Was Charles Spurgeon sufficiently Christian?

John Holzmann, co-founder of Sonlight Curriculum, continues to tangle with Christian organizations who seem determined to make young-earth creationism into a shibboleth. I encourage you to start with this post and its comments, and then work backwards to get a fuller picture of where Holzmann is coming from and what sorts of difficulties have been inflicted upon him.

But I think this latest round is fairly self-contained and worth considering for its own sake. I will try to summarize it with excerpts, and without adding any commentary of my own.

Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham’s organization, is currently posting revised versions of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons. The revisions include not only updated language but updated thinking.

Beyond just typographical corrections, the text of each sermon has been updated. For instance, many words that are now obsolete have been modified to modern equivalents, and in some instances, the word order has been modified slightly when necessary. If the words could not be changed, footnotes or inline explanations have been added to clarify expressions or historical references that a modern reader might not be familiar with. In addition, concerning areas in which Spurgeon could not have known what we now know, these sermons have been updated to reflect current thought; however, the original text is also included so that you can see what was changed. [Emphasis added.]

In the thirtieth sermon posted, entitled “The Power of the Holy Ghost,” Spurgeon indulges in passing in some decidedly old-earth-creationism language.

We do not know how remote the period of the creation of this globe may be—certainly many millions of years before the time of Adam. Our planet has passed through various stages of existence, and different kinds of creatures have lived on its surface, all of which have been fashioned by God. But before that era came, when man should be its principal tenant and monarch, the Creator gave up the world to confusion. He allowed the inward fires to burst up from beneath and melt all the solid matter, so that all kinds of substances were commingled in one vast mass of disorder; the only name you could give to the world then was, that it was a chaotic mass of matter; what it should be, you could not guess or define.

True to their promise to update Spurgeon’s writing to reflect current thought, this text has been removed from the main text and placed in a footnote saying:

Bracketed text removed from the sermon. As brilliant as Spurgeon was, even he did not understand the age issue. –Editor

At least that is what the footnote says; in fact, the main text has this reworded section of the passage still in place.

Our planet has passed through various stages of existence in creation, and different kinds of creatures have lived on its surface, all of which have been fashioned by God. But before that era came, when man should be its principal tenant and monarch, the Creator gave up the world to confusion initially created the world as a chaotic mass on the first day of creation.

Holzmann has some analysis of the differences in meaning between the original and revised passage, but what interest me is that Answers in Genesis is so comfortable changing the words of a thinker they champion in a way that isn’t obvious to the reader. It would have been clearer (and more honest) if they had left Spurgeon’s wording intact in the main text, and relegated whatever comments they wanted to make about it to the footnote.

If you read Holzmann’s post, you will see that when he first wrote it the footnote containing the removed text was not then present, and he criticizes Answers in Genesis for that. It was added later, along with this note.

Please also note that this footnote was intended to be in the original posting, but was lost somehow in the transition of these files for web publication. Thanks to our astute readers for finding and reporting this error.

And then Mark Looy, co-founder of Answers in Genesis, adds this comment to the post.

It’s a shame that Christians will use a public arena like the worldwide web to denigrate other Christians/ministries for not being honest without first contacting those persons (or ministry) to get its perspective — and thus hear all sides before coming to a conclusion (per Proverbs 18:13) — and certainly before going public. Such "gotcha police" in the Christian world are not being good police detectives at all when they don’t make inquiries and thus face the potential of ignoring evidence (rather than practicing good common sense — moreover, following the instruction of Proverbs 18). Furthermore, making this issue public and hurling such an accusation for all the world to see is hardly manifesting the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5) and is ultimately tale-bearing.

Quite simply, a mistake was made in posting the devotional/sermon of Spurgeon to our website, where an editor’s note was inadvertently missing. That note has now been re-inserted, as someone has already commented on this site. A staff member in our web dept. informed me that "the note dropped off the file we received [from a person in Canada who supplied us with the devotional/sermon]. The man who supplied it says he put it in, but I checked the file he sent and it wasn’t on it, but I got it to be resent."

