Apostles’ Creed: The Resurrection of the Body

October 17, 2014

Does the body really matter? Let’s dive into Deeper Waters and find out.

I was at a funeral and hearing the pastor really mess up the eulogy he was giving for the deceased. Unfortunately, I’ve heard this kind of talk before, yet I got some hope as we got to 1 Thess. 4 being mentioned. Surely, this is where the pastor will redeem himself. The pastor started speaking about 1 Thess. 4 and said we have the same hope as the apostle Paul.

Yes! Yes! Go on please!

“We have the hope that we will see our loved ones again in Heaven.”

And there I’m deflated again.

Am I against seeing loved ones in Heaven? Not at all. What am I against? 1 Thess. 4 is not about that. 1 Thess. 4 tells you specifically what it’s about. It’s about the Lord and His return and the resurrection of the dead that will happen then. It’s about how we do not mourn like those who have no hope and that our bodies will one day come out of that grave.

If you skip ahead to Heaven without mentioning the resurrection, then you do not have a completed victory of God.

You see, in overcoming death, Christ shows that nothing has any power over us. Death is the ultimate destroyer ripping our souls from our bodies. Those bodies are good! We often lose sight of that! God did not create us to be angels. He created us to be humans and part of being human is living with a body.

This is why the resurrection of the dead is so important and why I think that anyone who denies the future bodily resurrection has stepped into heresy. Our bodies will be resurrected the same way Christ’s was. He is the first fruits. He is the exemplar of what we have coming. If we are not raised physically, then Christ was not raised physically.

At another funeral I was at once, one preacher spoke about the deceased and said that right now, she was experiencing the resurrection. I had to look and say to myself “Sorry Pastor. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m pretty sure that her body is still in that casket.” We too often think that once someone has died and gone on to be in the presence of Jesus, then that means that things are done with them. No. They are happier than they were of course, but they still await being reunited with their bodies.

When Christ comes to redeem, He does not redeem just us. He redeems all of creation as well. He comes to release it from its bondage. He will not allow the devil to ruin creation so much that it is irredeemable. He will not let the devil have a victory even over the human body. His goal is to bring redemption for all.

Funerals unfortunately are hot beds for these kinds of mistakes, but let us not make them any more. We are not just people who are awaiting life in a Heaven to come. We are people who are waiting an embodied life in a physical creation that God has waiting for us. He did not make a mistake with giving us bodies. He has them for us for a reason. (This is also why we honor God with our bodies including sexually. What you do with your body matters.)

Celebrate and honor your body today and remember that as you live a righteous life, so your body will show that in the future.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/18/2014: Matthew Flannagan

October 16, 2014

What’s coming up on this week’s podcast? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

War. It’s a sad reality in our world and we look forward to a day when it is no more. We often take it as a sign of evil, so what a shock it can be to so many when we find God in the OT sending the Israelites into war to destroy the enemy. Aren’t we supposed to be serving a God of love? How can a God of love order the massacre of the Canaanites? Not only that, how can he allow institutions like slavery to exist? These are questions we need to have answered.

And for these questions, we need someone with a keen mind able to handle the historical and philosophical issues.

So why not Dr. Matthew Flannagan?

In his own words:

“Dr Matthew Flannagan is a theologian with proficiency in contemporary analytic philosophy. He holds a PhD in Theology from the University of Otago, a Masters (with First Class Honours) and a Bachelors in Philosophy from the University of Waikato; he also holds a post-graduate diploma in secondary teaching from Bethlehem Tertiary Institute. PhD, University of Otago) he currently works as an independent researcher and as teaching pastor at Takanini Community Church in Auckland, New Zealand.”

In fact, Dr. Flannagan along with Paul Copan has a new book coming out on this topic called Did God Really Command Genocide? This book is due to be out next month from Baker and will cover many of the topics that we will be discussing on our show. So what kind of topics are open for discussion on this episode?

What about the conquest of the Midianites in Numbers 31? This is one of the favorite ones to use, especially since there’s this strange idea in there that the people can keep the virgin girls for themselves. Isn’t this just a great big rape fest that is going on? Would a God of love have really ordered such an attack where the men got to keep the young women for themselves who were virgins?

What about the conquest of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15? Note also that Saul is told here, as God orders in other places, to completely destroy everything. Not even the animals were to be spared in this conquest. Samuel wasn’t even pleased with the idea of sparing the animals as an act of sacrifice to YHWH. Why would God order such a massacre to take place and on top of all of that, not even spare the animals in it? What did they do?

Fortunately, Dr. Flannagan is highly equipped to answer these questions and indeed they will be answered. I hope that you will be joining us this Saturday to listen. If you want to listen the show will normally air from 6-8 PM EST on the Universal Pentecostal Network with the recording taking place from 3-5 PM EST. Of course, you can also be checking your ITunes feed. I look forward to it and I hope you do too!

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: The Forgiveness of Sins

October 15, 2014

Do we recognize what forgiveness is? Let’s dive into Deeper Waters and find out!

