Category Archives: doctrine

A word about laminins (repost)

(On Sunday we watched the video “How Great is Our God” at church; I was unexpectedly given the opportunity to share some some previous thoughts on why we should be more discerning about the claims made in that video concerning laminin, a particular molecule. I wrote it 2 years ago on another blog – so here it is again, condensed into one article.)

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Laminin, a quiet and generally unreported molecule, is astonishingly popular in evangelical Christian circles. A casual search on google carries a plethora of links relating to laminin. In America you can buy shirts boldly proclaiming laminin. It’s the topic of numerous chain emails and social media spreads. Even in Auckland, New Zealand, I have once heard this humble glycoprotein being proudly expounded from the pulpit.

The renown of this particular molecule has partly been fueled by this particular presentation by evangelist Louie Giglio (watch the presentation below):

Many Christians have since then leapt onto this observation as the fulfilment of Colossians 1:17. Some go so far as to proclaim this cell-adhesion molecule as an ad hoc gospel. However, I have some genuine concerns for the way this particular section of Colossians has become exegeted in the majority of the laminin-loving blogosphere, and the ramifications of this for thinking, believing Christians.

Here’s a number of reasons (both scientific and spiritual) why more discernment would be helpful regarding laminin.

1. A molecule’s illustrated shape varies from its real-life shape.

I’m a medical writer by trade, so when Louie Giglio flashed the cross-shaped diagram of laminin on-screen I recognised it as a scientific illustration. Those who study chemistry and molecular biology will understand that diagrams like this don’t actually represent accurate protein shapes, but are drawn out to help the scientist or student see the main components of a biological structure.

You then also have to take into account that proteins move and change their conformation frequently. Giglio’s electron microscope photograph of the laminin in real life is at best, a chance capture of laminin’s genuine shape at and worst, a misrepresentation of the truth – consider the following thoughts by author of the “Exploring Creation…” textbooks, Dr Jay E. Wile:

Indeed, the electron microscope picture that Louie Giglio gives in his sermon represents just one possible shape for laminin. Consider this image, which contains two different electron microscope images of laminin:

Two TEMS of laminin

It looks to me like the bottom one is the one that Louie Giglio used, rotated 90 degrees. This makes me wonder if he intentionally edited out the other image. In any event, the top one shows what any molecular biology graduate student would know: proteins change conformation in order to do their job. The shape at any given time is most likely transitory.

The impression that Giglio gives that all these molecules in our body just sit around being cross-shaped is actually far from reality. In fact, I’m more encouraged that God created laminins to be far more complex than a stylised diagram: to me, it serves to magnify his greatness. Why would I worship a God that would design cell-adhesion molecules to be so inflexible as to hold a singular shape? Is it not more amazing that laminin molecules were designed with the ability to change their shape to do their job?

2. We don’t need laminins to be cross-shaped to affirm the truth of Colossians 1.

The biggest concern for me is when Christian T-shirts, blogs and facebook threads conclude that Colossians 1:17 directly refers to the laminin molecule. This divorces the verse from the rest of the section’s context (Col. 1:15-20), where one can read a moving description by the Apostle Paul of the lordship of Christ in relation to both creation and redemption. What we can draw from verse 17 is that Christ does continually sustain his creation, preventing it from falling into chaos and disintegration (Heb. 1:3). What we can’t conclude from this verse is that Christ is primarily using vaguely-cross-shaped molecules to hold all things together. Indeed in Hebrews 1:3, we see that Christ does this instead by “the word of his power” – not just Giglio’s stylised version of laminin molecules.

If God really wanted us to affirm the truth in Colossians 1 by stating that laminins were his signature, He would have made this clear in scripture. In the meantime, Colossians 1:17 is not just about laminins. I’d encourage everyone to read the passage in its entirety, particularly through to verses 21-23 which ties up the passage beautifully with the offer of Christ’s reconciliation through “the hope of the gospel”.

3. There are better examples of observable molecules that point to our Creator.

If Christian evangelists like Giglio really wanted more substantial candidates for purposeful design and creation, the laminin molecule is a poor choice. While the bulk of Wikipedia editors and neo-Darwinists will beg to differ, some better examples of observable molecules in the body that have been mooted to show evidence of design include:

  • the blood clotting cascade – Dr Michael Behe coined the term “irreducible complexity” to describe biochemical systems that comprise of many interactive and well-matched parts that are unlikely to have evolved naturally, as “the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning”.
  • DNA – the linked article gives an informed overview of the intricate nature of DNA. Even since my undergraduate studies there have already been new things discovered about DNA that show that it is far more complex and purposeful than just “a genetic zipper”. The ENCODE project published its findings in Nature, basically stating that DNA is immensely more complex than previously thought (you can read the abstract here: it’s quite technical)
  • the white blood cell – check out this video by Harvard University’s Bio Visions team. It illustrates complex cellular functions such as kinesins motoring along microtubules, mitochondria doing its work as the cell’s “energy pack”, and so on – much like a finely-tuned automobile.

