Archive for the ‘Book Plunge’ Category

Book Plunge: With The Clouds of Heaven

January 27, 2015

What do I think of James Hamilton Jr.’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

With The Clouds of Heaven

With The Clouds of Heaven is a look at Daniel and the role it plays in the whole of Scripture, which is indeed a major one. I got this book largely because I do have a great interest in eschatology being an orthodox Preterist. So how did it deliver?

I thought Hamilton’s start was excellent at the beginning talking about how we have an assumed background knowledge when we make a statement. This is what we call a high-context society and the social science studies of the NT world are starting to bring this out more. Hamilton uses the example that he started writing this after the Super Bowl in 2013 where the Baltimore Ravens won. No one needs to be told what the Super Bowl is and no one thinks Hamilton is talking about a bunch of birds in Baltimore. Even I who is absolutely clueless on football knows that. Hamilton gives an example of what he said at his church as the pastor (And might I say it’s wonderful to see a scholar being a pastor too). His church does not have Sunday evening services so in the morning he said during announcements:

Warren and Jody are opening their home this evening to all and sundry. Evidently, there’s something happening on television tonight, maybe you know the details, apparently some commercials are going to be aired. If you’d like to watch the proceedings with others from our congregation, you’re welcome to bring a bag of chips, a jar of salsa, or a two-litre to Warren and Jody’s house.

According to Hamilton, when it was said that something was happening on TV that evening, there were smirks and snickers. Nowhere in this do you see the terms “Super Bowl” or “football game”, but everyone understands. I could go further and say nowhere do you see explained what a two-litre is, and yet Hamilton’s audience no doubt understood this term even if a reader unfamiliar with the language would not. Hamilton is also certainly right that many such allusions like he has in the announcements at his church take place in Scripture. A snippet from somewhere can bring to mind a whole passage.

For example, how many of us could be watching a show and hear a saying like “The Prodigal son returns.” When we hear this, we’re supposed to bring to mind the whole of the prodigal son story. None of this needs to be explained. It’s assumed that even if you’re a non-Christian, if you live in a Western culture, you know at least that even if you don’t believe Scripture, what the story of the prodigal son is. You know it’s a story about a wayward son that comes back home.

I appreciate also Hamilton’s insistence that Daniel is rightly in the canon and that a date that is more traditional does matter. I do wish there had been more on this as he compared Daniel with other writings at the time to show that they relied on it and thus it would have been accepted instead of being something new, but it would have also been good to have seen archaeological evidence presented, such as it now looks like Belshazzar was a co-regent and that’s why Daniel was offered the third highest position in the Kingdom. A later writer would not have known this.

The writing on how Daniel is laid out is also very interesting. Hamilton points to several chiasms that take place in the book. It is truly a marvelous work of literature. He also looks at the four kingdoms. I found it interesting on how after Daniel’s explanation of the dream of the statue with the gold head, Nebuchadnezzar makes a whole statue of gold, as if to say that if he is the gold, then he will make sure he is treated like he deserves.

When we get into eschatology, I did not find the stance of Hamilton too clear and what I did find, I do disagree with. I do not think there is anything in Daniel, especially the ninth chapter, about an antichrist figure. I’m convinced that Scripture does not speak of an antichrist person as much as an antichrist attitude. In that, everyone is either for Christ or they are antichrist. It’s interesting that John is the only one who uses the word, and yet nowhere in Revelation do you find anyone described as the antichrist. I in fact think the abomination described in Daniel 9 is that the pure Son of God was crucified in Jerusalem. What happened in the Middle of the week? That was when Stephen was stoned. It’s noteworthy that when that happens, he says he sees the Son of Man (How often is Jesus called the Son of Man outside the Gospels) standing at the right hand of God. Why standing? Hebrews says He sat down. He’s standing because that’s what you do when you judge. Jesus is pronouncing judgment on the Jews who have now killed the first Christian martyr.

This affects how I also read the way Hamilton thinks the rest of the NT interprets Daniel. I do think the section is interesting as it is a contrary viewpoint as far as I’m concerned, but I just don’t find it convincing and I leave it to readers to see the data that Hamilton provides.

If you like to study eschatology, I do think this is an important book to read and there needs to be serious look at Daniel and not just about eschatology, but how it relates to all of us as a whole. While I disagree with a good deal of what Hamilton says, he has done his homework and that is commendable and I do think again, that a church with a pastor who is also a scholar is indeed blessed. If only more of our pastors would strive to be if not scholars, at least be scholarly, we would all be better off.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

January 26, 2015

What do I think of Jerry Walls’s new book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

In the interest of fairness, I want it to be known that Brazos Press did send me a review copy and I consider Jerry Walls a friend.

When I first heard about Jerry Walls, I thought he was a Catholic.

Not because I’m anti-Catholic! Not at all! With my philosophy, I’m a Thomist in my philosophy and a reader of people like G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft. I’d just heard that he’d written a book about Purgatory and thought that was the case. I was surprised a bit when I found out he was a Protestant just as I am. I suspect with this book out, some people would be surprised to learn that this is a protestant view of the cosmic drama, as he describes it.

But yes, Walls is very much Protestant. Picking out his position I find is interesting. The book is not about soteriology per se, but yet his strong position against Calvinism is noted. It’s more really about eschatology, but he is one of those rare people that you can talk about his position in eschatology and you don’t mean the one we normally mean, such as what is the view on the rapture or the Olivet Discourse. This is all about our personal eschatology. What happens to us when we die.