C.S. Lewis has a wonderful essay in his book The Weight of Glory on the forgiveness of sins. Don’t we all believe in that? Oh we say we do. But do we really? Lewis points out that many times when we say we want to be forgiven, what we really want is to be excused. Many times when we come to God in prayer, we list our sins and we often tell about how it happened and why we did what we did and how we tried so hard to resist a temptation and we just gave in. Then we ask for forgiveness.

When we ask for forgiveness, we really mean that we want it treated as if it never happened. Too often however, we ask not for forgiveness, but for our sins to be excused. We want God to simply understand why it is that the sin happened. We want Him to overlook what happened, but when we do that, then in essence, the sin is still there. (Of course, I do think God truly forgives it, but for us, it is there.)

Forgiveness is not excusing however.

You see, there are realities many times that can make it harder to resist a sin. A guy with sexual addiction for instance could have a hard time driving past a store selling pornographic supplies even if he is a Christian. Now someone like myself who is someone who very much enjoys sex, really has an attitude of wanting to avoid that as much as possible and wanting to honor my wife with my eyes. Can there still be a temptation? No doubt, but that temptation is not as strong as it is for someone with an addiction. I would be more prone to fall short in other areas, like losing my temper unnecessarily with my Allie or in a struggle with pride.

So let’s suppose someone with the addiction goes in anyway and then later confesses. The reality is, God knows all the excuses the man can give. In fact, He knows them better than the man does. He also knows what a struggle it has been for the person. He knows there are several factors at play. But He also knows one thing on His own. He knows that there is a sin. There can be no excuses for the sin. In the end, the person did do something wrong even if it was harder for him to resist and that part cannot be overlooked. That part is a blight on the face of God.

You see, sin is in many ways a sort of divine treason. Let’s look at all the things we implicitly say when we sin.

We deny the goodness of God because we think He is keeping something good from us.

We deny the love of God because we think He is being unloving keeping something from us.

We deny the omniscience of God because we think He doesn’t know that this is something we should do.

We deny the omnipresence of God because we think He doesn’t see.

We deny the omnipotence of God because we think He won’t judge.

We deny the righteousness of God because we think He has no place to judge.

We deny the rule of God because we are rebelling against Him.

In fact, we are committing divine treason. We are saying that God should not be on the throne. We should be. We want to be deity.

I have a theory also on seeing sin as uncreation. In creation, God makes a world good and beautiful. Our sin changed much of that and whenever we do sin, we are undoing the work of God. When we do that which is righteous, we are extending the work of God. We are being traitors to our own side and we will be held accountable for that.

Unless we are forgiven.

So really think about that. God does what we think could not be done. He really forgives us. He knows there is no excuse for what we did. There is no justifying it. Nothing can ever make what we did right. Yet despite all of that, He willing to treat it as if it didn’t happen and He is willing to restore us to a place that we don’t even deserve in the first place, in fact, to a place even better than the garden.

God never justifies sin. He cannot. He will not. There is no justification for anything that is done wrong. God justifies sinners. His hatred and disgust of sin will never change. But so also, His love of those of us who struggle with it will also never change. You cannot do something to make God love you less. You cannot do anything to make Him love you more. It’s constant.

Because God already loves you, He will forgive you when you ask. You do not earn forgiveness. You never could. It is a gift and it is a gift that is freely given. When God forgives you, He truly does. He no longer holds your sins against you. Too often it is we who still hold them against ourselves. If only we could grasp for a moment even the forgiveness of God and live with it for the rest of our lives.

Rest assured Christian. If you have confessed, you are forgiven, but go and sin no more. Yet when you do, confess and be forgiven. God is with you in your struggle.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

The Christian Who Cried Pagan

October 14, 2014

Are some Christians overplaying the danger in a field? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf there is a little boy tending the flocks and he gets bored so he cries out that there’s a wolf coming. Twice the people of the town come out to help him deal with the wolf, and twice they find out that he was making it up. The third time he cries, he does so because there really is a wolf, and no one heeds the call, and the boy has to take responsibility for a destroyed flock.

A lot of Christians are like that boy, especially as we get closer to Halloween, although to be fair, most are certainly not intentionally or even unintentionally pulling a prank. What they are often doing is getting it so people will either not listen at all or will listen too much.

Let’s start with the danger of listening too much. How is that possible? What happens is often a pagan paranoia is developed where it is seen that most everything is pagan and we must avoid any mixture of Christianity with paganism. Now of course, I’m not for combining Christianity with pagan beliefs, but let’s make sure that’s what is really being done.

When it is said too often, a Christian unprepared will see paganism in everything around him and especially think that the Christians stole ideas from the pagans. What about Christmas? It was pagan! What about Easter? It was pagan! All this is believed usually on someone else’s say so. Halloween can easily fall into that category. What’s a possible end result?

Ever heard of Mithras?

