Terraforming and Living on Mars

Over 50 years ago scientists and futurists began discussing that we had reached the point technologically that we could alter the atmospheres on other planets and make them suitable for human life, plants and animals (google terraforming and Carl Sagan). 17 years ago NASA scientist Robert Zubrin put forth a way to begin the colonization of Mars for the cost of one stealth bomber (Robert Zubrin, The Case for Mars).

Mars is considered the easiest planet for us to “terraform”. Mars has polar ice caps (the north is water, the south C02). Mars has an atmosphere which we can thicken up, heat and oxygenate a variety of ways (melt the caps, get the hydrological cycle going, rev up the volcanoes, introduce mosses, algae, lichens to begin with, and then more complex plants, build a smokestack and crank out CFCs!) Mars’ soil (regolith) contains the basic components we need to make oxygen, bricks and other things. It’s fascinating to consider an entire world within reaching distance where humans could expand onto – a new version of the colonization of North America.

But for most North American Christians, considering the terraforming and settling of Mars is outside the boundaries of their theological imaginations, because they assume the return of Jesus is relatively imminent and what business do we have on other planets anyway?

Here’s my answer to that: the period between Jesus’ first advent and second advent has already encompassed over 2000 years, despite the fact that most of the New Testament generation seemed to expect it would happen during their lifetime. There’s no indication that God won’t wait another 10,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 years. We simply have no way of gauging that. Acting as if we only need think about the next 50 years is not good stewardship, literally. We should assume we have 10,000 years ahead of us in this solar system and plan accordingly.

And while we are talking about stewardship, the Genesis image is that we are granted the role of stewards, managers, household directors of God’s good Creation. The planets are part of God’s creation. If we know how to extend our reach to make them good places for humans to live, why wouldn’t we? It’s similar to the settlement of North America by Europeans, just a different direction.

The carrying capacity of earth is notoriously hard to figure. Numbers thought rock solid 200 years ago are laughable today. We feed 50 times as many people as was thought possible in 1813. One thing for sure though, if we want a human civilization of well-being to include the people of the southern hemisphere and Asia, we will be wanting more space at some point in history. Extending our stewardship to further parts of God’s creation brings glory to Him, I believe, rather than transgressing some imaginary bounds.

Since white people aren’t starving in large numbers, Western governments don’t have a compelling reason to spend money on the settlement of Mars. Thus, at present only private industry is seriously looking at an upcoming attempt. I’m sure once settlement is viable and there are economic gains to be made, governments will suddenly realize they have wonderful, altruistic reasons to control and regulate the settlement of Mars and elsewhere (think Antarctic Treaty). In the meantime it would be nice for the Christian worldview to be one of the voices at the table for the development of God’s cosmos.

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Revelation for Beginners: Ways Most Scholars Approach Revelation

I think it true to say that most bible scholars approach the last book of the bible (Revelation) with the understanding that the book was primarily addressed to the situation the seven churches found themselves in. Thus much, or even most, of the imagery concerns the time they were living in, not some far-flung time in the future (or our present). This is also a view common throughout Christian history (that Revelation was primarily about the seven churches’ situation).

What this means is that we should not come to the book of Revelation with a newspaper in our hands, trying to figure out if we are getting close to things described in Revelation. Christians who have done this down through the centuries have thought they were living in the scenes described. The Black Plague? The fall of Rome? The Huns or Mongols ravaging the countryside unstoppable? The conquest of Jerusalem by the Muslims? The break up of the Doobie Brothers? We could go on and on, but suffice it to say people read their experiences into Revelation very easily.

Secondly, scholars do not take the imagery literally in Revelation. All of the cosmic, colorful, monstrous symbolisms in Revelation were a very common and well-known style of writing for the 200 years before John wrote Revelation. Scholars do not think Jesus will invent a new martial art where he holds his sword in his mouth. They see this as a symbolic way to say Jesus’ words cut to the center of reality – the word of God being “sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4: 12). Scholars do not believe John expected his readers to see four giant horsemen riding through the air above Ephesus, bringing war and chaos into the world. War, civil strife, economic disaster and death were riding hard in John’s day and had been for centuries. Scholars do not believe the beasts from sea or land are creatures out of Godzilla movies we should watch out for.

