Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

Book Plunge: What Have They Done With Jesus?

February 24, 2015

What do I think of Ben Witherington’s book published by Harper Collins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

WhathavetheydoneiwthJesus

Recently, I received an announcement in my email that this book was on sale on Kindle. Unfortunately, it is no longer at the sale price, but I scooped it up as soon as I saw it was. Why? Because frankly, Ben Witherington is one of the most phenomenal scholars that there is. I have been told that he has an excellent memory down to the page numbers of a book that he has read and is quite knowledgeable in many other fields outside of the New Testament.

Yet in this one, he’s talking about the New Testament and taking a shot at the bad history that is often presented. I knew I was in for a treat when the very first chapter was titled “The Origins of the Specious.” This is more of a classical humor that we often see from Witherington. Witherington says we live in a culture that is Biblically illiterate and yet Jesus-haunted. Jesus is seen all around us, and most of us have not done any real study on Jesus and that consists of more than just going to church every Sunday. The way that our culture buys into ideas on Jesus immediately has had Witherington tempted to write a book called “Gullible’s Travels.”

He gives an example of this when he talks about being interviewed by a major network and being asked if it could be possible that Mary was a temple prostitute who was raped and Jesus was the result. That would be why he said in Luke that he had to be in his father’s house. Yes. That was an actual question that was asked and the tragedy is that was his first question asked by this network as was said and not presented apparently as some crank theory to get his take on.

In our culture, too often the culture will ignore the hard facts found in scholarship on the historical Jesus and instead go with the bizarre crank theories that you can find on the internet and the History Channel. Consider for instance how the idea that Jesus never even existed is spreading like wildfire on the internet. People who will demand the strongest evidences for Christians when making their claims will accept the weakest arguments when made in favor of an idea like this.

So how does Witherington deal with all of this? Witherington suggests we look at the primary sources, the Gospels and the epistles, and see what we can determine about the lives of those who were closest to Jesus. He uses the strongest scholarship he can find and also brings out many of the realities of living in an honor-shame culture that too many people are unfamiliar with. (While unfortunately, they are quite familiar with The Da Vinci Code).

Witherington starts at a place we might not expect, with a woman named Joanna. Now I’m not going to give a full look at any argument. That is for the reader to learn when they get the book. Joanna is someone mentioned in Luke 8 and is seen at the crucifixion in Luke 24, yet Witherington also makes a compelling case that she is also the Junia that we find mentioned in Romans 16.

Witherington brings out an amazing amount of information on this woman just by looking at the culture that she lived in and seeing the best scholarship on the issue. We often think of preachers who are said to milk a text for whatever it’s worth. Witherington is not like that. He’s not trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. Instead, he is more like a highly skilled detective calling in the person for an interview and asking as many questions to get to the truth and finding the person has a lot more to tell than was realized.

From there, we move on to Mary Magdalene who contrary to popular theory was not the wife of Jesus. As Witherington has said elsewhere, when she sees Jesus in John 20, we do not see her saying “Oh honey! So glad you’re back! Let’s go and get a James Dobson book and revitalize her marriage!” (We can also say in this that she never once asked Jesus to take out the trash.) Mary Magdalene is a woman with many legends told about her, but she’s also a woman with a remarkable story. The culture not being accurate about Mary Magdalene does not mean we should downplay her. This was an amazing woman with a shameful past who is an excellent example of the transforming power of Jesus.

From there, we move on to figures who we have more information on. We go to Peter and how he would have seen Jesus in his time and what information we can gain about what Peter did after the resurrection. Peter was known as Jesus’s right hand man and what he would have to say about Jesus would be of utmost importance. As Witherington goes on and shows James and Paul later, Peter will still play an important role there since if Peter gives the okay to these guys, they must have been doing something right.

After that, we go to the mother of Jesus. Mary is definitely another Mary with many stories built up after her. Witherington points out that we have Mariology, but we don’t have Peterology or Jamesology. Yet while those of us who are Protestants do think the pendulum has swung too far with the treatment of Mary by Catholics, we should realize the Scripture does say that all people will call Mary blessed, and for good reason and realize that Mary is an important witness to the truth of Christianity and who Jesus was and is.

From there, we move to the Beloved Disciple. Witherington has an interesting take in that he thinks much of the material in the Gospel of John comes from Lazarus. I must say that after reading the material, I find it quite fascinating. Still, it doesn’t mean John has no role in this. John could very well have been the editor of all the material and compiled it all together into a Gospel. This is possible and worth considering.

The next look comes from James, the brother of Jesus. James has often got a bad rap as being a legalist of sorts. Witherington argues that James was in fact an expert at how to handle possibly volatile situations. Paul was interested in the question of what Gentiles needed to do to be considered Christians. Did they need to be Jewish. James was wanting to make sure there was no entire cut from Judaism and that Gentiles would be sensitive to Jewish concerns so that Jews would want to remain Christians and was wanting to say that Jews could still follow and observe the Law as Christians and honor their heritage. While there was no doubt some disagreement between the two, if these two were brought together to discuss points of doctrine, there would be more nods of agreement than disagreement.

At the end of this section, I had a new respect for James and still do. It left me thankful that there were Christians like James who were put in very difficult situations and had to learn how to walk a line very finely to keep an early church together, and James did this without an instruction manual or without even having access to a New Testament. He also had no doubt had to rely on people like Peter a great deal for information on Jesus since James was not a disciple beforehand. That Peter let James lead the Jerusalem church shows what a remarkable amount of trust Peter had in James’s understanding of the Jesus tradition.

Also, we have a brief look at Jude. Jude is one of the shortest books in the Bible, but it is still a book of utmost importance and the look at Jude, one of Jesus’s brothers, will show the importance that Jude would have played in the society and how this little book contains big information on Jesus.

Finally, we get to Paul. We too often can see Paul as the originator of Christianity. This would not explain Peter and James approving of the work of Paul. It also misses the radical change that Paul had in his life, something Witherington brings out well. I have been at men’s study groups before where Paul came up and people have said they want to have faith like Paul. I have reminded them that if they want to have faith like Paul, they need to see the change Christ brings to the world like Paul did. We often do not see that.

Paul was a first-rate thinker highly educated and was the one who really first saw the implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus, even beyond that which Peter saw. This is remarkable since Paul was not part of the inner circle or even part of the twelve at the time of Jesus. Witherington gives a detailed look at the life of the Apostle to the Gentiles and how he changed the world in a way that it has never been the same since.

What do all these people have in common? It would take something miraculous to get them to do what they did. It would have to be an utter life-changing event. Witherington sees no other way to explain the rise of the church. As Witherington says:

“Here we are able to reach a major conclusion of this study. None of these major figures who constituted the inner circle of Jesus would have become or remained followers of Jesus after the crucifixion if there was no resurrection and no resurrection appearances of Jesus. The church, in the persons of its earliest major leaders, was constituted by the event of the resurrection, coupled with the Pentecost event! The stories of these figures, especially their post-Easter stories, are the validation of this fact. There would be no church without the risen and appearing Jesus”

I wholeheartedly agree with Witherington. The best explanation for the rise of the Christian church is the one that the church itself gave. God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus is the Messiah and the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel. Jesus is the one who is bringing the Kingdom of God to man. By His resurrection, God is reclaiming the world for Himself and inviting us to take part in it.