The problem is that it takes a lot of work to try and help someone understand the intricacies of something like DNA, which even today scientists do not fully grasp. On the other hand, any layperson can easily be told that an object is a particular shape. Perhaps the reason why laminin is so popular is not because it inherently shows more evidence of purposeful design, but because Giglio has told everyone it is cross-shaped. In this case it has become less about science and more about subjectivity.

4. A preoccupation with laminins overshadows the Bible and the Gospel.

Some people who discover this message will literally say that they have fallen in love with laminin. When this is at the expense of loving Jesus I have to say I become less enthused by the ramifications of Giglio’s message. In fact, when you think about it carefully, Giglio’s self-described “left hook” actually didn’t lead to us learning anything new about God. Sure, it made us feel that God is a big and vast creator of everything (particularly earlier in the show when he makes the comparison between the sizes of planets). But you don’t need a cross-shaped laminin to tell you that: you could have just read the Bible and got it straight from the Creator’s mouth (2 Chronicles 2:5-6, Isaiah 44:24, Revelation 4:11).

This draws the bigger question: for proponents of the laminin-gospel, is the Bible not enough to convince them of God’s greatness? Dr Georgia Purdom from AnswersinGenesis.org notes the following (emphasis mine):

The main problem with this type of argument is that it appears that something outside of Scripture (in this case, laminin) is vital to know the truthfulness of a biblical truth. Laminin is used to prove a biblical truth. However, we should never use our fallible, finite understanding of the world to judge the infallible Word of God. What we observe in the world can certainly be used to confirm God’s Word (and it does), but our finite observations are not in a position to evaluate the infinite things of God. Only if we start with the Bible as our ultimate standard can we have a worldview that is rational and makes sense of the evidence…

… certainly God can use signs to reveal things, and that is evident from Scripture. In Luke 2:12 an angel tells the shepherds, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” However, Jesus also admonishes those that improperly seek signs (Matthew 16:4). In today’s “fast food” society, many people prefer the “drive-thru” when it comes to knowing God’s truths. A sign is much quicker than studying and reasoning from the Scriptures, taking the time to pray, and discussing God’s Word with other believers.

When folks are resorting to editing the Wikipedia article to defend their laminin-driven pareidolia, then perhaps we as Christians may have an unhealthy fixation on signs and symbols. It’s as much an indictment on our generation’s short attention spans and inability to apply discernment that we baulk at doing solid research into the Scriptures, yet readily put our weight behind spurious images of Jesus “seen” in objects from Marmite to cat’s fur. Unfortunately, there are other Christian speakers out there who will teach in the same way – with an intense focus on obscure conspiracy theories fuelled by questionable Scripture interpretations.

Yet here’s the most important point: all this fixation on laminins is time-consuming and is at the expense of the gospel “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:1-4). I know some will argue that talking about laminin is a good way to then start a conversation about the gospel – but once I’m called out for using a poor and untrue argument, why would they want to listen to anything else I tell them? If I witnessed to a science graduate and tried to pull the laminin wool over their eyes, I would be laughed off and lose the opportunity to present anything further. Therefore our integrity and witness is lost, along with the chance to evangelise to those who need to hear it.

In closing: the way we would want to delve carefully into something like laminin is the same thing we ought to do regarding other topics in future. Without trusting and depending first and foremost on God’s Word to carefully inform our thinking, any one of us can get caught up in any number of “Christian” fads and misinformed truths. The Bereans in Acts got it right when they “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) My desire is that we would strive to do the same in all areas of our life.

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– William Chong

Why people sing in church

Thought I’d share a quote from a conversation between DA Carson and Tony Payne. Here, Carson suggests what he’d say during a church gathering/service to explain why there’s singing.

“Historically Christians are a singing people because we have so much to sing about. In this church, we sing songs from centuries past, and songs that have been written in the last five years. We’ll sing some of both tonight. And if some of these lyrics seem strange to you, nevertheless listen to the people of God as we delight to sing to the God who made us and has redeemed us.”

I’d say something like that. Then the very joy of corporate singing can have a telling effect on people. When I was here for the Katoomba Men’s Convention, I heard reports of guys who had never been to a Christian meeting of any sort, dialling up their wives on their mobile phones and saying, “Dear, these guys are nuts but just listen to them sing” and holding up their phones.

And of course there’s plenty in the Scriptures to help us understand the value of singing in a gathering of believers (Col 3:16-17, many of the Psalms, 1 Cor 14).

The rest of the discussion is worth a read – it articulates (much better) some of the same thoughts we explored as a music team a couple of weeks back when discussing our definitions of worship.