If you go this route, then what is going to happen when Christians meet internet atheists who will be more than happy to tell them that Jesus is based on pagan myths of the time like the story of Mithras? They’ve believed you on Christians copying from the pagans in every other area so why not believe you on this one? The constant cry of pagan has led them to believe that indeed, everything is pagan.

Now what about the other end? I don’t deny there are some real dangers out there with people really trying to contact other spirits, like the usage of the Ouija Board, but the danger in this one is it does become a boy crying wolf and after awhile, people just don’t really listen. There are many things in my life that I assure you many well-meaning Christians have told me are pagan/demonic/etc. It has reached the point where it gets so bizarre I don’t even really listen any more.

That’s not as much to worry about if you think the person has discernment, but if they don’t, then when you make claims they are sure are absolutely ridiculous, they will be less prone to hear you on other claims. “Yeah. I know that person said that Transcendental Meditation is dangerous, but they also told me that watching that Disney movie was dangerous as well. They’re just scared of everything.”

The reality is that we are to be careful, but we are not to live in fear. Jesus is Lord of all and is claiming the world for Himself. That includes the days of the year. (By the way, those days of the week are named after pagans but I don’t see these Christians making a loud cry to change the names of the days of the calendar.) The main question I want to ask you is about your intent. Who do you want to serve?

For instance, let’s suppose you told me and convinced me that wedding rings were really pagan in origin. Let’s suppose you told me they were used to commemorate a pagan deity in a covenant.

Okay. That’s nice.

I’m still wearing mine.

Why? Because I know why I wear it. I wear it to honor my wife and to proclaim to the world that we are married. I didn’t make a covenant before a pagan god. I made it before the God of Scripture and fellow believers. I say the same for Halloween. If today on Halloween what we do is dress up in costumes and get candy, I think any pagan deities would be insulted. Here a day meant to worship them has turned into getting candy in costumes?

Sounds like if that were the case (And I’m not saying Halloween is a pagan holiday. I doubt that very much in fact.) then we’ve made a spectacle.

If you want to say something is pagan, make sure you have some real solid evidences for that. It can’t just be speculation. We’re to be people of truth, that includes not just representing ourselves, but representing others. To claim something is pagan when it is not is in fact to bear false witness and can only lead to more trouble.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

The Titanic Museum

October 13, 2014

Can the Titanic have anything to teach us about Christianity? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Today, my wife and I spent all day in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area and the first place we stopped at was the Titanic Museum. We wish to thank our friend Michelle Fahidy, who let us come in for a month designed to apppreciate those in ministry and also provided us with a copy of a book by someone who was speaking there who tells the story of one man on the Titanic and how his faith impacted him. She told us that the man who wrote the book decided to into ministry upon hearing about this story.

When my wife and I came up there, we were each given a boarding pass to represent someone who was on the ship. My wife got Kate Herman, who was supposedly 24 at the time when she got on the ship. (The pass we got said 24 though the online information seems a bit different.) I got Lawrence Beesley, who I got told was 34. That was quite odd for both of us seeing as at the time of writing this, my wife is 24 and I am 34. Even more amusing is that Lawrence was an avid reader who when he heard the ship was going down went back to the cabin to get his books.

Yeah. Sounds like yours truly here.

The museum has several artifacts from the Titanic and you are given a listening device at the start. When you see a number written somewhere, you key it in and you can hear a recorded account concerning what you are seeing. Sometimes, you can hear some added commentary if you push in additional numbers that are given to you during a recording. There are even numbers that can be used for youth.

When you get to the iceberg part, things change drastically. Immediately, the atmosphere is colder to match what happened. You can put your hand in the water which is set at 28 degrees. Why that temperature? Because that’s supposed to be the temperature of the water the night the Titanic hit and sunk. I could hardly bear having my hand in such water for a minute, and I wanted to have it in as long as I could to impress my wife. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to stay floating in that water.

So what does this have to do with Christianity?

A number of people got on that boat expecting to get to their destination safely. After all, it was unsinkable. A number of ministers were on the boat and as the ship went down, they were urging people to get right with God and giving away their life jackets and seats in the life boats. There were husbands and wives that refused to part at all and if one died, the other died as well. The ship that was supposed to be safe due to being unsinkable was not.

Of course, a lesson we get out of that immediately is pride. 1 John warns us about the pride of life. None of us is promised another day normally and too many of us have the idea that we are too big to fail. We are not. We are all prone to various weaknesses and struggles. Some thought the Titanic was in fact challenging reality by claiming nothing could sink it. Perhaps they were right on the motives of some and perhaps that’s something that led to sinking.

The second point is that since no one is promised another day, the time to do that which we ought to do is today. Today is the day to be a good spouse to your spouse. Today is the day to be a good parent to your children. Today is the day to serve Jesus the way that you’ve always wanted to serve Him. Celebrate every day. You not only know what tomorrow will or will not bring, but you do not know if tomorrow will ever come.