Walls is familiar with this seeing as he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hell, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to give a defense of your view that Hell is a justifiable doctrine. While I think it is, it is not the kind of position I would want to do a Ph.D. dissertation on, yet Walls did so and it looks like he managed to defend Hell in light of some of the best antagonism, so he has something to say.

Yet this time, he rightly starts with Heaven. What is Heaven. How will it be for us? Walls rightly shows that we Christians need to spend more time thinking about this doctrine. I do want to jump ahead to something he says at the end of the book about Heaven answering the question of if we will be bored in Heaven. I do that because frankly, hearing the way some Christians talk about Heaven, I think I would be bored endlessly if their descriptions were right. Too often we make Heaven sound like an eternal church service. (Never mind other baloney claims such as we become angels when we die) There’s a reason skeptics of the faith say that Heaven would be boring and if they’re in Hell, they’ll be with their best friends anyway.

Walls gets most of his information on Heaven from Scripture going to Revelation 21. He does not take it in a literalistic sense, but he does have it that this is powerful language. God who exists in Trinity is the central focus of our eternity. He is the basis. He is the one that makes Heaven, Heaven and he is the one that makes eternity to be eternity. Our origins are found in Him and our purpose is found in Him. As has been said, if you have a “God of the Gaps” mentality, you’re not really dealing with the God of Scripture.

Wells shows that this is not just pie in the sky nonsense to escape reality, but is facing reality head on. It is saying that all of our hopes and desires do point to somewhere. He does this engaging with numerous arguments from the skeptical side, such as those of Russell or Nietzsche. Heaven is the best explanation that we have of all of the data that we have. Heaven makes sense of our world.

Yet what about Hell? Why is there Hell? Walls works to show that Hell is God giving people what they have wanted for so long and for this, he is largely in debt to Lewis, who aside from Scripture I would say is no doubt the most quoted author in the book. The gates of Hell are locked on the inside. The people in Hell are the ones who ultimately choose they want nothing to do with the God of Scripture. I would have liked to have seen something in this section that would have dealt more with the conditionalist position which is gaining popularity. Walls could have done that in another book, but it would have been good to see something here.

From there, we get into Purgatory. Now this is where some Protestants could be raising up their intellectual shields in defense and preparing to go on the attack. It is understandable, but I agree with Walls that we really need to interact with this idea and not just associate it with Catholics. Catholics believe a lot of right things too after all and just because an idea was misused is no reason to throw it out entirely.

I will not go into the details of Walls’s argument other than to say it focuses greatly on sanctification and while I cannot say I’m totally sold on it yet, and I do not think Walls would want me to change my mind entirely after reading just one book, I can say I do think Walls has benefited us greatly by starting the discussion and one aspect I will say I am sure he’d be pleased with, is that it does get me thinking more about sanctification and how seriously we need to take it.

Walls also deals with the problem of evil, including from this the speaking of Ivan from the Brothers Karamazov. While Dostoyevsky who wrote the book was a Christian, these are some of the most powerful quotes you’d hear advocating the problem of evil that he puts on the lips of his atheist character. Many atheists should learn to realize that we know the problem very well and I think Dostoyevsky places it more powerfully than any atheist writing I’ve read on it.

And yes, Walls has an answer. Of course, those interested in this need to get the book so they can see it.

We move on from there to morality and if there is a grounds for it in atheism. Walls of course argues that there isn’t and looks at some of the best theories out there attempting to explain this. Of course, if there is no ground for morality, then it’s quite difficult to raise up the problem of evil unless you want to say that it is an inconsistency for Christianity but when you abandon Christianity, lo and behold, there is nothing that is truly good or evil.

Finally, there’s a section that includes theories on the possibility of someone being reached even after they die. This is an interesting idea, but again, I’m not really sold on it. I wasn’t really sold on Walls’s approach to Hebrews 9, but I do think he’s certainly right to show that if Scripture does contradict any idea that we have, then we have to come to terms with the fact that that idea is wrong.

So while I do not agree with all that Walls says, I have to say this is an excellent book to get you thinking. It will put in you a desire for the state of Heaven and get you thinking seriously about sanctification and holiness. I do not doubt that even with that conclusion, that Walls will be pleased.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: How Jesus Passes The Outsider Test.

January 21, 2015

What do I think of David Marshall’s latest book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In the interest of admitting bias at the start, I will say I consider David a friend and he did send me this Ebook to review. I will still try to be as objective as I can, though I must admit the book is a joy and delight to read so it might not seem that way.

As I was going through Marshall’s book, I tried to think of a book that I could compare it to. Here we have a work dealing with the negative arguments of the day with a good touch of humor and stories and in simple layman terms that expresses the joy of who Jesus is. Mere Christianity as a comparison came to my mind a few times and I can’t help but wonder if a work like this if properly appreciated by the public could be a work like that of our own time.

In the book, Marshall is responding to John Loftus and his Outsider Test For Faith (OTF) as he calls it. Now Loftus has been criticized numerous times by even his fellow skeptics on this one, but still he trudges on with it. Marshall has taken a different approach and said “Let’s not go against the argument. In fact, let’s improve and refine it and see just how it is that Jesus stands in response to it.”