I conclude with saying that this is a book that should be read entirely and its ideas grasped. The people around Jesus will not be seen in the same light again. Readers will also get great clues as to the dynamics that exist in an honor-shame society and what a radical difference that makes to our understanding of Christianity.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Advertisements

Along Came Poly.

February 20, 2015

Comments have been moved here:http://deeperwaters.ddns.net/?p=8410

Does the covenant of marriage really matter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Two days ago on February 18th, prominent internet blogger Richard Carrier, who seems to be the answer to all conservative NT scholarship in the eyes of internet atheists everywhere, wrote a post about how he is coming out polyamorous.

So what does it mean to be polyamorous?

A visit to the Polyamory society defines it this way:

Polyamory is the nonpossessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultanously.  Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to be involved with rather than accepting social norms which dictate loving only one person at a time.  Polyamory is an umbrella term which integrates traditional mutipartner relationship terms with more evolved egalitarian terms.  Polyamory embraces sexual equality and all sexual orientations towards an expanded circle of spousal intimacy and love.  Polyamory is from the root words Poly meaning many and Amour meaning love hence “many loves” or Polyamory.  Of course, love itself is a rather ambiguous term, but most polys seem to define it as a serious, intimate, romantic, or less stable, affectionate bond which a person has with another person or group of persons.  This bond usually, though not necessarily always, involves sex.  Sexualove or eromance are other words which have been coined to describe this kind of love.  Other terms often used as synonyms for polyamory are responsible, ethical or intentional non-monogamy.

Now if you want to say as I seem to take it that this entails a desire to have sex with many people other than one’s own spouse, then I will tell you that there are many many people who I think are really polyamorous.

Namely, every male on the planet, including myself.

But you know, rather than admit that you’re a person who has to learn to practice self-control and rather than admit that maybe sex is meant to be between two people who make a covenant together, it’s often easier to just come up with a name for it and in fact define it as a sexual orientation. In fact, Carrier himself says this. “The ability to be more transparent, public, and open about my sexual orientation is a major part of what I’ve needed in my life.”

And note that. “What I’ve needed.”

Of course,we can’t overlook the fact that there truly is someone for whom to have great sympathy in this situation, and that’s his wife who he has said he is divorcing after twenty years. One can only imagine what is going on in Jen’s world right now and we as Christians should indeed pray for her. After all, she has invested twenty years of her life in a man only to have him leave her.

It’s especially tragic if one really thinks there is a need for multiple partners. It’s going to a woman and saying “You’re not enough for me. I need more than you.” That hits at the core of a woman’s identity very often. This is especially the case of a woman who wants to be a one and only and not simply one among many. Whether Jen falls into this category or not, I cannot say, but I can say I’m quite sure she’s not a happy camper right now and I mean this with all honesty. I have the greatest of sympathy right now for her in this and plan to keep her in my prayers.

We can also be sure Jen is another victim of the “It won’t hurt your marriage” line.

Remember this. When marriage gets hurt, it is not just marriage that hurts. It is real people that get hurt.

So how did all this start? Carrier has the answer:

Several years ago, after about seventeen years of marriage, I had a few brief affairs, because I found myself unequipped to handle certain unusual circumstances in our marriage, which I won’t discuss here because they intrude on my wife’s privacy. In the process of that I also came to realize I can’t do monogamy and be happy. Since this was going to come to light eventually, about two years ago I confessed all of this to Jen and told her I still love her but I would certainly understand if she wanted a divorce. Despite all the ways we work together and were happy together, this one piece didn’t fit anymore.

You see, most of us find ourselves unequipped to handle some events in our marriage, and when we do, we go and get the help we need. Why? We are absolutely devoted to the person we love and want to be the best that we can for them. It is for that reason that on Facebook, my wife and I both have set up marriage groups. Mine is for Christian men only and hers is for Christian women only. These are men and women who are married, engaged, dating, or planning to marry. In both groups, it is about learning to love our spouse the way we’re supposed to.

This is monogamous marriage? Is it hard work. You absolutely bet it is. It’s one of the greatest lessons in self-sacrifice you learn. It is indeed about dying to yourself and learning to live a life where you actually have to realize what it’s like to not only put one person’s good above your own, but you have to learn what it is to do so with one who is so radically different from you, and even if you marry someone very similar to you, their being of the opposite sex makes them really much more different than you realize.

Yes. It is hard work, but it is also worth it.

Now you can go out and form many relationships with many people on a sexual level and just never really get to know them but have a time of pleasure with them, but as for me, I have decided already I have no desire to go wading in the shallow waters of multiple women. I have decided to dive deep into the ocean of my one. The key to real sex, I am convinced, is not going to be some technique or your physique or anything like that. Now these are all fine in and of themselves. If married people want to try a new technique in the bedroom that they both agree to, that’s fine. If they want to get in better shape to please their spouse and be able to do more, that’s fine. But you know what will make it best? It will be the raw unbridled passion that each person has for the other as a passion. It is knowing that the other person wants you for you and not just for sex. Sex is the icing on the cake of having one another.

This is something I have to keep in mind. I have to look at Allie and make sure constantly that I am treating her right. Am I using Allie as a means to get sex, or is sex the means that I use to get Allie? There is a world of difference between the two. If all you want is sex, go out on the streets with enough money and you can get that pretty easily. If what you want is another person, well that requires a lot more.

For many of us, that requires a covenant.

And that is really the great tragedy here. A covenant has been broken. The reason given includes the following:

But one of those things is the mutual understanding that we aren’t compatible with each other.

Most of us find this out before twenty years of marriage, but it does conveniently come out after affairs.

In reality, are any of us really “compatible” with one another? We all will change in the relationship, but if you really love the person, you change with the other person in mind and seek to grow in love towards that other person. If your main focus is on yourself, you won’t think about the other person. Granted, all of us have some areas of self-interest in a relationship and none of us do perfect in it, but we should all seek to strive for that.

Carrier says about this that:

It actually doesn’t make a lot of sense to expect a monogamous relationship to last, given that it assumes the contra-factual that people never change. If we never changed, we would never be learning, never growing or improving as a person. Which is not a commendable goal. And as both members of a couple change, as unavoidably they will, and even if each changes for the better, statistically, just on a basic bell curve reasoning (and thus simply as a matter of mathematical necessity), half are still going to change divergently rather than convergently, so we could predict on that basis alone that half of all monogamies will become non-viable. Which oddly matches observation.

We might want to learn something from that.

This is news for people who did monogamy for centuries and found that for some strange reason, it seems to work pretty well. Could it be that the problem is not that monogamy is hard but that divorce is easy? It doesn’t take much to say “I give up” when things get difficult. In reality, as you change, you learn to love through the change. Divorce in that way becomes a way of saying “I can’t love you the way you are.” It really says nothing about the way the other person is. It says plenty about the person who makes the claim.

Is the other person hard to live with? So are you. Is the other person someone who can annoy you at times? You do the same to them. Is the other person someone who makes no sense to you at times? You don’t make sense to them at times. This is all part of the reality of the covenant. You made a promise to this person when you married them to love them forever and they trusted you in that promise. What does it mean to be the kind of person who breaks that promise?