The Titanic Museum if you’re in the area any time is a great place to go to. You will learn plenty about the Titanic and I found it gripping as well thinking about all these people who died on that fateful day. The Titanic museum brings it all home. Let it be a reminder of how suddenly life can be gone. We are but a mist that is here today and gone tomorrow. Let’s make a difference today.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Johannine Theology

October 10, 2014

What do I think of Paul Rainbow’s book on the theology of John? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

JohannineTheology

Johannine Theology is over 400 pages of looking at a highly complex topic. John is the Gospel that is often the most problematic for people due to its being so different from the others. Even N.T. Wright has said it is like his wife Maggie. In speaking of her he says “I love her, but I do not claim to understand her.”

Rainbow begins with a brief history on Johannine studies and with a defense of authorship and the date of the writing and such and from there, it’s off to see what the book has to say. The opening should be sufficient for those who are interested in the basic apologetic aspect to understand the usage of John in studies of the historical Jesus.

Rainbow argues that while John’s Gospel certainly tells us about the life of Jesus, the main character being it all is really God. The Gospel should be read not just as a Christological statement but as a Theological one. This is fitting since we are told that it is the Son who is explaining the Father. We know God by knowing the Son. He who has seen the Son has seen the Father. We cannot know God as He truly is apart from knowing the Son and the Son came to reveal the Father.

I found this to be a highly important insight. Rainbow is not at all downplaying the importance of Christology. He has plenty to say about that in a later chapter and of course, he comes down on the side of orthodox theology, but he does want to stress that we cannot leave God the Father out of the equation in John.

I will say when he got to Christology, I was disappointed on one aspect. Much of the Christology came from the Gospel. I find an excellent place to go to really to get Christology in the Johannine corpus is to go to the book of Revelation. I did not see this interacted with in the work. Revelation begins after all describing itself as the Revelation of Jesus Christ and it does say that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Rainbow also covers other themes related to theology. He covers the question of salvation and that of apostasy. He covers issues related to free will and predestination and points out that John has no desire to really address our questions there. It could be argued that John in fact argues for both sides of the equation. He also argues for how John says the church is to be to the world.

Surprisingly, there is little on eschatology and this was one area I did have a difficult time with as I happen to highly enjoy discussions of eschatology. Rainbow does take a futurist stance in his writings and that is not something that is argued for. I find it interesting for instance that Revelation is said to tell us about the antichrist and yet Revelation never once uses the term.

Still, Johannine Theology is a difficult topic to handle and I think Rainbow for the most part does an excellent job. I would have liked to have seen more on eschatology, but then that could be its own book entirely. Still, if you want to understand the writings of John in relation to theology, then you should get yourself a copy of this volume.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/11/2014: Graham Veale

October 9, 2014

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast this Saturday? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

First off, some people have asked about where the podcast is showing up on their ITunes feed. We had to switch carriers due to my last one deciding to drop the show after I disagreed with him on a secondary doctrine. We are now working with the Universal Pentecostal Network and had our first show with them last Saturday, but the process is still having kinks worked out of it and such. Bear with us. I want to get things back up on ITunes as soon as possible.

That having been said, let’s discuss what’s going on. The New Atheism has made itself known in the public square for the past decade and longer. The ideas of atheists have really gone public, but unfortunately, the new atheists have put forward a lot of heat but they really haven’t put forward very much light.

There have been many books addressing them. One such book is The New Atheism: A Survival Guide. We’ll be meeting with the author, Graham Veale and chatting with him this Saturday from 2-4 PM EST.

Graham Veale photo

The following is Veale’s information about himself:

Graham Veale is co-founder of saintsandsceptics.org, a web ministry for apologetics. A theology graduate of Queen’s University Belfast, he has been teaching religious education for 15 years in Armagh, Northern Ireland. He and his wife, Nicola, are parents of two children. With a particular interests in the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, and the design and moral arguments for God’s existence, Graham is author of the book New Atheism: A Survival Guide.

On the show, we’ll be discussing everything from science and religion to what to do about pasta. Yes. There is actually a topic discussing the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It’s quite amusing to realize that atheism has come to such a level where this kind of argument is put forward and it is supposedly seen as a valid one.

Definitely science will be a topic of discussion. Is it true that if you become a scientist, you must reject Christianity? Or on the other hand, if you are a Christian, should you avoid science? It’s my opinion that both of these are highly errant positions and when we present a dichotomy between the two worlds, we do a disservice to both of them. It ends up only feeding the false notion of a warfare going on between science and religion.

The new atheism has arrived of course, but what kind of impact will it have? Too many Christians have been unprepared for this, especially those of our youth who are going off to college. We cannot faithfully serve Christ to the fullest without being aware of the strength of the foundation upon which our worldview is built. That’s why I’m thankful to have books out like those of Graham Veale and I look forward to his appearing on my show this Saturday to talk about it and I hope you will be a part of it as well.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Apostles’ Creed: The Communion of Saints

October 8, 2014

What does it mean to speak about the Communion of Saints? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

In our day and age if we live in the West, we’ve really lost sight of community. This is why we often have what I call a Lone Ranger Christianity. We tend to think that we can do it all on our own. In the apologetics field, I often see this with people who think they have to be authorities on every subject. In the end, they will end up being authorities on none. They know enough to go a little bit further than most, but they don’t know enough to go deep on a topic.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to apologetics. This applies to many of us in the Christian community. When you meet someone who wants to avoid the fellowship of fellow Christians in a church and chooses to just be a Christian on their own, then you are dealing with someone who thinks that this is actually possible. It’s not. We are commanded to be a body, to be a family, to be a unity.