Marshall does remind us that this should change how we look at Jesus as well. We have made him so familiar and he quotes Dorothy Sayers in saying that we who follow Jesus have “declawed the lion of Judah and mad him a house-cat for pale priests and pious old ladies.” (Location 85)

Indeed, this is a benefit of Marshall’s book. You will come away from it with a greater wonder of exactly who Jesus is and frankly, that can be a sad rarity in many works today. We get so caught up in the academic side but Marshall’s book covers that as well as getting into the personal side which as I have said earlier, is because Marshall will regularly throw in some great humor and speak just like the man on the street speaks.

For an example of the humor, consider how he speaks about the OTF at location 378 and says “Is it simply an Ad Populum argument in a cowboy hat off the rack of the Fort Wayne, Indiana Wal-Mart?” For those of us who do know about Loftus and know about his signature cowboy hat, this is a passage that cannot really be read without cracking a smile and it comes at the reader unexpectedly. Regular dashes of humor like this keep the book moving smoothly. Michael Bird would be pleased.

It’s style like this that makes me think that this book could be easily read by non-Christians. Consider when talking about the sex market in Thailand at Location 905. Marshall says many Japanese and Westerners seemed welcome to the idea of the sex market. As Marshall says “And why not? Whatever feeble instinct we might have towards universal compassion, the male instinct for getting laid (our “selfish genes” on the prowl!) is visceral!”

Indeed it is, which is what makes the fact that Christianity has often overcome this so incredible. It is not because Christians are anti-sex, though no doubt some have been, but because Christians recognize the value of every human being, including the women that we are so often accused of being misogynistic towards. It is a Christianity that says every person is valuable for who they are that makes a Christian want to destroy the sex market.

Marshall also shows that he can have a touch of sarcastic humor and get his point across. In a criticism of Hector Avalos who actually thinks Luke 14:26 means that Jesus taught us to hate our family, Marshall says “And that was the only such passage Avalos could locate. With a little imagination, cults are largely (able) to find more convincing proof texts to show Jesus eloped and ran off to France to start a dynasty, or rode to Earth on the comet Haley-Bopp. But perhaps the best response to Avalos’ entire attack on the Christian tradition lies in Jesus’ own words also in Luke: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’ (Luke 23:34)”

I could go on throughout but there are several places this occurs. That being said, what are many of the main arguments.

I will not cover everything and certainly not in the same detail. Marshall starts with the boldness with which Christianity spread and it must be said that aside from Jesus’s followers, everyone was an outsider at this point, and yet this outsider religion which would have been viewed with suspicion due to its being new was within a few centuries the dominant faith and began to go on to shape Western Civilization. In this chapter, Marshall does deal with objections from people like the prominent blogger Carrier. I leave that for the reader to see for themselves.

But this also ties in with another idea that Christianity fulfilled prophecy. One might think at this point that Marshall will go to Isaiah 53 or Psalm 22 and say “See? Look! Jesus fulfilled Messianic prophecies!” He does not. His point is that from even Genesis on, long before Christianity showed up, even if we went with a JEPD hypothesis, it was predicted that all the world would be blessed through Abraham. Messages of reaching Gentiles show up regularly in the Old Testament and when Christianity came, lo and behold, that happened.

But it wasn’t just Hebrew prophecies that were fulfilled! Marshall will show throughout the book that it was the hopes and dreams of pagans that were fulfilled too! So many of our myths rather than making the mythicist claim show a longing for the true God to intervene and save the world. Later, he will point to people like Buddha and Confucius who predicted that a great sage would come to speak. Confucius even said it would take place in around 500 years. Now one could go with a zany mythicist hypothesis that says all these cultures were being borrowed from, or one could go with a view more akin to Lewis and Tolkien that says that this is true myth being fulfilled.

Marshall also shows the gifts Christianity brought to the world. There was no dark age period where science was being oppressed. Christianity had been encouraging the usage of science. It was Christians who were building hospitals and universities and cathedrals and ending slavery and encouraging literacy. Of course, there was bad that came with the good and Marshall does deal with that in the book, but let us not ignore the great good, such as the efforts to shut down sex markets as spoken of earlier.

In fact, many who are non-Christians and reading this could be thinking it is good to get rid of slavery and the sex market, but why? Do we stop to think about that question? How many people today have been shaped by a Christian ethic and don’t even realize it? Now if one wants to point to Scandinavia as a sort of secular paradise, be prepared. Marshall has something to say about that too.

Marshall also does show that this does not show Christianity is true, but the hopes of all peoples being found so well in Christ and his answering the Hebrew and pagan longings of the day and the impact He has had on the world should at least give pause. While the approach is more of a defensive one, he does include a bibliography to look up claims made in the book that he has not had the time to address but that other scholars have.

This is one of the really good ones to read and it is very difficult to put down. If a print version comes out this year, I would rank that book as one of the best books already in Christian apologetics to read in 2015. We can be thankful that while atheists like Loftus try to undermine the teaching of Christ with objections like the OTF, that apologists like Marshall are able to put them to the service of the kingdom. In the end, because of Loftus, we now have a greater reminder of how awesome and unique Jesus is and that yes, he does pass the OTF.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Global Gospel

January 20, 2015

What do I think of Werner Mischke’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Global Gospel

Mission One has released the Global Gospel by Mischke to illustrate the problem in reaching people in the Majority World. We have been hampered growing up in a guilt-innocence culture whereas the world of the Bible is that of an honor-shame culture. It also has impacted our reading of the Bible as where there are parts that are not made explicit, because these would be part of the background culture, we automatically tend to plug in our own culture.