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– William

Worship: broadening our definitions

Last week I had the privilege of leading a short study with some of the folks that serve in a number of worship ministries at HBC. We spent our time looking at our definitions of the term “worship”. Then we examined the scriptures to see how the Bible discusses worship, and what we can learn from it. The main aim was to get members of our gathered worship ministries (musicians, audiovisual crew, etc.) thinking about their own understanding of worship, and how the Bible would help to inform it.

I have much to learn when leading a study like this. In particular, I need to leave more room for questions and discussions, not rush through content, and speak in a way that in understandable to the audience. But for what it’s worth, here are some of the notes from it. I’m pretty sure I’ve only barely scratched the surface in what could be said about worship. Any comments/suggestions for improvement would be much appreciated!

Handout:

Speaker notes:

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– William

D. A. Carson: “The God Who Is There” series

I’ve started listening to a free MP3 series called “The God Who Is There”:

On February 20-21 and 27-28, 2009, Don Carson presented a 14-part seminar entitled “The God Who Is There” at Bethlehem Baptist Church’s North Campus in Minneapolis. The series is geared toward “seekers” and articulates Christianity in a way that causes hearers either to reject or embrace the gospel. It’s one thing to know the Bible’s storyline, but it’s another to know one’s role in God’s ongoing story of redemption. “The God Who Is There” engages people at the worldview-level.

I’m only halfway through the first message, and it’s already a good challenge. Carson is a theologian by training, but clearly reads widely as he’s quoting (philosophers, scientists, statistics) left, right and centre. This series seems to be pitched not just for Christians, but also for skeptics, atheists and anyone who’s interested in understanding the story of God.

Plus he’s got a very interesting accent!

You can find the whole series here.

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– William

What you celebrate as a church: Kingdom People

Trevin Wax makes some really convicting points in this article. In it he describes a fictitious, but representative story of two Christians. They know the gospel, love Christ, but struggle to find a new home church that match up with their old church. An excerpt:

Rob’s Story

Rob grew up in a Southern Baptist church in the Deep South. His church believed the gospel and demonstrated genuine affection for the lost.

Even though the gospel was preached in Rob’s church, the deacons seemed to save their heartiest “Amens” for whenever the preacher went off script and started reminding them of all that set their church apart from the others in town. The preacher and congregation took pride in the fact that their church was traditional:

* Just gimme that “old-time religion” please!
* No need to project Bible verses up on some newfangled screen. (We actually expect people to bring their Bibles to church!)
* We like organs and hymns, and we refuse to dumb down our music for the 7/11 ditties you can hear on the radio 24/7.
* We dress up around here because we’re meeting King Jesus (and shouldn’t you wear your finest clothes for royalty?).
* Name the program you need and we’ve got it covered.
* From birth to heaven, our church offers an “old-fashioned” church experience in Southern Baptist style.

Rob went off to college in a big city and started looking for a church. He knew the gospel. He wanted to walk with the Lord. But in his new city, he had trouble finding a Southern Baptist church that felt like home. One week, he tried a church that turned out to be much too casual for his liking (they had a coffee bar!). Another church didn’t have enough programs to suit his taste. He found a church where he clicked with people and liked the preacher, but they had a screen, a drum set, and a singer with suspiciously shaggy hair.

Several months have gone by, and now, Rob is adrift. He feels disoriented. He sits down one evening and writes out a list of all the things important to his church experience. By the time he puts the pen down, he is frustrated that he can’t find “the right church.”

Thinking about it now, and reflecting on our own search for a home church a couple of years back, we did indeed fall into some of the same pitfalls.

Week after week, the churches emphasize and celebrate what makes them different from other churches. They celebrate their uniqueness – not the gospel uniqueness that shines light in a dark world, but a worldly uniqueness that would have us base our identity in stylistic distinctions between brothers and sisters.

Whenever we are formed within a context that celebrates certain cultural expressions over against other expressions, we begin to expect the wrong things from a church. So when the day comes for us to unite with a different congregation, our list of expectations is devoid of the gospel [emphasis mine].

It really was God’s grace that we didn’t go adrift ourselves and get disillusioned about not finding “the right church”, that ticked all our preferential boxes, that matched with all our distinctives.

I pray that we celebrate the gospel in a way that leads our church members to easily cross cultural divides because of the centrality of the cross. What we celebrate is just as important as what we believe.

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D.A. Carson:

“I have been teaching more decades now that I can count and if I have learned anything from all of this teaching, its this: my students…learn what I’m excited about. So within the church of the living God, we must become excited about the gospel. That’s how we pass on our heritage. If, instead, the gospel increasingly becomes for us that which we assume, then we will, of course, assent to the correct creedal statement. But, at this point, the gospel is not what really captures us. Rather, is a particular form of worship or a particular style of counseling, or a particular view on culture, or a particular technique in preaching, or – fill in the blank. Then, ultimately, our students make that their center and the generation after us loses the gospel. As soon as you get to the place where the gospel is that which is nearly assumed, you are only a generation and a half from death”.

God has been really good to us to put us in a church that celebrates the gospel!

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– William