Now does this mean divorce is never an option? No. There are sad cases where it is. Two such cases I can think of are abuse and adultery. And still in these cases, while divorce can be a necessity, particularly in the case of abuse, it is still a tragedy. None of us should really celebrate when a divorce takes place. We should all have great sorrow. Even if in the case of a woman better off than with an abusive husband, it is still sorrowful that a covenant was broken and a woman has to live with that. As I’ve said before, pray for Jen.

As for those of us who are Christians, let’s make this a favorite case to show Carrier wrong in by loving our spouses the way we’re supposed to and striving for that every day. If you’re in the field of apologetics and you’re able to refute Carrier, but you do not do the job of loving your spouse the way that Christ commands you to, I could call you a fine apologist, but I can’t say I’d call you a fine Christian.

To that end, we do need to establish better places in churches where men and women can come together. Men need to be able to connect with just men and talk about what is on our minds. Women need to have the same. In both cases, sexual issues should not be off the table. It seems often we talk about every aspect of marriage enrichment in church except the sexual one. That should definitely be discussed. Carrier’s embracing of polyamory should be a reminder to Christians that this stuff is becoming more and more acceptable. It’s not going to go away. We need to be prepared to handle it and not just with an apologetic defense of marriage, but a lived out defense of marriage.

Then of course, couples need to come together and be able to discuss the issues that they have, because all marriages have areas that can be improved on. The more we do this, the better able we are going to be to fulfill our duties as Christians. When I was dating Allie, I was studying philosophy. Now it’s New Testament, and I would change that part of what I said to her parents at the time that described my goal in life which is still the same. One goal is obvious, to get a Ph.D. in New Testament. The other goal? To get a Ph.D. in Allie. I want to be a student of learning who she is constantly and growing in my relationship with her more and more. Do I screw up at times? Obviously, but a mature man learns from his mistakes and strives to not repeat them. I just pray I be a mature man.

Keep in mind people that this is something that we should read about as a tragedy. I still do. The problem is not the institution of marriage. The problem is the people entering into it. Let’s try to change ourselves to be better at marriage. Too often we’re trying to change marriage to fit it to ourselves. If you are married, renew that drive today to be the best spouse that you can be.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 2/21/2015: Tawa Anderson

February 19, 2015

What’s coming up this Saturday on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

When I was in New Orleans for the Defend the Faith conference, I met many great speakers there. I met many fine and wonderful minds that are highly skilled in apologetics. I met many that are great inspirations for us all and are simply remarkable with the way that their brilliant intellects work.

I also met Tawa Anderson.

Just having some fun there. 🙂

When we were deciding which breakout sessions to go to, I figured I knew a lot of the material already, so I’d let Allie choose. Allie wanted to go see Tawa speak because she has an interest in worldview thinking and that happened to be the topic that Tawa was speaking on. For many in apologetics, it can be a basic topic, but it’s really quite in-depth and quite central to everything we do, so why not have him discuss it on my show? This Saturday, we’ll see that happen. So who is Tawa Anderson?

Tawa profile pic

According to his bio:

Tawa Anderson is Chair of the Philosophy Department and Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Apologetics at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, OK.  Tawa presents papers regularly at professional philosophical society meetings, has written a number of journal and magazine articles, and is the co-author of a worldview textbook used at OBU (and hopefully soon to be published and accessible to the broader public).

A native of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Tawa earned his B.A. (Political Science) at the University of Alberta, and an M.Div. (Pastoral Ministry) from Edmonton Baptist Seminary (now Taylor Seminary).  Tawa served as English Pastor of Edmonton Chinese Baptist Church for seven years before returning to school to earn his Ph.D. in Philosophy, Apologetics & Worldview from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  A husband and father of three, Tawa is passionate about equipping the church to understand, explain, and defend the truth of the Christian faith.  He has led apologetic workshops, seminars, and conferences at churches throughout western Canada, Kentucky, Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Tawa enjoys speaking on a broad range of apologetic topics, with particular passion for matters regarding: (1) Truth, Relativism, and Postmodernism; (2) The Textual Integrity and Historical Reliability of the New Testament; (3) The Historical Jesus; (4) The Resurrection of Christ; (5) Worldview; (6) The Need for Apologetic and Worldview Training in Contemporary Christian Churches; and (7) The Question/Problem of Evil/Pain.  Tawa blogs (with intermittent dedication) at www.tawapologetics.blogspot.com

Allie and i got to know Tawa very well at the conference and at some meals got to see him interacting with visitors on very deep levels. Also amusing was getting to see him do a mock debate with Gary Habermas on if Jesus rose from the dead where he played the role of Bart Ehrman. We suspect he won’t want to do that again. That was not recorded and/or streamed by the conference so if you regret missing it, just make sure to come next year!

Tawa did a great job of taking the serious topic of worldview thinking and making it accessible to everyone in the room and we’re sure to see the same on the Deeper Waters Podcast. Be looking for the next episode in your podcast feed soon.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 4

February 18, 2015

Where does a preacher go after they apostasize? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So now that Barker is no longer a preacher, what’s he to do with himself? Part of what he does he says is to continue growing with nicely pointing out that religious conservatives don’t want to move on. This is after saying that for some, growth and progress are a threat. You see, those of us who are religious conservatives have always resisted progress because we’d rather hold on to tradition.

Okay Barker. Just because you were like this does not mean the rest of us are. It’s a comment like this that makes me sure that Barker holds to the Dark Ages myth as well. If you’re a religious conservative like myself and reading this blog, this I hope means you are interested in growth and progression.

Of course, the word progress is tricky. Yet I think it is trickier for the atheist than for the theist. Progress implies a goal, a purpose, something to move towards. That also implies that each of us has a nature and progress is befitting that nature. This is much easier to account for on theism where such things can be grounded in an eternal mind. For many, progress is defined as just going where you want. But what if man has a specific nature and a specific end and it might not be based on what we want but what we need? Could that not change things?

To get back to Barker, Barker is clear that he is still in essence a preacher. He just preaches a different gospel, though it could hardly be called a gospel. He now does this as part of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He talks about doing several debates, with most notably saying that his first one was in Nashville and it was on the topic of the historicity of Jesus. It’s revealing to know that when Barker pulled a 180, he immediately went to the total fringe extreme on the opposite side of the spectrum. (As we’ll find later in the book, he has a whole chapter devoted to arguing Jesus never existed.)

Barker also has a statement in here saying “Faith is what you need when you don’t have certainty. The more you learn, the less you need to believe.” This would be news to all the epistemologists out there who hold that whatever knowledge is, it is at least justified true belief. Even if we bring up the Gettier Problem, there is still agreement that knowledge is at least these three things. Why so many atheists like Barker want to put this radical dichotomy between knowledge and belief up is a mystery.

As will be no shock to anyone, Barker also does not have any clue what faith is. For all the talk that I hear about definitions like this and that faith is believing something without evidence, I just wish that I could get some evidence for this position. I guess those who espouse it just want me to take it on faith and ignore all the evidence to the contrary. Again, Barker is just assuming his old mindset is the same as Christians today. Sorry, but most of us are not that fundamentalist as Barker was and still is.

One other point is that during a debate, Barker asked a Christian “If God told you to kill me, would you?” What Barker misses is that when Christians are to think God is telling them something, it’s not because we’re driving down the road and get an impression that we should turn in various directions until we realize we’re in the middle of nowhere and then think God is congratulating us for testing our faith. (Incidentally, this happened to Barker.)