The original editor’s note is now in position at the end of the sermon/devotional: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2009/02/26/power-of-holy-ghost. Please be aware that the note was NOT added because we were "caught" at something. It was composed for the web before posting. The person in the web dept. who posted the piece did not know that an editor’s note was coming.

Please, if someone has a gripe about someone or a ministry, do the Proverbs 18 thing (as did an enquirer in Georgia about this matter). Indeed, there can be another explanation, which, if discovered, would prevent false charges from being made about a ministry’s actions and integrity.

Mark Looy, CCO, Answers in Genesis

Unfortunately, John Holzmann is the wrong person for an Answers in Genesis officer to be wagging his finger at when it comes to biblical protocol for calling out a ministry publicly. Holzmann responded with this comment, which he also emailed to Mr. Looy.

Dear Mr. Looy:

Thank you for setting the record straight about what happened to The Rev. Spurgeon’s sermon. I receive–and I hope my readers, too, will receive–your explanation at face value. The revision you all have posted, I think, both honors Spurgeon and enables AiG to maintain its own perspective on how it believes Christians should interpret the biblical record. And I am delighted to acknowledge your revision and to broadcast it to that portion of the blogosphere to which I speak.

Again, thank you.

Having said that, however, I would like to address your opening paragraphs and your conclusion. Because they distress me. Quite a bit.

I’m not exactly sure how to express this. But I will try to do it in the most helpful and God-honoring manner possible.

You see, if it weren’t for the fact that your organization–actually, above and beyond any other organization with which I, personally, have had the opportunity (or misfortune
, as the case may be) to interact–has acted very much contrary to the principles by which you urge the "rest of us" to operate.

I say that because of my distinct memory of how your organization, and, particularly, your president, Ken Ham, treated me over the two-year period between late 1999 and 2001–in public speeches before homeschool convention audiences, in magazine articles, and, even, in statements made by AiG customer service representatives over the phone to "whoever happened to ask" [a fact I confirmed, eventually, by calling in to AiG while pretending to be a potential Sonlight customer. I said I had been told that AiG was warning people not to buy from Sonlight and wondered why. Your customer service manager at the time explained exactly why AiG was warning people away from Sonlight. –Except the reasons were all based on false information] . . .

You see, at that time–and at least till 2004, when your organization published Jonathan Sarfati’s Hold on, Mr Holzmann article on your website–no one at Answers in Genesis ever approached me or anyone else at Sonlight Curriculum, Ltd., to get ourside of the stories you-all told about us or to get your facts straight.

So, I wonder: Beyond expressing your discomfort with how you believe I and, apparently, others behaved ourselves over the last two days,

  • Are your pleas also a declaration of a change of heart and change of policy on the part of AiG with how it treats–and plans to treat–those with whom it believes it is in disagreement? I.e., has AiG now dedicated itself to act–as it has most definitelynot acted in the past–so that it no longer (and willno longer) discuss the views or practices or beliefs or teachings of those with whom it believes it is in disagreement . . . unless and until it has, as you said, done "the Proverbs 18 thing"?

    Put another way, are you saying AiG has now dedicated itself never to "use a public arena like the worldwide web [and/or magazine articles and/or homeschool conventions and/or radio programs and/or seminars, etc.] to denigrate other Christians/ministries for [any shortcoming that AiG believes it has discovered] without first contacting those persons (or ministr[ies]) to get [their] perspectives–and thus hear all sides before coming to a conclusion (per Proverbs 18:13)– and certainly before going public"?

    If so, let me congratulate you heartily, and tell you how glad I am to hear of your organization’s wonderful new commitment!

    . . . But/and, moreover, if this is so,

  • I would sincerely appreciate learning from you how AiG works these things out in practice. I mean, for example, how do you make sure you have contacted your presumed opponent? How much time do you give him or her or them to respond? How many rounds will you go with him/her/them in private before bringing the issue out into the public sphere? . . .

    If Answers in Genesis has established those kinds of policies and practices, would you please share them with us? Truly. I cannot guarantee I will adopt all of them myself. But I think your open leadership and guidance in these matters could–pretty much as you implied by your email–go a long way toward revolutionizing relationships among Christians for the good.