When we think about the Communion of Saints, we are not thinking about Communion as is practiced in most Protestant churches today, though that is an example, but we are thinking something along the lines of the cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12 with numerous examples in Hebrews 11. We are thinking of the heroes of the faith who went before us and we are also thinking about our brothers and sisters around the world, many of whom are having to pay the ultimate price for Jesus right now.

When the church comes together for a Communion it is where we celebrate what really unites us and what is that? Consider what is often said. “The body of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, broken for you.” “The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for you.” In each case, we are pointing to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. This is what unites us. This is our common bond. We are a body that has many members in it and we all serve different roles. Not everyone is an apologist, or an evangelist, or a teacher, or a counselor, or a minister, or a missionary. We might all be called to do some of that type of work on a certain occasion, but that does not mean it is necessarily our life focus.

What unites us most is our neediness. We are all people who realize that we are in trouble and we are in need of a savior and we have chosen to place our trust in Christ and call Him Lord. At least, we say we call Him Lord. The question we have to ask ourselves today is if we just say that or if we really live like it is true, and part of the reason the Christian church is not being the salt and light in the West that it could be is that our individualism makes it that we are more often unknowingly seeking to make ourselves the Lord of Jesus. Our faith is a great way for us to meet our goals and be successful rather than a way for us to bring about the success of the Kingdom of God.

This is also why church history is so important. When we look back, we can see several saints who went before us and see how they lived their lives and learn from their wisdom, and granted this is something I need to do a lot more of as well. None of us are islands in Christianity. We’ve all got to where we were before by standing on the shoulders of those who came before us and we owe them a great debt.

Remember today that you are part of a body. Go through the epistles and look at the “One Another” commands that are given. How many are you following? Are you observing the fact that you are part of the Communion of Saints?

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: True Paradox

October 7, 2014

What do I think of David Skeel’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

TrueParadox

David Skeel’s True Paradox is a difficult book to place really. Now this could be because of the way that I think and like things to be nice and organized. Skeel is trying to get us to look at complex issues that seem to be paradoxical in their nature and ask how it is that Christianity makes sense of them. I do not see this as a book to show that Christianity is true, you need to argue for the resurrection specifically I think to do that, but a book to get you to consider that perhaps there’s more to the world than you realize.

Throughout, Skeel deals with various areas in our lives that are often ones we don’t think about. For instance, an early chapter is on the question of beauty. Why is it that we even think some things are beautiful? What role does beauty play? Of course, Skeel points out evolutionary explanations of this, but he often finds them lacking. In many cases, there would be no immediate benefit and the ideas of what is beautiful doesn’t really lead to the benefits supposedly given. When many of us see a beautiful painting, we don’t immediately want to go and be a contestant on Survivor. Instead, we often get transfixed. If anything, we are more prone to an attack from an enemy.

There is also the paradox of suffering and evil. Why do we act as if something unusual is happening to us when we suffer? Skeel compares his Christian friend Bill Stuntz to the atheist Christopher Hitchens. Both died from cancer. Stuntz and Hitchens both saw it in different ways and Skeel pictures how it is that they would respond to different questions about suffering. The question to ask is which worldview best explains not only suffering but why we think of suffering the way that we do.

The best chapter in this book without a doubt for me was the chapter on Heaven. There are times in this chapter where one finds oneself emotionally moved and gripped by thinking about what the reality of Heaven is. By all means, I do not mean the silly Sunday School images that we have of sitting on clouds being angels and playing harps. None of that has any Biblical justification whatsoever. In fact, if such was the nature of Heaven, most of us would quite likely think we’d gone to the other place when we wound up there. Instead, I am thinking more of a rich view of Heaven found in the writings of people like Peter Kreeft, C.S. Lewis, and N.T. Wright. In fact, if you could only read one chapter in this book, I would definitely recommend that you read the chapter on Heaven and the afterdeath (As I prefer to call it).

In the end, my thoughts on this are mixed. The last chapter is highly recommended. The others do present something that an aspiring apologist can look at and for people who live on a more existential level, I suspect that they will find something in this work that they really really like. If you enjoy thinking about paradoxes, it is one that is worth a look.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

A Response To Richard Hagenston

October 6, 2014

Is your pastor really not telling you some truths about the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Richard Hagenston is an ordained United Methodist minister and a former pastor who has written a book called Fabricating Faith: How Christianity Became A Religion Jesus Would Have Rejected. Now to be fair, I have not read the book yet, but someone sent me a link to the blog of Hemant Mehta, the “friendly atheist”, where he has a guest post by Mr. Hagenston.

