority Smith was supposed to be subverting, he himself assumed. At one point, Smith was basically the king of a Mormon city with a militia at his command (( Conkin, American Originals, 203. )). The man who wanted to put all faith into scripture ended up using that scripture to put all faith into himself. Regardless, Mormonism became a dominant force in America soon after Smith’s death in 1844 (( Barrett, Restored Church, 192. )).

In the end, it can be argued that restorationalists, both New Testament and Mormon failed in their goal of uniting all of Christianity under the banner of scripture. Their causes have lived on through the decades since, but the end result of their dreams is nowhere in sight. Christianity still is splintered into factions and sects and denominations. Even the New Testament restoration church itself has fractured into numerous sub-sects. Human nature being what it is, it seems that the dream of unity will, for now at least, remain just that—a dream.

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And the Floodgates Opened

I think its about time that I put my money where my mouth is and actually show you all how I would discount some of the Creationist claims that I so adamantly speak out against. Sure I’ve argued so far that their logic is flawed, that they take things out of context, and that they in general don’t have a leg to stand on, but I haven’t actually proved any of their arguments wrong using the good old scientific method I harp on so much. Well this week I’ll show you exactly how I go about it by debunking one creationist claim and bringing into question the held viewpoint on another related issue.

The topic of the day, if you didn’t guess from the title, is the Flood from the book of Genesis. For those of you who don’t know the story of Noah and the Flood heres a paraphrased version: Noah gets a call from God saying “Hey, the earth sucks so I’m wiping it clean and starting over. But I like you, so build a big old boat and put you, your family, and a whole mess of animals on it so you float while others..well… don’t.” So Noah builds the boat, does what he’s told and sure enough the earth is flooded with rain and torrents and such for forty days and nights which seemingly cover the earth and wipe out all land life. So then after this, waters recede Noah lands on a mountain and God says “Hmm.. I don’t think I’ll do that again. Heres a rainbow to show my promise to not to that anymore.” The End. ((Genesis 6-8 (New King James Version) ))

Now the problems with this story are enormous. but mostly only if you take the English version of the story totally literally down to the last word. Now most people don’t (even though they say its a myth which is also wrong) but there is a fine group of people who like to take Genesis (and not much else of the Bible) literally to the maxtreme: the Creationists. Specifically Young Earth Creationists.


The problem is not only the existence of the Flood itself but the myriad of geological and biological “problems” that they seem to try and solve with it. ((“Claim 581: Carving the Grand Canyon,” The Talk.Origins Archive. Continental drift? Flood. Mountains? Flood. Fossils? Flood. David Lee Roth? Well you get the idea. One of the weirdest tenants they hold is that evidence of the Flood and also a geological “anomaly” used accredited to the Flood is present in the Grand Canyon. ((Ken Ham, “Grand Canyon,” Creation, March 1996, 28, This is somewhat ironic, as a side note at least, because after Ussher (the guy who came up with the age of the Earth as about 6,000 years old) the biggest shifts in the age of the Earth were made by guys like Comte du Buffon, WI’lliam Smith, and Charles Lyell who pointed out features like the Canyon were evidence of somewhat uniform processes in the Earth that could be measured and gave the Earth an age of well over 200,000,000 years. ((“Age of the Earth,” Wikipedia.


In any case, back to the Canyon. The Grand Canyon is a gorge carved out of the desert floor of Arizona by the Colorado River. As the river cut through the rock, straight down, the sides of the chasm would fall into or slide down into the river and were washed away, hence the immense width of the gorge. The rocks in the Canyon have been dated using radiological dating in a range with the youngest, most top layer being around 200 million years old to the bottom layers being about 2 billion years old. ((“Grand Canyon,” Wikipedia, The Canyon itself is attributed to being in total, 75 million years with the onset of the Laramide orogeny, the uplifting event in which the Rocky Mountains formed. The Canyon didn’t begin cutting though until about 5.3 million years ago when the Gulf of California opened and allowed drainage into the ocean, lowering the Colorado River’s base level from where it had been (around the elevation of the Canyon top) to sea level. Most of the cutting though has occurred in the last 2 million years. ((“Geology of the Grand Canyon Area,” Wikipedia,

From then on it has been a matter of the river trying to reach sea level. As it flows downwards it takes rock sediment with it. This sediment bumps and grinds the river bottom as it goes, very slowly eroding the bottom out and lowering the river.

On average this process is about 1 inch of river erosion downward per year. Although it is known that it has sped up and slowed down greatly depending on the climate and the rock strata is is currently cutting through. A very wet climate and a very soft sand stone could net several times more than a dry climate and a granite layer.