And most scholars do not believe Revelation is some sort of predicted roadmap laying out a sequence of events we should watch for. The seals, for instance, aren’t necessarily to be interpreted as being in a chronological sequence. The vision of the first four seals does not necessarily have any sequential relationship to the fifth seal. But most all of the scenes in Revelation describe very well the situation going on for the Christians John was writing to, and for many Christians finding themselves oppressed and persecuted by various regimes in the centuries since.

So basically, if you want to explore the approach to Revelation shared by most of the world’s professional Bible scholars, completely ignore everything you hear from TV and radio preachers regarding Revelation and “the end of the world”, ignore Hal Lindsey’s books and the Left Behind Series.

 

Revelation for beginners: Wrong Ways to Read Revelation

One of my concerns as a pastor is that most Americans read the book of Revelation in the New Testament in ways which are harmful and counter-productive to their own understanding of God and our work to make the world a place more in line with His will.

Because the way we view the end affects what means we are willing to use to get there, how we read the book of Revelation has profound affects, I believe, on all sorts of everyday issues in Christianity. And, the way most Americans read Revelation is wildly off track from the way bona fide professional Bible scholars from all over the Christian family tree believe Revelation is to be understood.  When I say ‘bona fide Bible scholars’ what I mean is people who have committed their professional life to studying the Scriptures, have become recognized experts regarding parts of the Bible, their work stands up to peer review across the denominational spectrum and is recognized as solid, quality work, regardless of whether they are Lutheran, Catholic, Nazarene, Pentecostal, Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, Mennonite or whatever.  So, for example, a Nazarene scholar would say “Yes, bible scholars from all over the denominational landscape (Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc) agree that Roman Catholic Joseph Fitzmyer is a first rate scholar of the book of Luke…”

Now that you know what I mean by ‘bona fide bible scholars’, here’s my point: the way most Americans read Revelation is wildly off track of the way 98% of the world’s bona fide bible scholars believe it is to be understood. Most Americans approach Revelation through the lens of movies, the Left Behind novels and a strange American mixture where other New Testament passages from the gospels and epistles are folded in with the images in Revelation and end up with a terrifying result. A good example are passages in the Gospels where Jesus is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem that would occur in 70 AD (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 17 etc). Generations of Christians from the earliest times to within a couple hundred years ago understood Jesus was talking about what the Romans did in 70 AD (exactly as he predicted). However prophecy preachers on TV and the radio today use those passages as if they are about the end of the world, and mix them up with the Book of Revelation. The results are troubling to me as a pastor.

It will take several posts to unwind all that I am talking about here, but I will close this one by simply listing a few of the problems this approach creates. In later posts I will unpack more of all this.

–         Using Revelation as if it is a predictive roadmap of things that have to occur before Jesus can return strips of all authority Jesus’ many assertions that His return could be anytime.

–         Taking the many symbolic, poetic scenes in Revelation literally make it sound as if Jesus has had a change of heart while in heaven. During his first visit he was content to use love and avoid violence and coercion, but during his second coming he has decided that didn’t work so he is in a killing mood.

–         Taking passages of Revelation literally makes it sound as if my granny has become a violent person while enjoying the presence of Jesus in heaven. Prophecy preachers today actually tell us the sky will open up and our deceased Christian grandparents will be on horseback and come riding down from the sky with swords to kill the armies (usually Muslims)  surrounding Jerusalem. I have a hard time believing heaven has made my granny a more violent person. My granny might make a bad person a plate of cookies and hope her act of kindness drew their heart toward God’s goodness, but she was never interested in killing bad folk. This type of interpretation strikes me as toxic and sick.

–         Prophecy preachers have created a mishmash of so many bible passages that they end up saying Jesus’ return is like him swinging by a drive-through window to pick up what he wants (his Christians) and then leave. But this “rapture” is not a Scriptural idea – the return of the Lord was understood as Jesus returning to earth, setting everything right and the righteous (meek) – rather than leaving – inherit the earth. It’s not the righteous who get pulled out of the harvest field, it’s the weeds (Luke 13:37).