    On the other hand, if your organization has notcommitted itself to such standards of behavior . . . Ummm . . . I don’t even want to finish this sentence. The prospect is too horrible even to consider.

I am so hoping to hear a set of positive responses from you . . .

Sincerely,
In Christ,
John Holzmann

I hope you take the time to read through Holzmann’s response carefully, because it raises a point that I haven’t seen discussed, yet I think is key to brothers dwelling together in harmony: Answers in Genesis, along with many others, are insisting that Christians adhere to principles that have barely been articulated, much less submitted to the church for discussion and consideration. It may very well be that those principles are clearly scriptural and will be easily accepted by all. But it should be a warning sign for Answers in Genesis and others that those who disagree with them seem not only to be violating those principles right and left, but are responding mostly with puzzled looks when those principles are invoked.

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The crisis as seen by a law student

A ground-level report on the effects of the current economic crisis, from a law student.

I’m a third year at a law school in Boston. Basically, everything we’ve dreamed of and been promised by our advisers/professors is no longer available. Job offers already accepted have pushed their starting dates back from September to January.  Students are receiving surprise rejections for bar study loans, and I know a few who literally cannot afford the bar exam application fee ($820) because of it, let alone the bar prep courses.  For the first time in any professor’s memory, students received offers for clerkships in the Massachusetts Superior Courts contingent upon funding to be established this spring. I hope to work in a government job with an agency or attorney general’s office, but am finding that there are literally no entry-level positions available, even for students from highly-ranked schools such as BC and BU.

I myself worked at the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General for the past nine months and interviewed for a really exciting fellowship. I received a call from the AGO’s HR Director:  I was third in line for the position, but they were cutting the number they were hosting from three to one.  In four other positions I’ve interviewed for, I’ve received word that the position itself was canceled, or would not be filled at all this year.  There’s also a state-wide hiring freeze in Massachusetts, and a lot of established attorneys suddenly on the market after record layoffs in Boston law firms.

I am extremely flexible in terms of geographic location (no kids, I don’t own property), and I’m being very aggressive in my search.  But it’s slow going – I fully expect to have nothing lined up when I finish the bar exam at the end of July.  The thought of having nothing, absolutely nothing, to do on August 1st petrifies me.

Without a job, I will not be able to afford malpractice insurance on my own and would not risk practicing law without it. I’ll have over $130K in debt from my law degree. Thankfully, I live in Massachusetts and can utilize MassHealth – anywhere else in the country, I would have to do without health insurance (I have no pre-existing conditions, but the quotes I’ve received are so high as to be ridiculous).  If I stay in the city, I do not know what I’d do for rent.  I’m 26 years old, and am frightened to death I will have to move back to Ohio and away from my gay community, and live with my parents.  With a law degree.  I feel like a chump sometimes.

Peggy Noonan on the crisis

Sigh. I suppose if I keep at it, after a million years or so I will be able to write as clearly, unpretentiously, and engagingly as Peggy Noonan. Meanwhile I’ll just enjoy the fact that she can do what she does, and try to learn from her.

Noonan’s latest column is just about perfect Noonan, beginning with some modest but real journalism which leads to a modest but penetrating insight. She walked around Manhattan for a day to get a ground-level look at how the economic crisis is unfolding:

A moment last Monday, just after noon, in Manhattan. It’s slightly overcast, not cold, a good day for walking. I’m in the 90s on Fifth heading south, enjoying the broad avenue, the trees, the wide cobblestone walkway that rings Central Park. Suddenly I realize: Something’s odd here. Something’s strange. It’s quiet. I can hear each car go by. The traffic’s not an indistinct roar. The sidewalks aren’t full, as they normally are. It’s like a holiday, but it’s not, it’s the middle of a business day in February. I thought back to two weeks before when a friend and I zoomed down Park Avenue at evening rush hour in what should have been bumper-to-bumper traffic.

This is New York five months into hard times.