Consider marriage. In the ancient world, a marriage would often be a matter between two men. No. Not the way you’re thinking in our debates today. It would be a matter between the father of the groom and the father of the bride. The two would arrange it and it would be a sort of trade. Marriage would be used to unite families and often could be used for political alliances as well. If we read in our concept of dating and marriage, we misread the text.

Mischke has a great line that I wish we all could learn in the west to show this.

Culturally speaking, the Bible does not “belong” to you; it’s not your book.

What a great lesson to learn. While we can agree with Paul that everything was written for us, it was not written to us. We of necessity need Scripture to understand the salvation of Christ and what it is we are to do, but we do not have to have Western culture being assumed as part of Christianity. This is not to say that Western culture is a bad thing, but it is to say that it does not need to be married to the Gospel. Too often in our evangelism strategy, we’ve brought over not just the Gospel to unreached people, but we’ve also brought over our own culture and included it in the Gospel.

If you go to people of an honor-shame culture and start talking about the guilt that is experienced because of our sin and the beauty of justification by faith, you will not get much of a response to your altar call. These people are not thinking primarily about guilt. What matters most to them is honor and shame. In fact, maintaining honor means more to them than life itself does. This is why Japanese pilots could crash on Pearl Harbor as an attack and why some terrorists can do suicide bombers. They value the honor of what they fight for and the honor they can gain more than their own lives.

Now imagine going to these people instead and telling them about how they are living in a state of shame. They have dishonored the one true God and will be having to face His eternal shame. However, this God has provided a remedy. His Son has come and faced the shame that we all deserve by dying a most shameful death on a cross at the hands of His enemies. However, in facing this, God honored Him by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand to rule the world. All who trust in Him, He will bestow His honor on and adopt them into the family of God.

Okay. Now you’re talking. If you’re speaking of honor and shame to these people, they will be listening. While you should believe in justification by faith, that is not the message that will reach these people because that is a message about guilt. Of course in honor-shame cultures there is guilt in the sense of having done an objective wrong to someone, but the result is not an internal feeling that we must make amends and fix the problem. The main sense for the honor-shame is that the person has been a disgrace and has dishonored their family and their culture. In fact, this is one reason suicide can be so prevalent in an honor-shame culture like Japan. It is better to die than to live with shame.

Mischke takes us through several aspects of an honor-shame culture. Why is the face so important? What is challenge-riposte? What is a patron and how does he relate to his clients? Why is purity such a big deal? These and many other questions are asked. Mischke also wants to stress an important point that this not only applies to how we reach people in the majority world, and yes, most of the world does think in terms of honor and shame, but how we reach our own people over here.

How many of us have had guilt for a past sin that we’ve done and while we know forgiveness, we still have a lot of shame over it? It is just painful to look back and think on it every time. Many of us to some extent carry shame. I am convinced none of us can live fully in an individualistic culture. There is always still going to be this background culture of honor and shame no matter how much we try to bury it.

How would your presentation of the Gospel be different if you not only removed the objective guilt someone has before the throne of God, but you also shared with them that God has taken away their shame. What if you showed them that God has honored them? What if you showed them that honor is something they are even commanded to seek for in Scripture? What if you showed them they really are adopted into the family of God?

For this, Mischke’s book will also give a greater appreciation of the work of Christ. Removing guilt is good and important and we should never lose sight of that, but the idea of honor is essential. So much we have songs in our contemporary culture that speak of God as if He is our buddy and our best friend. What if you instead got the message that you are seated in the heavens as Ephesians 2 says? What if you were told you were adopted into the family of God, as can be found at the end of Romans 8? I can’t help but think of C.S. Lewis who said we are far too easily pleased. We want to be a friend of God. He wants us seated in the heavens.

Now I do not agree with everything Mischke says. For instance, with challenge-riposte, I think Mischke does go against it some. I think Jesus in fact engaged heavily in it and the resurrection, as Mischke rightly shows, is certainly the ultimate riposte. The early church did the same as did the apostles and where the honor of God is challenged today, we also need often to engage in challenge-riposte as well.

Still, this is the kind of book I wish every pastor would read. It is an excellent introduction to this kind of thinking for those who might not be familiar with it at all. If we could reclaim this, we would not only have much more vibrant Christian lives, but we would also be able to understand the Bible and the historical Jesus far better than we do. In fact, while some have said there could be a fourth quest for the historical Jesus starting with taking the Gospel of John more seriously, I believe the next real quest for the historical Jesus will involve learning to understand Jesus from a majority world perspective.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Two Views of Hell

January 16, 2015

What did I think of Fudge and Peterson’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!

twoviewsofhell

My wife got me this book as a Christmas gift just going through my Amazon wish list I suppose. (And God have mercy on her since I have two just for books and one of them is completely full.) So naturally, I went through the book as soon as I could. I will admit my bias. I hold to a view of Hell that would be closer to traditionalism, although most traditionalists I think would not really hold to my view.

The book starts with the view of Fudge who holds to annihiliationism. I think Fudge would prefer it not be called that and today it’s more often called Conditionalism or conditional immortality. To be fair also, Peterson would prefer his viewpoint not be called traditionalism since it can look like one believes just because it is a tradition. I think it’s best for us as we consider the merits and problems of the book to look at the claims of the positions and not just their titles as we might just have to stick with those. Such is the nature of the beast.