Now, Creationists have claimed that the Canyon is evidence of one of two things that are related to the Flood. One is that it is the source of one of the springs where water gushed forth from the Earth to flood it. However, this seems extremely unlikely since there is no geological evidence at all to suggest water channels beneath the Canyon nor a giant reservoir to hold such an amount of water (even if it was only a contributing amount) to flood the earth. The second theory is that the Canyon was gouged out as the Flood waters receded into the pacific ocean from the high elevation it was at. Now this is much more plausible than the other idea, but it still sounded like made up garbage to me, so I decided to do a little math and find out for myself.

So here’s my scientific method for proving them wrong. First I form my hypothesis. “The amount of water needed to form the grand Canyon is more than all the Flood waters in Genesis combined.” Thats one heck of a statement, but its one I’m going to try and prove. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But if I’m right, thats one point for me and one drawing board for the Creationists. So how am I going to prove this crazy idea? Simple, lets set up a simple thought experiment.

We know by measurement how deep the Canyon is and we can observe in laboratory conditions how long it takes for running water, like the Colorado, to erode different types of rock. So we know around the average amount of time it takes to carve out so much rock. As already stated this is something like 5.3 million years. But to be fair and more accurate, lets say it only takes 2 million, the smaller number mentioned above. Next, we ask ourselves, well how much water has flown through the Colorado River to produce the Canyon we see today? This is where the math comes in. From measurement we know the average (or the mean, as I’ll continue to use) flow of the Colorado before it is diverted by the Hoover Dam is 1,206 cubic meters per second of water. ((“Colorado River,” Wikipedia,

So how much is that a Year?

1,206 m^3/s * 60 s/min * 60 min/hr * 24 hr/day * 365.25 day/yr = 38,058,465,600 m^3/yr

Quite a bit of water. Now lets take that number and multiply it by the 2 million years needed for that mean flow to carve the Canyon at the mean rate of erosion.

38,058,465,600 m^3/yr * 2,000,000 yr = 76,116,931,200,000,000 m^3

Thats 76.1 quintillion cubic meters of water moving through the Colorado river on average every 2 million years. Now, lets see how much water was available during the Flood. If that number is close to this number we just got, we can assume that the Creationists might have an argument (assuming the entirety of the Flood would move through the Canyon). If the number we get is significantly less then we assume their argument has no merit. If it is significantly more we assume their argument has more merit than the geological erosion theory. So let’s figure this out.

Dry Earth

To calculate the amount of water on the earth in the time of the Flood we need two things: the radius of the earth without the water and the radius of the earth with the water. Now we know from satellite data and other means of measurement that the mean radius of the earth is 6,372.795 km. ((“Earth,” Wikipedia, To keep this simple, lets use meters. So, 6,372,795 m. Now from the English Biblical account the Flood covered ALL land. Now assuming Everest was the tallest mountain then and was at the same height it is now (which it wasn’t, it would have been shorter) we will say that that could be the radius of the earth plus the water. We will keep the Everest elevation as how high the waters reached: 8,844.43 m above sea level. ((“Mount Everest,” Wikipedia, So the Flood water in our experiment is 8,844.43 m deep.

To figure out how much water that is we will calculate the volume of the earth without the water (Vd) and subtract that figure from the volume of the earth with the water (Vw).

Rd = 6,372,795 m (earth’s mean radius)

Rw = Rd + 8,844.43 m (water depth) = 6,381,639.43 m (earth’s radius plus all that water)

Vw = 4/3 * Ï€ * Rw^3 – 4/3 * Ï€ * Rd^3

Vw = 4/3 * Ï€ * (6,381,639.43 m)^3 – 4/3 * Ï€ * (6,372,795 m)^3

Vw = 4/3 * Ï€ * 259,894,319,491,000,000,000 m^3 – 4/3 * Ï€ * 258,815,239,616,000,000,000 m^3

Vw = Ï€ * 346,525,759,320,000,000,000 m^3 – Ï€ * 345,086,986,153,000,000,000 m^3

Vw = 1,088,642,779,760,000,000,000 m^3 – 1,084,122,740,550,000,000,000 m^3

Vw = 4,520,039,210,000,000,000 m^3

Flood Water Volume

So the volume of the Flood water given this model (which is very biased towards the Flood theory) is some 4.52 sextillion cubic meters of water. This is about 59.4 times the amount of the Colorado has drained in 2 million years. This number was not at all what I was expecting, but I will have to live with it. However, before the Creationists start feeling proud of themselves, let’s look at one more piece of information.

The Colorado River drains an area of 629,100 km^2. So we can assume that during the Flood it would have drained about that much area as well, although it may have drained more. The surface area of the entire earth is 510,065,284.702 km^2. So the area being channeled through the Canyon is only .1233% of the total surface of the earth. If you want to get technical and say that only land drains water, that bumps the number up to .4223% of the total land area. So either way you cut it, the mount of water actually going though the Colorado’s draining area is about 19,092,081,070,100,000 m^3 at most. Thats only 25% the water needed to carve out the Canyon.