Then some details:

If you want to feel the bruise of what’s happened, pick a neighborhood full of shops and go up and down the street. Here’s Second Avenue in the 80s. A jewelry and consignment store on 84th has a new sign on the window: "We Buy Gold." Paul is at the counter, spraying the tarnish off a silver chain. How’s business? "No buyin’, no sellin’, no nothin’. It’s a joke. People scared. They’re in shock." Nearby, an empty storefront, a bar that had been in business only 10 months. The sign on the window—you see it all over Manhattan now—says, "Retail Space Available." Next door, in a small beauty salon, the owner says "We’re trying to survive." In September business plummeted. It’s down "at least 30%," she says. July and August had been surprisingly good; her clients didn’t go away on vacation. In the fall they were fired. "They lost the job, so they don’t need to cut and color so much."

In a liquor store just off 82nd, the owner, from India, says volume is still high but profits are down. "In business, if you have a product under $15, is good. People used to spend $70, $80 on a bottle of wine, all the bankers, the young kids. Nothing moving more than $15."

On 81st, the kosher restaurant has closed. On 79th, the Talbots is gone. "Left a few months ago," says the doorman next door.

And then some more details, and then the first reflection:

Politicians keep saying, "People have to begin to understand we’re in bad shape," and "People should realize it’s a crisis." I think they know, Sherlock. Do you? Our political leaders are like a doctor who rushes to the scene of a terrible crash, bends over a hemorrhaging woman and says, "This is serious, lady, you can’t take it lightly." She looks up at him: "Help me, do something, I’m bleeding out!" The doctor, to the local TV cameras: "I hope she knows she’s in trouble."

I love that, except for the part about our political leaders being like doctors. They are not. They are even more ignorant than the average person about the situation, but still loud and pushy, trying to look like they’re in charge of a situation they don’t understand and aren’t the slightest bit competent to manage.

The column could have stopped there for me, but it goes on to a slightly deeper thought, one that is more obvious but still worth pondering.

Good Morning Neighbor

The Ridgewood Boys will be performing on the Hour of Harvest program on WLJC-TV this coming May. The program is so homemade that you can’t help but be charmed by it, or at least I can’t. The quality of the music is all over the map, at least as far as professionalism goes, but it is always heartfelt and sometimes it is surprisingly good.

We aren’t set up to watch anything but DVDs on television so we can’t see the program when it is broadcast, but they do archive some of the programs on the internet, and I’ve been watching some of those to get a feel for how to approach performing there. Most of the stuff I skipped through pretty quickly, but a performance by Don Lovins and Friends was pretty good, so I slowed it down a bit, and stopped short when I heard them perform this song, “Good Morning Neighbor”:

Chorus:

    Good morning neighbor, it’s a pretty day
    Let’s all go to church, yeah, I’m on my way
    Gonna lose my sorrow and every care
    Good morning neighbor, I’ll see you there

Now I ain’t got no money to put in to Sunday School today
I’ve looked under the rug and just about everywhere
But when I get my Bible and head on down the road
Well, I feel just like a multi-millionaire

Now all I’ve got to wear to church is this old blue serge suit
And it looks just like a real hand me down
But when I get my Bible and head on down the road
Well I feel just like the mayor of the town

You see this old brown hat that I keep hanging on a nail
About the funniest looking hat I’ve ever seen
But when I get my Bible and head on down the road
Well I feel just like a new crowned king

Now, some songs are just tailor-made for the Ridgewood Boys, and this is one of them. Looking around the internet for info about it, I got a few more shocks. First, it was written by Porter Wagoner, who was always sort of a joke to me in my high school years, what with his corny outfits and perfect pompadour and giggly singing partner, a then-little-known Dolly Parton. But Wagoner wrote another one of our favorite songs that we sing often, “Highway Headed South,” and so I’m not surprised that he wrote this, only that one more of his songs fits us so well.

Second, it has hardly been recorded by anyone else, as far as I can tell. I couldn’t even find an mp3 of Porter himself singing it; it seems to appear only on a couple of obscure albums, and the man probably released upwards of one hundred of them. We ended up learning it from the video of Don Lovins, and we’re certainly glad to do what we can to spread its fame.