The book starts with Fudge’s case. I found it in many ways an interesting look. I do agree with the criticism later on that a number of passages I do not think really are talking about what I prefer to call the after-death. I think Fudge did put forward a good argument and he did try to stay focused on the Bible. I do understand that as he went through each section of Scripture with an emphasis on the NT understandably and tried to cover as much ground as possible.

Peterson’s critique I thought of this section was good, but lacking in some areas. I do think too often Peterson had relied too much on a more futurist eschatology. I also did think it was problematic to say that Fudge went too much into the Greek. I understand the fear of writing to laymen, but the thing to do on Peterson’s side is just answer what he considers a bad usage of Greek with a good usage of it. I happen to think Peterson and Fudge neither one did well on their critiques.

Then Peterson made his case and he made his slightly different, but I understand why. He started off from a historical position. Many of the greatest minds in church history have denied annihilationism. Of course this isn’t a slam dunk. Peterson himself would not say it is. What it does mean is that if you are going against that kind of consensus, you had better have some good evidence for it.

Next Peterson makes his case from Scripture. In this, he goes to ten passages and tells the time frame and setting of each one and responds to the annihilationist interpretation, namely that of Fudge. I found this section to be quite well-written, though again there were times I think a more futurist interpretation was included in the text, but few if any texts depended on that.

Finally, Peterson shows how this impacts other doctrines and the best case was in Christology. What happened to Jesus on the cross when He died? Did He cease to exist? Did His humanity go away. These are questions that have to be answered and if Fudge holds that Jesus ceased to exist after He died, then I think that we are entering into some very serious issues at this point.

After that, we get to Fudge’s reply and honestly, this was for me the low point of the book. I have admitted my bias at the start, but when I read the text, I was trying to keep in mind that in some ways, Fudge was critiquing the view that I held. How would he do?

It didn’t help when the first sentence is “Robert Peterson now has done his best to defend the notion that God will keep sinners alive in Hell forever to torture them without end.”

Is there really any need for this? You would get the impression from Fudge that Peterson is practically roasting marshmallows watching unbelievers burn and celebrating it. I suspect Peterson would say that even if he thought Hell was a literal furnace, and he doesn’t, that he gets great sorrow from this. Fudge’s first sentence then in his reply was a let down for me and brought motives into play rather than dealing with the arguments.

Fudge also did this in pointing to how Peterson has to hold to the tradition that he is in and Fudge does not. His denomination is one that says Scripture is the final authority. That applies to Peterson as well I’m sure. If you asked him which was the final authority, he would no doubt say Scripture. The problem when we get often to just the Bible is that it is not just the Bible. It couldn’t be. The Bible is not a text in isolation. We have it translated and we have to interpret it with the works of the leading scholars. I seriously doubt Fudge has done all the textual work and linguistic study and such to translate and interpret every passage in the NT. He too relies on the minds of others. To not do this is to in many ways make us our own Popes.

This also troubled me when I read Fudge talking about Peterson referring often to uninspired writers. This is the kind of thing that I see from fundamentalists on the internet and it is troubling. What matters to me is the claims. It is not if the author is inspired or not. Jesus in his own culture used language from the Wisdom literature of the intertestamental period and some of which we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was not inspired, but so what?

And of course, the claims of being influenced by pagans is something that I would like to see more research on. Color me skeptical of this since I regularly see claims about Christian ideas being influenced by pagans be it from the Christ-myth camp or be it from Christians who want to say that holidays like Christmas have borrowed heavily from the pagans. It’s too easy to just throw out the idea of “pagan.”

So like I said, I think Fudge just did not do well in his critiques of the traditionalist position. There was too much emotional content that frankly I think does not belong in a debate like this. I realize this is difficult, but it just doesn’t. Too often too many times I see the ideas presented with speculation on what is better. Conditionalists will say “We do not have God keeping people alive forever just to punish them. Unbelievers get turned away by this.”

Well if an unbeliever is going to be turned away and not look at the evidence for a claim like the resurrection just because of something they don’t like, it’s their own fault frankly. You do not say “I do not like the claim, therefore the evidence behind the claim must be false.” One investigates the claim. If one finds that Jesus did not rise, then who cares? It’s not going to change my mind if Muslims change their doctrine of the after-death concerning unbelievers. I don’t care either way.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, traditionalists can say to conditionalists that you’re just giving unbelievers what they want. They just cease to exist. It looks like they get off easy. Again, I understand the sentiment there as well, but so what? The evidence for the resurrection changes because someone gets off easy? Conditionalism is false because it is believed that someone gets off easy? We end up speculating on this point and miss going with what the text itself really says. Now if we become convinced of either view in the text, then we can ask “Why did God do it X way instead of this?” That can be a fascinating way to learn, but it should not be used as a debate point.

In looking at the book as a whole, while both sides were interesting to read about, I think the book could have been better served with a more point-counterpoint position. To have each side present their whole case and then one counter to that is a bit overwhelming. It would have been better I think to have perhaps discussion on history and then on interpretation and then on ramification. It could have been longer had this been done, but I think the content would be better.

This is still an interesting read to see both sides of the issue and I can recommend it there.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Memory, Jesus, and the Synoptic Gospels

December 31, 2014

What do I think of Robert McIver’s book published by SBL? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

memoryjesusandthesynopticgospels

McIver’s book on the usage of memory in reporting the events of the Gospels is certainly one worth reading. It is meticulously researched and incredibly thorough in its approach and it even has a nice little appendix at the end that describes life expectancy in the ancient world and if the eyewitnesses would have been around for interview or even rebuttal around the time the Gospels were written.