In fact, in their book Did God Really Command Genocide?, Copan and Flannagan spend a chapter on this. They point out that there must be strong evidence that God is behind it, this evidence needs to be public, and it needs to be verified by miracles of such a scope that they call them G2 miracles. These are miracles that you can be sure are not just sleight of hand but are actually the work of a supreme being.

In describing his debate with Swinburne, he states that he argued that God is not a simple being but infinitely complex. Barker makes the same mistake that Dawkins does. He assumes God must be like a material being and thus have composition, such as a massive brain that connects this part of God to that. This has not been the historical view of the church. Indeed, we have said God is simple. He is simple in that He is not made of parts. It is not that He is easy to understand.

Barker also tells of another debate where he says theistic claims are not falsifiable and if a statement is to be seen as true, there must be other statements that if true would make that false. Does this follow? Is the principle of falsifiability falsifiable? If so, then perhaps the principle is wrong. If not, then the principle itself cannot be true. Barker could not have it be both ways. Besides, it seems odd to show that he thinks it is not falsifiable when he has done debates on the existence of God.

But besides that, it still doesn’t matter. Theism is falsifiable. You can show a necessary contradiction in the nature of God or give another positive disproof for his existence. You can also try to show that there are fallacies in all of the theistic arguments. The latter would not show that theism is false, but it would show that theism was believed for poor reasons. Yet it gets worse for Barker’s case as he goes on to say

“Falsifiability cuts both ways, of course. I am often asked what would cause me to change my mind. “What would you accept as proof that there is a God?” I can think of dozens of examples. If you were to tell me that God predicted to you that next March 14 at 2:27 a.m. a meteorite composed of 82 percent iron, 13 percent nickel and 3 percent iridium, approaching from the southwest and hitting the Earth at an angle of 82 degrees, would strike your house (not mine, of course), penetrating the building, punching a hole through your Navajo rug upstairs and the arm of the couch downstairs, ending up 17.4 inches below the basement floor and weighing 13.5 ounces, and if that happened as predicted, I would take that as serious evidence that atheism is falsified. If Jesus would materialize in front of a debate audience, captured on videotape, and if he were to tell us exactly where to dig in Israel to find the ark of the covenant containing the original stone tablets given to Moses—well, you get the idea. Atheism is exquisitely vulnerable to disproof. Theism is not”

So please note this. Barker wants theists to tell some evidence that would change their mind. What evidence does he say would change his mind? Something no theist could provide. That means already that if I were to debate Dan Barker, he’s already set the bar for what would count as falsifiable evidence of atheism and it’s not rational argument. Instead, it’s dependent on his having an experience.

As I have said before, this is atheistic presuppositionalism.

Barker also claims at one debate that he had a list of 75 highly qualified Bible scholars, most of them believing Christians with at least one Ph.D. in biblical languages and other subjects related to the topic. He also showed where they taught at and that each of them is convinced the resurrection is a legend or a myth.

One would like to see such a list. For one thing, if they’re Christians, they do not hold that stance. A believing Christian is one who believes Jesus rose from the dead. I cannot help but be suspicious of this and wonder if this is anything like Ken Humphreys had in his debate with me. When he told me he had a list of scholars who upheld his view of the Gospels, I asked him for that list. Knowing what list he was speaking of, I asked his definition of a scholar. That’s when the wiggling really started.

Maybe someday I’ll get to see this list.

For now, we’re going to let this be a wrap-up. Next time we post on this, we’ll have a look at why Barker is an atheist.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 3

February 17, 2015

What was the fallout on Barker’s relationships with coming to atheism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and fall out.

Barker writes in his book about how he decided to mail everyone he had a significant relationship with and let them know he had abandoned Christianity and become an atheist. The sad reality in this chapter is that this is not one that is revealing of Barker, but rather is revealing of the church at large. As I read many of the letters that came back, I too felt great frustration, though no doubt for different reasons than Barker.

You see, too many Christians argued from their worldview back. Now in a sense, we all who are Christians argue from the position that our worldview is true, but when you meet an opponent, you don’t start with what you believe. You start with what he believes. Consider someone who says “It’s the devil! He’s out there trying to steal your joy!” Can you really imagine any atheist just saying to that “My gosh! I hadn’t realized that! I must go and repent right now! Please tell me where the nearest church is!”

And an emotional reaction is quite likely because of an emotional panic. This is because these people have never been trained to go this route. I would have preferred to have heard someone say “Wow Dan. That’s quite a remarkable choice that you’ve made. Can we maybe arrange a meeting or at least a few phone calls and talk about this decision and why you’ve made it and I can tell you why I think you should reconsider Christianity?” (And of course, be sure to give actual reasons there that show that you’ve done your homework.)

Then of course, there were the responses of indignation. I’m sure there were also quite likely some along the lines of “You were never a Christian to begin with.” This is one that I really don’t think we should make. After all, if any of us asked if we were a Christian today, we’d likely point to the same kinds of evidences. We remember when we gave our lives to Christ. We do our Christian service and we grow in holiness. Yet apparently someone can have those and still not be a Christian supposedly because of this rule that if you apostasize, you never were one. It gives the impression that you can never know unless you make it all the way. In the end, it will make us more followers of works-salvation.

Also, Barker says he received numerous letters asking how he was hurt. Now I do think there are emotional reasons for atheism, but that does not mean they are immediately apparent. Still, I don’t appeal to those unless there’s some reason that I think it necessary and I have evidence of those reasons. The data is what matters. Christians like this were trying to psychologize Barker instead of actually dealing with the data of what was being said to them.

Of course, there’s also the question of Barker asking two people “If I go out and get hit by a car and die, will I go to Hell.” For the talk about emotional appeals, this is about as emotional as it gets. Whether the answer is liked or not does not change it. It does not even say if the judgment is deserved or not. The truth of the matter is being determined by how one feels about it.

One interesting conversation he talks about is with his Uncle Keith.

“One day as we were driving back to southern California from a computer show in Las Vegas, he pointed to a huge rock formation in the landscape and said, “Isn’t that beautiful!” I looked at it for a moment and said, “Yes, it is beautiful. You can see how the multicolored ancient sedimentary sea beds were thrust upward after millions of years of tectonic pressure and are now tilted at an improbable angle.” He turned to me and snapped, “Do you have to ruin everything?”

And I read this wondering “How is this ruining?” Barker and Keith both have the wrong idea here. Barker thinks that if you provide a natural explanation for how it happened, then that means there cannot be any deity involved. Keith thought that if you gave a natural explanation, then you had killed the wonder of it. Both can be true. You can have a God who sets in play wonderful magnificent processes that produce beautiful things like rock formations.