Third, while searching for the lyrics I ran across this post by our old friend Tom Scepaniak, the Northern Farmer. Turns out that one of his local radio stations plays it every morning as they sign on!

Anyway, I found the song this past Sunday, Chris and I spent some time working on it that afternoon, and after a couple of run-throughs tonight we went ahead and made a quick recording of it. The sound isn’t as good as it ought to be, since I forgot to push a particular button on the recorder, but it’s good enough for our version in its current raw form.

Good Morning Neighbor (2.7Mb mp3)

Changing domain name registrars

Carmon Friedrich once told me that I shouldn’t apologize for the potential boringness of a blog post. So I won’t. But I must warn you that the following tale will likely interest you only if you are deep into managing your own website. I include it for the sake of those who need to know and with Google’s help may stumble across it.

Our bookstore has gone through many incarnations in cyberspace. At the time we changed our name to Cumberland Books we were using Yahoo as a hosting service, and so we registered our new domain name with them. Back then Yahoo was offering significant bargains on registration, so we were happy enough with the price we paid (though I don’t recall what it was). Since then we’ve registered other domain names, some with Yahoo while it was still cheap, the rest with GoDaddy after Yahoo stopped offering bargain prices.

Recently I received an email from Yahoo informing me that (a) our domain name was about to auto-renew, and (b) they had drastically raised the renewal price they charge, from $10 per year to $35 per year. Well, $35 is ridiculously high; there are many places, GoDaddy among them, which would charge me around $10 per year. So I decided to grit my teeth and endure the pain of transferring my domain name from Yahoo to GoDaddy.

Well, it turns out that since I last look the domain registrar world has significantly streamlined the process of transferring a domain name. At GoDaddy, the receiving registrar, all I needed to do was pay for the transfer and then type in a code number that I found at Yahoo which would prove to Yahoo that it was indeed me asking for the transfer. GoDaddy then sent a request to Yahoo asking them to approve the transfer.

At that point Yahoo was supposed to send me an email asking me to confirm that I wanted the domain transferred. That never happened, but I wasn’t able to find anyone on the internet complaining that Yahoo was in the habit of not doing this, so I assume there was some sort of glitch.

Ultimately it didn’t matter, because as long as the registrar losing the domain doesn’t complain within five days to the registrar taking the domain, the transfer is automatically approved. So if Yahoo had done what it was supposed to do the transfer would have happened right away, but as it was I had to wait five days for it.

Note to Yahoo users: transferring the domain does not automatically cancel your “plan” with Yahoo; they will continue to charge you for renewing the domain they no longer control until you explicitly cancel your arrangement with them. However, they recommend (and I suppose it’s a good idea) that you not cancel the plan until the transfer is complete.

After five days GoDaddy completed the transfer automatically. At that point I cancelled the Yahoo service. But I failed to tell GoDaddy, the new domain manager, exactly where to find our website (which is hosted by yet another service, LunarPages). What I should have done was told GoDaddy to use the LunarPages name server for the cumberlandbooks.com domain. Because I didn’t do that our website temporarily disappeared from the internet, and even after I fixed the problem it took a day or so for the internet to propagate the new information to all corners.

Upshot:

  • Don’t pay Yahoo’s exorbitant domain service charges; move your domain name elsewhere.
  • Do it with more than five days to spare before renewal, so that you don’t have to cancel you plan before the name is transferred.
  • Be sure to tell the new registrar where your domain lives by updating the name server addresses.

Do-it-yourself publishing

I gather Amazon’s CreateSpace operation has been around for awhile, but I only just discovered it. I am amazed. Through CreateSpace you can not only create books, audio CDs, DVDs, and audio and video downloads, but for a royalty you can also offer them for sale through both CreateSpace and Amazon.

The prices are the lowest I’ve seen for on-demand book printing, and with the fewest restrictions. And for audio CD replication (i.e. in quantities 1,000 or greater) the price is not the absolute lowest, but pretty close.

These guys are definitely my first choice now for book publishing, and I’ll be looking more closely at them for CDs as well.