McIver covers how it is that we form memories and what kinds of things memories are. He also goes into what are known as flashbulb and personal event memories. I will give two examples from my own life. I have clear and distinct (To use Descartes’s term) memories about many events that happened on 9/11. I remember sitting in the chapel at Bible college and seeing a professor come in and tell the speaker to announce we should be praying for the people of New York as a plane just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I’m sure most of us thought it was a tragedy then. I remember hearing afterwards that a second plane had hit the second tower and no one thought it was accidental at that point. I remember being in the lobby watching this all unfold on TV and watching the towers fall. I remember walking around outside and noticing no planes in the sky.

For personal event, I remember well when I got married. I remember that I parked my car at the hotel we would be staying at that evening in the morning and pacing around with my tux while I waited for my best man to pick me up. I remember going to the restroom numerous times before hand to make sure nothing happened. I remember one of my groomsmen telling me how awesome Allie looked. I remember seeing her smile at me during the ceremony. I remember hearing my best man’s excellent toast. I remember riding in the limo. I could go on and on. Now note this does not mean I remember every little detail. There could be some things I get wrong. I certainly will not get the major things wrong. I know it was Allie and not Ashley I married. I know it was in the area of Charlotte and not Charleston. I know it was on July 24, 2010 and not on another date.

This is also something important. It’s quite amusing that the same people who complain that the Gospels supposedly weren’t written by eyewitnesses or don’t contain eyewitness testimony will then come and say that eyewitness testimony can’t be trusted. Is it infallible? Not at all. McIver from his research shows that eyewitness testimony tends to be at least 80% reliable and we often hope to have multiple eyewitnesses to further corroborate claims.

McIver also shows that we can generally guess how much of something will be forgotten but after a few years, many memories do reach a sort of locked-in state. Some secondary details could be iffy, but the primary memory itself will usually stay intact, provided of course that there are no major events such as some head injury of some sort or a debilitating condition that affects memory.

To go beyond this, McIver also has information on collective memory. This takes place in oral societies where stories are told repeatedly back and forth. It is often the gist of the story that is the main focus to get right. Minor details in the story can vary. The main information of the story is usually trusted to a few tradents who oversee the process and make sure the information does not get lost.

At this point, I did have one criticism. We do see a lot on how memory is done today, but I would have liked to have seen more on how memory worked in a pre-Gutenberg culture. We know the ancients prized memory more than we do and that they had better abilities of memorization due to not living in a culture where writing was readily abundant and you couldn’t use post-it notes or cell phones to store your data. You had to keep it all in your memory.

In examining the Gospels, McIver sticks to the synoptics and thinks the little aphorisms of Jesus are where we have the best information. Still, his points also about how events would be memorized are important. While there could be mistakes, we would not expect radical mistakes. You do not see someone who is blind being told to be of good cheer and later on think “Well I really think I saw them regain their sight.”

As you can imagine, McIver builds heavily on the excellent research of Richard Bauckham in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. As I read through, I was wondering what McIver would be thinking if he had written this book after The Lost World of Scripture. The appendix I referred to earlier in this review is also extremely helpful in dealing with claims of many atheistic writers today who do use an argument that eyewitnesses would not be around at that time.

I’m very pleased to see research like this going on and those interested in whether the accounts of Jesus are accurate in the Gospels would be greatly benefited by reading this fine work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Knowing Jesus Through The Old Testament

December 30, 2014

What do I think of Christopher Wright’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

KnowingJesusOldTestament

My thanks first off go to IVP for sending me a copy of this work. It is the second edition that they sent me for all who are interested.

Let’s get a negative out of the way first because there is a lot that is good about this book. In fact, there is only one major negative that I find problematic and it was one the author explained at the beginning. That is that there is a lack of notes. Wright says he wants this to be most acceptable for a popular audience for easy reading, but I do think it could still be possible to have notes for those of us wanting to look up any claims. Lee Strobel after all wrote some excellent books for a popular audience and having notes and quotes of scholars didn’t slow that down at all. If a third edition comes out, I do hope it has that.

Now let’s get to the positives. The book is divided into six sections and each deals with both the New Testament and the Old Testament. If you’re getting this thinking that you’re going to get a list of passages in the Old Testament that are Messianic predictions of Jesus, you will not be getting that. What you will get is the grand panorama of the Old Testament played out and how Jesus saw Himself in relation to that.

Wright favors the Gospel of Matthew, which makes sense since Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels.He starts with the genealogy in Matthew and how we can be prone to just skip over that part without realizing Matthew put it in because he considered it important. Matthew is immediately connecting Jesus to the Old Testament so shouldn’t we see how this is done?

The first part is about the story of the Old Testament. What is going on in the Old Testament? Why did God call Abraham? Does this really bear any connection to the New Testament? Now you can understand the message of Jesus to a degree on its own, but if you really do want to understand who Jesus is, you must have a good and thorough knowledge of the Old Testament. Wright is certainly pointing to a problem in our churches that needs to be taken care of.

Next comes the promise of the Old Testament. What was really being promised to Abraham? Was the focus to always be on a piece of land in the Middle East, or is something more going on? It is by understanding the promises that God made in the Old Testament not just to Abraham but in all the other covenants, that we can truly see how Jesus is the fulfillment of those promises.