–         The end of the world scenarios so common among prophecy preachers cast God as someone who has given up on His Creation and is going to destroy it. This images God as someone telling Noah He will never destroy the earth with water again, but snickering in His sleeve and telling someone off-stage in a whisper “Next time I’ll use fire.” But the Scriptures tell us of a God who wants to heal and restore the world, making all things new (not “all new things”) and a Jesus who has “reconciled everything on heaven and earth…”. The ways people read Revelation today make it bad news. John intended it to be good news.

–         Many of the assumptions common to the Left Behind/ prophecy industry indicate that Jesus’ return is surely very soon. Many people are asking a good question today: if Christians believe the world will end within the next 5 or 10 or 25 years, how can we expect them to meaningfully contribute to trying to solve long-term problems that will take us 100, much less 300, years or more to solve?

There’s a lot more to unpack regarding Revelation. Christians haven’t always read Revelation the way we do today. And we’ll look at a lot more of this in upcoming posts.

Bio

Bio

Hello! My name is Todd and I currently serve on the staff of the Mt. Vernon (Ohio) First Church of the Nazarene, as well as working with several community agencies addressing poverty, in ministries to the immigrant community, and as an adjunct professor.

I have a Master of Arts in International Development from Eastern University (St. Davids, PA), a Master of Divinity (Missiology emphasis) from Nazarene Theological Seminary (Kansas City, MO), and a BA in Philosophy & Religion from Point Loma Nazarene University (San Diego, CA).

I’ve had the gratifying experience of serving as a lead pastor in the Church of the Nazarene for 24 years (on the coasts of both Maine and Ohio, and 19 years with the same congregation in the mountains of Pennsylvania). Before that, I’ve been a youth pastor on the coasts of California and Florida, worked in environmental biology and endangered species, and taught school, including at the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona.

I’ve worked and/or lived short-term in the Azores, Haiti, Indonesia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.  My wife and I have 2 daughters and 4 sons, two of whom are married, and we are grandparents. I work in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and can get along in Indonesian.

Some of the things I love include ecology, hunting and fishing year-round, backpacking, canoeing, gardening, tinkering with and shooting 19th century infantry rifles, the beach, Mars, history, Jewish/Christian/Muslim theology, wilderness survival, 18th Century Native American living skills, and building a sustainable/durable civilization for the future.

The sections of the blog:

The Church of the Nazarene

This section is concerned with discussions going on in our particular tribe within the Christian faith.

 

Postmodernism and Emerging Christianity

With Christian faith in the West undergoing yet another phase-change, issues of theology and practice are up again for discussion, just as they have been over and over again throughout the centuries, as Christians struggled to live and serve faithfully within the cultural contexts they found themselves in. Some doctrines have come to the fore once again, as some answers have been stretched beyond their useful lifespan and we are wrestling with the shape of this or that doctrine for today.

 

Theology, Scripture, Theologians

A catchall category for these three subjects within the Christian faith

 

Theology and Science

This section hits the interplay between theology and the sciences, including, due to my degree in Development, economic theory. I also draw from my occupational background in environmental biology and endangered species. (I try to keep up with the research.) I was employed in the California Gnatcatcher and Least Bell’s Vireo Endangered Species projects, as well as the Salton Sea Waterfowl Lawsuit of 1989.

 

Other Religions

Some of the Christian greats, such as Martin Luther and John Wesley, among many more, have cautioned that it is a breach of Christian Love to speak inaccurately of other faiths. Alongside that, history has shown that discussing things together often leads to good and productive outcomes.

 

Everything Else

If it doesn’t fit into the other categories…

General Assembly Resolution on Hell

I wrote a resolution regarding our Nazarene Article of Faith which deals with “hell”.  Christian views of what happens to people after they die, if they never knew Jesus, has become a topic of interest in our society among people considering Christianity as a possibility for their life. What was once a subject only Seminarians kicked around over coffee has become one of the questions people ask when trying to figure out if Christianity is a healthy or sick belief system. Below is the resolution I wrote and if you follow this link you can see the representative bible passages associated with each of the three historic doctrines of hell.  To see the Scriptures, scroll down past the resolution.

https://sp.nazarene.org/gar/Shared%20Documents/English/Resolutions/Special%20Judicial/JUD-808.pdf

Resolution:

WHEREAS the Church of the Nazarene historically has intentionally and consistently avoided taking debatable positions concerning eschatology in our Articles of Faith; and,