Now I’d like to start with a sad statement. I think the reason many of these issues will never come up from pastors is that frankly, most pastors don’t even think about them. I have said several times that too many pastors are unequipped. I am not saying all pastors should specialize in apologetics, but all pastors need a basic knowledge at least of apologetics, they need to have at least one “Go-to” person in the church on apologetics, and they need to be able to emphasize the importance of apologetics to their flock. The sad reality is too many people in the flock have no clue what apologetics is, including myself for a long time, and this could be because many pastors don’t know either.

The result of this will be in the increasing amount of misinformation put out. On the one hand, Christians who apostasize from the faith will go out and share all this information that they never knew about, most of it coming from bogus sources on the internet. The second is that there will be too many Christians who will follow in kind because their pastor never protected them. Unfortunately, those who stay in the faith too often live in their secluded bubbles and ignoring the outside world, which kills any chance of their fulfilling the Great Commission.

That having been said, let’s look at the truths that will not be told.

The first is that the apostles did not know of a virgin birth.

The problem with such a claim is the same as illustrated by Christ-mythers. It relies on an argument from silence. If X never mentioned an event, then he didn’t know about it. We could only guess from something like this that a large population of the world at the time knew absolutely nothing about a volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Because we deem something as important does not mean that the people of the time would have really wanted to talk about it.

Let’s consider the virgin birth. If the first Gospel written was Mark, why would Mark not mention it? It’s really quite simple. Mark is an inclusio document that is based on the eyewitness of Peter. Peter would most certainly have not been present for a virgin birth. Despite this, some think there could be a veiled reference in describing Jesus as the son of Mary instead of of Joseph in Mark 6:3.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

In fact, it could be the virgin birth would not be something that the writers would want to mention. As David Instone-Brewer points out in The Jesus Scandals. the virgin birth would have also been seen as an embarrassment. Not because if it was true that that would lower Jesus. It is because it would be seen with skepticism and in a Jewish culture, it would admit one sure fact about Jesus.

Jesus had a birth that was not normal.

Why would that be shameful? Because that could easily lead to the charge that Jesus was a mamzer, that is, a child born illegitimately. That might not be as big a deal here in modern America, but in the Jewish culture, that would really call into question your status as a righteous man of God. A writer like Matthew could have heard the rumors and think he had to say something and grasp onto Isaiah 7:14, which was admittedly not seen as Messianic at all. (Were Matthew making up a story, one would expect him to use passages that were seen as Messianic.)

Another danger of this is that unusual births (Not virgin but unusual) was part of the system of pagan gods at the time. Jews were quite resistant to paganism at the time. Now they could accept some cultural aspects, but their religious aspects were by and large kept. Excellent information on this can be found in Jesus and His World by Craig Evans and The Jesus Legend by Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy. For a brief example, we see in the garbage of the Jews in Jerusalem few if any pig bones before 70 A.D. After 70 A.D., we see them. Why 70 A.D.? That’s when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Romans would have taken over the area and observance would not be practiced as much.

Why would Luke mention the virgin birth? Luke could quite likely have had Mary as one of his sources while he was in Jerusalem, which I suspect at this point happened when Paul was on trial as described in Acts and Luke had plenty of time. Luke wanting to show Jesus’s relation to all men could have shown that this happened this way to say Jesus is not just for the Jews. He’s for the Gentiles as well and his unique birth pictures that.

For John, John goes way beyond the virgin birth and has the fullest statement of pre-existence in the Gospels. If John is also the last to write, it could be that he would know what was covered in the others and feel no need to repeat that ground.

As for Paul, why would Paul really need to mention it? Now it could be mentioned in Romans 1 and possibly in Galatians 4, but is it really important to the message of Paul? In a high context society, this is what would have been known already. Paul is not writing a life of Jesus. He is trying to deal with problems in the church and there’s no need to interrupt an argument on whether Christians should be circumcised or not with “Oh by the way, Jesus was born of a virgin.”

For more on this, listen to my interview of Ben Witherington in the second hour of my podcast here and to my interview with David Instone-Brewer here.

Now could it be that the other apostles didn’t know of a virgin birth for arguments’ sake? Sure. You need more than silence to show that.

The second myth is that Jesus offered nothing for the Gentiles. The first two pieces of evidences are that first off, Jesus’s healing of Gentiles was limited, such as the healing of the Centurion’s servant, and second, the way Jesus treated the Syrophoenician woman.

It is interesting that the centurion’s servant is used as an example because in the story, Jesus says many will come from the east and the west to dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, while the sons of the kingdom will be cast out.

10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

What the author misses is that Jesus’s first focus was Israel. He was coming to them to offer Himself to them as their king. It never meant He never saw anything beyond, but it meant that His message started with Israel.

So what about the Syrophoenician woman? Here we have a case of Jesus using sarcasm and I’d say in fact, pointing out the problems with the attitudes of the Disciples who most likely would certainly have seen this woman as a dog. Let’s look at the story.