The third chapter is on identity. Who is Israel exactly? What are we to say their role is? How did Jesus see Himself in relation to Israel? This is of course one of many parts where we can get into some controversial issues, but throughout I found myself agreeing with the stance of Wright, who seemed to be a counterpart to the NT scholar N.T. Wright, and in fact, it was not a surprise to see N.T. Wright in the bibliography. Jesus is the new Israel living out the hopes and dreams of Israel and succeeding where the nation did not and living out for them the redemption they need.

The fourth is on the Old Testament Mission. Once we know what Israel truly is, what was their purpose? How did their purpose affect Jesus and His view of Himself? Did Jesus come without a purpose and did He act without a plan or was He deliberately working on a mission. Was the crucifixion an accident that Jesus never wanted to have happen or a last-ditch effort to pull off what He wanted, or was it what He had in mind all along?

The fifth is Jesus and Old Testament Values. Now here I would have liked to have seen a little bit more, especially as one who deals with all the supposedly problematic morality in the Old Testament. Still, Wright does bring out how much of our modern morality is really nothing new. It comes straight from the Old Testament and how this way of thinking shaped Jesus to live out His life the way He did.

Finally, what about the Old Testament God? Wright deals with a common claim in this one that says “Why didn’t Jesus just come out explicitly and say ‘I’m God!’ ” Wright points out how problematic that would be since God would be a loaded term and Jesus would have been confused with the Father. Instead, Jesus spoke by His actions and let His disciples work out the results, and indeed they did. Wright is certainly correct that the view of Jesus as being in the divine identity was extremely early.

Again, my main criticism was the lack of notes and scholarly quotations, but overall, that should not detract from the gold mine of information available here. Knowing where these claims can be easily found would make this far more helpful, but for the lay reader, they will still get plenty, as will the more academic reader, like myself, who prefers to read something quite meaty.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Good Shepherd

December 24, 2014

What do I think of Ken Bailey’s latest. Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

thegoodshepherd

Ken Bailey has been one of my favorite NT scholars ever since I read Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes and this latest book from IVP is no exception. Bailey writes from the perspective of someone who has lived in the Middle East teaching and knows the way life is there and recognizes many of the similarities that take place with the Biblical text. He also interacts with ancient and medieval writers many of us would have overlooked to bring us the best insights on the text.

The Good Shepherd is no exception. In this one, Bailey starts off with looking at Psalm 23 and goes from there throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament to see how the account in Psalm 23 plays itself out later, including in the story of Jesus in the New Testament, who is the personification of the good shepherd that had been hoped for in the 23rd Psalm.

Bailey’s insights into life in the Middle East are invaluable as he has interacted with numerous shepherds and knows the lay of the land well and how shepherding works with the climate. He is not just writing about the behavior of sheep and shepherds in the abstract. He is speaking from the perspective of someone who knows shepherds well and someone who knows from them how sheep behave.

Bailey’s reading will open you up to new ways of reading the text that you had never considered. He is especially good at showing the ring composition that takes place in the writing of the account. The book is also written in a format that is easy to understand and yet also has the scholarly references throughout for those who are wanting to get that kind of approach as well.

When it comes to the New Testament view of the good shepherd, I found most fascinating to be the look in Mark 6. Most would not see this as a good shepherd passage, but Bailey brings out that it indeed is one. He paints a contrast between the banquet that King Herod throws early on that turns out to be a banquet of death where John the Baptist dies, and the banquet of life where Jesus provides a meal for over 5,000. It’s clear to Bailey that Herod would have had his spies in the area to see what Jesus would have to say as a popular leader about the death of his cousin.

I find once again that Bailey has given an excellent piece of work for all of us to consider. If you want to know about the life of Jesus as the good shepherd and especially how this relates to the grace of God found in Jesus Christ then it is absolutely essential that you read this book. Scholarship is blessed to have someone like Ken Bailey writing for us and I hope that the future works that he produces will be of excellent service to the church as well.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Christianity on Trial

December 16, 2014

What do I think of Mark Lanier’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christianity on Trial

I wish to thank Mark Lanier for sending me a copy of this IVP book for me to review. My first encounter with Lanier came when I heard him on Unbelievable? and thought he did an excellent job. I figured I would see if I could get Lanier to come on my own program as well, but first I’d want to see if his book was just as good as his appearance.

Overall, I conclude that it was. Lanier’s book is another one of those gateway books that is meant to get you searching and moving in the right direction. Lanier interacts with the opposition for his viewpoints and presents his case in a readable way. It’s not a narrative, but the main sources that he uses in each chapter are stated at the start as the witnesses that he calls forth. Some would agree with his conclusion. Some wouldn’t. All must be examined.

Lanier also starts out each section with a description of life in the law industry. One of the more amusing stories is the story told about Tom Smith. I’ll leave that for the readers to find out on their own, but I was thinking at the end that if this guy did not show up in a book sometime like “America’s Dumbest Criminals” then something would have to be off.

Something I found pleasantly surprising about this book is that unlike many in the area of apologetics, Lanier does not constantly quote works of leading apologists as answers. In fact, he hardly quotes them if he does at all. I do not doubt Lanier has read a lot of them, but for most of his sources, he’s trying to avoid that and just using the reasoning tools me all have to examine cases.