WHEREAS there are abundant exegetical grounds for all three historic positions concerning interpretation of the duration of hell, that is: the interpretations of everlasting conscious torment, annihilation of the wicked, and limited duration leading to a reconciliation of all things; and,

WHEREAS none of the three interpretations are impenetratable to the strongest Scriptures brought to bear by the other two positions; and,

WHEREAS  we have included  in our Articles of Faith the single interpretation of the doctrine of hell which most calls into question the very nature of God and the goodness of the Christian faith  to people who are unenculturated to evangelical Christianity and whom we are seeking to draw to Christ; and,

WHEREAS this unnecessarily puts up a barrier to faith; and

WHEREAS  there is strong support in both the Early Church Fathers and the Reformers for interpretations of hell other than everlasting conscious torment, and that those exegetes were paying close attention to the original languages; and

WHEREAS all three interpretations, contrary to popular misunderstanding,  leave plenty of room for important Biblical doctrines such as final judgment, justice, condemnation and punishment; and,

WHEREAS the aforementioned doctrines are not synonymous with the word ‘hell’; and,

WHEREAS the Scriptures use a variety of  place-names to describe the location of the fate  of the wicked, including Sheol, Gehenna, Abaddon, Tartares and Hades and our Article demonstrates no recognition of this diversity;

THEREFORE with concern for doctrinal consistency in the area of eschatology and the desire to safeguard against raising unnecessary barriers to faith among the un-evangelized for whom Christ died, the Mid-Atlantic District requests the Board of General Superintendents to commission a study-group of Nazarene theologians, biblical scholars and practitioners to study whether the word ‘eternally’ should continue to be included in Article XVI no. 22,  and to report to the next General Assembly, or doctrinal committee thereof, their exegetical findings and conclusions.

Being Nazarene and Nazarene Theology

I love the Church of the Nazarene. When I was 10 years old we moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia and began looking for a church. We didn’t know anything about Nazarenes, but Atlanta First Church was a group of lively, loving, friendly people and they had  great children and youth programs. We stayed.

Nazarenes led me to repentance and faith in Jesus. Nazarenes discipled me. Nazarenes taught me about selling out completely to God and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in my life. Nazarenes affirmed my call to ministry. Nazarenes educated me in college and graduate school. Nazarenes provided me avenues of service, opportunities to be in ministry. Nazarenes ordained me.

I love the Church of the Nazarene. I owe her more than I can express. If you cut me, I bleed Nazarene. I love what Nazarenes are doing for the good of the peoples of the world. I love being with Nazarenes around the world. I love the place we inhabit on the theological spectrum and the wideness of our Wesleyan understanding of Christian theology and spirituality.  All true.

Also true is that I clearly understand myself to theologically inhabit a particular stream within the Church of the Nazarene. As I see it, there are predominantly two major streams of Christian tradition within the Church of the Nazarene. One stream is the American Holiness movement. It was a very mixed bag theologically. It affirmed some ideas I would not affirm. Maybe in some future post I will list some of them. It also sometimes had an anti-intellectual bent. The other stream was the Wesleyan Anglicanism inherited from John Wesley through the Methodist movement. I surely reside amidst this theological worldview. At times, there are differences of perspective between these two streams. Whenever these two streams diverge, I consistently find myself affirming the stances of the Wesleyan perspective rather than the Holiness Movement.

Wesley’s views were orthodox, familiar with the wide scope of Christian thought down through 18 centuries, well read and broad. He welcomed dialogue and friendship with other Christians even if they did not see eye to eye theologically. He still considered those he disagreed with to be genuine Christians. In fact, surprising considering the England of his day, Wesley affirmed his brotherhood with the Roman Catholics and urged them to work together with him for God’s Kingdom.  I love John Wesley’s spirit and his theology. He deserves the moniker “first rate” in many ways.

Also true is that being “in harmony with the doctrines… of the Church of the Nazarene” (Manual 39), has never meant, judging from the history of Nazarene General Assemblies, that an ordained elder was saying  he or she thought the Articles of Faith, as they currently stood, could never be improved upon. Thus, if I write about issues in our theology that I believe ought to change, including wordings in our Articles of Faith, I certainly do not mean I do not love the Church of the Nazarene or our theology. I love it all the more.