So there’s not much to say about this chapter really. Before too long, we will be getting into the main arguments, the part I look forward to the most.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Fifty Shades of Freedom

February 16, 2015

What do I think of Daniel Eaton’s self-published Ebook? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As I write this review, you’re going to get some insight at the modern situation, because it is two days after Valentine’s Day and Fifty Shades of Grey has come out. This is a movie that has been described as “Mommy Porn.” In fact, Dakota Johnson who plays the lead female character Anastasia Steele has said she does not want her parents to see it. It’s not just her. Jamie Dornan who plays the lead male role of Christian Grey has been interviewed as well:

How do the actors feel about their movie? Not much better. Johnson says she doesn’t want her family to see it. Dornan says he was often uncomfortable playing his part. “I had to do stuff to [Dakota Johnson] that I would never choose to do to a woman,” he says, adding: “I’m a dad.” Dornan tells one interviewer that he went to a “sex dungeon” in preparation for his role, and that when he came home afterwards he was careful to shower before touching his wife and infant child.

Now in case anyone is wondering, no, I have not seen the movie. I have no intention to see it. I have also not read the books. I have no intention to read the books. Normally, I would recommend something like that, but with the dangers of pornography, I am making an exception. In fact, my wife has told me that she has heard that the female in the film has full frontal nudity. No. I am not doing a search to see if that report is true or not because I am concerned that search would come with images and I do not want that.

But while Fifty Shades of Grey goes to one extreme, the movie Old-Fashioned goes to the other. This is supposed to be a Christian response and frankly, as soon as I saw the trailer, I did not want to see the movie. I uphold love and that romance is created by God. I uphold that sex is something good and wonderful that God created. I am an upholder of chivalry. I still open the car doors for my Allie. I pull out her chair at restaurants and I do not sit down until she has sat down. Believe it or not, because people date and actually have physical contact (Not having sex, but having contact), they can still respect one another. If anyone is wondering what all we did, if you consider the twelve steps of intimacy, we did not do 9-12 until after we were married.

It wasn’t because of lack of desire, but because I knew as did Allie that once you reach a certain point, it would be hard to put the brakes on, yet her parents trusted me entirely with her. They did not have a moment of concern. When it came to the time that I asked them for her hand in marriage, (honestly, for respect, I get a little emotional just thinking about it) they said yes. They knew exactly who was marrying her daughter. If you had told them I was not treating their daughter with respect, they would have said that was ridiculous, this despite that yes, Allie and I did kiss on our first date.

When I see a movie like Old Fashioned I see instead a more gnostic approach to Christianity. It’s as if we’re all these creatures of hormones and we’re bound to listen to our wicked bodies and we need to avoid contact like kissing. I understand people wanting to have the first kiss at the altar, but I don’t think it’s wise. To go straight from kiss to total nudity with one another and sexual intercourse? Too much, too fast.

But the people behind Old Fashioned had this as a response to Fifty Shades of Grey and a challenge. How did that work? Not well. According to this reviewOld Fashioned brought in $258,000 since its opening day. I can quite assure you that was largely Christians, aside from perhaps some film critics who were probably forced to go see it and might have been sitting there wishing they could see Fifty Shades of Grey instead.

A movie, by the way, which brought in $30 million on opening day alone.

Yep. David when he took on Goliath took him on knowing how to fight and knowing what weapons to use and knowing what promises had been made to Israel through God. We today instead go out and enter the battle and count on God being behind our plans instead of looking to see if we’re really equipped. Had David not had experience fighting wild animals as a shepherd, he would not have gone out to fight the giant.

And this is also a problem. Note what the movie is said to be. It’s a response.

A response.

Do you know what that means?

It means that we are seeing what the world is talking about and saying “Whoa. We gotta get in on this.” As long as we are just in response mode, we will never grow. If anyone wants to change their life, they have to stop being reactive. They have to learn to be proactive. They have to learn how to act before an event happens and know what they will do if something happens. Oh sure, you have to know how to properly respond, but you also need to know that you have to act in advance. If you exercise only when you overeat, you will never lose weight. If you make love only when your spouse wants you to, you will never be taking the initiative he wants you to. If you wait until you’re in debt before you seek money, you will have a hard time getting out of debt.

As long as we are just reactive, it is the world that is taking the lead and the Christian church will not make an impact. Did we make an impact with Old Fashioned? Not a bit. In fact, we might have done more harm because people could say “This is the Christian ideal? What prudes.”

That’s why I’m thankful for books like Daniel Eaton’sFifty Shades of Freedom is meant to tell you what your pastor never told you about sex. In fact, the release of Fifty Shades of Grey should be a huge wake-up call for us. This might sound like a shock, but people are actually interested in sex. Yes. Believe it or not, Christians are even interested in sex. That’s right. Christians actually want sex. Can you believe it?

In fact, Friday night my wife and I were at a church event where Heaven Is For Real was being played. Now i won’t deny it. I did not care for the book. Why do I bring this up? Because there are scenes such as the one with the mother wanting to go on a trip to Denver for a reason I do not remember, but her husband, the pastor, says nothing she says could convince him to go. In response she says “Really? Because I was thinking” and at this point, she leans over and starts whispering in his ear.

“Kids! Pack your bags! We’re going to Denver!”

And that is a Christian movie with a pastor saying that. I love that. You know why? Because it’s real. Men really do think that way. This includes Christian men in ministry, including men like myself. As Eaton says

“Evolutionists would say this was some kind of necessary primal urge or something, but it seems like singles want to have sex. Real profound, I know”

While the statement is applied to singles, it fits on all levels. For Christians, when they get married, believe it or not, sex is often in the picture of things they want to do first. Those who do what we did and get a dinner first in fact do so because we want to be ready when the sex comes. At our wedding reception, after about twenty minutes or so, I was ready for us to go. Were my friends and family there and people who I hadn’t seen in a long time? Yep. Sure were. And frankly, no offense to them, but they weren’t on my mind. I just wanted to get my bride to our room and enjoy what I’d waited years for.

And that is a godly desire. Christians should not be ashamed about sex at all. It’s God’s idea. Just think about the male and female bodies. Look at how they go together. God designed it. He made the system. He made it also that it was to be enjoyed by both men and women. As Eaton says about how Christians handle the topic,

“Something tells me that if an accurate interpretation and translation of Song Of Solomon were to be published under another name, the average church would protest its inclusion in the local library. It would be called porn, or at the very least, seen as “dirty” erotica”

It’s almost as if we want to make sex a hands-off subject. (Pun intended)

As Eaton goes on to say about marriage retreats that he has been on

“It was all “romance” and “communication” and “parenting” and personality types and so forth. Nothing wrong with that. It is needed as well. But not even in the frank single-gender break-out sessions did they ever get anywhere near as open as what is talked about in other, less-Christian venues. Every guy in the room would, I’m sure, have loved a frank discussion on the topic. But it is guidance that Christian couples seem forced to get somewhere else”

Eaton is right in saying sex is a beautiful thing. Why turn into something taboo? We all want to talk about sex. A lot of us actually have questions about sex. We seem to be told that it is actually wrong to desire your spouse. Could it actually be that you might want to have sex with your spouse for a reason other than you want to procreate? Men need to talk about sex. It’s a way they can be held accountable and avoid pornography. Women need to talk about sex because as mind blowing as it can be, women desire sex also. If they didn’t, they would not be interested in Fifty Shades of Grey. As Eaton says

“Here in the Bible Belt though, most Christian ladies that I know would die of shame if one of their friends from church found out that they had purchased a revealing piece of lingerie from somewhere. And the activity on the church grapevine “prayer chain” would be enough to light up Vegas for a night if someone actually saw the head deacon’s wife in Victoria’s Secret! I believe that if the church was a bit more open to discussing the subject, you wouldn’t find so many Christian men addicted to porn and so many unhappy Christian marriages. It’s great to say that married couples should satisfy each other, but typically you end up with different interpretations of what all that can/ should entail and it becomes a source of stress instead of pleasure”

Eaton’s book is not a list at rules. It’s a look at many controversial topics and how to handle them. One such topic is lust. Eaton says he struggled with this one. Not in the sense of lusting, but in the sense of being told what was lust. Is it wrong to look at a woman and think she’s beautiful? No. It’s what you do with the thought. When you start thinking about how much you want to have sex with her, then it is wrong.