Flodded Earth

End Result? Not enough water in the Flood to carve out the Grand Canyon in its totality. At most, the Flood could have carved out a quarter of the depth and some could argue that the deluge that ensued could have cause a catastrophic carving out, but I doubt that would have accounted for more than half. In any case you’re left with half a Canyon with one million years of cutting left to do. And remember, this experiment was tilted in favor of the Creationist viewpoint. I could have used the 5.3 million years instead of the 2 million years. This would have netted 165% more water needed to carve out the Canyon. You can do the math yourself.

So there you have it. My method to debunk Creationist claims. I went through it just as I would any other scientific claim. Hypothesize then Test then Re-evaluate the hypothesis. And I even disproved my own hypothesis. There was more water in the whole of the Flood than there was moving through the Colorado River in the last 2 million years. Even so, the greater hypothesis, that the Flood carved out the Grand Canyon is still highly doubtful. Even if it had carved it out, it would only have carved a portion of it leaving a majority of it left to be cut. Which would take several thousand years longer than the Ussher length of 6,000.

So does this disprove the Flood in its entirety? Not really. This is but one example of the Flood’s effects being discounted, but it does not totally invalidate the story of Noah. As I said at the beginning of this post, I would try to bring into question one of the chief tenets of the Flood story. That is, I don’t believe the Flood was ever world wide.

There are many reasons behind this idea. First and foremost, so much geological evidence discounts that a global flood of such proportions ever really took place. There just isn’t any clear cut evidence that supports this. In fact most of it points to the opposite. If there was such a flood, on a global scale, there should be rock layers laid down in its wake of all the dead animals and plants. This is explained by the creationists as all the fossils we see in the geological record. However, this doesn’t sync up. If the Flood created the fossils along with the layers they are in, then the animals and plants within the strata would all be in a single, huge band of rock all muddled together. You can see this for yourself.

Take a bucket. Add some clay to the bottom of the bucket, this will be the preexisting bedrock. Next, add some sand and maybe some army men and little toy dinosaurs. These will be all the soil and people and animals that were alive before the Flood. Now dump another bucket full of water into the first bucket. Once the waves clear notice how the things you placed on top of the clay are now situated. All muddled together. This is how the things at the time of the Flood would have ended up during and after the Flood. Therefore the strata would be a muddle as well. But it is not. We see certain animals and plants at certain levels of rock. We see them in the same levels all over the world. We can see layers of ash from volcanic eruptions and also a thin layer of the element iridium that was deposited on the earth 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the earth near the Yucatan Peninsula.

The fact is, there is no solid proof of a global Flood. However, that does not mean the I was wrong. In fact, it is probably still spot on. The first five books of the Bible, or the Torah, was written in ancient Hebrew. The words were translated into mid-modern Hebrew, then to Greek and then to English. Some words were translated somewhat incorrectly. The most blaring of these (besides the word for “day” in Genesis 1) is the word for “earth” in the Flood story. The Hebrew word is “×¢ ר א” (pronounced “eretz”), which does mean Earth. ((R. Laird Harris and Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1981),167-8)) However, it also means “city,” “the country,” or “the land.” So you can translate the story as “And God covered the Earth in flood waters” or “And God covered the land in flood waters.” A major transition from one to the other.


The fact is, we don’t know exactly what the ancient Hebrews thought this word meant in this context exactly. What we do know is that there was a major catastrophic flood about 5600 BC which engulfed the entire fertile crescent. Known as the Black Sea deluge, it was a major event at the end of the last ice age and around the time of Noah, close even in YEC standards. The deluge was cause by a huge lake in what is now where the Black Sea is. ((“Black Sea Deluge,” Wikipedia, This lake was held back by the remains of a great glacial dam. This dam, due to the warming up after the ice age of the earth, melted and unleashed a huge torrent of water that covered over 155,000 km^2. This theory has its skeptics, but it seems that this may be the source of Noah’s Flood and also of the story of Gilgamesh.

Is this the story of the Flood? An ice dam breaking and flooding the “country”? Perhaps. Personally, I don’t think the story of Noah is a myth but I do think its been not only taken out of context of its original meaning, but it has also been Disneyfied and spread as gospel truth in that form. One day we may discover that Noah was the source of the Gilgamesh story or that the ark was not on present day Mount Ararat or that the Flood was indeed corroborated by some nameless scribe who wrote down seeing his civilization vanish as waters rose and their highest peaks were consumed. But until that time, we have to rely on the Bible as a document of salvation and not as a science book.