21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eatthe crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her,“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Jesus in the Gospels regularly challenges the assumptions of people around him. “Why is He with a Samaritan woman?” “Which one of these men is a neighbor?” “If this man was a prophet, He would know what kind of woman this is.” “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes?” John the Baptist as well did this. “God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.” Could Jesus be doing the same here?

Note that Jesus doesn’t complain about the presence of the woman. It is the disciples who do. The disciples are the ones who have no compassion for the woman and want Jesus to send her away. Jesus doesn’t go out directly since he’s trying to escape the crowd and rest for now along with his disciples. This woman must have sought him out then and Jesus’s first words in the dialogue are not to the woman, but are to the disciples.

Jesus in fact points to a schedule in His ministry to the woman. He never says “No.” He instead points out that His first priority is Israel. The woman in fact never disagrees. She never asks specifically to be made a focus. All she asks for is crumbs from the table. Pets in the house would traditionally be fed later, but surely she can get a little something for now. Jesus commends her on her faith which would no doubt have shamed the disciples who were supposed to be part of faithful Israel. Jesus in fact was being the true Israel by being kind to a foreigner and acting as a priest for a foreigner.

Let’s consider also another passage in Matthew. This is 21:43.

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

This is part of the Parable of the Vineyard and we must realize how shocking this statement is. This would be like saying in our country that much of our financial abundance and our land would be given to a third world country outside of us. Many of us in America still have this idea that we are central in the story of history and everything revolves around us. Now I do love our nation, but we are not the focal point of history. Empires come and empires go.

If you were a Jew and heard this, it would mean the covenant promises were being violated by your people and God would leave you abandoned. The Jews had experienced that in the Babylonian exile and did not want to go through it again! They were the special nation. They were the ones chosen by God. How could they miss out on the blessings? Jesus’s words are absolutely shocking.

And of course, Matthew is the one that has the Great Commission in His Gospel as well ending out his own inclusio account. Jesus is said to be God with us in the virgin birth and he is God with us even to the end of the age.

The other piece of evidence is that Paul experienced resistance from the Gentiles. This is the passage used.

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step withthe truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Yet in this passage, we see nothing about how Peter responded to Paul. Instead, we find the way that Paul responded to Peter and pointing out that Peter was acting out of line with the Gospel by living as though righteousness would be declared by following the food laws rather than through faith in Christ. What evidence do we find that Peter accepted Paul?

Now we could point to 2 Peter, but that is not usually accepted and since our writer later on writes about forgeries, I doubt he would accept it. So let’s go with Galatians itself.

In Galatians 1, we read the following:

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

No resistance here.

And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

No resistance here either.

In fact, if tradition is true and Clement was the disciple of Peter, then we could see what Clement says about someone his teacher would have supposedly opposed.

We read the following in 1 Clement 47:1

Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle.

Again, not real resistance.

So thus is the second secret dealt with.

For the third, how about Jesus never claiming to be God in the synoptics?

The first major mistake here is that the only way to many people to claim deity is to go around saying “Hey! I’m God!” In reality, in the ancient world, like much of today, actions spoke louder than words and Jesus regularly pointed to His actions. This would be His claim to forgive sin, and this apart from the temple itself, His claim to be the Lord of the Sabbath, and His claim to send out the angels in Mark 13 as well as His strong claims about sitting by the right hand of God and coming with the clouds (Language of theophany) in response to the high priest.

While more passages could be listed, let’s look at what Hagenston says.

In fact, all of those first three gospels show Jesus scoldingly saying that he should never be thought of as God. Mark 10:18 depicts Jesus as saying, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” Obviously, he took offense at the mere thought that he might be considered to have the same righteousness as God. He is shown making the same point in Luke 18:19 and Matthew 19:17.

Obviously? No. Not obviously. It might seem that way to a modern Western reader, but in the ancient world, Jesus would have known this man was trying to butter him up as it were. How will He respond to a compliment of an exalted type? Does He deny that He is good? Then why should anyone listen to Him? Does He affirm His own goodness? Then what kind of person is He claiming to be? Jesus instead deflects the comment without once denying it. “Okay. You want to say I’m good? That applies to only God. Are you ready for that level of commitment?”

Unfortunately as the story shows, the man was not ready for it.

For more on this and how the church perceived Jesus early on, see my interview with Charles Hill, Michael Bird, and Chris Tilling on How God Became Jesus . For a look at how the ancients would have viewed Jesus from their perspective, see my interview with E. Randolph Richards here. For a defense of the incarnation and Trinity, see my interview with Rob Bowman here. 

The next objection is that the Gospels have irreconcilable differences in the resurrection accounts.

Let’s suppose that’s true.

So what?

Most scholars today defending the resurrection don’t even go to the Gospel accounts to do so. They go to 1 Cor. 15 and Galatians 1-2. Inerrancy is not a requirement for the Gospels to be true or even reliable. (Although one could find in commentaries several ways to reconcile the resurrection accounts.) So what does Hagenston say?