In fact, Eaton tells about his wife who went to a Christian college. One of the dorm matrons taught the females that all nudity was just dirty. This is even after you’re married. You should always be covered in some way. If you are going to be unclothed because you just had to be, then by golly you’d better make sure that the lights are off. God forbid that your husband actually sees you naked.

Now please tell me, if a wife wants to follow that rule, how on Earth can she help a married man follow the commandment that God gives in Proverbs 5 to a husband?

18 Let your fountain be blessed,

and rejoice in the wife of your youth,

19     a lovely deer, a graceful doe.

May her breasts satisfy you at all times;

may you be intoxicated always by her love.

Yes, believe it or not, men are to desire their wives physically. I know that’s a real shock, but yes. If a husband wants to see his wife naked, it is no sin. In fact, if a husband does not want to see his wife naked, he’s got a real problem. As was said in A Celebration of Sex, a young bride was told by her mother “Your husband is going to want to see you naked.” If women are getting messages like the one that Eaton’s wife reports, then there is a problem. Sex is not wrong. It is not in itself a sin. It is a gift from God. It can be used wrongfully. It can be sin in some situations, but in the context of a husband and wife acting in love towards each other, it is not a sin. Far from sin, it is a commandment. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7

2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

The main part I disagreed with Eaton on is that he thinks the church is doing an adequate job telling us that sex is a good thing. It is not. It is not doing that because it is hardly talking about sex at all. In fact, too many times when I have heard sex talked about from the pulpit, it has been in negative terms, especially to our young people. It’s okay to tell young people about the joy of sex.

From my perspective, I remember we used to have a speaker come to the schools and sometimes churches and he would say he was saving up money because when he got married, he was going to be having sex with his wife for two weeks. This is a guy who loved sex. He wanted sex. He was in fact still a virgin and encouraging other kids to wait until marriage like he was and then, go at it! I understand that he is married now so I hope those two weeks were excellent) I remember a message like that positively. I don’t remember the negative messages that way.

Fifty Shades of Grey should be a wake-up call as to how poorly the church is handling these issues and thankfully, there are books like Eaton’s out there.. This is also a short one. It’s 23 pages long on the Kindle and it can be read in half an hour to an hour, but that will be a half hour to an hour that is well spent. It is my sincere hope that the church could follow principles like these and learn the importance of talking about sex. Fifty Shades of Grey is one extreme. Old Fashioned is the other. As in many cases, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I think Eaton is closer to it than many.

In Christ,

Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Prayer by Tim Keller

February 11, 2015

What do I think of Tim Keller’s book on prayer published by Dutton Adult? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

prayer

Tim Keller’s book is an anomaly in some ways. I loved it in many ways, and I was in great pain about it as well.

You see, to be totally honest, prayer is very hard for me. Why is that? Well part of it I think is I’m a guy and men tend to be more action-oriented and when we pray, we don’t feel like we’re doing much. Second for me is I’m an Aspie. Because of that, relationships with other humans can be difficult. It is all the more so difficult when it comes to one as different as God. Third, there is so much stuff I consider to be nonsense such as prayer being described as a two-way dialogue and listening for the voice of God.

So wanting a good book, I asked my pastor who knows my intellectual bent and is himself quite solid and knowledgeable about the Bible. He recommended Keller’s book.

As I started the book, I was so surprised with what I was seeing. Keller spoke about how important it is to be grounded in Scripture for prayer. He talked about how your intellectual life should inform your prayer life and then in turn, your prayer life will inform your intellectual life. While these are simple concepts, they were explained in such a way that brought them home to me. In fact, there were some nights that I went to bed really excited about prayer.

Which gets to why I had great pain over this book.

As I read through, Keller hits hard on the ways that we do things wrong with not having devotion to prayer and not caring about the attitudes of our heart. We often go and ask forgiveness of our sins and more often, we’re just wanting to avoid the consequences. We lose sight then entirely of the attitude of the heart that led to that sin. When we resist the forgiveness as well, then we are also being just as guilty. Those who often resist forgiveness think they are not being contrite enough, without realizing their resistance to forgiveness is not being contrite enough.

Keller takes us through great writers of the past like Augustine, Calvin, Luther, and Owen to see what the church has said about prayer. As I read, I realized many ways that I need to improve and at this point of writing, I am trying. One thing I have had for some time is a mentor who holds me accountable and who I email every night. I recommend that everyone find someone like this. (I also think it’s important men have male mentors and women have female mentors.)

Still, it was excellent to have a book that gets to the deep realities and doesn’t have any of what I call fluff. This is now the book I will recommend on prayer. Keller is an excellent writer and I’ve already told my wife that she needs to read this book as well. It’s hard to think of a Christian who would not be blessed in the reading of this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 2

February 10, 2015

How shall we continue our review of Godless by Dan Barker? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We now get to the part about Barker’s fall. He starts out by telling us it was 1979 and Jesus still hadn’t returned. (Yes. Barker was caught up in last days madness. Perhaps he could have avoided that had he had access to a work like DeMar’s at the time.) This again is a reminder of the hyper-fundamentalism of Barker. Jesus is returning and well, you know, every other generation was wrong about them being the generation, but we are the ones! Really!

Barker is visiting a church and he’s told that there are some members of the congregation that don’t think Adam and Eve were historical people. The pastor doesn’t deny that they’re Christians. This was a shock to Barker who was surprised they were allowed to be members. Barker goes on to describe how some people think some events in the Bible are not fully historical but meant to teach us lessons. Of course, Barker was just thinking it was liberal talk.

This experience for Barker would be akin to the experience Bart Ehrman regularly talks about where he got back a paper on Mark 2 trying to deal with what he saw as a Bible contradiction and was told “Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” Now yes, Ehrman says the problem of evil was the real clincher for his deconversion, but it cannot be denied that the breaking down of inerrancy in his mind had a lot to do with it and prepared him for that deconversion.

Barker tells us this was a big deal and started his slide towards where he is today. As he says “Those initial and timid movements away from fundamentalism were psychologically more traumatic than the intellectual flying leaps that came later. When you are raised to believe that every word in the bible is God-inspired and inerrant, you can’t lightly moderate your views on Scripture.”

Some of you wonder why it is that I have a problem with inerrancy being treated the way it is in the church as if it was the fundamental doctrine of the church.

This is why.

What happens if the resurrection of Jesus is made your focus? What happens if you can say Jesus rose from the dead even if the Bible is just a collection of ancient documents? Is something like Adam and Eve not being historical going to shake your trust? Nope.