Lanier does cover several topics in this work. The existence of God is one that is covered quite thoroughly. I do wish more had been said about the Bible and the historical Jesus. There is thankfully a chapter on the resurrection, but it would have been good to have seen a prior chapter on the accuracy of the Bible in general and that it has been handed down reliably. I also did not think the chapter on morality answered the question the best, but even when I did not think the answer was the best, the argumentation is still quite interesting.

I would have also liked to have seen more of a bibliography. This would have been a good time for Lanier to have done something J Warner Wallace did in Cold-Case Christianity. I think a future edition could have ended with an appendix on the topics and lists of other “expert witnesses” that could be called forth to make a case.

Still, Lanier is an excellent thinker and I’m pleased to see a sharp trial lawyer using his mind to defend the Christian faith. If you’re looking for that book to get someone started thinking about Christianity, I highly recommend that you give deep consideration to Christianity on Trial.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Did God Really Command Genocide?

December 15, 2014

What do I think of Copan and Flannagan’s newest book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

godcommandgenocide

First off, I wish to thank Dr. Copan for sending me a copy of this Baker book for review purposes. I will state up front that I see Flannagan and Copan both as good friends, but I earnestly desire to avoid allowing any bias to cover my review. It will be up to the reader of this review to determine if I have done so.

The book starts with a question of what atheist Raymond Bradley calls the Crucial Moral Principle. This principle goes as follows:

It is morally wrong to deliberately and mercilessly slaughter men, women, and children who are innocent of any serious wrongdoing.

Most of us would in principle have no problem with that statement. In fact, in principle, neither would Copan and Flannagan. Yet that is the statement that must be dealt with as it looks like the text does have commands from God to do just that. Now of course it could be that some might say those events are just a made-up history, but in the book, Copan and Flannagan do take the task of assuming for the sake of argument that this is a real historical narrative. In fact, so do the atheists they interact with in the book. It is a way of saying “Let’s assume that there was a conquest of the Promised Land as the Bible declares. How do we reconcile that with the idea that God is a God of love?”

Some people reading the start will be wondering about the beginning. Why are we having a discussion on inerrancy? Why a discussion on what it means for the Bible to be the Word of God? All of this is important, because it is about how we are to process the information in a text and too many people have an idea that if the Bible is the “Word of God” then somehow the ordinary rules of language don’t apply and everything must be applied in a “literalistic” reading.

From there, we get into the conquest itself. Is the text using hyperbolic language? Copan and Flannagan argue that it is simply because if you take in a literalistic sense, the accounts immediately contradict. For the sake of argument, one could say there are contradictions in the text, but let us not say the writers were fools who would notice a blatant contradiction right in their midst. Many of the commands also involve not destroying, but rather driving out. The commands were also limited to war within the holy land itself.

Naturally, the authors argue against those who want to use the Bible to argue against the hyperbolic interpretation. They conclude this section by looking at legal and theological questions concerning genocide and show that by legal definitions used of genocide today, the events that took place in the Conquest really don’t work.

The third part of the book starts with Divine Command Theory. I will state that while I believe everything God commands is necessarily good and we are obligated to do it, I do not hold to DCT. I think this section does deal with several bad arguments against it and that makes it worthwhile in itself. It’s also important that you can be someone who does not hold to DCT and it will not detract from the overall position of the book.

For instance, let’s suppose you take my position and yet think that if God commands something, it is good. Then the rest of the part will still work for you. It asks if God could command events like the deaths of innocent human beings. The authors use some excellent examples about how in even our time we could picture a president commanding such an order and not condemn them. For instance, suppose on 9/11 three of the planes have hit and we know the fourth is on its way to the target. This plane no doubt commands innocent human beings, but would we understand a command from the president to have it shot down knowing innocents will die? Note that is not saying it is necessarily the right decision, but that it is an understandable decision.

The authors also deal with what if someone claimed this today. For the authors, the principle known earlier as the crucial moral principle holds if all things are equal, but if you think God is telling you otherwise, you’d better have some excellent evidence. Most Christians today would say you do not because even if you hold to God guiding people personally today and even personal communication today, most would not hold to prophecy on the level of Scripture being given today and if God commanded you to kill someone, that is not a position to hold to.

So what makes Moses and the conquest different? One is the preponderance of what are called G2 miracles. These are miracles that you could not just explain away as sleight of hand if true. For instance, when the water of the Nile turns to blood, the magicians can repeat that so yeah, no big deal. When the Red Sea parts and the whole of the Israelites pass through on dry land and the waters drown the following Egyptians, yeah. That’s not so easily explainable. The same for manna falling from the sky every day for forty years and the wonders that took place around Mount Sinai. The average Joe Israelite soldier had good reason to think Moses had some divine communication going on.

I personally found the last section to be the most fascinating and this is about violence in history and its link to Christianity. The authors cover the Crusades particularly and show some contrasts between Islam and Christianity and also point out that the Crusades have not been hanging over our heads for centuries. If anything, the usage of them is a more recent argument.

They also deal with the idea of religious violence and show that much of the violence we have seen is in fact political though often hidden under a religious veneer. Included also in this section is a piece on the question of pacifism and if there can be such a thing as a just war.

Copan and Flannagan have provided an excellent gift to the church in this book. Anyone interested in studying the conquest of the holy land and wanting to deal with the question of religious violence in general will be greatly benefited by reading this book and keeping it in their library.

In Christ,
Nick Peters