To add to the confusion, the Gospel of John shows Jesus appearing in both Galilee and Jerusalem. The actual appearance of a resurrected Jesus would have been so stunning that it raises the question of why there was not even one record of such an event that made a deep enough impression to be passed down in all the gospels.

Once again, the problem is the argument from silence. There are any number of reasons why such an appearance would not be mentioned, including it not being really needed. One account with more than one witness would have sufficed in a Jewish court of law. Of course, for an excellent defense of the resurrection, the best work now is Michael Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” You can hear my interview with
him here. You can hear my interview with Gary Habermas on the same topic here.

Next is the claim that Jesus opposed public prayer. Did he?

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

How is it you are not to pray publicly? You are not to pray publicly to be seen by others. Jesus would have known about several public prayers in the history of Israel, such as Solomon at the temple ceremony in thanking God for it. This was in fact proper for someone acting as a priest to the people. Jesus condemned instead showman prayers, prayers done just to receive glory for oneself.

The next claim is that some books of the Bible are forgeries and this is most notably, the pastoral epistles. Hagenston does bring up some reasons why they are thought to be forgeries.

However, there is wide agreement among many Bible scholars that they differ so much from Paul’s vocabulary, style, and teachings that they could not be by him.

It’s interesting that he talks about the teachings being so different and then in the next paragraph compares 1 Cor. 14:34-35 to 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Of course, he does say 1 Cor. 14 is likely a later insertion. It is quite possibly an interpolation. Also possible is that Paul was quoting the words of the Corinthians to them. We know earlier in the epistle he has women taking part in worship in chapter 11.

But to look at the earlier argument, yes, there are differences, but this can also be expected depending on who is being written to. For instance, these letters are personal letters. The only other example we have of this from Paul is Philemon. If I write an email to a friend, it will be quite different in all of those ways from an email I could write to my wife.

This would be easier of course to reply to had Hagenston given more concrete examples. He didn’t. For a look at the teaching on women however, see my interview with Lynn Cohick here. For the question of forgeries, see my interview with Andrew Pitts here.

Next is that some contradictions in Scripture are intentional. The first example is Psalm 51. What does Hagenston say?

An Old Testament example is found in Psalm 51. That psalm was written after Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem (and its Temple that had been built by Solomon) and led the city’s inhabitants off to exile. Since the Temple was no longer available for sacrifice, the author of Psalm 51 offers comfort in Verses 16 and 17 by saying God does not even desire sacrifice but only a contrite heart.

But then, in a clearly intentional contradiction, someone who disagreed with that came along and added, immediately afterward, Verses 18 and 19 saying that God would be delighted by sacrifices that would follow a rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Hagenston sees a contradiction between offering up the sacrifices of a broken and contrite heart and then switching to offering bulls. This is only a contradiction if you hold to a view that is a legalistic one of Judaism. Judaism instead more often saw the sacrifice of bulls and other animals as something done not so much to earn forgiveness but to show forgiveness. The proper response to forgiveness was to offer something of value to you.

Since God pronounced David righteous by his contrite heart, David would respond by offering up bulls on the altar.

Hagenston goes on to say.

In the New Testament, we see an example in what the gospels say about the message of John the Baptist. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all depict John the Baptist as saying he was offering a baptism for the forgiveness of sin through repentance alone. But, writing later, the author of the Gospel of John didn’t like that at all. He wanted to say that forgiveness comes only through sacrifice, the blood sacrifice of Jesus himself. So, in contradiction to the other gospels, he says that the message of John the Baptist was to proclaim Jesus as a pending sacrificial Lamb of God.

Once again we have the same kind of scenario going on here. As I read the texts, I do not see repentance alone. In the texts themselves, John says to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We know from elsewhere in the Gospels that John’s disciples fasted, for instance. Jesus is seen as walking out of lock-step with the tradition. We see John saying nothing about sacrifices. He doesn’t commend them and he doesn’t forbid them.

The final is that apostles taught by Jesus insisted Paul was wrong about His Gospel. What does Hagenston say?

As for the identity of Paul’s opponents, in 2 Corinthians 11:13 he calls them “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” But who were they? In 2 Corinthians 11:5 he sarcastically calls them “super-apostles.” In that time, “super-apostles” could have meant only one thing: the original apostles.

Is this possible? Sure. Some commentators are open to it. Is it a done deal? Not at all. Hagenston gives no argument for it. There are not scholarly authorities cited. It is only an assertion.

Hagenston will need to make an argument and do so interacting with the best scholars in the field. Until he does so, there is really nothing that can be said.

In the end, I find many of Hagenston’s criticisms lacking. While he says he is still a Christian, and that could be the case until he starts denying Christ rose from the dead as I do not see inerrancy as an essential of the faith, he seems to have come from a more modern perspective and is not interacting with the scholarship in the field. As is too often the case, he gives a one-sided presentation.

I conclude the way I started. This is precisely why more education and awareness of apologetics is needed in the field.

In Christ,

Nick Peters


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