Now Barker goes on to say he had read a lot of Christian writers, but had not interacted with the other side at all so he began reading everything he could. Now this part I do not condemn at all. However, there is one danger that I do stress to people. We cannot all be sufficient in every field. There are areas I do not read on because these are not my areas of interest. I do not study them. Oh I know the basics, but I am in no way a specialist. I know enough psychology that I could counsel someone in a pastoral way if need be. I know the basic science that most of us know, but that does not mean I am an authority in these areas.

Too many people can often jump into waters they know nothing about and they are very impressionable at that point and they get overwhelmed. If you do not know the field well, you really have no way of accurately judging the claims in that field and you can just believe whatever you are told. Barker says he did not get the liberal arts education he would have got at a real college. (And yes, there are Bible Colleges that teach these matters as well. Mine did.)

So again, could it be that the lack of education in the church is a problem? People don’t know how to interact with the other side and aren’t prepared in their own side?

Barker talks about visiting other congregations and seeing that they can all open the Bible and prove that theirs is the correct interpretation of the text.

No. No they can’t.

What it would mean if they could do that is that a text could mean in fact two contradictory things. The person can argue that theirs is the correct one, but proof is something else. What this does is raises the question of “Is there a correct interpretation of the text?” Unless Barker wants to go all postmodern on us (And it’s doubtful he does since he argues later on in the book for what the text says which seems to indicate the text can be understood) then it must be accepted that the text has a meaning. Maybe we don’t know it. Maybe we do. Maybe in some cases there is data missing that we can’t know it. It does not mean the text can mean anything or has no meaning and it does not mean the original recipients would not have understood the meaning.

Barker, like many others, uses the “God is not the author of confusion” at this point, though the text is about order in worship and saying when it comes to worship, God is not responsible for confusion. Yes. Barker is still a fundamentalist. He has just switched sides.

Barker also says when he preached, he talked less about hell and more about love and spent time talking about this life instead of an after-life. You can’t help but wonder what kind of preacher Barker really was and probably the only ones that would really like that style that is hinted at of hellfire and brimstone would be the rabid fundamentalists. As I’ve said before, we can too often create little safety bubbles in the church in an escapist mentality

On page 37, he talks about the fall more saying his experiences did not get weaker and that even today he can produce those feelings that he had. (He also says elsewhere that he can still speak in tongues and just practices every now and then to see if he still has it.) This is a reminder once again that too many Christians are rooting their faith in their own personal experience. Your faith is ultimately all about you then. This is why I get concerned when I meet Christians who only have their personal testimony. That is something that will hamper your evangelism in this day and age.

Barker goes on to say that it was beginning to look like there was no personal God. He ends the paragraph saying “What a strange and wonderful thing to realize.”

I must agree with my friend Jerry Walls. Why would anyone hope this?

Exactly how awful was Barker’s personal God?

Later on, Barker says he realized the counter-response to the information he says he was “learning” is just faith. For Barker, faith is a way to believe something. Biblically, faith is really a response to what you already believe. Let’s consider a scholarly source on the matter.

Faith/Faithfulness

“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.

It’s noteworthy that Barker admits that while he was an atheist, he was still preaching. To be fair, he did go and get a job doing something else, but it is a concerning issue to know that someone would go on preaching while still being an atheist. Barker talks about being invited to go to Mexico to do some ministry there while still an atheist and while there looking at the stars out the window, he says he realized that he was utterly alone and there was no “supernatural” realm. There was no one watching and judging him. He was all alone in the world in a universe that would burn out after it lost its fuel.

His thoughts?

“It was simultaneously a frightening and liberating experience.”

Okay. Frightening makes sense, but again, why liberating, unless Barker did have the god who was really a tyrannical judge all along and he hadn’t realized it? Why would anyone consider it liberating to be a universe where you are alone and that all you want will die eventually and any dreams will die with them? As Bertrand Russell said in a Free Man’s Worship:

“Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

All he needed to do was end this with a cute little smiley face.

Again, as Walls says, it’s understandable that someone can be convinced this is true intellectually and come to that conclusion with regret, but this strange speak of hope and liberation is just baffling.

But thus ends the story of the fall at this point. We’ll look at the fallout next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Godless Part 1

February 9, 2015

What are my thoughts on Dan Barker’s book published by Ulysses Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Godless

I’m working on something right now studying the atheism of Dan Barker. He’s well known for being a minister who became an atheist and for his influential position with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. When you read a book like Godless, you won’t learn a lot about atheism really, but you’ll sure learn a lot about Dan Barker and you’ll learn a lot about how the fundamentalist mindset works.

To correct everything wrong in the book would require a whole volume in itself. The foreword by Richard Dawkins doesn’t really help make the volume better. If anything, it just feeds into the mindset because when it comes to studying religion, Dawkins is often just as fundamentalist. A point I wish to look at is how Dawkins describes Barker’s mother who having been a Christian for practically all her life in a fundamentalist background threw it out shortly after Barker told her about his atheism. Dawkins says

“In his mother’s case, it only took her a few weeks to conclude that “religion is a bunch of baloney” and a little later she was able to add, happily, “I don’t have to hate anymore.”

Many will be wondering what style of fundamentalism Barker grew up with. If so, consider someone like Pat Robertson or Bob Jones.

Now multiply that by about 100.

Even supposing that religion is a bunch of baloney, it is not a simple subject and why should one think that just a few weeks is enough to conclude? Let us suppose I said this instead.

“Yeah. I had a relative who tried to convince me of evolution. I just went out and studied it and in a few weeks, I knew it was a bunch of baloney.”

That’s the kind of conclusion not reached in a few weeks. That requires much more time, but in our generation, we too often think the answers are quick and easy.

Consider the case of an atheist who I am sure would love to be mentioned but is someone who really likes to try to make a habit of debunking the faith he once says to have defended. He had a post talking about a man who went into a Barnes and Noble browsing and picked up this atheist’s book. He looked at some arguments about the Bible and then went to look up the verses in the Bible in the store in their context. He then says that hours later he renounced his faith.

Again, maybe the arguments were valid, but you really think a few hours qualifies you to make such a huge decision?

And as for not having to hate any more, we can’t help but wonder what it is being talked about. First off, there are some things you ought to hate. You ought to hate all manner of evil for instance. You ought to hate that people are abusing children right now and that women are being sold in the sex slave market. You also ought to hate that there are people living in poverty.

So this blanket statement is hard to understand and an odd focus as well. But then, such is the way it goes in fundamentalism.

Dan Barker starts the book off largely with his personal testimony. (Some things never change do they?) As we go through it, we see a young man with a lot of passion, but not a lot of information, which is a disaster waiting to happen. Unfortunately, it’s also a formula we have too often with our own youth. We send them out on youth retreats and such where they get a lot of entertainment and a lot of personal motivation, but they get very little in content.

Barker also talks about the moral differences between believers and nonbelievers. Somehow in his environment, he got the impression that atheists must just be wicked people somehow. I don’t know any Christian intellectual who holds to such a position. The moral argument is one constantly misunderstood as if it is being argued that an atheist cannot be moral. It’s a straw man made over and over despite it being answered time and time again. The moral argument argues that atheism has no ontological basis for morality. The moral truths are still there and they’re still followed, but they’re just not explained.

Much of Barker’s life relied on what he thought was a personal experience of God. On page 22, he says it’s interesting that God called Him so often exactly where he wanted to go. This is not a shock. I have noticed the same phenomenon. It seems interesting that the call of God seems to match so well for some preachers with where they can go and get a bigger church and a bigger paycheck.

Barker also gives us a good look at the fundamentalist mindset on page 33. “To the fundamentalist there is no gray area. Everything is black or white, true or false, right or wrong. Jesus reportedly said: “I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16, and not a very nice image.”

It’s also worth pointing out it’s a false interpretation of the passage. The city had hot water that served a purpose and cold water that served a purpose. Lukewarm water was useless. Jesus is not referring to spiritual condition here at all, as if He would prefer they be cold. Is the image pleasant? No, but it’s not supposed to be. This is yet another part of the fundamentalist mindset. “If it’s from God, it should not offend me.”

Barker’s story is one that most every feeling and inclination was seen as from God and every event that was happening was the hand of God at work. Now of course, every event is used by God for the Christian, but it is not directly caused by Him. It’s like the story of the woman who drives in a parking lot and sees a spot near the door and thinks God has blessed her. (And sometimes she drove for twenty minutes in the parking lot before she found that spot)

Barker talks about not accepting money for his services even though he had a family to take care of and about the music that he wrote. Any intellectual development however is not really talked about. This is one reason that it’s so important for churches to be preparing the people intellectually. If a pastor cannot be prepared intellectually and thus fall away, how much more the laity? How many apostates is someone like Barker making because no one took the time to train him up properly and if he was not willing to listen to others, why give a place of authority?

There was a man once who made a statement about the danger of zeal not in accordance with knowledge…

Godless has a lot in it that needs to be taken care of. This is just the start. We’ll continue our look at this book later.

Pastor. I Don’t Want Your Job.

February 6, 2015

Does a pastor have anything to fear from an apologist in his church? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I started thinking more about the post that I wrote on Wednesday about being a lonely apologist. One aspect of this I brought out was that too often pastors are very hesitant to let an apologist have any responsibility in the church. It can often be because many of us can be Seminary trained and know what we’re talking about and sadly, some pastors probably fear that their jobs could be in danger.

What should be said to such a pastor? Note that this letter is a hypothetical. I do not have any one pastor in mind. I certainly do not have my own as my pastor freely works with me and wants to utilize me to the best of my ability. My pastor is the exception and not the rule. Too many pastors I have contacted and offered my services to have very quickly passed and said they don’t need that kind of thing. The following then is something I would like to say in a letter.

Dear Pastor.

I don’t want your job.

I have come to you with my skill in Christian apologetics because I want to serve. I am not doing this for money because I am frankly offering this for free. If you want to support me financially in my mission, great. If not, I’d still do it for free anyway because frankly, this is that important. I have studied the topic of Christian apologetics for several years and see it as a vital need in the community.

You are in a special position pastor. People do look up to you and admire you and hear what you have to say, which is nice, but you have so many duties that I am frankly not cut out for. While I could handle doing a sermon, I have no desire to prepare one every week, to handle administrative duties, to have to give counseling, to be on emergency call for hospital visits, and then do everything else you have to do. I really don’t want to lead a church. That’s what you want to do and if you do it well, I have no problem. I just want to mainly teach.

You see pastor, I see too many people falling away on a regular basis. Have you ever had to deal with an apostate from Christianity? I have. I have to answer them every day. I am in a position where I am taking bullets regularly for people in the church. I make it my point to stand on the front lines of the battlefield with a target on me practically so the enemy will go after me and let the defenseless continue on their way.

Pastor. These people often have a huge chip on their shoulder. They are not just outside of Christianity. They are opposed to Christianity. They want to take it away from everyone else. Have you not heard of groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation? Have you heard about the books of the new atheists selling well on college campuses? This isn’t just atheism of course, but there’s also the New Age movement, radical Islam, and then just the general loose sexual mores of our culture.

Have you thought about a young person being in your church and he’s just sitting at home watching YouTube in the privacy of his own home? No. I’m not bringing up pornography, though that is a problem, but let’s suppose he’s being a good Christian boy and just listening to songs from his favorite Christian band on YouTube. What’s that related link on the side? Ten questions that every Christian must be able to answer? Pastor. All it takes is one click and the boy’s journey to atheism has begun.

I just spoke about sexuality in the culture today. Do you know the message the youth are getting from the media? Do what you want as long as it feels right and you’re in love. Do you know how many young people in your church could not see a problem with redefining marriage? Do you really think saying “True Love Waits” and giving people a silver ring is going to work when they’re alone with their boyfriend or girlfriend and those hormones start kicking in?

And what will happen if they give in and don’t have the guilt they’re so often promised they will have for having sex before marriage? Do you think they’ll trust the church on anything else as much?

Pastor. I know you might think that if you just stand up and say what the Bible says then that will be sufficient. I wish that were so. If it were though, then all we need is a helicopter or something like that flying overhead with a loudspeaker. Unfortunately, we live in a world that no longer takes the Bible seriously. The Bible is viewed as a joke more than anything else and you can’t just say a Bible verse and expect people to get in line. It’s getting to the point where you can’t even make an allusion to the Bible because most people today are so Biblically illiterate.

Pastor. All of this concerns me. The reality is I see this as very easily prevented. Just give the church a good foundation. Aren’t we supposed to love God with all of our minds? How can it hurt you if the church has a more informed view of God? Isn’t this what we all want? Won’t it make their worship more powerful when they know the reality of who it is they worship? Won’t they be more devoted in prayer when they realize their intellectual life can inform and improve their prayer life? Won’t it help them in their evangelism when they don’t have to walk away at the first objection they meet?

I am sure you pray for our country regularly. I hope you also know that we can do something about it. Before you say we’re a small group, remember Jesus did it with the Roman Empire and he had twelve when he started. Those twelve went out and engaged with the culture. They knew how to take it to them. They weren’t on the defensive. These people were on the offensive and willing to take the Gospel everywhere. Why? They had undeniable evidence that Jesus was who He said He was. It wasn’t just a feeling in their hearts. It was a reality they had seen with their own eyes.

Pastor. I’m just asking you for a chance to serve. In fact, it might not just be me. I also have friends in this area who are apologists and we would be glad to equip your church. We won’t take your pulpit time at all. We won’t change the Sunday or Wednesday night schedule unless you want to do something there. The reality is we just want to serve. We’re not even going to charge you for this service. We just get the greatest joy out of getting to serve.

We are honestly concerned for the state of the church and the state of our country. We don’t want to see young people falling away. Frankly, we all look forward to the day when our jobs wouldn’t be needed. We want to return to the day when you can stand in the pulpit and the Bible is seen by most people as authoritative today. We want to return to the day when people speak of God seriously and not just as a swear word. We want to return to the day when Christians were actively pursuing intellectual goals.

We want to return to a day in this country when Jesus was recognized as Lord.

I don’t want your position pastor. You have your own job and may you do it well. I just want to serve. We are not on opposite sides. We’re on the same side. I may serve in a different way than you do, but I am still just as you are, a servant. I want to help you care for your flock. You don’t have time to read the new atheists and the best works in scholarship. I do. Let me use my abilities to enable you to further use yours so that your flock may be built up.

I’m not your enemy. I’m your ally. I’m not competition. I’m a friend.

I look forward to working with you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters